THE GOSPEL PRODUCTIVE OF GOOD WORKS
1 Timothy 6:3. The doctrine which is according to godliness.
THE objections which men urge against the doctrines of the Gospel, originate for the most part in their aversion to its precepts. The restraint which it imposes on their actions is irksome to them. They wish to follow the impulse of their passions, or the dictates of self-interest: and when they are checked in their progress, they complain, that the path marked out for them is too strait, and the yoke which we would put upon them is too heavy.
St. Paul is giving directions for the conduct of masters and servants towards each other: but, however “wholesome his words” were, he foresaw that some would “not consent to” them, notwithstanding they were “the words of Christ himself,” and in perfect unison with the Gospel, which was, in that, as well as in every other respect, “a doctrine according to godliness.” He then proceeds to animadvert upon such characters, and to shew, that their dislike to the injunctions given them was owing only to their own pride, and ignorance, and love of sin.
The expression contained in the text is peculiarly worthy of our attention. It gives a just, and very important view of the Gospel; to illustrate and confirm which is the intent of this discourse.
In order to prove that the Gospel is indeed “a doctrine according to godliness,” let us consult,
I. Its doctrines—
We might, if our time would admit of it, illustrate this in every one of the doctrines of our holy religion. But we shall confine ourselves to,
1. The representations which it gives us of God—
[The systems of religion which obtained among the heathen, were calculated rather to promote, than to repress, iniquity: for even their gods themselves, according to their own representation of them, were monsters of iniquity. But our God is holy and just; so holy, that he cannot look upon sin without the utmost abhorrence of it [Note: Habakkuk 1:13.]; and so just, that he will never suffer it to pass unpunished [Note: Exodus 34:7.].
If indeed these were his only attributes, men might sit down in despair, and take their fill of sin, because they would have no encouragement to depart from it. But “there is mercy also with him, that he may be feared;” yea, so “rich is he in mercy,” that “none shall ever seek his face in vain.”
How must the contemplation of such perfections tend to deter men from the commission of evil, and to foster in them every holy sentiment and desire!]
2. The means which it prescribes for our reconciliation with him—
[The leading feature of the Gospel is, that it proclaims pardon to penitent sinners, through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let any one reflect on this stupendous mystery, the incarnation and death of the Son of God; let him consider, that no less a sacrifice than that made by our incarnate God was sufficient to atone for sin; and will he then be willing to incur all the penalties of sin, and to bear them in his own person? Will not the tears and agonies of an expiring Saviour compel him to exclaim, “If such things were done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” and will not the love of Christ in submitting to such an ignominious death, on purpose that he might redeem him from iniquity, have any influence on his mind? Will he readily trample on the blood that was shed for him, and crucify his Lord afresh by continuing in sin?]
Let us prosecute the same inquiry, in relation to,
View the precepts relating to God and our neighbour—
[The two great commandments of the law are confirmed and ratified by the Gospel, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself.” Now ran any man love God, and not endeavour to do his will? Or, if he make his own self-love the rule and measure of his love to others, can he willingly injure them in any thing or forbear to do them good? Would not an unfeigned love to these commands lay the axe to the root of all sin, and transform men into the very image of their God?]
View the directions which it gives for self-government—
[The Gospel does not regulate the actions only, but the heart: it extends its dominion over all the most secret motives and inclinations; and requires every thought to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. It makes no allowance for temptations, as though they extenuated the guilt of sin, or were an excuse for the commission of iniquity; but teaches us to “heap coals of five on the bead of an enemy” by acts of kindness, and “not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.” It tolerates no kind or degree of sin, but enjoins us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God.” It requires us to “be holy as God himself is holy,” and “perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Can any one that considers these precepts, doubt what is the nature and tendency of the Gospel?]
Let us examine further,
It calls us to an imitation of,
1. Our blessed Lord—
[He was virtue itself embodied. Neither friends nor enemies could ever find in him the smallest spot or blemish. Under circumstances the most trying that can be imagined, he preserved the same serenity of mind, the same meek and heavenly disposition. While he was suffering the most injurious treatment, he was like a Jamb led to the slaughter: and in the very agonies of death, he prayed for nothing but blessings on the head of his cruel murderers. Now we are told, that in all this “he set us an example, that we should follow his steps:” and that all his followers must “walk even as he walked.”]
2. His holy Apostles—
[These were far inferior indeed to their Divine Master; yet were they bright patterns of every thing that was excellent and praise-worthy. As being men of like passions with us, they manifested on some occasions their infirmities: and, in these instances, they are warnings to us, and not examples. But, for the most part, they conducted themselves in a way that excites our highest admiration. And though on account of their defects we cannot follow them in every thing, yet we are called on the whole to tread in their steps, and to “be followers of them, as they were of Christ.”
Are not these sufficient proofs of the holy tendency of the Gospel?]
How little reason is there for objecting to the Gospel as unfriendly to morality!
[Men ground this objection upon the doctrine of our being “justified by faith only, without the works of the law.” But if they would consider that that faith is always preceded by repentance, and followed by obedience, they would see that there was no foundation at all for their objection. If we said that people might live and die in an impenitent and disobedient state, and yet be saved by their faith, then there were good reason to condemn the Gospel which we preach: but while we maintain the character of God as it is exhibited in the Gospel, together with the obligation of its precepts, and the purity of its examples, no man need to tremble for the ark of God. A roof is not the less necessary to a house, because it is not to be laid as a foundation: nor are works less necessary, because they cannot justify us before God. Let them but stand in their proper place, and they are as necessary as faith itself.]
2. How deluded are they who hold the truth in unrighteousness!
[There doubtless are many who profess to believe in Christ, while yet by their works they utterly deny him. There was one of this description even in the family of Christ himself. But will the faith which they exercise be sufficient to save them? No: their faith is dead, being alone: it is no better than the faith of devils: nor will it be productive of any benefit to their souls: yea rather, inasmuch as it argued light and knowledge, it will only enhance their guilt, and aggravate their condemnation. Let those who are not occupied in a careful imitation of their Lord, and an unreserved obedience to his will, know assuredly, that if, on the one hand, he that believeth shall be saved, so, on the other hand, “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven.”]
3. How great are the obligations of God’s people to walk circumspectly!
[The world will judge of the Gospel, not so much by what they hear, as by what they see. Now, though they have no right to act thus, we should be careful not to lay a stumbling-block before them. We should endeavour rather to make a good impression on their minds, and to give them no occasion from our conduct to speak evil of the truth itself. We should shew them by our lives, that their fears respecting the licentious tendency of the Gospel are groundless. By walking as it becometh saints, we should put to silence their ignorant objections, and constrain them to confess, that, however the Gospel may be dishonoured by its friends, or calumniated by its enemies, it is indeed a doctrine according to godliness.]
GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT
1 Timothy 6:6. Godliness with contentment is great gain.
TO the great dishonour of Christianity, there are many professors, and even preachers of it, who are more intent on promoting their own temporal interests, or the interests of their party, than on advancing practical religion in the world. Of such persons St. Paul is speaking in the context: and he enjoins Timothy to withdraw himself from them, as from persons who disgraced the Christian name, by giving reason to people to conclude, that “they supposed gain to be godliness.” In opposition to such characters, the Apostle reverses that which he had stated as their opinion; and declares, that though gain was not godliness, godliness was gain, yea, and “great gain,” if it were joined “with contentment.”
In vindication of this sentiment, we shall shew,
I. What we are to understand by “godliness”—
The frame of mind which we may conceive the angels to enjoy, would be by no means suited to our state: we are sinners, redeemed sinners; and therefore “godliness” must include such a frame of mind as becomes persons in our condition. In this view, it implies,
1. An affiance in God through Christ—
[This is the foundation of all true religion. Whatever a man may possess without this, he has not one particle of real godliness. If we could suppose him to be as just and honest, as kind and amiable, yea, as devout and fervent, as ever man was, still, if he had not the heart of a sinner, of a sinner justly condemned, and delivered from condemnation solely by the blood of Christ, he would be utterly destitute of true religion — — —]
2. A devotedness to God in Christ—
[This must spring from the former: for though faith and practice differ from each other, as much as the root of a tree does from the fruit it hears, yet we must by no means separate them, since they are equally essential to real godliness. A reformation of the external conduct, or a partial surrender of the heart to God, will not suffice: if we would be approved by God, we must have “our whole selves, body, soul, and spirit, sanctified” to his service — — — And as Christ is theonly mediator through whom we approach to God, so must Christ, that is, God in Christ, be our only Lord and Governor.]
When we have just views of the nature of godliness, we shall see,
Its connexion with contentment—
Such godliness as has been described must bring contentment along with it, since all who possess it must feel,
1. A consciousness that they deserve the miseries of hell—
[No person can have an entire affiance in God through Christ, till he have felt his desert of God’s wrath and indignation. And can such a person be discontented with any lot that may be assigned him? Must he not, even in the most afflicted situation, say, “Shall a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” Will he not call every affliction light, yea, lightness itself, in comparison of the misery he deserves? Will he not, under the pressure of the heaviest calamities, thank God that he is not in hell?]
2. A sense of infinite obligation to God for mercies received—
[One who has within him the constituents of real godliness, must see himself to be infinitely indebted to God for the gift of his dear Son, for the knowledge of salvation by him, and for the prospect of everlasting glory. His sense of these mercies cannot but be heightened also by the consideration, that they were never once offered to the fallen angels, nor accepted by the great majority of those to whom they have been offered. Can such an one repine that he has a less measure of health, or riches, or temporal conveniences than others, when he is so far exalted above them in things of infinitely greater moment?]
3. A willingness to be conformed to the image of Christ—
[No true disciple of Christ expects or wishes to be in a state different from that which his Lord and Master experienced when on earth. But what was the condition of Jesus in the world? Did he live in ease and affluence and honour? No; “he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He subsisted oftentimes on the benevolence of his friends and followers; and often had not so much as “a place where to lay his head.” Who that reflects on this, will murmur at his lot, even though nothing but poverty and persecution should await him? Will he not check the first risings of discontent with this obvious reflection, “The disciple cannot be above his Lord: it is sufficient for the disciple that he be as his Lord?”]
The connexion of godliness with contentment being thus plain, let us consider,
The advantage of it as so connected—
St. Paul tells us, that “godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” Let us view it then,
1. In reference to this life—
[Money has obtained the exclusive title of “gain:” but godliness has an incomparably greater right to that appellation. There are three principal ends for which money is considered as valuable; namely, to provide present gratifications, to secure against future troubles, and to benefit our children or dependents. But in these respects it cannot for one moment stand in competition with godliness,—that godliness I mean which is connected with contentment. Suppose money to afford ever such high gratifications, (though it is very much overrated by the generality,) will not pardon of sin, peace of conscience, and the enjoyment of the Divine presence, far outweigh them all? Suppose money to afford effectual relief in trouble, (though it cannot assuage our pain either of mind or body,) what consolations can it afford equal to those which result from godliness and contentment? The utmost that money can do, is to procure some outward relief; whereas the piety above described will convert every cross into a comfort, and every trouble into a fountain of joy. We are ready to acknowledge that money has its uses, and very important uses too, in reference to our children or dependents, (though it not unfrequently is a curse to them rather than a benefit,) yet even in this view is it far inferior to religion: for the godly and contented man will instruct his children and dependents in those principles which he has found so beneficial to himself: and who can duly estimate the benefit of such instructions, confirmed and enforced by such an example? Who can value sufficiently the intercessions of such a friend? Suppose a dying man to address his surviving relatives, ‘I have not wealth laid up for you in my coffers, but I have thousands of prayers treasured up for you in heaven, which, I trust, will come down in blessings on your heads, when I lie mouldering in the dust: I have engaged my God to be the Husband of the widow, and the Father of the fatherless; yes, my dear wife and children, 1 have entreated him to take care of you; and I believe that my prayers have not gone forth in vain:’ I say, such a legacy would be far better than thousands of silver and gold.
Thus in every view for which money is coveted, godliness with contentment is a richer portion.]
2. In reference to the world to come—
[The blindest worldling in the universe is not foolish enough to think that “riches will profit him in the day of wrath.” In the words following the text this point is established beyond all contradiction; “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out,” Here therefore all competition ceases; and “gain” must be confessed to belong exclusively to the godly and contented mind.]
Those who boast of contentment, while they are destitute of godliness—
[That persons may feel contentment while enjoying all that they can wish, we readily acknowledge. But we have not real contentment, unless we could be contented with any change of circumstances which God might see fit to appoint. Nor indeed can this fruit spring from any thing but real godliness. Therefore the complacency which many take in their own fancied contentment, while they are uninfluenced by vital godliness, is a delusion, which, if not rectified in time, will issue in the most fearful disappointment and misery.]
2. Those who profess godliness, but manifest a worldly or discontented spirit—
[The tree must be judged of by its fruits. In vain are the highest pretensions to Christian experience, if we be not dead to the world, and resigned to the will of God. O brethren, how many professors of godliness have, “through a desire to be rich [Note: βουλόμενοιπλουτεῖν, ver. 9–11.], fallen into snares and temptations, and into foolish and hurtful lusts, which have drowned them in destruction and perdition!” Remember, that “the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some have coveted after, they have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” But thou man of God, flee these things, and seek rather to be “rich towards God.”]
3. Those who profess both godliness and contentment—
[Know, that you have a richer portion than crowns or kingdoms. You never can have occasion to envy any man. Only seek to grow in these divine graces. Give yourselves up wholly to God; and “having food and raiment, be therewith content [Note: ver. 8.].” Godliness is “durable riches;” and one grain of contentment is worth a talent of gold. Let it appear, beloved, that you live under a full persuasion of these things; and that your ardour in pursuit of heaven is accompanied with a proportionable indifference about the things of time and sense.]
LOVE OF MONEY
1 Timothy 6:9-10. 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. 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.
THERE is one general sentiment in the world, that riches will contribute greatly to our happiness, and that it is our wisdom to make use of all our time and talents in the acquisition of wealth. But widely different from this was the advice of the Apostle Paul, who tells us, that “having food and raiment, we should be therewith content [Note: ver. 8.];” and that the very disposition so universally cherished and inculcated in the world, “the love of money,” “is the root of all evil.”
In speaking of the love of money, we will,
I. Contemplate it as a “root”—
Verily, as a root, it is very widely spread and deeply fixed in the heart of man; and richly does it deserve the character given of it in my text. For it is,
1. A base principle—
[There is no intrinsic worth in money, nor any thing that should make it in any respect an object of our regard. The man that possesses most of it has no advantage from it beyond “the beholding it with his eyes [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:10-11.].” It is well compared to “thick clay” adhering to the feet of a man engaged in a race; and which serves only to impede his way, and to endanger his success [Note: Habakkuk 2:6.]. How unworthy it is of the affections of a rational and immortal being, may be seen by the contempt poured upon it by our blessed Lord; who, when he came into the world, was horn in a stable; and when he lived in the world, “had not a place where to lay his head.”]
2. A vitiating principle—
[There is not a faculty of the soul which the love of money will not debase. It will pervert the judgment; so that we shall not be able to see our way, where a disinterested person would find no difficulty whatever — — — It will blind the conscience; so that, under its influence, we shall put evil for good, and mistake darkness for light — — — It will also harden the heart, and despoil it of all the filler feelings of compassion and love — — —]
3. A domineering principle—
[No better principle can find scope for operation where this prevails. It will swallow up every other, and govern with unbounded sway. In fact, so completely will it occupy the soul, as to make all its faculties subservient to the acquisition of gain — — —]
4. A damning principle—
[I am aware that I speak strongly. But would you have me withhold this awful truth? Would it not be cruelty to you to conceal this, or to soften it, when an inspired Apostle warns you, that this principle “drowns men in destruction and perdition?” Only let it be remembered, that “covetousness is idolatry [Note: Colossians 3:5.];” and it will be seen at once, that the Apostle’s representation is fully justified — — — Millions upon millions, it is to be feared, are at this very instant bewailing its fatal influence in hell — — —]
In confirmation of this, let us,
Examine its fruit—
See what it brings forth,
1. In the world at large—
[What falsehood, in every species of commercial dealing! What injustice, wherever it exists on the side of power! What cruelty, in enforcing claims, and satisfying its demands! Who does not cry out against his neighbour on account either of oppression or fraud? But what shall I say of thefts, and robberies, and murders? Verily, notwithstanding the vigilance of magistrates, and the terror of legal penalties, these things exist to a vast extent. What, then, would the state of the world be, if these restraints were removed? — — —]
2. In the religious world in particular—
[Let but “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches,” be suffered to grow up in the soul, and they will soon “choke all the good seed that has been sown in it,” and render it unfruitful [Note: Matthew 13:22.]. How many, through its malignant influence, have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows! Unhappy Judas! What “a pillar of salt” art thou! an everlasting monument of the misery entailed by this fatal principle! Ananias, thou hadst better prospects: thou appearedst superior to these base feelings: but thou hadst not gained the victory: and thou thyself didst fall a victim to this accursed lust. And thou, Demas, thou of whom even St. Paul did entertain so high an opinion as repeatedly to rank thee with the Evangelist St. Luke; what became of thee at last, through thy love of money? “Demas hath forsaken us, having loved this present evil world; and is gone to Thessalonica,” a trading city, where he may find ample scope for indulging his predominant propensity. And, no doubt, multitudes of professing people, who have not thus openly made shipwreck of their faith, have, by their inordinate anxiety about their worldly interests, destroyed all the comfort of their souls; and, if they have been saved at all, “have been saved only so as by fire [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:15.].”
And here let me guard you against a common mistake. When it is said, “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare,” and so on, it is supposed to refer to those only who are determined to be rich at all events. But this is not the meaning of the passage: the utmost that it means is, “they that are willing and desirous to be rich [Note: βουλόμενοι.]” for the desire, harboured in the soul, is amply sufficient to draw after it all the bitter consequences which axe here said to result from it. We see this in the rich young man, who turned his hack upon the Lord rather than renounce his wealth [Note: Matthew 19:22.]: and St. Peter has associated, what will be ever found inseparable, “Covetous practices, and cursed children [Note: 2 Peter 2:14.].”]
Do you ask, How shall I counteract in my soul this sad propensity? I answer,
Think how little the riches of this world can do for you—
[Beyond “food and raiment,” what can you possess? Your food may be of a more luxurious kind; but, after a time, you will not enjoy it more than the labourer his homely provision. And your vestments may administer more to pride, but will not really answer the end better than clothing of a coarser texture. Believe it, brethren, the rich have very little, if any, advantage of the poor. Thousands of servants may see clearly enough that they have even a happier lot than their employers: and those who have amassed wealth to ever so great an extent, will, for the most part, be constrained to acknowledge, that they have rather accumulated troubles, than acquired ease. They are not the happiest who have the largest means of indulgence, but they who have the fewest cares. Let this be well settled in your minds, and the principle we have been speaking of will be divested of its baneful influence upon your souls.]
2. Think what infinitely better riches are offered you in the Gospel—
[In Christ there are “unsearchable riches;” and all for you, if only you believe in him. Oh! how rich is the soul that has peace with God! how rich the soul that has all the glory and felicity of heaven! Yet “is it all yours, if ye are Christ’s.” In your desires after these riches, you cannot be too enlarged. You may “covet as earnestly as you will these gifts:” nor will this principle ever operate, but for the production of good; good in yourselves, and good to all around you. Nothing but joy will ever result from this: the fruit of this will be joy in time, and glory in eternity. Get this principle rooted in the soul, and all the riches of this world will be as the dust upon the balance, yea, lighter than vanity itself.]
PRACTICAL PIETY ENFORCED
1 Timothy 6:11. Thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
NEVER can we lay too great a stress on the practical duties of Christianity, provided we keep them in their proper place, and perform them not for the purpose of making them a justifying righteousness before God, but of evincing the sincerity of our faith in Christ, and the truth of our love to him. The things of this world always stand, as it were, in competition with him; and the carnal man gives to them a decided and habitual preference. It is in vain that men are told how unsatisfying and transient a portion the world is, or what evils the love of it will entail upon us. The ungodly will affect riches as a source of happiness, and will pursue them as their chief good: but the true Christian must not do so: “Thou, O man of God, whoever thou art, thou must flee these things,” and “follow after the things which will make for thy eternal peace.” There is in this exhortation a peculiarity worthy of our attention: and, that I may present it to you in its just view, I will point out,
I. The duties here inculcated—
They are two: the avoiding of evil, and the cultivating of good. Let us mark,
1. The evils to be avoided—
[An inordinate desire of wealth, and an eager pursuit of it, are unworthy of the Christian character. Contentment is that rather which becomes him: for, in truth, it is but little that a man needs in this world, The richest man in the universe, what has he beyond “food and raiment?” That his food is more delicate, and his raiment more splendid, is of very small importance: the more homely comforts of the poor are as acceptable to them, as the luxuries of the rich to them. Habit soon familiarizes the mind to the situation in which we are placed; and equally reduces the zest with which abundance is enjoyed, and the pain with which penury, if not too oppressive, is sustained. Under a conviction of this, the Christian maintains a holy superiority to the world and all its vanities; and learns, “in whatsoever state he is, therewith to be content [Note: Philippians 4:11.].”]
2. The graces to be cultivated—
[Here is a chain of graces, no link of which should be broken. “Righteousness” should pre-eminently characterize a child of God. There should be in us no disposition to encroach upon the rights of others; but a firm determination of mind to do unto all men as we, in a change of circumstances, would have them do unto us. But with this must be blended “godliness;” for, if we are to render unto man his due, so must we also unto God; giving to him our heart, and exercising continually those holy affections towards him, which insure the entire affiance of our souls, and the unreserved obedience of our lives, By the term “faith” we may understand either that belief in Christ, which is its general import: or a “fidelity” in executing whatever can be justly expected of us. In both points of view, it is a most important grace: for, in the former sense, it is that which interests us in the Lord Jesus, and in all that he has done, or is doing, for us; and, in the latter sense, it is that whereby alone we can approve the sincerity of our faith and love. To these must “love” also be added: for, what is a Christian without love? Let him know all that man can know, and do all that man can do, and suffer all that man can suffer, and “without love, he is no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Together with these active graces, we must possess also such as are passive: we must exercise self-government, under all the circumstances that may occur; “possessing our souls in patience”, under all the trials of life.: and “shewing all meekness unto all men,” however perverse they may be in their spirit, or however they may endeavour to irritate and inflame us. These graces are absolutely indispensable to the Christian character; and whilst we “flee” the foregoing evils, we must “follow after” these, without exception or intermission.]
But to feel the force of the Apostle’s exhortation in reference to these duties, we must consider,
Their mutual influence and relation to each other—
“The love of money” will altogether despoil the soul of these graces—
[Only let self-interest get an ascendant over us, and we shall no longer listen to the claims of justice: there will be a bias upon our minds, that will affect, not our actions only, but our very judgment: we shall lean to self in all our decisions; and shall be led to infringe upon the rights of others, almost without a consciousness or suspicion that we are going beyond the bounds of justice and equity.
As for “godliness,” it is impossible that that should flourish, where such noxious weeds, as the love of money generates, are suffered to grow. Truly that accursed evil will eat out every thing that is good. It is called “the root of all evil:” and it well deserves that character; for to serve God and Mammon too is absolutely impossible: whichever we adhere to, we must, of necessity, renounce the other.
The graces too of “faith and love,” what scope have they for exercise in a heart imbued with selfishness? Darkness is not more opposed to light, than this evil is to those divine principles: nor can any person under its malignant influence follow, or even discern, the path which those sublime feelings would prescribe.
As for “patience and meekness,” we must not look for them in a mind debased with the love of filthy lucre. Whenever the favourite disposition of the heart is thwarted, impatience will evince itself in no questionable shape, and irritability break forth, both in word and act.
In proof of these assertions, we need only survey the spirit of rival nations, when their interests are thought to clash: or we may look at kindred societies in our own country; or at individuals that are engaged in the same profession; or even at members of the same family, whenever their pecuniary interests have been at stake. I speak not too strongly, if I say, that discord is almost the invariable fruit of conflicting interests; and that, in proportion as the love of money reigns in any bosom, the graces, of which we have spoken, are weakened and dispelled.]
On the other hand, the exercise of these graces in the soul will keep down that hateful lust which we have been contemplating—
[It is manifest that the high principles of righteousness and godliness, of faith and love, of patience and meekness, will give to the soul an elevation above the low, degrading, and debasing feelings of selfishness. They give to the mind a far different cast: they open to it sublimer views; they inspire it with nobler sentiments; they furnish it with a more exalted employment. Suppose an angel to be sojourning on earth; what a contempt would he feel for wealth, and what a pity for all who are fascinated by its allurements! So, in proportion as the grace of God operates in our souls, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” will be held as objects worthy only to be despised and shunned.]
The man of this world—
[What clearer proof can you have of the vanity of wealth, than by viewing the disorders which the love of it produces through the whole world? Truly, the coveting after money is incompatible with real happiness, and has been the means of piercing the souls of men with many sorrows. Let me, then, entreat you to “flee these things.” Flee not only from, the inordinate pursuit of wealth, but even from the secret love of it in your hearts. You should have higher objects in view, even the attainment of the Divine image, and the ultimate possession of the heavenly glory. Flee, then, from those things, and follow after these with your whole hearts.]
2. The true Christian—
[What a name is this by which you are here called—“a man of God!” Doubtless, in the first instance, it designates rather those who are in the office of the ministry: but as all saints are children of God, they may with propriety be addressed by the term that is here used. Consider, then, “thou man of God,” what line of conduct befits thy character. Surely thou shouldest be “as a city set on a hill:” thou shouldest be as “a light in a dark world.” Oh! see to it that thou “walk worthy of thy high calling,” and “worthy also of Him that bath called thee.” Let no earthly lusts debase thy soul. Live to God: live for God: live as those who are born from above, and as those “whose treasure is in heaven.” Especially cultivate the graces that are here commended to your pursuit; and “let all who see you, acknowledge you as the seed whom the Lord hath blessed.”]
THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH
1 Timothy 6:12. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.
THE Apostle Paul, being particularly conversant with the cities of Greece, and writing many of his epistles to Churches which he had established in that country, frequently alluded to the games which were there celebrated, taking from them metaphors whereby to illustrate the blessed truths of the Gospel. The public exhibitions of running, wrestling, fighting, formed the chief scenes of amusement to that people: those actions therefore being familiar to their minds, the terms by which they were commonly designated were well calculated to convey to them a full and comprehensive view of the different duties which they were called to perform. Indeed this is the great use of metaphors: they bring to the mind a vast accumulation of ideas under one single term; and serve at once, in a very peculiar manner, to instruct and edify the soul. The exhortation here given to Timothy is of this character. At the games, the prize for which the people contended was held forth to view: in allusion to which, the Apostle says, “Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life.” The words indeed which are here used by St. Paul are not quite so definite as those which are used in our translation. If the English language admitted of it, they would be better translated, “Contend the good contest of faith.” The substance of them, however, may be considered by us under these two heads: Maintain the Christian’s contest: Secure the Christian’s prize.
I. Maintain the Christian’s contest—
The life of a Christian is a life of faith—
[The God whom he serves is invisible to mortal eyes; “being one whom no man hath seen, or can see.” Nor has the Saviour, whom he loves, ever been revealed to his organs of sense. It is by faith alone that he apprehends both the Father and the Son; deriving from their love all his motives to action, and from their power all his ability to act. It was thus that St. Paul lived: “The life which I now live in the flesh,” rays he, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me [Note: Galatians 2:20.].” The object too, after which he aspires, is altogether unknown to him as an object of sense: he has never been carried up to heaven, to behold the glory that is there; nor has heaven been brought down to him, that he might know wherein its blessedness consists. But he believes that there is such a place, and that the blessedness of it will be an ample compensation for all that he can do or suffer in the way to it: and therefore “he looks not at the things which are seen and are temporal, but at the things which are unseen and eternal [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:18.].” In the whole of his way to heaven, “he walks by faith, and not by sight.”]
This life, however, involves him in continual conflicts—
[it is thought, by some, that a life of faith must, of necessity, be very easy, since the person so living has nothing to do but to believe. But it is no easy matter to go contrary to the dictates of sense; and to act, in reference to things invisible, as we would if they were present to our sight. In living by faith, we are withstood continually by those mighty enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world presents to us its temptations on every side, if by any means it may engage us to follow some object of time or sense, and relax our pursuit of those higher objects on which our souls are bent. The flesh too solicits us, and pleads, yea, and strives and fights for indulgence; and, being ever present with us, is at all times ready to betray us into the hands of our enemies, and to bring us into subjection to its unhallowed lusts. And need 1 say, that Satan, too, is active to destroy us? So inveterate is his enmity, and so powerful his opposition, that all other enemies together are nothing in comparison of him. St. Paul says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places [Note: Ephesians 6:12.].” Who can tell what “devices” that subtle foe puts forth in order to destroy us? His wiles are absolutely innumerable: they are such as nothing but Omniscience can guard us against, and Omnipotence enable us to defeat.]
And these conflicts he must steadily maintain—
[It is “a good fight” which we have to fight: no contest was ever so reasonable as this — — — or so profitable to the soul — — — or so pleasing to Almighty God — — — But remember, no truce is to be made with any one of our enemies: we must contend with them as for our very life. We are “not to fight as one that,” in a fictitious combat and in sport, “beateth the air;” but with all our might; “keeping under our body, and bringing into subjection” every appetite [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.]; and never resting, till “Satan himself be bruised under our feet [Note: Romans 16:20.].”
In maintaining this combat, we must use “faith” as our most effectual means both of assault and defence. No other “shield” have we in comparison of that [Note: Ephesians 6:16.]; nor can we find any better weapon, whereby to withstand Satan [Note: 1 Peter 5:8-9.], or subdue the flesh [Note: Acts 15:9.], or overcome the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.]
To this exhortation the Apostle adds,
Secure the Christian’s prize—
Eternal life is that prize which is set before him. The conquerors in the Grecian games had only a corruptible crown for their reward; but the victorious Christian has “a crown of glory, that fadeth not away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:25.].” Yes, “this is the promise that God has promised us, even eternal life [Note: 1 John 2:25.].” To this “he is called;” and with nothing short of this should he be content.
Let us, then, ever keep this in view—
[The sight of the prize held out to them, animated, no doubt, the people that were engaged in the various contests. And shall not the hope of eternal life encourage us? What could withstand us, if we kept that steadily in view? What could for a moment fascinate our minds, or what prevail to damp our ardour in the pursuit of it? In vain would the world offer its delights, or menace us with its displeasure: in vain would our corrupt appetites plead for a momentary indulgence, or Satan endeavour to beguile us with any promises whatever. If our eyes were only fixed habitually on the glory of heaven, we should prove as victorious as Moses himself, when “he refused to become the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; and chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin, because he had respect unto the recompence of the reward [Note: Hebrews 11:24-26.].”
Let us never rest, till we are in actual possession of it—
[We must “lay such hold upon it,” that none shall ever be able to wrest it from us: as our Lord has said, “Hold fast that thou hast, that no man take thy crown [Note: Revelation 3:11.].” “Look that ye lose not the things that ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward [Note: John, ver. 8.].” It is only “by a patient continuance in well-doing that we can attain to glory and honour and immortality [Note: Romans 2:7.].” “If we draw back, God’s soul will have no pleasure in us [Note: Hebrews 10:38.]:” nor can we ever be “partakers of Christ in the eternal world, unless we hold fast our confidence in him firm unto the end [Note: Hebrews 3:14.].” In every one of the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, the final happiness of the saints was suspended on their fighting manfully unto the end, and overcoming all the enemies of their salvation: “Be ye then faithful unto death, and God will give you the crown, of life [Note: Revelation 2:10.].”]
To what is here said, let me add,
A word of direction—
[“Put on, and keep ever girded upon you, the whole armour of God [Note: Ephesians 6:11.]” — — — Yet rely not on any preparation of your own; but “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.].” Go forth, like David, in a simple dependence on your God; and he shall bring your every foe, however formidable, into the dust before you [Note: 1 Samuel 17:45-47.]. True it is, that you must be good “soldiers of Jesus Christ,” and “quit yourselves like men,” and “war a good warfare.” But “the battle is not yours, but God’s.” “By his own strength shall no man prevail [Note: 1 Samuel 2:9.]:” but “he who trusteth in the Lord shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.”]
2. A word of encouragement—
[It is no just ground of discouragement to any man, that ho is weak: “when he is weak, then is he really strong; because God will perfect his own strength in his weakness.” Nor need any be afraid because they are young. Timothy was but young: yet to him was the exhortation in my text directed. Are any of you fainting by reason of the difficulties which you have to encounter? Think who it is that is engaged in your behalf, even Jesus, “mighty to save.” Think, too, what “a cloud of witnesses” are at this very moment viewing you with the deepest interest, and ready to rejoice in. your success. Think, also, what reflections you will have in a dying hour; when, in the retrospect of your present conflicts, you will be able to say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me [Note: 2 Timothy 4:7-8.].” Above all, think of the plaudit which in that day you will receive from your Lord and Saviour: “Well done, good and faithful servants; enter ye into the joy of your Lord.” It is but a little longer that you will have to fight. Soon shall you rest from all your conflicts and from all your labours, and enjoy the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.]
THE TRUE USE OF RICHES
1 Timothy 6:17-19. 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; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
TO inculcate duties, is no less the office of a pious minister, than to establish principles: nor should he shew less zeal in the one than in the other. Our Lord commanded his Apostles to enforce the observance of what men ought to do, as well as the reception of what they ought to believe [Note: Matthew 28:19-20.]: and St. Paul, whose zeal was so conspicuous in establishing the doctrines of the Gospel, evinces in every epistle not a whit less zeal to bring men under the influence of its precepts. He even descends to particularize all the duties pertaining to the different relations of life, as of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, rulers and subjects; and he solemnly enjoined Timothy and Titus to do the same in their respective ministrations. Nay more, he “charged them” to speak on these subjects with all authority [Note: ver. 13, 14.]; and to press them on the attention of every distinct class of hearers, so that each might fulfil the duties which pertained more immediately to himself. The rich were not in this respect to be overlooked, any more than the poor; nor were they to be addressed with less authority than the poor. Timothy, though quite a young minister, was to consider himself as speaking in the name and with the authority of Almighty God; and was not merely to exhort, but to “charge,” the richest and most powerful of his flock, and most solemnly to enjoin on them a conscientious use of their wealth, for the honour of God, and for the benefit of mankind.
In the charge which Timothy was to give to the rich, we see,
I. The temptations which they are to avoid—
To fix the standard, and to draw an exact line between those who are “rich in this world,” and those who are not, is no easy task: because what would be wealth to a peasant would be poverty to a man whose rank and station in life called for a more enlarged expenditure. But we shall mark the character with sufficient precision, if we say, that the rich in this world are those who possess already, or are able by their different vocations to obtain, what is sufficient for their support in that rank of life wherein Divine Providence has placed them: for all persons so circumstanced have it in their power, by frugality and self-denial, to appropriate a portion of their income to the uses that are here specified.
But to persons so circumstanced many temptations will arise. They will in particular find occasion to guard against,
[If from any source whatever a man have acquired an increase of wealth, and especially if he have acquired it by his own skill or industry, he immediately conceives himself entitled to a greater measure of respect and honour from all around him. He seems by that circumstance to have attained somewhat of intrinsic worth and excellence; never reflecting, that, as a horse is not a whit better for the trappings with which he is decorated, so neither is a man for the splendour with which he is encompassed. Even good King Hezekiah was led away with this folly, when the Babylonish ambassadors came to visit him: and the judgments inflicted on him on account of it, sufficiently shew how hateful it is in the sight of God.
Yet, such is the infirmity of human nature, that a man of this description is ready to arrogate also to himself some superior value even before God. He is now no longer to be addressed with all that plainness and fidelity which he admitted when in a lower station. Because “he is full, he is ready to deny the authority of God, and to say, Who is the Lord [Note: Proverbs 30:9.]?” or, if he pay attention to the outward observances of religion, he does It, not because they are due from him, but because he thinks it right to set a good example to others; just as if the duties incumbent on others did not attach equally to himself. A remarkable instance of such folly and impiety may be seen in King Uzziah [Note: 2 Kings 20:12-18 and 2 Chronicles 32:25-26.]; who, because he had greatly increased in military power, conceived himself authorized to invade the priestly office [Note: 2 Chronicles 26:16.]. But all such high thoughts of ourselves are most offensive to God: and therefore we solemnly caution all of you against admitting them into your minds; and “charge the rich in particular, that they be not high-minded.”]
[It is exceeding difficult to possess riches, and not to trust in them for some measure of security or happiness; for both of which we ought to trust in God alone. Our Lord intimates this: for, when his Disciples expressed their wonder at that saying of our Lord, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” he immediately explained himself, by saying, “How hardly shall they that trust in riches enter into the kingdom of God:” by which he would have them to understand, that very few could possess them without trusting in them [Note: Mark 10:23-24.]. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city,” says Solomon [Note: Proverbs 10:15.]: he fancies himself encompassed with that which will protect him from evil, and secure to him the possession of present good. But this is greatly to dishonour God. He has given us all that we possess: he has given it to be enjoyed, yea, and richly to be enjoyed: but he never gave it to be trusted in: he never designed that men should rest in the gifts, and forget the Giver; or fix on senseless vanities the regards which are due only to “the living God.” To them belongs nothing but “uncertainty:” they cannot be depended on for one moment: they may, even whilst we think ourselves most secure of their continuance, “make themselves wings, and fly away.” Or, if they be not removed from us, we may in an instant be removed from them by Him who said to the rich man, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” Let me then guard you all against “making gold your hope, or saying to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence;” for it is a grievous impiety in the sight of God, and “an iniquity to be punished by the judge [Note: Job 31:24-25; Job 31:28.].”]
Wealth is given for far other purposes than these; as will be seen, whilst I point out to the possessors of it,
The duties they are to perform—
To be dispensed in acts of benevolence is the true use of wealth—
[Nothing is given to us for ourselves alone. As the sun in the firmament possesses not its light and heat for its own aggrandizement, but for the benefit of the whole creation, so all that we possess is for the good of those who lie within the sphere of our influence. It is a talent committed to us by Almighty God, who will call us to an account for the improvement we make of it. He permits us, as we have before said, “richly to enjoy” whatever he has bestowed upon us: but our richest enjoyment of it should be in the exercise of Christian benevolence. We should “do good” with it: we should be “rich in good works;” accounting ourselves rich, not in proportion to what we can amass or spend upon ourselves, but in proportion to the good which we are thereby qualified to dispense, and the benefits which we are enabled by it to confer upon the Church and on the world around us. Nor should our wealth be disposed of in this way “grudgingly, or of necessity;” we should be “ready to distribute, and willing to communicate;” precisely as one member of our body would be to administer to any other that needed its assistance. These are the dispositions which the rich are to cultivate, and these the works in which they are to abound.]
Nor is this less their interest than it is their duty—
[By such acts as these “we lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, and eventually lay hold on eternal life.” In hoarding up money, we lay it up for others (not by any means knowing who shall actually inherit it): hut by dispersing it in acts of piety and beneficence, we store it up for ourselves, rendering that “a firm foundation,” which was in itself “uncertain;” and that “eternally” permanent, which was in itself confined to “this present world.” If the present enjoyment alone were considered, this mode of disposing of it would be our truest wisdom, since there is an infinitely richer zest arising from the exercise of love to God and of benevolence to man, than from all the selfish gratifications that wealth can ever purchase. But besides the present satisfaction arising from these sources, there is a full confidence in the soul that God himself will minister to our necessities in the time of need [Note: Psalms 41:1-3.], and an assured hope of his approbation in the day that he shall judge the world. Not that there is any thing meritorious in works of charity, or that they shall go before us to procure for us an entrance into heaven: but “they will follow us [Note: Revelation 14:13.]” as evidences of our faith and love, and be brought forth before the universe for special approbation and reward. God has pledged himself, that “what we give to the poor he will regard as lent to him, and that he will repay it again [Note: Proverbs 19:17.];” not even a cup of cold water being forgotten, but every the smallest act of kindness being “recompensed at the resurrection of the just [Note: Luke 14:14.].”]
Such then being the duty of the rich in relation to their wealth, I come, in conclusion, to address to them a solemn charge respecting it—
Brethren, if I were addressing you as persons ignorant of Christ and of his salvation, I should, notwithstanding I come as an ambassador from God himself, and speak to you in Christ’s stead, be satisfied with the language of entreaty; and should “beseech you, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God.” But since ye profess to have believed in Christ, you acknowledge your obligation to fulfil his will: and therefore, instead of beseeching you to make this use of your property, I solemnly charge you, or, as the word is elsewhere translated, “command” you [Note: 1 Timothy 4:11.], to comply with his injunctions in respect to these things.
1. If you would approve yourselves upright before God, fulfil ye this duty—
[Guard against the snares of wealth. Mark the operation and effect of riches upon your mind. See whether they produce a haughtiness of spirit, or a complacency of mind, as if they could afford you any substantial comfort: and beg of God that you may, to your latest hour, be as lowly as the poorest of men, and as dependent upon your God as are the ravens, which subsist by his providence from day to day. Remember, that God is a jealous God; and that a departure from this line of conduct will subject you to his heavy displeasure [Note: Mark 10:23-24.].
God in having imparted more liberally to you than to others, has conferred on you the distinguished honour of being his almoners: yea, if I may so speak, of being in his place to your more necessitous fellow-creatures: and by your cheerful execution of your trust he will judge of your love to him: for “if you see your brother have need, and shut up your bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in you?” Be then like the Saviour himself, who “went about doing good:” and let it be the joy of your heart so to minister of your abundance to the poor, that “every ear which hears you may bless you, and every eye that beholds you may bear witness to you [Note: Job 29:11-13.].” If you be essentially defective in this duty, you are destitute of pure and undefiled religion [Note: James 1:27.]
2. If you would be accepted of God in the eternal world, be obedient to this command—
[It is remarkable, that in the account which our Lord has given us of the day of judgment, the discharge or neglect of this duty are the prominent grounds of the sentence that shall be passed on the whole race of mankind. Doubtless there will be many other subjects of inquiry: but still the peculiar stress laid on the offices of love sufficiently prove, that whatever else may be brought forward, these must occupy the most distinguished place [Note: Matthew 25:34-46.] — — — “Make then to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when ye fail, and go hence, ye may be received into everlasting habitations [Note: Luke 16:9.].” “Lay up treasures in heaven, where the bags will never wax. old, and where neither rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through to steal [Note: Luke 12:33.].” The harvestman scatters, in order to a future harvest: do ye the same: and know, that, “if you sow bountifully, you shall reap bountifully:” but, if you cast your seed with a niggard hand, your harvest will be proportionably small and scanty [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:6.]. In a word, if you are rich in this world, endeavour to be “rich towards God [Note: Luke 12:21.];” and so act, that God himself may bear this testimony to you in the day of judgment; “he hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; and his horn shall be exalted with honour [Note: Psalms 112:9. with 2 Corinthians 9:9.].”
END OF VOL. XVIII.