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The Apostle's Solemn Charge; Caution to Rich. (a. d. 64.)
13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15 Which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. 17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; 18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19 Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. 20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: 21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.
The apostle here charges Timothy to keep this commandment (that is, the whole work of his ministry, all the trust reposed in him, all the service expected from him) without spot, unrebukable; he must conduct himself so in his ministry that he might not lay himself open to any blame nor incur any blemish. What are the motives to move him to this?
I. He gives him a solemn charge: I give thee charge in the sight of God that thou do this. He charges him as he will answer it at the great day to that God whose eyes are upon us all, who sees what we are and what we do:—God, who quickens all things, who has life in himself and is the fountain of life. This should quicken us to the service of God that we serve a God who quickens all things. He charges him before Christ Jesus, to whom in a peculiar manner he stood related as a minister of his gospel: Who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession. Observe, Christ died not only as a sacrifice, but as a martyr; and he witnessed a good confession when he was arraigned before Pilate, saying (John xviii. 36, 37), My kingdom is not of this world: I am come to bear witness unto the truth. That good confession of his before Pilate, My kingdom is not of this world, should be effectual to draw off all his followers, both ministers and people, from the love of this world.
II. He reminds him of the confession that he himself had made: Thou hast professed a good profession before many witnesses (v. 12), namely, when he was ordained by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. The obligation of that was still upon him, and he must live up to that, and be quickened by that, to do the work of his ministry.
III. He reminds him of Christ's second coming: "Keep this commandment-until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; keep it as long as thou live, till Christ come at death to give thee a discharge. Keep it with an eye to his second coming, when we must all give an account of the talents we have been entrusted with," Luke xvi. 2. Observe, The Lord Jesus Christ will appear, and it will be a glorious appearing, not like his first appearing in the days of his humiliation. Ministers should have an eye to this appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ in all their ministrations, and, till his appearing, they are to keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable. Mentioning the appearing of Christ, as one that loved it, Paul loves to speak of it, and loves to speak of him who shall then appear. The appearing of Christ is certain (he shall show it), but it is not for us to know the time and season of it, which the Father has kept in his own power: let this suffice us, that in time he will show it, in the time that he thinks fit for it. Observe,
1. Concerning Christ and God the Father the apostle here speaks great things. (1.) That God is the only Potentate; the powers of earthly princes are all derived from him, and depend upon him. The powers that exist are ordained of God, Rom. xiii. 1. He is the only Potentate that is absolute and sovereign, and perfectly independent. (2.) He is the blessed and the only Potentate, infinitely happy, and nothing can in the least impair his happiness. (3.) He is King of kings, and Lord of lords. All the kings of the earth derive their power from him; he gave them their crowns, they hold them under him, and he has a sovereign dominion over them. This is Christ's title (Rev. xix. 16), upon his vesture and his thigh; for he has a name higher than the kings of the earth. (4.) He only has immortality. He only is immortal in himself, and has immortality as he is the fountain of it, for the immortality of angels and spirits derived from him. (5.) He dwells in inaccessible light, light which no man can approach unto: no man can get to heaven but those whom he is pleased to bring thither, and admit into his kingdom. (6.) He is invisible: Whom no man hath seen, nor can see. It is impossible that mortal eyes should bear the brightness of the divine glory. No man can see God and live.
2. Having mentioned these glorious attributes, he concludes with a doxology: To him be honour and power everlasting. Amen. God having all power and honour to himself, it is our duty to ascribe all power and honour to him. (1.) What an evil is sin, when committed against such a God, the blessed and only Potentate! The evil of it rises in proportion to the dignity of him against whom it is committed. (2.) Great is his condescension, to take notice of such mean and vile creatures as we are. What are we then, that the blessed God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, should seek after us? (3.) Blessed are those who are admitted to dwell with this great and blessed Potentate. Happy are thy men (says the queen of Sheba to king Solomon), happy are these thy servants, who stand continually before thee, 1 Kings x. 8. Much more happy are those who are allowed to stand before the King of kings. (4.) Let us love, adore, and praise, the great God; for who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy, Rev. xv. 4.
IV. The apostle adds, by way of postscript, a lesson for rich people, v. 17-19.
1. Timothy must charge those that are rich to beware of the temptations, and improve the opportunities, of their prosperous estate. (1.) He must caution them to take heed of pride. This is a sin that easily besets rich people, upon whom the world smiles. Charge them that they be not high-minded, or think of themselves above what is meet, or be puffed up with their wealth. (2.) He must caution them against vain confidence in their wealth. Charge them that they trust not in uncertain riches. Nothing is more uncertain than the wealth of this world; many have had much of it one day and been stripped of all the next. Riches make themselves wings, and fly away as an eagle, &c., Prov. xxiii. 5. (3.) He must charge them to trust in God, the living God, to make him their hope, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. Those who are rich must see God giving them their riches, and giving them to enjoy them richly; for many have riches, but enjoy them poorly, not having a heart to use them. (4.) He must charge them to do good with what they have (for what is the best estate worth, any more than as it gives a man an opportunity of doing so much the more good?): That they be rich in good works. Those are truly rich who are rich in good works. That they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate: not only to do it, but to do it willingly, for God loves a cheerful giver. (5.) He must charge them to think of another world, and prepare for that which is to come by works of charity: Laying up in store a good foundation against the time to come, that they may take hold on eternal life.
2. Hence we may observe, (1.) Ministers must not be afraid of the rich; be they ever so rich, they must speak to them, and charge them. (2.) They must caution them against pride, and vain confidence in their riches: That they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches. Stir them up to works of piety and charity: That they do good, &c. (3.) This is the way for the rich to lay up in store for themselves for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life; in the way of well-doing we are to seek for glory, honour, and immortality, and eternal life will be the end of all, Rom. ii. 7. (4.) Here is a lesson for ministers in the charge given to Timothy: Keep that which is committed to thy trust. Every minister is a trustee, and it is a treasure committed to his trust, which he has to keep. The truths of God, the ordinances of God, keep these, avoiding profane and vain babblings; not affecting human eloquence, which the apostle calls vain babbling, or human learning, which often opposes the truths of God, but keep close to the written word, for that is committed to our trust. Some who have been very proud of their learning, their science, which is falsely so called, have by that been debauched in their principles and been drawn away from the faith of Christ, which is a good reason why we should keep to the plain word of the gospel, and resolve to live and die by that. Observe, [1.] Ministers cannot be too earnestly exhorted to keep what is committed to their trust, because it is a great trust lodged with them: O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust! as if he had said, "I cannot conclude without charging thee again; whatever thou doest, be sure to keep this trust, for it is too great a trust to be betrayed." [2.] Ministers are to avoid babblings, if they would keep what is committed to them, because they are vain and profane. [3.] That science that opposes the truth of the gospel is falsely so called; it is not true science, for if it were it would approve of the gospel and consent to it. [4.] Those who are so fond of such science are in great danger of erring concerning the faith; those who are for advancing reason above faith are in danger of leaving faith.
V. Our apostle concludes with a solemn prayer and benediction: Grace be with thee. Amen. Observe, this is a short, yet comprehensive prayer for our friends, for grace comprehends in it all that is good, and grace is an earnest, yea, a beginning, of glory; for, wherever God gives grace, he will give glory, and will not withhold any good thing from him who walketh uprightly. Grace be with you all. Amen.