The Concluding Exhortation
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (4:16)
Paul wraps up his charge to Timothy regarding the qualities of a noble servant by commanding him to pay close attention to himself and his teaching. Each of the eleven characteristics of an excellent minister found in verses 6–16 fit into one of these two categories. A true man of God will concentrate totally on personal holiness and public instruction. The benefit of so doing is twofold: it will insure salvation both for the minister himself, and for those who hear him. It will bring about salvation for him in the sense that final salvation, deliverance from sin and entrance into eternal glory, demands perseverance. It is the unmistakable teaching of Scripture that persevering in the faith is a mark of genuine salvation. Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (cf. Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Acts 13:43; 14:22; Rom. 2:7; Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:14). Such perseverance is the result of giving careful heed and holding on to one’s own devotion to spiritual virtue. While the perseverance of the saints can only be accomplished by the power of God, it is nonetheless the responsibility of each believer.
An excellent minister’s perseverance will also bring salvation for those who hear his message. He, of course, is not the source of their salvation, but is merely the agent of it. God’s glory is not at all forfeited or diminished because He uses human instruments in the divine work of saving souls. Rather, it is enhanced by His making useful those who are so weak, and ennobling them who are so ignoble. His godly life and faithful teaching of the Word will have a saving impact on those who hear him. The result, which is the true goal of all eleven marks of a godly minister, is that some will be saved. That is the church’s highest calling, and the sole reason she remains in the world. It is the goal of all the noble servant does in the ministry.
16 The reference to Timothy’s need to “watch [these things] closely” (epechō, GK 2091; cf. Php 2:16; giving something one’s undivided attention, see Ac 3:5) and to “persevere” in them (epimenō, GK 2152; see esp. Col 1:23) highlights the commitment and depth of devotion Paul expects from his foremost disciple. Literally speaking, Timothy will not “save” (sōzō, GK 5392) either himself or his hearers, for God is our Savior. But by watching his “life” and “doctrine” closely (in contrast to the heretics; cf. 1:4; 4:12), he will, rather, help preserve himself (cf. Eze 33:8; so Mounce, 265) and his hearers from evil influences (for a similar use of sōzō, see 2:15; NASB, “ensure salvation”) and from the false doctrines of the heretics.
16. Give heed to thyself, and to the doctrine. There are two things of which a good pastor should be careful; to be diligent in teaching, and to keep himself pure. It is not enough if he frame his life to all that is good and commendable, and guard against giving a bad example, if he do not likewise add to a holy life continual diligence in teaching; and, on the other hand, doctrine will be of little avail, if there be not a corresponding goodness and holiness of life. With good reason, therefore, does Paul urge Timothy to “give heed,” both to himself personally, and to doctrine, for the general advantage of the Church. On the other hand, he commends his constancy, that he may never grow weary; for there are many things that frequently happen, which may lead us aside from the right course, if we do not set our foot firmly to resist.
If thou shalt do these things, thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee. It is no ordinary spur to excite the thoughtfulness of pastors, when they learn that their own salvation, as well as that of the people, depends on the industry and perseverance with which they devote themselves to their office. And as doctrine, which solidly edifies, is commonly attended by little display, Paul says that he ought to consider what is profitable. As if he had said, “Let men who are desirous of glory be fed by their ambition, let them applaud themselves for their ingenuity; to you, let it be enough to devote yourself to your own salvation and that of the people.”
Now, this exhortation applies to the whole body of the Church, that they may not take offence at the simplicity which both quickens souls and preserves them in health. Nor ought they to think it strange that Paul ascribes to Timothy the work of saving the Church; for, certainly, all that is gained to God is saved, and it is by the preaching of the gospel that we are gathered to Christ. And as the unfaithfulness or carelessness of the pastor is ruinous to the Church, so the cause of salvation is justly ascribed to his faithfulness and diligence. True, it is God alone that saves; and not even the smallest portion of his glory can lawfully be bestowed on men. But God parts with no portion of his glory when he employs the agency of men for bestowing salvation.
Our salvation is, therefore, the gift of God alone, because from him alone it proceeds, and by his power alone it is performed; and therefore, to him alone, as the author, it must be ascribed. But the ministry of men is not on that account excluded, nor does all this interfere with the salutary tendency of that government on which, as Paul shews, the prosperity of the Church depends. (Eph. 4:11.) Moreover, this is altogether the work of God, because it is he who forms good pastors, and guides them by his Spirit, and blesses their labour, that it may not be ineffectual.
If thus a good pastor is the salvation of his hearers, let bad and careless men know that their destruction must be ascribed to those who have the charge of them; for, as the salvation of the flock is the crown of the pastor, so from careless pastors all that perishes will be required. Again, a pastor is said to save himself, when, by faithfully discharging the office committed to him, he serves his calling; not only because he avoids that terrible vengeance which the Lord threatens by Ezekiel,—“His blood will I require at thy hand,” (Ezek. 33:8,) but because it is customary to speak of believers as performing their salvation when they walk and persevere in the course of their salvation. Of this mode of expression we have spoken in our exposition of the Epistle to the Philippians, (2:12.)
Ver. 16. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine.—
The comparative influence of character and doctrine:—In counselling his friend and follower as to the best method of doing good in the sphere of duty allotted to him, the apostle seems here to lay the chief stress, not on doctrine or teaching, but on life or conduct. “Take heed,” is his admonition, not first to what you teach, and then to what you are; not primarily to your verbal instructions, and then to the spirit of your own character and life, but first “to thyself” and then “to the doctrine.” For it is nothing less than the broad principle that, in order to do good, the first and great effort must be to be good,—that extent and accuracy of religious knowledge, however important, are secondary, as a means of influence, to the moral discipline and culture of our own heart and life. Both reason and experience are against the notion that it needs great personal piety to be an accurate expositor of the theory of Divine truth, or that none but men of very holy lives can be profound theologians or able preachers. To be versant in a science does not of necessity imply that we must be skilled in the correlative art. Theory and practice, science and art, the knowledge of principles and the power to apply them, are attainments which depend on totally different faculties, and which may be, and in actual experience very commonly are, dissociated from each other. The able or eloquent writer on the principles of government would not always make the best practical statesman, or the acute expounder of theories in political economy the most sagacious financier. It is possible to know scientifically the principles of music without being able to sing a note,—to discuss and enforce the principles of grammar and rhetoric, and yet be a feeble speaker or inelegant writer. And the same remark is borne out in the sphere of man’s spiritual life. The facts and data being given, a man may play with the terms of theology as with the terms of algebra. The experience of mankind in all ages has shown how possible it is for a man to draw fine fancy-pictures of the beauty of virtue amidst a life that is sadly unfamiliar with her presence, to utter pathetic harangues on charity with a heart of utter selfishness, and to declaim on purity and self-denial, whilst living in sloth and luxurious self-indulgence. The truth of God may thus be studied as a mere intellectual exercise, and preached as a feat of rhetorical address, whilst yet the premises of the preacher’s high argument are utterly foreign to his own godless experience. Like a sick physician, the preacher may prescribe, perhaps successfully, to others for the disease of which himself is dying. We fall back with not less confidence on the assertion, that an experimental acquaintance with Divine truth—deep religious earnestness, is the first and grand qualification in the teacher, incomparably the most powerful means of usefulness, and the surest pledge of success. To be duly effective, truth must not merely fall from the lip, but breathe forth from the life; it must come, not like incense from the censer that only holds it, but like fragrance, from a flower, exhaling from a nature suffused with it throughout. In one word—and this is the principle which I wish now to illustrate—the first qualification of the religious instructor is, not knowledge, but piety.
- That life is in some respects of prior importance to doctrine may be perceived by reflecting that life tends very greatly to modify a man’s own views of doctrine; in other words, that personal character tinges a man’s perceptions of truth. Whether it be things material or moral, objects of sense or objects of thought, in most cases we perceive according as we are. The same objects may be externally present to a hundred spectators, and yet be practically different to each of them. Every one knows, for example, that the varied colours wherewith the face of the visible earth seems to be clothed, exist not literally in the objects themselves, but owe their splendour to the eye that surveys them. It is only the unknown or occult causes of colour that exist in nature; colour itself is in the organism and mind of the observer; and through physical disease or organic defect our perceptions of colour may be marred or destroyed. The jaundiced eye blanches nature. Or if we pass from the mere organism through which man’s spirit converses with the outward world to that spirit itself, still more obvious illustration have we of the principle before us. It is the state of the inner eye, the condition of that spirit within us which looks out on nature through the loopholes of sense, that makes the world’s aspect to be to us what it is. It is the same world which is beheld by the man of deep thoughtfulness and sensibility, and by the dull observer in whom the sense of beauty has never been evoked, and yet how different that world to each! Now the same law attains in that higher province to which the text relates. As our perceptions of beauty, so our perceptions of moral and spiritual truth are modified by the inner spirit and character of the percipient. Self conditions doctrine. A man’s own moral state is very much the measure of his moral convictions. The highest spiritual truths lie beyond the range of a soul that is not in harmony with them, and the glimmerings of truth which a defective nature gains, take their complexion from its moral tone and spirit. The glorious discoveries of Divine things on the page of inspiration are lost to the soul in which the moral sense, the vision and faculty divine, is dull or dormant. God is but a name to the mind in which no Divine instinct, no godly sympathies and aspirations, have begun to stir. Moreover, consider how notoriously our opinions in secular matters are affected by our prejudices and passions. Who of us, where personal interest is at stake, can trust with unerring certainty to the conclusions of his own judgment? Experience proves that agreeable falsehoods are at least as likely to be believed as disagreeable truths. Endeavour to introduce new opinions, uncongenial to educational or class convictions, and often all the force of truth will in vain be exerted to obtain for them a place in the rugged and reluctant mind. Thus even on the lower ground of secular truth it needs, in the formation of opinion, the rarest candour and self-watchfulness to conduct the process aright. But this discipline is still more indispensable to the religious inquirer. For there are no interests so tremendous as those which are involved in our religious beliefs. In no other province of inquiry are deeper passions stirred, or prejudices, associations, habits, more numerous and inveterate, called into play. As the chemist seeks to render his balances exquisitely sensitive, and carefully eliminates from his results all variations of temperature or other disturbing elements; so should the student of Divine things strive by God’s grace to attain the acuteness and delicacy of a judgment freed from all deflecting influences, and poised with an exquisite nicety of discrimination on which not the slightest grain of truth is lost. He should cultivate, in one word, by the discipline of a holy life, a truer and philosophic calmness and candour—the calmness of a spirit that dwells in habitual communion with God, the candour of a mind that has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by truth.
- In further illustration of the principle that life or character comes, in order of importance, before “doctrine,” it is to be considered that life or character affects not only a man’s own views of truth, but also his power of expressing or communicating truth to others. For if, from any cause, the organ of spiritual perception be impaired or undeveloped in a man’s mind, of course he can communicate to others no clearer views than he himself has received. The stream can rise no higher than its source. The medium lends its own defects to the light which passes through it. To exert real power over men’s minds and hearts, what you speak must be not only true, but true to you. For the conveyance of thought and feeling from mind to mind is not a process which depends on mere verbal accuracy. Language is not the only medium through which moral convictions and impressions are transmitted from speaker to hearer. There is another and more subtle mode of communication, a mysterious moral contagion, by means of which, irrespective of the mere intellectual apparatus employed, the instructor’s beliefs and emotions are passed over into the minds of his auditory. Strong conviction has a force of persuasion irrespective of the mere oral instrument by which it works. The magnetic force must saturate his own spirit ere it flow out to others in contact with him. No stereotyped orthodoxy, no simulated fervours, however close or clever the imitation, will achieve the magic effects of reality. Bring your own spirit to the fount of inspiration, live in habitual communion with the infinite truth and life, and the words you speak to men, whether rude or refined, will possess a charm, a force, a power to touch their hearts and mould their secret souls, which no words of eloquent conventionality can ever attain. There will be an intuitive recognition of the Divine fire which has touched your lips.
III. The only other consideration I shall adduce in support of the principle involved in the text is—that life or character has in many respects an influence which direct teaching or doctrine cannot exert. Actions, in many ways, teach better than words, and even the most persuasive oral instruction is greatly vivified when supplemented by the silent teaching of the life. 1. Consider, for one thing, that actions are more intelligible than words. Ideas, reflections, deductions, distinctions, when presented in words, are liable to misapprehension; their power is often modified or lost by the obscurity of the medium through which they are conveyed, and the impression produced by them is apt very speedily to vanish from the mind. But whatever the difficulty of understanding words, deeds are almost always intelligible. Let a man not merely speak but act the truth; let him reveal his soul in the articulate speech of an earnest, pure, and truthful life, and this will be a language which the profoundest must admire, while the simplest can appreciate. The most elaborate discourse on sanctification will prove tame and ineffective in comparison with the eloquence of a humble, holy walk with God. In the spectacle of a penitent soul pouring forth the broken utterance of its contrition at the Saviour’s feet, there is a nobler sermon on repentance than eloquent lips ever spoke. The living epistle needs no translation to be understood in every country and clime; a noble act of heroism or self-sacrifice speaks to the common heart of humanity; a humble, gentle, holy, Christlike life preaches to the common ear all the world over. 2. Consider, again, that the language of the life is more convincing than the language of the lip. It is not ideal or theoretical, it is real and practical; and whilst theories and doctrines may be disputed, and only involve the learner in inextricable confusion, a single unmistakable fact, if you can appeal to it, cuts the knot, and sets discussion at rest. The theory is a fine one, they admit, but constituted as poor human nature is, there is this inseparable objection to it, that it will not work. But in this, as in many other cases, experiment will be the test of truth. Men may dispute your theory of agriculture, and explanation or discussion might only serve to confirm them in their error; but show them, rugged though be the soil and ungenial the climate, your fair and abundant crops, and objection is silenced. 3. Consider, finally, that the teaching of the life is available in many cases in which the teaching of the lip cannot, or ought not, to be attempted. But in all cases in which formal instruction or advice is precluded, how invaluable that other mode of access to the minds of men on which we are now insisting—the silent, unobtrusive, inoffensive, yet most potent and persuasive teaching of the life. The counsel you may not speak you may yet embody in action. To the faults and sins you cannot notice in words, you may hold up the mirror of a life bright with purity and goodness and grace. The mind which no force of rebuke could drive from sin, may yet be insensibly drawn from it by the attractive power of holiness ever acting in its presence. Let your daily life be an unuttered yet perpetual pleading with man for God. Let men feel, in contact with you, the grandeur of that religion to whose claims they will not listen, and the glory of that Saviour whose name you may not name. Let the sacredness of God’s slighted law be proclaimed by your uniform sacrifice of inclination to duty, by your repression of every unkind word, your scorn of every undue or base advantage, your stern and uncompromising resistance to the temptations of appetite and sense. Preach the preciousness of time by your husbanding of its rapid hours, and your crowding of its days with duties. And, be assured, the moral influence of such a life cannot be lost. Like the seed which the wind wafts into hidden glades and forest depths, where no sower’s hand could reach to scatter it, the subtle germ of Christ’s truth will be borne on the secret atmosphere of a holy life, into hearts which no preacher’s voice could penetrate. Where the tongue of men and of angels would fail, there is an eloquence of living goodness which will often prove persuasive. (J. Caird, D.D.)
The teacher and the taught:—1. Let your teaching be Scriptural. You are students of God’s revealed Word. Let me, then, earnestly entreat you to lay the basis of all that you have to say upon the clearly ascertained revelations of Holy Scripture. Do not suppose that you can find within yourself better moral illustrations, or more comprehensive principles of action, than you will find within the sacred volume. 2. Take heed to your doctrine, that it be not only Scriptural, but comprehensive. Do not rest satisfied with a truth because it is found in Holy Scripture, but discover for yourself whether there be not other truths, closely-related truths, in God’s revelation, without which the truth in question cannot be understood. Do not be satisfied with the truth that merely meets your own views and fancy. Believe me, nearly all the errors which have desolated the Church of God have arisen from this want of comprehensiveness, this exaggeration of some truths, this conference upon them of unwonted importance. There are those who have so exclusively dwelt on the Divine sovereignty and counsels, that they have lost sight of the responsibility and defiled the conscience of man. There are those who are so overpowered by His divinity, that they have lost the practical force of His brotherhood, and conferred His humanity on His mother, His sisters, and brethren. 3. Take heed to the manner of the doctrine, that it be connected and ordered upon some plan, some prayerfully-considered purpose. Do not treat the Scriptures as a conjuring-book, nor open it at random, nor read it with carelessness; but endeavour to get at a meaning of a period, of a stage, of an epoch, of a division of God’s revelations; or, if you will, pursue the Scriptural teaching, on some great thrilling themes, from the beginning of the Bible to its close. 4. Take heed to your doctrine, that it is appropriate to the class of minds with which you have to deal. Paul spoke in Hebrew to the Jews, and in Greek to the philosophers of Athens. He adopted one style when addressing the Orientalists of Ephesus, and another when reasoning with the prejudices of Roman Jews. “Take heed,” said the venerable apostle to his son in the faith, “take heed unto thyself.” We who are workers for God, students of truth, servants of the Church, teachers and pastors, watchers for souls, have a great work to do with ourselves: we have great temptations to resist, yet we are to be “patterns even to believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Take heed to thyself, O man of God! Thou mayest deal with heavenly realities and Divine truths until they are mere chess-men that thou art shifting over the board and fighting imaginary battles with. Thou mayest substitute the intellectual appreciation of the truth which thou hast discovered, for the spiritual reception of it into thy own heart. The inducements by which the apostle urges this stirring appeal are comprehensive and inspiring: “in so doing thou shalt both save thyself and those that hear thee.” My fellow-workers, there is one salvation for our hearers and for ourselves. The most powerful preacher, the most devoted teacher, the most distinguished apostle, the holiest martyr, must be saved by the same means as the most ignorant and guilty sinner to whom he speaks. There are no special passports to heaven, no short cuts, no sideways, no reserved seats, no privileged admissions there; a spiritual reputation on earth is no watchword at the gates of heaven. However, patient perseverance in such godlike work is a way not only of securing the salvation of others, but our own salvation too. Our own salvation, without the salvation of those that hear us, is a thought we can scarcely endure. (H. R. Reynolds, B.A.)
Self-improvement:—“Genius,” says a modern writer, “is the passion for self-improvement.” It has been assumed that if a man has genius he does not need to be careful of himself, he does not need to aim at self-improvement. The very opposite is the true state of the case. It is the blood horse that needs the most careful training. “Take heed to thyself” is a word necessary for us all, but it is especially necessary for those of full vitality: for those in whose veins the hot blood seems to course rapidly; for those of highly-strung nervous organization; for those whose impulses are fiery; whose temperament is ardent; whose souls have in them a craving that seems insatiable. If these do not take heed to themselves, there will be disaster. A well-balanced nature, in which the physical, mental, and moral seem to be in happy equilibrium, is not always found, perhaps seldom. Some one department of our organism seems to predominate. The tendency is to cultivate that which it is most easy to cultivate, to the neglect of the other. Consequently, the whole nature is thrown out of balance and a condition of chronic unhappiness is the result. I would ask you to remark upon the advice which the great apostle gives to Timothy, one of the earliest presbyters of the Christian Church. Though this man must have had special qualifications for his work, yet these special qualifications did not preclude the necessity for diligent improvement of his mental powers. He is urged to do everything he can towards self-improvement. On that must depend his usefulness. There is no recognition here of any supernatural grace which would relieve him from the use of those means whereby ordinary men bring their minds into an ability of perceiving what is truth and what error. He must take heed to himself first, or his teaching will not be as full of light and of force as it ought to be. “Take heed unto thyself.” Every man of us is a trinity in unity, body, soul, spirit. We have physical, mental and spiritual needs; physical, mental and spiritual abilities—these constitutionally. They are included in the word “manhood.” The physical is the pediment on which the mental and spiritual stand. It is that which confines them to this earth. It limits and modifies their use. There is something that we have to learn within these present limitations, which will be useful to us always. We soon come to the end of our physical growth; and strange though it seems, very many seem soon to come to the end of their mental growth, although it must be only in seeming. But no one ever comes to the limit of spiritual growth so long as he is on this earth. Now, we have to recognize distinctly and clearly that the lower is for the sake of the higher. It is in service to it. The physical is for the sake of the mental, the mental for the sake of the emotional, and all for the sake of the spiritual. Nor is there any possibility of improvement until that which is uppermost in man constitutionally becomes uppermost in thought. Inadequate views of human nature are at the root of personal miseries and social perplexities. Man’s view of himself as to what he is and what destined for must affect him beneficially or otherwise in all relations of life and in all that he does. Supposing a man has this view of life, “I am here to be as happy as I can make myself, here to enjoy myself, here simply to have a good time.” That is the dominating idea. You see at a glance its limitations. No heroism can ever come out of it; nothing really good or great or sublime. No man moving under the influence of that idea has ever done anything of worth or value. Take another view of life, that in which a man sees something to be done out of which comes a material reward. The idea of duty dawns upon him, eventually takes possession of him, masters him, and under its influence he denies himself much to which other men are inclined, and becomes the world’s successful man in that region concerning which we cannot use any other words than those which convey respect—the commercial. This man becomes stoical. He uses one department of his nature only. We might bring other types of men forward in illustration, but these two will suffice. In both cases the nature is depreciated below that for which it was predestinated. Neither man will ever be good or noble. There is no possibility of it. The idea which these men have of manhood and its meaning and purpose is very much lower than God’s idea written in the constitution of man. The first man never could be happy and the second man never can be satisfied. Why? Because, in both cases, the nature is larger than the idea which controls and dominates it. The spiritual part of man is clamorous. It wants its dues, or its wine turns to vinegar; its milk of human kindness to gall. The physical is not here for itself, but for the sake of the mental, the mental is not here for itself, but for the sake of the emotional and the affectional; and the emotional and the affectional are here for the sake of that which is permanent and indestructible in man’s nature—the spiritual. As a child cries for its mother so the spiritual in man cries out for its Father, God. We see, then, that there is a limit soon reached to physical self-improvement, and a limit also soon reached to improvement arising out of any type or style of life which is dominated by the idea of pleasing oneself simply, or of doing duty which has relation only to that which is seen and temporal. Every man, even the smallest and meanest, is larger constitutionally than his business and larger than his pleasures—using that word as it is ordinarily used. Man’s self, what the philosophers would call “the ego,” is that which needs to be continuously improved. And with its improvement everything else belonging to the man will be raised, will be expanded, will be developed into a higher power. If a man be an artist, he is a better artist when his spiritual nature is awakened. The costliest pictures in all Europe are those in which the artists have aimed at bodying forth spiritual themes. No man is really himself until the Spirit within him is awake. The New Testament calls him “dead” till then. It is all but literally true that a man is never alive until that which is characteristic of him, as man, is alive. A type of religious life has been prevalent, we might say dominant, in the past which has almost lost sight of three-fourths of the Pauline theology, anyway of the Pauline ethics. To get a man converted according to the Calvinistic idea of conversion, and then pretty much to leave him as necessarily in a condition of safety, this has been dominant. Conversion means turning the life Christwards instead of turning the back upon Christ and His salvation. But to turn round and stand still is not the apostolic idea of being a Christian. Any new truth entering the mind brings light, and light means life, and life means activity. We are at school—learning how to be men and women according to God’s idea of men and women. How is our spiritual nature to be developed into more and yet more until it becomes the undisputed sovereign of our constitution? It is impossible to compel any man to be a Christian because it is impossible to compel love. The heart of man must feel drawn to the object set before it. And so we fail to do any justice to the Christian religion unless its relation to the heart of man be presented so as to wake that heart into response. Along this line all self-improvement must proceed. We must take heed to ourselves. I venture to add that there is no spiritual self-improvement that is worth anything apart from plan and purpose. A spasmodic religiousness will do little. If a young man at college should study only when he feels in the humour he would be disgraced. If a man of business should go to his store or office only when the fit takes him he would be bankrupt. (R. Thomas, D.D.)
The principles of the ministerial character:—We shall note some of those features of character, which were probably intended when the apostle urged Timothy—and in him all who should come after him—to “take heed unto himself.”
- We may suppose him, in the first instance, to mean, Take heed that thou art faithful. No qualification is more commonly associated with the gospel ministry than this. “Moreover,” says this apostle to the Corinthians, “it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful”; “I have obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful”: whilst to Epaphras and Tychicus he assigns the distinction of “faithful ministers of Christ and his fellow-servants in the Lord.”
- But again: in warning Timothy to “take heed to himself,” the apostle would have him be fearless. He says to him in another epistle, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” It is remarkable to observe how prophets, evangelists and apostles concur in warning us against the fear of man.
III. Another ministerial quality, which we may well consider as included in the apostle’s caution, “Take heed unto thyself,” is that of a prudent regard to external circumstances. A Christian, a real Christian, we ought to remember, is a public man—an instrument in the world’s renovation—taken up into a system of agencies, which are to issue in the regeneration of a new and righteous universe: so that “whether he lives, he lives unto the Lord; or whether he dies, he dies unto the Lord.” Neither is it less a part of this ministerial prudence, to take heed to the intellectual signs of the times in which we live. (D. Moore, M.A.)
The principles of ministerial doctrine:—
- We inquire, then, what authority is to be consulted in deciding upon the truth of doctrine. One pervading fault of all the religious systems of antiquity was the absence of any universal and accredited standard, either of faith or of practice. Men did not know what they were to believe. Their mysteries were locked up among human deposits; their precepts proceeded from human oracles; and as there were no means of securing uniformity among the teachers’ thoughts, that which was set down as truth to-day, might cease to be truth to-morrow. Why, his security is, that all essential and saving truth is lodged, confined, inseparably bound up in a volume, whose pages were penned by the finger of the living God; so that a curse would light on him, be he seraph from the throne of light or ambassador from the realms of darkness, who should knowingly preach as an essential doctrine of the gospel, that which could neither be found therein, nor yet be proved thereby. Now, it must be owned, that even if there be nothing else to recommend the recognition of this principle, it has at least the advantage of great simplicity; that it would preserve us from all those fluctuations of doctrine and of practice, which would be sure to result, so long as men’s cameleon views were permitted to determine what should be truth and what should not. But here it may be asked, does the fact of this system being locked up in a single book secure this much-desired uniformity? The Almighty has made the way of holiness plain as a sunbeam to him that on his knees will seek for it; but He certainly has made no provision for the blindness that will not see.
- We come now to the claims of human reason in reference to the mode of inculcating doctrine. Born as man is, in common with myriads of other creatures, subject to appetite, passion, disease and death, he has one faculty which distinguishes him from the whole intelligent universe—the faculty of reason; that power by which he thinks and forms his conclusions. In this respect, man stands alone. It is plain, therefore, that no system of instruction would be complete, which disregarded the claims of this noble faculty. And yet it has been, from ill-advised endeavours to satisfy these claims, that the unity of the Church has suffered some of its severest shocks, and the cause of truth its deepest injuries. Teachers and taught have too often lacked the courage to acknowledge that the line of their puny intellect could never fathom “the deep things of God”—that there were doctrines in their system, which could never be comprehended by finite beings. Now, we have no hesitation in telling you, that we have no desire to see these lofty subjects pared down and refined to the presumed level of human reason. “Without controversy,” such a doctrine as that of “God manifest in the flesh,” is a mystery. Neither, as we shall hope to show you, whenever any of these sublime doctrines are brought under your notice, are any demands made upon your faith, which it is not the duty of an intelligent creature to concede.
III. We proceed now to the use and efficacy of external ordinances towards strengthening our faith.
- The leading truths to be insisted upon as essential points of doctrine. (Ibid.)
Improvement of religious anniversaries:—
- I shall explain the admonition, “Take heed to thyself.” 1. The object of your solicitude, this will be yourself. It is your soul—a man’s soul is himself. What is the garment to the body which it clothes? What is the body to the soul which inhabits it? 2. The manner in which this solicitude for the soul is expressed—“Take heed.” How often is that admonition repeated in Scripture; and generally to some subject connected with man’s spiritual and eternal interests! Man is heedful enough in reference to his worldly concerns, but he is the most heedless being in reference to his spiritual interests. Salvation is not a trifling work; religion is not an insignificant matter;—it requires that we “take heed.”
- I am to enforce this admonition. And here the motives are so numerous that selection is more difficult than enumeration. 1. But, in the first place, I would remind you of the inconceivable value and infinite importance of that for which your solicitude is demanded. 2. Take heed to the soul, for the soul’s salvation is the most rational, the most befitting exercise of that self-love which our Creator has implanted in our nature as our impetus to happiness. There is a great difference between selfishness and self-love. It cannot be vicious for a man to desire to be happy, nor is there any virtue in it. It is only an instinct of nature, but then it is a most important one; and the man that is not taking heed to his soul is acting in opposition to this self-love—this instinct of his nature after happiness. 3. But I observe there is another motive to take heed to thyself—it is the command of God. If it were only advice on the part of the Creator—since He knows the whole of the case, since His eye looks onward to eternity, since He comprehends the whole range of being, since He knows what is destined for the righteous and the wicked in another world—the creature must be under the influence of a total disregard to his own happiness, who refuses the counsel of the Almighty. 4. I remark, that if we do not take heed to ourselves, all the solicitudes which others may have cherished, or may still feel for us, will be all in vain. 5. I urge this admonition to take heed to yourselves by the consideration that it is indispensably necessary—you cannot be saved without it. There are difficulties connected with salvation. If you are saved, there must be striving, watching, and praying. Can all this be done without taking heed to your souls? 6. I admonish you to take heed to yourselves, by showing you that all the solicitude you may feel, or profess to feel for others, cannot be accepted in you for solicitude for yourselves. 7. I urge this on you from the consideration, that so far from interfering with or injuring your doings for the benefit of others, the more heed you take to yourselves, the better qualified will you be to take heed to others. There is nothing in a strict attention to your own personal salvation, incompatible with the salvation of others. And now permit me, in conclusion, to take up the subject—1. By way of examination. 2. Let me take up the subject by way of expostulation, what have you taken heed to if you have not taken heed to yourselves? How has your time been occupied? How have your faculties been employed? What have you found more valuable than your soul, more important than salvation, more endurable than eternity, more desirable than heaven? (J. A. James.)
Thyself and thy teaching:—The text consists of three parts. It presents—1. An object of watchful care. 2. An admonition to persistency in watchfulness. 3. A reason for this care in its happy results.
- The object of watchfulness and caution is apparently twofold. Take heed to thyself and to thy teaching; but as we shall examine the admonition a little more carefully, we shall discover that the two parts are of one piece and made up of one thought. For the present, however, let us consider them separately. Take heed then, first, to thyself; or literally, hold thy attention fixed upon thyself. The gospel gives us two classes of admonition which, while apparently pointing in different ways, are nevertheless quite consistent. On the one hand, it is constantly directing our thoughts away from self; its very key-note is deny self; treat it as if it were not. On the other hand, it is most intensely personal. While it tells us that no man liveth unto himself, it also tells us that every man shall give account of himself to God. In one and the same breath we hear “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” and “Every man shall bear his own burden.” In one place we find Paul insisting on the independent right of the individual conscience, asserting that every man stands or falls to his own master; and in another saying, “If meat make my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat while the world standeth.” In our text we find the same thing. Timothy is exhorted to take heed to himself; but the last clause of the verse shows that not only himself but all his hearers are to be in his mind; that his very heedfulness of himself is to be for their sake quite as much as for his own. Hence our text, carefully studied, may show us how these two classes of admonition may be reconciled. “Bend thine attention on thyself.” The fair inference is that self needs careful watching; that a man who undertakes to look after himself has a great piece of work upon his hands, and one which admits of no negligence. In a worldly sense most men find taking care of themselves a very serious business; it is an infinitely more serious business in a moral sense; it is transcendently serious in a Christian sense; at least our Lord seemed to think so when He asked, “What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own self.” The difference between taking care of self in the ordinary sense and in the Christian sense, is very radical and lies in this; that the ordinary sense implies taking care of the natural self; gratifying its desires, encouraging its tendencies, assisting its proclivities, trying to make it by culture, on a larger scale, essentially what it is by nature; while the Christian sense implies making self something which it is not by nature; the development of a renewed, Christ-like self, the ideal self of the Gospel; the training of a new creature in Christ Jesus. We often hear people exhorted to be true to themselves, as if all virtue were summed up in that. There are not a few men who, if they were true to themselves would be false to every man. Certain people talk as though if a man only acts out that which he really is at heart, he is thereby shown to be virtuous. On the contrary, he may be shown to be essentially vicious. A serpent is true to himself when he stings you; a tiger when he rends you; a traitor when he betrays you. The burglar, the pickpocket, the assassin, the more false they are to themselves the better for us. The gospel, therefore, challenges this fine moral sentiment, and admits it only under conditions. Be true to yourself, yes; but to what self? There is something before being true to yourself, and that is, “Take heed to yourself.” Look well what that is to which you propose to be true. Christian training has not only to bring us to a certain point of attainment, it has also to detach us from very much; and it is to the work of detachment as well as to that of attainment that our taking heed to ourselves is directed. When a boy goes to West Point and is enrolled as a cadet, perhaps the most exasperating thing about his new life is that he is constantly being checked in doing the things which it is natural for him to do. The soldier self he finds out is something quite different from the schoolboy self, and the transition from one to the other is neither easy nor pleasant. “Look out for yourself. That is no way for a soldier to stand.” His head or feet fall into their natural positions. “Take care! Eyes right!” And so at every point where the natural habits assert themselves, the boy is corrected and reproved. His natural self is the very thing he has to take heed to and guard against while he is cultivating the new soldierly self until it becomes a second nature. Just so, when a man sets out to become a good soldier of Christ, a great part of the hardness he has to endure grows out of the struggle with himself in the effort to develop the new and better self. Hence the emphasis is laid by the apostle justly upon this point. The first thing is that you yourself be right; that you yourself be under Christ’s new law, pervaded by Christ’s new life, guided by Christ’s new unselfish principle of action; that you be such a self as Paul describes in the words, “Not I live but Christ liveth in me.” Therefore, take heed unto thyself. Take heed too unto thy teaching. Christianity, such is our Lord’s general principle, wherever it informs a life and a character, carries a power of instruction. Ye are the light of the world. The very quality of Christian life is that something should go out from it to enlighten and purify. Here, therefore, is the point of connection with the former charge. Take heed to thyself, because that self teaches; because no man liveth unto himself; because you cannot be a Christian and not give men some impression about Christ and Christianity. You must teach. You cannot help it. Men will learn something from you whether you will or not. Thus, then, all that has been said thus far is easily summed up. Clergy and people alike are admonished simply on the ground of their discipleship. Discipleship in every case carries with it a power of teaching. That power resides first of all in the disciple’s Christian personality; in what he himself is as a Christian. I repeat it—you all teach. Every one of you who professes faith in Christ is a teacher in virtue of that fact. You teach by your spirit. This is a thing hard to define or explain. If one should ask you to explain the odour which fills your room from that beautiful climbing honeysuckle, you could not do it; but you are conscious of the fragrance none the less.
- We come now to the second element of the text—persistency. Continue in these things; that is, in care for yourself and for your teaching. Christian self-culture requires continuous care. The old self is like the treacherous ocean lapping at the dykes and assailing the smallest break, and must be constantly watched. The new self is a growth, not a complete creation, and like all growths must be tended. And this persistency is related also to the teaching power of the Christian self. It is behind all the good and lasting impressions which holy character makes. When a man strikes a blow which stuns his adversary the effect is sudden; but behind that lightning-like stroke are years of slow muscular compacting and gymnastic training. When intellectual power goes out of another man to you, and you instinctively recognize, in your first contact with him, an intellectual king, behind that impression are years of mental discipline and laborious study. Just so spiritual character often makes itself felt at once. It takes no time nor reasoning to convince you that you are talking with one who has walked with God: but crude character, shallow character, half-way character does not and cannot affect you thus. Such impression is made by the man who has long taken heed to himself, who has been scarred in many a fight with the old self, and has watched and tended with prayer and tears the growth of the new man in him. Then again, even when character is not ripened there is a lesson in steady, persistent growth. A double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, ceases to be a lesson except of warning. When a man’s whole life is seen to be concentrated upon the service of God and the attainment of a heavenly recompense, that life is a lesson. Many a time, as you have been walking the street, you have seen a man stop at a corner, and look fixedly upward at something or other. Your first impulse is to look up too. There is always a peculiar interest in anything that is above this earth, though it may be only a little way above. Then you stop, and still look up. Perhaps you ask, “What is it?” The next man that comes along and sees you two looking up, stops also, and the next, until a crowd is gathered, for no other reason than that one man in the hurrying throng stood steadfastly looking upward. And this familiar incident is a type of something better. When a man is seen living for heaven; when every day’s life says to men, “One thing have I desired of the Lord: that will I seek after,” there is a power and a lesson in that fact. Men ask, “What is it he sees which we do not see? What is he after which thus concentrates his energy, and makes him live in this world as if his home were elsewhere?”
III. And now the third element of the text—the result of this careful and persistent self-culture. “Thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” In the economy of this world for a man to take heed to himself means to let other people go; not to save them, but to let them be lost if they will. In the Christian economy, to take heed to oneself is to save not only the self, but others. Thou shalt save thyself. It is very clearly implied that salvation is not an easy matter. Salvation is not a thing which God works out for us while we take our ease. But this promise, “thou shalt save thyself,” is bound up with our influence upon others. You know very well that in teaching another any branch of knowledge, you broaden your own knowledge. You know how the labourer who toils for the sake of wife and little ones, strengthens his own arm; and in like manner, the exertion of spiritual energy for the sake of others, reacts to make the man who puts it forth spiritually stronger. The man who feels that he must take heed to himself because his life affects other lives, and who watches and disciplines himself, not only for his own salvation, but to save others—himself grows apace in spiritual power. So, too, you shall save them that hear you. There is a saving power in a life which is watchful over itself as in God’s sight. Here we strike, I think, the true idea of the Church of Christ. The Church is ordained of Christ to save. Men talk of revival. For one I want a revival on a larger scale than is popularly conceived. A means of saving men—a mightier means than any temporary or spasmodic efforts. I long to see whole Churches, as bodies of Christ, glowing with the radiance of concentrated character. (M. R. Vincent, D.D.)
Conduct and doctrine:—Let us look first at that member of the pair which is least popular—doctrine. What does the word mean? It means simply “teaching,” or “what is taught.” St. Paul, writing to Timothy, who was by office a teacher, says “take heed unto the doctrine, to what you teach”; and of course writing to the people he would have said “take heed unto the doctrine, unto what you are taught.” We are all being taught constantly; persons and things and events are constantly giving us lessons; the process of doctrine-making is for ever going on within us, and we cannot help it, as long as we are receptive and reasoning beings. And very often we hear some man give expression to a doctrine under the influence of a sudden event, which only puts in shape and brings to light what has been forming in his life for years. Since then the warning is about teaching, it must mean that we are to be careful of our subject and our teacher; for those are the important things in all teaching, and it is just those that give the characteristics to Christian doctrine. The subject is God and the teacher is Christ. It exalts God to His place as the very centre of all our life; it says that under Christ alone can we really learn about God worthily, although there will be many subordinate teachers, to whose word He will give the right place and due importance. This is the essence of Christian doctrine. Look at it thus as regulating, systematizing, correcting all the teaching that is for ever poured into our minds, and there is nothing so terrible in its aspect. It is not dry or unimportant; it is a matter of vital interest; it does not consist of things that cannot be understood, but has its beginnings in the simplest facts that all can comprehend.
- And so doctrine is put before us as a necessity of all life. And now we can turn to the other side which men appreciate so much more readily—to conduct, which is contained in those words, “take heed to thyself.” Care of our conduct, which we all willingly grant to be three-fourths of man’s evident life, everybody feels the need of in this world. 1. In the first place we can see how conduct serves doctrine. This process of learning is not an easy one; the best side of a lesson is easily passed over, because some other side appeals to us more. We have been accustomed to think only of ourselves; sin has turned us away from God and He is a hard, dry subject to us; we are not what God made us to be, and so we are not able to appreciate what our God’s word is to us. But diligent care of oneself tones up the mind. The man is used to being rigid with himself, to looking away from his own immediate comfort to higher and better. Doctrine is the learning in God’s school: and just as it makes a great difference from what kind of a home a child goes to the school, as to how much he learns when he arrives there, so to learn in God’s school we need to go there with lives that have appreciated the vileness of all sin and the value of all struggle against it. 2. This is the value of conduct, then, as a preparative for doctrine: look at it next as the interpreter of doctrine. God’s teaching must be very great, and often beyond us; and we never shall know it, until we have tried it at point after point and found how powerful it is. Human conduct creates strange emergencies; and we, in our cowardice, are often afraid that we shall not be able to meet them, and so we are almost afraid to take heed unto ourselves. We think that we had better close our eyes to many things in our lives for fear that we shall not know how to deal with them. We do not know what we shall find in ourselves if we look too closely. But put conduct and the study of God’s teaching together, and we find that all the emergencies of one answer to the possibilities of the other. The care of our conduct becomes like an experimental lecture on God’s teaching; it supplies the illustrations for God’s book of doctrine, which can help all poor ignorant scholars who say that they cannot understand God’s teaching here. God’s doctrine of mechanics is to be found in no text-book; it is written in the formation of our bodies, in the movements of the heavenly bodies, in the connection of all substances of this earth here. Men, like children, are led by these illustrations; they read page after page, they learn the doctrine, they go on and spread it in inventions of their own embodying those same principles, and so the world is furnished with what it needs. God’s laws of morals and doctrine of salvation ask the same illustration; they are not all plain; they have obscure points as all God’s thoughts must have to us. How shall the world get at them and use them? Only by their being embodied, so that men can study them in human lives and then use the principles in forming those new lives which the world so sadly wants. Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine. Find out your own wants and infirmities and go to the doctrine for their supply; take the doctrine and write it in your own life. And there is something more that conduct gives to doctrine besides illustration: it is life and warmth. No wonder that doctrine is often declared to be dry and hard. It is teaching about God coming to many men who know nothing about God Himself; He is a mere name to them; they do not appreciate His existence or His being at all. What shall give this same strange living power to doctrine? The man hears of God, but He is far away. But his own life he does appreciate; let him value that it is a precious thing; it can live on nothing that the world furnishes; it calls out for the living God: take heed unto thyself, says the apostle. In thee is a voice which does tell of the nearness of another world, which demands the knowledge of a higher being. Living men make living doctrines. By those the world is saved. The doctrine received into men’s lives is the power of God. And so when God would save the world He sent Christ to it. There was the complete union of doctrine and life. All the teaching of God was there; He was the Son of God direct from the Father. And in the last place, look how great the work is that such care of the doctrine and of conduct accomplishes. “Thou shalt both save thyself and those that hear thee.” We do not save ourselves by our conduct and our neighbour by our doctrine. The two together save both of us. The two paths are one, the two goals are one. (A. Brooks.)
Man’s highest work, and the way to achieve it:—These words of Paul to Timothy should not be confined to ministers. They have an application to all men.
- Man’s highest work. 1. The moral salvation of self. “Save thyself.” What is salvation? Not mere deliverance from an outward hell, or introduction to an outward heaven, but it is restoration to the soul itself of what it has lost through depravity—the restoration of lost love, lost purity, lost harmony, lost usefulness. 2. The salvation of others. “And them that hear thee.” All men, besides ministers, have hearers; and it is the duty of all men to preach, to speak that which will tend to the moral salvation of men, to raise them from ignorance to knowledge, from selfishness to benevolence, from materialism to spirituality, from Satan to God.
- Man’s qualifications for the highest work. 1. Self-heedfulness. “Take heed unto thyself.” See that self is all right, rectify thy own mistakes, train thy own faculties, purify thy own affections, discipline thy own character. This is the first step. You must be good, in order to do good. 2. Genuine teaching. “Unto the doctrine.” The word doctrine here includes the whole matter of teaching. See that the teaching is true—true in its doctrine, in its spirit, in its aim. There is no teaching work where there is not a teaching life. He alone knows the Divine doctrine that does the Divine will. 3. Perseverance in goodness. “Continue in them.” Continue in the work of self-culture and in genuine teaching. Do not let your efforts be capricious, but systematic; not occasional, but persistent. “Be instant, in season and out of season.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Heed to life and doctrine:—Two outstanding things are to be noted in the text; first of all, the connection between our doctrine and ourself: “Take heed unto thyself and unto thy doctrine”; and, secondly, the connection between two great results: “So shalt thou save thyself and them that hear thee.” Take heed to save yourself. That is the best way to save them. “Take heed to thy doctrine.” Yes, take heed to thyself, and thy doctrine will take heed of itself. Now, let me just run over that chain of thought. I am going to take the things the reverse way. “Take heed unto thy doctrine.” There is a deal of talk about doctrine at the present day, with some wisdom in it and a great deal of folly. Downright good people are going about saying, “Doctrine does not matter; life is everything.” Now, if that merely means that doctrines unpractised and which are hypocrisy are worthless, it does not say enough; they are accursed. But that is not just what is meant. I think that it is often taken to mean this—that it does not matter at all what a man believes; it does not matter at all what a man teaches about God, about the human soul, about salvation, about faith and duty, if only the man’s heart be right, and if he means well. Now, to a certain extent, that is true. There are doctrines and there are doctrines; and I wish we had two very distinct names to indicate those utterly diverse classes of beliefs. If a man eats bread and meat every day, as much as he wants, it really matters very little if that man’s doctrines about the chemistry of meat and bread are nonsense. He may be under utter delusions as to the way the meat and bread feed his body. If the man eats wholesome meat and wholesome bread, that is everything. If another man holds the most orthodox theories of chemistry and of physiology and of nutrition, and is not eating the actual meat and bread, then he dies. The other man lives in spite of his false doctrine. Now, that is true to a certain extent of theological beliefs. There are elaborate and subtle and noble theories about the inner, mysterious nature of God, the construction of Christ’s person, the ultimate decrees of God, the precise explanation of how the dying love and obedience of Jesus Christ cleanses us actually from sin—theories and explanations of how these things are and are done; and I am bound to own frankly that it does not matter very much what a man thinks about this. If that man with his whole full heart lives on the Lord Jesus Christ, and takes Him to be his real Saviour from real sin, and has His Holy Spirit dwelling in him—ah, he is feeding on the bread of life; and even if his theories of how that bread of life is life to us are not quite correct it is a small matter; at least, it is a small matter by comparison with a man who is for ever teaching and working and battling about the theories and the explanations, while his heart is a desolate howling wilderness, with no love of God, no love of man, in it. But now let me say this. It is a pity that such questions should be raised. You cannot answer them quite rightly. You must give replies that may be misused and misinterpreted. There ought to be no such antagonism. Still, if the question comes up let us speak the truth. But now there is another class of doctrines—beliefs which are things not of the mere intellect, not of speculation, but which are convictions of the heart, which throw a man into a certain attitude towards God, and towards duty, and towards sin, and towards holiness. And it matters a great deal to a man what he believes about these. It counts for everything. But mark you, now, I mean what he believes not with his head, but with his heart, with his very being; and the only faith that the Bible deals with and speaks of as saving faith, is not the faith of the correctest theological intellect, but it is a faith which is the outgoing of a man’s soul, of his whole being. The poor dying thief on the cross believes with the despairing outgoing of his heart to Christ to make him a good man. Yes, and it saves him. If a man believes that fire will not burn him, he will pay for that heresy. If a man has a mistaken notion how it is that fire has got heat in it, and how it warms and serves man, that does not so much matter, so long as he makes a rightful use of the fire; but if he has delusions about the relations of fire to himself, he pays for it. Now, I want to say something about doctrines. I want to say it with a little personal feeling, because if doctrines are so trivial (doctrines meaning teaching), then preaching is hardly worth doing. But I believe in preaching, not as we ignorant, half-hearted men do it, but as the great saints and heroes of Christendom have done it. It will be done by teaching—the teaching that comes with the very power of God in it. Doctrines? Why, the greatest thing within these last centuries this world has seen—the reformation in Europe—all grew out of one new thought about God, or, rather, the recovering of a lost thought about God—a new grand conviction that God is the living, loving, warm-hearted God, a Spirit whom men worship in spirit and in truth; not the horrible, mechanical, materialized God of priestcraft and superstition. And it all grew out of a doctrine; but, mark you, not a theory of the intellect spun out of things we knew nothing about and should not try to understand, but a great heart-belief about the living God. Therefore, “Take heed unto thy doctrine,” surely is addressed to men that are not orthodox? No, Paul addressed it to the orthodox Timothy, “Take heed to thy teaching.” But if a man has once learnt a form of sound words, surely he does not need to be guarding, and watching, and studying, and examining his preaching and his teaching? Does he not? Do you think that, having once seen the truth, having once learnt it, will guard a man from perverting it? No, try that with any secular accomplishment. Learn a language, and then give over practising it. Give over pains to keep up your accuracy and your fluency; and how long will you retain it? How soon will errors creep in? Ah! I tell you that a great many men think that they are preaching the orthodox doctrines which they were taught, and through indulgence or slothfulness, or through the unconscious pressure of one-sidedness and error, which the mis-shapen make of every common, frail, erring man’s soul and intellect imposes upon his thinking and teaching, they have gone far astray. I do not mean, perchance, that the man actually says things that are false; but, mark you, you may make utter distortion of God’s portrait if you are always working at the bits you like best, dwelling on a one-sided conception of Him. Now I must go on to the rest of my text very rapidly, but I can do it much more briefly. What I have to try to show you is that, while our doctrine is that by which we influence others, the best way to keep our doctrine true and right is to look after our heart. Ah, doctrines are one thing when they come from a man, simply repeated by hearsay at second hand, and preached just as things of the intellect, but they are another thing when they come out of a man’s heart. Oh! I think it almost has an unhallowed effect to hear the story of the atonement argued out in a controversial fashion. (Professor Elmslie.) Both save thyself and them that hear thee.—By what means may ministers best win souls?—
- Ministers’ duty is in three things here—1. Take heed unto thyself. Thou art set in a high office, in a dangerous place; take good and narrow heed, look well to thyself, thy heart and way. 2. Take heed unto thy doctrine. Though thou be never so well-gifted and approved both of God and men; though thou be an extraordinary officer, as Timothy was; yet “take heed unto thy doctrine.” 3. Continue in them. This hath relation, it appears, unto verses 12 and 15, as well as unto the preceding part of this verse. (1) Continue in thy work. Thou who art a minister, it is a work for thy life-time, and not to be taken up and laid down again, according as it may best suit a man’s carnal inclinations and outward conveniences. (2) Continue in endeavours after greater fitness for thy work. No attainments in fitness and qualifications for this work can free a man of the obligation that lies on him to increase and grow therein more and more. (3) Continue in thy vigour and painfulness and diligence.
- The double advantage proposed to encourage ministers to this hard duty. 1. Thou shalt save thyself. Thy own salvation shall be promoted and secured thereby. But how doth faithfulness in the ministry of the gospel further the minister’s salvation? (1) Faithfulness in man’s generation-work is of great use and advantage to salvation. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (2) Thou shalt save thyself from the guilt of other men’s sins and ruin, if thou be faithful in the ministry. “Thou hast delivered,” or “saved,” “thy soul,” (Ezek. 33:9). (3) Faithfulness and painfulness in the ministry of the gospel promote a man’s own salvation, in so far as the work of Christianity is woven in with the right discharge of the office of the ministry. Many ministers can say, that if they had not been ministers, they had in all appearance lost their souls. 2. Thou shalt save them that hear thee. There is little hope of that man’s being useful to save others, that minds not his own salvation: and therefore the apostle puts them in this order, “thyself,” and then, “them that hear thee.” Thou shalt save them. The great end of both preaching and hearing is salvation; and if salvation were more designed by preachers and hearers, it would be more frequently the effect of the action. Thou shalt save them. Not that ministers are of themselves able by all their endeavours to carry on this great end; they are only God’s tools and instruments (1 Cor. 3:6, 7). Concerning this—(1) We find that the Lord hath appointed this great ordinance of the gospel-ministry for this end—the saving of men (Eph. 4:11–13). (2) He hath also given many promises of His presence, blessing, and success, to follow and attend them whom He sends on this great errand. (3) He hath also revealed much of, His mind about ministers’ duty in order to this end of saving men. This also makes the end more hopeful. (4) We find that the Lord doth qualify and fit them whom He makes successful. He makes men “able ministers of the New Testament,” the word of life (2 Cor. 3:5, 6). Now we return to the question to be resolved, by what means may ministers best win souls? I. What this text speaks about this matter. It looks two ways upon this question. 1. Take heed unto thyself. (1) Take heed that thou be a sound and sincere believer. (2) Take heed to thyself, that thou be a called and sent minister. This is of great importance as to success. He that can say, “Lord, Thou hast sent me,” may boldly add, “Lord, go with me, and bless me.” (3) Take heed unto thyself, that thou be a lively, thriving Christian. See that all thy religion run not in the channel of thy employment. It is found by experience, that as it fares with a minister in the frame of his heart and thriving of the work of God in his soul, so doth it fare with his ministry both in its vigour and effects. A carnal frame, a dead heart, and a loose walk, make cold and unprofitable preaching. (4) Take heed unto thyself in reference to all the trials and temptations [which] thou mayest meet with. Be on your guard; “watch in all things” (2 Tim. 4:5). No men are shot at more by Satan than ministers; and he triumphs not more over the foils of any than theirs: and Christ is liberal in His warnings of dangers, and in His promises of help in them. 2. Take heed unto thy doctrine. Art thou a minister? thou must be a preacher; an unpreaching minister is a sort of contradiction. (1) Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be a Divine truth. “Let a man speak as the cracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). And therefore it is needful that ministers be well acquainted with the Holy Scriptures. [It is] a bad token of the temper of that man that relishes any book more than the Word of God. (2) Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be plain, and suited to the capacity of the hearers. “Learned preaching,” as it is called, is a vanity, pleasing principally to such as neither design nor desire edification. Two things would help to plain preaching—(a) Clearness of knowledge. The alleged depth of our doctrine often proceeds from our own darkness. (b) Humility and self-denial. (3) Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be grave and solid and weighty. “Sound speech, that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:8). II. But now we come to the second thing proposed,—to give some answer to this question from other things in the Word. And I shall—(I) Show some things that must be laid to heart about the end,—the saving of souls. (II) And then shall give some advice about the means. (I) About the end—the winning of souls. This is, to bring them to God. It is not, to win them to us, or to engage them into a party or to the espousal of some opinions and practices, supposing them to be never so right and consonant to the Word of God; but the winning of them is, to bring them out of nature into a state of grace, that they may be fitted for, and in due time admitted into, everlasting glory. Concerning which great end, these few things should be laid deeply to heart by all that would serve the Lord in being instrumental in reaching it—1. The exceeding height and excellency of this end is to be laid to heart. It is a wonder of condescendence, that the Lord will make use of men in promoting it: to be workers together with God in so great a business is no small honour. 2. The great difficulty of saving souls must be laid to heart. The difficulty is undoubted: to attempt it is to offer violence to men’s corrupt natures, and a storming of hell itself, whose captives all sinners are. Unless this difficulty be laid to heart, ministers will be confident of their own strength, and so miscarry and be unfruitful. 3. The duty of winning souls must be laid to heart by ministers. That it is their principal work, and they are under many commands to endeavour it. 4. The great advantage there is to the labourer by his success is to be pondered. Great is the gain by one soul: “He that winneth souls is” happy as well as “wise” (Prov. 11:30; Dan. 12:3). Won souls are a minister’s “crown and glory and joy” (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:20). (II) For advice about the means, I shall add these few, besides what hath been said—1. Let ministers, if they would win souls, procure and retain amongst the people a persuasion of their being sent of God. That they are “Christ’s ministers” (1 Cor. 4:1). 2. Let ministers, if they would win souls, purchase and maintain the people’s love to their persons. 3. It would further the winning of souls, to deal particularly and personally with them. Not always nor altogether in public (Col. 1:28; Acts 20:20, 21). 4. Ministers must pray much, if they would be successful. The apostles spent their time this way (Acts 6:4). Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study. But because the ministry of the Word is the main instrument for winning souls, I shall therefore add somewhat more particularly concerning this and that both as to the matter and manner of preaching. (1) For the subject-matter of gospel-preaching, it is determined by the apostle expressly to be “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). (2) As for the manner of successful preaching, I shall give it in a negative and positive from these two places—1 Cor. 1:17; and 2:1–4. I shall only instance in things that this Scriptural negative doth check and reprove in the way of preaching. (a) The establishing and advancing of Divine truth upon the foundation of human reason. (b) It is to preach “with excellency of speech” and “words of man’s wisdom,” when men think to reach the gospel-end on sinners by force of even spiritual reason and persuasion. (c) This also is checked in the apostle’s words—the setting forth the beauty of the gospel by human art. The truth of the gospel shines best in its bare proposal, and its beauty in its simple and naked discovery. (3) The positive is—“In demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). (a) Paul preached so, as gave a demonstration that the Holy Ghost was in him, sanctifying him. (b) Paul preached so, as gave a demonstration that the Spirit of God was with him, assisting and helping him in his work. (c) Paul preached so, as [that] a demonstration of the power of the Holy Ghost was given to the hearts of the hearers. III. To conclude: you that are ministers, suffer a word of exhortation. Men, brethren, and fathers, you are called to a high and holy calling: your work is full of danger, full of duty, and full of mercy. And, lastly, for people. It is not unfit that you should hear of ministers’ work and duty and difficulties: you see that all is of your concernment; “all things are” for your sakes, as the apostle in another case. Then only I entreat you—1. Pity us. We are not angels, but men of like passions with yourselves. 2. Help us in our work. If you can do anything, help us in the work of winning souls. 3. Pray for us. How often and how earnestly doth Paul beg the prayers of the churches! (R. Trail, M.A.)
Soul saving to be aimed at:—I do not believe that a devout minister ever yet went to his pulpit with a single-eyed desire to do good and to glorify his Saviour, without some measure of Divine blessing upon his efforts. The most valuable hint I ever received came to me from a baker in Saratoga. I had been preaching there during my ministerial boyhood. The baker met me the next day, at the railway station, and said: “I believe you are the young man who spoke in our meeting-house yesterday.” “Yes; I am.” “Well,” said he, “I felt sorry for you; because I thought you did not know what cultivated and critical people there are here in summer. But I have noticed that if a minister can convince the people in the first five minutes that he only aims to save their souls, he will kill all the critics in the house.” That was one of the wisest things ever uttered. It ought to be written on the walls of every theological seminary and every pastor’s study. (T. Cuyler.).
4:16 “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” Here is yet another PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. Timothy is to take time for his own spiritual maturing and nurturing. This is a good word for pastors in our day (cf. vv. 6c; 7b; 12b).
© “persevere in these things” This is yet another PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. Timothy is to be an example of perseverance because the false teachers and their followers have obviously not persevered. Salvation is linked not only to an initial confession of repentance, faith and godliness, but also to continuance in these things. Perseverance is evidence of true salvation! In true biblical Christianity the way one starts, the way one lives, and the way one finishes are all crucial!
|SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NEED TO PERSEVERE
The biblical doctrines related to the Christian life are difficult to explain because they are presented in typically eastern dialectical or paradoxical pairs. These pairs seem contradictory, yet both are biblical. Western Christians have tended to choose one truth and ignore or depreciate the opposite truth.
1. Is salvation an initial decision to trust Christ or a lifetime commitment to become like Him?
2. Is salvation an election by means of an eternal decree from a sovereign God or mankind’s believing and repentant response to a divine offer?
3. Is salvation, once received, impossible to lose, or is there a need for continual diligence?
The issue of perseverance has been contentious throughout church history. The problem begins with apparently conflicting passages of the NT
1. texts on assurance
a. statements of Jesus (John 6:37; 10:28–29)
b. statements of Paul (Rom. 8:35–39; Eph. 1:13; 2:5, 8–9; Phil. 1:6; 2:13; 2 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18)
c. statements of Peter (1 Pet. 1:4–5)
2. texts on the need for perseverance
a. statements of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 10:22; 13:1–9, 24–30; 24:13; Mark 13:13)
b. statements of Jesus in John’s Gospel and John’s writings (cf. 8:31; 15:4–10; 1 John 2:6; 2 John 9; Rev. 2:7, 17, 20; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7)
c. statements of Paul (Rom. 11:22; 1 Cor. 15:2; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 1:6; 3:4; 5:4; 6:9; Phil. 2:12; 3:18–20; Col. 1:23)
d. statements of the author of Hebrews (2:1; 3:6, 14; 4:14; 6:11)
Biblical salvation issues from the love, mercy, and grace of a sovereign Triune God. No human can be saved without the initiation of the Spirit. Deity comes first and sets the agenda, but demands that humans must respond in faith and repentance, both initially and continually. God works with mankind in a covenant relationship. There are privileges and responsibilities!
Salvation is offered to all humans. Jesus’ death dealt with the rebellious creation’s sin problem. God has provided a way and wants all those made in His image to respond to His love and provision in Jesus.
If you would like to read more on this subject see
1. Dale Moody, The Word of Truth, Eerdmans, 1981 (pp. 348–365)
2. Howard Marshall, Kept by the Power of God, Bethany Fellowship, 1969
3. Robert Shank, Life in the Son, Westcott, 1961
The Bible is addressing two different problems in this area: (1) taking assurance as a license to live fruitless, selfish lives and (2) encouraging those who struggle with ministry and personal sin. The problem is that the wrong groups are taking the wrong message and building theological systems on limited biblical passages. Some Christians desperately need the message of assurance, while others need the stern warnings! Which group are you in?
© “for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” This can relate to verse 10 or to the false teachers (cf. 2:15). Paul was always concerned that he guard himself lest he become disqualified (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27).
The NT uses several VERB TENSES to describe salvation: (1) AORIST (i.e. completed action), Acts 15:11; Rom. 8:24; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5 (Rom. 13:11 combines the AORIST with a FUTURE orientation); (2) PERFECT (i.e. state of being), Eph. 2:5, 8; (3) PRESENT (i.e. ongoing action), 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:21; 4:18; and (4) FUTURE (in the verb tense or by contextual inference), Rom. 5:9, 10; 10:9; 11:26; 13:11; 1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5; Phil. 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:8–9; 1 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:5. Therefore, salvation begins with an initial faith decision and issues in a process of lifestyle faith that will one day be consummated in sight (cf. 1 John 3:2).
16. Look to yourself and to the teaching, persevere in them.
Holy living and sound teaching must go together if Timothy (or, for that matter, any apostolic representative, any minister, any elder, etc.) is to be a blessing. Hence, Paul admonishes Timothy to continue to focus (his mind, understood) on himself, that is, on his own duties, his own gift, his own privilege to go to the depths of God’s promise; particularly also upon the teaching (his own and that of others in the Ephesus district). He must stay on or persevere in them, that is, in holy living and in vigilance with respect to teaching. The promise is: “for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” To be sure, a man is saved by grace, through faith; not by works (Titus 3:3; cf. Eph. 2:6–8); yet, since holy living and sound teaching are a fruit of faith, Paul is able to say that “by doing this” Timothy will save himself and his hearers. It is along the path of holy living and diligence in teaching and in watching over the life and teaching of others, that salvation (both present and future; see on 1 Tim. 1:15) is obtained. Besides, God promises a special reward to his faithful ministers, yes, to all his faithful witnesses (Dan. 12:3; Matt. 13:43; James 5:20); and threatens with severe punishment the unfaithful ones (Ezek. 33:7, 8).
4:16. Paul recapped what he has just written in detail: watch your life and doctrine closely. Ultimately, Timothy could effectively control only himself. We are the only person over whom we have immediate authority. My ability to lead and influence others is connected to my ability to manage and live my own life well. The Christian life hinges on conduct (life) as empowered by God’s Spirit and correct faith (doctrine).
Paul could not emphasize it enough: persevere in [Christian life and doctrine]. Perseverance is evidence of salvation; a disciplined person is willing to continue in God’s way. Such commitment will be tried again and again.
The result of such continuance and devotion is that it would save both yourself and your hearers. Salvation is a process. It has a beginning point at conversion and its full realization when we are united with Christ. In between is the process of becoming more Christlike in our person and behavior. Exemplary living and God’s truth will safeguard the leader and those whom he leads. A leader’s perseverance in godliness will save his congregation from the dangers of false teachings which can shipwreck faith and cause ruin to the soul.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 181–182). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 538). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 117–118). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: First Timothy (pp. 216–230). New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.
 Utley, R. J. (2000). Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey: I Timothy, Titus, II Timothy (Vol. Volume 9, pp. 62–63). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, p. 160). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 209). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.