1st TIMOTHY CHAPTER 4
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
1 Spiritus autem clarè dicit, quòd in posterioribus temporibus desciscent quidam a fide, attendentes spiritibus impostoribus, et doctrinis dæmoniorum;
2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy: having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
2 In hypocrisi falsiloquorum, cauterio notatam habentium conscientiam;
3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
3 Prohibentium matrimonia contrahere, jubentium abstinere a cibis, quos Deus creavit ad percipiendum cum gratiarum actione fidelibus, et qui cognoverunt veritatem.
4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:
4 Quòd omnis creatura Dei bona, et nihil rejiciendum quod cum gratiarum actione sumatur:
5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
5 Sanctificatur enim per sermonem Dei et precationem.
1. Now the Spirit plainly saith.
He had industriously admonished Timothy about many things; and now he shews the necessity, because it is proper to provide against the danger which the Holy Spirit forewarns to be fast approaching, namely, that false teachers will come, who shall hold out trifles as the doctrine of faith, and who, placing all holiness in outward exercises, shall throw into the shade the spiritual worship of God, which alone is lawful. And, indeed, the servants of God have always had to contend against such persons as Paul here describes. Men being by nature inclined to hypocrisy, Satan easily persuades them that God is worshipped aright by ceremonies and outward discipline; and, indeed, without a teacher, almost all have this conviction deeply rooted in their hearts. Next is added the craftiness of Satan to confirm the error. The consequence is, that, in all ages, there have been impostors, who recommended false worship, by which true godliness was buried. Again, this plague produces another, namely, that, in matters indifferent, men are laid under restraint; for the world easily permits itself to be hindered from doing that which God had declared to be lawful, in order that they may have it in their power to transgress with impunity the laws of God.
Here Paul, therefore, in the person of Timothy, forewarns not only the Ephesians, but all the churches throughout the world, about hypocritical teachers, who, by setting up false worship, and by ensnaring consciences with new laws, adulterate the true worship of God, and corrupt the pure doctrine of faith. This is the real object of the passage, which it is especially necessary to remark.
Besides, in order that all may hear with more earnest attention what he is going to say, he opens with a preface, that this is an undoubted and very clear prophecy of the Holy Spirit. There is, indeed, no reason to doubt that he drew all the rest from the same Spirit; but, although we ought always to listen to him as communicating the will of Christ, yet in a matter of vast importance he wished especially to testify that he said nothing but by the Spirit of prophecy. By a solemn announcement, therefore, he recommends to us this prophecy; and, not satisfied with doing this, he adds that it is plain, and free from all ambiguity.
In the latter times.
At that time certainly it could not have been expected that, amidst so clear light of the gospel, any would have revolted. But this is what Peter says, that, as false teachers formerly gave annoyance to the people of Israel, so they will never cease to disturb the Christian Church. (2 Pet. 3:3.) The meaning is the same as if he had said, “The doctrine of the gospel is now in a flourishing state, but Satan will not long refrain from labouring to choke the pure seed by tares.” (Matt. 13:25, 38.)
This warning was advantageous in the age of the Apostle Paul, that both pastors and others might give earnest attention to pure doctrine, and not suffer themselves to be deceived. To us in the present day it is not less useful, when we perceive that nothing has happened which was not foretold by an express prophecy of the Spirit. Besides, we may here remark how great care God exercises about his Church, when he gives so early warning of dangers. Satan has, indeed, manifold arts for leading us into error, and attacks us by astonishing stratagems; but, on the other hand, fortifies us sufficiently, if we did not of our own accord choose to be deceived. There is therefore no reason to complain that darkness is more powerful than light, or that truth is vanquished by falsehood; but, on the contrary, we suffer the punishment of our carelessness and indolence, when we are led aside from the right way of salvation.
But they who flatter themselves in their errors object, that it is hardly possible to distinguish whom or what kind of persons Paul describes. As if it were for nothing that the Spirit uttered this prophecy, and published it so long before; for, if there were no certain mark, the whole of the present warning would be superfluous, and consequently absurd. But far be it from us to think that the Spirit of God gives us unnecessary alarm, or does not accompany the threatening of danger by shewing how we should guard against it! And that slander is sufficiently refuted by the words of Paul; for he points out, as with the finger, that evil which he warns us to avoid. He does not speak, in general terms, about false prophets, but plainly describes the kind of false doctrine; namely, that which, by linking godliness with outward elements, perverts and profanes, as I have already said, the spiritual worship of God.
Some will revolt from the faith.
It is uncertain whether he speaks of teachers or of hearers; but I am more disposed to refer it to the latter; for he afterwards calls teachers “spirits that are impostors.” And this is (ἐμφατικώτερον) more emphatic, that not only will there be those who sow wicked doctrines, and corrupt the purity of faith, but that they can never want disciples whom they can draw into their sect; and when a lie thus gains prevalence, there arises from it greater trouble.
Besides, it is no slight vice which he describes, but a very heinous crime—apostasy from the faith; although, at first sight, in the doctrine which he briefly notices there does not appear to be so much evil. What is the case? Is faith completely overturned on account of the prohibition of marriage, or of certain kinds of food? But we must take into view a higher reason, that men pervert and invent at their pleasure the worship of God, that they assume dominion over the consciences, and that they dare to forbid that use of good things which the Lord has permitted. As soon as the purity of the worship of God is impaired, there no longer remains anything perfect or sound, and faith itself is utterly ruined.
Accordingly, although Papists laugh at us, when we censure their tyrannical laws about outward observances, yet we know that we are pleading a cause of the greatest weight and importance; because the doctrine of faith is destroyed, as soon as the worship of God is infected by such corruptions. The controversy is not about flesh or fish, or about a black or ashy colour, or about Friday or Wednesday, but about the mad superstitions of men, who wish to appease God by such trifles, and, by contriving a carnal worship of him, contrive for themselves an idol instead of God. Who will deny that this is revolting from the faith?
To deceiving spirits.
He means prophets or teachers, to whom he gives this designation, because they boast of the Spirit, and, under this title, insinuate themselves into the favour of the people. This, indeed, is true at all times, that men, whatever they are, speak under the excitement of the spirit. But it is not the same spirit that excites them all; for sometimes Satan is a lying spirit in the mouth of the false prophets, in order to deceive unbelievers, who deserve to be deceived. (1 Kings 22:21–23.) On the other hand, every one that renders due honour to Christ speaks by the Spirit of God, as Paul testifies. (1 Cor. 12:3.)
Now that mode of expression, of which we are now speaking, originated at first from this circumstance, that the servants of God professed to have from the revelation of the Spirit, everything that they uttered in public. This was actually true; and hence they received the name of the Spirit, whose organs they were. But the ministers of Satan, by a false emulation, like apes, began afterwards to make the same boast, and likewise falsely assumed the name. On the same grounds John says, “Try the spirits, whether they are of God.” (1 John 4:1.)
Moreover, Paul explains his meaning by adding, to doctrines of devils; which is as if he had said, “Attending to false prophets, and to their devilish doctrines.” Again observe, that it is not an error of small importance, or one that ought to be concealed, when consciences are bound by the contrivances of men, and at the same time the worship of God is corrupted.
2. Speaking lies in hypocrisy.
If these words refer to “demons,” then this word will mean men deceiving through the instigation of the devil. But we may also supply the words, “of men speaking.” He now descends to a particular instance, when he says that they “speak lies in hypocrisy,” and have their conscience seared with a hot iron. And, indeed, it ought to be known that these two are so closely joined together that the former springs from the latter; for consciences, that are bad and seared with the hot iron of their crimes, always flee to hypocrisy as a ready refuge; that is, they contrive hypocritical pretences, in order to dazzle the eyes of God; and what else is done by those who endeavour to appease God by the mask of outward observances?
The word hypocrisy must therefore be explained agreeably to the passage in which it now occurs; for, first, it must relate to doctrine, and, next, it denotes that kind of doctrine which adulterates the spiritual worship of God by exchanging its genuine purity for bodily exercises; and thus it includes all methods contrived by men for appeasing God or obtaining his favour. The meaning may be thus summed up; first, that all who assume a pretended sanctimoniousness are led by the instigation of the devil; because God is never worshipped aright by outward ceremonies; for true worshippers “worship him in spirit and truth,” (John 4:24;) and, secondly, that this is a useless medicine, by which hypocrites mitigate their pains, or rather a plaster by which bad consciences conceal their wounds, without any advantage, and to their utter destruction.
3. Forbidding to marry.
Having described the class, he next mentions two instances,1 namely, the prohibition of marriage and of some kinds of food. They arise from that hypocrisy which, having forsaken true holiness, seeks something else for the purpose of concealment and disguise; for they who do not keep from ambition, covetousness, hatred, cruelty, and such like, endeavour to obtain a righteousness by abstaining from those things which God has left at large. Why are consciences burdened by those laws, but because perfection is sought in something different from the law of God? This is not done but by hypocrites, who, in order that they may with impunity transgress that righteousness of the heart which the law requires, endeavour to conceal their inward wickedness by those outward observances as veils with which they cover themselves.
This was a distinct threatening of danger, so that it was not difficult for men to guard against it, at least if they had lent their ears to the Holy Spirit, when he gave so express a warning. Yet we see that the darkness of Satan generally prevailed, so that the clear light of this striking and memorable prediction was of no avail. Not long after the death of the apostle, arose Encratites, (who took their name from continence,) Tatianists, Catharists, Montanus with his sect, and at length Manichæans, who had extreme aversion to marriage and the eating of flesh, and condemned them as profane things. Although they were disowned by the Church, on account of their haughtiness, in wishing to subject others to their opinions, yet it is evident that those who opposed them yielded to their error more than was proper. It was not intended by those of whom I am now speaking to impose a law on Christians; but yet they attached greater weight than they ought to have done to superstitious observances, such as abstaining from marriage, and not tasting flesh.
Such is the disposition of the world, always dreaming that God ought to be worshipped in a carnal manner, as if God were carnal. Matters becoming gradually worse, this tyranny was established, that it should not be lawful for priests or monks to enter into the married state, and that no person should dare to taste flesh on certain days. Not unjustly, therefore, do we now maintain that this prediction was uttered against the Papists, since celibacy and abstinence from certain kinds of food are enjoined by them more strictly than any commandment of God. They think that they escape by an ingenious artifice, when they torture Paul’s words to direct them against Tatianists or Manichæans, or such like; as if the Tatianists had not the same means of escape open to them by throwing back the censure of Paul on the Cataphrygians, and on Montanus the author of that sect; or as if the Cataphrygians had it not in their power to bring forward the Encratites, in their room, as the guilty parties. But Paul does not here speak of persons, but of the thing itself; and, therefore, although a hundred different sects be brought forward, all of which are charged with the same hypocrisy in forbidding some kinds of food, they shall all incur the same condemnation.
Hence it follows, that to no purpose do the Papists point to the ancient heretics, as if they alone were censured; we must always see if they are not guilty in the same manner. They object, that they do not resemble the Encratites and Manichæans, because they do not absolutely forbid the use of marriage and of flesh, but only on certain days constrain to abstinence from flesh, and make the vow of celibacy compulsory on none but monks and priests and nuns. But this excuse also is excessively frivolous; for, first, they nevertheless make holiness to consist in these things; next, they set up a false and spurious worship of God; and lastly, they bind consciences by a necessity from which they ought to have been free.
In the fifth book of Eusebius, there is a fragment taken out of the writings of Apollonius, in which, among other things, he reproaches Montanus with being the first that dissolved marriage, and laid down laws for fasting. He does not say, that Montanus absolutely prohibited marriage or certain kinds of food. It is enough if he lay a religious obligation on the consciences, and command men to worship God by observing those things; for the prohibition of things that are indifferent, whether it be general or special, is always a diabolical tyranny. That this is true in regard to certain kinds of food will appear more clearly from the next clause.
Which God hath created.
It is proper to observe the reason, that, in the use of various kinds of food, we ought to be satisfied with the liberty which God has granted to us; because He created them for this purpose. It yields inconceivable joy to all the godly, when they know that all the kinds of food which they eat are put into their hands by the Lord, so that the use of them is pure and lawful. What insolence is it in men to take away what God bestows! Did they create food? Can they make void the creation of God? Let it always be remembered by us, that he who created the food, gave us also the free use of it, which it is vain for men to attempt to hinder.
To be received with thanksgiving.
God created food to be received; that is, that we may enjoy it. This end can never be set aside by human authority. He adds, with thanksgiving; because we can never render to God any recompense for his kindness but a testimony of gratitude. And thus he holds up to greater abhorrence those wicked lawgivers who, by new and hasty enactments, hinder the sacrifice of praise which God especially requires us to offer to him. Now, there can be no thanksgiving without sobriety and temperance; for the kindness of God is not truly acknowledged by him who wickedly abuses it.
What then? Does not God make his sun to rise daily on the good and the bad? (Matt. 5:45.) Does not the earth, by his command, yield bread to the wicked? Are not the very worst of men fed by his blessing? When David says, “He causeth the herb to grow for the service of men, that he may bring forth food out of the earth,” (Ps. 104:14,) the kindness which he describes is universal. I reply, Paul speaks here of the lawful use, of which we are assured before God. Wicked men are in no degree partakers of it, on account of their impure conscience, which, as is said, (Tit. 1:15,) “defileth all things.” And indeed, properly speaking, God has appointed to his children alone the whole world and all that is in the world. For this reason, they are also called the heirs of the world; for at the beginning Adam was appointed to be lord of all, on this condition, that he should continue in obedience to God. Accordingly, his rebellion against God deprived of the right, which had been bestowed on him, not only himself but his posterity. And since all things are subject to Christ, we are fully restored by His mediation, and that through faith; and therefore all that unbelievers enjoy may be regarded as the property of others, which they rob or steal.
And by those that know the truth.
In this clause he defines who they are whom he calls “believers,” namely, those that have a knowledge of sound doctrine; for there is no faith but from the word of God; in order that we may not falsely think, as the Papists imagine, that faith is a confused opinion.
4. For every creature of God is good.
The use of food must be judged, partly from its substance, and partly from the person of him who eats it. The Apostle therefore avails himself of both arguments. So far as relates to food, he asserts that it is pure, because God has created it; and that the use of it is consecrated to us by faith and prayer. The goodness of the creatures, which he mentions, has relation to men, and that not with regard to the body or to health, but to the consciences. I make this remark, that none may enter into curious speculations unconnected with the scope of the passage; for, in a single word, Paul means, that those things which come from the hand of God, and are intended for our use, are not unclean or polluted before God, but that we may freely eat them with regard to conscience.
If it be objected, that many animals were formerly pronounced to be unclean under the Law, and that fruit, which was yielded by the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was destructive to man; the answer is, that creatures are not called pure, merely because they are the works of God, but because, through his kindness, they have been given to us; for we must always look at the appointment of God, both what he commands and what he forbids.
5. For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
This is the confirmation of the preceding clause, if it be received with thanksgiving. And it is an argument drawn from contrast; for “holy” and “profane” are things contrary to each other. Let us now see what is the sanctification of all good things, which belong to the sustenance of the present life. Paul testifies that it consists of “the word of God and prayer.” But it ought to be observed, that this word must be embraced by faith, in order that it may be advantageous; for, although God himself sanctifies all things by the Spirit of his mouth, yet we do not obtain that benefit but by faith. To this is added “prayer;” for, on the one hand, we ask from God our daily bread, according to the commandment of Christ, (Matt. 6:11;) and, on the other hand we offer thanksgiving to Him for His goodness.
Now Paul’s doctrine proceeds on this principle, that there is no good thing, the possession of which is lawful, unless conscience testify that it is lawfully our own. And which of us would venture to claim for himself a single grain of wheat, if he were not taught by the word of God that he is the heir of the world? Common sense, indeed, pronounces, that the wealth of the world is naturally intended for our use; but, since dominion over the world was taken from us in Adam, everything that we touch of the gifts of God is defiled by our pollution; and, on the other hand, it is unclean to us, till God graciously come to our aid, and, by ingrafting us into his Son, constitutes us anew to be lords of the world, that we may lawfully use as our own all the wealth with which he supplies us.
Justly, therefore, does Paul connect lawful enjoyment with “the word,” by which alone we regain what was lost in Adam; for we must acknowledge God as our Father, that we may be his heirs, and Christ as our Head, that those things which are his may become ours. Hence it ought to be inferred that the use of all the gifts of God is unclean, unless it be accompanied by true knowledge and calling on the name of God; and that it is a beastly way of eating, when we sit down at table without any prayer, and, when we have eaten to the full, depart in utter forgetfulness of God.
And if such sanctification is demanded in regard to common food, which, together with the belly, is subject to corruption, what must we think about spiritual sacraments? If “the word,” and calling on God through faith, be not there, what remains that is not profane? Here we must attend to the distinction between the blessing of the sacramental table and the blessing of a common table; for, as to the food which we eat for the nourishment of our body, we bless it for this purpose, that we may receive it in a pure and lawful manner; but we consecrate, in a more solemn manner, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, that they may be pledges to us of the body and blood of Christ.
6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.
6 Hæc suggerens fratribus, bonus eris Iesu Christi minister, innutritus sermonibus fidei, et bonæ doctrinæ quam sequutus es.
7 But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.
7 Profanas autem et aniles fabulas devita; quin potius exerce te ipsum ad pietatem.
8 For bodily exercise profiteth little; but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
8 Nam corporalis exercitatio paululum habet utilitatis; at pietas ad omnia utilis est, ut quæ promissiones habeat vitæ præsentis et futuræ.
9 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.
9 Fidelis sermo, dignusque qui modis omnibus approbetur.
10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
10 Nam in hoc et laboramus, et probris afficimur, quod spem fixam habemus in Deo vivente, qui servator est omnium hominum, maximè fidelium.
6. Exhibiting these things to the brethren.
By this expression he exhorts Timothy to mention those things frequently; and he afterwards repeats this a second and a third time; for they are things of such a nature as it is proper to call frequently to remembrance. And we ought to make the contrast which is implied; for the doctrine which he commends is here contrasted by him not with false or wicked doctrines, but with useless trifles which do not edify. He wishes that those trifles may be entirely buried in forgetfulness, when he enjoins Timothy to be earnest in exhibiting other things.
Thou shalt be a good minister.
Men frequently aim at something else than to approve themselves to Christ; and consequently many are desirous of being applauded for genius, eloquence, and profound knowledge. And that is the very reason why they pay less attention to necessary things, which do not tend to procure the admiration of the common people. But Paul enjoins Timothy to be satisfied with this alone, to be a faithful minister of Christ. And certainly we ought to look on this as a far more honourable title than to be a thousand times called seraphic and subtle doctors. Let us, therefore, remember, that as it is the highest honour of a godly pastor to be reckoned a good servant of Christ, so he ought to aim at nothing else during his whole ministry; for whoever has any other object in view, will have it in his power to obtain applause from men, but will not please God. Accordingly, that we may not be deprived of so great a blessing, let us learn to seek nothing else, and to account nothing so valuable, and to treat everything as worthless in comparison of this single object.
The Greek word ἐντρεφόμενος being a participle in the Middle Voice, might also have been translated in an active signification, nourishing; but as there is no noun governed by the verb, I think that this would be rather a forced construction; and, therefore, I prefer to take it in a passive sense, as confirming the preceding exhortation by the education of Timothy. As if he had said, “As thou hast been, from thy infancy, properly instructed in the faith, and, so to speak, hast sucked along with the milk sound doctrine, and hast made continual progress in it hitherto, endeavour, by faithful ministration, to prove that thou art such.” This meaning agrees also with the composition of the word ἐντρεφόμενος.
In the words of faith and of good doctrine.
Faith is here taken for the sum of Christian doctrine; and what he immediately adds, about good doctrine, is for the sake of explanation;1 for he means, that all other doctrines, how plausible soever they may be, are not at all profitable.
Which thou hast followed.
This clause denotes perseverance; for many who, from their childhood, had purely learned Christ, afterwards degenerate in process of time; and the Apostle says, that Timothy was very unlike these persons.
7. Exercise thyself to godliness.
After having instructed him as to doctrine, what it ought to be, he now also admonishes him what kind of example he ought to give to others. He says, that he ought to be employed in “godliness;” for, when he says, Exercise thyself, he means that this is his proper occupation, his labour, his chief care. As if he had said, “There is no reason why you should weary yourself to no purpose about other matters; you will do that which is of the highest importance, if you devote yourself, with all your zeal, and with all your ability, to godliness alone.” By the word godliness, he means the spiritual worship of God, which consists in purity of conscience; which is still more evident from what follows, when it is contrasted with bodily exercise.
8. For bodily exercise is of little profit.
By the exercise “of the body,” he does not mean that which lies in hunting, or in the race-course, or in wrestling, or in digging, or in the mechanical occupations; but he gives that name to all the outward actions that are undertaken, for the sake of religion, such as watchings, long fasts, lying on the earth, and such like. Yet he does not here censure the superstitious observance of those things; otherwise he would totally condemn them, as he does in the Epistle to the Colossians, (2:21,) but at present he only speaks slightingly of them, and says that they are of little advantage. So, then, though the heart be altogether upright, and the object proper, yet, in outward actions, Paul finds nothing that he can value highly.
This is a very necessary warning; for the world will always lean to the side of wishing to worship God by outward services; which is an exceedingly dangerous imagination. But—to say nothing about the wicked opinion of merit—our nature always disposes us strongly to attribute more than we ought to austerity of life; as if it were no ordinary portion of Christian holiness. A clearer view of this cannot be adduced, than the fact, that, shortly after the publication of this command, the whole world was ravished with immoderate admiration of the empty form of bodily exercises. Hence arose the order of monks and nuns, and nearly all the most excellent discipline of the ancient Church, or, at least, that part of it which was most highly esteemed by the common people. If the ancient monks had not dreamed that there was some indescribably divine or angelical perfection in their austere manner of living, they would never have pursued it with so much ardour. In like manner, if pastors had not attached undue value to the ceremonies which were then observed for the mortification of the flesh, they would never have been so rigid in exacting them. And what does Paul say on the other hand? That, when any one shall have laboured much and long in those exercises, the profit will be small and inconsiderable; for they are nothing but the rudiments of childish discipline.
But godliness is profitable for all things.
That is, “he who has godliness wants nothing, though he has not those little aids; for godliness alone is able to conduct a man to complete perfection. It is the beginning, the middle, and the end, of Christian life; and, therefore, where that is entire, nothing is imperfect. Christ did not lead so austere a manner of life as John the Baptist; was he, therefore, any whit inferior? Let the meaning be thus summed up. “We ought to apply ourselves altogether to piety alone; because, when we have once attained it, God asks nothing more from us; and we ought to give attention to bodily exercises in such a manner as not to hinder or retard the practice of godliness.”
Which hath the promises.
It is a very great consolation, that God does not wish the godly to be in want of anything; for, having made our perfection to consist in godliness, he now makes it the perfection of all happiness. As it is the beginning of happiness in this life, so he likewise extends to it the promise of divine grace, which alone makes us happy, and without which we are very miserable; for God testifies that, even in this life, he will be our Father.
But let us remember to distinguish between the good things of the present and of the future life; for God bestows kindness on us in this world, in order that he may give us only a taste of his goodness, and by such a taste may allure us to the desire of heavenly benefits, that in them we may find satisfaction. The consequence is, that the good things of the present life are not only mingled with very many afflictions, but, we may almost say, overwhelmed by them; for it is not expedient for us to have abundance in this world, lest we should indulge in luxury. Again, lest any one should found on this passage the merits of works, we ought to keep in mind what we have already said, that godliness includes not only a good conscience toward men, and the fear of God, but likewise faith and calling upon him.
9. This is a faithful saying.
He now sets down, at the conclusion of the argument, what he stated twice at the beginning of it; and he appears to do so expressly, because he will immediately subjoin the contrary objection. Yet it is not without good reason that he employs so strong an assertion; for it is a paradox strongly at variances with the feeling of the flesh, that God supplies his people, in this world, with everything that is necessary for a happy and joyful life; since they are often destitute of all good things, and, on that account, appear to be forsaken by God. Accordingly, not satisfied with the simple doctrine, he wards off all opposing temptations by this shield, and in this manner instructs believers to open the door to the grace of God, which our unbelief shuts out; for, undoubtedly if we were willing to receive God’s benefits,1 he would use greater liberality toward us.
10. For in this we both labour and suffer reproaches.
This is an anticipation by which he solves that question, “Are not believers the most miserable of all men, because they are oppressed by tribulations of every kind?” In order to show, therefore, that their condition must not be judged from outward appearance, he distinguishes them from others, first in the cause, and next in the result. Hence it follows, that they lose nothing of the promises which he has mentioned, when they are tried by adversity. The sum is, that believers are not miserable in afflictions, because a good conscience supports them, and a blessed and joyful end awaits them.
Now, since the happiness of the present life consists chiefly of two parts, honour and conveniences, he contrasts them with two evils, toils and reproach, meaning by the former words, inconveniences and annoyances of every kind, such as poverty, cold, nakedness, hunger, banishments, spoliations, imprisonments, scourgings, and other persecutions.
We have hope fixed on the living God.
This consolation refers to the cause; for so far are we from being miserable, when we suffer on account of righteousness, that it is rather a just ground of thanksgiving. Besides, our afflictions are accompanied by hope in the living God, and, what is more, hope may be regarded as the foundation; but it never maketh ashamed, (Rom. 5:5,) and therefore everything that happens to the godly ought to be reckoned a gain.
Who is the Saviour.
This is the second consolation, though it depends on the former; for the deliverance of which he speaks may be viewed as the fruit of hope. To make this more clear, it ought to be understood that this is an argument drawn from the less to the greater; for the word σωτὴρ is here a general term, and denotes one who defends and preserves. He means that the kindness of God extends to all men. And if there is no man who does not feel the goodness of God towards him, and who is not a partaker of it, how much more shall it be experienced by the godly, who hope in him? Will he not take peculiar care in them? Will he not more freely pour out his bounty on them? In a word, will he not, in every respect, keep them safe to the end?
11 These things command and teach.
11 Præcipe hæc et doce.
12 Let no man despise thy youth: but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
12 Nemo tuam juventutem despiciat; sed esto exemplar fidelium, in sermone, in conversatione, in caritate, in spiritu, in fide, in castitate.
13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
13 Donec venio, attende lectioni, exhortationi, doctrinæ.
14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
14 Ne donum, quod in te est, negligas, quod tibi datum est per prophetiam cum impositione manuum presbyterii.
15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all.
15 Hæc cura, in his esto; ut profectus tuus in omnibus manifestus flat.
16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
16 Attende tibi ipsi et doctrinæ, permane in his; hoc enim si feceris, et te ipsum servabis, et eos qui te audiunt.
11. Instruct and teach these things.
He means that the doctrine is of such a kind, that men ought not to be weary of it, though they heard it every day. There are, no doubt, other things to be taught; but there is emphasis in the demonstrative these; for it means that they are not things of small importance, of which it is enough to take a passing and brief notice; but, on the contrary, that they deserve to be repeated every day, because they cannot be too much inculcated. A prudent pastor ought, therefore, to consider what things are chiefly necessary, that he may dwell on them. Nor is there reason to dread that it shall become wearisome; for whosoever is of God will gladly hear frequently those things which need to be so often uttered.
12. Let no man despise thy youth.
He says this, both in regard to others, and to Timothy himself. As to others, he does not wish that the age of Timothy should prevent him from obtaining that reverence which he deserves, provided that, in other respects, he conduct himself as becomes a minister of Christ. And, at the same time, he instructs Timothy to supply by gravity of demeanour what is wanting in his age. As if he had said, “Take care that, by gravity of demeanour, thou procure for thyself so great reverence, that thy youthful age, which, in other respects lays one open to contempt, may take nothing from thy authority.” Hence we learn that Timothy was still young, though he held a place of distinguished excellence among many pastors; and that it is a grievous mistake to estimate by the number of years how much is due to a person.
But be an example of the believers.
He next informs him what are the true ornaments; not external marks, such as the crozier, the ring, the cloak, and such like trifles, or children’s rattles; but soundness of doctrine and holiness of life. When he says, by speech and conversation, the meaning is the same as if he had said, “by words and actions,” and therefore by the whole life.
Those which follow are parts of a godly conversation—charity, spirit, faith, chastity. By the word spirit, I understand ardour of zeal for God, if it be not thought better to interpret it more generally, to which I have no objection. Chastity is not merely contrasted with uncleanness, but denotes purity of the whole life. Hence we learn, that they act a foolish and absurd part, who complain that no honour is paid to them, while they have nothing about them that is worthy of applause, but, on the contrary, expose themselves to contempt, both by their ignorance, and by a detestable example of life, or by levity or other abominations. The only way of procuring reverence is, by excellent virtues, to guard ourselves against contempt.
13. Attend to reading.
He knew Timothy’s diligence, and yet he recommends to him diligent reading of the Scriptures. How shall pastors teach others if they be not eager to learn? And if so great a man is advised to study to make progress from day to day, how much more do we need such an advice? Woe then to the slothfulness of those who do not peruse the oracles of the Holy Spirit by day and night, in order to learn from them how to discharge their office!
Till I come.
This reference to the time gives additional weight to the exhortation; for, while Paul hoped that he would come soon, yet he was unwilling, meanwhile, that Timothy should remain unemployed even for a short time; how much more ought we to look forward diligently to our whole life!
To exhortation, to doctrine.
Lest it should be thought that careless reading was enough, he, at the same time, shews that it must be explained with a view to usefulness, when he enjoins him to give earnest attention “to doctrine and exhortation;” as if he enjoined him to learn in order to communicate to others. It is proper, also, to attend to this order, that he places reading before doctrine and exhortation; for, undoubtedly, the Scripture is the fountain of all wisdom, from which pastors must draw all that they place before their flock.
14. Neglect not the gift that is in thee.
The Apostle exhorts Timothy to employ, for the edification of the Church, that grace with which he was endued. God does not wish that talents—which he has bestowed on any one, that they may bring gain—should either be lost, or be hidden in the earth without advantage. (Matt. 25:18, 25.) To neglect a gift is carelessly to keep it unemployed through slothfulness, so that, having contracted rust, it is worn away without yielding any profit. Let each of us, therefore, consider what gift he possesses, that he may diligently apply it to use.
He says that grace was given to him by prophecy. How was this? It was because, as we have already said, the Holy Spirit marked out Timothy by revelation, that he might he admitted into the rank of pastors; for he had not only been chosen by the judgment of men, in the ordinary way, but had previously been named by the Spirit.
With the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
He says that it was conferred “with the laying on of hands;” by which he means, that, along with the ministry, he was also adorned with the necessary gifts. It was the custom and ordinary practice of the Apostles to ordain ministers “by the laying on of hands.” As to this ceremony, and its origin and meaning, I have formerly given a brief explanation of them, and the rest may be learned from the Institutes. (Book iv. chap. 3)
They who think that presbytery is here used as a collective noun, for “the college of presbyters or elders,”1 are, I think, correct in their opinion; although, after weighing the whole matter, I acknowledge that a different meaning is not inapplicable, that is, that presbytery or eldership—is the name of an office. He put the ceremony for the very act of ordination; and therefore the meaning is, that Timothy—having been called to the ministry by the voice of the prophets, and having afterwards been solemnly ordained—was, at the same time, endued with the grace of the Holy Spirit for the discharge of his office. Hence we infer that it was not a useless ceremony, because God, by his Spirit, accomplished that consecration which men expressed symbolically “by the laying on of hands.”
15. Take heed to these things.
The greater the difficulty in faithfully discharging the ministry of the Church, so much the more ought a pastor to apply himself earnestly, and with his whole might; and that not only for a short time, but with unfailing perseverance.3 Paul therefore reminds Timothy that this work leaves no room for indolence, or for slackening his labours, but demands the utmost industry and constant application.
That thy profiting may be manifest.
By adding these words, he means, that he ought to labour to this purpose, that by his agency the edification of the Church may be more and more advanced, and that corresponding results may be visible; for it is not the work of a single day, and therefore he should strive to make daily progress. Some refer this to Timothy, that he may profit more and more; but I choose rather to interpret it as referring to the effect of his ministry.
The Greek words, ἐν πᾶσιν, may either be translated, to all men, or, in all things. There will thus be a twofold meaning; either, “that all may see the progress which springs from his labours,” or, “that in all respects, or in every possible way, (which is the same thing,) they may be visible.” I prefer the latter view.
16. Give heed to thyself, and to the doctrine.
There are two things of which a good pastor should be careful; to be diligent in teaching, and to keep himself pure.1 It is not enough if he frame his life to all that is good and commendable, and guard against giving a bad example, if he do not likewise add to a holy life continual diligence in teaching; and, on the other hand, doctrine will be of little avail, if there be not a corresponding goodness and holiness of life. With good reason, therefore, does Paul urge Timothy to “give heed,” both to himself personally, and to doctrine, for the general advantage of the Church. On the other hand, he commends his constancy, that he may never grow weary; for there are many things that frequently happen, which may lead us aside from the right course, if we do not set our foot firmly to resist.
If thou shalt do these things, thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.
It is no ordinary spur to excite the thoughtfulness of pastors, when they learn that their own salvation, as well as that of the people, depends on the industry and perseverance with which they devote themselves to their office. And as doctrine, which solidly edifies, is commonly attended by little display, Paul says that he ought to consider what is profitable. As if he had said, “Let men who are desirous of glory be fed by their ambition, let them applaud themselves for their ingenuity; to you, let it be enough to devote yourself to your own salvation and that of the people.”
Now, this exhortation applies to the whole body of the Church, that they may not take offence at the simplicity which both quickens souls and preserves them in health. Nor ought they to think it strange that Paul ascribes to Timothy the work of saving the Church; for, certainly, all that is gained to God is saved, and it is by the preaching of the gospel that we are gathered to Christ. And as the unfaithfulness or carelessness of the pastor is ruinous to the Church, so the cause of salvation is justly ascribed to his faithfulness and diligence. True, it is God alone that saves; and not even the smallest portion of his glory can lawfully be bestowed on men. But God parts with no portion of his glory when he employs the agency of men for bestowing salvation.
Our salvation is, therefore, the gift of God alone, because from him alone it proceeds, and by his power alone it is performed; and therefore, to him alone, as the author, it must be ascribed. But the ministry of men is not on that account excluded, nor does all this interfere with the salutary tendency of that government on which, as Paul shews, the prosperity of the Church depends. (Eph. 4:11.) Moreover, this is altogether the work of God, because it is he who forms good pastors, and guides them by his Spirit, and blesses their labour, that it may not be ineffectual.
If thus a good pastor is the salvation of his hearers, let bad and careless men know that their destruction must be ascribed to those who have the charge of them; for, as the salvation of the flock is the crown of the pastor, so from careless pastors all that perishes will be required. Again, a pastor is said to save himself, when, by faithfully discharging the office committed to him, he serves his calling; not only because he avoids that terrible vengeance which the Lord threatens by Ezekiel,—“His blood will I require at thy hand,” (Ezek. 33:8,) but because it is customary to speak of believers as performing their salvation when they walk and persevere in the course of their salvation. Of this mode of expression we have spoken in our exposition of the Epistle to the Philippians, (2:12.)
John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon,