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Does this perfect and supreme authority of the scriptures set aside
ministry ? By no means; it is the foundation of the ministry of the word.
One is a minister of the word; one proclaims the word-resting on the
written word-which is authority for all, and the warrant for all that a
minister says, and imparting to his words the authority of God over the
conscience of those whom he teaches or exhorts. There is, in addition to
this, the activity of love in the heart of him who exercises this ministry
(if it be real), and the powerful action of the Spirit, if he be filled
with the Holy Ghost. But that which the word says silences all opposition
in the heart or mind of the believer.
It was thus that the Lord answered Satan, and Satan himself was reduced to
He who does not submit to the words of God thereby shews himself to be a
rebel against God The rule given of God is in the scriptures; the energetic
action of His Spirit is in ministry, although God can equally act upon the
heart immediately by the word itself. Nevertheless ministry, since the
revelations of God were completed, could not be an authority, or there
would be two authorities; and if two, one must be a needless repetition of
the other, or else, if they differed, no authority at all.
If the revelations were not complete, no doubt there might be more. The Old
Testament left untold the history of Christ, the mission of the Holy Ghost,
the formation of the assembly; because these facts not being yet
accomplished could not be the subject of its historical and doctrinal
instructions, and the assembly was not even the subject of prophecy. But
all is now complete, as Paul tells us that he was a minister of the
assembly to complete the word of God. (Col. 1:25) The subjects of
revelation were then completed.
Observe, that the apostle insists, as a matter of responsibility, that
Timothy should devote himself to his ministry with so much the more energy
that the assembly was declining, and self-will in Christians was gaining
the ascendancy; not that he throws any doubt upon its being a constant duty
to do so at all times, whether happy or unhappy. The apostle, as we have
seen, has two different periods in view; the decline of the assembly, which
had already begun, and the still worse condition that was yet future. The
special application of the exhortation here is to the first period. "Be
instant," he says, "in season, out of season . . . for the time will come
when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . and they shall turn away
their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."
In how positive and distinct a way the apostle sets the fall of the
assembly before us! Its impaired condition in his day was to him but a
point of progress (according to his judgment in the Spirit) towards a yet
more entire fall; when, although still calling itself christian, the mass
of those who assumed the name of Christ would no longer endure the sound
doctrine of the Holy Ghost. But, come what might, laboring with patience
and diligence and energy as long as they would hearken, he was to be
watchful, to endure afflictions, to seek after souls still unconverted (a
great proof of faith when the heart is burdened with the unfaithfulness of
those within), and fully to exercise his ministry; with this additional
motive, that apostolic energy was disappearing from the scene. (Chap. 4:6)
But there is yet something to notice at the beginning of this chapter.
Fullness of grace, it is apparent, does not here characterise the epistle.
His exhortation to Timothy is "before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who
will judge the quick and dead at his appearing and his kingdom." We have
already spoken of this: the appearing of Jesus is in connection with
responsibility, His coming is with the object of calling us to Himself in
connection with our privileges. Here it is the first of these two cases;
not the assembly, or the Father's house, but God, the appearing, and the
kingdom. All that is in relation to responsibility, government, judgment,
is gathered together in one point of view. The apostle however is not
speaking, of the assembly, nor does he throughout the epistle. The assembly
moreover as such is not judged; she is the bride of the Lamb. Individuals
are judged. Christendom which bears its name and responsibility, and
necessarily so while the Holy Ghost is here below, is judged. We are warned
of it in Ephesus. (Rev. 2) Nay, judgment begins there. This is the assembly
viewed as the house, not the body.
The portion of the assembly, and even of its members as such, is grace and
not judgment. She goes to meet the Lord before His appearing. Here the
apostle speaks of His appearing and His kingdom. It is as appearing in
glory and clothed with the authority of the kingdom that He exercises
judgment. The presentation of the assembly to Himself completes the work of
grace with regard to that assembly. When the Lord appears, we shall appear
with Him in glory; but it will be the glory of the kingdom (as we see in
the transfiguration), and He will judge the living.
He will maintain the authority of His kingdom, as a new order of things,
for a long period; and judgment will be exercised, if the occasion for it
arises, during its whole continuance, for a king shall reign in
righteousness; judgment and righteousness will be united. Before giving
back this kingdom to God the Father, He judges the dead, for all judgment
is committed to the Son. So that the kingdom is a new order of things
founded on His appearing, in which judgment is exercised. The kingdom is
founded by the exclusion of Satan from heaven. It is established and its
authority put in exercise at the appearing of the Lord.
The consciousness that this judgment is going to be exercised gives an
impulse to love in the carrying out of ministry, gives it earnestness, and
strengthens the hands by the sense of union with Him who will exercise it
and also by the sense of personal responsibility.
The apostle uses his near departure as a fresh motive to exhort Timothy to
the full exercise of his ministry. His own heart expands at the thought of
The absence therefore of apostolic ministry, so serious a fact with regard
to the assembly's position, makes the duty of the man of God the more
urgent. As Paul's absence is a motive for working out our own salvation
with fear and trembling, so is it also a motive for him who is engaged in
the work of the gospel to devote himself more than ever to his ministry, in
order to supply as far as possible the lack of apostolic service by earnest
care for souls, and by instructing them in the truth that he has learnt.
We cannot be apostles, or lay the foundation of the assembly. This is
already done. But we may build upon that foundation by the truth which we
have received from the apostle, by the scriptures which God has given us,
by an unwearied love in the truth for souls. The foundation is not to be
laid a second time. We give its value to the foundation, we give it its
place, by building upon it, and by caring for the souls and the assembly,
to which apostleship has given an ever-abiding place and foundation before
God. This is what we have to do in the absence of the gift that lays the
The character that God appointed has already been stamped on the work: the
one foundation has been laid. The assembly has its one and sole place
according to the counsels of God. The rule given of God is in the word. We
have but to act as the apostle leads according to the impulse already given
by the Spirit. We cannot have apostolic authority: no one is an apostle in
any such sense. This could not be, because we do not lay the foundation; it
would be to deny that which has already been done. The foundation has been
laid. We can labour according to the measure of our gift; and so much the
more devotedly, in proportion as we love the work which the apostle
wrought, and because he is no longer here to sustain it.
As to the apostle, he had finished his work; if others were unfaithful, he
had been faithful. In the good fight of the gospel of God he had fought to
the end, and successfully resisted all the attacks of the enemy. He had
finished his course: it only remained for him to be crowned. He had kept
the faith committed to him. The crown of righteousness, that is to say, the
one bestowed by the righteous Judge who acknowledged his faithfulness, was
laid up and kept for him. It was not till the day of retribution that he
would receive it. We see plainly, that it is reward for labour and for
faithfulness that is here meant. This-or its opposite-characterises the
whole epistle, and not the privileges of grace.
The work of the Spirit through us is rewarded by the crown of
righteousness, and every one will have a reward according to his labour.
Christ brings us all according to the grace of God into the enjoyment of
His own glory to be with Him and like Him. This is our common portion
according to the eternal counsels of God; but a place is prepared by the
Father and given by the Son according to the work wrought by the power of
the Spirit in each believer in his particular position. It is not Paul only
who will receive this crown from the righteous Judge; all who love the
Lord's appearing will appear with Him in the glory that is personally
destined to each, and that is adjudged to him when the Lord appears.
Detached from this world, sensible that it is a perverse and rebellious
one, feeling how much the dominion of Satan burdens the heart, the faithful
long for the appearance of Him who will put an end to that dominion, to
rebellion, oppression and misery, by bringing in-in His goodness although
by judgment-deliverance, peace, and freedom of heart, on the earth.
The Christian will share the Lord's glory when He shall appear: but this
world also will be delivered.
We see here too that the privileges of the assembly as such are not the
subject, but the public retribution manifested when Jesus shall appear to
all; and the public establishment of His glory. The heart loves His
appearing; not only the removal of evil, but the appearance of Him who
In that which follows we see what progress the evil had already made, and
how the apostle counts upon the individual affection of his dear son in the
faith. Probably there were good reasons for the departure of many,
certainly for that of some; nevertheless it is true that the first thing
that presents itself to the apostle's mind is the departure of Demas from
purely worldly motives. The apostle felt himself isolated. Not only had the
mass of Christians abandoned him, but his companions in labour had gone
away. In the providence of God he was to be alone. He begs Timothy to come
soon. Demas had forsaken him. The rest, from various motives, had quitted
him; some he had sent away in connection with the work. It is not said that
Demas had ceased to be a Christian- had publicly renounced the Lord; but it
was not in his heart to bear the cross with the apostle.
In the midst of these sorrows a ray of grace and light shines through the
darkness. The presence of Mark-whose service Paul had formerly refused,
because he had shrunk from the perils of laboring among the Gentiles and
had turned back to Jerusalem -is now desired by him, because he was useful
for the ministry. It is most interesting to see, and a touching proof of
the grace of God, that the afflictions of the apostle and the work of grace
in Mark combine to set before us, as faithful and useful to Paul, the one
who once had failed, and with whom the apostlewould then have nothing to
do. We also see the affections and confidence displayed in the smallest
detail of life. Full of power by the Spirit of God, the apostle is gentle,
intimate, and confiding, with those who are upright and devoted. We see too
that at the close of his life, devoted as he was, the occasion had
presented itself for study (in connection assuredly with his work), and for
writing that which he wished carefully to preserve-possibly his epistles.
This has an important place in scriptural instruction with regard to the
life of the apostle. Paul was lost, so to speak, for the greater part, in
the power of the Spirit; but when alone, with sober mind, he occupies
himself intelligently and carefully about the things of God.
He warns Timothy with regard to a man who had shewn his enmity, and puts
him on his guard against him.
We see here also that the epistle bears the character of righteousness,
grace having had its course. "The Lord," he says, " reward him according to
his deeds." As for those who had not courage to stand by him, when he had
to answer as a prisoner, he only prays for them. He had not been
discouraged. His heart, broken by the unfaithfulness of the assembly, was
strong in confessing the Lord before the world, and he can testify that, if
forsaken by men, the Lord Himself stood with him and strengthened him. That
he had to answer before the authorities was but an occasion to proclaim
again in public that for which he was made a prisoner. Glorious power of
the gospel where faith is in exercise! All that the enemy can do becomes a
testimony, in order that the great, kings, those who were otherwise
inaccessible, should hear the word of truth, the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The faithful witness was also delivered out of the lion's mouth. His strong
and simple confidence counted on the Lord to the end. He would preserve him
from every evil work unto His heavenly kingdom.
lf the time of his departure was at hand, if he had to fall asleep instead
of being changed, he had not ceased to be among those who looked for the
Lord's appearing. Meanwhile he was going to be with Him, to have a place in
the heavenly kingdom.
He salutes the brethren with whom Timothy was connected, and begs him to
come before the winter. We also learn here, that the miraculous power
granted to the apostles was exercised in the Lord's service, and not for
their private interests, nor as their personal affection might suggest; for
Paul had left Trophimus sick at Miletus.
It is evident that this epistle was written when the apostle thought his
departure near at hand and when the faith of Christians had grievously
declined, which was proved by their having forsaken the apostle. His faith
was sustained by grace. He did not hide from himself that all was going
wrong: his heart felt it-was broken by it; he saw that it would grow worse
and worse. But his own testimony stood firm; he was strong for the Lord
through grace. The strength of the Lord was with him to confess Christ and
to exhort Timothy to so much the more diligent and devoted an exercise of
his ministry, because the days were evil.
This is very important. If we love the Lord, if we feel what He is to the
assembly, we feel that in the latter all is in ruin. Personal courage is
not weakened for the Lord remains ever the same, faithful, and using His
power for us: if not in the assembly which rejects it, it is in those who
stand fast that He will exercise His power according to the individual need
created by this state of things.
May we remember this. Insensibility to the state of the assembly is not a
proof that we are near the Lord, or that we have confidence in Him; but in
the consciousness of this ruin, faith, the sense of what Christ is, will
give confidence in Him amidst the ruin which we mourn. Nevertheless it will
be observed, that the apostle speaks here of the individual, of
righteousness, of judgement, and now of the assembly. If the latter is
spoken of outwardly as the great house, it contains vessels to dishonour
from which we are to purge ourselves. Yet the apostle foresaw a still worse
state of things-which has now set in. But the Lord can never fail in His
The first of Timothy gives directions for the order of the assembly; the
second, for the path of the servant of God when it is in disorder and