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CHAPTER XXXV.

THE PARADOXICAL EXULTATION OF THE APOSTLE.—HIS APPARENT FAILURE AND THE APPARENT FAILURE OF THE CHURCH.—THE GREAT TEST OF SINCERITY.

“But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day: and not only to me, but also to all them that have loved His appearing.”—2 Tim. iv. 5–8.

St. Chrysostom tells us that this passage was for a long time a source of perplexity to him. “Often,” he says, “when I have taken the Apostle into my hands and have considered this passage, I have been at a loss to understand why Paul here speaks so loftily: I have fought the good fight. But now by the grace of God I seem to have found it out. For what purpose then does he speak thus? He writes to console the despondency of his disciple; and he therefore bids him be of good cheer, since he was going to his crown, having finished all his work and obtained a glorious end. Thou oughtest to rejoice, he says; not to grieve. And why? Because I have fought the good fight. Just as a son, who was sitting bewailing his orphan state, might be consoled by his father saying to him, Weep not, my son. We have lived a good life; 398 we have reached old age; and now we are leaving thee. Our life has been free from reproach; we are departing with glory; and thou mayest be held in honour for what we have done.... And this he says not boastfully;—God forbid;—but in order to raise up his dejected son, and to encourage him by his praises to bear firmly what had come to pass, to entertain good hopes, and not to think it a matter grievous to be borne.”

Chrysostom’s explanation is no doubt part of the reason why the Apostle here speaks in so exalted a key. This unusual strain is partly the result of a wish to cheer his beloved disciple and assure him that there is no need to grieve for the death which now cannot be very far off. When it comes, it will be a glorious death and a happy one. A glorious death, for it will crown with the crown of victory struggles in a weary contest which is now ending triumphantly. And a happy death; for Paul has for years had the longing “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” The crown is one which will not wither; for it is not made of olive, bay, or laurel. And it is not one of which the glory is doubtful, or dependent upon the fickle opinions of a prejudiced crowd; for it is not awarded by a human umpire, nor amid the applauses of human spectators. The Giver is Christ, and the theatre is filled with angels. In the contests of this world men labour many days and suffer hardships; and for one hour they receive the crown. And forthwith all the pleasure of it passes away. In the good fight which St. Paul fought a crown of righteousness is won, which continues for ever in brightness and glory.

But besides wishing to console Timothy for the bereavement which was impending, St. Paul also wished 399 to encourage him, to stimulate him to greater exertion and to a larger measure of courage. “Be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an Evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink-offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.” That is: You must be more vigorous, more enduring, more devoted; for I am going away, and must leave you to carry on to perfection that which I have begun. My fighting is over; therefore do you fight more bravely. My course is finished; therefore do you run more perseveringly. The faith entrusted to me has been preserved thus far inviolate: see to it, that what has been entrusted to you be kept safe. The crown which righteousness wins is waiting now for me: so strive that such a crown may await you also. For this is a contest in which all may have crowns, if only they will live so as to feel a longing for the appearing of the righteous Judge who gives them.

But there is more in this passage than the desire to comfort Timothy for the approaching loss of his friend and instructor, and the desire to spur him on to greater usefulness, not merely in spite of, but because of, that loss. There is also the ecstatic joy of the great Apostle, as with the eye of faith he looks back over the work which he has been enabled to perform, and balances the cost of it against the great reward.

As has been already pointed out in an earlier passage, there is nothing in this touching letter which is more convincingly like St. Paul than the way in which conflicting emotions succeed one another and come to the surface in perfectly natural expression. Sometimes it is anxiety that is uppermost; sometimes it is confidence. Here he is overflowing with affection; there he is stern and indignant. One while he is 400 deeply depressed; and then again becomes triumphant and exulting. Like the second Epistle to the Corinthians this last letter to the beloved disciple is full of intense personal feelings, of a different and apparently discordant character. The passage before us is charged with such emotions, beginning with solemn warning and ending in lofty exultation. But it is the warning, not of fear, but of affection; and it is the exultation, not of sight, but of faith.

Looked at with human eyes the Apostle’s life at that moment was a failure,—a tragic and dismal failure. In his own simple but most pregnant language, he had been “the slave of Jesus Christ.” No Roman slave, driven by whip and goad, could have been made to work as Paul had worked. He had taxed his fragile body and sensitive spirit to the utmost, and had encountered lifelong opposition, derision, and persecution, at the hands of those who ought to have been his friends, and had been his friends until he entered the service of Jesus Christ. He had preached and argued, had entreated and rebuked, and in doing so had rung the changes on all the chief forms of human suffering. And what had been the outcome of it all? The few Churches which he had founded were but as handfuls in the cities in which he had established them; and there were countless cities in which he had established nothing. Even the few Churches which he had succeeded in founding had in most cases soon fallen away from their first faith and enthusiasm. The Thessalonians had become tainted with idleness and disorder, the Corinthians with contentiousness and sensuality, the Galatians, Colossians, and Ephesians with various forms of heresy; while the Roman Church, in the midst of which he was suffering an imprisonment 401 which would almost certainly end in death, was treating him with coldness and neglect. At his first defence no one took his part, but all forsook him; and in his extremity he was almost deserted. As the results of a life of intense energy and self-devotion, all these things had the appearance of total failure.

And certainly if the work of his life seemed to have been a failure with regard to others, it did not bear any resemblance to success as regards himself. From the world’s point of view he had given up much, and gained little, beyond trouble and disgrace. He had given up a distinguished position in the Jewish Church, in order to become the best hated man among that people of passionate hatreds. While his efforts on behalf of the Gentiles had ended for a third time in confinement in a Gentile prison, from which, as he saw clearly, nothing but death was likely to release him.

And yet, in spite of all this, St. Paul is exultingly triumphant. Not at all because he does not perceive, or cannot feel, the difficulties and sorrows of his position. Still less because he wishes to dissemble either to himself or others the sufferings which he has to endure. He is no Stoic, and makes no profession of being above human infirmities and human emotions. He is keenly sensitive to all that affects his own aspirations and affections and the well-being of those whom he loves. He is well aware of the dangers both of body and soul which beset those who are far dearer to him than life. And he gives strong expression to his trouble and anxiety. But he measures the troubles of time by the glories of eternity. With the eye of faith he looks across all this apparent failure and neglect to the crown of righteousness which the righteous Judge has in store for him, and for thousands 402 upon thousands of others also,—even for all those who have learned to look forward with longing to the time when their Lord shall appear again.

In all this we see in miniature the history of Christendom since the Apostle’s death. His career was a fore-shadowing of the career of the Christian Church. In both cases there appears to be only a handful of real disciples with a company of shallow and fickle followers, to set against the stolid, unmoved mass of the unconverted world. In both cases, even among the disciples themselves, there is the cowardice of many, and the desertions of some. In both cases those who remain true to the faith dispute among themselves which of them shall be accounted the greatest. St. Paul was among the first to labour that Christ’s ideal of one holy catholic Church might be realized. Eighteen centuries have passed away, and the life of the Church, like that of St. Paul, looks like a failure. With more than half the human race still not even nominally Christian; with long series of crimes committed not only in defiance, but in the name, of religion; with each decade of years producing its unwholesome crop of heresies and schisms;—what has become of the Church’s profession of being catholic, holy, and united?

The failure, as in St. Paul’s case, is more apparent than real. And it must be noted at the outset that our means of gauging success in spiritual things are altogether uncertain and inadequate. Anything at all like scientific accuracy is quite out of our reach, because the data for a trustworthy conclusion cannot be obtained. But the case is far stronger than this. It is impossible to determine even roughly where the benefits conferred by the Gospel end; what the average 403 holiness among professing Christians really is; and to what extent Christendom, in spite of its manifold divisions, is really one. It is more than possible that the savage in central Africa is spiritually the better for the Incarnation of which he knows nothing, and which his whole life seems to contradict; for at least he is one of those for whom Christ was born and died. It is probable that among quite ordinary Christians there are many whom the world knows as sinners, but whom God knows as saints. And it is certain that a belief in a Triune God and in a common Redeemer unites millions far more closely than their differences about ministers and sacraments keeps them apart. The Church’s robe is tattered and travel-stained; but she is still the Bride of Christ, and her children, however much they may quarrel among themselves, are still one in Him.

And where the failure of St. Paul and of those who have followed him can be shown to be unquestionably real, it can generally be shown to be thoroughly intelligible. Although Divine in its origin, the Gospel has from the first used human instruments with all the weaknesses,—physical, intellectual, and moral,—which characterize humanity. When we remember what this implies, and also remember the forces against which Christianity has had to contend, the marvel rather is that the Gospel has had so large a measure of success, than that its success is not yet complete. It has had to fight against the passions and prejudices of individuals and nations, debased by long centuries of immorality and ignorance, and strengthened in their opposition to the truth by all the powers of darkness. It has had to fight, moreover, with other religions, many of which are attractive by their concessions to 404 human frailty, and others by the comparative purity of their rites and doctrines. And against them all it has won, and continues to win, man’s approbation and affection, by its power of satisfying his highest aspirations and his deepest needs. No other religion or philosophy has had success so various or so far reaching. The Jew and the Mahometan, after centuries of intercourse, remain almost without influence upon European minds; while to Western civilization the creed of the Buddhist remains not only without influence, but without meaning. But the nation has not yet been found to which Christianity has been proved to be unintelligible or unsuitable. To whatever quarter of the globe we look, or to whatever period of history during the Christian era, the answer is still the same. Multitudes of men, throughout eighteen centuries, under the utmost variety of conditions, whether of personal equipment or of external circumstance, have made trial of Christianity, and have found it satisfying. They have testified as the result of their countless experiences that it can stand the wear and tear of life; that it can not only fortify but console; and that it can rob even death of its sting and the grave of its victory by a sure and certain hope of the crown of righteousness, which the righteous Judge prepares for all those who love, and have long loved, His appearing.

“Who have loved and do love His appearing.”9696   The somewhat unusual word here used for Christ’s second coming (ἐπιφάνεια) has been condemned as un-Pauline; but it occurs 2 Thess. ii. 8, and the cognate verb φανεροῦν is found Col. iii. 4. Cf. 2 Tim. i. 10; iv. 1; Tit. ii. 13; 1 Tim. vi. 14. That is the full force of the Greek perfect (τοῖς ἠγαπηκόσιν), which expresses the present and permanent 405 result of past action; and therein lies the test whereby to try the temper of our Christianity. St. Paul, who had long yearned to depart and be with Christ, could not easily have given a more simple or sure method of finding out who those are who have a right to believe that the Lord has a crown of righteousness in store for them. Are we among the number? In order to answer this question we must ask ourselves another. Are our lives such that we are longing for Christ’s return? Or are we dreading it, because we know that we are not fit to meet Him, and are making no attempt to become so. Supposing that physicians were to tell us, that we are smitten with a deadly disease, which must end fatally, and that very soon,—what would be our feeling? When the first shock was over, and we were able to take a calm view of the whole case, could we welcome the news as the unexpected fulfilment of a long cherished wish that Christ would deliver us out of the miseries of this sinful world and take us to Himself? The Bible sets before us the crown of righteousness which fadeth not away, and the worm which never dieth. Leaning upon God’s unfailing love let us learn to long for the coming of the one; and then we shall have no need to dread, or even to ask the meaning of, the other.


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