The apostle would have Timothy to instil into the minds of Christians such sentiments as might prevent their being seduced by the judaizing teachers. Observe, Those are good ministers of Jesus Christ who are diligent in their work; not that study to advance new notions, but that put the brethren in remembrance of those things which they have received and heard. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though you knew them, 2 Pet. 1:12. And elsewhere, I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, 2 Pet. 3:1. And, says the apostle Jude, I will therefore put you in remembrance, Jude 1:5. You see that the apostles and apostolical men reckoned it a main part of their work to put their hearers in remembrance; for we are apt to forget, and slow to learn and remember, the things of God.—Nourished up in the words of faith and good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. Observe, 1. Even ministers themselves have need to be growing and increasing in the knowledge of Christ and his doctrine: they must be nourished up in the words of faith. 2. The best way for ministers to grow in knowledge and faith is to put the brethren in remembrance; while we teach others, we teach ourselves. 3. Those whom ministers teach are brethren, and are to be treated like brethren; for ministers are not lords of God’s heritage.
I. Godliness is here pressed upon him and others: Refuse profane and old wives’ sayings, 1 Tim. 4:7, 8, The Jewish traditions, which some people fill their heads with, have nothing to do with them. But exercise thyself rather unto godliness; that is, mind practical religion. Those who would be godly must exercise themselves unto godliness; it requires a constant exercise. The reason is taken from the fain of godliness; bodily exercise profits little, or for a little time. Abstinence from meats and marriage, and the like, though they pass for acts of mortification and self-denial, yet profit little, they turn to little account. What will it avail us to mortify the body if we do not mortify sin? Observe, 1. There is a great deal to be got by godliness; it will be of use to us in the whole of our life, for it has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. 2. The gain of godliness lies much in the promise: and the promises made to godly people relate to the life that now is, but especially they relate to the life that is to come. Under the Old Testament the promises were mostly of temporal blessings, but under the New Testament of spiritual and eternal blessings. If godly people have but little of the good things of the life that now is, yet it shall be made up to them in the good things of the life that is to come. 3. There were profane and old wives’ fables in the days of the apostles; and Timothy, though an excellent man, was not above such a word of advice, Refuse profane, etc. 4. It is not enough that we refuse profane and old wives’ fables, but we must exercise ourselves to godliness; we must not only cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well (Isa. 1:16, 17), and we must make a practice of exercising ourselves to godliness. And, 5. Those who are truly godly shall not be losers at last, whatever becomes of those who content themselves with bodily exercise, for godliness has the promise, etc.
II. The encouragement which we have to proceed in the ways of godliness, and to exercise ourselves to it, notwithstanding the difficulties and discouragements that we meet with in it. He had said (1 Tim. 4:8) that it is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life which now is. But the question is, Will the profit balance the loss? For, if it will not, it is not profit. Yes, we are sure it will. Here is another of Paul’s faithful sayings, worthy of all acceptation—that all our labours and losses in the service of God and the work of religion will be abundantly recompensed, so that though we lose for Christ we shall not lose by him. Therefore we labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, 1 Tim. 4:10. Observe,
1. Godly people must labour and expect reproach; they must do well, and yet expect at the same time to suffer ill: toil and trouble are to be expected by us in this world, not only as men, but as saints.
2. Those who labour and suffer reproach in the service of God and the work of religion may depend upon the living God that they shall not lose by it. Let this encourage them, We trust in the living God. The consideration of this, that the God who has undertaken to be our pay-master is the living God, who does himself live for ever and is the fountain of life to all who serve him, should encourage us in all our services and in all our sufferings for him, especially considering that he is the Saviour of all men. (1.) By his providences he protects the persons, and prolongs the lives, of the children of men. (2.) He has a general good-will to the eternal salvation of all men thus far that he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He desires not the death of sinners; he is thus far the Saviour of all men that none are left in the same desperate condition that fallen angels are in. Now, if he be thus the Saviour of all men, we may hence infer that much more he will be the rewarder of those who seek and serve him; if he has such a good-will for all his creatures, much more will he provide well for those who are new creatures, who are born again. He is the Saviour of all men, but especially of those that believe; and the salvation he has in store for those that believe is sufficient to recompense them for all their services and sufferings. Here we see, [1.] The life of a Christian is a life of labour and suffering: We labour and suffer. [2.] The best we can expect to suffer in the present life is reproach for our well-doing, for our work of faith and labour of love. [3.] True Christians trust in the living God; for cursed is the man that trusts in man, or in any but the living God; and those that trust in him shall never be ashamed. Trust in him at all times. [4.] God is the general Saviour of all men, as he has put them into a salvable state; but he is in a particular manner the Saviour of true believers; there is then a general and a special redemption.
III. He concludes the chapter with an exhortation to Timothy,
1. To command and teach these things that he had now been teaching him. “Command them to exercise themselves unto godliness, teach them the profit of it, and that if they serve God they serve one who will be sure to bear them out.”
2. To conduct himself with that gravity and prudence which might gain him respect, notwithstanding his youth: “Let no man despise thy youth; that is, give no man an occasion to despise thy youth.” Men’s youth will not be despised if they do not by youthful vanities and follies make themselves despicable; and this men may do who are old, who may therefore thank themselves if they be despised.
3. To confirm his doctrine by a good example: Be thou an example of the believers, etc. Observe, Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their live, else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other: they must be examples both in word and conversation. Their discourse must be edifying, and this will be a good example: their conversation must be strict, and this will be a good example: they must be examples in charity, or love to God and all good men, examples in spirit, that is, in spiritual-mindedness, in spiritual worship,—in faith, that is, in the profession of Christian faith,—and in purity or chastity.
4. He charges him to study hard: Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine, to meditation upon these things, 1 Tim. 4:13. Though Timothy had extraordinary gifts, yet he must use ordinary means. Or it may be meant of the public reading of the scriptures; he must read and exhort, that is, read and expound, read and press what he read upon them; he must expound it both by way of exhortation and by way of doctrine; he must teach them both what to do and what to believe. Observe, (1.) Ministers must teach and command the things that they are themselves taught and commanded to do; they must teach people to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded, Matt. 28:20. (2.) The best way for ministers to avoid being despised is to teach and practise the things that are given them in charge. No wonder if ministers are despised who do not teach these things, or who, instead of being examples of good to believers, act directly contrary to the doctrines they preach; for ministers are to be ensamples of their flock. (3.) Those ministers that are the best accomplished for their work must yet mind their studies, that they may be improving in knowledge; and they must mind also their work; they are to give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
5. He charges him to beware of negligence: Neglect not the gift that is in thee, 1 Tim. 4:14. The gifts of God will wither if they be neglected. It may be understood either of the office to which he was advanced, or of his qualifications for that office; if of the former, it was ordination in an ordinary way; if of the latter, it was extraordinary. It seems to be the former, for it was by laying on of hands, etc. Here see the scripture-way of ordination: it was by the laying on of hands, and the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Observe, Timothy was ordained by men in office. It was an extraordinary gift that we read of elsewhere as being conferred on him by the laying on of Paul’s hands, but he was invested in the office of the ministry by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1.) We may note, The office of the ministry is a gift, it is the gift of Christ; when he ascended on high, he received gifts for men, and he gave some apostles, and some pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:8, 11), and this was a very kind gift to his church. (2.) Ministers ought not to neglect the gift bestowed upon them, whether by gift we are here to understand the office of the ministry or the qualifications for the office; neither the one nor the other must be neglected. (3.) Though there was a prophecy in the case of Timothy (the gift was given by prophecy), yet this was accompanied by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, that is, a number of presbyters; the office was conveyed to him this way; and I should think here is a sufficient warrant for ordination by presbyters, since it does not appear that Paul was concerned in Timothy’s ordination. It is true, extraordinary gifts were conferred on him by the laying on of the apostle’s hands (2 Tim. 1:6), but, if he was concerned in his ordination, the presbytery was not excluded, for that is particularly mentioned, whence it seems pretty evident that the presbytery have the inherent power of ordination.
6. Having this work committed to him, he must give himself wholly to it: “Be wholly in those things, that thy profiting may appear.” He was a wise knowing man, and yet must still be profiting, and make it appear that he improved in knowledge. Observe, (1.) Ministers are to be much in meditation. They are to consider beforehand how and what they must speak. They are to meditate on the great trust committed to them, on the worth and value of immortal souls, and on the account they must give at the last. (2.) Ministers must be wholly in these things, they must mind these things as their principal work and business: Give thyself wholly to them. (3.) By this means their profiting will appear in all things, as well a to all persons; this is the way for them to profit in knowledge and grace, and also to profit others.
7. He presses it upon him to be very cautious: “Take heed to thyself and to the doctrine, consider what thou preachest; continue in them, in the truths that thou hast received; and this will be the way to save thyself, and those that hear thee.” Observe, (1.) Ministers are engaged in saving work, which makes it a good work. (2.) The care of ministers should be in the first place to save themselves: “Save thyself in the first place, so shalt thou be instrumental to save those that hear thee.” (3.) Ministers in preaching should aim at the salvation of those that hear them, next to the salvation of their own souls. (4.) The best way to answer both these ends is to take heed to ourselves, etc.
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