The Biblical Illustrator
1 Timothy 4
1 Timothy 4:1-3
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times.
A great heresy
“The Spirit” referred to is unquestionably the Holy Spirit of God, who had been promised to the Church as its abiding teacher and comforter. In all their agencies and appointments the apostles sought His direction. It sometimes came in outward events, sometimes in strong impulses, and sometimes in the distinct utterances of men who were recognized by their brethren as inspired prophets. The trained ear of a musician can discover meanings and suggestions in a harmony which to an ordinary listener is nothing but a pleasant sound. And the conscience of one who habitually lives near God and listens for Him is sensitive to His whispers, and finds the meaning and the value of the promise “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” Among the functions of the Holy Spirit was the occasional revelation of coming events; for there were in this sense “prophets” in the Christian Church, as truly as there had been under the Jewish dispensation. Nor were these always prominent and well-known men. Ananias and Agabus. Glimpses of the future came to some whose one qualification was that they stood on heights of spiritual communion--just as from the summits of the Rigi we have seen flashes of distant scenes through the broken clouds, which would be utterly hidden from one standing on a lower level. It was probably through one of the unknown prophets of the early Church that the distinct prophecy had been given to which Paul here alludes, which pointed out the speedy coming of a great heresy, the main outlines of which were definitely foreshadowed. Let us look at this great heresy, which has often and in various forms repeated itself even down to our own day.
I. As to the source of the heresy Paul speaks in no wavering tones.
1. Be traces it through the human agents to demon power. The Scriptures affirm that this world is the scene of conflict between evil and good, and that outside the range of our senses is, on the one side, the Holy Spirit of the living God, and on the other side are principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of the world. The alternations of night and day, of storm and calm, are not more real than are the vicissitudes of this great contest going on in the hearts of men. Allusion is made here to “seducing spirits”; but mysterious and mighty as may be their power, they are not omnipotent, nor are they resistless, but have control over those only who (to use Paul’s phrase) “give heed” to them. Whether we are tempted to false thoughts, or to impure acts, or to anything else that is evil, it is not in vain that the summons is heard, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
2. But while we must guard against the evil thoughts which sometimes, as we are conscious, do not arise from ourselves, we have to give heed to this warning against the human agents of wickedness, of whom the apostle says, “They speak lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” If there was one iniquity which more than another aroused the anger of our Lord, it was hypocrisy. A man who is false and unreal has no part in the kingdom of light, but is silently, if not openly, fighting against it. And the evil man here described has his “conscience seared with a hot iron”--a phrase which blazes with the apostle’s holy indignation, but expresses a tremendous fact. Just as seared flesh has lost its sensibility, the once delicate nerves in it being destroyed, so there are consciences which nothing can affect. Appeals to honour and to shame are alike useless. The fatal influence exercised by such men was seen in the early Church, and is felt around us still, for no one can fall to be a power either for good or evil. Dr. Chalmers admirably puts it in these words: “Every man is a missionary now and for ever, for good or for evil, whether he intends or designs it or not. He may be a blot radiating his dark influence outward to the very circumference of society; or he may be a blessing, spreading benediction over the length and breadth of the world; but a blank he cannot be. There are no moral blanks; there are no neutral characters. We are either the sower that sows and corrupts, or the light that splendidly illuminates and the salt that silently operates; but, being dead or alive, every man speaks.”
II. The nature of the heresy thus originated, and propagated, next demands notice. The danger in our day is not towards unwholesome asceticism but towards unwholesome indulgence. Not fasting, but feasting, is the peril of the modern Church. Why then did Paul speak so strongly as he does here against asceticism? That error, which appeared and reappeared like the fabled Phoenix, was this: that there was an evil creator aa well as a good creator, and that while the flesh with all the matter belonged to the evil one, only the spirit belonged to the latter. That was the philosophical reason given for neglecting the body, for eschewing all fleshly relations, and for abstaining from the material satisfaction of appetite; and against it the apostles protested with all their might, and no wonder. For if this were true, God was not the good creator of all things. If this were true, God had not come really in the flesh, seeing that flesh was the product of an alien and hostile power. Hence many came to deny the true humanity of our Lord; they said His body was only a phantasm, not a reality, which implied that His temptations, His sufferings, His death and resurrection took place in appearance only. Paul was not “striving about words to no profit” when he struck out vigorously against this pernicious doctrine; and before you dismiss such language in the New Testament as exaggerated, try to see what really lay behind it. Even Satan may appear as an angel of light, especially when seen down the vista of eighteen centuries. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Forbidding to marry.--
The doctrine, which forbiddeth to marry is a wicked doctrine
I. How far the popish doctrine forbiddeth to marry.
II. That the popish doctrine which forbiddeth the marriage of the clergy, and of all under the celibate vow, is a wicked doctrine.
1. That doctrine which is a false doctrine, and contrary unto the Word of God, is a wicked doctrine: but the popish doctrine which forbiddeth the marriage of the clergy, and of all under the celibate vow, is a false doctrine, and contrary unto the Word of God: therefore it is wicked.
(a) The Word of God alloweth marriage, and maketh no exception of the clergy, or any under the celibate vow. That which God did at first institute and appoint, surely the Word of God doth allow (Hebrews 13:4).
(b) The Word of God is so far from excepting the marriage of the clergy, that it doth plainly allow the marriage of such persons.
(i.) In the Old Testament times the prophets, priests, Levites, and all those who attended more immediately the service of God, and at the altar under the law, were allowed to marry. Abraham, who was a prophet and priest in his own house, did not take Sarah to be his wife without God’s allowance; otherwise, surely, God would not have so signally owned his marriage, as to make promise of the Blessed Seed unto him hereby. Rebekah was a wife of God’s choosing for Isaac. God never blamed Moses, that great prophet, for marrying Zipporah; neither was Aaron faulty because he had his wife and children. Isaiah, that evangelical prophet, was married, and had children too, in the time of his prophecy; which the Scripture, in the recording of it, doth not impute to him for any iniquity. The priests and Levites generally did marry; and, however some of them are reproved in Scripture for divers sins, yet matrimony is never in the least charged upon them for any crime.
(ii.) In the New Testament times ministers have a plain and express allowance to marry, as will appear by two or three places of Scripture (1 Corinthians 9:5; Titus 1:6; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 3:4-5; 1 Timothy 3:11-12).
2. That doctrine which, under the show of piety, doth lead unto much lewdness and villainy, is a wicked doctrine: but the popish doctrine, which forbiddeth the marriage of the clergy, and of all under the celibate vow, under the show of piety, doth lead unto much lewdness and villainy: therefore this doctrine is a wicked doctrine. Whatever it be that leadeth unto lewdness and villainy, is devilish and wicked. “He that committeth sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
3. That doctrine which forbiddeth the marriage of any, that hereby they may merit the kingdom of heaven is a wicked doctrine: but the popish doctrine which forbiddeth the marriage of the clergy, and of all under the celibate vow, forbiddeth the marriage of such, that thereby they may merit the kingdom of heaven.
4. That doctrine which is a badge or character of antichrist is a wicked doctrine: but the popish doctrine which forbiddeth the marriage of the clergy, and of all under the celibate vow, is a badge or character of antichrist: therefore this popish doctrine is wicked.
III. Answer the popish arguments which they bring to prove the unlawfulness of the marriage of the clergy, and such who are under the celibate vow.
1. Their first argument is drawn from the uncleanness which they affirm to be contracted by marriage; such as the clergy, and all who are more immediately devoted unto God, must abstain from. This they endeavour to prove--
1. There is no uncleanness or unholiness in marriage itself, or in any use thereof; which is evident, because marriage was instituted in Paradise, in the state of man’s innocency; and marriage, being God’s ordinance, must needs be holy, because all God’s ordinances are so. Moreover, the Scripture calleth marriage “honourable in all,” where “the bed is undefiled” by adultery (Hebrews 13:4).
2. The papists will find it difficult to prove that there was ever any Levitical uncleanness by the use of marriage; that Scripture in Leviticus 15:1-33. speaking of something else, as will appear unto such as read and seriously weigh the place.
3. It is a gross misinterpretation of Romans 8:8, to apply it unto married persons, as if they were the persons spoken of by the apostle “that are in the flesh,” and “cannot please God.”
4. As to their inference from 1 Corinthians 7:5,--because such as would “give themselves to fasting and prayer,” must abstain for a while, therefore ministers must abstain from marriage altogether, is such a non sequitur, as the schools will hiss at.
2. The second popish argument is drawn from 1 Corinthians 7:1, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”; and, verse 8, “I say therefore unto the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” If it be good for the unmarried and widows to abide in a single estate like unto the apostle, then, say they, it is evil for such to marry; and therefore the clergy should abstain from this evil. That may be good for some, which is evil for others. A single estate may be good and best for such as have the gift of continency, and are persuaded in their heart that in this estate they may most glorify God; whereas this estate may be evil for such as are without this gift, or in likelihood may most glorify God in a married estate. It may be good at some time not to marry; namely, in the time of the Church’s persecution; and all that have the gift at such a time, should choose the celibate estate, that they might be the more ready both to do and suffer for Christ, and be the more free from temptations to apostasy. The apostle is so far from asserting it to be an evil for any in the worst of times to marry, that he asserteth the quite contrary when there is a necessity for it: “If need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry”; (1Co_7:36, 38).
3. The third popish argument is drawn from 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 :
1. It is not universally true, that all who are “unmarried do care for the things which belong to the Lord, how they may please the Lord,” and that hereby they are taken off from minding and caring for the things of the world. As to the latter, who intermeddle more with secular affairs than many of the popish unmarried clergy?
2. Neither is it universally true, that such as “are married do care for the things of the world” chiefly, so as to neglect the things of God; as instance may be given in the holiness of many married persons, which the Scripture doth take notice of. It is said that “Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters” (Genesis 5:22). Abraham, who is called “the friend of God”; Moses, unto whom the Lord “spake face to face”; Samuel, who was so highly in favour with God; David, who was “a man after God’s own heart”; Isaiah, Ezekiel, and almost all the prophets, were married persons: and we hardly read of any in the Old Testament that were famous for integrity and zeal for God, but they were such as were married.
3. Men may “care for the things that belong unto the world” moderately, and labour to please their wives in the Lord subordinately, and not transgress the bounds of their duty. (T. Vincent, M. A.)
Celibacy, its advantages and disadvantages
This state is as honourable, useful, and blessed as that of marriage. John was the unmarried disciple whom Jesus loved. The family at Bethany of two sisters and a brother was the family that Jesus loved. They had all loveworthy characters even by Him. The advantages of celibacy are threefold--
1. It is a state of larger liberty.
2. It allows more money to give away.
3. It affords more time for direct work for God.
The dangers are twofold--
1. For the women; they are liable to become shallow and frivolous, mere butterflies or wasps.
2. For the men; they are liable to become selfish and sensual, mere octopi, grasping all for their own self-indulgence. The one safeguard is to live close to Christ. (R. A. Norris.)
1 Timothy 4:4-5
For every creature of God is good.
Our charter of freedom
In meeting the heresy which he foresaw, the apostle asserted one of the noblest principles in our heritage as Christians: “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.” In other words, a common meal may become a sacrament to us if it be rightly received: and to a true follower of Christ no relationship will prove more saintly than that between husband and wife; nothing more pure than fatherly and motherly love; nothing more promotive of spiritual life than the duties and responsibilities of sons and daughters to their parents. All things and all relationships may become holy to us. This was the teaching of Paul, and of his Lord and ours. You see, then, that Paul wisely meets the error by stating the truth, which must conquer it.
I. The explanation of this principle. The apostle maintained a truth, which being received will always save the Church from the old error, in whatever form it comes. He declared that everything was made by God, and that everything God made was good, and only became bad when used in a wrong spirit. Our heavenly Father would have us take His gifts as constituting a holy eucharist, bringing blessing to us and evoking praise and thanks to Him. A truth which condemns alike the ascetic in the Romish Church, and the Plymouth Brother, who thinks that business is worldly, social joys pernicious, and newspapers fatal to one’s spiritual welfare. Be brave and be trustful in the use of all that God has given you. It was characteristic of the religious faith of the Hebrews that it maintained the doctrine, that all things were of God; that there was one Creator, all-wise and all-good.
II. The application of this principle.
1. In its application to the natural world it is doubtless generally believed amongst us. Flowers and fruits, and golden corn and waving trees, all originated in God’s thought, and are the products of His laws. But do not these words of Paul warrant us in going further? Is not the ever-living, ever-present God, who makes the flowers and rules the world, the ordainer of our lot, the appointer of our circumstances? And if this be so, does not belief in it give sacredness to earthly duties, and dignity to those which are most trivial?
2. Make application of this truth to the occupation of life. There are times when we feel as if we could do better work than falls to our share. In the depressed condition of commerce especially, well-educated men are forced to take up employment which leaves their best and most cultivated powers unused. But we believe that what God has ordained, as well as what He has created, will prove to be good and best in the long run “that drudgery is as Divine as dignity; and that training for the hereafter is more valuable than triumph here. Everything depends on how you receive and do your work. You may go to your office as a grumbling slave, or you may go as Christ’s happy servant. No occupation (unless there be sin in it) is to be spurned, no creature of God is to be rejected,” but we are to say with the apostle, I know, and am persuaded of the Lord Jesus, ‘that there is nothing unclean of itself.’“ Evil is not in the thing, but in the spirit which wrongly receives, or uses, the thing.
III. The testing power of this principle. Nothing is to be rejected if it be received with thanksgiving. But that implies that you ought to reject what you cannot receive with thanksgiving to God. Prayer and thanksgiving to God may be to you what the legendary Eastern king found his formula to be, for when a cup of poison was put within his reach, and he took it into his hand, he named the name of God and made the sign of the cross over it, according to his constant custom, and the poisoned chalice was suddenly shattered in his hand and all the poison was spilled. Name God’s name over everything doubtful, and no poison of sin shall hurt you.
IV. The twofold reason given for this principle. In the fifth verse the apostle explains more fully how common things are made sacred. I say advisedly made sacred, for the word he uses means just that. It does not signify that the things are declared to be holy, but that they are actually made holy by the Word of God and prayer.
1. Now the “Word of God” is not the utterance of His name over food as a sort of talisman. The allusion is to “the Word,” or command of God, which expressly gave permission and authority to man to use whatever was suitable for him in the vegetable and in the animal kingdom--“Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” That Divine ordinance makes all things sacred for the use of man; but man’s loyal and grateful acceptance of it must be combined with the ordinance, in order to make his use of things a right and not a usurpation. Hence the apostle says, everything is made sacred by the Word of God.
2. And prayer, and these which God has joined let no man put asunder. In the former phrase you see the top of the ladder which reaches heaven, in the latter you see the foot of it resting on the earth--and to a prayerless man it is only a vision of glory beyond his reach. God’s Word to you bestows the gift, but your word to God must appropriate the gift, or else it is not sacred and Divine. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Water the good creature of God
A minister who had lately occupied the pulpit of a brother was dining with the family of the absent minister, when the conversation turned upon the subject of teetotalism. The lady who presided at the table said, “Ah! I do not like your doctrines; you go too far in refusing the good creatures of God.” No notice was taken of the remark for some time; the minister kept on with his dinner, but at last he said, “Pray, madam, can you tell me who made this?” pointing to a glass of water that stood before him. The lady replied, “Why, God, I suppose.” “Then,” said the minister, “Madam, I think you do us an injustice when you accuse us of refusing the good creatures of God.” Silence again reigned. By and by he said, “Madam, can you tell me who made yours?” pointing to the glass of beer that the lady preferred. “I can’t exactly say I can. “Then, madam, replied he,” allow me to say there is some apparent inconsistency in your first remark. You prefer taking a thing man has made to that which God has bountifully provided, and yet you accuse me of rejecting God’s creatures, because I prefer water to beer. Madam, I leave the matter to your more serious consideration.” The lady has since seen her error, and joined the ranks of the total abstainers. If it be received with thanksgiving.
Grace at meals
I. What the scriptures teach.
1. That it consecrates food to a holy use (1 Samuel 9:13; Matthew 15:36; 1 Corinthians 10:30-31; 1 Timothy 4:4-5).
2. That danger or the need of utmost haste should not interrupt it. Acts 27:35.
3. That it is a religious duty (Romans 14:6; Colossians 3:17; 1 Timothy 4:3).
4. That we do not live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4).
II. Reasons for saying grace.
1. Because we have health.
2. Because we have appetite.
3. Because we have food.
4. Because we depend upon God’s bounty for the providential supply of daily food (Psalms 145:15-16).
5. Because analogy confirms its practice.
When we receive presents from friends, it is a pleasure to express our thankfulness; how much more to acknowledge our gratitude to God for food to nourish us and for temporal comforts.
III. What its omission shows.
1. That we are unrenewed in heart.
2. Or, that we are thoughtless and ungrateful.
How base a thing is ingratitude. How inconsistent in a professor of religion.
1. It sets a good example and lets others know that we are the Lord’s.
2. It promotes gratitude.
3. It promotes morality and religion in the family. (L. O. Thompson.)
A lesson in thanksgiving
King Alphonso X., surnamed “The Wise,” succeeded to the throne of Leon and Castile in 1252. On learning that his pages neglected to ask the Divine blessing before partaking of their daily meals, he was deeply grieved and sought diligently to point out to them the evil of this omission. At length he succeeded in finding a plan. He invited the pages of his court to dine with him. A bountiful repast was spread, and when they were all assembled around the table the king gave a signal that all was in readiness for them to begin. They all enjoyed the rich feast, but not one remembered to ask God’s blessing on his food. Just then, unexpectedly to the thoughtless guests, entered a poor, ragged beggar, who unceremoniously seated himself at the royal table, and ate and drank undisturbed, to his heart’s content. Surprise and astonishment were depicted on every countenance. The pages looked first at the king, then gazed upon the audacious intruder, expecting momentarily that his majesty would give orders to have him removed from the table. Alphonso, however, kept silence; while the beggar unabased by the presence of royalty ate all he desired. When his hunger and thirst were appeased he rose, and without a word of thanks departed from the palace. “What a despicable, mean fellow!” cried the boys. Calmly the good king rose, and with much earnestness said: “Boys, bolder and more audacious than this beggar have you all been. Every day you sit down to a table supplied by the bounty of your heavenly Father, yet you ask not His blessing, and leave it without expressing to Him your gratitude. Yes, each and all of you should be heartily ashamed of your conduct, which was far worse than was the poor beggar’s.”
1 Timothy 4:6-10
If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things.
Counsels to God’s servants
The wise counsels given here to Timothy have their value in every age, and in every land, for those who are called upon to teach and warn their fellows.
I. Make known the truth, and the truth will strengthen you.
“If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be nourished.” The verb used by Paul does not signify, as our translation of it does, the reminding people of what they knew already but had forgotten; it simply means that the doctrine unfolded in the previous verses was to be presented in a suitable way to the minds of others.
1. It is to be noted that neither here nor elsewhere was Timothy called upon to be a dictator, but a teacher, he was to give counsels rather than commands. Religious truth demands the willing assent of mind and of conscience, and is valueless if it is imposed as a creed by force or fraud. Like the germ of life in a seed of corn it must be received into a kindly soil; for only when soil and seed work together is a harvest possible. You may build a wall or a house on any soil--clay, or rock, or chalk--delving away till a smooth surface is prepared to receive the bricks and mortar superimposed upon it, and the stability of your building will not be much affected by the nature of the ground. But it is not thus you can get a harvest. A harvest cannot be had on every soil, because it is the product of life, and life needs to be in contact with certain forces before it can multiply itself. So in the higher sphere. You can make a child learn a creed and repeat it without fault, but that mental structure is only like the dead work of the builder. Truth needs to be welcomed by love, and thought, and will, as the seed must be received into good soil, and then the increase comes.
2. Observe also the reflex action of such teaching. If you put others in mind of these things you will yourself be “nourished.” This is but throwing into another form the familiar truths, “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth”; “Give and it shall be given you.” How true this is, especially in mental and spiritual experience. We give our sympathy, without stint, to some one in trouble, and our tenderness of feeling is thereby intensified. We use what little knowledge we have of God’s Word, or of Christian experience, and our knowledge grows.
II. Reject the false and trivial for the true and real.
1. Timothy is warned against “profane and old wives’ fables,” or in modern parlance, against stories which are the veriest chatter of old women. Probably Paul alludes to the fables and endless genealogies of which he elsewhere speaks. Foolish and trivial discussions and fanciful theories have often been allowed to overlay the truth of God, to its complete hiding, or at least to its sad enfeeblement. They are like a heap of decaying refuse covering the verdant grass, whose pale and enfeebled shoots show what its effect has been even after it has been cleared away. Let the truth about sin, and about Christ the Saviour from sin, be kept in the light; and beware lest it be covered over and forgotten under oratorical prettinesses, or philosophical speculations.
2. The man of God has something better to do than amuse his imagination or the imagination of others, and must “exercise himself rather unto godliness.” God does not ask us to give up pleasures or even follies for the mere sake of cultivating an ascetic temper, but in order that we may be the more free for higher pursuits and a nobler service, knowing that those who would attain unto godliness must “exercise” themselves thereunto. To spend the week in thoughtlessness and triviality, and then to sit with inert mind under the preaching of the truth on Sunday, with an occasional spasm of repentance, or a feeble attempt at the repetition of a prayer, is only to mock God with unreality.
III. Keep the body in its true place as subordinate to the spiritual life. The Revised Version is to be preferred to the Authorized in its rendering of the eighth verse, “bodily exercise is profitable for a little, but godliness is profitable for all things.” The apostle’s reference is not to the asceticism which by flagellations and vigils kept the body under, but to the gymnastic exercises of the athlete, of which he had been reminded by the verb used in the preceding verse.
IV. Let hope in the living god be your inspiration in labour and suffering. “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe.” This verse explains what Paul meant by living a life of godliness. “Life” is not mere existence, however prolonged, nor mere enjoyment of existence; but existence used for others, in the strength and under the blessing of God. The true saint “labours and suffers reproach”--or rather, “toils and strives”--in the service of his God; and he is not troubled when ill-requited, nor disheartened by seeming failure, because he trusts in the living God, in whom he has an endless heritage of peaceful and most blessed life. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
A good minister of Jesus Christ
I. A man’s goodness as a minister of Christ is disclosed in the faithfulness of his subordination to the authority of Christ.
II. A man’s goodness as a minister of Christ is disclosed in the persistency of his adherence to the doctrine of Christ.
III. A man’s goodness as a minister of Christ is disclosed in the steadfastness of his imitation of the example of christ.
IV. Lastly, a man’s goodness as a minister of Christ is disclosed IN THE devoutness of his dependence on the grace of Christ. (J. Brock, D. D.)
Nourished in the words of faith
M’Cheyne seems invariably to have applied for his personal benefit what he gave out to his people. To do so was a fundamental rule with him; and all pastors will feel that, if they are to prosper in their own souls, they must so use the Word--sternly refusing to admit the idea of feeding others until satiated themselves. And for similar ends, it is needful that we let the truth we hear preached sink down into our own souls. We, as well as our people, must drink in the falling showers. Mr. M’Cheyne did so. It is common to find him speaking thus, “July 31, Sabbath Afternoon, won Judas betraying Christ: much more tenderness than ever I felt before. Oh, that I might abide in the bosom of Him who washed Judas’ feet, and dipped His hand in the same dish with him, and warned him, and grieved over him--that I might catch the infection of His love, of His tenderness, so wonderful, so unfathomable!” (Memoir of M’Cheyne.)
A great man had a camel that was wasting away, until it seemed at the point of death. “See,” cried he, to the simple son of the desert, “here is my camel: I have tried cordials and elixir, balsams and lotions. Alas! all are in vain.” The plain man looked at the hollow sides, the staring bones, the projecting ribs. “Oh, most learned philosopher,” said he, “thy camel needeth but one thing!” “What is it, my son?” asked the old, wise man, eagerly. “Food, sir--good food, and plenty of it.” “Dear me,” cried the philosopher, “I never thought of that!” Friend, are you in low spirits? There’s your cure. You don’t want pity, don’t deserve it. Give your starved soul more prayer, more communion with God, more meditation on the Word. Then go and try to do good to somebody about you. That’s the sure cure for your misery.
1 Timothy 4:7
And exercise thyself rather unto godliness.
The believer exercising himself unto godliness
I. The nature of the duty which the text recommends.
1. This duty includes a strict and impartial inquiry into our own hearts, as to what may be therein likely to prevent our advancement in godliness.
2. This duty requires an habitual attention to the duties of the closet.
3. This duty involves the exercise of much holy watchfulness and care in the ordinary pursuits of business, so that they may not be permitted to take away the heart.
4. This duty will call for occasional communion with our Christian friends.
5. This duty requires an earnest solicitude for the right improvement of our respective trials.
6. This duty demands of us a careful avoidance of such companions, conversation, and pursuits, as we have found in time past to be injurious to the advancement of personal piety.
II. The motives which should induce us to the performance of this duty.
1. We shall do well to remember that no great advancement will be made in godliness without this exercise.
2. Let us seriously consider that our progress in true godliness will make ample amends for whatever difficulties we may have to encounter in its attainment.
3. There is much reason to believe that this exercise unto godliness will never be sincerely made in vain.
4. It is of importance to consider that unless we exercise ourselves unto godliness, so far from making further advances in the Divine life, we shall go backward, not forward.
5. It is worthy of our serious regard, that so far as we feel an unwillingness to exercise ourselves unto godliness, we give affecting proof of the want of a principle of godliness in our hearts. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
The law of spiritual growth
The man who is content to pass along with an aimless existence; or, only seeking daily supplies for daily needs, never looking hopefully into the future, and never seeking to excel; does injustice to his higher nature, and grovels on a plane but little elevated above the demands of animal existence. No aim can so call out all the powers of the human mind, and soul, as the aim after God-likeness. For what is godliness? Is it not God-likeness? a seeking to be like God? Yet the question at once arises, How can man be like God? God is infinite, man is finite. Yet with all this disparity, the Bible exhorts us to set the Lord always before us, and to grow up into His likeness. What may be termed the physical attributes of God, those which pertain to Him as Maker of all things, Ruler over suns and systems, the Upholder of the universe; these man can neither comprehend nor copy, they are beyond his reach. It is God’s moral qualities that we are to copy and emulate. All of God’s moral attributes are comprised in His holiness. For holiness is moral perfection. As applied to God, it means that wholeness and completeness of the Divine nature, from which nothing can be taken, to which nothing can be added. It includes, therefore, truth, love, mercy, goodness, and the like; because the absence of either would mar the wholeness and completeness of the Divine character. The presence of every virtue is needed to make complete the full circle of holiness, and they are all found in perfect fulness in God. The man, then, who sets before himself the aim to be God-like, places above him the grandest aim that a created mind can reach after. Godliness, then, as spoken of in the text, is only another name for holiness in action, i.e., practical piety. But you may say this holiness or godliness is not attainable. It is not to the full extent of the original which you are told to copy, because there are two elements in God’s holiness which can never exist in man so long as he tabernacles in the flesh--the complete absence of sin, and the presence in full perfection of every virtue. The result of this godliness will show itself in a variety of ways. It will give a man the victory over himself. The cultivation of this holiness will enable a man to overcome the world. This godliness, so grand in itself, and in its results, can be secured only by exercising ourselves to attain it. It does not come of itself, nor by retired meditation, nor by earnest prayer, nor by diligent reading of God’s Word. All these things are aids and adjuncts, but none of them, nor all combined, will give us godliness. It is the result of moral principles put into active exercise; and demands the full bent, and strenuous exertion of the mind. There is much meaning in the original word which the apostle here uses, and which is translated “exercise.” The literal rendering is--Be gymnasts in godliness. The idea, then, of the apostle is, that in order to attain unto godliness, we must be moral gymnasts, willing to use as severe discipline; to undergo as painful privations; to bear as torturing an exercise of flesh and blood; as the gymnast did, who trained himself to win the wreath of ivy at the Isthmian festival, or the garland of wild olives which crowned the conqueror at Olympia. And why should we not: The aims are infinitely higher, and the rewards are infinitely greater. The arena in which we are to perform this exercise is in the Church of God. Thus true religion is a very personal and practical thing. Personal; because it is thyself that is to do the exercise; it is an individual act, and no amount of exercise done by those around you in the same family, the same Church, can avail to your benefit. It is thyself that must be the moral gymnast in this spiritual conflict. And it is practical; because the things in which we are to exercise ourselves unto godliness are all around our daily life. And to this repressive work, which demands constant exercise, there is to be added an aggressive work; a watching of opportunities for good, a going out into the field of active Christian exertion. Moral powers, like the muscles of the body, are developed by exercise. The unused arm shrivels up; the unused hand loses its cunning; the unused brain loses its force. Our moral character is a thing of growth, and of slow growth; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. Character is principle put into practice and developed under trial. (Bishop Stevens.)
Exercise unto godliness
Religion is not a dead, inoperative thing; but vital, active, energetic, self-diffusive. There is an exercise unto health. This is necessary for students and persons of sedentary occupations, and the neglect of it has ruined many a fine constitution. But what is the health of the body to that of the soul? What is the discipline of the muscular system to that of the moral affections? There is an exercise unto gain. This is one of man’s chief pursuits; and what efforts have we all witnessed, what strenuous and unresting toil, what sleepless vigilance and incessant study, to lay up treasures here below! But what are earthly goods to heavenly? There is an exercise unto pleasure. There is an exercise unto knowledge. This is nobler, but not the noblest. Wisdom is better than knowledge, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. There is an exercise unto glory. This was the all-controlling and all-absorbing pursuit of the great military nations of antiquity, and some of them made all virtue to consist in this single aim. There is an exercise unto patriotism. This is a worthy competition, by all admired and praised. How many of you who hear me have begun this exercise? Be not ashamed of it, nor weary in well-doing. It is a holy service, and fraught with perfect freedom. How many of you have hitherto neglected this exercise? Enter upon it at once. It must be done, or all is lost. (J. Cross, D. D.)
A heart exercised unto godliness necessary to make a good minister
I. I am to show what this heart exercise unto godliness is.
1. It pre-supposeth a man to be truly godly. That professor or minister that is not godly can never exercise himself to godliness. It is impossible to act without a principle of acting, and exercise doth naturally require a power of it. He can never exercise himself to running, that wants feet to run with; or to wrestling, who wants arms; nor the ungodly exercise themselves to godliness; on the contrary, “an heart they have exercised with covetous practices.”
2. Making religion our business. In this the apostle gave himself a pattern to us. “Herein,” says he, “do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence, toward God and toward men.” Godliness should be our great work, how to advance it in ourselves and others. Now we will make religion our business, if we take it not only by fits and starts, but make it our daily work, as men exercise themselves in their callings.
3. It imports a vigorous following of it, as wrestlers and runners ply their work vigorously. To be a little more particular, I will touch at four things.
II. To show the necessity of the exercise of the heart unto godliness, to make a good minister.
1. It is necessary to make a man faithful in his work, and to cause him to take God for his party, with whom he hath to do.
2. It is necessary to give a man a sense of the weight of the work, and the worth of souls, without which he cannot be a good minister (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). It is a weighty work.
3. It is very necessary to fit a man to suffer for truth.
4. It is most necessary to fit us for the performance of the several duties of our calling, whether in preaching, administering the sacraments, visiting families, or the sick. (T. Boston, D. D.)
A heart exercised unto godliness necessary to make a good Christian
The apostle gives us here a short, but substantial description of the Christian life. It is an exercise, it is not a name. Again, Christianity is not an easy exercise, but such as wrestlers or runners used, exerting all their might and skill to gain the victory. The true Christian life is heart exercise to godliness. For illustrating this I shall--
I. Show some weighty truths imported in this.
1. Habitual godliness is absolutely necessary to salvation.
2. No person goes to heaven sleeping. The Christian life is an exercise.
3. They must have true courage that shall come to heaven. They have to wrestle also with the world. No man can go through it to heaven, but he will find it a place filled with snares, and that will require courage to face the difficulties in it.
4. People must either give up the name of Christians, or else abandon their old exercise to sin and ungodliness.
II. Show some things in which the exercise to godliness consists.
1. In carrying on a constant trade with heaven, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, the exercised soul is employed in exporting his weakness, poverty, and wants, and importing strength and fulness from God. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”
2. In a spiritual performance of duties.
1 Timothy 4:8
For bodily exercise profiteth little; but godliness is profitable unto all things.
The profit of godliness
Not only is this the testimony of a great man, but the testimony of a good man, the testimony of a Christian man; a man, therefore, who had experience as to the utility of that concerning which he makes affirmation. He did not speak on the report of others, but he had brought the matter to the test of personal experiment; and from what he had realized in himself he could say, “Godliness is profitable unto all things.”
I. What is godliness? It is real, vital, experimental, practical religion--genuine Christianity--a religion concerning God, the great, the wise, the blessed God.
1. Godliness comprehends a genuine fear. For where there is no fear of God there is no genuine piety--there is no religion.
2. Godliness means the saving knowledge of God, “whom to know is life eternal.”
3. And then, where there is knowledge of God, saving knowledge, there must be love to God; and no man can love an unknown object.
4. Then just in proportion as we love God (and this is essential to godliness) we shall be concerned to entertain intercourse with God.
5. Then perceive that this will lead to conformity to God--likeness to God. Such, indeed, is the very nature, such the constitution of the human mind, that it contracts a resemblance to those objects with which from inclination it is the most conversant. Apply the remark where you will, it will hold. Look at the man of this world; where are his thoughts? Why, the world is his object, and he becomes more and more worldly: and so of every other class. Now look at the man of God: his thoughts rise to God, his affections are spiritually placed on God: there is his object, there is his all; and, beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus, he catches the impress of it.
6. Let me say, too, that all Scriptural piety is practical. All that godliness which is genuine must lead to holiness of life and conversation.
II. What, then, are the advantages of godliness? “Godliness is profitable.” As though the apostle had said, “It is not merely a very harmless and innocent thing, and therefore no person should be afraid of it.” This would have been very low praise, if it had been praise at all. It is not merely said “that it is profitable for some things”; nor is it affirmed concerning it that it is profitable for many things; but the affirmation is without qualification, “Godliness is profitable for all things.” “The life that now is.” You cannot hear this without at once in your minds adverting to the beneficial influence of godliness on a man’s external circumstances. Then consistent godliness gives a man character. Besides, godliness saves a man from intemperance: and what a vast benefit is this! When a man becomes truly godly, he becomes industrious. You never saw an idle Christian. And then the Lord will bless the man that fears Him. Besides, godliness is beneficial considered in its influence in preserving and prolonging the life that now is. Then is it not true that ungodliness tends to impair and destroy life? Godliness is profitable in its beneficial influence on all the relations of life--on all the grades in society. Let me just add here that godliness is profitable at all the periods of life. It is profitable in the morning of life. Oh! how it brightens the morning: and is not morning the best part of the day? And if it be bright in the morning, oh! may it not bless the noon? Then if it brighten the morn and bless the noon, how will it cheer the evening of life! Learn the inconsistency and folly of those who, while they admit the profit of godliness, make no effort to avail themselves of its advantages. Let me recommend this religion to you on the principle of self-interest. (R. Newton.)
The advantage of godliness
Among the other advantages which it secures on this side eternity, one is the improvement of the human mind--I mean of his intellectual qualities: the improvement of his judgment, his discrimination, his mental faculties. I shall draw your attention to four reasons why the religion of Christ, when received into the heart, improves the human mind.
I. Its tendency is to subjugate the passions. It is more than its tendency; it is its direct effect. Not that man is wholly without restraint; there are three things which may operate to check the evil passions of the heart.
1. Conscience has some power.
Self-interest can do something to check the passions, because it will say, “This will do you an injury.” But they are unable to do this perfectly, and that for two reasons.
1. That passion is greatly assisted by powerful allies. Satan sits at the right hand of the human heart, blowing up the coals of evil which are in the heart into a flame of sin, which marks the demon’s power over fallen man. But religion comes to counteract this; the grace of God, by applying to the mind Divine truth and disposing the mind to love and embrace it, improves the mind--
II. It presents right principles of action.
1. It presents a principle extremely weighty to regulate the mind aright and make it decide right on such things as it is called to judge respecting it. It enables the mind to realize eternity; to be influenced by it at such times and in such places as an individual living in preparation for it should be influenced and guided in relation to an appearance before the great tribunal.
2. Religion produces the realization of another object which tends to guide the mind aright. What is that which will decide the rectitude of the whole life? The apostle has stated it--“Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”; because all that is not done according to this motive is not done according to the will of God.
3. Religion influences the mind and will aright, and therefore elevates the mind, because it furnishes a directory--the Scriptures. Religion has this influence, because--
III. It presents to the mind the highest subjects of contemplation.
1. It brings to the mind the things of God. It takes the mind, by contemplation, up into the mount, as Moses was taken up to converse with God; or as the disciples were taken up into the Mount of Transfiguration to behold the glory of Christ and to hear Him talk with Moses and Elias. It has an elevating effect.
2. It makes the mind serious; and seriousness improves the mind. Trifling is the mark of a light mind, and does not improve it. Religion, as it induces habits of seriousness, cannot fail to improve the mind.
3. The study of God’s Word tends to strengthen the mind; and that which strengthens the mind improves it.
4. Religion gives acquiescence to the will of God; and this improves the mind. The mind that is opposed to the will of God is always battling; but the mind that yields to the will of God is always going right.
IV. By the internal peace, the peace of soul which religion is calculated to produce, and which it actually does produce; it raises the human mind. When the mind is at peace, it can operate calmly, and is therefore more likely to regulate the judgment and guide it aright. It has often been remarked what effect religion produces in seasons of great danger. This was strikingly observed in the case of the loss of the Kent East Indiaman. There were some persons on board under the influence of religion; and some of these, even females, became objects of admiration, because of their remarkable presence of mind. And this power of religion has often been remarked in our pious soldiers and sailors: their minds have been composed in the hour of danger and of battle; and they have been distinguished by their energy and calmness. In fact, almost all that distinguishes the rational from the irrational is seen in the Christian. The Christian in this world is always in danger. We cannot but observe, then--
1. How superior is the state of the human mind in those who have religion to the state of the mind in those who have it not.
2. In attentively reading the history of the world, we may state, without fear Of contradiction, that the minds of men have been improved in proportion to the degree of religion they have possessed. (R. Sibthorp.)
The advantages of practical religion
1. “Godliness is profitable,” as it tends greatly to alleviate the sorrows of life.
2. Godliness is profitable because it imparts sweetness to the enjoyments and an additional relish to the pleasures of life. It is a libel on piety, to represent it as something gloomy and morose.
3. “Godliness,” because it confers upon its possessors pleasures peculiarly its own, “is profitable.”
4. Godliness is profitable, as it disarms death of its terrors and the grave of its gloom.
5. “Godliness is profitable,” for it prepares its possessor for eternal glory. From this subject we learn the importance--the value of religion. But, in fine, if religion is so profitable, I need scarcely, except for the purpose of excitement, remind you that it is personal religion that alone can be beneficial to any of you. (Dr. Beattie.)
I. The nature of godliness.
1. Knowledge of the perfections of God--of the person and work of Christ as the Mediator--of man’s state as a fallen creature--of his duty and privileges as redeemed by Christ.
2. Obedience to the commands of God.
3. The transformation of the soul into the image of God.
II. The fruits, or tendencies and effects, of godliness.
1. For the increase of worldly comfort.
2. For the establishment of respectability of character in the world.
3. For the improvement of the human mind. (P. M’Owan.)
The gain of godliness
I. And, first, what is godliness? It is a real belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; our Maker, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier. It is believing in Him, as He is made known to us in the Bible, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us see, whether, even in this world, godliness is not great gain. In the first place, the Scripture gives a general promise that the godly man shall have good things in this world.
1. For godliness fits a man for every station. It is that character on which favour, honour, and esteem surely follow.
2. The godly man alone really enjoys the things which God gives him here.
3. But further, the godly man alone has the privilege of know ing that all things shall work together for his good.
4. But after all, if you would know the great gain of godliness, even in this life, you must try it.
II. And this word brings us to the full gain of godliness. If in this life only the believer had hope in Christ, he might still be deemed of all men most miserable. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
That godliness generally makes men happy in this life
I. It is to be observed that under the Jewish dispensation temporal promises were most expressly made to obedience, and most particularly with regard to the national success of the righteous against their public enemies (Deuteronomy 32:29).
II. Therefore it is to be observed in the next place, and the observation holds more universally true, that religion and virtue, whenever they obtain generally so as to prevail in a nation, do bring along with them very great temporal blessings.
III. As to the case of particular and private persons, about whom is much the greatest difficulty, there are several considerations necessary to be taken in in order to determine with any exactness how far godliness having the promise of the present life can be applied to them in this mixed and disorderly state of things. And--
1. Religion and piety does not generally alter the natural circumstances or the relative states and conditions of men. If a man be poor or be a servant or slave, his being pious and religious will not certainly make him rich or gain him his freedom.
2. Godliness and true holiness does not exempt men from the unavoidable casualties of nature, such as sickness, death, and the like.
3. Righteousness and piety do not exempt men from such afflictions as God sees necessary either to make trial of their virtue or to make an example of it.
4. Religion and virtue do not always secure men from all the consequences of their own former sins.
5. Righteousness and true holiness do not secure men from the consequences of other men’s sins also: from oppression and unrighteous judgment. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
The profitableness of godliness
How generally men, with most unanimous consent, are devoted to profit, as to the immediate scope of their designs and aim of their doings, if with the slightest attention we view what is acted on this theatre of human affairs, we cannot but discern. Profit is therefore so much affected and pursued, because it is, or doth seem, apt to procure or promote some good desirable to us. It hath been ever a main obstruction to the practice of piety, that it hath been taken for no friend, or rather for an enemy to profit; as both unprofitable and prejudicial to its followers: and many semblances there are countenancing that opinion. For religion seemeth to smother or to slacken the industry and alacrity of men in following profit many ways: by charging them to be content with a little, and careful for nothing; by diverting their affections and cares from worldly affairs to matters of another nature, place, and time, prescribing in the first place to seek things spiritual, heavenly. It favoureth this conceit to observe that often bad men by impious courses do appear to thrive and prosper; while good men seem for their goodness to suffer, or to be nowise visibly better for it, enduring much hardship and distress.
1. We may consider that piety is exceeding useful for all sorts of men, in all capacities, all states, all relations; fitting and disposing them to manage all their respective concernments, to discharge all their peculiar duties, in a proper, just, and decent manner. If then it be a gross absurdity to desire the fruits, and not to take care of the root, not to cultivate the stock, whence they sprout; if every prince gladly would have his subjects loyal and obedient, every master would have his servants honest, diligent, and observant, every parent would have his children officious and grateful, every man would have his friend faithful and kind, every one would have those just and sincere, with whom he doth negotiate or converse; if any one would choose to be related to such, and would esteem their relation a happiness; then consequently should every man in reason strive to further piety, from whence alone those good dispositions and practices do proceed.
2. Piety doth fit a man for all conditions, qualifying him to pass through them all with the best advantage, wisely, cheerfully, and safely; so as to incur no considerable harm or detriment by them. Is a man prosperous, high, or wealthy in condition? Piety guardeth him from all the mischiefs incident to that state, and disposeth him to enjoy the best advantages thereof. It keepeth him from being swelled and puffed up with vain conceit. It preserveth him from being perverted or corrupted with the temptations to which that condition is most liable; from luxury, from sloth, from stupidity, from forgetfulness of God, and of himself; maintaining among the floods of plenty a sober and steady mind. Such a wondrous virtue hath piety to change all things into matter of consolation and joy. No condition in effect can be evil or sad to a pious man: his very sorrows are pleasant, his infirmities are wholesome, his wants enrich him, his disgraces adorn him, his burdens ease him; his duties are privileges, his falls are the grounds of advancement, his very sins (as breeding contrition, humility, circumspection, and vigilance), do better and profit him: whereas impiety doth spoil every condition, doth corrupt and embase all good things, doth embitter all the conveniences and comforts of life.
3. Piety doth virtually comprise within it all other profits, serving all the designs of them all: whatever kind or desirable good we can hope to find from any other profit, we may be assured to enjoy from it. He that hath it is ipso facto vastly rich, is entitled to immense treasures of most precious wealth; in comparison whereto all the gold and all the jewels in the world are mere baubles. He hath interest in God, and can call Him his, who is the all, and in regard to whom all things existent are “less than nothing.” The pious man is in truth most honourable. The pious man is also the most potent man: he hath a kind of omnipotency, because he can do whatever he will, that is, what he ought to do; and because the Divine power is ever ready to assist him in his pious enterprises, so that “he can do all things by Christ that strengtheneth him.” The pious man also doth enjoy the only true pleasures; hearty, pure, solid, durable pleasures. As for liberty, the pious man most entirely and truly doth enjoy that; he alone is free from captivity to that cruel tyrant Satan, from the miserable slavery to sin, from the grievous dominion of lust and passion. As for all other profits, secluding it, they are but imaginary and counterfeit, mere shadows and illusions, yielding only painted shows instead of substantial fruit.
4. That commendation is not to be omitted which is nearest at hand, and suggested by St. Paul himself to back this assertion concerning the universal profitableness of piety; “For,” saith he, “it hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” As for the blessings of this life, although God hath not promised to load the godly man with affluence of worldly things, yet hath He promised to furnish him with whatever is needful or convenient for him, in due measure and season, the which he doth best understand. Particularly there are promised to the pious man, A supply of all wants.
“The Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish.” A protection in all dangers.--“The eye of the Lord is on them that fear Him, on them that hope in His mercy; to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” Guidance in all his undertakings and proceedings.--“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Success and prosperity in his designs.--“Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” Comfortable enjoying the fruits of his industry.--“Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands.” Satisfaction of all reasonable desires.--“The desire of the righteous shall be granted.” Firm peace and quiet.--“Great peace have they which love Thy law.” “The fruit of righteousness is sowed in peace.” Joy and alacrity.--“Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” Support and comfort in afflictions.--“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Deliverance from trouble.--“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” Preservation and recovery from mishaps, or miscarriages.--“Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand.” Preferment of all sorts, to honour and dignity, to wealth and prosperity.--“Wait on the Lord, and keep His way; and He shall exalt thee to inherit the land.” Long life.--“The fear of the Lord prolongeth days.” A good name endureth after death.--“The memory of the just is blessed.” Blessings entailed on posterity.--“His seed shall be mighty on earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed.” “The root of the righteous shall not be moved.” It is indeed more frequently, abundantly, and explicitly promised unto God’s ancient people, as being a conditional ingredient of the covenant made with them, exhibited in that as a recompense of their external performance of religious works prescribed in their law. The gospel doth not so clearly propound it, or so much insist on it as not principally belonging to the evangelical covenant, the which, in reward to the performance of its conditions by us, peculiarly doth offer blessings spiritual, and relating to the future state; as also scarce deserving to be mentioned in comparison to those superior blessings. But infinitely more profitable it is, as “having the promises of the future life,” or as procuring a title to those incomparably more excellent blessings of the other world; those “indefectible treasures,” that “incorruptible, undefiled, and never-fading inheritance, reserved in heaven for us.” (I. Barrow.)
The profitableness of godliness
1. We may consider that religion doth prescribe the truest and best rules of action; thence enlightening our mind, and rectifying our practice in all matters, and on all occasions, so that whatever is performed according to it, is done well and wisely, with a comely grace in regard to others, with a cheerful satisfaction in our own mind, with the best assurance that things are here capable of, to find happy success and beneficial fruit. Of all things in the world there is nothing more generally profitable than light by it we converse with the world, and have all things set before us; by it we truly and easily discern things in their right magnitude, shape, and colour; by it we guide our steps safely in prosecution of what is good, and shunning what is noxious; by it our spirits are comfortably warmed and cheered, our life consequently, our health, our vigour, and activity, are preserved. The like benefits doth religion, which is the light of our soul, yield to it. Pious men are “children of the light”; pious works are works of light “shining before men.” What therefore law and government are to the public, things necessary to preserve the world in order, peace, and safety (that men may know what to do, and distinguish what is their own), that is piety to each man’s private state and to ordinary conversation: it freeth a man’s own life from disorder and distraction; it prompteth men how to behave themselves toward one another with security and confidence.
2. We may consider more particularly, that piety yieldeth to the practiser all kind of interior content, peace, and joy; freeth him from all kinds of dissatisfaction, regret, and disquiet; which is an inestimably great advantage: for certainly the happiness and misery of men are wholly or chiefly seated and founded in the mind. If that is in a good state of health, rest, and cheerfulness, whatever the person’s outward condition or circumstances be, he cannot be wretched: if that be distempered or disturbed, he cannot be happy.
3. Seeing we have mentioned happiness, or the summum bonum, the utmost scope of human desire, we do add, that piety doth surely confer it. Happiness, whatever it be, hath certainly an essential coherence with piety. These are reciprocal propositions, both of them infallibly true, he that is pious is happy; and, he that is happy is pious. All pious dispositions are fountains of pleasant streams, which by their confluence do make up a full sea of felicity.
4. It is a peculiar advantage of piety, that it furnisheth employment fit for us, worthy of us, hugely grateful and highly beneficial to us. Man is a very busy and active creature, which cannot live and do nothing, whose thoughts are in restless motion, whose desires are ever stretching at somewhat, who perpetually will be working either good or evil to himself; wherefore greatly profitable must that thing be which determineth him to act well, to spend his care and pain on that which is truly advantageous to him; and that is religion only. It alone fasteneth our thoughts, affections, and endeavours, on occupations worthy the dignity of our nature.
5. It is a considerable benefit of piety, that it affordeth the best friendships and sweetest society. (I. Barrow.)
Temporal blessings, support under trouble, and sanctified afflictions
I. Godliness is profitable for the obtaining of all temporal good things that we stand in need of. In that catalogue of the Christian’s possessions and treasures, which St. Paul has drawn up (1 Corinthians 3:22).
1. As to riches. “The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich (Proverbs 10:22). To all this we may still add, that religion brings contentment to the mind, and “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). If it does not bring the estate to the mind, it brings the mind to the estate; and that is much the same thing, it is altogether as well. Thus it is that “a little that a righteous man hath, is better than the riches of many wicked” (Psalms 37:16). And he is truly richer with a little, than the others are with a great deal.
2. To honour and good reputation. A blessing which the wise man rates at a higher price than gold and silver, or any of the riches of this world (Proverbs 22:1).
3. Pleasure. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17).
II. Godliness is profitable for the life that now is, to support us under troubles and afflictions whenever they befall us. Here let us inquire what those peculiar supports under afflictions are, which are the proper fruits of godliness. They are chiefly these--
1. The testimony of a good conscience. This, St. Paul tells us was his rejoicing in all his tribulations, and at last in the near views of death (2 Corinthians 1:12).
2. A sense of pardon and reconciliation with God is a further support under worldly troubles. Pardon takes away the curse from affliction, and a sense of pardon is a sovereign balm to ease the anguish of the mind.
3. The comfortable hope of heaven, where these present afflictions shall be felt no more, and where they shall be abundantly compensated with fulness of joy for ever.
4. There are the supporting influences of the good spirit of God, which are promised in the gospel to all believers.
III. That it secures a sanctified use of afflictions, as well as a happy issue of them; which is therefore a present, as well as a future benefit. (D. Jennings.)
The present life
1. It is a mysterious life.
2. It is a trying life.
3. It is a preparatory life.
4. It is a short life.
5. It is a precarious life. (The Homilist.)
I. The principle.
II. The practice. Godliness must be exercised; religion is a personal matter. He must exercise himself vigorously.
III. The profit. (D. Thomas.)
The profit of godliness
I. “Bodily exercise” is of considerable profit. St. Paul is speaking of the training in the gymnasium. He allows it profits a little. Yet it is not all. No man is necessarily better in heart and life for having the muscles of his arm increased in girth half an inch or an inch. A sound constitution does not necessarily involve goodness in character. If so the Kaffir or Zulu would be the best man upon earth, which he is not. “Bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” The discipline of godliness does make a man better inwardly. And the goodness passes from the centre outwards. It includes even that measure of advantage which may be derived from the culture of the body.
II. There is another view of this phrase, “bodily exercise,” which we ought to notice before passing on. A large class of writers understand by it not so much athleticism as asceticism. The soul should bear empire over the body; but it should also reverence and care for the body. The laws of the body, of health, of sustenance are equally laws of God, with those of the soul. The perfection of manhood is attained when the laws of both, according to their kind and function, are duly observed. Asceticism is immoral, because it violates wantonly the law of God in one of the fairest provinces of His creation--viz., the delicate, sensitive, serviceable body of man. Yet even asceticism, in certain forms, profiteth a little. “Allow not nature more than nature needs,” says Shakespeare. Self-denial in bodily indulgence might put some of us into more robust mental health, and impart to us a finer spiritual tone. I am not sure but that “bodily discipline” might (as St. Paul says) “profit a little.” If any bodily appetite or habit rises into mastery over the mind or soul, it must be put in check with a firm hand, and with patient self-denial. So far “bodily exercise,” discipline, is not only profitable, but imperative.
III. The higher principle including all that is serviceable in both athleticism and asceticism, and immeasurably more beside, is godliness. It grows also by use. “Exercise thyself unto godliness.” We grow patient by being patient. We become industrious by refusing to be indolent and by working hard. We learn to love best by loving. We become religious by praying and communion with God. Begin to make God’s law a ruling influence and power in your life. Think out what His will is about, say, that temptation which is coming to you to-morrow; then keep to His will, and pass the temptation by. That is the discipline of godliness.
IV. This is profitable for all things--unlike athleticism, which profits only for soundness of health and toughness of muscle.
1. For the body itself godliness is profitable. Disease, weakness, morbidness are far more the devil’s work than God’s.
2. For the mind. He who ordered the planets in their orbits, and the seasons in their unvarying round, has not left the human mind without its law; Godliness brings man into harmony with the Author of his being.
3. For faith. But godliness advances faith. The more godlike we grow, the simpler, clearer, stronger is our faith in God. Live holier lives, live less selfish lives, and you will believe more in God and His Son.
4. The affections. This great reverence for the God who is great and good and loving enlarges our heart and our affections. Godliness is instinctive chivalry. If by your evil passion and harshness, your self-indulgence, your weakness and wanton folly, you blight the lives of others, I tell you, you are ungodly men. Godliness is profitable to the home.
5. Business. Be a godly man. Fear God rather than turns of fortune or than opinion. De like God--true, reliable in your word and deeds. (A. J. Griffith.)
The profitableness of godliness
I. A man quickly learns if he wishes to live profitably he must have regard to law. We cannot violate law without suffering for it. Disobedience entails destruction, obedience informs with life.
II. Let us carry this examination into greater detail. The most profitable human existence is that existence which secures the greatest benefit to the greatest number of faculties. If we resolve a human being into its elements, we shall find it divisible into body, mind, and soul, or, as some would put it, moral instincts. The true philosophy of living consists in the development of this tripartite. We pass, then, to consider the influence of rigidly religious life upon these sides of our nature.
1. If we practise the precepts of the gospel we will eschew those evil acts which occasion uneasiness and remorse; our temperament will maintain an even tranquility, our happiness will be full and satisfying. It has been truly said that an atheistic age is a barren age. We may safely say, then, that for the growth of the mind a godly life is best.
2. But the mind sends down its roots deep into the encompassing body upon which it acts and is acted upon. Physiologists tell us that a healthy mind conduces to a healthy body. If a Christian life produces vigour and clearness of intellect, then it must have a similar effect on the body. A religious life, then, we assert to be physically beneficial.
3. Passing to the region of the spiritual we are relieved from all necessity for discussion. Spirituality can only exist amid holy influences. The man who sins deadens his moral instincts, makes them useless here, and entails the penalty which such misuse is visited with hereafter.
4. But we cannot have obtained anything like a reliable knowledge of the relative value of two courses of life if we have excluded from our calculations all thought of suffering and sorrow. As we cannot by human device stave off sorrow, it behoves us to consider how it can be most successfully met. Mr. Spurgeon has said that if we take our troubles to God He will carry them for us; but if we take them anywhere else they will roll back again.
III. Passing from the individual man to his business interests, we proceed to consider whether godliness is inimical to worldly success now, all that Christianity enforces is the necessity of strict honesty. Religion will not transform the dunce into a genius, but sinfulness will transform the genius into a dunce. And if all things are considered, I feel confident that the just man gains in more than mere clear-headedness. Deceit is a most deceitful helper. Henry Ward Beecher tells a story of a man in the Canadian backwoods who, during the summer months, bad procured a stock of fuel sufficient to serve the winter’s consumption. This man had a neighbour who was very indolent, but not very honest, and who, having neglected to provide against the winter storms, was mean enough to avail himself of his neighbour’s supplies without the latter’s permission or knowledge. Mr. Beecher states that it was found, on computation, that the thief had actually spent more time in watching for opportunities to steal, and laboured more arduously to remove the wood (to say nothing of the risk and penalty of detection), than had the man who in open daylight and by honest means had gathered it. And this is oftener the case than we are disposed to allow. What appear to be short cuts to wealth are never safe ones, and very generally they prove to be extremely circuitous. Relaxation, too, is necessary for all men. Consider, then, whether the frivolous and enervating gaiety so frequently indulged in, or the innocent and energizing merriment of the godly, will best enable a man to recuperate the waste occasioned by business life.
IV. We cannot isolate ourselves from others; we are bound by innumerable bonds to the system of human interests. Our welfare is knit up with the welfare of the world. The man, then, who strives to suppress swindling, and who by the nobility of his own character rebukes all cheatery, is doing a grand service for mankind. He is making property more secure, and society more stable. If irreligion was crushed prosperity would visit this country with her brightest blessings and most permanent happiness. The gospel is also the more potent than all the antidotes which economists prescribe for the diminution of crime.
V. It is true godliness, not sham or selfish godliness, that proves profitable.
VI. Having thus glanced at the profitableness of religion in this life, let us bestow a moment’s thought upon that other life which is eternal. If we lose this, what profit is it that we have been successful in business! We have gained the lesser by losing the greater. The course which in the end will prove profitable cannot be a selfish one. Love to God is indissolubly intertwined with love to man, and the glory of God must issue in man’s exaltation in the best and truest sense. (J. G. Henderson.)
What is the profit of godliness?
That men, by godliness, should reap a fruition and harvest hereafter is not surprising to those who have at all been instructed in religious things; but there are many who have supposed that godliness was in a man’s way here. What is godliness? So that godliness means something more than merely religion, in the narrow and technical sense of the term. It means having a wise view of all the laws of our being and condition, and living in conformity to them. Moreover, when it is said that it has in it “the promise of the life that now is,” we are not to narrowly interpret it. A man with a clumsy hand, without skill and without inventive thought, is not justified in attempting to be an inventor simply on the general ground of godliness. We are not to suppose that a man who has no commercial training is to plunge into business and make this plea: “I live in conformity to the laws of my being, and shall be prospered in my pursuits.” We are to have a larger idea of prosperity than is seen in any of these special things. That which, on the whole, promotes their greatest happiness must be considered. Their prosperity now means their welfare. It does not consist in the development of any one part of their nature, but the whole of it. Godliness has an immediate relation to that which is the foundation of all enjoyment--a good, sound bodily condition. The condition of enjoyment in this life is that one is in a sound state of bodily health. Godliness, or a conformity to the great laws of our condition, includes physical health--works toward it. Moderation of appetite; restraint of undue desires; that quietness of spirit which comes from the belief in an overruling Providence; that undisturbed equilibrium which comes from faith in God--all these are, looking at them in their very lowest relations, elements of health--of a sound physical condition. Next consider how much a man’s happiness in this life depends upon his disposition--both with reference to himself and with reference to his social surrounding. It is not what you have about you, but what you are, that determines how happy you shall be. Excessive pride takes away from the power of enjoyment. Godliness, by its very nature, reduces a man to a certain conformity with the laws of his condition, and makes him content therein, and so works upon his disposition that it becomes amenable to the law of happiness. It is made to be more childlike and simple. It is brought into conditions in which happiness may distil upon it from ten thousand little things. A man who wishes to see beauty in nature must not watch for it in gorgeous sunsets always--though they will come once in a while. Let him watch for it in ten million little facets which glisten in the light of the sum by the roadside as well as in the rich man’s adorned grounds. We must see it in the motes and bugs, in the minutest insects, everywhere. So, then, we are to reap happiness and satisfaction, not so much from great cataclysms and paroxysms as in little things, that have the power to make us supremely happy. Another thing. Men’s happiness depends more upon their relations to society than we are apt to think. Where men have the art of fitting themselves to their circumstances and their companions there is great satisfaction in these also. There is a true sympathy, a true benevolence, which is godly. If you go among men with a mean, selfish spirit, how little happiness will you find in your social intercourse[ But if in the child and in its sports you see something to make you smile; if toward the labouring man you have a kindly good will, and if you find companionship with all who are virtuous in the various walks of life--with those who are high for certain reasons, and those who are low for certain other reasons; if you feel a generous brotherhood and sympathy of men, then there is a vast deal of enjoyment for you in this life, which comes simply from your aptitudes for fellowship and friendship. Now it is the peculiar office of a true godliness to subdue the heart to this universal amnesty and sympathy, so that they who are godly, who live in conformity to the will of God, in all their circumstances, shall reap more or less enjoyment. Godliness, by changing men’s condition, prepares them to be happy; and by giving them affinities for things about them produces conditions of happiness. There are also other ways in which godliness works towards happiness. It gives to men a motive in this life without concentrating on their worldly endeavours the utmost of their powers. The outgoing of a man’s own self, legitimately and industriously, with the constant expectation of success--there is great enjoyment in this. At the same time, let this enjoyment be coupled with the moderating, restraining feeling that if earthly enterprises fail and come short, this world is not the only refuge, and worldly affairs are not the only things of value--that though the house perish, and the garments be wasted, and the gold and silver take wings and fly away, and all things perish, yet there is a God, there is a providence, there is hope, there is a home, and there is immortality; then the happiness is greatly increased. Then there is the consideration of those qualities which go to make success in business. Men do not believe you are as honest or as faithful and prompt as you believe yourself to be. But where all the parts of a man are morally sound; where he is free from vices of every sort; where he has fidelity, conscientiousness, industry, good judgment, and intelligence; where he is so trustworthy that you can bring the screw to bear upon him, and, though you turn it never so many times, not be able to break him until you crush him to death--he is invaluable. And I say that just in proportion as men approach to that, they are more and more important in a commercial age, and in a great commercial community. Now, it is the tendency of the ethics of Christianity to produce just such men. If religion does not produce them, it is so far spuriously or imperfectly administered. There is a difference between ethical religion and ecclesiastical and doctrinal religion. But where a man has Christian ethics; where a man is truth-speaking and reliable; where a man is founded upon the rock Christ Jesus, and cannot be moved from it, I say that godliness tends to success in commercial affairs. If you take the different classes of religionists, where shall you find more Christian ethics than among the Quakers? Where shall you find more carefulness in daily life? And among what class will you find more worldly prosperity, and more enjoyment in it, than among them? When I lived in the West, a merchant told me that during twenty years he never suffered the loss of a quarter of a dollar from a whole Quaker neighbourhood. You might take whole settlements, and say that they were exemplifications of the fact that “ godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” Many a poor man goes along the street whose name would not be worth a snap on a note. He could not get a bank in New York to lend him a hundred dollars for a month. He is of no market value whatever. But if your dear child was dying, and you did not know how to pray, he is the very man that you would send for. You would say to him when you were in distress, “Come to our house.” Ah! a man may not have outward prosperity, and yet prosper. He may have that which money cannot buy--peace, happiness, joy. The power of making joy he has; and is he not prospered? Is he not well off? Finally, taking society at large, those who get the furthest from the rules of morality; those who have the most doubt and distrust in regard to the overruling providence of God; those who have s leaning to their own wisdom; those who are proud and selfish, and do what they have a mind to regardless of the welfare of others--they are not pre-eminently prosperous, even in material and commercial things. (H. W. Beecher.)
The profit of godliness in this life
With regard to this life, let it be remarked that the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ neither undervalues nor overvalues this present life. It does not sneer at this life as though it were nothing; on the contrary, it ennobles it, and shows the relation which it has to the higher and eternal life. There are many who undervalue this life; let me mention some of them to you. Those undervalue it who sacrifice it to indulge their passions or to gratify their appetites. Too many for the sake of momentary gratifications have shortened their lives, and rendered their latter end bitterly painful to themselves. Some evidently undervalue their lives, because they make them wretched through envy. Others are richer than they are, and they think it a miserable thing to be alive at all while others possess more of this world’s goods than they. Oh poison not life by envy of others, for if you do so you miserably undervalue it! The slaves of avarice undervalue their lives, for they do not care to make life happy, but pinch themselves in order to accumulate wealth. The miser who starves himself in order that he may fill his bags may well be reasons with in this way: “Is not the life more than the meat, and the body than raiment? So also do they undervalue it who in foolhardiness are ready to throw it away on the slightest pretext. He that for his country’s sake, or for the love of his fellow-creatures, risks life and loses it, truly deserves to be called a hero; but he who, to provoke laughter and to win the applause of fools, will venture limb and life without need is but a fool himself, and deserves no praise whatever. Yet there can be such a thing as overvaluing this life, and multitudes have fallen into that error. Those overvalue it who prefer it to eternal life. Why, it is but as a drop compared with the ocean, if you measure time with eternity. They overvalue this life who consider it to be a better thing than Divine love, for the love of God is better than life. Some would give anything for their lives, but they would give nothing for God’s love. It appears from the text that godliness influences this present life, puts it in its true position, and becomes profitable to it.
I. First, let me observe that godliness changes the tenure of the life that now is. It hath “the promise of the life that now is.” I want you to mark the word--“it hath the promise of the life that now is.” An ungodly man lives, but; how? He lives in a very different respect from a godly man. Sit down in the cell of Newgate with a man condemned to die. That man lives, but he is reckoned dead in law. He has been condemned. If he is now enjoying a reprieve, yet he holds his life at another’s pleasure, and soon he must surrender it to the demands of justice. I, sitting by the side of him, breathing the same air, and enjoying what in many respects is only the selfsame life, yet live in a totally different sense. I have not forfeited my life to the law, I enjoy it, as far as the law is concerned, as my own proper right: the law protects my life, though it destroys his life. The ungodly man is condemned already, condemned to die, for the wages of sin is death; and his whole life here is nothing but a reprieve granted by the longsuffering of God. But a Christian man is pardoned and absolved; he owes not his life now to penal justice; when death comes to him it will not be at all in the sense of an infliction of a punishment; it will not be death, it will be the transfer of his spirit to a better state, the slumbering of his body for a little while in its proper couch to be awakened in a nobler likeness by the trump of the archangel. Now, is not life itself changed when held on so different a tenure? “Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is.” That word changes the tenure of our present life in this respect, that it removes in a sense the uncertainty of it. God hath given to none of you unconverted ones any promise of the life that now is. You are like squatters on a common, who pitch their tents, and by the sufferance of the lord of the manor may remain there for awhile, but at a moment’s notice you must up tents and away. But the Christian hath the promise of the life that now is; that is to say, he has the freehold of it; it is life given to him of God, and he really enjoys it, and has an absolute certainty about it; in fact, the life that now is has become to the Christian a foretaste of the life to come. The tenure is very different between the uncertainty of the ungodly who has no rights and no legal titles, and the blessed certainty of the child of God who lives by promise. Let me add that this word seems to me to sweeten the whole of human life to the man that hath it. Godliness hath the promise of life that now is; that is to say, everything that comes to a godly man comes to him by promise, whereas if the ungodly man hath any blessing apparent, it does not come by promise, it comes overshadowed by a terrible guilt which curses his very blessings, and makes the responsibilities of his wealth and of his health and position redound to his own destruction, working as a savour of death unto death through his wilful disobedience. There is a vast difference between having the life that now is and having the promise of the life that now is--having God’s promise about it to make it all gracious, to make it all certain, and to make it all blessed as a token of love from God.
II. The benefit which godliness bestows in this life. Perhaps the fulness of the text is the fact that the highest blessedness of life, is secured to us by godliness. Under ordinary circumstances it is true that godliness wears a propitious face both towards health and wealth and name, and he who has respect to these things shall not find himself, as a rule, injured in the pursuit of them by his godliness; but still I disdain altogether the idea that all these three things together, are or even make up a part of the promise of the life that now is. I believe some persons have the life that now is in its fulness, and the promise of it in its richest fulfilment, who have neither wealth, health, nor fame; for being blessed with the suffering Master’s smile and presence, they are happier far than those who roll in wealth, who luxuriate in fame, and have all the rich blessings which health includes. Let me now show you what I think is the promise of the life that now is. I believe it to be an inward happiness, which is altogether independent of outward circumstances, which is something richer than wealth, fairer than health, and more substantial than fame. This secret of the Lord, this deep delight, this calm repose, godliness always brings in proportion as it reigns in the heart. Let us try and show that this is even so. A godly man, is one who is at one with his Maker.
1. It must always be right with the creature when it is at one with the Creator. But when godliness puts our will into conformity with the Divine will, the more fully it does so, the more certainly it secures to us happiness even in the life that now is. I am not happy necessarily because I am in health, but I am happy if I am content to be out of health when God wills it. I am not happy because I am wealthy, but I am happy if it pleases me to be poor because it pleases God I should be.
2. The Christian man starting in life as such is best accoutred for this life. He is like a vessel fittingly stored for all the storms and contrary currents that may await it. The Christian is like a soldier, who must fain go to battle, but he is protected by the best armour that can be procured.
3. With a Christian all things that happen to him work for good. Is not this a rich part of the promise of the life that now is? What if the waves roar against him, they speed his bark towards the haven?
4. The Christian enjoys his God under all circumstances. That, again, is the promise of the life that now is.
5. I am sure you will agree with me that the genuine possessor of godliness has the promise of the life that now is in his freedom from many of those cares and fears which rob life of all its lustre. The man without godliness is weighted with the care of every day, and of all the days that are to come, the dread remembrance of the past, and the terror of the future as well.
6. And as he is thus free from care, so is he free from the fear of men.
7. Moreover, the fear of death has gone from the Christian. This with many deprives the life that now is of everything that is happy and consoling. Another application of the text is this. There is a bearing of it upon the sinner. It is quite certain, O ungodly man, that the promise of the life that now is belongs only to those who are godly. Are you content to miss the cream of this life? I pray you, if you will not think of the life to come, at least think of this. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Happiness of godliness
Christianity a gloomy system! The world and devils may say so; but a thousand eyes that sparkle with a hope that maketh not ashamed, and a thousand hearts that beat happily with the full pulse of spiritual life, can tell thee thou liest. Christianity a gloomy system! Why, it is the Christian only that can thoroughly enjoy the world. To him, to his grateful vision, earth is garlanded with fairer beauty, heaven sparkles with serener smiles; to him the landscape is the more lovely, because it reminds him of the paradise of his hope in prospect which his father once lost, but which his Saviour has brought back again, as a family inheritance for ever; to him the ocean rolls the more grandly, because it figures out the duration of his promised life; to him the birds in their forest minstrelsy warble the more sweetly, because their woodland music takes him upwards to the harpers harping with their harps in heaven; to him the mountains tower the more sublimely, because their heaven-pointing summits are the emblems of his own majestic hopes. (W. M. Punshon.)
Secret of happiness
A thoroughly loyal subject of God’s kingdom is qualified to dwell happily in any world to which God may call him. Because he is what he is, it matters less where he chances to be. The star which shines by its own light may traverse the infinite space of the heavens, but it can never know eclipse. On the other hand, a peevish, uneasy, and wilful spirit is not much helped by outward condition. King Ahab, in his palace, turns his face to the wall and will eat no bread, because he cannot have Naboth’s vineyard. How many a proud man is so unweaned and pulpy that he cannot bear a cloudy day, an east wind, the loss of a dinner, the creaking of a shutter by night, or a plain word! You will meet travellers who take their care with them as they do their luggage, and grasp it tightly wherever they go, or check it forward from place to place, although, unlike their luggage, it never gets lost. You may carry an instrument out of tune all over the world, and every breath of heaven and every hand of man that sweeps over its strings shall produce only discord. Such a man’s trouble is in his temper, not in his place. You can hardly call it “borrowed” trouble either, for it is mostly made, and so is his own by the clearest of all titles. (Win. Crawford.)
The blessedness of religion
Religion makes a man happier all the way through. You may have to work hard for your daily bread, but you hear reports of a land where they neither hunger nor thirst. You may have a great many physical distresses and pangs of pain, but you hear of the land where the head never aches, and where the respiration is not painful, and where the pulse throbs with the life of God! You may have to weep among the graves of the dead, but against the tombstone leans the Risen One pointing you up to that sphere where God shall wipe away all tears from your eyes. Ask those who are before the throne, ask those who have plucked the fruit of the tree of life, ask those who are waving the palms in glory whether this is the happy side or not. I knew a minister in Philadelphia (he was not poetic, he was not romantic--they called him a very plain man), who, in his last moment, as he passed out of life, looked up and said, “I move into the light.” Oh! it is the happy side--happy here--it is happy for ever. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Happiness is attainable in this life--
Is happiness attainable? First, there is something in our condition as sinners against God, that militates against our happiness. God “made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions.”
I. In order to show that happiness is attainable, I shall first appeal to the infallible assurances of God’s inspired word (2 Chronicles 20:20; 2 Chronicles 26:5; Job 36:11). In the first Psalm there is an encomium upon the happiness of the godly (Matthew 6:33).
II. The manifest and unquestionable tendency of true godliness to impart and insure happiness. Health is by universal consent considered an essential ingredient to happiness. Cheerfulness is a part of happiness. And who can pretend to cheerfulness on such just grounds as the real Christian, the man of genuine godliness? His principles make him happy. Look at the influence of those principles on friendship; which is essential to happiness. Mark how the principles of godliness bear upon a man’s usefulness. How can I be happy unless I am useful?
III. The experience of the power of the God whom we serve. If I can show you that happiness has been actually attained, it will be quite clear that it is attainable. Look, therefore, at the history and experience of the servants of God. I will grant the straitness of their circumstances, for they are often a poor and an afflicted people. Let me call your attention to the case of the prophet Habbakuk. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom neither shall fruit be in the vines, the labour of the olive shall fail and the field shall yield no meat, the flocks shall be cut off from the fold and there shall be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Look at Paul and Silas--their backs lacerated with the Roman scourge, their feet made fast in the stocks, condemned to spend the night in a prison; “at midnight they prayed and sang praises to God; and the prisoners heard them.” Now either these persons must be grossly deceived, or happiness is attainable.
IV. In the fourth place, I must make an appeal to the fact of the existence of hypocrites in the Church. The counterfeit itself proves the value and the existence of the genuine coin.
V. Finally, I make my appeal to the confessions and lamentations of the ungodly themselves; who, having discarded religion, both in principle and in practice, have been left to rue their own folly, and to admit that their happiness was indeed illusory and vain, ending in bitter disappointment. Some have been honest enough to confess this; that they have “forsaken the fountain of living waters,” and they have heaped to themselves immeasurable bitterness and sorrow of heart.
1. In conclusion, then, let this subject, in the first place, rectify our judgments.
2. In the next place, let this subject decide our choice. The consideration of it will do us good, if the decisions of the will should follow the enlightenment of the understanding.
3. Let this subject, thirdly, awaken our gratitude.
4. Finally, let this subject serve to stimulate our desire for a more full and complete and final happiness beyond the grave. (G. Clayton.)
The profit of godliness in the life to come
There is another life beyond this fleeting existence. This fact was dimly guessed by heathens. What was thus surmised by the great thinkers of antiquity, has been brought to light in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I. Godliness concerning the life to come possesses a promise unique and unrivalled.
1. I say a unique promise, for, observe, infidelity makes no promise of a life to come. It is the express business of infidelity to deny that there is such a life, and to blot out all the comfort which can be promised concerning it. Man is like a prisoner shut up in his cell, a cell all dark and cheerless save that there is a window through which he can gaze upon a glorious landscape.
2. No system based upon human merit ever gives its votaries a promise of the life to come, which they can really grasp and be assured of. No self-righteous man will venture to speak of the assurance of faith; in fact, he denounces it as presumption. Godliness hath a monopoly of heavenly promise as to the blessed future. There is nothing else beneath high heaven to which any such promise has ever been given by God, or of which any such promise can be supposed. Look at vice, for instance, with its pretended pleasures--what does it offer you? And it is equally certain that no promise of the life that is to come is given to wealth. Nay, ye may grasp the Indies if ye will; ye may seek to compass within your estates all the lands that ye can see far and wide, but ye shall be none the nearer to heaven when ye have reached the climax of your avarice. There is no promise of the life that is to come in the pursuits of usury and covetousness. Nor is there any such promise to personal accomplishments and beauty. How many live for that poor bodily form of theirs which so soon must moulder back to the dust! Nor even to higher accomplishments than these is there given any promise of the life to come. For instance, the attainment of learning, or the possession of that which often stands men in as good stead as learning, namely, cleverness, brings therewith no promise of future bliss. “Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come,” but to nothing else anywhere, search for it high or low, on earth or sea, to nothing else is the promise given save to godliness alone.
II. I pass on to notice, in the second place, that the promise given to godliness is as comprehensive as it is unique. In the moment of death the Christian will begin to enjoy this eternal life in the form of wonderful felicity in the company of Christ, in the presence of God, in the society of disembodied spirits and holy angels.
III. I have shown you that the promise appended to godliness is unique and comprehensive, and now observe that it is sure. “Godliness hath promise”; that is to say, it hath God’s promise. Now, God’s promise is firmer than the hills. He is God, and cannot lie. He will never retract the promise, nor will He leave it unfulfilled. He was too wise to give a rash promise: he is too powerful to be unable to fulfil it.
IV. This promise is a present promise. You should notice the participle, “having promise.” It does not say that godliness after awhile will get the promise, but godliness has promise now at this very moment. When we get a man’s promise in whom we trust, we feel quite easy about the matter under concern. A note of hand from many a firm in the city of London would pass current for gold any day in the week; and surely when God gives the promise, it is safe and right for us to accept it as if it were the fulfilment itself, for it is quite as sure. You cannot enjoy heaven, for you are not there, but you can enjoy the promise of it. Many a dear child, if it has a promise of a treat in a week’s time, will go skipping among its little companions as merry as a lark about it. When the crusaders first came in sight of Jerusalem, though they had a hard battle before them ere they could win it, yet they fell down in ecstacy at the sight of the holy city. When the brave soldiers, of whom Xenophon tells us, came at last in sight of the sea, from which they had been so long separated, they cried out, “Thallasse! Thallasse!”--“The sea! the sea!” and we, though death appears between us and the better land, can yet look beyond it.
V. This promise which is appended to godliness is a very needful one. It is a very needful one, for ah! if I have no promise of the life that is to come, where am I? and where shall I be? Oh! how much I want the promise of the life to come, for if I have not that I have a curse for the life to come. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The life to come
It is a singular and lamentable fact, that while men are so sensitive and eager in pursuing temporal interests, they are so obstinately careless with regard to those spiritual interests, which are far more expanded and enduring. The correction of the evil now adverted to, must of course be considered as a matter of transcendant importance.
I. First, notice some of the proofs that a “life to come” does really exist. There are evidences upon the subject of a future life, apart from any direct connection with revelation, to which nevertheless no insignificant weight must be assigned. I refer you especially to the masterly work of Dr. Butler, whence I imagine no candid mind can arise, without being satisfied that there is a strong probability, arising from analogy, of the continuance of conscious being after the death of the body, and entirely and absolutely uninjured by it. We may notice, again, the common consent of mankind, who, in all nations and in all ages, have admitted a futurity, although frequently with acknowledged and grievous defects: a fact, I conceive, which can only be properly accounted for by receiving the substantial and final truth of the thing which is believed. We may notice, again, the aspirations after something far beyond this transitory and mortal sphere--“longings of immortality.” We may notice, again, the operations of the momentous faculty of conscience, in the judgment which it forms as to the moral qualities and deserts of actions and thoughts, and the feelings which it inspires in the bosom (by reason of its decisions) of pleasure or pain, hope or fear, satisfaction or remorse; and all these, which are entirely independent of the opinions of other men, are to be regarded as prophetic indications of a subjection to other principles of decision, and to a great system of moral government, the sanctions of which are to be found in the yet impervious and impalpable future. But we must direct our regard to revelation itself: by which, of course, we mean the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, “given by inspiration of God,” and unfolding all the truths relating to the condition and to the destinies of man.
II. The characteristics by which “the life to come” is distinguished. It will appear to you important, besides the contemplation of the general fact, to notice the particular attributes, which the fact involves. It is very possible, to admit the general fact, and yet to indulge great and perhaps fatal mistakes as to the detail. The heathen admits the general fact, but grievously errs as to the detail.
1. And we observe, in the first place, that “the life to come” will comprehend the whole nature of man.
2. We are to observe, that “the life to come “ is purely and entirely retributive. God has arranged it as the scene, where He will apply to His intelligent creation the sanctions of that great system of moral government, under which they have existed.
3. Again, “the life to come,” which thus will comprehend the whole nature of man, and which is purely retributive, will be unchangeable and eternal. We can conceive nothing of what is indestructible in “the life that now is”; all around us breathes with decay arid dissolution. The attributes which now are noticed do not merely apply to abstract existence, but to the condition of existence. In other words, the rewards and the punishments, which have been adverted to, will be unchanging and will be everlasting too.
III. The power, which the prospect of “the life which is to come” should possess over the minds and habits of men.
1. First, “the life which is to come” ought to be habitually contemplated. It has surely been revealed that it might be pondered; and admitting the fact that there is a life to come, a mere sciolist, a child, would be able to arrive at the conclusion, how it ought to be made the object of thought and of pondering. Think how noble and how solemn is your existence.
2. Again “the life to come” ought to be diligently prepared for. Your contemplations are for the purpose of leading you to preparation. And how are we to prepare, so as to escape the world of punishment and to receive the world of reward? The merit of penitence is nothing; the merit of what you regard good works is nothing. There is only one method of preparation; and that is, according to the announcements of the system of grace, in the volume which is before us. For the “life to come” many of you are prepared. Arc there not some, who have never offered these aspirations, who themselves are not vet prepared? (J. Parsons.)
1 Timothy 4:10
We both labour and suffer reproach.
Trust in God the support of Christians in their labours and sufferings
I. The course pursued by the apostle and his brethren was one of labors and sufferings. If we must be reproached, let us not be reproached for evil-doing, but for well-doing: let us not have conscience against us, exasperating our sufferings; but secure in our conscious integrity and adamantine guard.
II. What it was that sustained the apostle and his brethren in the course which they pursued: it was the principle of confidence in God. “We trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe.”
1. God is here regarded as “the living God”; that is, the true God, as distinguished from dumb and lifeless idols, described by the Psalmist as “having eyes that see not, ears that hear not, mouths that speak not, feet that walk not.” God appeals to this distinction, when He says, “As I live.” This suggests the idea of the infinite perfection of the Deity, and consequently His ability to protect His servants.
2. As “the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe.”
He saves them from consequences far more awful than any temporal calamities. Now, from the first of these views we infer that the power of God is pledged to assist His servants to do His will, and execute His commission: and, in whatever we do in obedience to God’s will, we have reason to depend on the support of Him who has ordered it to be done. And, in the next place, this may be especially applied to that part of God’s will, in which His glory is most concerned. In the gospel the honour of God is most of all concerned: men are to be saved by believing the gospel: therefore we may be confident that God will help them in all that relates to the success of the gospel: “He is the Saviour especially of them that believe.”
III. As improvements of this subject, observe--
1. How highly we should value that gospel, which the apostles preached amidst so much labour and suffering!
2. Imitate the apostles in their course of labours and sufferings. Be “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”
3. And, lastly, as the apostles were supported by trusting in the living God; so shall we also be, if we follow their example. If we trust in God, His favour will be our joy; if not, His comforts will fail us. (R. Hall, M. A.)
We trust in the living God.--
Trust in the living God
Trust--confidence--is an essential element of human nature. We begin life in a spirit of trust, and cling with confidence to our parents and the guardians of our infancy. As we advance in years, though deceived and betrayed, we still must anchor our trust somewhere. We cannot live without some being to lean on as a friend. Universal distrust would turn social existence into torture. We were born for confidence in other beings; and woe to him that cannot trust! Still confidence brings with it suffering; for all are imperfect and too many are false. Observe what a harmony there is between our nature and God. The principle of trust, as we have seen, enters into the very essence of the human soul. Trust seeks perfect goodness, Its natural tendency is toward an infinite and immutable being. In Him alone can it find rest. Our nature was made for God, as truly as the eye was made for the light of God’s glorious image, the sun.
I. What is the principle of religious trust? I would observe, that religious confidence rests on God’s parental interest in in individual persons. To apprehend and believe this truth is to plant the germ of trust in God. This truth is not easily brought home to the heart as a reality. The first impression given to a superficial observer of the world is, that the individual is of no great worth in the sight of the Creator. The race of man is upheld, and seems to be destined to perpetual existence. But the individuals, of whom it is composed, appear to have nothing enduring in their nature. They pass over the earth like shadows cast by a flying cloud, leaving for the most part as slight a trace behind. They break like meteors from the abyss, and are then swallowed up in darkness. According to this view, God is the Author of fugitive, mutable existences, from love of variety, multiplicity and development, however transitory these several existences may be. If we rest in such views of God, our confidence must be faint. Can we believe that human nature was framed by such a Being for no higher spiritual development than we now witness on this planet? Is there not, in the very incompleteness and mysteriousness of man’s present existence, a proof that we do not as yet behold the end for which he is destined; that the infinite Father has revealed but a minute portion of His scheme of boundless mercy; that we may trust for infinitely richer manifestations than we have experienced of His exhaustless grace? But there is another reply to the sceptic, and to this I invite your particular attention. Our trust, you say, must be measured by what we see. Be it so. But take heed to see truly, and to understand what you do see. How rare is such exact and comprehensive perception. And yet without it, what presumption it is for us to undertake to judge the purpose of an infinite and ever-living God. Whatever creature we regard has actually infinite connections with the universe. It represents the everlasting past of which it is the effect. He then, who does not discern in the present the past and the future, who does not detect behind the seen the unseen, does not rightly understand it, and cannot pass judgment upon it. The surface of things, upon which your eye may fall, covers an infinite abyss. Are you sure, then, that you comprehend the human being, when you speak of him as subjected to the same law of change and dissolution, which all other earthly existences obey? Is there nothing profounder in his nature than that which you catch sight of by a casual glance? Are there within him no elements which betoken a permanent and enduring existence? Consider one fact only. Among all outward changes, is not every man conscious of his own identity, of his continuing to be the same, single, individual person? Is there not a unity in the soul, that distinguishes it from the dissoluble compounds of material nature? And further, is this person made up of mutable and transitory elements? On the contrary, who does not know that he has faculties to seize upon everlasting truth, and affections which aspire to reach an everlasting good? Have we not all of us the idea of right, of a Divine law older than time, and which can never be repealed? Has such a being as man then no signs in his nature of permanent existence? Is he to be commingled with the fugitive forms of the material world? Seeing, you see not. What is most worth seeing in man is hidden from your view. You know nothing of man truly, till you discern in him traces of an immutable and immortal nature, till you recognize somewhat allied to God in his reason, conscience, love and will. Talk not of your knowledge of men, picked up from the transient aspects of social life! It is not then to be inferred, from what we see, that God does not take an interest in the individual, and that He may not be trusted as designing great good for each particular person. In every human mind He sees powers kindred to His own--the elements of angelic glory and happiness. These bind the heavenly Father’s love indissolubly to every single soul. And these Divine elements authorize a trust utterly unlike that which springs from superficial views of man’s transitory existence.
II. What is the good for which, as individual persons, we may trust in God? One reply immediately offers itself. We may not, must not trust in Him for whatever good we may arbitrarily choose. Experience gives us no warrant to plan such a future for ourselves, as mere natural affections and passions may crave, and to confide in God’s parental love as pledged to indulge such desires. Human life is made up of blighted hopes and disappointed efforts, caused by such delusive confidence. We cannot look to God even for escape from severest suffering. The laws of the universe, though in general so beneficent in their operation, still bring fearful evil to the individual. For what then may we trust in God? I reply, that we may trust unhesitatingly, and without a moment’s wavering, that God desires the perfection of our nature, and that He will always afford such ways and means to this great end, as to His omniscience seem most in harmony with man’s moral freedom. There is but one true good for a spiritual being, and this is found in its perfection. Men are slow to see this truth; and yet it is the key to God’s providence, and to the mysteries of life. Now how can man be happy but according to the same law of growth in all his characteristic powers? Thus the enjoyment of the body is found to be dependent on and involved with the free, healthy and harmonious development--that is the perfection--of its organization. Impair, or derange any organ, and existence becomes agony. Much more does the happiness of the soul depend upon the free, healthy and harmonious unfolding of all its faculties. Now for this good we may trust in God with utter confidence. We may be assured that He is ready, willing, and anxious to confer it upon us; that He is always inviting and leading us towards it by His Providence, and by His Spirit, through all trials and vicissitudes, through all triumphs and blessings; and that unless our own will is utterly perverse, no power in the universe can deprive us of it. Such I say is the good for which we may confide in God, the only good for which we are authorized to trust in Him. The perfection of our nature--God promises nothing else or less. We cannot confide in Him for prosperity, do what we will for success; for often He disappoints the most strenuous labours, and suddenly prostrates the proudest power. We cannot confide in Him for health, friends, honour, outward repose. Not a single worldly blessing is pledged to us. And this is well. God’s outward gifts--mere shadows as they are of happiness--soon pass away; and their transitoriness reveals, by contrast the only true good. Reason and conscience, if we will but hear their voice, assure us that all outward elevation, separate from inward nobleness, is a vain show; that the most prosperous career, without growing health of soul, is but a prolonged disease, a fitful fever of desire and passion, and rather death than life; that there is no stability of power, no steadfast peace, but in immovable principles of right; that there is no true royalty but in the rule of our own spirits; no real freedom but in unbounded disinterested love; and no fulness of joy but in being alive to that infinite presence, majesty, goodness, in which we live and move and have our being. This good of perfection, if we will seek it, is as sure as God’s own being, Here I fix my confidence. When I look round me, I see nothing to trust in. On all sides are the surges of a restless ocean, and everywhere the traces of decay. But amidst this world of fugitive existences, abides one immortal nature. Let not the sceptic point me to the present low development of human nature, and ask me what promise I see there of that higher condition of the soul, for which I trust. Even were there no sufficient answer to this question, I should still trust. I must still believe that surely as there is a perfect God, perfection must be His end; and that, sooner or later, it must be impressed upon His highest work, the spirit of man. Then I must believe, that where He has given truly Divine powers, He must have given them for development. Human nature is indeed at present in a very imperfect stage of its development. But I do not, therefore, distrust that perfection is its end. We cannot begin with the end. We cannot argue that a being is not destined for a good, because he does not instantly reach it. The philosopher, whose discoveries now dazzle us, could not once discern between his right hand and his left. To him who has entered an interminable path, with impulses which are carrying him onward to perfection, of what importance is it where he first plants his step? The future is all his own. But you will point me to those who seem to be wanting in this spirit of progress, this impulse towards perfection, and who are sunk in sloth or guilt. And you will ask whether God’s purposes towards these are yet loving. I answer: Yes! They fail through no want of the kind designs of God. From the very nature of goodness, it cannot be forced upon any creature by the Creator; nor can it be passively received. What a sublime doctrine it is, that goodness cherished now is eternal life already entered on! Thus have I spoken of religious trust, in its principle and its end. I have time to suggest but one motive for holding fast this confidence as a fountain of spiritual strength. We talk of our weakness. We lack energy, we say, to be in life what in hope we desire. But this very weakness comes from want of trust. What invigorates you to seek other forms of good? You believe them to be really within your reach. What is the soul of all great enterprises? It is the confidence that they may be achieved. To confide in a high power is to partake of that power. It has often been observed, that the strength of an army is more than doubled by confidence in its chief. Confide, only confide, and you will be strong. (W. E. Channing.)
First: Man is a trusting being. Trusting is at once the grand necessity and leading tendency of his existence. Secondly: His trust determines the character and destiny of his being. Trusting wrong objects or right objects for wrong purposes, is at once sinful and ruinous. On the other hand, trusting rightly in the living God is at once a holy and a happy state of being. Two remarks are suggested in relation to this Christly trust.
I. It forms a distinct community amongst men. The apostle speaks here as” those that believe.” All men believe. Men are naturally credulous.
1. There are some who believe in a dead God--an idol, a substance, a force, an abstraction. Most men have a dead God--a God whose presence, whose inspection, whose claims they do not recognize or feel.
2. There are others who believe in a “living God.” To them He is the life of all lives, the force of all forces, the spirit of all beauty, the fountain of all joy. With these the apostle includes himself, and to these he refers when he says, “Those that believe.”
II. It secures the special salvation of the good. The living God is the Saviour, or Preserver of all. He saves all from diseases, trials, death, damnation, up to a certain time in their history. All that they have on earth which go to make their existence tolerable and pleasant He has saved for them. But of those that believe He is specially a Saviour, He saves them--
1. From the dominion of moral evil
2. From the torments of sinful passions--remorse, malice, jealousy, envy, fear.
3. From the curse of a wicked life. What a salvation is this! Christly trust gives to the human race a community of morally saved men. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Who Is the Saviour of all men.--
The first Sunday after Epiphany
Whether, then, we take the words “the living God” in our text to apply to Christ Himself, or to the Father acting by Christ, it is equally asserted that Christ is the Saviour of all men: that the salvation which He wrought is, in and of itself, co-extensive with the race of man. What He did, He did for, and in the stead of, all men. If we wish to corroborate this by further Scripture proof, we have it in abundance. I will take but three of the plainest passages. St. John in his first Epistle, 1 John 2:1-2. St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:14. In Romans 5:10 he goes further into the same truth. See also 1 Corinthians 15:22. Adam, when he came fresh from the hands of God, was the head and root of man kind. He was mankind. She who was to be a helpmeet for him was not created a separate being, but was taken out of him. The words spoken of him apply to the whole human race. The responsibility of the whole race rested upon him. When he became disobedient, all fell. Figure to yourselves--and it is very easy to do so, from the many analogies which nature furnishes--this constitution of all mankind in Adam: for it is the very best of all exponents of the nature of Christ’s standing in our flesh, and Christ’s work in our flesh: with this great difference indeed, inherent in the very nature of the case, that the one work in its process and result is purely physical, the other spiritual as well. The race, in its natural constitution in Adam, i.e., as each member of it is born into the world and lives in the world naturally, is alien from and guilty before God: has lost the power of pleasing God: cannot work out its own salvation in or by any one of its members; all being involved in the same universal ruin. “In Adam all die.” Now that rescue must not, cannot in God’s arrangements, come from without. It must come upon mankind from within. God’s law respecting us is, that all amendment, all purifying, all renewal, should spring from among, and take into itself and penetrate by its influence, the inner faculties and powers wherewith He has endowed our nature. We know that our redemption was effected by the eternal Son of God becoming incarnate in our flesh. Now suppose for a moment that He, the Son of God, had become an individual personal man, bounded by His own responsibilities, His own capacities, His own past, and present, and future. If He had thus become a personal man, not one of His acts would have had any more reference to you or me than the acts of Abraham, or David, or St. Paul, or St. Peter have. He might have set us an example ever so bright; might have undergone sufferings ever so bitter; might have won a triumph ever so glorious; and we should merely have stood and looked on from without. No redemption, no renovation of our nature could by any possibility have been made. And He, thus being the Divine Son of God, and having become the Son of man, was no longer an individual man, bounded by the narrow lines and limits of His own personality, but was and is God manifest in the flesh; a sound and righteous Head of our whole nature, just as Adam was its first and sinful head. Hence it is, that whatever He does, has so large a significance. Hence, that when He fulfils the law, His righteousness is accepted as ours. He did nothing, if He did not the whole. He redeemed none, if He redeemed not all. If there existed on earth one son or daughter of Adam not redeemed by Christ, then He, who had taken it upon Him to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, had not accomplished His work, and had died in vain. And let us see what this universality of redemption implies, as regards the sons of men themselves. It enables the preacher of good tidings to come to every son and daughter of Adam, every out cast and degraded one of our race, and at once to lay before them Christ as theirs, if they will believe on Him. It is the key, and the only key, to the fact of justification by faith. “Believe, and thou shalt be saved.” Why? Believe in a Man who died and rose again, and thou shalt be saved? Now this at once brings us to the second part of our text. In the broad sense on which we have hitherto been insisting, Christ is the Saviour of all men: of the whole of mankind. All have an equal part and right in Christ. And on this foundation fact, the whole mission work of the gospel is founded. We are to go into all the world, and we are to pro claim the glad tidings to every creature. That redemption by Christ, which is as wide as the earth, as free as the air, as universal as humanity, is no mere physical amendment which has passed on our whole race unconsciously: but it is a glorious provision for spiritual amendment, able to take up and to bless and to change and to renovate man’s spiritual part, his highest thoughts, his noblest aspirings, his best affections. And these are not taken up, are not blest, are not renovated, except by the power of persuasion, and the bending of the human will, and the soft promptings of love, and the living drawings of desire. (Dean Alford.)
The Christ-likeness of God
In several texts God is called our Saviour. God, then, is to us what Christ is. God Himself, then, is essentially Christlike. He must have in Himself some Christ-likeness, for He is, as Christ, our Saviour. Let the energy of these two truths once enter into a man’s heart--the truth that in everything we have to do with the living God, and the truth that our God is the Christlike One, and they are enough to revolutionize a man’s life.
I. Our hope is set on the living God. This is a familiar Biblical phrase. This word, the living God, had not become an echo of a vanishing faith to the Psalmist, longing for the communion of the temple, who uttered Israel’s national consciousness in this prayer: “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” It was a word intense with faith. A professor of chemistry, with whom sometime since I was talking about nature, and what it really is, said to me, thoughtfully: “The order of nature is God’s personal conduct of His universe.” It is not with a dead nature, or an impersonal order of laws, but with the living God in His personal and most Christian conduct of the universe, that we living souls have to do here and hereafter.
I. Our hope is set on the living God, our Saviour. It is a principle of far-reaching sweep and reconstructive power in theology, to think of our God above all as most Christlike in His inmost being and nature. I once saw in the city of Nurnberg, I think it was, a religious picture, in which God the Father was represented in heaven as shooting down arrows upon the ungodly, and midway between heaven and earth Christ, the Mediator, was depicted as reaching forth and catching those arrows, and breaking them as they fell. The painting was true to methods of conceiving Christ’s work of atonement into which faith had fallen from the simplicity of the Bible; but it should not be called a Christian picture. “God, our Saviour,” said apostles who had seen God revealed in Christ; and Jesus Himself once said: “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.” It is one thing to obtain from the Scriptures some adequate doctrine of the divinity of Christ. But it is another thing to have God through Christ brought as a living and inspiring presence into direct contact with all our plans and work and happiness in life. In sincere acceptance of Jesus’ word that He knew the Father, and came from God, let us read the gospels for the purpose of learning what God Himself is towards us in our daily lives; how our world appears in the pure eye of God; how He thinks of us, and is interested in what we may be doing, suffering, or achieving. And He who opens His mouth, and teaches the multitude, utters God’s heart to us upon that mountain-side. This is God’s own blessedness showing itself to the world. Such is God, blessing with His own blessedness the virtue which is like His own goodness. Yes, but as Jesus, in His own speech and person, realizes God before us, how can we help becoming conscious of our distance of soul from perfection so Divine? He speaks for God. So God is towards man; this word is from the bosom of the Father; there is on earth Divine forgiveness of sin. But the fear of death is here in this world of sepulchres. We might love to love were it not for death. The worst thing about our life here is, that the more we fit our hearts for the highest happiness of friendships, the more we fit ourselves, also, for sorrow: love is itself the short prelude so often to a long mourning. What does God think of this? What can God in heaven think of us in our bitter mortality? Follow again this Jesus who says He knows--what will He show God’s heart to be towards human suffering and death? Lord, show us in this respect the Father, and it sufficeth us. There, coming slowly out of the gate of the city, is a procession of much people. We do not need to be told their errand; often we have followed with those who go to the grave. The Christ who says He knows what God our Father is and thinks, meets them who are carrying to his burial the only son of a widow. It is all there, the whole story of man and woman’s grief. The Christ sees it all; and more than all which disciples see;--He looks on through the years, and beholds death’s broad harvests, and the generations of men passing each from earth in pain and tears; the whole history of death through the ages He bears upon the knowledge of His heart. What will God do with death? “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And He came nigh and touched the bier: and the bearers stood still. And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” It was not a miracle, but only an illustration beforehand of the larger law of life. While the widow wept, while the sisters of His friend Lazarus could not be comforted, Jesus knew that life is the rule in God’s great universe, and death the exception. Yes, this is a glad gospel from the bosom of the Eternal. This earth is full of human cruelty and oppressions. Let us go, then, once more with this Jesus into the city, and see what He will do with the Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. In the world from which He says He came, and into which He declares He is going soon--for a little while to be unseen by His own friends--in that world will He suffer these men to be? “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;--How shall ye escape the judgment of Gehenna?” It is the same Christ who is speaking--He whom we heard saying, Blessed, and in words which seemed to be a song from the heart of His own life--He who went weeping with the sisters at Bethany--who once sent that procession of mourners back in triumph and joy to the city. It is He who now stands before those extortioners and hypocrites, and says in God’s name: “Woe unto you!” It is enough. The face of God is set against them that do evil. No lie shall enter the gates of that city of the many homes. Yes--but again our human thoughts turn this bright hope into anxiety. These men may not have known. We would go into the city and save all. We would let none go until we had done all that love could do; we would not suffer any man to be lost if love could ever find him? How, then, does Jesus show us what God is towards these lost ones? Listen; He sees a shepherd going forth in the storm over the bleak mountain-side, seeking for the one lost sheep; and this Wonder of divinity with man--He who came from God and knows--says, Such is God; “Even so it is not the will of your Father in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” This is the picture of the heart of God drawn by Christ’s own hand--the shepherd seeking the one lost sheep. Two consequences of these truths remain to be urged. God Himself is to be seen through Christ, and Christ is to be studied through all that is best and worthiest in the disciples’ lives. Therefore through human hearts also which reflect in any wise Christ’s spirit, we may seek to realize what God is. God is what they would be, only infinitely better; His perfection is like man’s, only infinitely transcending it. Let us be very bold in this living way of access to God. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
Jesus the Saviour of all men
St. Paul calls Him “the Saviour of all men”! Are all men, then, His people? Are not multitudes His enemies? Which witness shall I believe--the apostle, or the angel? Both of them! They do not gainsay each other. When you tell me that Dr. D. is the physician of this Poor-law District, you do not mean that he heals all the poor residing within his district, but only that he is appointed to heal them. His commission includes them all. Some may neglect to come to him, and others may prefer another doctor; but, if they will, they all may come to him, and have the benefit of his skill. In the same sense “Jesus is the Saviour of all men.” He is appointed to save all men--“Neither is there salvation in any other”! (J. J. Wray.)
Trusting in God
During the burning of a mill in our town there was a strong threatening of a large conflagration. People even two blocks off began to pack their household treasures. From many blocks around the coals from the flaming building were scattered over the white snow. From my window the scene was truly magnificent. The wild, hot flames soaring aloft, the burning elevator looking as if suspended in the heavens, the countless millions of sparks ascending, the sway and surge of this terrible power of fire. It seemed to me that a row of cottages within my sight must soon be swallowed up too, and as I thought of an elderly friend-helpless in her bed--I wrapped myself up warmly, and went out in the night to her. She was white and trembling with excitement, for the fire was only two buildings distant, and her room was light as day, illumined by the flames. “I was just wondering whether it was best to get her up upon her chair,” said the girl to me. “No, don’t,” I said, “I do not believe there is any danger, and if there is, she shall not suffer.” “Don’t you believe there is any danger?” asked the invalid as I reached her bedside. “No, I do not, unless the wind should change. Just lie still and don’t worry. If the next house should catch fire we will come for you the first thing.” She accepted our word and kept her bed, thus escaping a cold; and morning found her all right. I wonder, then, why we could not accept our loving, helpful Father’s word as unquestioningly as she did the word of a mortal. Why will we persist in borrowing trouble, when He has promised “As thy day so shall thy strength be”? Why do we always assert proudly, yet humbly, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God; in Him will I trust”? (E. Gilmore.)
1 Timothy 4:11-16
These things command and teach.
Characteristics of the Christian teacher
With true affection, and with heavenly wisdom, Paul exhorts his son in the faith to be mindful of his conduct and character. Here, as well as elsewhere, the apostle exhorts to--
I. The maintenance of moral dignity.
1. The tendency of Timothy was to yield rather than to command, to sacrifice truth for the sake of peace, and to lessen his own authority by morbid self-depreciation. Probably this is not so common amongst us as self-confidence; but it is a serious fault, and may be a grievous hindrance to usefulness. Unless you believe yourself to be capable of doing something better than you are now doing you will hesitate to attempt it. If you cannot trust God to help you through an onerous duty, you will be in danger of evading it. Much noble service has been lost to the Church and to the world by a foolish self-depreciation. I remember one who became a very successful man telling me that his early youth was blighted by this morbid tendency, and that he owed all his prosperity to a wise-hearted, loving, motherly woman, who took pity on the sensitive, shrinking lad, and made him believe in himself as one gifted by God to do something in the world. “Let no man despise thy youth.” Be manly, and brave, and firm, lest you sacrifice interests which God has entrusted to your charge.
2. But the way to overcome the disadvantage of youth in the opinion of others, and to gain influence over them, is clearly suggested here. It is not to be done by noisy self-assertion, by the evident desire to be prominent, but by becoming, through Divine grace, an exemplar of real Christian worth. “Be thou an example of the believer, in word, in conversation (or behaviour), in charity, in faith, in purity.” (The phrase “in spirit” is properly omitted from the revised Version.)
II. Again, preparation for Christian work is inculcated here as well as maintenance of moral dignity. The apostle appears to have expected an early return to Ephesus, and hence writes.
1. “Till I come give attention to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching.” The reference is primarily to the public duties of the Christian teacher. The “reading” of Holy Scripture in religious assemblies, which had been transferred from the synagogue, formed no inconsiderable part of the public worship of those days, as any one can imagine who reflects on the cost and rarity of manuscripts. “Exhortation” was often heard--appeals to affection and to enthusiasm, which led many a believer to give himself up entirely to the service of the Lord. And coincident with this was steady consecutive “teaching,” by means of which God’s Word was expounded, applied, and illustrated.
2. But the work to which Timothy was called required in the first place “a gift,” which the apostle says was given him instrumentally--“by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” The word used for “gift” denotes that it came from the Holy Spirit, with whom it is always associated in Paul’s writings. These two--the gift of God and the recognition of it by the Church--should ever be combined in the pastor who is working for Christ.
3. But he is foolish and sinful who relies on the possession of a gift or the recognition of it by others. Neglected, the gift will perish, and the life of promise will end in miserable failure. The phrase rendered “give thyself wholly to them” might be more literally translated “be in them”--have your life in such thoughts and truths; let them constitute the atmosphere you breathe, and then your religious work will not be a something artificial and foreign to your nature, hut the necessary outcome of your inward life.
4. Give heed, then, unto thyself and unto the doctrine. Cultivate such gifts as you have, and use them without stint in your Master’s service; and see to it that the teaching you give is not the chance utterance of a thoughtless mind, but the product of earnest thinking and of believing prayer.
III. Finally, Paul looked to see in Timothy (and God looks to see in us) readliness for the promised reward.
1. It is no small blessing which is promised in the 15th verse, “that thy profiting” (or rather thy progress) “may appear unto all.” You should be a living epistle, known and read of all men.
2. Nay, more than this, “Thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” A traveller who was sinking from exhaustion in a snowstorm on the mountain saw his companion suddenly drop helpless at his side; straightway his own peril was forgotten, and, flinging himself beside him, he chafed his hands and rubbed his chest; and by the effort which brought life back to the dying he kept himself alive--he saved both himself and the friend beside him. For your own sake, and for the sake of others, spend and be spent in this glorious service, and not only will your own life be the fuller here, but heaven itself will be made incomparably more full of joy. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Let no man despise thy youth.--
On the duties of youth
1. Among the good qualities of the young which first discover themselves, and which we regard as the sure indications of everything excellent in morals, is a nice sense of what is good and what is evil, what is truly praiseworthy and what is not, with an early and earnest attention to the forming of their principles. When embarked on the ocean of life innumerable dangers will surround them, and various temptations, under the specious forms of pleasure, will assail their hearts. To rush blindly on in a course so perilous, without either the benefits of experience or the guidance of wisdom, must quickly lead to inextricable difficulties perhaps, if not to misery and ruin. But, to descend from general reflections to the discussion of a few particular subjects, permit me to observe that too great confidence in our own strength is always dangerous, and sometimes fatal. But modesty in youth should be a natural virtue; it should be derived from other, more abundant sources than mere reflection, a feeling of comparative ignorance, or a sense of common propriety; it should spring spontaneously from sensibility--from a heart alive to every sentiment of shame, before it has been hackneyed in the ways of men or rendered callous by a long intercourse with the world. Among the more innocent excesses of youthful passions and the less dangerous delusions of the mind may be ranked the extravagancies of hope and expectation. But the loss of some distant good, however heightened by the powers of imagination or overrated by the blind partiality of our hearts, is by no means the only, or most important evil, that springs from this vain exaltation of the mind. From being so long conversant with imaginary happiness we lose our relish for that which is real. The mind also, soured with disappointments and irritated by frequent vexations, becomes, at a more advanced period, incapable of sharing in the social intercourses of life. At the same time that they should take particular care to avoid the many false and artificial notions of life, which we are but too eager to embrace with blind credulity (and which, for that reason, indeed, the fanciful writers of romance are but too apt to communicate), they ought to acquire those enlarged ideas of men and things which have their foundation in truth, and, in some measure, supply the want of experience by habits of thought and reflection. Above all, they should have recourse to the blessed gospel of our Lord and Saviour Christ, and deeply impress their hearts with those Divine truths which illumine the natural mind of man, as the rays of the sun enlighten the globe. What I would next warn young persons against is an inordinate love of pleasure. Suffer me to conclude by observing that every age and condition brings with it, beside the ordinary obligations of virtue and religion, certain peculiar and appropriate duties--duties to which young persons must diligently attend if they wish that “no man should despise their youth,” and which the aged must duly cultivate and regularly practise if they would have “the hoary head found in the way of righteousness” and reverenced as “a crown of glory.” There are also a thousand secondary graces of character, which must be studied, and a thousand indirect modes of temptation to be guarded against, if we wish to make any considerable advances towards perfection and to lead “a godly, righteous, and sober life.” (J. Hewlett, M. A.)
The least man in the ministry not to be contemned
As in a building, some bring stones, some timber, others mortar, and some perhaps bring only nails--yet these are useful; these serve to fasten the work in the building: thus the Church of God is a spiritual building. Some ministers bring stones--are more eminent and useful; others, timber; others, less--they have but a nail in the work; yet all serve for the good of the building. The least star gives light, the least drop moistens, the least minister is no less than an angel, the least nail in the ministry serves for the fastening of souls unto Christ. There is some use to be made even of the lowest parts of men; the weakest minister may help to strengthen one’s faith. Though all are not apostles, all are not evangelists, all have not the same dexterous abilities in the work, yet all edify; and oftentimes so it cometh to pass that God crowns his labours, and sends most fish into his net, who, though he may be less skilful, is more faithful, and though he have less of the brain, yet he may have more of the heart, and therefore not to be contemned. (J. Spencer.)
Achievements of youth
It is often late ere genius shows itself; just as often, however, does distinction come early. Thus at twenty-two Gladstone was a member of Parliament, and at twenty-four Lord of the Treasury. Bright never went to school after he was fifteen. Sir Robert Peel entered Parliament at twenty-one, and was Lord of the Admiralty at twenty-three. Charles James Fox became a legislator at nineteen--an age when young men are given to breaking rather than to making laws. Bacon graduated at Cambridge when he was sixteen, and was called to the bar at twenty-four. Washington was a distinguished colonel at twenty-two. Napoleon commanded the army of Italy at twenty-five. Before he was seventeen Shelley was already an author--had translated the half of Pliny’s “Natural History,” and had written a number of wild romances. (Palace Journal.)
Youth not to be despised
Mr. Spurgeon began his remarkable career early enough to preach with a juvenile face many astonishingly effective sermons. His fiftieth anniversary, just celebrated, recalls an anecdote worth repetition. Mr. Spurgeon was asked, in what to most preachers would have been salad days, to deliver a discourse in a near village. Accordingly he went. On meeting the pastor, whose name was Brown, that good old gentleman was sadly disconcerted at his supply’s youthful appearance. “Well, well,” said he to Mr. Spurgeon, “I really did not dream that you were only a boy. I would not have asked you to preach for me if I had thought so.” “Oh! well,” said Mr. Spurgeon, laughing, “I can go back.” But Mr. Brown would not permit this, and into the pulpit his boyish guest ascended. How he comported himself is thus narrated: “Mr. Brown planted himself on the pulpit stairs. Mr. Spurgeon read a lesson from the Proverbs, and upon coming to the passage, ‘Grey hairs are a crown of glory to a man,’ he said he doubted that, for he knew a man with a grey head who could hardly be civil. But the passage went on to say: ‘If it be found in the way of righteousness,’ and that, he said, was a different thing. When he came down from the pulpit Mr. Brown said to him: ‘Bless your heart, I have been thirty years a minister, and I was never better pleased with a sermon; but you are the sauciest dog that ever barked in a pulpit’; and they were always good friends afterwards.”
1 Timothy 4:13
Give attendance to reading.
Lecture on reading
I. First, the choice of books. In this there is a great need of caution; particularly in the spring season of life, while the mental and moral habits are yet in a process of formation. A person may be ruined by reading a single volume. It is a maxim, then, ever to be borne in mind, take heed what you read. To acquire useful information; to improve the mind in knowledge, and the heart in goodness; to become qualified to perform with honour and usefulness the duties of life, and prepared for a happy immortality beyond the grave--these are the great objects which ought ever to be kept in view in reading. And all books are to be accounted good or bad in their effects just as they tend to promote or hinder the attainment of these objects. Taking this as the criterion by which to regulate your choice of books, you will, I think, be led to give an important place to historical reading, especially to that which relates to our own country. History is the mirror of the world. In addition to a knowledge of our own history, some acquaintance with the government and laws of the society in which we live would seem an almost indispensable qualification of a good citizen. Nearly related to history, and not less important, is biography. This is a kind of reading most happily adapted to minds of every capacity and degree of improvement. Few authors can be read with more profit than those that illustrate the natural sciences, and show their application to the practical arts of life. Authors of this character teach us to read and understand the sublime volume of creation. Not less valuable are those writers that make us acquainted with our own minds and hearts; that analyse and lay open the secret springs of action; unfold the principles of political and moral science; illustrate the duties which we owe to our fellow-men, to society, and to God; and by teaching us the nature, dignity, and end of our existence, aim to elevate our views and hopes, and lead us to aspire after the true glory and happiness of rational and immortal beings. Especially must this be said of the Bible. One of the greatest and best of men, I refer to Sir William Jones, a judge of the supreme court of judicature, in Bengal, has said of the Bible, “I have carefully and regularly perused the Scriptures, and am of opinion that this volume, independent of its Divine origin, contains more sublimity, purer morality, more important history, and finer strains of eloquence, than can be collected from all other books, in whatever language they may have been written.” Were I now to give you one rule for all, for regulating your choice of books, it should be this--“Books are good or bad in their tendency as they make you relish the Word of God the more or the less after you have read them.” Having made these remarks to assist you in a proper choice of books, I will--
II. Suggest a few rules in regard to the best manner of reading them. “There are many who read a great deal, and yet derive very little advantage from what they read. They make an injudicious choice of books; they read without method and without object, and often without attention and reflection. As a man may be eating all day, and for want of digestion receive no nourishment; so these endless readers may cram themselves with intellectual food, and without real improvement of their minds, for want of digesting it by reflection.” It is of great importance, then, not only that we take heed what we read, but how we read.
1. In the first place, then, read with discrimination. The world is full of books; no small portion of which are either worthless or decidedly hurtful in their tendency.
2. Read with attention. Never take up a book merely for amusement, or for the sake of whiling away time. Time thus spent is worse than lost.
3. Read with reflection.
4. Read with confidence. It is often said man does not know his weakness. It is quite as true, he does not know his strength. Multitudes fail to accomplish what they might because they have not due confidence in their powers, and do not know what they are capable of accomplishing. Hence they yield their understandings to the dictation of others, and never think or act for themselves. The only use they make of reading is to remember and repeat the sentiments of their author. This is an error. When you sit down to the reading of a book believe that you are able to understand the subject on which it treats, and resolve that you will understand it. If it calls you to a severe effort, so much the better. Call no man master. Yield not your minds to the passive impressions which others may please to make upon them.
5. At the same time, read with humility and candour. We know so little, in comparison with what is to be known, that we have always much more reason to be humbled by our ignorance than puffed up by our knowledge. Real science is ever humble and docile; but pedantry is proud and self-conceited.
6. It is a happy method to improve by reading, when several persons unite in reading the same book, or on the same subject, and meet occasionally to interchange their thoughts and compare their opinions respecting the authors they have been studying.
7. Read for improvement, and not for show. Recollect that the great object of reading is not to be able to tell what others have thought and said; but to improve your minds in useful knowledge, establish your hearts in virtue, and prepare yourselves for a right performance of the duties of life, and for a joyful acceptance with God on the great day of account.
III. In conclusion, let me call your attention to the importance of making a diligent use of this means of intellectual and moral improvement.
1. In the first place, then, reading is a most interesting and pleasant method of occupying your leisure hours.
2. It is a consideration of no small weight that reading furnishes materials for interesting and useful conversation. Those who are ignorant of books must of course have their thoughts confined to very narrow limits. (Joel Hawes, D. D.)
Good literature--its pleasure and profit
And here we come to the first reason why we should give attention to reading. Because--
1. There is so much to be had for so little. This too is true, that truth is cheaper than error, as found in the types to-day. The father of lies knows the appetite for a certain kind of reading which is upon the age. But, ministering to the lower tastes, he makes us pay his printers. He is up to every device, but always with an open eye to profit.
2. Reading is made more and more readable, and especially reading of the best kind. Those who had a taste for philosophy in the days of Plato, for poetry in the days of Chaucer, for history in the days of Gibbon, for natural science in the days of Richelieu, for metaphysics in the time of Locke, for sacred learning in the ages when monasteries had all the books and students--at what trouble every learner of old time was put to obtain intelligence. But, by contrast, how accessible is every sort of knowledge now.
Reading: a talk with young folk
I. And, first, remember what a great and good book is, and especially what the Holy Book is. I want you to read the best books. Never waste your time and money over a poor, worthless, bad book. A bad book is a poison; a good book, the product of a wise soul, is health and strength and joy to mind and heart.
II. Then, consider what a great and good book may do for you, especially what the Bible may do for you. A bad book may pollute your moral life with foul and hideous stains; a weak and worthless book will waste your time, and destroy the force of your mind, but a wise strong book will ennoble and enrich you for ever.
III. Then, consider how a great and good book may help you, especially how the Bible will help you. We need the sympathy and strength of greater men than ourselves. No mind should feed upon itself. It should commune with other minds, with the golden words of men whose hearts God hath touched.
IV. Then, do not let us forget how a great and good book may teach you, especially how the Bible can teach you. It can teach you secular wisdom. The best business precepts are to be found in the Bible. (G. W. McCree.)
The art of writing is an old as well as an invaluable art, though printing is a comparatively modern invention. Paul was a reader (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12), and he exhorts Timothy, his son, to read. Right attendance to reading means--
I. Read the best books. The world abounds with books, most of which are rubbish, many of which are pestilent, few only are good. A good book should be--
1. Enlightening. It should brighten the firmament and widen the horizon of the soul.
2. Truthful. Whether in the form of fiction, history, or discussion, it should be true to the great realities of existence.
3. Suggestive. Every page of a good book should involve much more than it expresses, and charm the reader into fresh fields of inquiry.
4. Disciplinary. A good book is a book that aims at disciplining both the intellect and the heart. To aid the intellect to think with freedom, force, and precision, and the heart to flow with pure loves and high aspirations.
II. Read the best books in a right way.
If men would “give attendance to such reading” a glorious change would come over the world, a new order of things would spring up in every department of social life. (D. Thomas.)
Experimental knowledge must be added to book knowledge
It is well known that the great doctors of the world, by much reading and speculation, attain unto a great height of knowledge, but seldom to sound wisdom; which hath given way to that common proverb, “The greatest clerks are not always the wisest men.” It is not studying of politics that will make a man a wise councillor of state till his knowledge is joined with experience, which teacheth where the rules of state hold and where they fail. It is not book knowledge that will make a good general, a skilful pilot--no, not so much as a cunning artizan--till that knowledge is perfected by practice and experience. And so, surely, though a man abound never so much in literal knowledge, it will be far from making him a good Christian, unless he bring precepts into practice, and, by feeling experience, apply that he knows to his own use and spiritual advantage. (J. Spencer.)
How to read with profit
As it is not the best way for any that intendeth to make himself a good statesman to ramble and run over in his travels many countries, seeing much and making use of little for the improving of his knowledge and experience in state policy, but rather stay so long in each place till he have noted those things which are best worthy his observation: so is it also in the travels and studies of the mind, by which, if we would be bettered in our judgments and affections, it is not our best course to run over many things slightly, taking only such a general view of them as somewhat increaseth our speculative knowledge, but to rest upon the points we read, that we may imprint them in our memories, and work them into our hearts and affections, for the increasing of saving knowledge; then shall we find that one good book, often read and thoroughly pondered, will more profit than by running over a hundred in a superficial manner. (J. Spencer.)
The taste for reading
If I were to pray for a taste which should stand by me in stead under every variety of circumstances, and be source of happiness and cheerfulness to me through life, and a shield against its ills, however things might go amiss, and the world frown upon me, it would be a taste for reading. I speak of it, of course, only as a worldly advantage, and not in the slightest degree derogating from the higher office and sure and stronger panoply of religious principles--but as a taste, an instrument, and a mode of pleasurable gratification. Give a man this taste, and the means of gratifying it, and you can hardly fail of making him a happy man, unless, indeed, you put into his hands a most perverse selection of books. You place him in contact with the best society in every period of history; with the wisest, the wittiest, with the tenderest, the bravest, and the purest characters who have adorned humanity. You make him a denizen of all nations--a contemporary of all ages. The world has been created for him. It is hardly possible but the character should take a higher and better tone from the constant habit of associating in thought with a class of thinkers, to say the least of it, above the average of humanity. It is morally impossible but that the manners should take a tinge of good breeding and civilization from having constantly before our eyes the way in which the best-bred and best-informed men have talked and conducted themselves in their intercourse with each other. There is a gentle, but perfectly irresistible coercion in a habit of reading, well directed, over the whole tenour of a man’s character and conduct, which is not the less effectual because it works insensibly, and because it is really the last thing he dreams of. It cannot be better summed up than in the words of the Latin poet, “Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros.” It civilizes the conduct of men, and suffers them not to remain barbarous. (Sir J. Herschel.)
1 Timothy 4:14
Neglect not the gift that is in thee.
An ordination charge
If the supernatural gifts with which Timothy was endowed were in danger of suffering injury from the neglect of the zealous, ardent, devoted evangelist, how much greater is your danger of neglecting the gift that is in you, and of suffering injury from its neglect? I have seen the desolation of a negligent ministry, if you have not. By neglect his gift seems to have decayed and died out of him. He preaches, but not as he once preached. Let me not be misunderstood. I do not say that every unsuccessful minister has neglected the gift that is in him. I am very far from saying so. Some have small ministerial gifts, little preaching power. Paul, in his younger days, made full proof of his ministry. He neglected not the gift that was in him. What gift have you? What qualification for the ministry which all true ministers have? You have the one great gift of the Holy Ghost, a renewed heart. Is this your gift? Do not neglect it. Strive to attain more of this blessed, living experience of the great truths you have to preach. I once heard a good man and a good preacher well known and greatly honoured in this town, say, in the retrospect of a long and prosperous ministry, I have nothing to boast of, for my voice has done more for my success than my intellectual power.” I admired the modesty of the preacher, who, though favoured by a musical voice, had no reason to speak disparagingly of his intellectual powers. But he was wise enough to form a right estimate of the adventitious gifts of which, without being vain, he knew how to make a good use. To be vain of such things would be indeed a little, pitiable vanity. Yet, like John Angell James, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee.” “Neglect not the gift that is in thee.” The words seem to say, Cultivate your own gifts; those which are natural to you. Do not be solicitous about gifts which God has not given you. (R. Halley, D. D.)
Benefit of using personal gifts
Think, too, of the benefits to be derived in our own souls by personal service. God will never let a man be a loser by serving Him. The dense vapours that rise from earth to heaven return in pure water; so he who gives to God such as he has, shall receive from Him a good return. The spear that is used contracts no rust; the sword that is continually wielded remains untarnished; the arm in constant use becomes occasionally weary, but increasingly strong; so the child of God who labours for his master, though often wearied, gains great strength through that which he expends. The placid lake is sealed up in winter’s frost from shore to shore, but the running rivulet escapes its power. The bewildered traveller on the Alps, half benumbed with cold, gets fresh circulation and warmth by his exertions to restore animation to the body of another. The reason why we have so many benumbed and frozen Christians in the present day is, that there are few personally employed in the work. We long for the time when every believer like the little waterfall and the alpine traveller shall be too active to freeze. Personal service brings its own reward; watering others, we are watered ourselves; warming others, we are ourselves warmed; blessing others, we ourselves are blessed. Do you say, what can God do by one? I reply, very much! By one He brought forth His chosen people from Egypt’s thraldom; by one (and that a youth) Goliath was slain while the whole army of Israel trembled before him; by one the assembled Israelites were convinced that “The Lord He is God,” and the prophets of Baal were slain; by one sermon, and that a simple one, three thousand hearts were opened. Time would fail to tell of what God has done by such men as Wickliffe, Luther, Calvin, Huss, Whitfield, Wesley, Pounds, Harlan Page, and why not you? (G. Brown.)
1 Timothy 4:15
Give thyself wholly to them.
Ministers wholly given to their work
I. That ministers must give themselves wholly to their work by giving their hearts to it. NO man over gives himself wholly to any business to which his heart is opposed. Paul gave his heart so much to the ministry, as to esteem it a great and distinguishing privilege. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord,” says he, “who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” His life was bound up in his work. Their hearts are so absorbed in their work that it becomes the source of their highest joys and deepest sorrows.
II. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, by giving their thoughts to it. Men always meditate upon their supreme object of pursuit.
III. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, by giving their studies to it. The apostle exhorts Timothy to “give attendance to reading.” This includes study and thinking, and every mode of intellectual improvement.
IV. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, by devoting all their time to it. They may employ their whole time in their work; because it is a work which may be done, not only on the first and the last, but on every day of the week. Ministers, indeed, should be frugal of time. They should divide it properly, and devote each part to some particular part of their duty. They should live by rule.
V. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, by giving all their interests to it. The apostles were obliged to do this literally. They would not have been the ministers of Christ, without literally following his injunction, to forsake all that they had. Not to insist, however, on such extraordinary cases, I would go on to observe that every minister is called, at least, to make all his worldly interests subservient to his holy and Divine employment.
VI. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, by making their secret devotions subservient to it. They should give themselves to reading, meditation, prayer and self examination; and in all these secret devotions have a particular reference to their public office.
VII. That ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, by living agreeably to it. Their lives should resemble their sacred character, and be worthy of the imitation of the best of Christians.
Having shown, in various respects, how ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, I now proceed to suggest several reasons why they must give themselves wholly to it.
I. And here the first reason that occurs is, that by giving themselves wholly to the ministry they will make the duties of it more easy and pleasant. Their work is truly great and laborious, which needs to be made as light and easy as possible. And though by giving themselves wholly to it, they will neither omit nor curtail any of its duties and labours, yet they will render these very duties and labours more pleasant and delightful,
II. Ministers should devote themselves wholly to the service of their people, because this is the wisest and best way to secure their love and respect. We love to see a person heartily and zealously engaged for our good. This is human nature. The sick man esteems and values the physician who devotes himself to his service, and stands by him day and night, to watch his every motion, and to extend his healing hand at every call.
III. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, because this will be the best security against the snares and temptations to which they are exposed.
IV. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, because this is the best way to become extensively useful. Every industrious man, in every lawful calling, is a useful man. Industry makes the useful farmer, the useful mechanic, the useful physician, and the useful magistrate.
V. Ministers must give themselves wholly to their work, because they actually engage to do it.
VI. That the importance of the ministry requires those who undertake it to give themselves wholly to their office. I have now finished what I have to say upon the nature and obligation of ministers giving themselves wholly to their work, and proceed to improve the subject.
1. We learn, that if ministers do give themselves wholly to their work, they will make it appear.
2. We learn, that if ministers do not give themselves wholly to their work, they will also make it appear.
3. We learn, why the vineyard of Christ bears, at this day, such a disagreeable and melancholy appearance.
4. We learn, the great criminality of those who sustain the sacred office, but do not give themselves wholly to their work. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Meditation chews the cud, and gets the sweetness and nutritive virtue of the Word into the heart and life: this is the way the godly bring forth much fruit. (Ashworth.)
The naturalists observe that to uphold and accommodate bodily life, there are divers sorts of faculties communicated, and these among the rest--
1. An attractive faculty, to assume and draw in the food.
2. A retentive faculty, to retain it when taken in.
3. An assimilating faculty, to concoct the nourishment.
4. An augmenting faculty, for drawing to perfection.
Meditation is all these. It helps judgment, wisdom and faith to ponder, discern, and credit the things which reading and hearing supply and furnish. It assists the memory to lock up the jewels of Divine truth in her sure treasury; It has a digesting power, and turns spiritual truth into spiritual nourishment; and lastly, it helps the renewed heart to grow upward and increase its power to know the things which are freely given to us of God. (J. Ranew.)
The secret of success
A man who commenced life as an errand boy rose rapidly, through his untiring industry and earnestness, to the head of an extensive business, which he conducted very successfully. Meeting an old friend one day, he spared a few moments to describe to him briefly the extent of his prosperity and of his prospects. His friend inquired the secret of his success. “I put my soul into it,” replied the prosperous shopkeeper. “It is only by throwing my soul into my business, that I made it succeed.” So must the teacher do. That thy profiting may appear to all--
Growth in grace
Nothing but an evident progress in knowledge and holiness should satisfy the Christian. God expects from him a constant ripening towards perfection. But the duty is plain enough. And the subject of inquiry to which I would rather direct attention is, whether in our long continued enjoyment of religious privileges, there has been any apparent profiting.
I. And the first test by which we may judge that we have grown in grace will be found in an increasing conviction of our sinfulness and weakness by nature. The young convert’s views of sin may be more startling, because new; but that which flashes before his eyes works its way down into the very heart of the more mature Christian, and assumes there the shape of an abiding, humbling assurance of utter sinfulness and helplessness in himself. Here, then, Christians, is a mark by which to measure whether we have grown in grace. Have years of acquaintance with ourselves made us feel our depravity more deeply? When we hear any boasting of the goodness of human nature, do we listen as a sick man does, who knows death is at his vitals, to one complimenting him upon his good looks? If we realize our sinfulness more and more the longer we live, then we may be sure that there “our profiting appears.”
II. Another point of contrast between our present and our former state, our early and our mature experience, will be found in our views of christ and dependence upon him. A young Christian rests indeed upon Christ, but it is as the newly laid wall rests upon the foundation, while the cement is fresh, and when a little blow will cause it to totter; but the mature Christian is like that wall when it settles down, and the uniting medium hardens, so that wall and foundation seem but one solid structure. In our early experience we said much of our dependence on the Saviour, now we feel it.
III. If there be any profiting to appear, it will seem again in our increased charity. A young Christian is often a young bigot, filled with self-conceit and pride, and disposed to severity of censure and condemnation. Like a young watch-dog, he means well for his master’s interests, but will often snarl at his master’s friends, and upon such as an elder guardian would recognize and welcome. An advanced Christian will grieve more over the dissensions of Christians, and pray earnestly for the time when all shall be one.
IV. And there are various other points in which “our profiting will appear,” if we have grown in grace. A young Christian is much troubled by the remembrance of particular acts of sin. A young Christian, again, sets a very high value on religious sensibility, on excited feeling, on gifts, and estimates his own religious character by his fervours in devotion, his tears for sin. The piety of the young believer, again, depends very much on external aid. It must be fed by constant converse with fellow-Christians, and its warmth must be sustained by frequent attendance on religious meetings. But our “profiting will appear,” if we have learned to delight more in our own private meditations on God’s Word, and in communion with Him, and to be less dependent on our Christian ministers and our Christian brethren. “The mature Christian, like the sack well filled, can stand alone, while the young convert must be held up in his emptiness.” The young Christian lives much upon the opinion of others. To the young Christian, one or two doctrines of God’s Word seem exclusively important, and he would he glad if every sermon were upon conversion and faith in Christ, and is apt to regard a preacher as not evangelical who dwells upon the moral duties of life; but our “profiting will appear,” if we have learned to magnify all God’s Word, to feel that all should be unfolded, and to love it as a whole. And there will be, if our profiting is apparent, an increased dependence on prayer and all the means of grace. But of all other points an increasing heavenly-mindedness will appear as the most striking evidence of a growing Christian. So small is our improvement, however, that most of us are obliged to say, we hardly know at times whether we are any better than we were years ago. When a ship is moving slowly into port, so that we can scarcely perceive that she advances at all, it is pleasant to fix our eye upon some landmark, and watch it till we can exclaim, Oh, yes, I do see now that we move a little; and these marks which I have given may help us to know whether we are progressing at all towards the haven of peace. Happy are they who can thus perceive an advance in the Divine life. It is a comfort in itself, because every degree of progress in holiness is like every step in recovery from sickness, attended with positive and present pleasure. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
1 Timothy 4:16
Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine.
The comparative influence of character and doctrine
In counselling his friend and follower as to the best method of doing good in the sphere of duty allotted to him, the apostle seems here to lay the chief stress, not on doctrine or teaching, but on life or conduct. “Take heed,” is his admonition, not first to what you teach, and then to what you are; not primarily to your verbal instructions, and then to the spirit of your own character and life, but first “to thyself” and then “to the doctrine.” For it is nothing less than the broad principle that, in order to do good, the first and great effort must be to be good,--that extent and accuracy of religious knowledge, however important, are secondary, as a means of influence, to the moral discipline and culture of our own heart and life. Both reason and experience are against the notion that it needs great personal piety to be an accurate expositor of the theory of Divine truth, or that none but men of very holy lives can be profound theologians or able preachers. To be versant in a science does not of necessity imply that we must be skilled in the correlative art. Theory and practice, science and art, the knowledge of principles and the power to apply them, are attainments which depend on totally different faculties, and which may be, and in actual experience very commonly are, dissociated from each other. The able or eloquent writer on the principles of government would not always make the best practical statesman, or the acute expounder of theories in political economy the most sagacious financier. It is possible to know scientifically the principles of music without being able to sing a note,--to discuss and enforce the principles of grammar and rhetoric, and yet be a feeble speaker or inelegant writer. And the same remark is borne out in the sphere of man’s spiritual life. The facts and data being given, a man may play with the terms of theology as with the terms of algebra. The experience of mankind in all ages has shown how possible it is for a man to draw fine fancy-pictures of the beauty of virtue amidst a life that is sadly unfamiliar with her presence, to utter pathetic harangues on charity with a heart of utter selfishness, and to declaim on purity and self-denial, whilst living in sloth and luxurious self-indulgence. The truth of God may thus be studied as a mere intellectual exercise, and preached as a feat of rhetorical address, whilst yet the premises of the preacher’s high argument are utterly foreign to his own godless experience. Like a sick physician, the preacher may prescribe, perhaps successfully, to others for the disease of which himself is dying. We fall back with not less confidence on the assertion, that an experimental acquaintance with Divine truth--deep religious earnestness, is the first and grand qualification in the teacher, incomparably the most powerful means of usefulness, and the surest pledge of success. To be duly effective, truth must not merely fall from the lip, but breathe forth from the life; it must come, not like incense from the censer that only holds it, but like fragrance, from a flower, exhaling from a nature suffused with it throughout. In one word--and this is the principle which I wish now to illustrate--the first qualification of the religious instructor is, not knowledge, but piety.
I. That life is in some respects of prior importance to doctrine may be perceived by reflecting that life tends very greatly to modify a man’s own views of doctrine; in other words, that personal character tinges a man’s perceptions of truth. Whether it be things material or moral, objects of sense or objects of thought, in most cases we perceive according as we are. The same objects may be externally present to a hundred spectators, and yet be practically different to each of them. Every one knows, for example, that the varied colours wherewith the face of the visible earth seems to be clothed, exist not literally in the objects themselves, but owe their splendour to the eye that surveys them. It is only the unknown or occult causes of colour that exist in nature; colour itself is in the organism and mind of the observer; and through physical disease or organic defect our perceptions of colour may be marred or destroyed. The jaundiced eye blanches nature. Or if we pass from the mere organism through which man’s spirit converses with the outward world to that spirit itself, still more obvious illustration have we of the principle before us. It is the state of the inner eye, the condition of that spirit within us which looks out on nature through the loopholes of sense, that makes the world’s aspect to be to us what it is. It is the same world which is beheld by the man of deep thoughtfulness and sensibility, and by the dull observer in whom the sense of beauty has never been evoked, and yet how different that world to each! Now the same law attains in that higher province to which the text relates. As our perceptions of beauty, so our perceptions of moral and spiritual truth are modified by the inner spirit and character of the percipient. Self conditions doctrine. A man’s own moral state is very much the measure of his moral convictions. The highest spiritual truths lie beyond the range of a soul that is not in harmony with them, and the glimmerings of truth which a defective nature gains, take their complexion from its moral tone and spirit. The glorious discoveries of Divine things on the page of inspiration are lost to the soul in which the moral sense, the vision and faculty divine, is dull or dormant. God is but a name to the mind in which no Divine instinct, no godly sympathies and aspirations, have begun to stir. Moreover, consider how notoriously our opinions in secular matters are affected by our prejudices and passions. Who of us, where personal interest is at stake, can trust with unerring certainty to the conclusions of his own judgment? Experience proves that agreeable falsehoods are at least as likely to be believed as disagreeable truths. Endeavour to introduce new opinions, uncongenial to educational or class convictions, and often all the force of truth will in vain be exerted to obtain for them a place in the rugged and reluctant mind. Thus even on the lower ground of secular truth it needs, in the formation of opinion, the rarest candour and self-watchfulness to conduct the process aright. But this discipline is still more indispensable to the religious inquirer. For there are no interests so tremendous as those which are involved in our religious beliefs. In no other province of inquiry are deeper passions stirred, or prejudices, associations, habits, more numerous and inveterate, called into play. As the chemist seeks to render his balances exquisitely sensitive, and carefully eliminates from his results all variations of temperature or other disturbing elements; so should the student of Divine things strive by God’s grace to attain the acuteness and delicacy of a judgment freed from all deflecting influences, and poised with an exquisite nicety of discrimination on which not the slightest grain of truth is lost. He should cultivate, in one word, by the discipline of a holy life, a truer and philosophic calmness and candour--the calmness of a spirit that dwells in habitual communion with God, the candour of a mind that has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by truth.
II. In further illustration of the principle that life or character comes, in order of importance, before “doctrine,” it is to be considered that life or character affects not only a man’s own views of truth, but also his power of expressing or communicating truth to others. For if, from any cause, the organ of spiritual perception be impaired or undeveloped in a man’s mind, of course he can communicate to others no clearer views than he himself has received. The stream can rise no higher than its source. The medium lends its own defects to the light which passes through it. To exert real power over men’s minds and hearts, what you speak must be not only true, but true to you. For the conveyance of thought and feeling from mind to mind is not a process which depends on mere verbal accuracy. Language is not the only medium through which moral convictions and impressions are transmitted from speaker to hearer. There is another and more subtle mode of communication, a mysterious moral contagion, by means of which, irrespective of the mere intellectual apparatus employed, the instructor’s beliefs and emotions are passed over into the minds of his auditory. Strong conviction has a force of persuasion irrespective of the mere oral instrument by which it works. The magnetic force must saturate his own spirit ere it flow out to others in contact with him. No stereotyped orthodoxy, no simulated fervours, however close or clever the imitation, will achieve the magic effects of reality. Bring your own spirit to the fount of inspiration, live inhabitual communion with the infinite truth and life, and the words you speak to men, whether rude or refined, will possess a charm, a force, a power to touch their hearts and mould their secret souls, which no words of eloquent conventionality can ever attain. There will be an intuitive recognition of the Divine fire which has touched your lips.
III. The only other consideration I shall adduce in support of the principle involved in the text is--that life or character has in many respects an influence which direct teaching or doctrine cannot exert. Actions, in many ways, teach better than words, and even the most persuasive oral instruction is greatly vivified when supplemented by the silent teaching of the life.
1. Consider, for one thing, that actions are more intelligible than words. Ideas, reflections, deductions, distinctions, when presented in words, are liable to misapprehension; their power is often modified or lost by the obscurity of the medium through which they are conveyed, and the impression produced by them is apt very speedily to vanish from the mind. But whatever the difficulty of understanding words, deeds are almost always intelligible. Let a man net merely speak but act the truth; let him reveal his soul in the articulate speech of an earnest, pure, and truthful life, and this will be a language which the profoundest must admire, while the simplest can appreciate. The most elaborate discourse on sanctification will prove tame and ineffective in comparison with the eloquence of a humble, holy walk with God. In the spectacle of a penitent soul pouring forth the broken utterance of its contrition at the Saviour’s feet, there is a nobler sermon on repentance than eloquent lips ever spoke. The living epistle needs no translation to be understood in every country and clime; a noble act of heroism or self-sacrifice speaks to the common heart of humanity; a humble, gentle, holy, Christlike life preaches to the common ear all the world over.
2. Consider, again, that the language of the life is more convincing than the language of the lip. It is not ideal or theoretical, it is real and practical; and whilst theories and doctrines may be disputed, and only involve the learner in inextricable confusion, a single unmistakable fact, if you can appeal to it, cuts the knot, and sets discussion at rest. The theory is a fine one, they admit, but constituted as poor human nature is, there is this inseparable objection to it, that it will not work. But in this, as in many other cases, experiment will be the test of truth. Men may dispute your theory of agriculture, and explanation or discussion might only serve to confirm them in their error; but show them, rugged though be the soil and ungenial the climate, your fair and abundant crops, and objection is silenced.
3. Consider, finally, that the teaching of the life is available in many cases in which the teaching of the lip cannot, or ought not, to be attempted. But in all cases in which formal instruction or advice is precluded, how invaluable that other mode of access to the minds of men on which we are now insisting--the silent, unobtrusive, inoffensive, yet most potent and persuasive teaching of the life. The counsel you may not speak you may yet embody in action. To the faults and sins you cannot notice in words, you may hold up the mirror of a life bright with purity and goodness and grace. The mind which no force of rebuke could drive from sin, may yet be insensibly drawn from it by the attractive power of holiness ever acting in its presence. Let your daily life be an unuttered yet perpetual pleading with man for God. Let men feel, in contact with you, the grandeur of that religion to whose claims they will not listen, and the glory of that Saviour whose name you may not name. Let the sacredness of God’s slighted law be proclaimed by your uniform sacrifice of inclination to duty, by your repression of every unkind word, your scorn of every undue or base advantage, your stern and uncompromising resistance to the temptations of appetite and sense. Preach the preciousness of time by your husbanding of its rapid hours, and your crowding of its days with duties. And, be assured, the moral influence of such a life cannot be rest. Like the seed which the wind wafts into hidden glades and forest depths, where no sewer’s hand could reach to scatter it, the subtle germ of Christ’s truth will be borne on the secret atmosphere of a holy life, into hearts which no preacher’s voice could penetrate. Where the tongue of men and of angels would fail, there is an eloquence of living goodness which will often prove persuasive. (J. Caird, D. D.)
The teacher and the taught
1. Let your teaching be Scriptural. You are students of God’s revealed Word. Let me, then, earnestly entreat you to lay the basis of all that you have to say upon the clearly ascertained revelations of Holy Scripture. Do not suppose that you can find within yourself better moral illustrations, or more comprehensive principles of action, than you will find within the sacred volume.
2. Take heed to your doctrine, that it be not only Scriptural, but comprehensive. Do not rest satisfied with a truth because it is found in Holy Scripture, but discover for yourself whether there be not other truths, closely-related truths, in God’s revelation, without which the truth in question cannot be understood. Do not be satisfied with the truth that merely meets your own views and fancy. Believe me, nearly all the errors which have desolated the Church of God have arisen from this want of comprehensiveness, this exaggeration of some truths, this conference upon them of unwonted importance. There are those who have so exclusively dwelt on the Divine sovereignty and counsels, that they have lost sight of the responsibility and defiled the conscience of man. There are those who are so overpowered by His divinity, that they have lost the practical force of His brotherhood, and conferred His humanity on His mother, His sisters, and brethren.
3. Take heed to the manner of the doctrine, that it be connected and ordered upon some plan, some prayerfully-considered purpose. Do not treat the Scriptures as a conjuring-book, nor open it at random, nor read it with carelessness; but endeavour to get at a meaning of a period, of a stage, of an epoch, of a division of God’s revelations; or, if you will, pursue the Scriptural teaching, on some great thrilling themes, from the beginning of the Bible to its close.
4. Take heed to your doctrine, that it is appropriate to the class of minds with which you have to deal. Paul spoke in Hebrew to the Jews, and in Greek to the philosophers of Athens. He adopted one style when addressing the Orientalists of Ephesus, and another when reasoning with the prejudices of Roman Jews. “Take heed,” said the venerable apostle to his son in the faith, “take heed unto thyself.” We who are workers for God, students of truth, servants of the Church, teachers and pastors, watchers for souls, have a great work to do with ourselves--we have great temptations to resist, yet we are to be “patterns even to believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Take heed to thyself, O man of God! Thou mayest deal with heavenly realities and Divine truths until they are mere chess-men that thou art shifting over the board and fighting imaginary battles with. Thou mayest substitute the intellectual appreciation of the truth which thou hast discovered, for the spiritual reception of it into thy own heart. The inducements by which the apostle urges this stirring appeal are comprehensive and inspiring: “in so doing thou shalt both save thyself and those that hear thee.” My fellow-workers, there is one salvation for our hearers and for ourselves. The most powerful preacher, the most devoted teacher, the most distinguished apostle, the holiest martyr, must be saved by the same means as the most ignorant and guilty sinner to whom he speaks. There are no special passports to heaven, no shortcuts, no sideways, no reserved seats, no privileged admissions there; a spiritual reputation on earth is no watchword at the gates of heaven. However, patient perseverance in such godlike work is a way not only of securing the salvation of others, but our own salvation too. Our own salvation, without the salvation of those that hear us, is a thought we can scarcely endure. (H. R. Reynolds, B. A.)
“Genius,” says a modern writer, “is the passion for self-improvement.” It has been assumed that if a man has genius he does not need to be careful of himself, he does not need to aim at self-improvement. The very opposite is the true state of the case. It is the blood horse that needs the most careful training. “Take heed to thyself” is a word necessary for us all, but it is especially necessary for those of full vitality: for those in whose veins the hot blood seems to course rapidly; for those of highly-strung nervous organization; for those whose impulses are fiery; whose temperament is ardent; whose souls have in them a craving that seems insatiable. If these do not take heed to themselves, there will be disaster. A well-balanced nature, in which the physical, mental, and moral seem to be in happy equilibrium, is not always found, perhaps seldom. Some one department of our organism seems to predominate. The tendency is to cultivate that which it is most easy to cultivate, to the neglect of the other. Consequently, the whole nature is thrown out of balance and a condition of chronic unhappiness is the result. I would ask you to remark upon the advice which the great apostle gives to Timothy, one of the earliest presbyters of the Christian Church. Though this man must have had special qualifications for his work, yet these special qualifications did not preclude the necessity for diligent improvement of his mental powers. He is urged to do everything he can towards self-improvement. On that must depend his usefulness. There is no recognition here of any supernatural grace which would relieve him from the use of those means whereby ordinary men bring their minds into an ability of perceiving what is, truth and what error. He must take heed to himself first, or his teaching will not be as full of light and of force as it ought to be. “Take heed unto thyself.” Every man of us is a trinity in unity, body, soul, spirit. We have physical, mental and spiritual needs; physical, mental and spiritual abilities--these constitutionally. They are included in the word “manhood.”. The physical is the pediment on which the mental and spiritual stand. It is that which confines them to this earth. It limits and modifies their use. There is something that we have to learn within these present limitations, which will be useful to us always. We soon come to the end of our physical growth; and strange though it seems, very many seem soon to come to the end of their mental growth, although it must be only in seeming. But no one ever comes to the limit of spiritual growth so long as he is on this earth. Now, we have to recognize distinctly and clearly that the lower is for the sake of the higher. It is in service to it. The physical is for the sake of the mental, the mental for the sake of the emotional, and all for the sake of the spiritual. Nor is there any possibility of improvement until that which is uppermost in man constitutionally becomes uppermost in thought. Inadequate views of human nature are at the root of personal miseries and social perplexities. Man’s view of himself as to what he is and what destined for must affect him beneficially or otherwise in all relations of life and in all that he does. Supposing a man has this view of life, “I am here to be as happy as I can make myself, here to enjoy myself, here simply to have a good time.” That is the dominating idea. You see at a glance its limitations. No heroism can ever come out of it; nothing really good or great or sublime. No man moving under the influence of that idea has ever done anything of worth or value. Take another view of life, that in which a man sees something to be done out of which comes a material reward. The idea of duty dawns upon him, eventually takes possession of him, masters him, and under its influence he denies himself much to which other men are inclined, and becomes the world’s successful man in that region concerning which we cannot use any other words than those which convey respect--the commercial. This man becomes stoical. He uses one department of his nature only. We might bring other types of men forward in illustration, but these two will suffice. In both cases the nature is depreciated below that for which it was predestinated. Neither man will ever be good or noble. There is no possibility of it. The idea which these men have of manhood and its meaning and purpose is very much lower than God’s idea written in the constitution of man. The first man never could be happy and the second man never can be satisfied. Why? Because, in both cases, the nature is larger than the idea which controls and dominates it. The spiritual part of man is clamorous. It wants its dues, or its wine turns to vinegar; its milk of human kindness to gall. The physical is not here for itself, but for the sake of the mental, the mental is not here for itself, but for the sake of the emotional and the affectional; and the emotional and the affectional are here for the sake of that which is permanent and indestructible in man’s nature--the spiritual. As a child cries for its mother so the spiritual in man cries out for its Father, God. We see, then, that there is a limit soon reached to physical self-improvement, and a limit also soon reached to improvement arising out of any type or style of life which is dominated by the idea of pleasing oneself simply, or of doing duty which has relation only to that which is seen and temporal. Every man, even the smallest and meanest, is larger constitutionally than his business and larger than his pleasures--using that word as it is ordinarily used. Man’s self, what the philosophers would call “the ego,” is that which needs to be continuously improved. And with its improvement everything else belonging to the man will be raised, will be expanded, will be developed into a higher power. If a man be an artist, he is a better artist when his spiritual nature is awakened. The costliest pictures in all Europe are those in which the artists have aimed at bodying forth spiritual themes. No man is really himself until the Spirit within him is awake. The New Testament calls him “dead” till then. It is all but literally true that a man is never alive until that which is characteristic of him, as man, is alive. A type of religious life has been prevalent, we might say dominant, in the past which has almost lost sight of three-fourths of the Pauline theology, anyway of the Pauline ethics. To get a man converted according to the Calvinistic idea of conversion, and then pretty much to leave him as necessarily in a condition of safety, this has been dominant. Conversion means turning the life Christwards instead of turning the back upon Christ and His salvation. But to turn round and stand still is not the apostolic idea of being a Christian. Any new truth entering the mind brings light, mid light means life, and life means activity. We are at school--learning how to be men and women according to God’s idea of men and women. How is our spiritual nature to be developed into more and yet more until it becomes the undisputed sovereign of our constitution? It is impossible to compel any man to be a Christian because it is impossible to compel love. The heart of man must feel drawn to the object set before it. And so we fail to do any justice to the Christian religion unless its relation to the heart of man be presented so as to wake that heart into response. Along this line all self-improvement must proceed. We must take heed to ourselves. I venture to add that there is no spiritual self improvement that is worth anything apart from plan and purpose. A spasmodic religiousness will do little. If a young man at college should study only when he feels in the humour he would be disgraced. If a man of business should go to his store or office only when the fit takes him he would be bankrupt. (R. Thomas, D. D.)
The principles of the ministerial character
We shall note some of those features of character, which were probably intended when the apostle urged Timothy--and in him all who should come after him--to “take heed unto himself.”
I. We may suppose him, in the first instance, to mean, Take heed that thou art faithful. NO qualification is more commonly associated with the gospel ministry than this. “Moreover,” says this apostle to the Corinthians, “ it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful”; “I have obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful”: whilst to Epaphras and Tychicus he assigns the distinction of “faithful ministers of Christ and his fellow-servants in the Lord.”
II. But again: in warning Timothy to “take heed to himself,” the apostle would have him be fearless. He says to him in another epistle, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” It is remarkable to observe how prophets, evangelists and apostles concur in warning us against the fear of man.
III. Another ministerial quality, which we may well consider as included in the apostle’s caution, “Take heed unto thyself,” is that of a prudent regard to external circumstances. A Christian, a real Christian, we ought to remember, is a public man--an instrument in the world’s renovation--taken up into a system of agencies, which are to issue in the regeneration of a new and righteous universe: so that “whether he lives, he lives unto the Lord; or whether he dies, he dies unto the Lord.” Neither is it less a part of this ministerial prudence, to take heed to the intellectual signs of the times in which we live. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The principles of ministerial doctrine
I. We inquire, then, what authority is to be consulted in deciding upon the truth of doctrine. One pervading fault of all the religious systems of antiquity was the absence of any universal and accredited standard, either of faith or of practice. Men did not know what they were to believe. Their mysteries were locked up among human deposits; their precepts proceeded from human oracles; and as there were no means of securing uniformity among the teachers’ thoughts, that which was set down as truth to-day, might cease to be truth to-morrow. Why, his security is, that all essential and saving truth is lodged, confined, inseparably bound up in a volume, whose pages were penned by the finger of the living God; so that a curse would light on him, be he seraph from the throne of light or ambassador from the realms of darkness, who should knowingly preach as an essential doctrine of the gospel, that which could neither be found therein, nor yet be proved thereby. Now, it must be owned, that even if there be nothing else to recommend the recognition of this principle, it has at least the advantage of great simplicity; that it would preserve us from all those fluctuations of doctrine and of practice, which would be sure to result, so long as men’s cameleon views were permitted to determine what should be truth and what should not. But here it may be asked, does the fact of this system being locked up in a single book secure this much-desired uniformity? The Almighty has made the way of holiness plain as a sunbeam to him that on his knees will seek for it; but He certainly has made no provision for the blindness that will not see.
II. We come now to the claims of human reason in reference to the mode of inculcating doctrine. Born as man is, in common with myriads of other creatures, subject to appetite, passion, disease and death, he has one faculty which distinguishes him from the whole intelligent universe--the faculty of reason; that power by which he thinks and forms his conclusions. In this respect, man stands alone. It is plain, therefore, that no system of instruction would be complete, which disregarded the claims of this noble faculty. And yet it has been, from ill-advised endeavours to satisfy these claims, that the unity of the Church has suffered some of its severest shocks, and the cause of truth its deepest injuries. Teachers and taught have too often lacked the courage to acknowledge that the line of their puny intellect could never fathom “the deep things of God”--that there were doctrines in their system, which could never be comprehended by finite beings. Now, we have no hesitation in telling you, that we have no desire to see these lofty subjects pared down and refined to the presumed level of human reason. “Without controversy,” such a doctrine as that of “God manifest in the flesh,” is a mystery. Neither, as we shall hope to show you, whenever any of these sublime doctrines are brought under your notice, are any demands made upon your faith, which it is not the duty of an intelligent creature to concede.
III. We proceed now to the use and efficacy of external ordinances towards strengthening our faith.
IV. The leading truths to be insisted upon as essential points of doctrine. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Improvement of religious anniversaries
I. I shall explain the admonition, “Take heed to thyself.”
1. The object of your solicitude, this will be yourself. It is your soul--a man’s soul is himself. What is the garment to the body which it clothes? What is the body to the soul which inhabits it?
2. The manner in which this solicitude for the soul is expressed--“Take heed.” How often is that admonition repeated in Scripture; and generally to some subject connected with man’s spiritual and eternal interests I Man is heedful enough in reference to his worldly concerns, but he is the most heedless being in reference to his spiritual interests. Salvation is not a trifling work; religion is not an insignificant matter;--it requires that we “take heed.”
II. I am to enforce this admonition. And here the motives are so numerous that selection is more difficult than enumeration.
1. But, in the first place, I would remind you of the inconceivable value and infinite importance of that for which your solicitude is demanded.
2. Take heed to the soul, for the soul’s salvation is the most rational, the most befitting exercise of that self-love which our Creator has implanted in our nature as our impetus to happiness. There is a great difference between selfishness and self-love. It cannot be vicious for a man to desire to be happy, nor is there any virtue in it. It is only an instinct of nature, but then it is a most important one; and the man that is not taking heed to his soul is acting in opposition to this self-love--this instinct of his nature after happiness.
3. But I observe there is another motive to take heed to thyself--it is the command of God. If it were only advice on the part of the Creator--since He knows the whole of the case, since His eye looks onward to eternity, since He comprehends the whole range of being, since He knows what is destined for the righteous and the wicked in another world--the creature must be under the influence of a total disregard to his own happiness, who refuses the counsel of the Almighty.
4. I remark, that if we do not take heed to ourselves, all the solicitudes which others may have cherished, or may still feel for us, will be all in vain.
5. I urge this admonition to take heed to yourselves by the consideration that it is indispensably necessary--you cannot be saved without it. There are difficulties connected with salvation. If you are saved, there must be striving, watching, and praying. Can all this be done without taking heed to your souls?
6. I admonish you to take heed to yourselves, by showing you that all the solicitude you may feel, or profess to feel for others, cannot be accepted in you for solicitude for yourselves.
7. I urge this on you from the consideration, that so far from interfering with or injuring your doings for the benefit of others, the more heed you take to yourselves, the better qualified will you be to take heed to others. There is nothing in a strict attention to your own personal salvation, incompatible with the salvation of others.
And now permit me, in conclusion, to take up the subject--
1. By way of examination.
2. Let me take up the subject by way of expostulation, what have you taken heed to if you have not taken heed to yourselves?
How has your time been occupied? How have your faculties been employed? What have you found more valuable than your soul, more important than salvation, more endurable than eternity, more desirable than heaven? (J A. James.)
Thyself and thy teaching
The text consists of three parts. It presents--
1. An object of watchful care.
2. An admonition to persistency in watchfulness.
3. A reason for this care in its happy results.
I. The object of watchfulness and caution is apparently twofold. Take heed to thyself and to thy teaching; but as we shall examine the admonition a little more carefully, we shall discover that the two parts are of one piece and made up of one thought. For the present, however, let us consider them separately. Take heed then, first, to thyself; or literally, hold thy attention fixed upon thyself. The gospel gives us two classes of admonition which, while apparently pointing in different ways, are nevertheless quite consistent, On the one hand, it is constantly directing our thoughts away from self; its very key-note is deny self; treat it as if it were not. On the other hand, it is most intensely personal. While it tells us that no man liveth unto himself, it also tells us that every man shall give account of himself to God. In one and the same breath we hear “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” and “Every man shall bear his own burden.” In one place we find Paul insisting on the independent right of the individual conscience, asserting that every man stands or falls to his own master; and in another saying, “If meat make my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat while the world standeth.” In our text we find the same thing. Timothy is exhorted to take heed to himself; but the last clause of the verse shows that not only himself but all his hearers are to be in his mind; that his very heedfulness of himself is to be for their sake quite as much as for his own. Hence our text, carefully studied, may show us how these two classes of admonition may be reconciled. “Bend thine attention on thyself.” The fair inference is that self needs careful watching; that a man who undertakes to look after himself has a great piece of work upon his hands, and one which admits of no negligence. In a worldly sense most men find taking care of themselves a very serious business; it is an infinitely more serious business in a moral sense; it is transcendently serious in a Christian sense; at least our Lord seemed to think so when He asked, “What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self.” The difference between taking care of self in the ordinary sense and in the Christian sense, is very radical and lies in this; that the ordinary sense implies taking care of the natural self; gratifying its desires, encouraging its tendencies, assisting its proclivities, trying to make it by culture, on a larger scale, essentially what it is by nature; while the Christian sense implies making self something which it is not by nature; the development of a renewed, Christ-like self, the ideal self of the Gospel; the training of a new creature in Christ Jesus. We often hear people exhorted to be true to themselves, as if all virtue were summed up in that. There are not a few men who, if they were true to themselves would be false to every man. Certain people talk as though if a man only acts out that which he really is at heart, he is thereby shown to be virtuous. On the contrary, he may be shown to be essentially vicious. A serpent is true to himself when he stings you; a tiger when he rends you; a traitor when he betrays you. The burglar, the pickpocket, the assassin, the more false they are to themselves the better for us. The gospel, therefore, challenges this fine moral sentiment, and admits it only under conditions. Be true to yourself, yes; but to what self? There is something before being true to yourself, and that is, “Take heed to yourself.” Look well what that is to which you propose to be true. Christian training has not only to bring us to a certain point of attainment, it has also to detach us from very much; and it is to the work of detachment as well as to that of attainment that our taking heed to ourselves is directed. When a boy goes to West Point and is enrolled as a cadet, perhaps the most exasperating thing about his new life is that he is constantly being checked in doing the things which it is natural for him to do. The soldier self he finds out is something quite different from the schoolboy self, and the transition from one to the other is neither easy nor pleasant. “Look out for yourself. That is no way for a soldier to stand.” His head or feet fall into their natural positions. “Take care! Eyes right!” And so at every point where the natural habits assert themselves, the boy is corrected and reproved. His natural self is the very thing he has to take heed to and guard against while he is cultivating the new soldierly self until it becomes a second nature. Just so, when a man sets out to become a good soldier of Christ, a great part of the hardness he has to endure grows out of the struggle with himself in the effort to develop the new and better self. Hence the emphasis is laid by the apostle justly upon this point. The first thing is that you yourself be right; that you yourself be under Christ’s new law, pervaded by Christ’s new life, guided by Christ’s new unselfish principle of action; that you be such a self as Paul describes in the words, “Not I live but Christ liveth in me.” Therefore, take heed unto thyself. Take heed too unto thy teaching. Christianity, such is our Lord’s general principle, wherever it informs a life and a character, carries a power of instruction. Ye are the light of the world. The very quality of Christian life is that something should go out from it to enlighten and purify. Here, therefore, is the point of connection with the former charge. Take heed to thyself, because that self teaches; because no man liveth unto himself; because you cannot be a Christian and not give men some impression about Christ and Christianity. You must teach. You cannot help it. Men will learn something from you whether you will or not, Thus, then, all that has been said thus far is easily summed up. Clergy and people alike are admonished simply on the ground of their discipleship. Discipleship in every case carries with it a power of teaching. That power resides first of all in the disciple’s Christian personality; in what he himself is as a Christian. I repeat it--you all teach. Every one of you who professes faith in Christ is a teacher in virtue of that fact. You teach by your spirit. This is a thing hard to define or explain. If one should ask you to explain the odour which fills your room from that beautiful climbing honeysuckle, you could not do it; but you are conscious of the fragrance none the less.
II. We come now to the second element of the text--persistency. Continue in these things; that is, in care for yourself and for your teaching. Christian self-culture requires continuous care. The old self is like the treacherous ocean lapping at the dykes and assailing the smallest break, and must be constantly watched. The new self is a growth, not a complete creation, and like all growths must be tended. And this persistency is related also to the teaching power of the Christian self. It is behind all the good and lasting impressions which holy character makes. When a man strikes a blow which stuns his adversary the effect is sudden; but behind that lightning-like stroke are years of slow muscular compacting and gymnastic training. When intellectual power goes out of another man to you, and you instinctively recognize, in your first contact with him, an intellectual king, behind that impression are years of mental discipline and laborious study. Just so spiritual character often makes itself felt at once. It takes no time nor reasoning to convince you that you are talking with one who has walked with God: but crude character, shallow character, half-way character does not and cannot affect you thus. Such impression is made by the man who has long taken heed to himself, who has been scarred in many a fight with the old self, and has watched and tended with prayer and tears the growth of the new man in him. Then again, even when character is not ripened there is a lesson in steady, persistent growth. A double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, ceases to be a lesson except of warning. When a man’s whole life is seen to be concentrated upon the service of God and the attainment of a heavenly recompense, that life is a lesson. Many a time, as you have been walking the street, you have seen a man stop at a corner, and look fixedly upward at something or other. Your first impulse is to look up too. There is always a peculiar interest in anything that is above this earth, though it may be only a little way above. Then you stop, and still look up. Perhaps you ask, “What is it?” The next man that comes along and sees you two looking up, stops also, and the next, until a crowd is gathered, for no other reason than that one man in the hurrying throng stood steadfastly looking upward. And this familiar incident is a type of something better. When a man is seen living for heaven; when every day’s life says to men, “ One thing have I desired of the Lord: that will I seek after,” there is a power and a lesson in that fact. Men ask, “What is it he sees which we do not see? What is he after which thus concentrates his energy, and makes him live in this world as if his home were elsewhere?”
III. And now the third element of the text--the result of this careful and persistent self-culture. “Thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” In the economy of this world for a man to take heed to himself means to let other people go; not to save them, but to let them be lost if they will. In the Christian economy, to take heed to oneself is to save not only the self, but others. Thou shalt save thyself. It is very clearly implied that salvation is not an easy matter. Salvation is not a thing which God works out for us while we take our ease. But this promise, “thou shalt save thyself,” is bound up with our influence upon others. You know very well that in teaching another any branch of knowledge, you broaden your own knowledge. You know how the labourer who toils for the sake of wife and little ones, strengthens his own arm; and in like manner, the exertion of spiritual energy for the sake of others, reacts to make the man who puts it forth spiritually stronger. The man who feels that he must take heed to himself because his life affects other lives, and who watches and disciplines himself, not only for his own salvation, but to save others--himself grows apace in spiritual power. So, too, you shall save them that hear you. There is a saving power in a life which is watchful over itself as in God’s sight. Here we strike, I think, the true idea of the Church of Christ. The Church is ordained of Christ to save. Men talk of revival. For one I want a revival on a larger scale than is popularly conceived. A means of saving men--a mightier means than any temporary or spasmodic efforts. I long to see whole Churches, as bodies of Christ, glowing with the radiance of concentrated character. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
Conduct and doctrine
Let us look first at that member of the pair which is least popular--doctrine. What does the word mean? It means simply “teaching,” or “what is taught.” St. Paul, writing to Timothy, who was by office a teacher, says “take heed unto the doctrine, to what you teach”; and of course writing to the people he would have said “take heed unto the doctrine, unto what you are taught.” We are all being taught constantly; persons and things and events are constantly giving us lessons; the process of doctrine-making is for ever going on within us, and we cannot help it, as long as we are receptive and reasoning beings. And very often me hear some man give expression to a doctrine under the influence of a sudden event, which only puts in shape and brings to light what has been forming in his life for years. Since then the warning is about teaching, it must mean that we are to be careful of our subject and our teacher; for those are the important things in all teaching, and it is just those that give the characteristics to Christian doctrine. The subject is God and the teacher is Christ. It exalts God to His place as the very centre of all our life; it says that under Christ alone can we really learn about God worthily, although there will be many subordinate teachers, to whose word He will give the right place and due importance. This is the essence of Christian doctrine. Look at it thus as regulating, systematizing, correcting all the teaching that is for ever poured into our minds, and there is nothing so terrible in its aspect. It is not dry or unimportant; it is a matter of vital interest; it does not consist of things that cannot be understood, but has its beginnings in the simplest facts that all can comprehend.
II. And so doctrine is put before us as a necessity of all life. And now we can turn to the other side which men appreciate so much more readily--to conduct, which is contained in those words, “take heed to thyself.” Care of our conduct, which we all willingly grant to be three-fourths of man’s evident life, everybody feels the need of in this world.
1. In the first place we can see how conduct serves doctrine. This process of learning is not an easy one; the best side of a lesson is easily passed over, because some other side appeals to us more. We have been accustomed to think only of ourselves; sin has turned us away from God and He is a hard, dry subject to us; we are not what God made us to be, and so we are not able to appreciate what our God’s word is to us. But diligent care of oneself tones up the mind. The man is, used to being rigid with himself, to looking away from his own immediate comfort to higher and better. Doctrine is the learning in God’s school: and just as it makes a great difference from what kind of a home a child goes to the school, as to how much he learns when he arrives there, so to learn in God’s school we need to go there with lives that have appreciated the vileness of all sin and the value of all struggle against it.
2. This is the value of conduct, then, as a preparative for doctrine: look at it next as the interpreter of doctrine. God’s teaching must be very great, and often beyond us; and we never shall know it, until we have tried it at point after point and found how powerful it is. Human conduct creates strange emergencies; and we, in our cowardice, are often afraid that we shall not be able to meet them, and so we are almost afraid to take heed unto ourselves. We think that we had better close our eyes to many things in our lives for fear that we shall not know how to deal with them. We do not know what we shall find in ourselves if we look too closely. But put conduct and the study of God’s teaching together, and we find that all the emergencies of one answer to the possibilities of the other. The care of our conduct becomes like an experimental lecture on God’s teaching; it supplies the illustrations for God’s book of doctrine, which can help all poor ignorant scholars who say that their cannot understand God’s teaching here. God’s doctrine of mechanics is to be found in no text-book; it is written in the formation of our bodies, in the movements of the heavenly bodies, in the connection of all substances of this earth here. Men, like children, are led by these illustrations; they read page after page, they learn the doctrine, they go on and spread it in inventions of their own embodying those same principles, and so the world is furnished with what it needs. God’s laws of morals and doctrine of salvation ask the same illustration; they are not all plain; they have obscure points as all God’s thoughts must have to us. How shall the world get at them and use them? Only by their being embodied, so that men can study them in human lives and then use the principles in forming those new lives which the world so sadly wants. Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine. Find out your own wants and infirmities and go to the doctrine for their supply; take the doctrine and write it in your own life. And there is something more that conduct gives to doctrine besides illustration: it is life and warmth. No wonder that doctrine is often declared to be dry and hard. It is teaching about God coming to many men who know nothing about God Himself; He is a mere name to them; they do not appreciate His existence or His being at all. What shall give this same strange living power to doctrine? The man hears of God, but He is far away. But his own life he does appreciate; let him value that it is a precious thing; it can live on nothing that the world furnishes; it calls out for the living God: take heed unto thyself, says the apostle. In thee is a voice which does tell of the nearness of another world, which demands the knowledge of a higher being. Living men make living doctrines. By those the world is saved. The doctrine received into men’s lives is the power of God. And so when God would save the world He sent Christ to it. There was the complete union of doctrine and life. All the teaching of God was there; He was the Son of God direct from the Father. And in the last place, look how great the work is that such care of the doctrine and of conduct accomplishes. “Thou shalt both save thyself and those that hear thee.” We do not save ourselves by our conduct and our neighbour by our doctrine. The two together save both of us. The two paths are one, the two goals are one. (A. Brooks.)
Man’s highest work, and the way to achieve it
These words of Paul to Timothy should not be confined to ministers. They have an application to all men.
I. Man’s highest work.
1. The moral salvation of self. “Save thyself.” What is salvation? Not mere deliverance from an outward hell, or introduction to an outward heaven, but it is restoration to the soul itself of what it has lost through depravity--the restoration of lost love, lost purity, lost harmony, lost usefulness.
2. The salvation of others. “And them that hear thee.” All men, besides ministers, have hearers; and it is the duty of all men to preach, to speak that which will tend to the moral salvation of men, to raise them from ignorance to knowledge, from selfishness to benevolence, from materialism to spirituality, from Satan to God.
II. Man’s qualifications for the highest work.
1. Self-heedfulness. “Take heed unto thyself.” See that self is all right, rectify thy own mistakes, train thy own faculties, purify thy own affections, discipline thy own character. This is the first step. You must be good, in order to do good.
2. Genuine teaching. “Unto the doctrine.” The word doctrine here includes the whole matter of teaching. See that the teaching is true--true in its doctrine, in its spirit, in its aim. There is no teaching work where there is not a teaching life. He alone knows the Divine doctrine that does the Divine will.
3. Perseverance in goodness. “Continue in them.” Continue in the work of self-culture and in genuine teaching. Do not let your efforts be capricious, but systematic; not occasional, but persistent. “Be instant, in season and out of season.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Heed to life and doctrine
Two outstanding things are to be noted in the text; first of all, the connection between our doctrine and ourself: “Take heed unto thyself and unto thy doctrine”; and, secondly, the connection between two great results: “So shalt thou save thyself and them that hear thee.” Take heed to save yourself. That is the best way to save them. “Take heed to thy doctrine.” Yes, take heed to thyself, and thy doctrine will take heed of itself. Now, let me just run over that chain of thought. I am going to take the things the reverse way. “Take heed unto thy doctrine.” There is a deal of talk about doctrine at the present day, with some wisdom in it and a great deal of folly. Downright good people are going about saying, “Doctrine does not matter; life is everything.” Now, if that merely means that doctrines unpractised and which are hypocrisy are worthless, it does not say enough; they are accursed. But that is not just what is meant. I think that it is often taken to mean this--that it does not matter at all what a man believes; it does not matter at all what a man teaches about God, about the human soul, about salvation, about faith and duty, if only the man’s heart be right, and if he means well. Now, to a certain extent, that is true. There are doctrines and there are doctrines; and I wish we had two very distinct names to indicate those utterly diverse classes of beliefs. If a man eats bread and meat every day, as much as he wants, it really matters very little if that man’s doctrines about the chemistry of meat and bread are nonsense. He may be under utter delusions as to the way the meat and bread feed his body. If the man cats wholesome meat and wholesome bread, that is everything. If another man holds the most orthodox theories of chemistry and of physiology and of nutrition, and is not eating the actual meat and bread, then he dies. The other man lives in spite of his false doctrine. Now, that is true to a certain extent of theological beliefs. There are elaborate and subtle and noble theories about the inner, mysterious nature of God, the construction of Christ’s person, the ultimate decrees of God, the precise explanation of how the dying love and obedience of Jesus Christ cleanses us actually from sin--theories and explanations of how these things are and are done; and I am bound to own frankly that it does not matter very much what a man thinks about this. If that man with his whole full heart lives on the Lord Jesus Christ, and takes Him to be his real Saviour from real sin, and has His Holy Spirit dwelling in him--ah, he is feeding on the bread of life; and even if his theories of how that bread of life is life to us are not quite correct it is a small matter; at least, it is a small matter by comparison with a man who is for ever teaching and working and battling about the theories and the explanations, while his heart is a desolate howling wilderness, with no love of God, no love of man, in it. But now let me say this. It is a pity that such questions should be raised. You cannot answer them quite rightly. You must give replies that may be misused and misinterpreted. There ought to be no such antagonism. Still, if the question comes up let us speak the truth. But now there is another class of doctrines--beliefs which are things not of the mere intellect, not of speculation, but which are convictions of the heart, which throw a man into a certain attitude towards God, and towards duty, and towards sin, and towards holiness. And it matters a great deal to a man what he believes about these. It counts for everything. But mark you, now, I mean what he believes not with his head, but with his heart, with his very being; and the only faith that the Bible deals with and speaks of as saving faith, is not the faith of the correctest theological intellect, but it is a faith which is the outgoing of a man’s soul, of his whole being. The poor dying thief on the cross believes with the despairing outgoing of his heart to Christ to make him a good man. Yes, and it saves him. If a man believes that fire will not burn him, he will pay for that heresy. If a man has a mistaken notion how it is that fire has got heat in it, and how it warms and serves man, that does not so much matter, so long as he makes a rightful use of the fire; but if he has delusions about the relations of fire to himself, he pays for it. Now, I want to say something about doctrines. I want to say it with a little personal feeling, because if doctrines are so trivial (doctrines meaning teaching), then preaching is hardly worth doing. But I believe in preaching, not as we ignorant, half-hearted men do it, but as the great saints and heroes of Christendom have done it. It will be done by teaching--the teaching that comes with the very power of God in it. Doctrines? Why, the greatest thing within these last centuries this world has seen--the reformation in Europe--all grew out of one new thought about God, or, rather, the recovering of a lost thought about God--a new grand conviction that God is the living, loving, warm-hearted God, a Spirit whom men worship in spirit and in truth; not the horrible, mechanical, materialized God of priestcraft and superstition. And it all grew out of a doctrine; but, mark you, not a theory of the intellect spun out of things we knew nothing about and should not try to understand, but a great heart-belief about the living God. Therefore, “Take heed unto thy doctrine,” surely is addressed to men that are not orthodox? No, Paul addressed it to the orthodox Timothy, “Take heed to thy teaching.” But if a man has once learnt a form of sound words, surely he does not need to be guarding, and watching, and studying, and examining his preaching and his teaching? Does he not? Do you think that, having once seen the truth, having once learnt it, will guard a man from perverting it? No, try that with any secular accomplishment. Learn a language, and then give over practising it. Give over pains to keep up your accuracy and your fluency; and how long will you retain it? How soon will errors creep in? Ah! I tell you that a great many men think that they are preaching the orthodox doctrines which they were taught, and through indulgence or slothfulness, or through the unconscious pressure of one-sidedness and error, which the mis-shapen make of every common, frail, erring man’s soul and intellect imposes upon his thinking and teaching, they have gone far astray. I do not mean, perchance, that the man actually says things that are false; but, mark you, you may make utter distortion of God’s portrait if you are always working at the bits you like best, dwelling on a one-sided conception of Him. Now I must go on to the rest of my text very rapidly, but I can do it much more briefly. What I have to try to show you is that, while our doctrine is that by which we influence others, the best way to keep our doctrine true and right is to look after our heart. All, doctrines are one thing when they come from a man, simply repeated by hearsay at second hand, and preached just as things of the intellect, but they are another thing when they come out of a man’s heart. Oh! I think it almost has an unhallowed effect to hear the story of the atonement argued out in a controversial fashion. (Professor Elmslie.)
Both save thyself and them that hear thee.--
By what means may ministers best win souls?
I. Ministers’ duty is in three things here--
1. Take heed unto thyself. Thou art set in a high office, in a dangerous place; take good and narrow heed, look well to thyself, thy heart and way.
2. Take heed unto thy doctrine. Though thou be never so well-gifted and approved both of God and men; though thou be an extraordinary officer, as Timothy was; yet “take heed unto thy doctrine.”
3. Continue in them. This hath relation, it appears, unto 1 Timothy 4:12-15, as well as unto the preceding part of this verse.
II. The double advantage proposed to encourage ministers to this hard duty.
1. Thou shalt save thyself. Thy own salvation shall be promoted and secured thereby. But how doth faithfulness in the ministry of the gospel further the minister’s salvation?
2. Thou shalt save them that hear thee. There is little hope of that man’s being useful to save others, that minds not his own salvation: and therefore the apostle puts them in this order, “thyself,” and then, “them that hear thee.” Thou shalt save them. The great end of both preaching and hearing is salvation; and if salvation were more designed by preachers and hearers, it would be more frequently the effect of the action. Thou shalt save them. Not that ministers are of themselves able by all their endeavours to carry on this great end; they are only God’s tools and instruments (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). Concerning this--
I. What this text speaks about this matter. It looks two ways upon this question.
1. Take heed unto thyself.
2. Take heed unto thy doctrine. Art thou a minister? thou must be a preacher; an unpreaching minister is a sort of contradiction.
(a) Clearness of knowledge. The alleged depth of our doctrine often proceeds from our own darkness.
(b) Humility and self-denial.
II. But now we come to the second thing proposed,--to give some answer to this question from other things in the Word. And I shall--
(I) Show some things that must be laid to heart about the end,--the saving of souls,
(II) And then shall give some advice about the means,
(I) About the end--the winning of souls. This is, to bring them to God. It is not, to win them to us, or to engage them into a party or to the espousal of some opinions and practices, supposing them to be never so right and consonant to the Word of God; but the winning of them is, to bring them out of nature into a state of grace, that they may be fitted for, and in due time admitted into, everlasting glory. Concerning which great end, these few things should be laid deeply to heart by all that would serve the Lord in being instrumental in reaching it--
1. The exceeding height and excellency of this end is to be laid to heart. It is a wonder of condescendence, that the Lord will make use of men in promoting it: to be workers together with God in so great a business is no small honour.
2. The great difficulty of saving souls must be laid to heart. The difficulty is undoubted: to attempt it is to offer violence to men’s corrupt natures, and a storming of hell itself, whose captives all sinners are. Unless this difficulty be laid to heart, ministers will be confident of their own strength, and so miscarry and be unfruitful.
3. The duty of winning souls must be laid to heart by ministers. That it is their principal work, and they are under many commands to endeavour it.
4. The great advantage there is to the labourer by his success is to be pondered. Great is the gain by one soul: “He that winneth souls is” happy as well as “wise” (Proverbs 11:30; Daniel 12:8). Won souls are a minister’s “crown and glory and joy” (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:20).
(II) For advice about the means, I shall add these few, besides what hath been said--
1. Let ministers, if they would win souls, procure and retain amongst the people a persuasion of their being sent of God. That they are “Christ’s ministers” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
2. Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and maintain the people’s love to their persons.
3. It would further the winning of souls, to deal particularly and personally with them. Not always nor altogether in public (Colossians 1:28; Acts 20:20-21).
4. Ministers must pray much, if they would be successful. The apostles spent their time this way (Acts 6:4). Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study. But because the ministry of the Word is the main instrument for winning souls, I shall therefore add somewhat more particularly concerning this and that both as to the matter and manner of preaching.
(a) The establishing and advancing of Divine truth upon the foundation of human reason.
(b) It is to preach with excellency of speech and “words of man’s wisdom,” when men think to reach the gospel-end on sinners by force of even spiritual reason and persuasion.
(c) This also is checked in the apostle’s words--the setting forth the beauty of the gospel by human art. The truth of the gospel shines best in its bare proposal, and its beauty in its simple and naked discovery.
(a) Paul preached so, as gave a demonstration that the Holy Ghost was in him, sanctifying him.
(b) Paul preached so, as gave a demonstration that the Spirit of God was with him, assisting and helping him in his work.
(c) Paul preached so, as [that] a demonstration of the power of the Holy Ghost was given to the hearts of the hearers.
III. To conclude: you that are ministers, suffer a word of exhortation. Men, brethren, and fathers, you are called to a high and holy calling: your work is full of danger, full of duty, and full of mercy. And, lastly, for people. It is not unfit that you should hear of ministers’ work and duty and difficulties: you see that all is of your concernment; “all things are” for your sakes, as the apostle in another case. Then only I entreat you--
1. Pity us. We are not angels, but men of like passions with yourselves.
2. Help us in our work. Ii you can do anything, help us in the work of winning souls.
3. Pray for us. How often and how earnestly doth Paul beg the prayers of the churches! (R. Trail, M. A.)
Soul saving to be aimed at
I do not believe that a devout minister ever yet went to his pulpit with a single-eyed desire to do good and to glorify his Saviour, without some measure of Divine blessing upon his efforts. The most valuable hint I ever received came to me from a baker in Saratoga. I had been preaching there during my ministerial boyhood. The baker met me the next day, at the railway station, and said: “I believe you are the young man who spoke in our meeting-house yesterday.” “Yes; I am.” “Well,” said he, “I felt sorry for you; because I thought you did not know what cultivated and critical people there are here in summer. But I have noticed that if a minister can convince the people in the first five minutes that he only aims to save their souls, he will kill all the critics in the house.” That was one of the wisest things ever uttered. It ought to be written on the walls of every theological seminary and every pastor’s study. (T. Cuyler.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Timothy 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25