1st TIMOTHY CHAPTER 6
1 Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.
1 Quicunque sub jugo sunt servi, suos dominos omni honore dignos existiment; ut ne Dei nomen et doctrina blasphemetur.
2 And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.
2 Qui autem fideles habent dominos, ne despiciant eò quòd fratres sunt; sed magis serviant, quòd fideles sint et dilecti, et beneficentiæ participes. Hæc doce, et exhortare.
It appears that, at the beginning of the gospel, slaves cheered their hearts, as if the signal had been given for their emancipation; for Paul labours hard, in all his writings, to repress that desire; and indeed the condition of slavery was so hard that we need not wonder that it was exceedingly hateful. Now, it is customary to seize, for the advantage of the flesh, everything that has the slightest appearance of being in our favour. Thus when they were told that we are all brethren, they instantly concluded that it was unreasonable that they should be the slaves of brethren. But although nothing of all this had come into their mind, still wretched men are always in need of consolation, that may allay the bitterness of their afflictions. Besides, they could not without difficulty be persuaded to bend their necks, willingly and cheerfully, to so harsh a yoke. Such, then, is the object of the present doctrine.
1. They who are slaves under the yoke.
Owing to the false opinion of his own excellence which every person entertains, there is no one who patiently endures that others should rule over him. They who cannot avoid the necessity do, indeed, reluctantly obey those who are above them; but inwardly they fret and rage, because they think that they suffer wrong. The Apostle cuts off, by a single word, all disputes of this kind, by demanding that all who live “under the yoke” shall submit to it willingly. He means that they must not inquire whether they deserve that lot or a better one; for it is enough that they are bound to this condition.
When he enjoins them to esteem worthy of all honour the masters whom they serve, he requires them not only to be faithful and diligent in performing their duties, but to regard and sincerely respect them as persons placed in a higher rank than themselves. No man renders either to a prince or to a master what he owes to them, unless, looking at the eminence to which God has raised them, he honours them, because he is subject to them; for, however unworthy of it they may often be, still that very authority which God bestows on them always entitles them to honour. Besides, no one willingly renders service or obedience to his master, unless he is convinced that he is bound to do so. Hence it follows, that subjection begins with that honour of which Paul wishes that they who rule should be accounted worthy.
That the name and doctrine of God may not be blasphemed.
We are always too ingenious in our behalf. Thus slaves, who have unbelieving masters, are ready enough with the objection, that it is unreasonable that they who serve the devil should have dominion over the children of God. But Paul throws back the argument to the opposite side, that they ought to obey unbelieving masters, in order that the name of God and the gospel may not be evil spoken of; as if God, whom we worship, incited us to rebellion, and as if the gospel rendered obstinate and disobedient those who ought to be subject to others.
2. Who have believing masters.
The name of brother may be thought to constitute equality, and consequently to take away dominion. Paul argues, on the contrary, that slaves ought the more willingly to subject themselves to believing masters, because they acknowledge them to be children of God, and are bound to them by brotherly love, and are partakers of the same grace. It is no small honour, that God has made them equal to earthly lords, in that which is of the highest importance; for they have the same adoption in common with them; and therefore this ought to be no slight inducement to bear slavery with patience.
They are believers and beloved.
It is an additional argument, that slavery is much more easily endured under mild lords, who love us, and whom we love in return. There is also the bond of faith which binds very closely together those who are of different conditions.
These things teach and exhort.
He means that these are matters on the teaching of which he ought to dwell largely, and wishes that doctrine should be accompanied by exhortations. It is as if he had said, that this kind of instruction ought to be daily repeated, and that men need not only to be taught, but likewise to be roused and urged by frequent exhortations.
3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
3 Si quis aliter (vel, alia) docet, nec acquiescit sanis sermonibus Domini nostri Iesu Christi, et ei quæ secundum pietatem est doctrinæ,
4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
4 Inflatus est, nihil sciens, sed languens circa quæstiones et pugnas verborum, ex quibus oritur invidia, contentio, maledicentiæ, suspiciones malæ,
5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
5 Supervacuæ conflictationes hominum mente corruptorum, et qui veritate privati sunt, existimantium quæstum esse pietatem; sejunge te a talibus.
3. If any one teacheth differently.
The word ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖ, being a compound, may also, not improperly, be translated, teacheth other things. Yet there is no ambiguity as to the meaning; for he condemns all those who do not agree with this manner of teaching, although they do not openly and avowedly oppose sound doctrine. It is possible that he who does not profess any wicked or open error may yet, by endeavouring to insinuate himself by means of silly babbling, corrupt the doctrine of godliness; for, when there is no progress, and no edification in the doctrine itself, there is already a departure from the ordinance of Christ. Now although Paul does not speak of the avowed supporters of wicked doctrines, but of vain and irreligious teachers, who, by their ambition or covetousness, disfigure the plain and simple doctrine of godliness, yet we see with what sharpness and severity he attacks them. Nor need we wonder at this; for it is almost impossible to tell how much injury is done by preaching that is hypocritical and altogether framed for the purposes of ostentation and of idle display. But who they are that are blamed by him, appears more clearly from what immediately follows—
And consenteth not to sound words.
This clause is intended to explain the former. It frequently happens that such men as are here described, carried away by foolish curiosity, despise everything that is useful and solid, and thus indulge in wanton freaks, like unruly horses. And what is this but to reject the sound words of Christ? for they are called “sound” or “healthful,” because they give health to us, or are fitted to promote it.
And to the doctrine which is according to godliness.
This has the same meaning with the former clause; for the “doctrine” will not be consistent with “godliness,” if it do not instruct us in the fear and worship of God, if it do not edify our faith, if it do not train us to patience, humility, and all the duties of that love which we owe to our fellowmen. Whoever, therefore, does not strive to teach usefully, does not teach as he ought to do; and not only so, but that doctrine is neither godly nor sound, whatever may be the brilliancy of its display, that does not tend to the profit of the hearers.
4. He is puffed up, knowing nothing.
Such persons Paul first charges with pride, foolish and empty pride. Next, because no punishment can be imagined that is better adapted to chastise ambitious persons than to declare that all that they delight in proves their ignorance, Paul pronounces that they know nothing, though they are swelled with many subtleties; for they have nothing that is solid, but mere wind. At the same time, he instructs all believers not to be carried away by that windy ostentation, but to remain steadfast in the simplicity of the gospel.
But languishing after questions and debates of words.
There is an indirect contrast between “the soundness of the doctrine of Christ,” and that “languishing;” for, when they have wearied themselves much and long with ingenious questions, what advantage do they reap from their labour, but that the disease continually grows? Thus not only do they consume their strength to no purpose, but their foolish curiosity begets this languishing; and hence it follows, that they are very far from profiting aright, as the disciples of Christ ought to do.
Not without reason does the Apostle connect “questions and disputes of words;” for by the former term he does not mean every kind of questions, which either arise from a sober and moderate desire to learn, or contribute to clear explanation of useful things, but to such questions as are agitated, in the present day, in the schools of the Sorbonne, for displaying acuteness of intellect. There one question gives rise to another; for there is no limit to them, when every person, desiring to know more than is proper, indulges his vanity; and hence, there afterwards arise innumerable quarrels. As the thick clouds, during hot weather, are not dispelled without thunder, so those thorny questions must burst into disputes.
He gives the name λογομαχίας (logomachies, or disputes about words) to contentious disputes about words rather than things, or, as it is commonly expressed, without substance or foundation; for if any person carefully inquire what sort of contentions are burning among the sophists, he will perceive that they do not arise from realities, but are framed out of nothing. In a word, Paul intended to condemn all questions which sharpen us for disputes that are of no value.
From which arises envy.
He demonstrates from the effects how much an ambitious desire of knowledge ought to be avoided; for ambition is the mother of envy. Where envy reigns, there also rage brawlings, contentions, and other evils, which are here enumerated by Paul.
5. Of men corrupt in understanding, and that are destitute of the truth. It is certain that here he censures the sophists, who, neglecting edification, turn the word of God into trivial distinctions, and an art of ingenious discussion.
If the Apostle only shewed that the doctrine of salvation is thus rendered useless, even that would be an intolerable profanation; but far heavier and fiercer is that reproof, when he says that evils so pernicious, and plagues so hurtful, spring from it. From this passage, therefore, let us learn to detest (σοφιστικὴν) sophistry as a thing more destructive to the Church of God than can easily be believed.
That godliness is gain.
The meaning is, that godliness is a gainful art; that is, because they measure the whole of Christianity by gain. Just as if the oracles of the Holy Spirit had been recorded with no other design than to serve the purposes of their covetousness, they traffic in it as merchandise exposed to sale.
Withdraw thyself from such.
Paul forbids the servants of Christ to have any intercourse with such persons. He not only warns Timothy not to resemble them, but exhorts him to avoid them as dangerous plagues; for, although they do not openly resist the gospel, but, on the contrary, make a false profession of adhering to it, yet their society is infectious. Besides, if the multitude see that we are on familiar terms with those men, the danger is, lest they insinuate themselves under the guise of our friendship.1 We should, therefore, labour to the utmost, that all may know, that so far are we from being agreed with them, that they have no communication with us.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
6 Est autem quæstus magnus pietas cum sufficientia.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
7 Nihil enim intulimus in mundum; certum quòd neque efferre quicquam possumus.
8 And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.
8 Habentes autem alimenta et tegmina, his contenti erimus.
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
9 Nam qui volunt ditescere incidunt in tentationem et laqueum, et stupiditates multas et noxias, quæ demergunt homines in exitium et interitum.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
10 Radix enim omnium malorum est avaritia; cui addicti quidam aberrarunt a fide, et se ipsos implicuerunt doloribus multis.
6. But godliness with sufficiency is great gain.
In an elegant manner, and with an ironical correction, he instantly throws back those very words in an opposite meaning, as if he had said—“They do wrong and wickedly, who make merchandise of the doctrine of Christ, as if ‘godliness were gain;’ though, undoubtedly, if we form a correct estimate of it, godliness is a great and abundant gain.” And he so calls it, because it brings to us full and perfect blessedness. Those men, therefore, are guilty of sacrilege, who, being bent on acquiring money, make godliness contribute to their gain.1 But for our part, godliness is a very great gain to us, because, by means of it, we obtain the benefit, not only of being heirs of the world, but likewise of enjoying Christ and all his riches.
This may refer either to the disposition of the heart, or to the thing itself. If it be understood as referring to the heart, the meaning will be, that “godly persons, when they desire nothing, but are satisfied with their humble condition, have obtained very great gain.” If we understand it to be “sufficiency” of wealth, (and, for my own part, I like this view quite as well as the other,) it will be a promise, like that in the book of Psalms, “The lions wander about hungry and famished; but they that seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.” (Ps. 34:10.) The Lord is always present with his people, and, as far as is sufficient for their necessity, out of his fulness he bestows on each his portion. Thus true happiness consists in piety; and this sufficiency may be regarded as an increase of gain.
7. For we brought nothing into the world.
He adds this for the purpose of setting a limit to the sufficiency. Our covetousness is an insatiable gulf, if it be not restrained; and the best bridle is, when we desire nothing more than the necessity of this life demands; for the reason why we transgress the bounds, is, that our anxiety extends to a thousand lives which we falsely imagine. Nothing is more common, and indeed nothing is more generally acknowledged, than this statement of Paul; but as soon as all have acknowledged it, (as we see every day with our eyes,) every man swallows up with his wishes his vast possessions, in the same manner as if he had a belly able to contain half of the world. And this is what is said, that, “although the folly of the fathers appears in hoping that they will dwell here for ever, nevertheless their posterity approve of their way.” (Ps. 49:13.) In order, therefore, that we may be satisfied with a sufficiency, let us learn to have our heart so regulated, as to desire nothing but what is necessary for supporting life.
8. Having food and raiment.
When he mentions food and raiment, he excludes luxuries and overflowing abundance; for nature is content with a little, and all that goes beyond the natural use is superfluous. Not that to use them more largely ought to be condemned on its own account, but lusting after them is always sinful.
9. They who wish to be rich.
After having exhorted him to be content, and to despise riches, he now explains how dangerous is the desire of having them, and especially in the ministers of the Church, of whom he expressly speaks in this passage. Now the cause of the evils, which the Apostle here enumerates, is not riches, but an eager desire of them, even though the person should be poor. And here Paul shews not only what generally happens, but what must always happen; for every man that has resolved to become rich gives himself up as a captive to the devil. Most true is that saying of the heathen poet,—“He who is desirous of becoming rich is also desirous of acquiring riches soon.” Hence it follows, that all who are violently desirous of acquiring wealth rush headlong.
Hence also those foolish, or rather, mad desires, which at length plunge them into perdition.
This is, indeed, a universal evil; but in the pastors of the Church it is more easily seen; for they are so maddened by avarice, that they stick at nothing, however foolish, whenever the glitter of gold or silver dazzles their eyes.
10. For the root of all evils is avarice.
There is no necessity for being too scrupulous in comparing other vices with this. It is certain that ambition and pride often produce worse fruits than covetousness does; and yet ambition does not proceed from covetousness. The same thing may be said of the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment. But Paul’s intention was not to include under covetousness every kind of vices that can be named. What then? He simply meant, that innumerable evils arise from it; just as we are in the habit of saying, when we speak of discord, or gluttony, or drunkenness, or any other vice of that kind, that there is no evil which it does not produce. And, indeed, we may most truly affirm, as to the base desire of gain, that there is no kind of evils that is not copiously produced by it every day; such as innumerable frauds, falsehoods, perjury, cheating, robbery, cruelty, corruption in judicature, quarrels, hatred, poisonings, murders; and, in short, almost every sort of crime.
Statements of this nature occur everywhere in heathen writers; and, therefore, it is improper that those persons who would applaud Horace or Ovid, when speaking in that manner, should complain of Paul as having used extravagant language. I wish it were not proved by daily experience, that this is a plain description of facts as they really are. But let us remember that the same crimes which spring from avarice, may also arise, as they undoubtedly do arise, either from ambition, or from envy, or from other sinful dispositions.
Which some eagerly desiring.
The Greek word ὀρεγόμενοι is overstrained, when the Apostle says that avarice is “eagerly desired;” but it does not obscure the sense. He affirms that the most aggravated of all evils springs from avarice—revolting from the faith; for they who are diseased with this disease are found to degenerate gradually, till they entirely renounce the faith. Hence those sorrows, which he mentions; by which term I understand frightful torments of conscience, which are wont to befall men past all hope; though God has other methods of trying covetous men, by making them their own tormentors.
11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
11 Tu vero, o homo Dei, hæc fuge; sectare vero justitiam, pietatem, fidem, caritatem, patientiam, mansuetudinem.
12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
12 Certa bonum certamen fidei; apprehende vitam æternam, ad quam etiam vocatus es, et confessus bonam confessionem coram multis testibus.
13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession,
13 Denuntio (vel, prœcipio) tibi coram Deo qui vivificat omnia, et Christo Iesu, qui testificatus est bonam confessionem coram Pontio Pilato,
14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:
14 Ut serves mandatum immaculatus et irreprehensibilis, usque ad revelationem Domini nostri Iesu Christi;
15 Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;
15 Quam suis temporibus manifestabit beatus et solus princeps, Rex regnantium et Dominus dominantium,
16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.
16 Qui solus habet immortalitatem, qui lumen habitat inaccessum, quern vidit nullus hominum, nee videre potest, cui honor et potentia æterna (vel, imperium œternum.) Amen.
11. But thou, O man of God, flee these things.
By calling him man of God he adds weight to the exhortation. If it be thought proper to limit to the preceding verse the injunction which he gives to follow righteousness, piety, faith, patience, this is an instruction which he gives, by contrast, for correcting avarice, by informing him what kind of riches he ought to desire, namely, spiritual riches. Yet this injunction may also be extended to other clauses, that Timothy, withdrawing himself from all vanity, may avoid that (περιεργίαν) vain curiosity which he condemned a little before; for he who is earnestly employed about necessary employments will easily abstain from those which are superfluous. He names, by way of example, some kinds of virtues, under which we may suppose others to be included. Consequently, every person who shall be devoted to the pursuit of “righteousness,” and who shall aim at “piety, faith, charity,” and shall follow patience and gentleness, cannot but abhor avarice and its fruits.1
12. Fight the good fight of faith.
In the next epistle he says, “He who hath become a soldier doth not entangle himself with matters inconsistent with his calling.” (2 Tim. 2:4.) In like manner, in order to withdraw Timothy from excessive solicitude about earthly things, he reminds him that he must “fight;” for carelessness and self-indulgence arise from this cause, that the greater part wish to serve Christ at ease, and as if it were pastime, whereas Christ calls all his servants to warfare.
For the purpose of encouraging him to fight such a fight courageously, he calls it good; that is, successful, and therefore not to be shunned; for, if earthly soldiers do not hesitate to fight, when the result is doubtful, and when there is a risk of being killed,1 how much more bravely ought we to do battle under the guidance and banner of Christ, when we are certain of victory? More especially, since a reward awaits us, not such as other generals are wont to give to their soldiers, but a glorious immortality and heavenly blessedness; it would certainly be disgraceful that we, who have such a hope held out to us, should grow weary or give way. And that is what he immediately afterwards adds,
Lay hold on eternal life.
As if he had said, “God calls thee to eternal life, and therefore, despising the world, strive to obtain it.” When he commands them to “lay hold on it,” he forbids them to pause or slacken in the middle of their course; as if he had said, that “nothing has been done, till we have obtained the life to come, to which God invites us.” In like manner, he affirms that he strives to make progress, because he has not yet laid hold. (Philip. 3:12.)
To which also thou hast been called.
Because men would run at random, and to no purpose, if they had not God as the director of their course, for the purpose of promoting their cheerful activity, he mentions also the calling; for there is nothing that ought to animate us with greater courage than to learn that we have been “called” by God; for we conclude from this, that our labour, which God directs, and in which he stretches out his hand to us, will not be fruitless. Besides, to have rejected the calling of God would be a disgraceful reproach; and, therefore, this ought to be a very powerful excitement: “God calls thee to eternal life; beware of being drawn aside to anything else, or of falling short in any way, before thou hast attained it.”
And hast confessed a good confession.
By mentioning his former life, the Apostle excites him still more to persevere; for to give way, after having begun well, is more disgraceful than never to have begun. To Timothy, who had hitherto acted valiantly, and had obtained applause, he addresses this powerful argument, that the latter end should correspond to the beginning. By the word confession I understand not that which is expressed in words, but rather what is actually performed; and that not in a single instance merely, but throughout his whole ministry. The meaning therefore is: “Thou hast many witnesses of thy illustrious confession, both at Ephesus and in other countries, who have beheld thee acting faithfully and sincerely in the profession of the gospel; and, therefore, having given such a proof of fidelity, thou canst not, without the greatest shame and disgrace, shew thyself to be anything else than a distinguished soldier of Christ.” By this passage we are taught in general, that the more any of us excels, the less excusable is he if he fail, and the stronger are his obligations to God to persevere in the right course.
13. I charge thee.
The great vehemence of solemn appeal, which Paul employs, is a proof how rare and hard a virtue it is, to persevere in the ministry, in a proper manner, till the end; for, although he exhorts others, in the person of Timothy, yet he addresses him also.
Before God, who quickeneth all things.
What he affirms concerning Christ and concerning God, has an immediate relation to the present subject; for, when he ascribes this to God, that he quickeneth all things, he wishes to meet the offence of the cross, which presents to us nothing but the appearance of death. He therefore means, that we should shut our eyes, when ungodly men hold out and threaten death; or rather, that we should fix our eyes on God alone, because it is he who restoreth the dead to life. The amount of the whole is, that, turning away our gaze from the world, we should learn to look at God alone.
And Christ Jesus, who testified a good confession before Pontius Pilate.
What he now adds about Christ contains a remarkable confirmation; for we are taught, that we are not in the school of Plato, to learn philosophy from him, and to hear him discoursing in the shade about idle disputes; but that the doctrine which Timothy professes was ratified by the death of the Son of God. Christ made his confession before Pilate, not in a multitude of words, but in reality; that is, by undergoing a voluntary death; for, although Christ chose to be silent before Pilate, rather than speak in his own defence, because he had come thither—devoted already to a certain condemnation; yet in his silence there was a defence of his doctrine not less magnificent than if he had defended himself with a loud voice. He ratified it by his blood, and by the sacrifice of his death, better than he could have ratified it by his voice.
This confession the Apostle calls good. For Socrates also died; and yet his death was not a satisfactory proof of the doctrine which he held. But when we hear that the blood of the Son of God was shed, that is an authentic seal which removes all our doubt. Accordingly, whenever our hearts waver, let us remember that we should always go to the death of Christ for confirmation. What cowardice would there be in deserting such a leader going before us to show us the way!
14. That thou keep the commandment.
By the word commandment he means all that he hath hitherto said about the office of Timothy, the sum of which was, that he should show himself to be a faithful minister to Christ and to the Church. What is the use of extending this to the whole law? But perhaps it will be thought preferable to view it as denoting the office which he had received by divine authority; for we are appointed to be ministers of the Church on no other condition than this, that God enjoins upon us whatever he wishes us to do. Thus to “keep the commandment” would be nothing else than to discharge honestly the office committed to him. I certainly view it as referring altogether to the ministry of Timothy.
Spotless and unblameable.
Whether we consider the case or the termination2 of the two Greek adjectives which are thus translated, they may apply either to the commandment given, or to the person of Timothy; but the meaning which I have assigned is much more appropriate. Paul informs Timothy, that he must be careful to maintain holiness of life and purity of morals, if he wish to discharge his office in a proper manner.
Till the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is impossible to tell how necessary it was to all the godly, at that time, to have their mind entirely fixed on the day of Christ; because innumerable offences existed everywhere in the world. They were assailed on every hand, were universally hated and abhorred, were exposed to the mockeries of all, were oppressed every day with new calamities; and yet they saw no fruit of so many toils and annoyances. What then remained, but that in thought they should fly away to that blessed day of our redemption?
Yet the same reason is in force with regard to us in the present day, and indeed applies equally to almost every age. How many things does Satan constantly present to our eyes, which, but for this, would a thousand times draw us aside from the right course! I say nothing about fires, and swords, and banishments, and all the furious attacks of enemies. I say nothing about slanders and other vexations. How many things are within, that are far worse! Ambitious men openly attack us, Epicureans and Lucianists jeer at us, impudent men provoke us, hypocrites murmur at us, they who are wise after the flesh secretly bite us, we are harassed by various methods in every direction. In short, it is a great miracle that any man perseveres steadfastly in an office so difficult and so dangerous. The only remedy for all these difficulties is, to cast our eyes towards the appearing of Christ, and to keep them fixed on it continually.
15. Which in his seasons he will show.
We are commonly hasty in our wishes, and not far from prescribing a day and hour to God, as if we should say, that he must not delay to perform anything that he has promised; and for that reason the Apostle takes an early opportunity of restraining excessive haste, by expecting the coming of Christ. For that is the meaning of the words, “Which in his seasons he will show.” When men know that the proper time for anything is not fully come, they wait for it more patiently. How comes it that we are so patient in bearing with the order of nature, but because we are restrained by this consideration, that we shall act unreasonably, if we struggle against it with our desires? Thus we know, that the revelation of Christ has its appointed time, for which we must wait patiently.
The blessed and only Prince.
Those splendid titles are here employed in exalting the princely authority of God, in order that the brilliancy of the princes of this world may not dazzle our eyes. And such instruction was, at that time, especially necessary; for by how much all kingdoms were then great and powerful, by so much were the majesty and glory of God thrown into the shade. For all that governed the kingdoms of the world not only were deadly enemies of the kingdom of God, but proudly mocked at God, and trampled his sacred name under their feet; and the greater the haughtiness with which they despised true religion, the more happy did they imagine themselves to be. From such an aspect of things who would not have concluded that God was miserably vanquished and oppressed? We see to what a pitch of insolence Cicero rises against the Jews on account of their humbled condition, in his oration for Flaccus.
When good men see that the wicked are puffed up with prosperity, they are sometimes cast down; and therefore Paul, for the purpose of withdrawing the eyes of the godly from that transitory splendour, ascribes to God alone “blessedness, principality, and kingly power.” When he calls God the only prince, he does not overthrow civil government, as if there ought to be no magistrates or kings in the world, but means that it is He alone who reigns from himself and from his own power. This is evident from what follows, which he adds by way of exposition,—
King of kings, and Lord of lords. The sum of it is, that all the governments of the world are subject to his dominion, depend upon him, and stand or fall at his bidding; but that the authority of God is beyond all comparison, because all the rest are nothing as compared with his glory, and while they fade and quickly perish, his authority will endure for ever.
16. Who alone hath immortality.
Paul labours to demonstrate that there is no happiness, no dignity or excellence, no life, out of God. Accordingly, he now says that God alone is immortal, in order to inform us, that we and all the creatures do not, strictly speaking, live, but only borrow life from Him. Hence it follows that, when we look up to God as the fountain of immortal life, we should reckon this present life as of no value.
But it is objected, that the human soul and angels have their immortality, and therefore this cannot be truly affirmed of God alone. I reply, when it is said, that God alone possesses immortality, it is not here denied that he bestows it, as he pleases, on any of his creatures. The meaning is the same as if Paul had said, that God alone not only is immortal from himself and from his own nature, but has immortality in his power; so that it does not belong to creatures, except so far as he imparts to them power and vigour; for if you take away the power of God which is communicated to the soul of man, it will instantly fade away; and the same thing may be said about angels. Strictly speaking, therefore, immortality does not subsist in the nature of souls or of angels, but comes from another source, namely, from the secret inspiration of God, agreeably to that saying, “In him we live, and move, and are.” (Acts 17:28.) If any one wish to have a larger and more acute discussion of this subject, let him consult the twelfth book of Augustine “On the City of God.”
Who inhabiteth unapproachable light.
He means two things, that God is concealed from us, and yet that the cause of obscurity is not in himself, as if he were hidden in darkness, but in ourselves, who, on account of the weak vision, or rather the dulness of our understanding, cannot approach to his light. We must understand that the light of God is unapproachable, if any one endeavour to approach to it in his own strength; for, if God did not open up the entrance to us by his grace, the prophet would not say: “They who draw near to him are enlightened.” (Ps. 34:5.) Yet it is true that, while we are surrounded by this mortal flesh, we never penetrate so far into the deepest secrets of God as to have nothing hidden from us; for “we know in part, and we see as by a mirror, and in a riddle.” (1 Cor. 13:9–12.) By faith, therefore, we enter into the light of God, but only in part. Still it is true, that it is a “light unapproachable” by man.
Whom no man hath seen or can see.
This is added for the sake of additional explanation, that men may learn to look by faith to him, whom they cannot see with the bodily eyes, or even with the powers of their understanding; for I view this as referring not only to the bodily eyes, but also to the faculties of the soul. We must always consider what is the Apostle’s design. It is difficult for us to overlook and disregard all those things of which we have immediate vision, that we may endeavour to come to God, who is nowhere to be seen. For this thought always comes into our mind: “How knowest thou if there is a God, seeing that thou only hearest that he is, and dost not see him?” The Apostle fortifies us against this danger, by affirming that it ought not to be judged according to our senses, because it exceeds our capacity; for the reason why we do not see is, that our sight is not so keen as to ascend to so great a height.
There is a long dispute in Augustine on this point, because it appears to contradict what is said, in the first Epistle, “Then shall we see him as he is, because we shall be like him.” (1 John 3:2.) While he reasons on this subject in many passages, there appears to me to be none in which he explains it more clearly than in the letter which he writes to the widow Paulina.
So far as relates to the meaning of the present passage, the answer is easy, that we cannot see God in this nature, as it is said elsewhere, “Flesh and blood shall not possess the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 15:50.) We must be renewed, that we may be like God, before it be granted to us to see him. And that our curiosity may not be beyond measure, let us always remember, that the manner of living is of more importance in this inquiry than the manner of speaking. At the same time, let us remember the judicious caution which Augustine gives us, to be on our guard lest, while we are keenly disputing how God can be seen, we lose both peace and sanctification, without which no man can ever see God.
17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
17 Iis, qui divites sunt in hoc sæculo, præcipe (vel, denuntia) ne efferantur, neve sperent in divitiarum incertitudine, sed in Deo vivo, qui abundè suppeditat omnia ad fruendum;
18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;
18 Ut benefaciant, ut divites sint in operibus bonis, faciles ad largiendum (vel, ad communicationem,) libenter communicantes,
19 Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
19 Recondentes sibi ipsis fundamentum bonum in posterum, ut vitam æternam apprehendant.
20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:
20 O Timothee, depositum custodi, devitans profanas clamorum inanitates, vaniloquia et oppositiones falsò nominatæ scientiæ.
21 Which some professing, have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.
21 Quam quidam profitentes aberrarunt a fide. Gratia tecum. Amen.
The first to Timothy was written from Laodicea, which is the chiefest city of Phrygia Pacatiana.
Ad Timotheum prima missa fuit ex Laodicea, quæ est metropolis Phrygiæ Pacatianæ.
17. Command (or charge) those who are rich.
There being many among Christians who were poor and in a mean condition, it is probable that they were despised (as usually happens) by the rich; and especially this might be common at Ephesus, which was a wealthy city; for in such cities, for the most part, pride is more extensively prevalent. And hence we infer how dangerous is a great abundance of riches. Nor are there wanting good reasons why Paul addresses so severe an admonition to the rich; but it is for the purpose of remedying faults which almost always follow riches in the same manner as the shadow follows the body; and that through the depravity of our natural disposition, for out of the gifts of God we always draw an occasion for sinning.
That they be not haughty, nor hope in the uncertainty of riches.
He expressly mentions two things against which rich men ought to be on their guard, pride and deceitful hope, of which the former springs from the latter. Accordingly, Paul appears to have added, in the same place, “nor hope in the uncertainty of riches,” in order to point out the source of all pride. For whence comes it, that rich men grow insolent, and take extreme delight in despising others, but because they imagine that they are supremely happy? Vain confidence goes first, and then arrogance follows.
Rich in this world.
When Paul wishes to correct those faults, be first speaks contemptuously of riches; for the phrase, in this world, is intended to lower them in our esteem. All that is in the world has the taste of its nature; so that it is fading, and quickly passes away. The uncertainty and vanity of the hope that is placed in riches are shewn by him from this consideration, that the possession of thorn is so transitory that it is like a thing unknown; for, while we think that we hold them, they slip out of our hands in a moment. How foolish is it, therefore, to place our hope in them!
But in the living God.
He who understands this will find no difficulty in withdrawing his hope from riches; for, if it is God alone who supplies us with everything for the necessary purposes of life, we transfer to riches what is his prerogative, when we place hope in them. Now observe that there is an implied contrast, when he affirms that God giveth abundantly to all. The meaning is, that, although we have a full and overflowing abundance of all things, yet we have nothing but from the blessing of God alone; for it is that blessing alone which imparts to us all that is needful.
Hence it follows, that they are egregiously mistaken, who rely on riches, and do not depend entirely on the blessing of God, in which consists a sufficiency of food and of everything else. Hence also we conclude, that we are forbidden to trust in riches, not only because they belong to the use of mortal life, but likewise because they are nothing but smoke; for we are fed, not by bread only, but by the blessing of God. (Deut. 8:3.)1
When he says πλουσίως εἰς ἀπόλαυσιν, abundantly for enjoyment, he describes how kind God is to us, and even to all men, and to the brute beasts; for his kindness extends far and wide beyond our necessity. (Ps. 36:6.)
18. To do good.
He adds another remedy to the former, for correcting the sinful dispositions of rich men, by stating authoritatively what is the lawful use of riches; for the richer any man is, the more abundant are his means of doing good to others; and because we are always more tardy than we ought to be in giving to the poor, he employs many words in commendation of that virtue.
19. Laying up for themselves a good foundation.
Besides, he adds an incitement drawn from the promise of a reward; that, by bestowing and communicating, they will procure for themselves a better treasure than they can have on earth. By the word foundation he means a firm and lasting duration; for the spiritual riches which we “lay up for ourselves” in heaven, are not exposed to the ravages of worms or thieves, (Matt. 6:20,) or fires, but continue always to be placed beyond all danger. On the contrary, nothing on earth is solidly founded; but everything may be said to be in a floating condition.
The inference drawn by Papists from this passage, that we therefore obtain eternal life by the merit of good works, is excessively frivolous. It is true that God accepts as given to himself everything that is bestowed on the poor. (Matt. 25:40.) But even the most perfect hardly perform the hundredth part of their duty; and therefore our liberality does not deserve to be brought into account before God. So far are we from rendering full payment, that, if God should call us to a strict account, there is not one of us who would not be a bankrupt. But, after having reconciled us to himself by free grace, he accepts our services, such as they are, and bestows on them a reward which is not due. This recompense, therefore, does not depend on considerations of merit, but on God’s gracious acceptance, and is so far from being inconsistent with the righteousness of faith, that it may be viewed as an appendage to it.
20. O Timothy, guard that which is committed to thee.
Though interpreters differ in expounding παραθήκην, a thing committed, yet, for my part, I think that it denotes that grace which had been communicated to Timothy for the discharge of his office. It is called “a thing committed,” for the same reason that it is called (Matt. 25:15,) “a talent;” for all the gifts which God bestows on us are committed to us on this condition, that we shall one day give an account of them, if the advantage which they ought to have yielded be not lost through our negligence. The Apostle therefore exhorts him to keep diligently what had been given to him, or rather, what had been committed to him in trust; that he may not suffer it to be corrupted or adulterated, or may not deprive or rob himself of it through his own fault. It frequently happens that our ingratitude or abuse of the gifts of God causes them to be taken from us; and therefore Paul exhorts Timothy to endeavour to preserve, by a good conscience and by proper use, that which had been “committed” to him.
Avoiding profane vanities of noises.
The object of the admonition is, that he may be diligent in imparting solid instruction; and this cannot be, unless he detest ostentation; for, where an ambitious desire to please prevails, there is no longer any strong desire of edification. For this reason, when he spoke of “guarding the thing committed,” he very appropriately added this caution about avoiding profane talkativeness. As to the rendering which the Vulgate gives to κενοφωνίας, Inanitates vocum, “vanities of voices,” I do not so much object to it, except on the ground of an ambiguity which has led to a wrong exposition; for “Voces” is commonly supposed to have the same meaning here as “Vocabula,” “Words,” such as Fate or Fortune.
But, for my part, I think that he describes the high-sounding and verbose and bombastic style of those who, not content with the simplicity of the gospel, turn it into profane philosophy.
The κενοφωνίαι consist, not in single words, but in that swelling language which is so constantly and so disgustingly poured out by ambitious men, who aim at applause rather than the profit of the Church. And most accurately has Paul described it; for, while there is a strange sound of something lofty, there is nothing underneath but “empty” jingle, which he likewise calls “profane;” for the power of the Spirit is extinguished as soon as the Doctors blow their flutes in this manner, to display their eloquence.
In the face of a prohibition so clear and distinct, which the Holy Spirit has given, this plague has nevertheless broken out; and, indeed, it showed itself at the very beginning, but, at length, has grown to such a height in Popery, that the counterfeit mark of theology which prevails there—is a lively mirror of that “profane” and “empty noise” of which Paul speaks. I say nothing about the innumerable errors and follies and blasphemies with which their books and their noisy disputes abound. But even although they taught nothing that was contrary to godliness, yet, because their whole doctrine contains nothing else than big words and bombast, because it is inconsistent with the majesty of Scripture, the efficacy of the Spirit, the gravity of the prophets, and the sincerity of the apostles, it is, on that account, an absolute profanation of real theology.
What, I ask, do they teach about faith, or repentance, or calling on God; about the weakness of men, or the assistance of the Holy Spirit, or the forgiveness of sins by free grace, or about the office of Christ, that can be of any avail for the solid edification of godliness? But on this subject we shall have occasion to speak again in expounding the Second Epistle. Undoubtedly, any person who possesses a moderate share of understanding and of candour, will acknowledge that all the high-sounding terms of Popish Theology, and all the authoritive decisions that make so much noise in their schools, are nothing else than “profane κενοφωνίαι,” (empty words,) and that it is impossible to find more accurate terms for describing them than those which the Apostle has employed. And certainly it is a most righteous punishment of human arrogance, that they who swerve from the purity of Scripture become profane. The doctors of the Church, therefore, cannot be too earnestly attentive to guard against such corruptions, and to defend the youth from them.
The old translation, adopting the reading of καινοφωνίας instead of κενοφωνίας, rendered it novelties of words; and it is evident from the commentaries of the ancients, that this rendering, which is even now found in some Greek copies, was at one time extensively approved; but the former, which I have followed, is far better.
And contradictions of science falsely so-called.
This also is highly exact and elegant; for so swollen are the subtleties on which men desirous of glory plume themselves, that they overwhelm the real doctrine of the gospel, which is simple and unpretending. That pomp, therefore, which courts display, and which is received with applause by the world, is called by the Apostle “contradictions.” Ambition, indeed, is always contentious, and is the mother of disputes; and hence it arises that they who are desirous to display themselves are always ready to enter into the arena of debate on any subject. But Paul had this principally in view, that the empty doctrine of the sophists, rising aloft into airy speculations and subtleties, not only obscures by its pretentions the simplicity of true doctrine, but also oppresses and renders it contemptible, as the world is usually carried away by outward show.
Paul does not mean that Timothy should be moved by emulation to attempt something of the same kind, but, because those things which have an appearance of subtlety, or are adapted to ostentation, are more agreeable to human curiosity, Paul, on the contrary, pronounces that “science” which exalts itself above the plain and humble doctrine of godliness—to be falsely called and thought a science. This ought to be carefully observed, that we may learn boldly to laugh at and despise all that hypocritical wisdom which strikes the world with admiration and amazement, although there is no edification in it; for, according to Paul, no science is truly and justly so called but that which instructs us in the confidence and fear of God; that is, in godliness.
21. Which some professing, have erred concerning the faith.
From the result, also, he demonstrates how dangerous a thing it is, and how much it ought to be avoided. The way in which God punishes the haughtiness of those who, through the desire of obtaining reputation, corrupt and disfigure the doctrine of godliness, is, that he allows them to fall away from soundness of understanding, so that they involve themselves in many absurd errors. We see that this has taken place in Popery; for, after they began to speculate in a profane manner, about the mysteries of our religion, there followed innumerable monsters of false opinions. Faith is here taken, as in some former passages, for the summary of religion and sound doctrine. Warned by such examples, if we abhor revolt from “the faith,” let us adhere to the pure word of God, and let us detest sophistry and all useless subtleties, because they are abominable corruptions of religion.
John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon