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Indeed, it is supposed in the epistle to the Hebrews, that “some may fall away, who were once enlightened, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, Heb. vi. And St. Peter makes the supposition, “ that some, who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, may be again entangled therein, and overcome,” 2 Pet. ii. 20. And St. Paul with grief speaks of “
many, who so walked,” as to shew themselves “ enemies of the cross of Christ,” Philip. iii. 18.
But these instances do not invalidate the truth of God, nor the power of the gospel of Christ; which
does very forcibly, “ teach us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” Tit. ii. 12. St. Paul therefore was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: knowing it to be “the power of God to salvation, both to Jews and Gentiles." And he therefore glories in it, because “ thereby the world had been crucified to him, and he to the world.” St. James makes no hesitation to exhort men to “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save their souls," Jam. i. 21.
Let us then esteem the doctrine of the gospel as a very precious advantage, teaching us how to act, so as to approve ourselves to God : how to perform the duties of our stations : how to improve the mercies and afflictions of this state, so as that we may lay up a good foundation against the time to come, and obtain everlasting life.
Happy discoveries are pleasing and entertaining to men, whilst new and fresh: but they are really a good foundation of lasting joy. We have reason always to rejoice, and think ourselves happy, that we have the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation through him. It was the abiding frame of the apostle Paul. And after that the gospel had cost him much of those things which are highly esteemed by the most, he declares, that he “ counted all things” base and contemptible, “ for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord,” Philip. iii. 8.
10. Finally, this subject puts us in mind of the importance of our preaching and hearing.
Says St. Paul to Timothy : “ Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine. Continue in them. Foi so doing, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee,” i Tim. iv. 16. This is the design of our preaching: to teach men the way of salvation, and to persuade them to walk and persevere therein. Such therefore must be the usual topics of our discourse, as explain the certain principles, and enforce the great duties of religion. And such things ought to be carefully attended to.
And when men receive the truth in the love of it, and come under the power of it: when their affections are set upon things above: and they can be contented in every condition : when men live in love and friendship : and their moderation is conspicuous: and they are ready to offices of goodness of various kinds, to all men : this is the best recompense, the most desirable fruit of well meant endeavours, to instruct men in things of religion : greater than applauses for elegance of speech, and exactness of method, or any thing else that can be named. Such hearers are an honour to their instructors. And if they who speak, and they who hear, are saved in the day of the Lord, they will be mutually a crown of glory and rejoicing, when the most splendid, and the most durable things of this earth are no more.
THE GOOD EXERCISE OF FAITH.
Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold on eternal life : whereunto thou art also called, and hast
professed a good profession before many witnesses. 1 Tim. vi. 12.
HERE are some texts of scripture, that at first appear plain, and easy to be understood : which yet are somewhat difficult and obscure, and the precise meaning is not readily apprehended. And sometimes we are liable to be diverted from the right meaning by a translation. Which is not always owing to the mistake of the translators of the bible: but rather to some defect in modern languages, which want words corresponding to the ancient original.
Of this we seem to have an instance in the present text. Fight the good fight of faith.” Many may be apt to think, that the apostle's metaphorical expressions are taken from wars and battles: and that he here recommends to Timothy, to behave as a valiant soldier in the service of the gospel. And they may be the more induced to this apprehension by some other exhortations to Timothy, where the allusion is manifest. “ This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, that thou mightest war a good warfare,” 1 Tim. i. 18. And, “ Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” 2 Tim. ii. 34. Moreover St. Paul has made use of the same allusion in an exhortation to Christians in general : “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God-Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness: and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith. ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one: and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God,” Eph. vi. 13--17.
Nevertheless it appears from the original words, that the apostle alludes not here to the life of a soldier engaged in wars; but rather to the games, at that time very famous among the Greeks, and in some parts of Asia, which had learned the Greek customs : and, indeed, almost all over the Roman empire. In which games there were contentions in the way of racing, on foot and in chariots, and in the way of combat. And the present text is rather to be explained by that in the ninth chapter of the first to the Corinthians, than by that before cited from the epistle to the Ephesians. The passage is to this purpose: “ Know ye not, that they which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize ? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery, is temperate in all things. Now they do it, to obtain a corruptible crown ; but we an incorruptible. * I therefore so run, not as uncertainly: so fight I, not as one that beateth the air," 1. Cor. ix. 24—26; where the apostle alludes to two of the exercises of those games, running and boxing,
Such is the figurative expression in the text: and perhaps the allusion might be made more manifest, and the ambiguity in some measure avoided, if the original were rendered, “ Exercise the good exercise of faith.” The word here rendered fight, is the same with that which is rendered “ striving for the mastery” in the passage just quoted from the first to the Corinthians. Everyb“ one that striveth for the mastery,” or every one that striveth in the games,
" is temperate in all things.” And we have the same expression again in another place, where St. Paul says, “ I have fought a good fight,” 2 Tim. iv. 7 ; or, I have exercised a good exercise. He had himself done what he here exhorts Timothy to do.
It is not unusual with the apostle to compare, and very elegantly, the Christian course, that: is, the life of private Christians, or of those who are in some office in the church, to a warfare, and to a contention in the public and celebrated games, then in use among the people most renowned for politeness : in which games some of the most distinguished citizens of those places entered themselves. And these two allusions are joined together by him in a text, in part quoted already: “ Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that wars, entangles himself in the affairs of this life ; that he may please him, who has chosen him. to be a soldier. And if a man strive for the mastery, he is not crowned, unless he strive lawfully,” 2 Tim. ii. 3-5.
The general design of the exhortation is : · Exercise the good exercise of faith, so as to ob*tain the prize of eternal life, to which thou art called in the gospel : and for obtaining which, thou hast engaged to exert thyself, by that good profession, which thou hast already made in * the presence of many witnesses, or spectators.'
In farther discoursing on these words I shall observe this method.
Some have hereby understood contending for the truth of the gospel, maintaining, and propagating it in the world. But that, I think, is but one part of the exercise, or contention here
Αγωνιζε τον καλον αγωνα της πισεως,
• Τον αγωνα του καλον γωνισμαι.
spoken of. For Timothy appears to me to be here as much, or rather more exhorted as a Christian, than as an Evangelist.
By the fight of faith I suppose to be intended the fight of the gospel; or that fight and exercise which the gospel requires; or,
which Jesus Christ teaches and recommends in the gospel.
And by the fight, or exercise of faith, I would understand the practice of all virtue, a course of holy obedience to the dictates of reason, and the commands of God. The connection assures us of this. St. Paul had argued against the selfish designs of some, and shewn the evil of covetousness. Whereupon he adds: “ But thou, O man of God, flee these things: and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness," 1 Tim. vi. 11. “ Fight the good fight of faith.”. Or, exercise the good exercise of the gospel. Which is also agreeable to another exhortation in the second epistle to this same person, 2 Tim. ii. 21, 22.
This exhortation is fitly addressed to private Christians, as well as to a minister of the gospel: whilst at the same time different stations and circumstances will infer, in some respects, different duties and obligations.
• The fight of faith, as a one expresseth it, includes an open profession, and strenuous de. * fending the doctrine of faith, and making it good by a life suitable to the rule of faith.'
This open profession, and zealous defence of truth, 'accompanied with a suitable practice of virtue, may be fitly compared to the exercises in the Olympic games, because of the difficulty of the performance. There is a necessity that we be temperate in all things, watchful and circumspect. And we may meet with opposition and discouragement. And as in those exercises there was a crown or garland proposed to those who excelled, so a life of holiness here will be rewarded with glory and happiness hereafter.
These resemblances are the foundation of this comparison, and of those allusive exhortations which we meet with in the New Testament. The word exercise, fight or strife, seems particularly to have a reference to the opposition we may meet with in the practice of virtue. In the games alluded to there was always a contention. So are we likely to meet with things that will try our strength, and oblige us to exert ourselves to the utmost. Not only in times of persecution, but in all seasons there are difficulties attending a sincere profession of religious truth, nd a steady practice of virtue. Hopes of preferment in times of ease and prosperity may be as angerous and ensnaring as fears of death, or of the loss of goods, in a time of persecution.
ea both these temptations usually meet. The strictly conscientious must in most times forego some advantages, which might be obtained, and incúr some inconveniences, which might be avoided by compliances, not reconcilable with religion and virtue.
St. Paul therefore here requires, and earnestly exhorts Timothy, to “exercise the good exercise of faith :” that is, to be steady and resolute, and hold out in the open profession and zealous defence of the plain truth of the gospel, and the practice of all the duties of righteousness, meekness, and charity: and to shun every thing contrary to them: so acting according to the directions of the gospel
, or the doctrine of faith, without being moved by hopes of worldly ease, wealth, honour and authority: and likewise without being terrified by threats of adversaries, and fears of any temporal evils, which he might be in danger of; as that he might not fail of obtaining that eternal life which is proposed as the reward of constancy and perseverance.
This exhortation is much the same with that at the beginning of the twelfth chapter to the Hebrews. With which therefore I conclude this head. “ Wherefore, seeing we are encompassed with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us. And let us run with patience the race set before us : looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith : who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame: and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
II. In the next place we are to consider, why this is called a good exercise. The apostle had some reasons for adding that character. Very probably the word is expressive and emphatical. We should therefore try to discover the design of it.
8. It is good, as it is innocent.
This could scarce be said of the exercises in the games of Greece. For, notwithstanding the many allusions to them in the books of the New Testament, it is not the design of the sacred writers to recommend or justify those diversions. They only intend to recommend to Christians that zeal; diligence, activity and perseverance, in the cause of truth and virtue, which they shewed who had a part in those exercises. But those persons might not be altogether innocent in the principle they acted upon, nor in all their actions. Their principle might be ambition or vain glory. And in some of their combats the action might be detrimental to the antagonist.
a Pool's Annotations.
But the exercise of faith is perfectly innocent. It proceeds from no bad principle. It is injurious to none. The principles it inaintains and contends for, are certain truths, built upon sure evidence. And they have no bad tendencies. The principles of the gospel inspire not men with any hurtful designs. The actions, which they recommend, are all reasonable and beneficial. Nor are they who exercise in this exercise moved by envy, and ill-will to any : nor yet by an exorbitant love of gain : nor by pride, or ambition of worldly honour.
2. It is good, inasmuch as it is worthy and important, not mean and trifling.
The celebrated contentions to which the apostle alludes, though in so much repute, were trifling, in comparison of this exercise of faith. They consisted chiefly in the show of bodily strength, and some skill in matters of small moment. But they who exercise the exercise of faith are employed in matters of great value. The principles which they maintain, and resolutely refuse to deny, are truths of great importance. And they are engaged in designs and actions of înuch moment; governing the affections, with regard to all the sensible things of this life, and ordering the whole of the conversation, according to the rules of right reason. This is much more considerable than all the exploits of the Grecian coinbatants. 3. Consequently, the exercise of faith is a good exercise, as it is
very honourable. Though Christians were then had in contempt, and their faith was ridiculed, the apostle calls the « exercise of faith,” that is, steadiness in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue, a good exercise. It is a thing of more true honour than the combats so much applauded at that time in many parts of the world. It is a thing of vast difficulty. And it depends upon a very noble resolution and firmness of mind. The greatest offers which the world can make, and the worst evils which it can inflict, are oftentimes set before men, to induce them to desert the interest of known truth, and transgress the rules of virtue : and their compliance is solicited with long and tiresome importunity, and all the arts, most suited to gain the consent against the convictions of conscience : or to silence its dictates and remonstrances. To be fixed and immovable in the way of virtue upon such occasions is very honourable. Yea not only for men thus to exert themselves on some special and extraordinary occasions, as the Olympic combatants did in the tiine of their solemnity, and the preparatory exercises, possibly, of some few months or years continuance: but to maintain and carry on this exercise of faith, a steady re. gard to the principles and rules of the gospel throughout the whole life, in the various and trying occurrences of it, amidst allurements and discouragements. This is truly honourable and commendable.
4. The exercise of faith is a good exercise, with regard to its event, as it has a good reward annexed to it.
That reward is now distant, and out of sight. It is not bestowed here. But it is very sure : and it is great and transcendent. In allusion to the custom of the Grecian games, the apostle sometimes calls the reward of virtue a crown: but he gives it the preference greatly above the crowns, or garlands of the Olympic victors. And we ought to do the same: though we should take in other advantages annexed to it; some distinguished honours and privileges in the cities where they dwelt. « Now they do it,” says he, “ to obtain a corruptible crown: we, an incorruptible," 1 Cor. ix. 25. And St. Peter assures the elders, who behave well, that,
66 when the chief Shepherd shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away, 1 Pet. v. 4.
That is justly styled a good exercise, which has a good reward annexed to it.
This is a singular advantage, peculiar to the exercise which has been instituted by the Lord of all : men, however willing and large-hearted, being obliged to limit the recompenses, which they propose to such as they would encourage, according to the proportion of their small abilities. This circumstance is particularly taken notice of in a text before cited. “ Know ye not, that they which run in a race, run all : but one receiveth the prize. So run, that ye may obtain;" that is, that ye may all obtain, 1 Cor. ix. 24.
In those Olympic exercises, whether of race or combat, one only in each received a prize, even the victor. But in the Christian race and combat every one is victor who performs well. Every one that denies himself, and, notwithstanding the temptations of this world, is steady in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue is a conqueror, and shall receive a crown of righteousness from the righteous judge.
6. Once more, the exercise of faith is a good exercise, on account of the supports and encouragements afforded to those who undertake it.
They are encouraged by the greatness of the reward proposed to them by him who is able to do more than we think or conceive. They are also animated by the example of many who have overcome in this combat: and especially by the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been tried, as we now are: and who has power to grant to“ them who overcome, to sit with him in his throne, even as he also overcame, and is set down with his father, in his throne," Rev. iii. 21.
Moreover, all success in this exercise, every act of self-denial, every instance of steadi. ness amidst temptations, and in opposition to the adversaries of our virtue, when reflected on, casts light and joy on the mind, cheers and refreshes, and inspires with renewed ardour, and strengthens for farther difficulties. As the apostle says : “ For which cause we faint not : but though the outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day :
-whilst we look not át the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things seen are temporal : but the things not seen are eternal,” 2 Cor. iv. 16, 18.
III. It remains only, that I conclude, as at first proposed, with some inferences, by the way of a practical application. They will be these two.
1. We are here reminded, that a life of religion and virtue has, in this world, its difficulties.
It is no very easy thing to be steady in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue. They who expect to find every thing smooth and easy in this way, and look for no opposition or discouragement, will be disappointed. For the life of a Christian, as we have seen, is compared in scripture to a warfare, a race, a combat. It is a contention, an exercise that requires a good deal of resolution, and will try all our strength and skill.
2. Nevertheless there is encouragement to hold on therein.
For it is a good exercise. It is innocent and honourable, and will have a great reward hereafter, and has at present its joys and supports; which are not small, but very exhilarating and strengthening
It is not a little pleasing to hear it called a good exercise by those who have made trial of it. St. Paul, who was so great a master therein, who knew all its difficulties, who had met with good report and ill report, who had been in perils of every kind, who had been as laborious and diligent as any in the service of the gospel : in a word, he who knew by experience, how much it might cost men, calls it a good exercise. He recommends it to others as such. And near the period of his life he says with exultation and triumph : “I have exercised a good exercise: I have finished my race: I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness," 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8. This is very encouraging to all who are well disposed.
And let us consider what the apostle adds in this exhortation to Timothy ; that he had made a good profession; which may be also said of most of us. We have been taught, and we have acknowledged the principles of the Christian religion : and we have engaged to fulfil its obligations. Let not expected good fruits be lost for want of perseverance. How great is the reward set before us! How great will be the honour and the joy to receive a crown of righteousness from the righteous Judge! How sad, how afflictive beyond all expression, to lose his reward! It is proposed to us. We may obtain it: but we must now work the works of rigeteous.. ness, and persevere therein. Whenever sloth and indolence, weariness and fainting of mind, are ready to prevail and gain ground on us, let us recollect this, or some other like quickening admonition of holy scripture : “ Exercise the good exercise of faith. Lay hold on eternal life. And, “ Let us not be weary in well doing : for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not, Gal. vi. 9.