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1 Timothy 1:18-20

18. This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;

18. Hoc praeceptum commendo tibi, fili Timothee, secundum praecedentes super te prophetias, ut milites in illis bonam militiam;

19. Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:

19. Habens fidem et bonam conscientiam; a qua aversi quidam circa fidem naufragium fecerunt:

20. Of whom is Hymenæus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.

20. Ex quibus sunt Hymenaeus et Alexander, quos tradidi Satanae, ut discant non maledicere.

18 I recommend to thee this commandment All that he had introduced about his own person may be viewed as a digression from his subject. Having to arm Timothy with authority, it became necessary for himself to be clothed with the highest authority; and, therefore, he took an early opportunity of refuting an opinion which might have stood in his way. And now, after having proved that his apostleship ought not to be less esteemed by good men, because at one time he fought against the kingdom of Christ, this obstacle being removed, he returns to the course of his exhortation. The commandment, therefore, is the same as he mentioned at the beginning.

Son Timothy By calling him his son, he not only expresses his own warm regard towards him, but also recommends him to others under that name.

According to the prophecies which went before concerning thee. In order to encourage him still more, he reminds him what kind of testimony he had obtained from the Spirit of God; for it was no small excitement, that his ministry was approved by God, and that he had been called by divine revelation before he was called by the votes of men. “It is disgraceful not to come up to the expectations which men have been led to form; and how much more disgraceful will it be to make void, as far as lies in thy power, the judgment of God?”

But we must first ascertain what are the prophecies of which he speaks. Some think that Paul was instructed by revelation to confer the office on Timothy. That I acknowledge to be true, but I add that others made revelations; for it was not without reason that Paul made use of the plural number. Accordingly, we conclude from these words that several prophecies were uttered concerning Timothy, in order to recommend him to the Church. 2929     “Pour le recommender a l’Eglise, et luy donner authorite.” — “In order to recommend him to the Church, and to give him authority.” Being still a young man, he might have been despised on account of his age; and Paul might also have been exposed to calumnies, on account of having ordained youths, before the proper time, to the elder’s office. Besides, God had appointed him to great and difficult undertakings; for he was not one of the ordinary rank of ministers, but approached very closely to that of the apostles, and frequently occupied the place of Paul during his absence. It was, therefore, necessary that he should receive an extraordinary testimony, in order to make it manifest that it was not conferred on him at random by men, but that he was chosen by God himself. To be adorned with the applauses of the prophets was not an ordinary occurrence, or one which was common to him along with many persons; but because there were some circumstances to Timothy, it was the will of God that he should not be received by men until he had been previously approved by his own voice; it was the will of God that he should not enter into the exercise of his office until he had been called by the revelations of the prophets. The same thing happened to Paul and Barnabas, (Acts 13:2,) when they were ordained to be teachers of the Gentiles; for it was a new and uncommon occurrence, and they could not otherwise have escaped the charge of rashness.

It will now be objected by some, “If God had formerly declared, by his prophets, what kind of minister Timothy should be, what purpose did it serve to admonish him, to show that he was actually such a person? Could he falsify prophecies which had been uttered by divine revelation?” I reply, it could not happen differently from what God had promised; but at the same time it was the duty of Timothy, not to give himself up to sloth and inactivity, but to render a cheerful compliance with the providence of God. It is therefore not without good reason, that Paul, wishing to stimulate him still more, mentions the “prophecies,” by which God might be said to have pledged himself on behalf of Timothy; for he was thus reminded of the purpose for which he was called.

That thou by them mayest war a good warfare. By this he means that Timothy, relying on such approbation of God, ought to fight more courageously. What is there that either ought to give, or can give us greater cheerfulness than to know that God has appointed us to do what we are doing? These are our arms, these are our weapons of defense, by the aid of which we shall never fail.

By the word warfare, he states indirectly, that we must maintain a contest; and this applies universally to all believers, but especially to Christian teachers, who may be said to be standard-bearers and leaders. It is as if he had said, “O Timothy, if thou canst not fulfill thy office without a contest, remember that thou art armed by divine prophecies for cherishing assured hope of victory, and arouse thyself by calling them to remembrance. That warfare which we maintain, having God for our leader, is a good warfare; that is, it is glorious and successful.”

19 Having faith and a good conscience I understand the word faith to be a general term, denoting sound doctrine. In the same sense he afterwards speaks of “the mystery of faith.” (1 Timothy 3:9.) And, indeed, the chief things demanded from a teacher are these two: — that he shall hold by the pure truth of the gospel; and next, that he shall administer it with a good conscience and holiest zeal. Where these are found, all the others will follow of their own accord.

From which some having turned aside concerning faith He shows how necessary it is that faith be accompanied by a good conscience; because, on the other hand, the punishment of a bad conscience is turning aside from the path of duty. They who do not serve God with a sincere and a perfect heart, but give a loose rein to wicked dispositions, even though at first they had a sound understanding, come to lose it altogether.

This passage ought to be carefully observed. We know that the treasure of sound doctrine is invaluable, and therefore there is nothing that we ought to dread more than to have it taken from us. But Paul here informs us, that there is only one way of keeping it safe; and that is, to secure it by the locks and bars of a good conscience. This is what we experience every day; for how comes it that there are so many who, laying aside the gospel, rush into wicked sects, or become involved in monstrous errors? It is because, by this kind of blindness, God punishes hypocrisy; as, on the other hand, a genuine fear of God gives strength for perseverance.

Hence we may learn two lessons. First, Teachers and ministers of the gospel, and, through them all the churches are taught with what horror they ought to regard a hypocritical and deceitful profession of true doctrine, when they learn that it is so severely punished. Secondly, this passage removes the offense by which so many persons are greatly distressed, when they perceive that some, who formerly professed their attachment to Christ and to the gospel, not only fall back into their former superstitions but (which is far worse) are bewildered and captivated by monstrous errors. For by such examples, God openly supports the majesty of the gospel, and openly shows that he cannot at all endure the profanation of it. And this is what experience has taught us in every age. All the errors that have existed in the Christian Church from the beginning, proceeded from this source, that in some persons, ambition, and in others, covetousness, extinguished the true fear of God. A bad conscience is, therefore, the mother of all heresies; and we see that a vast number of persons, who had not sincerely and honestly embraced the faith, are hurried along, like brute beasts, into the reveries of the Epicureans, so that their hypocrisy is exposed. And not only so, but contempt of God is universally prevalent, and the licentious and disgraceful lives of almost all ranks show that there is either none at all, or the smallest possible potion of integrity in the world; so that there is very great reason to fear lest the light which had been kindled may be speedily extinguished, and God may leave the pure understanding of the gospel to be possessed by very few.

Have made shipwreck: The metaphor taken from shipwreck is highly appropriate; for it suggests to us, that, if we wish to arrive safely at the harbor, our course must be guided by a good conscience, otherwise there is danger of “shipwreck;” that is, there is danger lest faith be sunk by a bad conscience, as by a whirlpool in a stormy sea. 3030     “What is human life, and what is the whole of its course? A navigation. Not only are we travelers, as the Scripture tells us, (1 Peter 2:11,) but we have no solidity. They who travel by land, either on foot or on horseback, have still their sure and firm road; but in the world, instead of being on foot or on horseback, we must be, as it were, on a sea, and we have no solid footing. We are like people who are in a boat, and who are always within half a foot of their death; and the boat is a sort of grave, because they see the water all around ready to swallow them up. Thus is it with us, while we live here below. For, on the one hand, there is the frailty that is in us, which is more fluid than water; and then all that surrounds us is like water, which flows on all sides, while at every minute winds, and storms. and tempests arise. Let us therefore learn that our life is but a kind of navigation, which we perform by water, and that we are, at the same time, exposed to many winds and storms. And if it be so, what shall become of us when we have not a good boat or a good pilot?” — Fr. Ser.

20 Of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander. The former will be again mentioned in the Second Epistle, in which the kind of “shipwreck” which he made is likewise described; for he said that the resurrection was past. (2 Timothy 2:17-18.) There is reason to believe that Alexander also was bewitched by an error so absurd. And shall we wonder at the present day, if any are deceived by the various enchantments of Satan, when we see that one of Paul’s companions perished by so dreadful a fall?

He mentions both of them to Timothy as persons whom he knew. For my own part, I have no doubt that this is the same Alexander that is mentioned by Luke, and who attempted, but without success, to quell the commotion. Now he was an Ephesian, and we have said that this Epistle was chiefly written for the sake of the Ephesians. We now learn what was his end; and hearing it, let us keep possession of our faith by a good conscience, that we may hold it safe to the last.

Whom I have delivered to Satan. As I mentioned in the exposition of another passage, (1 Corinthians 5:5,) there are some who interpret this to mean that extraordinary chastisement was inflicted on those persons; and they view this as referring to δυνάμεις, “the powers” mentioned by Paul in the same Epistle. (1 Corinthians 12:28.) For, as the apostles were endowed with the gift of healing, in order to testify the favor and kindness of God towards the godly, so against wicked and rebellious persons they were armed with power, either to deliver them to the devil to be tormented, or to inflict on them other chastisements. Of this “power,” Peter gave a display in Ananias and Sapphira, (Acts 5:1,) and Paul in the magician Bar-Jesus. (Acts 13:6.) But, for my own part, I choose rather to explain it as relating to excommunication; for the opinion that the incestuous Corinthian received any other chastisement than excommunication is not supported by any probable conjecture. And, if by excommunicating him, Paul delivered him to Satan, why should not the same mode of expression have a similar import in this passage? Besides, it explains very well the force of excommunication; for, since in the Church Christ holds the seat of his kingdom, out of the Church there is nothing but the dominion of Satan. Accordingly, he who is cast out of the Church must be placed, for a time, under the tyranny of Satan, until, being reconciled to the Church, he return to Christ. I make one exception, that, on account of the enormity of the offense, he might have pronounced a sentence of perpetual excommunication against them; but on that point I would not venture to make a positive assertion.

That they may learn not to blaspheme. What is the meaning of this last clause? For one who has been cast out of the Church takes upon himself greater freedom of acting, because, being freed from the yoke of ordinary discipline, he breaks out into louder insolence. I reply, to whatever extent they may indulge in their wickedness, yet the gate will be shut against them, so that they shall not contaminate the flock; for the greatest injury done by wicked men is, when they mingle with others under the presence of holding the same faith. The power of doing injury is taken from them, when they are branded with public infamy, so that none are so simple as not to know that these are irreligious and detestable men, and therefore their society is shunned by all. Sometimes, too, it happens that — being struck down by this mark of disgrace which has been put upon them — they become less daring and obstinate; and therefore, although this remedy sometimes renders them more wicked, yet it is not always ineffectual for subduing their fierceness.


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