15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.
16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. - I Timothy iv. 15-16.
What will now be offered is to be regarded as brotherly counsel: the authority that belongs to it is founded on being the command of God.
The whole of this Epistle is full of important instruction relative to your work. In this part of it, Paul more particularly addresses a young minister.
In the 12th verse we have a singular exhortation, Let no man despise thy youth. One would suppose that Timothy might have been ready to ask, "Is it in my power to prevent my being despised?" But to this Paul in effect replies, "You may not be
able to prevent your being disliked; but if you are an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purify, it will not be in the power of any man to dispise you. Contempt is not a voluntary exercise; we may dislike where we cannot despise; consistency and uniformity will raise a person above contempt."
Paul intended to see his dear young friend. Till then he counsels him to improve his time. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. When he should see him he would impart many things; but in the mean while he must lose no time.
Give attendance to reading. God knows all things at once; but before you and I can impart to others, we must learn; we must read the word of God; yea, any thing that may aid us: the nature of our work requires this.
Give attendance to exhortation. The term implies that kind of instruction which is given from house to house, Acts xx. 20. That man of God who wishes to be useful, will not confine his labours to the pulpit; he will embrace those opportunities in which he can speak to particular cases from house to house.
Give attendance to doctrine. The doctrine of the gospel is a mine. It will furnish you with employment during your whole life. Christ crucified is the soul of the gospel: take away this, and there is nothing left worthy of the christian ministry.
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy. This gift seems to have had something extraordinary in it: yet it required improvement; - neglect it not. Even the extraordinary communications of the Holy Spirit required improvement: much more then, my dear young friend, those ordinary gifts with which God hath endowed you. Meditate therefore upon these things.
I will consider, 1st. the exhorations; 2dly. the motives.
1. The EXHORTATIONS.
1. Meditate on these things. Meditation is profound and fixed thinking. It is of great importance in the Christian ministry. Some have attempted to depreciate diligent study; yet God's word ought to be hearkened to rather than the sloth of men. And what does that say? "Meditate on these things." We are not to expect miracles in finding out the particular meaning of this or the other part of the word of God, without prayer and meditation.
The apostles found it necessary to rid themselves of the care of the poor, that they might give themselves to prayer; and shall we attend to this work without it?
The passage that is generally abused for setting aside the necessity of study, is that in the 10th of Matthew; - "Take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak." But this evidently respected Christians when they were to be brought before magistrates. Now all forethought in this case would have been perplexity; and it was the decree of the Saviour that they should not perplex themselves, but in calmness possess their souls.
But when it relates to the Christian ministry, then the injunction is, "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them." A wiser man than you or I found it necessary to meditate:
hence he sought out acceptable words, even words of truth. "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies." These are the words that will do good. My brother, do not study fine words, but acceptable words; such as shall fasten upon the conscience and upon the heart; such as shall affect your own conscience, and lodge in the consciences of your people. But in order to this you must "meditate on these things, and give yourself wholly lo them."
To meditate, &c. supposes that there are great depths in the gospel, - in the things of God. This is everlasting; it is ever-during truth. The gospel is the wisdom of God, and the power of God. Here is great scope for you to meditate. We may read the scriptures a hundred times, aud yet be on the surface of its contents. It is by meditation that we dig into these mines of truth. Never imagine that you have fathomed the subject; that you know all the truth: there will always be depths beyond your discovery. It hath often been pleasing to me, that after I have thought the most upon a subject, some one of my brethren takes a new view of it. I have been ready to say, Ah! I never thought of that. Then meditate still. Never say, " I have meditated on that subject." Meditate upon it again.
Paul speaks as if he had every thing to learn, when he had been years in the work. Hence his language, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection!" It seems as if this language would have fitted his lips when be first set out in the work; but we find it fitted his lips till he became hoary in the Lord's service. If Paul found there were depths beyond his reach, then meditate upon divine truth.
The angels are represented as being in the attitude of study, that they may know something of the mystery of redemption. "Which things," says the apostle, "the angels desire to took into." If then the highest orders of beings desire to look into them, it implies that there are great depths in the work of redemption. Mix faith with what you read, and there is no subject in all God's works like this. To meditate on this is the work of the blessed above. And it is beginning the work of heaven to begin to meditate on these things here in this world. Then meditate on these things.
2. Not only "Meditate," but "Give thyself wholly to these things."
Why are we exempted from the avocations of life? Why is it that they who preach the gospel must not be entangled with the things of this world? Why is it that they who preach the gospel are to live of the gospel? It is not that we should spend our time in idle gossipping, in saying How do you do? &c.; but that we may give ourselves wholly to the work of the ministry, to meditation and prayer.
Industry in mental and spiritual concerns is of the first importance to a Christian minister. To feel at home in the study; to feel that when you are interrupted, it is an interruption in your work; this is to exemplify what is here taught, "Give thyself wholly lo these things."
This is a work that is enough for a mind of the greatest strength. It is work that filled a Saviour's hands. It is not a light work; it merits all your care.
I grant that many who sustain
this character seem to have but little to do. They seem to be sauntering from place to place, from one end of the week to the other. It is not, however, because they have nothing to do, but because they have no heart for it. Such a man had better pursue any vocation than that of the ministry: he had better be any thing than stand up to preach the gospel, unless he can give his whole heart to it. It is giving himself wholly to this work, that will be the great preservative against temptations. If we be idle, we shall find temptations enough to lead us from the paths of purity. But to give ourselves wholly to these things, will be the great preservative against these evils.
Some read these words, "Meditate on these things, and be thou in them." Which intimates not only that the whole time, but that the whole heart must be in them. It is dreadful work to be engaged in the ministry if the heart is not in it. To deliver a sermon or two on a Lord's-day from habit, is very easy; but not to have the heart engaged in this work is shocking. You had better do any thing than be a minister, if your heart is not engaged in it. Then meditate on these things, and give thyself wholly to them.
3. "Take heed unto thyself." It is not unusual for the apostle to begin with this exhortation. It was thus when he addressed himself to the elders of the church at Ephesus. "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost," &c. Acts xx. 28. It is but to little purpose to watch the souls of others, if we neglect our own. There is but little ground to hope that our counsel will be of use to others, unless they are prefaced by example. Watch over your own spirit. Be concerned to walk with God, or you will not feel that zeal which it is necessary to feel in the discharge of your work. The people expect that you should he alive. But if you walk not with God, that zeal, that love, that ardour you discover, must all be put on. And what an awful thing that is! This is hypocrisy! My brother, take heed to thyself. Neglect not private prayer. This is the means by which the lamp is filled. The lamp must be filled, or you will not make manifest the truth. O take heed to thyself. How can you recommend the Saviour to others, unless you are in the habit of committing your own soul to him. But if you are in the habit of doing this daily, then you can say, "That which we have handled and felt of the good word of life, that declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us."
Do not barely watch your behaviour and conversation. There is such a thing as being prudent and circumspect here; but if it be not accompanied with a watchfulness of the heart in private, according to that advice, "Keep thy heart with all diligence," it will only be a guise of hypocrisy, which will be seen through; or if men see it not, remember God does.
Take heed then to thyself. Look to your heart, to your motives, to the state of your soul before God. If all be right with God, it will not be difficult to persevere in your work. If all be right with God, it will not be difficult to preserve all right with your fellow-creatures. This will follow of itself.
4. "Take heed to the doctrine."
It is of great concern that a minister keep to the proper point of evangelical doctrine. We must take heed that we swerve not from the truth. We are in danger of losing the simplicity of the gospel. We may be in danger from the authority of great names; or the well-known views of those we preach to. It is a great temptation, "We ought not to displease the people." It is true we ought not to displease them, out of humour; we ought to please every man for his edification. But if the question be whether we shall please men or God, do not hesitate here. Preach the gospel as contained in the scriptures, that you may be able to say, "I have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God; I am pure from the blood of all men."
It is possible for a minister not to go into any remarkable errors, and yet all his life he may be on one side of the doctrine of the cross. We may deliver sermons, and deliver them well; and yet they may have very little of the savour of Christ in them. The leading theme should be the doctrine of the cross. Otherwise it is like a speech uttered by a bad character unto them that are the sons of the most high God.
It is of importance that every sermon have something of the doctrine of the cross in it. For it may be a stranger comes in to hear us, but there is nothing that is suited to his state and condition. Suppose the day of judgment comes. This stranger is interrogated, "Do you know nothing of the way of salvation by Jesus Christ?" He replies, "No. I went once to such a place to hear, but the subject that morning did not relate to Christ, and so I am lost, for ever lost." Let all we preach have some relation to the cross.
5. Not only Meditate upon them, but "Continue in them." There is enough in the gospel to last your whole life. It is an awful thing when a man sets out well, but ends ill; to set out well, but before he finishes for all to be covered with a cloud. Then not only meditate upon them, but continue in them.
II. Consider the MOTIVES by which this stands enforced.
Motive 1. By meditating on these things, &c. thy profiting will appear to all.
God's gifts will grow; they will grow in grace and acceptableness. It is pleasing to see in a minister a growth. You pray that your people may profit, but that is not likely to be the case unless you grow. If your heart is in these things, then your profiting will appear. Many ministers are stationary through life; they seem to make no progress. Their hearts are no more imbued with the gospel than at first, perhaps not so much. Their youthful zeal has expired, and how do they appear? Do you give yourself wholly to these things, that your profiting may appear to all.
There is room for growing; and the longer you continue in the work, the more you may grow. Those who thus grow, when vivacity fails, will yet bring forth the fruits of meekness and wisdom.
There was a man that said, when hoary locks covered his head, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness."
Do you think that this great man declined when youthful vigour declined? No, he continued to grow even to the last. Do you go on to grow that your profiting may appear unto all.
Motive 2. Your own salvation. "That thou mayest save thyself."
I trust I need not say to you, that you cannot save yourself in one sense. No; this is altogether from the Saviour. Yet you may be active in one part of it. "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." In fleeing to the refuge that is set before us, we are active. If in the ministry you faithfully and humbly declare the whole counsel of God, in the spirit that is here described, it will issue in your own salvation. But if you give yourself not wholly to these things, if you cease to continue in them, it may be your own soul may perish for ever.
Motive 3. The salvation of others. It is only instrumentally that you can save any. We preach the gospel, but it is the power of God that makes it effectual. Meditate then upon these things; give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all: take heed uuto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this, thou shall both save thyself, and them that hear thee. If these considerations do not possess a weight to enforce what hath been said, I know of none that will. Consider what I say, and the Lord give you understanding in all things.
[From The Baptist, December 1823, pp. 502-506. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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