The Second Epistle to Timothy has a very peculiar character. It is the
expression of his heart, who out side Palestine had, under God, founded and
built the assembly of God on earth, and it was written in sight of its
failure, and its departure from the principles on which he had established
it. God remained faithful; His foundation was sure and immovable; but the
work committed into the hands of men was already enfeebled and decaying.
The consciousness of this state of things, which moreover betrayed itself
in the way in which the apostle himself was then forsaken oppressed his
heart; and he pours it out into the bosom of his faithful Timothy. By this
means the Spirit instructs us in the solemn truth, that the church has not
kept its first estate, and sets before us the ways of safety for those who
seek God, and desire to please Him, in such a state of things as this.
The apostle John gives the history of the fall of the assembly here below,
and of its judgment, and that of the world likewise. He also sets before us
a life which, apart from all questions of the assembly's condition, abides
ever the same, which renders us capable of enjoying God, and makes us
resemble Him in His nature and character.
As a witness John was to remain until the Lord came: but Paul sees for
himself the ruin of that which he had built and watched over so faithfully.
He had spent himself for the assembly, accomplishing that which was behind
of the sufferings of Christ; and he had to see that which he had so much
loved (which he had cared for even as a mother cherishes her nursling which
he had planted as God's plant on the earth) grow feeble as to its condition
and testimony in the world, depart from the source of strength, and become
corrupt. What a painful experience! But it is that of the servant of God in
all ages and in all dispensations. He sees indeed the power of God acting
to plant the testimony on earth, but he sees that men soon fail in it. The
house inhabited by the Holy Ghost becomes dilapidated and in disorder.
Nevertheless (and we love to repeat it with the apostle) the sure
foundation of the Lord abides for ever. Whatever may be the condition of
the whole company, the individual is always to depart from all iniquity,
and to maintain, by himself if need be, the true testimony of the name of
the Lord. This can never fail the faithful soul.
In view of the mixture and confusion which began to shew itself in the
assembly, the apostle's comfort was founded on these two principles, while
remembering and joyfully availing himself of the communion and faithfulness
of some precious souls. He had such as Timothy and Onesiphorus, amid the
afflictions of the gospel and the sorrow of being forsaken by so many who
were seals to his testimony before the Lord.
The apostle begins by taking the ground of grace and of individual
life-which never changes in essential character-outside church privileges.
Not that these had changed; but he could no longer connect them with the
general body on earth. He calls himself here an apostle according to the
promise of eternal life which is in Christ Jesus. It is not merely the
Messiah, it is not the head of the body, it is the promise of life which is
Paul addresses his dearly beloved son Timothy, whose affection he
remembers. He desired greatly to see him, being mindful of his tears, shed
probably at the time when Paul was made prisoner, or when he was separated
from him on that occasion, or when he heard of it. It is the confidence of
a friend that is speaking to one whose heart he knew. We see something of
this, but in the perfection that was peculiar to Himself, in Jesus on the
cross, in that which He said to John and to His mother. A similar form
would have been unsuitable in Paul. The affections of men shew themselves
in and by their wants, the wants of their hearts; those of the Lord by His
condescension. With Him all is in itself perfect. With us it is only by
grace that all is in its right place. But when separation to service in
power, which knows but that, is over, nature according to God has its right
place. In the consecrated meat offering that was to be made with fire,
honey had no place.
Verse 3. The apostle does not speak any longer of the high character of his
work, but of his personal position rightly felt according to the Spirit. He
had served God, following in the steps of his forefathers, with a pure
conscience. In every way he was a vessel made unto honour. For more than
one generation his ancestors were distinguished for a good conscience; and
personal piety, founded on the truth, shewed itself in the service of God.
Paul was not here e~ pressing a judgment as to the inward condition of each
generation: it was their character. He calls to mind a similar fact with
regard to Timothy, in whose case however personal faith is referred to,
known to Paul himself, so that the bond, though of personal feeling, was
christian. [see note #1] Judaism, as to its outward obligations, is totally absent;
for the father of Timothy
was a Greek, and the marriage of his Jewish mother was unclean according to
the law, and would have rendered Timothy also unclean and deprived him of
Jewish rights; and in fact he had not been circumcised when an infant. Paul
did it, which was also not according to the law, unless Timothy had become
a proselyte. Both heathens and their children were excluded, as we read in
Nehemiah. Paul's act was above the law. Here he takes no notice of it; he
leaves the Gentile father out of sight, and speaks only of the personal
unfeigned faith of Timothy's mother and grandmother, and that of his
beloved disciple himself.
The state of the assembly was only an additional occasion for the exercise
of his faith, and for his zealous activity of heart and courage.
Difficulties and dangers multiplied on every hand; the unfaithfulness of
Christians was added to all the rest. But God is none the less with His
people. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and
of a sound mind, so that the Lord's labourer, the man of God, he who kept
himself in communion with God in order to represent Him on the earth, was
to stir up the gift that was in him, and (as the apostle expresses it with
admirable and touching force and clearness) to endure the afflictions of
the gospel according to the power of God. Here, in the case of Timothy, the
apostle could make mention of a special gift of the Spirit, which had been
conferred upon Timothy through the laying on of hands. In the First Epistle
he had spoken of the prophecy which had called him or pointed him out for
the possession of this gift, and told us that it had been accompanied by
the laying on of the hands of the elders; here he tells us that the laying
on of his own hands was the means of bestowing it upon him.
The apostle reminds him of this proof of power and reality in his ministry
(and in that of Paul himself), in view of this period when its exercise was
more difficult. When all is prosperous, and the progress of the gospel is
remarkable, so that even the world is struck with it, the work is found to
be easy, in spite of difficulties and opposition; and-such is man-even in
consequence of this opposition one is bold and persevering. But when
others, Christians even, forsake the labourer, when evil and the deceptions
of the enemy come in, when love has grown cold, and, because one is
faithful, prudence takes alarm, and desires a less forward walk, to stand
firm in circumstances like these, to persevere in the work, and maintain
one's courage, is not an easy thing. We must possess Christianity with God,
so that we know why we stand fast: we must be ourselves in communion with
Him, in order to have the strength necessary to continue laboring in His
name, and the sustainment of His grace at all times.
God then has given us the Spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind;
the apostle had received such a position from God, that he had been able to
bestow on Timothy the gift needed for his service but the state of spirit
and soul which could use it was part of the inheritance of every Christian
who leaned really on God. Nor was he to be ashamed either of the testimony,
which was losing outwardly its onward current in the world, nor of Paul who
was now a prisoner. How precious to possess that which is eternal, that
which is founded on the power and on the work of God Himself! There were
indeed the afflictions of the gospel, but he should take part in them and
not shrink, enduring according to the power of God. God has saved us, has
called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, as though any
thing depended on man, but according to His own purpose and His grace given
us in Christ Jesus before the world began. This is the sure and immovable
foundation, a rock for our souls, against which the waves of difficulty
break in vain, shewing a strength which we could not resist for a moment,
but shewing also their total powerlessness against the purpose and work of
God. The efforts of the enemy only prove that he is without strength, in
the presence of that which God is, and of that which He has done for us.
And the apostle identifies his ministry with this, and the sufferings he
was undergoing. But he knew whom he had believed and his happiness was safe
laid up with Him.
That which we have to seek is the power of the Spirit, in order that we may
realise this gift of God by faith, and that we may abide, as to our hearts,
as to our practical faith, in the sense of our union with Christ, upon this
immutable foundation, which is nothing less than the immutability and the
glory of God Himself. For His purpose has been manifested; that purpose,
which gave us a place and a portion in Christ Himself, was now manifested
through the appearance of that very Christ.
It is no longer a nation chosen in the world to display in it the
principles of the government of God, and of His ways in righteousness, in
patience, in kindness, and in power, on the earth (however unchangeable His
counsels, however sure His calling), as manifested in His dealings with
regard to the people whom He called.
It is a counsel of God, formed and established in Christ before the world
existed, which has its place in the ways of God, outside and above the
world, in union with the Person of His Son, and in order to manifest a
people united with Him in glory. Thus is it a grace which was given us in
Him, before the world was. Hidden in the counsels of God, this purpose of
God was manifested with the manifestation of Him in whom it had its
accomplishment. It was not merely blessings and dealings of God with regard
to men-it was life, eternal life in the soul, and incorruptibility in the
body. Thus Paul was apostle according to the promise of life.
While Christ Himself was alive, although life was in Him, this purpose of
God was not accomplished with respect to us. The power of life, divine
power in life, was to manifest itself in the destruction of the power of
death brought in by sin and in which Satan reigned over sinners. Christ
then in His resurrection has annulled death, and by the gospel has brought
to light both life and incorruptibility, that is to say, that condition of
eternal life which puts the soul and the body beyond death and its power.
Thus the glad tidings of this work were addressed to all men. Founded in
the eternal counsels of God, established in the Person of Christ, the work
necessary for its fulfillment being accomplished by Him, possessing a
character altogether outside Judaism, and the mere government of God in the
earth, Paul's gospel was unto all men. Being the manifestation of the
eternal counsels and power of God, having to do with man as lying under the
power of death, and with the accomplishment of a victory that placed man
beyond that power, and in an entirely new condition which depended on the
power of God and His purposes, it addressed itself to man, to all men, Jews
or Gentiles without distinction. Knowing Adam dead by sin and Christ alive
in the power of divine life, he announced this good news to man-
deliverance, and a totally new state of things.
It was to proclaim this gospel that the apostle had been called as a
herald. It was for this he suffered, and, in the sense of what had caused
it, was not ashamed to suffer. For he knew whom he had believed; he knew
His power. He believed in the gospel that he preached, and therefore in the
victorious power of Him in whom he believed. He could die with regard to
the life that he had received from the first Adam, he could be dishonoured
and put to shame in the world and by the world: life in Christ, the power
by which Christ had won a place for man outside the condition of the first
Adam, life as Christ now possesses it was not touched thereby. Not that
life had not been there before, but death and he that had the power of
death were not overcome, and all was dark beyond the closing tomb: a
lightning flash might pass across the gloom, adequate ground be laid for
the just conclusion of the Pharisee, but life and incorruptibility were not
brought to light but in Christ and His resurrection.
But this is not all which is here expressed. The apostle does not say " in
what I have believed," but " whom :" an important difference, which places
us (as to our confidence) in connection with the Person of Christ Himself.
The apostle had spoken of the truth, but truth is allied to the Person of
Christ. He is the truth; and in Him truth has life, has power, is linked
with the love which applies it, which maintains it in the heart and the
heart by it. "I know," says the apostle, " whom I have believed." He had
committed his happiness to Christ. In Him was that life in which the
apostle participated; in Him, the power that sustained it, and that
preserved in heaven the inheritance of glory which was his portion where
this life was developed.
Encouraged by this hope and committing himself to Jesus, he had endured all
things for Him, and for those who were His; he had accepted all suffering
here, he was ready to die daily. His happiness, in the glory of that new
life, he had committed to Jesus; he laboured meanwhile in affliction, sure
of finding again, without being deceived, that which he had committed to
the Lord, in the day when he should see Him and all his sorrows ended. It
was in the expectation of that day, in order to find it again at that day,
that he had committed to Him his happiness and his joy.
Moreover, his own career would soon be finished; his eyes therefore turn
towards Timothy for the welfare of the assembly here below. He exhorts him
to be steadfast, to hold fast the truth, as he had taught it to him (it was
the testimony of the Lord), but the truth in its realisation by faith in
Christ, and according to the power of love that is found in communion with
Him. It is this which, as we have seen, the apostle had realised. The
truth, and living grace in Jesus, in faith and in love, which gave it its
power and its value-these are, as it were, the pivots of strength and
faithfulness at all times, and especially for the man of God, when the
assembly in general is unfaithful.
Truth as it was taught by the apostles and expressed by them, the manner in
which they presented the truth, "the form of sound words," is the inspired
expression of that which God was pleased to reveal; and that, in all the
relationships in which the truth is linked together, in all its different
parts, according to the living nature and power of God, who is necessarily
its centre as He is its source. Nothing except revelation could be this
expression. God expresses everything as it is, and in a living way; and by
His word all exists. He is the source and the centre of all things. All
flow from Him-are in relation with a living Person, namely Himself, who is
their source, from whom all hold their existence. This existence only
subsists in connection with Him; and the relationship of all things to Him,
and between themselves, is found in the expression of His mind-in that
measure at least in which He puts Himself in relation with man in all these
things. If evil comes in, as regards will or its consequences in judgment,
it is because this relationship is broken; and the relationship that is
broken is the measure of the evil.
Thus we see the immense importance of the word of God. It is the expression
of the relationship of all things to God; whether as regards their
existence- that is, creation-or with respect to His counsels; or even as to
His own nature, and the relationship of man with Him, and the communication
of life received from Him, and the maintenance of His true character. It
comes from heaven as did the living Word, reveals what is there, but adapts
itself, as the living Word did, to man here, directs him where there is
faith here, but leads him up there where the living Word is gone as man.
The more we consider the word, the more we shall see its importance.
Analogously to Christ the living Word, it has its source on high, and
reveals what is there, and is perfectly adapted to man down here, giving a
perfect rule according to what is up there, and, if we are spiritual,
leading us up there: our conversation is in heaven. We must distinguish
between the relationship in which man stood as child of Adam, and as child
of God. The law is the perfect expression of the requirements of the
former, the rule of life to him; it is found to be to death. Once we are
sons of God, the life of the Son of God as man down here becomes our rule
of life. "Be ye imitators of God as dear children, and walk in love as
Christ hath loved us."
In His nature, as the author of all existence, and the centre of all
authority and subsistence outside Himself, God is the centre of all, and
the upholder of all. As to His counsels, Christ is the centre, and here man
has a peculiar place; wisdom's good pleasure was eternally in Him, and all
is to be under His feet. In order that the nature and the counsels of God
should not be separated (which indeed is impossible, but what was in His
counsels in order that it might not be), God became man. Christ is God made
manifest in flesh, the Word made flesh. Thus the divine nature, the
expression of that nature, is found in that which is the object of His
counsels, that which forms their centre. Thus Christ is the truth-is the
centre of all existing relationships: all have reference to Him. We are,
through Him, for Him, or we are against Him: all subsist by Him. If we are
judged, it is as His enemies. He is the life (spiritually) of all that
enjoy the communication of the divine nature; even as He sustains all that
exists. His manifestation brings to light the true position of all things.
Thus He is the truth. All that He says, being the words of God, are spirit
and life; quickening, acting according to grace, judging with regard to the
responsibility of His creatures.
But there is yet more than this. He is the revelation of love. God is love,
and in Jesus love is in action and is known by the heart that knows Him.
The heart that knows Him lives in love, and knows love in God. But He is
also the object in whom God is revealed to us, and has become the object of
entire reliance. Faith is born by His manifestation. It existed indeed
through partial revelation of this same object, by means of which God made
Himself known; but these were only partial anticipations of that which has
been fully accomplished in the manifestation of Christ, of the Son of God.
The object is the same: formerly, the subject of promise and prophecy; now,
the personal revelation of all that God is, the image of the invisible God,
the One in whom the Father also is known.
Thus faith and love have their birth, their source, in the object which by
grace has created them in the soul: the object in which it has learnt what
love is, and with regard to which faith is exercised. By Him we believe in
God. No one has ever seen God: the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom
of the Father, He has revealed Him.
Truth is thus revealed, for Jesus is the Truth, the expression of that
which God is, so as to put all things perfectly in their place, in their
true relationships with God and with each other. Faith and love find the
occasion of their existence in the revelation of the Son of God, of God as
a Saviour in Christ.
But there is another aspect of the accomplishment of the work and of the
counsels of God, which we have not yet spoken of: that is, the
communication of the truth and of the knowledge of God. This is the work of
the Holy Ghost, in which the truth and the life are united, for we are
begotten by the word. It is divine energy in the Deity, acting in all that
connects God with the creature or the creature with God. Acting in divine
perfection as God, in union with the Father and the Son, the Holy Ghost
reveals the counsels of which we have spoken, and makes them effectual in
the heart, according to the purpose of the Father, and by the revelation of
the Person and work of the Son. I have said, divine energy, not as a
theological definition-which is not my object here-but as a practical
truth, for while attributing all that regards the creature to the Father
(except judgment, which is entirely committed to the Son, because He is the
Son of man) and to the Son the immediate action in creation and on the
creature, wherever it takes place, is attributed to the Spirit.
The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters when this earth was
formed; by His Spirit the heavens were garnished; we are born of the
Spirit; sealed with the Spirit; holy men of God spake by the Spirit; gifts
were the operation of the Spirit distributing to whom He would; He bears
witness with our spirits; He groans in us; we pray by the Holy Ghost, if
that grace is bestowed upon us. The Lord Himself, born as man in this world
was conceived by the Holy Ghost; by the Spirit of God He cast out devils.
The Spirit bears witness of all things, that is to say, of all truth in the
word:-the love of the Father, the nature and the glory of God Himself, His
character, the Person and glory and love of the Son, His work, form the
substance of His testimony, with all that relates to man in connection with
these truths. The Spirit's witness to these things is the word,
and-produced by means of men-takes the shape of the truth formally set
forth by revelation. Christ is the truth, as we have seen, the centre of
all the ways of God; but what we are now speaking of is the divine
communication of this truth; and in this way it can be said that the word
is the truth. [see note #2] But, although communicated by means of
men, so that it takes a form adapted to man, its source is divine; and He
who has communicated it is divine: He of whom it is said, he shall not
speak of himself (that is to say, from Himself-apart from the Father and
the Son). Consequently the revelation of the truth has all the depth, the
universality of relationship, the inseparable connection with God (without
which it would not be truth, for all that is separate from God is
falsehood) which truth itself possesses-necessarily possesses- because it
is the expression of the relationships which all things have to God in
Christ; that is to say, of God's own thoughts, of which all these
relationships are but the expression. It is true that this revelation also
judges all that is not in accordance with these relationships, and judges
according to the value of the relationship that is broken with regard to
God Himself, and the place which this relationship has in His mind.[see note #3]
When this word is received through the quickening work of the Holy Ghost in
the heart it is efficacious; there is faith, the soul is in real living
practical relationship with God according to that which is expressed in the
revelation it has received. The truth-which speaks of the love of God, of
holiness, of cleansing from all sin, of eternal life, of the relationship
of children-being received into the heart, places us in real present living
relationship with God, according to the force of all these truths, as God
conceives them and as He has revealed them to the soul. Thus they are vital
and efficacious by the Holy Ghost; and the consciousness of this revelation
of the truth, and of the truth of that which is revealed, and of really
hearing the voice of God in His word, is faith.
But all this is true in the revealed word before I believe in it, and in
order that I may believe in it- may believe in the truth-although the Holy
Ghost alone makes us hear the voice of God in it, and so produces faith.
And that which is revealed in it is the divine expression of that which
belongs to the infinite on the one side, and is expressed in the finite on
the other; of that which has the profoundness of the nature of God, from
whom all proceeds, with whom and with whose rights all is in relationship
but which is developed-since it is outside God-in creation and in the
The union of God and man in the Person of Christ is the centre-we may say
(now that we know it) the necessary centre of all this, as we have seen.
And the inspired word is its expression according to the perfection of God,
and (we bless God for it, as the Saviour is the grand subject of the
scriptures, " for," said He, " they testify of me ") in human forms.
But this word, being divine, being inspired, is the divine expression of
the divine nature, persons, and counsels. Nothing that is not inspired in
this way can have this place-for none but God can perfectly express or
reveal what God is-hence infinite in what flows in it; because it is the
expression of, and connected with, the depths of the divine nature and so
in its connection infinite, though expressed in a finite sense, and so far
finite in expression, and thus adapted to finite man. Nothing else is the
divine expression of the divine mind and truth, or is in direct union with
the unmixed source, even though it sprang from the same source. The
immediate connection is broken; that which is said is no longer divine. It
may contain many truths, but the living derivation, the infinite the union
with God, the immediate and uninterrupted derivation from God, are wanting.
The infinite is no longer there. The tree grows from its root, and forms
one whole; the energy of life pervades it-the sap which flows from the
root. We may consider one part, as God has set it there, as a part of the
tree; we may see the importance of the trunk; the beauty of the development
in its smallest details, the stateliness of the whole, in which the vital
energy combines liberty and harmony of form. We see that it is a whole,
united in one by the same life that produced it. The leaves, the flowers,
the fruit, all tell us of the warmth of that divine Sun which developed
them, of the gushing inexhaustible stream which nourishes them. But we
cannot separate one part, be it ever so beautiful, from the tree, without
depriving it of the energy of life and its relationship with the whole.
When the power of the Spirit of God produces the truth, it develops itself
in union with its source, whether in revelation or even in the life and in
the service of the individual; although in the two latter cases there is a
mixture of other elements, owing to the weakness of the man. When a man's
mind apprehends the truth, and he seeks to give it a form, he does it
according to the capacity of man, which is not its source; the truth as he
expresses it, even were it pure, is separated in him from its source and
its totality; but, besides this, the shapethat a man gives it always bears
the stamp of the man's weakness. He has only apprehended it partially, and
he only produces a part of it. Accordingly it is no longer the truth.
Moreover, when he separates it from the whole circle of truth in which God
has placed it, he must necessarily clothe it in a new form, in a garment
which proceeds from man: at once error mixes with it. Thus it is no longer
a vital part of the whole, it is partial, and thereby not the truth; and it
is in fact mixed with error. That is theology.
In the truth there is, when God expresses it, love, holiness, authority, as
they are in Him the expression of His own relationships with man, and of
the glory of His being. When man gives it a shape, all this is wanting and
cannot be in it, because it is man who shapes it. It is no longer God
speaking. God gives it a perfect form; that is to say, He expresses the
truth in words of certainty. If man gives it a form, it is no longer the
truth given of God. Therefore to hold fast the truth in the form God has
given it, the type, the shape in which He has expressed it, is of all
importance: we are in relationship with God in it according to the
certainty of that which He has revealed. This is the sure resource of the
soul, when the assembly has lost its power and its energy, and is no longer
a sustainment to feeble souls; and that which bears its name no longer
answers to the character given it, in the First Epistle, "the pillar and
support of the truth." [see note #4]
The truth, clear and positive truth, given as a revelation from God in the
words-clothed with His authority-by which He has given the truth a form,
communicating the facts and the divine thoughts which are necessary for the
salvation of men, and for their participation in divine life-this it is
which we are to hold fast.
We are only sure of the truth when we retain the very language of God which
contains it. By grace I may speak of the truth in all liberty, I may seek
to explain it, to communicate it, to urge it on the conscience, according
to the measure of light and spiritual power bestowed upon me; I may
endeavor to demonstrate its beauty, and the connection between its various
parts. Every Christian, and especially those who have a gift from God for
the purpose, may do this. But the truth which I explain and propose is the
truth as God has given it, and in His own words in the revelation He has
made. I hold fast the form of sound words, which I have received from a
divine source and authority: it gives me certainty in the truth.
And here it is important to remark the assembly's part when faithful. She
receives, she maintains the truth in her own faith; she guards it, she is
faithful to it, she is subject to it, as a truth, a revelation, which comes
from God Himself. She is not the source of the truth. As an assembly she
does not propagate it-does not teach it. She says " I believe," not
"believe." This last is the function of ministry, in which man is always
individually in relationship with God by means of a gift which he holds
from God, and for the exercise of which he is responsible to God. This is
all-important. Those who possess these gifts are members of the body. The
assembly exercises her discipline with regard to all that is of the flesh
in them, in the exercise or apparent exercise of a gift, as in all else.
She preserves her own purity without respect of persons as to their outward
appearance, being guided therein by the word (for this is her
responsibility); but she does not teach, she does not preach.
The word goes before the assembly, for she has been gathered together by
the word. The apostles, a Paul, those who were scattered abroad by the
persecution, a thousand faithful souls, have proclaimed the word, and thus
the assembly has been gathered out. It has been said that the assembly was
before the scriptures. As regards the written contents of the New
Testament, this is true; but the preached word was before the assembly. The
assembly is its fruit but is never its source. The edification even of the
assembly, when it has been gathered together, comes direct from God,
through the gifts which He has bestowed; the Holy Ghost distributing to
each according to His will.
The scriptures are the means which God has used to preserve the truth, to
give us certainty in it; seeing the fallibility of the instruments by whom
it is propagated, since revelation has ceased.
If at the beginning He filled certain persons with His Spirit in such a way
that error was excluded from their preaching, if besides this He then gave
revelations in which there was nothing but His own word, yet as a general
rule preaching is the fruit of the Holy Ghost in the heart, and its
spirituality is only in measure, and there is the possibility of error.
Here, whatever may be the power of the Spirit's work, we have to judge.
(See Acts 17:11; 1 Cor. 14:29) Farther on we shall see that in forming
this judgment, it is the scriptures which assure those who are led of God.
We have thus in the ways of God respecting this subject three things
closely united, yet different: ministry, the assembly, and the word of God,
that is, the written word; when it is not written, it belongs to the order
Ministry-as regards the word, for this is not the only service-preaches to
the world, and teaches or exhorts the members of the assembly.
The assembly enjoys communion with God, is fed, and grows by means of that
with which its different members supply it. It preserves, and, in its
confession, bears witness to the truth. It maintains holiness, and, by the
grace and presence of the Holy Ghost, enjoys mutual communion; and, in
love, cares for the temporal need of all its members.
The written word is the rule which God has given, containing all that He
has revealed. It is complete. (Col 1:25) It can, because it is the truth,
be the means of communicating the truth to a soul: the Holy Ghost can use
it as a means; but at all events it is the perfect rule, the authoritative
communication of the will and the mind of God, for the assembly.
The assembly is subject, is to be faithful, to have no will. It does not
reveal, it maintains by its confession, it watches over that which it has,
it does not communicate; it has received and is faithfully to keep. The man
directs, that is, Christ: the woman obeys, and is faithful to her husband's
thoughts-at least ought to be so (l Cor 2): this is the assembly. The
oracles of God are committed to her. She does not give them; she obeys
The minister is bound individually to the same faithfulness. This we
understand; and in our epistle we have especially to do with this
individual responsibility. That which the assembly is in this respect is
revealed in the first epistle. (Chap.3:15) Here it is the individual who is
to hold fast this form of sound words which he has received from a divine
source, for such the apostle was, in his apostolic function, as an
instrument. Neither Timothy nor the assembly could frame such a form of
sound words; their part was to hold it fast, having received it.
And here, as we have said, however unfaithful the assembly may be, the
individual is bound to be faithful and always to be so.
This therefore is what we have to do: the truth which is set before us is
the inspired word we are (and I am) to hold fast, in the form in which it
is presented to us. I am to hold it fast, not merely as a proposition, but
in union with the Head, in faith and love, which are in Christ Jesus.
Strength to fulfill comes from above. For here another point is brought
before us. The Holy Ghost has been given indeed to the assembly; but a
period of unfaithfulness is here contemplated. (Ver. 15) He has been given
to the man of God, to each Christian, and to each servant with reference to
the service appointed him. By the Holy Ghost we are to keep the good thing
that has been committed to us. In days like those, this was the duty of the
man of God; and in our day, things have gone much farther. Possessing the
promise of life, and forsaken by the mass of Christians, he is to hold fast
the truth in the words in which it has been expressed by divine authority
(this is what we have in the word, and not merely doctrine: people may say
that they have the doctrine of Peter and Paul, but they cannot say that
they have their words, the form of the truth as Paul and Peter gave it,
elsewhere than in their writings); and he is to hold it fast in faith and
love, which are in Christ. Moreover he is to keep, by the power of the Holy
Ghost, the substance of the truth, that which has been given us as a
treasure-the deposit of divine truth and riches, which has been given us as
our portion here below.
In verses 15-18 we find that the mass had quite turned away from the
apostle, so that the affection and faithfulness of one became very precious
to him. What a change already since the beginning of the gospel! Compare
the Thessalonians, the Ephesians: they were the same people (for Ephesus
was the capital of what is here called Asia) among whom Paul had preached,
so that all Asia had heard the gospel; and see how they had all now
forsaken him !
We must not however suppose that they had all abandoned the profession of
Christianity; but their faith had become weak, and they did not like to
identify themselves with a man who was in disgrace with the authorities,
who was despised and persecuted, a prisoner-a man whose energy brought
reproach and personal difficulties upon himself. They withdrew from him,
and left him to answer alone for himself. Sad result of spiritual decline!
But what sentiments should animate the man of God at such a moment? He must
be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Christ was not changed,
whatever the case might be with men; and he who suffered from their
desertion could, without being discouraged, exhort his beloved Timothy to
persevere steadily in the word. Nor do we find anywhere the man of God
called to more full and unhesitating courage than in this epistle, which is
the testimony of the failure and ruin of the assembly.