Provision for Perilous Times

2Ti  •  22 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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It is of the very last importance, for the servant of Christ, in all ages, to have a clear, deep, abiding, influential sense of his position, his path, his portion, and his prospects—a divinely wrought apprehension of the ground which he is called to occupy; the sphere of action which is thrown open to him; the divine provision made for his comfort and encouragement, his strength and guidance; and the brilliant hopes held out to him. There is uncommon danger of our being allured into a mere region of theory and speculation, of opinion and sentiment, of dogmas and principles. The freshness of first love is frequently lost by contact with the men and things of what may be called u the religious world.” The lovely verdure of early personal Christianity is often destroyed by a wrong use of the machinery of religion, if we may be allowed to use such a term.
In the kingdom of nature, it frequently happens that some stray seed has dropped into the ground, taken root, and sprung up into a tender plant. The hand of man had nothing to do with it. God planted it, watered it, and made it grow. He assigned it its position, gave it its strength, and covered it with beauteous verdure. By and by, man intruded upon its solitude and transplanted it to his own artificial enclosure, there to wither and droop. Thus it is too often, alas! with the plants of God’s spiritual kingdom. They are often injured by man’s rude hand. They would be far better, if left to the sole management of the Hand that planted them. Young Christians frequently suffer immensely from not being left to the exclusive training of the Holy Ghost, and the exclusive teaching of Holy Scripture. Human management is almost sure to stunt the growth of God’s spiritual plants. It is not, by any means, that God may not use men as His instruments in watering, culturing, and caring for, His precious plants.
He assuredly may and does; but, then, it is God’s culture and care, not man’s. This makes all the difference. The Christian is God’s plant. The seed which produced him was divine. It was directed and planted by God’s own hand, and that same hand must be allowed to train it.
Now, what is true of the individual believer is equally true of the Church, as a whole. In the First Epistle to Timothy, the Church is looked at in its original order and glory. It is there viewed as “The house of God”— “The church of the living God”— “The pillar and ground of the truth.” Its office-bearers, its functions, and its responsibilities, are there minutely and formally described. The servant of Christ is instructed as to the mode in which he is to conduct himself in the midst of such a hallowed and dignified sphere. Such is the character, such the scope and object of Paul’s First Epistle to Timothy.
But, in the Second Epistle, we have something quite different. The scene is entirely changed. The house which, in the first epistle, was looked at in its rule, is here contemplated in its ruin. The church, as an economy set up on the earth, had, like every other economy, utterly failed. Man fails in everything. He failed amid the beauty and order of Paradise. He failed in that favored land “that flowed with milk and honey, the glory of all lands.” He failed amid the rare privileges of the gospel dispensation; and he will fail amid the bright beams of millennial glory. (Comp. Genesis in, Judg. 2, Acts 20:29,29For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:29) 3 John 1:9,9I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. (3 John 9) Rev. 1: 2., Rev. 20:7-97And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. 9And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. (Revelation 20:7‑9).)
The remembrance of this will help us in the understanding of 2 Timothy. It may, very properly, be termed, “a divine provision for perilous times.” The apostle seems, as it were, to be weeping over the ruins of that once beautiful structure. Like the weeping prophet, he beholds “the stones of the sanctuary poured out in the top of every street.” He calls to remembrance the tears of his beloved Timothy. He is glad to have even one sympathizing bosom into which to pour his sorrows. All that were in Asia had turned away from him. He was left to stand alone before Caesar’s judgment seat. Demas forsook him. Alexander, the coppersmith, did him much evil. All around him, so far as man was concerned, looked gloomy and dark. He begs of his beloved Timothy to bring him his cloak, his books, and his parchments. All is strongly marked. “Perilous times” are anticipated. “A form of godliness without the power”—the mantle of profession thrown over the grossest abominations of the human heart—men not able to endure sound doctrine—heaping to themselves teachers after their own lusts, having itching ears which must needs be tickled by the fabulous and baseless absurdities of the human mind. Such are the features of the Second Epistle to Timothy. Who can fail to notice them? Who can fail to see that our lot is cast in the very midst of the evils and dangers here contemplated? And is it not well to have a clear perception of these things? Why should we desire to blind our eyes as to the truth? Why deceive ourselves with vain dreams of increasing light and spiritual prosperity? Is it not better far to look the true condition of things straight in the face? Assuredly; and, the rather when the selfsame epistle which so faithfully points out “the perilous times” fully unfolds the divine provision. Why should we imagine that man, under the Christian dispensation, would prove a single whit better than man under all the dispensations which have gone before, or under the millennial dispensation which is yet to follow? Would not analogy, even in the absence of direct and positive proof, lead us to expect failure under this one economy as well as under all the others? If we, without exception, find judgment at the close of all the other dispensations, why should, we look for aught else at the close of this? Let my reader ponder these things, and then accompany me, for a few moments, while I seek, by the grace of God, to unfold some of the divine provisions for I do not attempt to expound this most touching and interesting epistle in detail. This would be impossible in an article like the present. I shall merely single out one point from each of the four chapters into which the epistle has been divided. These are, first, “unfeigned faith.” (ch. 1:5.) Secondly, “the sure foundation.” (chap. 2:19.) Thirdly, “the holy scriptures.” (chap. 3:15.) Fourthly, “the crown of righteousness.” (chap. 4:8.) The man who knows aught of the power of these things, is divinely provided for “perilous times.”
1. And, first, as to “the unfeigned faith”—that priceless possession, the apostle says, “I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” Here, then, we have something above and beyond everything ecclesiastical—something which one must have, ere he is introduced to the church, and which will stand good though the church were in ruins around him. This unfeigned faith connects the soul immediately with Christ, in the power of a link which must, of necessity, be anterior to all ecclesiastical associations how important so ever they may be, in their due place—a link which shall endure when all earthly associations, shall have been dissolved forever. We do not get to Christ through the church. We get to Christ first, and then to the church. Christ is our life, not the church. No doubt, church fellowship is most valuable; but there is something above and beyond it, and it is of that something that “unfeigned faith” takes possession. Timothy had this faith dwelling in him before ever he entered the house of God. He was connected with the God of the house previous to his manifested association with the house of God.
It is well to be clear as to this. We must never surrender the intense individuality which characterizes “unfeigned faith.” We must carry it with us through all the scenes and circumstances, the links and associations of our Christian life and service. We must not traffic in mere church position, or build upon religious machinery, or be up borne by a routine of duty, or cling to the worthless props of sectarian sympathy or denominational predilection. Let us cultivate those fresh, vivid, and powerful, affections which were created in our hearts when first we knew the Lord. Let the beauteous blossom of our spring-time be succeeded, not by barrenness and sterility, but by those mellow clusters which spring from realized connection with the root. Too often, alas! it is otherwise. Too often the earnest, zealous, simple-hearted young Christian is lost in the bigoted, narrow-minded member of a sect, or the intolerant defender of some peculiar opinion. The freshness, softness, simplicity, tenderness, and earnest affection of our young days, are rarely carried forward into the advanced stages of vigorous manhood, and mature old age. Very frequently, one finds a depth of tone, a richness of experience, a moral elevation, in the early stages of the Christian life which too soon gives place to a chilling formalism in one’s personal ways; or a mere energy in the defense of some barren system of theology. How rarely are those words of the Psalmist realized, “They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.” Psalm 92:1414They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; (Psalm 92:14).
The truth is, we all want to cultivate, more diligently, an “unfeigned faith.” We want to enter, with more spiritual vigor, into the power of the link which binds us, individually, to Christ. This would render us “fat and flourishing,” even in old age. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God.” We suffer materially by allowing what is called Christian intercourse to interfere with our personal connection and communion with Christ. We are far too prone to substitute intercourse with man for intercourse with God—to walk in the footsteps of our fellow, rather than in the footsteps of Christ—to look around, rather than upward, for sympathy, support, and encouragement. These are not the fruits of “unfeigned faith.” Quite the opposite. That faith is as blooming and vigorous amid the solitudes of a desert as in the bosom of an assembly. Its immediate, its all engrossing business is with God Himself. “It endures as seeing Him who is invisible.” It fixes its earnest gaze upon things unseen and eternal. “It enters into that within the veil.” It lives amid the unseen realities of an eternal world. Having conducted the soul to the feet of Jesus, there to get a full and final forgiveness of all its sins, through His most precious blood, it bears it majestically onward through all the windings and labyrinths of desert life, and enables it to bask in the bright beams of millennial glory.
Thus much as to this first precious item in the divine provision for “perilous times”—this “unfeigned faith.” No one can ever get on without it, let the times be peaceful or perilous, easy or difficult, rough or smooth, dark or bright. If a man be destitute of this faith, deeply implanted and diligently cultivated in his soul, he must, sooner or later, break down. He may be urged on, for a time, by the impulses of surrounding circumstances and their influence. He may be propped up and borne along by his coreligionists. He may float down along the stream of religious profession. But, most assuredly, if he be not possessed of “unfeigned faith,” the time is rapidly approaching when it will be all over with him forever. The “perilous times” will soon rise to a head, and then will come the awful crisis of judgment, from which none can escape save the happy possessors of “unfeigned faith.” God grant my reader may be one of these! If so, all is eternally safe.
2. We shall, now, consider, in the second place, “The sure foundation.” “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his. And let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (Chap. 2:19.) In the midst of all the “trouble,” the “hardness,” the “striving about words,” the “profane and vain babblings,” the errors of “Hymenaeus and Philetus in the midst of all these varied features of the “perilous times,” how ineffably precious to fall back upon God’s sure foundation. The soul that is built upon this, in the divine energy of “unfeigned faith,” is able to resist the rapidly rising tide of evil—is divinely furnished for the most appalling times. There is a fine moral link between the unfeigned faith in the heart of man, and the sure foundation laid by the hand of God. All may go to ruin. The church may go to pieces, and all who love that church may have to sit down and weep over its ruins; but there stands that imperishable foundation, laid by God’s own hand, against which the surging tide of error and evil may roll with all its fury, and have no effect, save to prove the eternal stability of that rock and of all who are built thereon.
“The Lord knoweth them that are his.” There is abundance of false profession, but the eye of Jehovah rests on all those who belong to Him. Not one of them is, or ever can be forgotten by Him. Their names are engrave1 on His heart. They are as precious to Him as the price He paid for them, and that is nothing less than the “precious blood of His own dear Son. No evil can befall them. No weapon formed against them can prosper. “The eternal God is their refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” What rich, what ample provision for “perilous times!” Why should we fear? Why should we be anxious? Having “unfeigned faith within, and God’s foundation beneath, it is our happy privilege to pursue, with tranquillized hearts, our upward and onward way, in the assurance that all is and shall be well.
“I know my sheep,” He cries,
“My soul approves them well:
Vain is the treacherous world’s disguise,
And vain the rage of hell.”
It has been well remarked that the seal on God’s foundation has two sides: one, bearing the inscription, “The Lord knoweth them that are his;” and the other, “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” The former is as peace-giving as the latter is practical. Let the strife and confusion be ever so great—let the storm rage and the billows arise—let the darkness thicken—let all the powers of earth and hell combine, “the Lord knoweth them that are his.” He has sealed them for Himself. The assurance of this is eminently calculated to maintain the heart in profound repose, let the “times” be ever so “perilous.”
But, let us never forget that each one who “names the name of Christ,” is solemnly responsible to “depart from iniquity wherever he finds it. This is applicable to all true christians. The moment I see anything that deserves the epithet of “iniquity,” be it what or where it may, I am called upon to “depart from” that thing. I am not to wait till others see with me, for what may seem to be “iniquity” to one, may not seem to be so, at all, to another. Hence, it is entirely a personal question. “Let everyone.” The language used in this epistle is very personal, very strong, very intense. “If a man purge himself:’ “Flee also youthful lusts.” “From such turn away:” “Continue thou.” “I charge thee” “Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions.” “Of whom be thou ware also.” These are solemn, earnest, weighty words—words which prove, very distinctly, that our lot is cast in times when we must not lean upon the arm or gaze upon the countenance of our fellow. We must be sustained by the energy of an “unfeigned faith,” and by our personal connection with the “sure foundation.” Thus shall we be able, let others do or think as they will, to “depart from iniquity”—to “flee youthful lusts”—to “turn away” from the adherents of a powerless “form of godliness,” wherever we find them, and to “beware” of every “Alexander the coppersmith.” If we suffer our feet to be moved from the rock—if we surrender ourselves to the impulse of surrounding circumstances and influences, we shall never be able to make head against the special forms of evil and error in these “perilous times.”
3. This introduces us, naturally, to our third point, namely, “The holy scriptures” that precious portion of every “man of God.” “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (chap. 3:14-17.) Here, then, we have rich provision for “perilous times.” A thorough knowledge of the One from “whom we have learned”—an accurate, personal, experimental acquaintance with “holy scriptures”—that pure fountain of divine authority—that changeless source of heavenly wisdom, which even a child may possess, and without which a sage must err. If a man be not able to refer all his thoughts, all his convictions, all his principles, to God as their living source-to Christ as their living center, and to “the holy scriptures” as their divine authority, he will never be able to get on through “perilous times.” A second-hand faith will never do. We must hold truth directly from God, through the medium, and on the authority of “the holy scriptures.” God may use a man to show me certain things in the word; but I do not bold them from man, but from God. It is, “knowing of whom thou hast learned; and when this is the case I am able, through grace, to get on through the thickest darkness, and through all the devious paths of this wilderness world. Inspirations heavenly lamp emits a light so clear, so full, so steady, that its brightness is only made the more distinctly manifest by the surrounding gloom. “The man of God” is not left to drink of the muddy streams that flow along the channel of human tradition; but with the vessel of “unfeigned faith,” he sits beside the limpid and ever-gushing fountain of “holy scripture,” there to drink of its refreshing waters, to the full satisfaction of his thirsty soul.
It is worthy of remark that, although the inspired apostle was fully aware, when writing his first epistle, of Timothy’s “unfeigned faith” and of his knowledge, from childhood’s earliest dawn, of “the holy scriptures,” yet he does not allude to these things until, in his second epistle, he contemplates the appalling features of the “perilous times.” The reason is obvious. It is in the very midst of the perils of ‘‘the last days,” that one has the most urgent need of “unfeigned faith” and “the holy scriptures.” We cannot get on without them. When all around is fresh and vigorous—when all are borne onward as by one common impulse of genuine devotedness—when every heart is full to overflowing of deep and earnest attachment to the Person and cause of Christ—when every countenance beams with heavenly joy—then, indeed, it is comparatively easy to get on. But the condition of things contemplated in the Second Epistle to Timothy is the very reverse of all this. It is such, that unless one is walking closely with God, in the habitual exercise of “unfeigned faith”—in the abiding realization of the link which connects him, indissolubly, with “the foundation of God”—and in clear, unquestionable, accurate knowledge of “the holy scriptures,” he must, assuredly, make shipwreck. This is a deeply solemn consideration, well worthy of my reader’s undivided, prayerful attention. The time has, verily, arrived in the which each one must follow the Lord, according to his measure. “What is that to thee? Follow thou me.” These words fall on the ear with peculiar power as one seeks to make his way amid the ruins of everything ecclesiastical.
But, let me not be misunderstood. It is not that I would detract, in the smallest degree, from the value of true church fellowship, or from the divine institution of the assembly and all the privileges and responsibilities attaching thereto. Far be the thought. I believe, most fully, that christians are called to seek the maintenance of the very highest principles of communion; and moreover, we are warranted, from the epistle which now lies open before us to expect that, in the darkest times, the “purged vessel” will be able to “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (chap. 2:22.)
All this is plain, and has its due place and value; but it, in no wise, interferes with the fact that each one is responsible to pursue a path of holy independence, without waiting for the countenance, the sympathy, the support, or the company of his fellow. True, we are to be deeply thankful for brotherly fellowship, when we can get it on true ground. Of such fellowship no words can tell the worth. Would that we knew more of it! The Lord increase it to us a hundred-fold! But let us never stoop to purchase fellowship at the heavy price of all that is “lovely and of good report.” May the name of Jesus be more precious to our hearts than all beside; and with all those who truly love His name may our happy lot be east on earth, as it shall be, throughout eternity, in the regions of unfading light and purity, above.
4. And, now, one closing word as to “the crown of righteousness.” “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 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 at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also who love his appearing.” (chap. 4:6-8.) Here, the venerable pilgrim takes his stand on the summit of the spiritual Pisgah, and, with undimmed eye, surveys the bright plains of glory. He sees the crown of righteousness glittering in the Master’s hand. He looks back over the course which he had run, and over the battle-field whereon he had fought—he stands on the confines of earth, and in the very midst of the ruins of that church whose rise and progress he had watched with such intense solicitude, and over whose decline and fall he had poured forth the tears of tender though disappointed affection—he fixes his eye on the goal of immortality which no power of the enemy can prevent his reaching, in triumph; and whether it were by Caesar’s ax that he was to reach that goal, or by any other means, it mattered not to one who was able to say, “I am ready.” What true sublimity! What moral grandeur! What noble elevation is here! And yet there was nothing of the ascetic in this incomparable servant, for though his vision was filled with the crown of righteousness—though he is ready to step like a conqueror into his triumphal chariot—he, nevertheless, feels it perfectly right to give minute directions about his cloak and books. This is divinely perfect. It teaches us that the more vividly we enter into the glories of heaven, the more faithfully shall we discharge the functions of earth—the more we realize the nearness of eternity, the more effectively shall we order the things of time.
Such, then, beloved reader, is the ample provision made, by the grace of God, for “the perilous times” through which you and I are now passing. “Unfeigned faith”— “The sure foundation”— “The holy scriptures”—and “The crown of righteousness.” May the Holy Ghost lead us into a deep sense of the importance and value of these things May we love the appearing of Jesus, and earnestly look out for that cloudless morning when “the righteous judge” shall place a diadem of glory upon the brow of each one who really loves His advent!
1. I suppose there has never been a “Nehemiah “ without a “Sanballat;” or an “Ezra” without a “ Rehum;” or a “ Paul” without an “Alexander.