"The Lord shall deliver me from every evil worlr, and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
2 Timothy iv. 18.
"Deliver Us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen." Paul seems to be echoing the Lord's prayer in his triumphant burst of confidence. Such buoyant assurance is all the more beautiful when his circumstances are recalled. He was a prisoner, old, weary, alone, with death known to be close at hand, and yet his hope burned like a pillar of fire in the blackness. This bird could sing in a darkened cage.
If there is any reference here to the words of the Lord's Prayer, we have therein valuable testimony to the very early currency of that prayer in the churches. And if we take in conjunction the circumstances under which the Apostle speaks here, and the meaning that must be attached to this triumphant confidence, we have great light cast upon the interpretation of a portion of the sacred petitions which our Lord taught us to pray.
It is quite clear that he expected nothing but death. Only a few verses before he has said, "I am now in the very act of being offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have finished my course"—and from henceforth there is no more work for me to do, but only the crown to receive. Once already he had appeared before the dreadful emperor, the bloody Nero, and had been, as he says, "delivered out of the mouth of the lion." He expects to appear before him again, but he does not expect to be delivered in the same fashion. And yet, with death staring him in the face, and with nothing more clear to his anticipation than that his work was done, and that there only remained for him to wait for the crown, he breaks into this rapture of triumph, and says, "The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me "—or, to take the pregnant expression of the text, "save me "—" into His heavenly kingdom."
May we not learn from this what the true meaning of deliverance from evil is; and what therefore is meant by the petition when it occurs in the pattern prayer? It is not exemption from trial, not escape from even the uttermost severity of it. When we pray " Deliver us from evil," we do not mean "Let us off easily; and may we slip through between the blows when they are falling round us "; but if we pray the prayer in the same sense in which the Apostle here grasped the confidence, we mean a far nobler thing. The only evil that any Christian needs to dread, or pray to escape, is that the pressure of distress, persecution, sorrow, temptation of any kind should lead him to be unfaithful to his Master, and to cast away his confidence. Whosoever is able, in the midst of all, to keep hold of his faith, and, by his faith, of his Saviour, has received deliverance from the evil which pours all its vials of plagues upon his head. For the only thing that really does us harm is that which drags us away from God, and any outward circumstance, any complication of trials and darknesses which drives us closer to Him, has in it a " soul of goodness," so large and so vital that it is an error in language to call it by the name of "evil."
"He shall deliver me from every evil work"; not because the sword will not fall upon my neck, but because, when it does, it will not part me from my Christ. "He shall deliver me from every evil work "; not because I shall not taste the full bitterness of the cup that is commended to my lips, but because in the very act of drinking the most nauseous potion I shall take it as a cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. That is deliverance, and that is what Christ meant us to ask for when we pray in the twin petitions: "Lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil." Try us, for it is for our good, but lead us past, or rather through, the temptation; and leave us not mired and suffocated in the foul mud. "Deliver us from evil."
Paul expected not only to be "delivered from" but to be "saved into." The former expression contemplates removal from the sphere of evil, the latter, transport into a sphere where evil is unknown, even that heavenly kingdom, where Christ serenely held sovereign sway, while Nero afflicted the world with a delirium of blood and lust. The final saving is regarded by the Apostle as migration from the lower levels, where evil, like a wild cyclone, sweeps howling and destroying, to quiet regions above its tempest, where loud winds never call, but "all the air a solemn stillness holds," though stagnation is as far away as tumult. Death seemed to Paul a deliverer sent " not to destroy men's lives, but to save them," or a lackey who opens the door of the presence chamber of the King. He was sure that the final hurricane would not blow him from his moorings, nor wreck him on an ironbound coast, but would bring him into port. The climax of Christ's saving work is that at last He says to His servant, "Come," and the servant coming, even by the brief and bloody path of martyrdom, is finally and absolutely delivered from evil.
What, then, was the ground of this triumphant confidence? It rested on past experience, as described in the preceding sentence, where Paul thankfully tells Timothy: "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." When we are forecasting what God will do, it is safe to say, " I was, therefore I shall be." God's "hitherto" has "henceforth" wrapped up in it. Was, is, shall be, are all one with Him. The past and the future are smelted down into one eternal and unchangeable present. Events come to us, indeed, bit by bit, "at sundry times and in divers manners," but the "has" and the "will " only belong to our region of limited and successive existence, and have no place on high with God. This God never begins to build and is not able to finish. Whoever can say "Hitherto the Lord has helped me" has failed to grasp the full sweetness and meaning of his past, unless he sees in it the sure prophecy of a future, and can go on to say, "The Lord will help and deliver me from every evil work." But Paul's confidence rested, too, on the prayer which he had learned from Jesus. He is sure that He will be delivered, because he has been taught to pray that he may be. Happy are they who can so pray that out of their prayers they can make serene assurances! Happy are they who so wisely base their assurances on divine promises that they can turn these into prayers! If we rightly ask God to deliver us, anything is possible and credible rather than that He should not grant the petition.
So sure was Paul of deliverance that the anticipation drew rapturous thanksgiving from his lips. If the hope led to such music, what full harmonies would attend the realisation! We should welcome as yet unreceived blessings with unfaltering credence and lively gratitude. We should draw them to us before they come, and have "songs and everlasting joy upon our heads," because of our sure prospects, even while we are travelling in the wilderness. This prisoner looked athwart the scaffold and the headsman's axe and saw beyond, as if he possessed it now, the glory that was waiting for him. We can live in a certain future, and, like the God in whom we trust, "call things that are not as though they were."
It is Jesus who is here called "the Lord," and while the word does not necessarily imply Christ's divinity, the ascriptions of praise here unhesitatingly laid at His feet can neither be explained nor justified, unless the speaker owned Him as divine. That plain inference is increased in significance, if the suggestion that we have here an allusion to the Lord's Prayer be admitted. The doxology appended to the prayer is, indeed, probably no part of the genuine text, but is certainly a very early addition to the prayer, and may well have been in use in Paul's time. At any rate, similar doxologies were not wanting in worship, and the Apostle here is apparently using a familiar ascription of praise to God, whether derived from the Lord's Prayer or not, and transferring it to Jesus.
It is Christ who to Paul is Lord of Providence and Master of Death, able to interpose the shadow of His wing between the Apostle's defenceless head and every storm, and to bear him at last into His heavenly kingdom. Therefore to Him, with unfaltering lip and full-throated praise, the Apostle brought the ascription, which were blasphemy if rendered to any but the Incarnate Word, who "was with God, and was God." Paul thought that his salvation would bring glory to Jesus that would shine through ages of ages. Lowly and wondering gratitude, not arrogance, dictated the thought. Precisely because he is so unworthy and sinful, does the Apostle think that the power which could, and the love which would, save him call for endless praise. The poorer the material, the more is the artist's glory. Humanity redeemed and perfected is the masterpiece of Christ and God.