“Paul, apostle of Christ2 Jesus according to command3 of God our Saviour and Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy, genuine child in faith: grace, mercy, peace from4 God [the] Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (vers. 1, 2).
The character of the Epistle accounts for the opening expression. Paul here is not a “called” apostle, as to the Romans; nor this “by the will of God” as in 1 Cor.; nor as in the varying forms of his other letters; but he is apostle “according to command of God.” The holy propriety of the language is plain when we remember that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in words taught of Him. That the Epistle was written for others rather than for Timothy is a remark unworthy of a Reformer; Calvin is sometimes too bold.
It is important to heed and understand the way in which God is here presented, as in the Epistle to Titus — “God our Saviour,” a blessed title of His relation to all mankind. Without this, church government ever tends to be dry and narrow. Timothy was to regard God thus that his heart might be kept large and fresh, notwithstanding the details of care for that assembly in general, or for individuals whatever their position around him. The coming, and above all the cross, of Christ has revealed God in a love that rises above the sins of rebellious and lost man, as decidedly as above the trammels and ordinances of Judaism. Till the people under the law had manifestly and totally failed, the way was not clear for the full revelation of His grace toward man as such. The middle wall of partition stood; the veil was not yet rent. The death of Christ not only broke the last tie with the Jews but opened the door of faith publicly to Gentiles no less than Israel. There is no difference, as in their ruin, so in His grace and redemption for sinners that believe on Him. The law by which God governed Israel tended to give Him the semblance of a national god who cared only for the chosen people. The gospel of His grace makes plain that, after the grand moral experiment for man to learn what he is, God is now displaying Christ for what He is Himself; and He is God our Saviour.
It was good for Timothy as it is good for us to weigh this blessed character of God. It might have seemed to the superficial spirit of man more consistent to have employed here an ecclesiastical title, as rule in that sphere was to occupy the Epistle so fully; but it is not so; and God is as good as He is wise. He, Whose authority works by desired and chosen instruments, would have His character to the world shown as Saviour. Not of course that all men are saved, but that believers are, and that all are now called to believe on the Lord Jesus and thus to be saved.
Thus, if there be command flowing from divine authority (and what is there of good without it? See John 12:50; John 14:31), there is also His character of love toward man which cows from the depths of divine grace, sovereign and full, and hence issues in a call of glad tidings to every creature on earth. It is the activity of His nature, now righteously able to work far and wide in everlasting salvation, whatever His special design for those who are saved; it is authority which insists on ways consistent with His word and nature, resenting a pretension to superior holiness, which, despising God’s order, becomes a prey to Satan.
But salvation known even now and here is not all. We have Him by Whom it came as “our hope,” even Christ Jesus, Who will present us in the glory of God commensurately with His salvation. Oh, how that blessed hope has been lowered! (ver. 1).
In presence of such things (and now there are far worse before us) Timothy had need of “mercy” as well as of “grace” and “peace.” And the apostle greets him with prayer accordingly (ver. 2).
“Even as when setting out for Macedonia, I besought thee to remain in Ephesus that thou mightest charge some not to be strange teachers, nor to pay heed to fables and endless genealogies, the which (
αἵτινες) furnish questionings rather than God’s dispensation5 that is in faith” (vers. 3, 4). To teach different things from the word of God is to be a strange teacher. What hypotheses are to the man of science, speculations are to the teacher: snares to divert us from the divine deposit of revealed truth. True science bows to facts and seeks to discover their general principles or associations, which it calls laws. Similarly does the believer and the teacher. To go beyond the written word is to stray and mislead.
But when men begin to be teachers of strange doctrine, they ever venture into the region of the fabulous and give heed to myths and interminable genealogies. So did the love of the marvellous work early among Christians. Imagination is never faith, which, as it delights in knowing God and His will, so trusts in nothing but His word, however thankful for such as minister it. Imagination is the natural resource for those who know not the truth: the truth in Christ is the only perfect preservative from it. We are not distinctly told whether these faults here warned against had a Gentile or a Jewish root: if like those denounced in the Epistle to Titus, they were Jewish. From either side they issued in the Gnostic reveries and wickedness of a later day, which were especially opposed to the Old Testament, whereas these apparently made much though wrong use of it.
The “endless genealogies” were a vain effort to solve without Christ what is otherwise insoluble, and thus be lost in wandering mazes of the mind, apart from conscience the one inlet by grace into all truth. For conscience alone gives God His place and us our own effectually before Him. Without conscience the heart may be attracted, but can never be trusted till it find its rest in God’s love and truth, the very reverse of a vain confidence in self. Then with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. And the known grace which forgives every sin takes away all guile from the spirit: for there is no more to conceal, all being judged and gone. One can then pray and praise: one desires teaching and guidance, and can call on others for and in fellowship of joy in the Lord. How dismal the descent to human speculations with its shadowy myths, and endless genealogies! These are occupation for the restless mind which knows not the truth and which alas! now turns from it to these husks for swine.
The apostle does not finish his sentence. Timothy would understand without question; so ought we. But he lets us know his judgment of speculation as being productive of barren questionings for the mind. God’s dispensation is, on the contrary, in faith. It is faith that He uses both to dispense and to receive.
The notion that in verse 5 “commandment” has anything to do with the law has wrought widely and disastrously, not merely so as to lose the true scope of what the apostle urges on Timothy, but alas! to insinuate the direct reverse of the truth. If the word had meant “command” or “injunction” as in verse 1, there would not have been one whit more of real ground for dragging in the law: only those carried away by sound would have thought of it. For “command” there even is in relation with God, not as Judge according to law, but as our Saviour in mercy. It is accordingly well to adhere to the strict expression in verse 5, as it stands related to verses 3 and 18, which it would be absurd to connect with the law. It is rather in contrast, as an evangelical charge on which the apostle insists with his wonted force, and incisive keenness, and antithetical-manner, which go for nothing where the ordinary confusion prevails. For thereby the blessing here and truly bound up with the gospel is attributed to the law. The apostle is really explaining, in connection with his charge to Timothy, how God’s dispensation that is in faith acts.
*“Now the end of the charge is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned; which things some, having missed, turned aside unto vain talk, desiring to be law-teachers, not understanding either what they say, or whereof they affirm” (vers. 5-7).
* There is not the least need of the parenthesis (here to ver. 17 inclusively) marked by Griesbach, Scholz, Knapp, Lachmann, et al.
The apostle is setting the face of Timothy against those who would put the Christian under law. He does not allow their motives to be good in guarding souls from evil ways, nor does he fear their outcries against his teaching as antinomian. He maintains that the end of the charge he is giving is love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and unfeigned faith. These are the effects of the gospel brought home to the believers; of which things the law is essentially incapable. It may convict of the enmity and impurity of the heart; it may prove that the conscience is evil; and it is not of faith in any way, as we are told expressly in Gal. 3:12. The law works out wrath, not grace, and thus becomes death, not life; not because it is not good and holy, but because man is evil, ungodly, and powerless. It is by faith that the heart is purified (Acts 15:9) in virtue of obeying the truth unto unfeigned brotherly kindness that we may love one another out of a pure heart fervently (1 Peter 1:22); and so it is through the word of God; but it is the word that is evangelized, not the law but the gospel contrasted with it.
Those whom the apostle characterizes were Judaizing adversaries; and he tells them plainly that they had missed their aim. Could they really pretend to a pure heart, or a good conscience, or unfeigned faith? They were manifesting not love but vain talk. Through Christ the feeblest Christian walks in truth and love. Being loved perfectly we love: the heart is purged according to the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, as the conscience is made good by it; and faith, knowing that all the evil and ruin are fully met in Christ’s death and resurrection, now rests at ease without feigning anything, because all good is truly given of God and secured in His Son.
But, cries a would-be law-teacher, does not Rom. 13:10 (“love is the fulfilling of the law”), identify the “charge” here with the “law” after all? The very reverse is proved by it: for the Christian, in the new nature which characterizes him now, does love, not as requirement under law, but as the outflow of his life in Christ. Love worketh no ill to one’s neighbour; love therefore is the fulfilment or full complement of law, but this result is by being under grace, and not law. The interpretation of too many, ancients and moderns, is the very principle here denounced. Their ignorance, according to the apostle, is complete. They understand neither what they say nor the question on which they thus dogmatize. At the same time grace, while it detects and rejects the misuse of law to puff man as he is and obscure the intervention of divine mercy in Christ, vindicates its true place as a matter of spiritual knowledge of which all Christians are conscious.
“Now we know that the law [is] good if one use it lawfully, knowing this that law is not laid down for a righteous person, but for lawless and insubordinate, for ungodly and sinful, for unholy and profane, for smiters of fathers and smiters of mothers, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, men-stealers, liars, perjurers, and if there be any other thing contrary to the sound doctrine (teaching), according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I was entrusted” (vers. 8-11).
The fables of human imagination were evil and incapable of any profitable use. Truth is the answer to the wants of a troubled heart and the questionings of an exercised conscience; but endless genealogies were trash and could only give rise to questions.
But there was another and more subtle danger — man’s misuse of God’s law, which has misled more widely and permanently, and alas! godly souls, too often. But this is not God’s dispensation which is in faith, any more than it is the end of the charge to Timothy. Yet the law is good, if one uses it lawfully. Have the misusers the inward consciousness that law is not made for a righteous man but for lawless and unruly, and for other evil-doers? Far different was their thought. Herein, then as now, men betray their inability to discern God’s revealed mind. Law does not contemplate the good but the bad. Law is enacted to detect, convict, and punish. Law never made a “just man,” still less “the good” man, if one may cite the distinction in Rom. 5:7. It is a sharp weapon to wound and kill transgressors; it never was designed to form motives of integrity or a walk of true righteousness. Its excellence lies in its unsparingness of evil; and man is evil, and this by nature. Grace, not law, saves sinners. Not law but grace teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-13).
Here theology revolts from the truth, and even good men ignore the source of all that made them what they are through the redemption that is in Christ and the faith that casts them thus on God. It matters not that the apostle elsewhere declares that by law is knowledge of sin, that it works wrath, that it is the power of sin, that it is a ministration of death and condemnation, that as many as are of its works are under the curse, that it was added for the sake of transgressions. They will have it that the law was made for the righteous as a rule of life, though it is the plain unavoidable inference from the words before us that this is precisely what the apostle explicitly denies of all law. It is Christ Who above all acts by faith on the believer’s soul. Hence he needs the word of God as a whole throughout his life, and the Spirit helps him to apply it in practical detail. Such is the Christian’s secret of true morality; which in divine wisdom binds the heart up with the Saviour habitually, and makes the written word to be matter for constant pondering, for comfort and conscientious application in the Spirit, but all in the sense of the true grace of God in which we stand and are exhorted to stand. For such exceeding privileges are meant to deepen our dependence on God and our confidence in His love day by day.
Entirely is it not only admitted but insisted on in scripture that the Christian is bound to do the will of God at all cost, and is never free to gratify the flesh. He is sanctified unto the obedience of Jesus Christ no less than to the sprinkling of His blood (1 Peter 1:2). Self-pleasing is Satan’s service. But the law is not the measure of God’s will for the Christian. It was for Israel; but we, even if by nature Israelites, were made dead to it through the body of Christ, that we should belong to Another — to Him that was raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God (Rom. 7:4). This is now the method of divinely-wrought freedom from the law, only to obey God with a nearness, fulness, and absolute devotedness unknown to a Jew.
Can anything be less satisfactory, yea more nugatory, than the ordinary assertion of the divines that Paul still leaves it open, so far as the scripture speaks, for the law to be the directory of Christians, and that he simply means to exclude it from justifying the soul? Now it is undeniable that in Rom. vi. and vii. he is treating of Christian walk, not of believing in order to justification; and he there lays down that we are not under law but under grace, and this as a principle of dealing on God’s part, the expression of which is therefore put anarthrously, so as to go beyond “the” law, though fully including it. It is just the same here; so that Dean Alford errs in thinking that verse 9 does not go farther than verse 8 where the article appears. It is not “the” nor “a,” but “law” as such; and the
οὐ negatives any such thing as law being enacted for a righteous person. Against the fruit of the Spirit, as the same blessed apostle whites in Gal. 5:23, there is no law. The general form is intended in all cases with or without prepositions, where the article is not. Winer has misled people by his list of words (Pt. iii. § 19), which really fall under rule. Bishop Middleton was nearer the truth, though he mistakenly made prepositions exceptional.
It is a mere assumption, not only groundless but anti-scriptural, that law is made for a righteous man as well as a sinful, so that “the apostles meaning doubtless (!) is that it was given, not for the purpose of justifying the most righteous man that ever lived, but for restraining the wicked by its threatenings and punishments” (Macknight’s Apostolical Epp. 512. Tegg, 1835). This is to subvert, not to expound, scripture. Nor is Whitby in the least better, who takes it as “to condemn the righteous.” Justification and condemnation are out of the question here, where the apostle speaks of the object contemplated in the enactment of law, and declares it to be, not for righteous, but for sinners.
And is it not painfully instructive to see how an error once let in works to ungodliness? For those who so strenuously contend against the uniform doctrine of the New Testament, and place the Christian under law as his rule of life, contend that, if he offend as we all do too often, he is not under its curse! Is this to establish the law, or to annul it? If Christ died and bore its curse, and we too died with Him and now are no longer under law but under grace, the truth is kept intact, the authority of law is maintained, and yet we who believe have full deliverance. If we were really under law for walk, we ought to be cursed, or you destroy its authority; if we are not under it, the true provision for one’s sin is Christ’s advocacy with the Father, which brings us to repentance by the washing of water with the word.
Law then is established for lawless and unruly, ungodly and sinners, unholy and profane, beaters of fathers and beaters of mothers. Such are the pairs in this dark list of human depravity: first, the inner spring of self-will and its more open insubjection; next, irreverence God-ward, end evil man-ward; thirdly, impiety end positive profanity; fourthly, insolent violence towards parents, without going so far as killing. Compare Ex. 21:15. For this last extreme introduces the general group, wherein one follows after another — murderers, fornicators, sodomites, men-stealers (or kidnappers), liars, perjurers, and if anything else is opposed to the sound doctrine.
Truly the law is a ministry of condemnation: what then can minister life, righteousness, and the Spirit? The gospel of salvation based on Christ and His work, which faith only receives; “and the law is not of faith” as we repeat from scripture. Blessing is inseparable from Christ; and it is of faith that it might be according to grace. They then that are of faith, whose principle is faith, are sons of Abraham and blessed with the faithful Abraham. Those that speak of law may speak out of the abundance of their heart, as they certainly do out of want of faith, and never show the good works for which they call, but prove the wretchedness of slighting Christ. For the Spirit is sent to glorify Christ, and will never decorate nor deceive self by vain hopes of amelioration.
But the apostle is careful to add the concluding clause, “according to the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I was entrusted” (ver. 11). The glad tidings may not assert man’s condemnation, which is assumed in the strongest way. It is occupied with good for the worst of sinners, for it is the message of grace from the God Who was glorified in the Son of man and Who has now glorified Him in Himself, before the kingdom comes wherein He will display His power and glory to every eye. The gospel only went out to all the creation under heaven after the proved guilt and irremediable ruin of all mankind; so that, as God’s righteousness is therein revealed from faith unto faith, therewith is revealed, not such temporal judgment as we see under law, but God’s wrath from heaven upon all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men that hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).
For it is the gospel of God’s glory, not “the glorious gospel,” as the Geneva Version led the way unhappily for the Authorized, but, as Wiclif, Tyndale, and all others, “the gospel of the glory”. Such is the hope in which we rejoice, and such the standard by which He would have us measure and reject all evil; a standard therefore which suffers no compromise in view of man’s hardness of heart, as the law did, but is absolutely intolerant of all that is antagonistic to God’s nature and presence on high. And God is now revealed as “the blessed God,” because He speaks to us, not in Sinai’s fire and darkness and tempest and words yet more awful, but in the fulness of grace and truth of Christ Who declared Him on earth and is now set down in the heavenly places, where we who believe are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Him. The atonement once accomplished and the Saviour gone up into glory, God was “happy” in acting freely in love to the lost; for grace could then reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 5:21).
Such is the gospel which the apostle (here and in Titus 1:3) says was entrusted to him; as in Gal. 2:7 he says it was and is, the abiding state, and not the fact only which here sufficed. The Authorized Version alone of English versions is accurate in this.
The gospel with which the apostle was entrusted gives occasion for the words that follow down to the end of verse 17. It is singular that this is one of the passages on which a distinguished rationalist rested to impugn the genuineness of the Epistle; whereas in fact his remark goes to prove the blindness of unbelief. It attests the incapacity of the doubting school in general (Schleiermacher being one of their ablest minds, and perhaps the least objectionable in his ordinary tone) to seize the admirable links, and not least such as do not lie on the surface but reveal themselves to those that search the word as God’s word and feel the truth as well as understand it. The apostle had given emphatic expression to himself as entrusted with the glad tidings of the glory. Light from Christ’s glory had, even literally, shone on, and into the heart of, Saul of Tarsus. Hence it is not doctrine here, but an outburst of thanksgivings, which breaks forth and links together his own case, as the readiest and deepest and most conspicuous object to be found of sovereign grace, with the message he was called to deliver.
Perhaps it was the wish to connect these verses with the foregoing, from lack of the spiritual insight to discern their intimate connection without any outward mark, which added the copulative (“And”) of the common text (ver. 12). The most ancient copies and versions do not countenance it. Nor is it needful to begin a doxology, which could not be repressed from a heart over-flowing at the recollection, and in the present enjoyment, of the Saviour’s grace.
6“I thank him that strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, that he counted me faithful, appointing me unto ministry, 7though I was a blasphemer and persecutor and doer of outrage. But I had mercy shown me because I did [it] ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love that is in Christ Jesus. Faithful [is] the word and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. But for this cause mercy was shown me that in me, [as] chief, Christ might display the whole long-suffering for an outline-sketch of those that should believe on Him unto life eternal. Now to the King of the ages, incorruptible, invisible, only8 God, be honour and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen” (vers. 12-17).
The heart of Paul glows in thanksgiving to our Lord for the inward power conferred on him. Not only was he called to be a saint but appointed to service, for. that Christ deemed him faithful. It was immeasurably enhanced by another consideration never to be forgotten, — what he was when thus called: he had been before this a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insulter, which all persecutors might not be. It was therefore not merely high colouring, but the genuine feeling of the soul that he was foremost of sinners: and no man who ever lived was more competent to form an adequate judgment of sin. He knew what sinners were, in as large an experience as any man could grasp. Yet did our Lord call him, who, as he says himself, even compelled the saints to blaspheme, and who was exceedingly furious in persecuting them outside their own land, even breathing out threatenings and slaughter in his hatred of the name of Jesus; which, believed in, gave him power to go forth and persevere in an endurance beyond what this world has ever seen, in not labours only, but in sufferings for Christ. The Lord did indeed account him faithful, and this from the day of his conversion, an elect vessel (as He said) to bear His name before both Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel, in that astonishing path of trial for His name, of which the apostle says nothing, except only when it was as it were wrung out in his “folly” as he calls it, by the bad state and real folly of the worldly-wise Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:16 et seq.).
For the love of Christ proved its own strength in appointing to His service, not merely one apostle whose confidence in his own affection for Christ met with a speedy and most overwhelming humiliation that so he might by grace be a strengthener of his brethren and a bold preacher of the glad tidings assured even to those who denied the Holy and Righteous One, but also another arrested in the mid-career of unmitigated hatred of His name and haughty contempt of His grace, whom He was calling to the highest and largest conceivable place of service, minister of the assembly His body, and minister of the gospel proclaimed in all the creation that is under heaven (Col: 1:23-25). Who but “Christ Jesus our Lord” would have felt, thought, acted thus toward either Peter or Paul? Such a Saviour and Lord was He to both; and thus were they each fitted to give the best effect to the testimony of His grace without the smallest palliation of their sins respectively.
“But,” says the one before us, “I had mercy shown me because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Assuredly there was no lack of sincerity: not a doubt clouded his conscience. He thought he ought to do much against the name of the Nazarene, armed as he was with the authority and commission of the chief priests, confident of the strictest Pharisaic orthodoxy as well as scrupulous practice, and satisfied of an unbroken succession in the religion of the true God from its enactment at Sinai, not to say from the garden of Eden.
Still the power and glory which struck all down as far as concerned Saul in his person, and revealed to his soul, in a light beyond the sun at noonday, that the crucified but glorified Jesus was the Jehovah God of Israel, changed all in an instant, and without a question-proved all he had loved and venerated to be in hopeless enmity against God. Grace, truth, glory — all-centred in Him, Who in convicting him of the worst sins, saved him to be His servant-witness, while taking him out from among the people and the Gentiles, to whom He thenceforward sent him on the lifelong errand of His own matchless mercy.
No doubt he was ignorant, and unbelief was the root of it; but this is a different state from that of those who, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, sin wilfully or fall away to religious forms in preference to Christ and the Spirit’s testimony to His work. The heavenly Christ was Jesus Whom he had been persecuting in His members. It was all over with himself, as well as with his religion: Christ was all to him, and Christ he owns in all who loved Him, Whose name he had till that moment anathematized. It was his ever after to live and die for Him Who died for all that they who lived should no longer live to themselves but to Him Who for them died and rose again. It was sinful unbelieving ignorance. “But the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love that is in Christ Jesus”, the contrast of unbelief and hatred when he knew only the law. And so with the deepest feeling he can commend to others his own compressed summary of the gospel: “Faithful is the word and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”; but he adds, “of whom I am chief.”
In vain do men seek to limit either “sinners” on the one hand, or “chief” on the other. The apostle knew the truth incomparably better than they, be they Fathers of old, or modern Germans, Catholics, or Protestants. His very aim is to sweep away all comparison, to overturn all self-righteousness, and to meet all despair, laying man in the dust and exalting only the Saviour Who abased Himself and saves to the last degree those that disobey not “the heavenly vision.”
Nor was it only a question of mercy in saving the foremost of sinners, there was also a purpose of grace toward others. “But for this cause mercy was shown me that in me, as chief, Jesus Christ might display the whole long-suffering for an outline-sketch of those that should believe on Him unto life eternal.” It is impossible to exceed the energy of the expression. Nor need we wonder, if his case was to be a standing pattern or delineation of divine love rising above the most active hostility, of divine long-suffering exhausting the most varied and persistent antagonism, whether in Jews or in Gentiles at large; for who had in either exceeded Saul of Tarsus? How will not the Lord use the history of his conversion to win the hardened Jew by-and-by! How does He not turn it to the account of any wretched sinner now! Profoundly does the apostle delight in that grace which can thus make the pride and wrath of man praise Him, both at present and in the future day, through the faith of our Lord Jesus, without Whom all must have been only ruin and wretchedness, closed by everlasting judgment. “Now to the King of the ages, incorruptible, invisible, only God, [be] honour and glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
As those that believe on Christ unto life eternal are not a mere people under earthly government to enjoy and attest the blessings of a just rule and a divine ruler, so God is here owned and praised as King of the ages in His supremacy above all passing conditions and circumstances of the creature here below. But He is also confessed as “incorruptible” in face of that which has shamelessly departed from Him in heaven above and on the earth beneath, turning even His dealings and revelations into self-aggrandizement or self-indulgence to His dishonour; as “invisible,” where unseen powers have availed themselves of what is seen to play into the idolatry of the fallen heart and evil conscience; as “only” or “alone,” where the world’s wisdom freely gave its worship, begrudged to the alone true God, to created objects on high and around and below which, excited its admiration, hopes, and fears, and so was led on by Satan to deify him and his hosts under names which consecrated every lust and passion to man’s own ever-increasing degradation. “To Him that is King of the ages, incorruptible, invisible, only God, be honour and glory,” not now merely as the basest-rivals may have had, but, “to the ages of the ages” — time without end, “Amen.” The Authorized Version is here inaccurate; and so is any commentator that carps at Bp. Middleton’s just and necessary correction. The article really goes with
Θεύς, “God,” binding together all between as descriptive. If
ἀφθαρτῳ κ.τ.λ. were in immediate concord with
τῳ βατιλέι they could not be anarthrous.
The “charge” here clearly connects itself with verses 3 and 5, which refer to the same thing, not to verse 15 in particular however momentous, the practical purpose follows to the end of the chapter. The man of God must be prepared to war the good warfare.
“This charge I commit to thee, child Timothy, according to the prophecies on thee going before, that by them thou mightest war the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience; which some having thrust away made shipwreck concerning the faith; of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may be taught not to blaspheme” (vers. 18-20).
As the Holy Spirit said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them (probably through one of the prophets at Antioch, Acts 13:2), so it appears that Timothy had prophecies leading the way to his work. Indeed in the case of the apostle the Lord had revealed his mission from his conversion. That the prophecies were uttered over Timothy at his ordination is absolute assumption. It was certainly not a part of the service whence the first and greatest of those sent to the Gentiles went forth recommended to the grace of God by the laying on of their brothers’ hands. The prophecy preceded and led to that separation for gospel work; and so analogy, if not express intimation here and in chapter 4:14, compared with 2 Tim. 1:6, might give us to infer for Timothy.
It is no mere battle but a campaign that the apostle puts before his “child” and fellow-labourer. He must war the good warfare, but he is not asked to go at his own risk. The Master had given the word: if ever so gentle, sensitive, timid, he might trust Him, Who by His servants had prophesied about Timothy. There is no necessity, nor sufficient reason, to understand with the grammarian Winer that in these prophecies lay his spiritual protection and equipment, the armour as it were in which he was to wage his good warfare. This is to narrow and emphasize unduly the forge of the preposition. The English Authorized and Revised Versions seem to me more simple and correct. So again the transient form of the verb (adopted by Tischendorf and Tregelles on the meagre authority of the first hand of the Sinaitic and the Clermont MSS.) does not commend itself in comparison with the ordinary text (as in all other copies) which has the present. Observe also that “faith” as an inward state is different from “the faith” or truth believed.
But condition of soul has much to do with warring the good warfare. Faith must be kept up, bright and simple and exercised, the eyes of the heart ever on the things unseen and eternal. Withal a good conscience is imperative. For if faith bring God in, a good conscience judges self so as it keep sin out. This, of all moment for every Christian, is pre-eminently needful for him who is devoted to the service of Christ. There is nothing which so hardens the heart as the continual giving out of truth apart from one’s own communion and walk. Take the extreme case of Judas falling under the power of the devil; but look also at Peter, who was far from a traitor, himself betrayed into the denial of his Master. Here, however, it is the maintenance not only of faith, but also of a good conscience, “which some having thrust away made shipwreck concerning the faith.”
Rarely, if ever, does the heterodox soul maintain a good conscience; and as there cannot be a good conscience without faith, so on the other hand, where the conscience becomes practically bad, the faith is lowered, and it is well if it be not at last wholly perverted. A man is uneasy at continuing burdened with the sense of his own inconsistency. He is thus tempted to accommodate his faith to his failure, and what he likes he at last believes to the destruction of the truth; or, as the apostle puts it here, “some, having thrust away” a good conscience, “made shipwreck concerning the faith.”
The apostle gives examples then living; “of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may be taught not to blaspheme.”
This is not ecclesiastical discipline, or excommunication pure and simple, but the apostle’s own act of power. Indeed it is questionable whether the assembly ever did or could, without an apostle, hand over to Satan. Certain it is, that in 1 Cor. 5 the apostle connects himself with a similar exertion of power: “For I, as absent in body and present in spirit, have already judged as present as to him that so wrought this thing, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (ye and my spirit being gathered together with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ) to deliver him, being such an one, to Satan for destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
So another apostle exercised the power given him of the Lord to deal extraordinarily with Ananias and Sapphira when they sinned unto death (Acts 5). The Lord, it would seem, thus by His servant judged them by so solemn a chastening that they might not be condemned with the world.
But if, according to scripture, the assembly be not invested with such power, it is none the less under obligation to purge out the old leaven “that ye may be a new lump, according as ye are unleavened.” The standing is the ground of responsibility. If unleavened by and in Christ, we are bound to tolerate no leaven. Practice must be conformed to principle, and so the Spirit works by the word; not by high or heavenly principle brought down to low and earthly practice. “For also Christ, our passover, was sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with leaven of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” If the assembly cannot and will not judge those that are within, it forfeits its character as God’s assembly. Hence, even in the lowest condition, that which claims to be God’s assembly is bound to put away the wicked person from among them. Responsibility to put out of church communion is the inalienable duty of the Christian assembly whenever a professed member of Christ can be justly designated as a “wicked person.” But this is a distinct thing from the apostolic power of delivering over to Satan, which might or might not accompany that extreme act of the assembly.
It is well, however, to notice that even the apostle’s act of delivering over to Satan, here spoken of apart from the assembly, had the merciful as well as holy object in view, “that they may be taught not to blaspheme.” It is a consoling thought that even such evil-doers are not irrecoverably beyond the reach of divine grace. The terrible sentence which befell them was, on the contrary, to teach by discipline those who refused to be taught by the truth, whose unjudged evil led them to depart from the faith which condemned them. Even Satan’s power in dealing with the outer man, and perhaps in the infliction of anguish of mind, may be used under the hand of God to bring down the haughty spirit and make past blasphemy to be seen in all its offensive pride and opposition to God.
It is singular that Calvin, on this passage, chooses rather to explain it as relating to excommunication, of which not a word is said, though probably this may also have been the fact. But the opinion, as he calls it, that the incestuous Corinthian received any other chastisement than excommunication, he ventures to say, is not supported by any probable conjecture. Now this confusion we have seen to be in direct opposition to the plain declaration of 1 Cor. 5, which distinguishes the apostolic energy and its effects from the inalienable call of the assembly to put away those who cast deliberate and manifest affront on the Lord’s name. It is only when Paul joins himself to the assembly that he speaks of delivering to Satan. When he treats of their purging leaven that had entered, he speaks of putting out, and not a word more.
In short, then, delivering over to Satan was not a form of excommunication from the church, but an effect of apostolic power, which might or might not accompany the act of putting out, and which manifested its effect in bodily pains or even death itself. The distinction is of importance for this reason among others, that we can see clearly how the obligation abides to purge out the leaven that has got in; whilst it would be unbecoming to arrogate to the assembly that which scripture never speaks of apart from an apostle’s power. Those who have Christ Who was sacrificed as their centre cannot escape from the holy responsibility of keeping the feast with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, purging out what practically denies and dishonours Him. Power is another element, and as distinct from form as from duty; and, power or no power, we are bound to do our duty, as in the end of 1 Cor. 5 it is no less obvious than momentous, if indeed we are Christ’s.
2 Such is the order in D F G P, a few cursives, and some of the ancient versions.
3 The Sinaitic gives the stupendous error of “promise” instead of “command,” from assimilation perhaps to 2 Tim. 1:1 in a wholly different connection.
4 “Our” is not in the more ancient and excellent copies.
5 All the older English Versions are wrong from Wiclif to the A.V., misled by the Syriac and Vulgate. The Clermont uncial is doubly wrong, text and correction; Vat. 1761 is the only cursive that supports the error. The Complutensian editors and R. Stephens are right; not so Erasmus, Colinaeus, Beza, and Elzevir.
6 Most copies, none first-class, add “And” as in Text. Rec.
7 The article in the best MSS. goes with
πρ. which forbids the rendering “him who” or “me who” as with the common text.
8 “Wise” is an interpolation here and in Jude 25. In Rom. 16:27 it is right and most suitable. Its omission here Bengel calls “magnifica lectio”: so the oldest and best MSS. and Vv.