THE INVIOLATE DEPOSIT
I Tim. 6:20, 21:—"O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee, turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith."
This short paragraph looks very much like a concluding summary, added, possibly, by the Apostle's own hand, in which the whole gist of the First Epistle to Timothy is summed up. It is almost as if the Apostle—after all the explanations and exhortations in which he had instructed and encouraged his own son in faith to perform the great duties laid on him in errant Ephesus—had paused suddenly and said in effect, "Hear the sum of the whole matter, Be faithful to the Gospel committed to you and shun all the pretentious show of superior learning which is proving a snare to many." Such an exhortation, it is manifest, has its universal and perennial value; and is peculiarly applicable to those in our situation. As we begin another year of our intellectual preparation for the ministry of the Gospel of grace, it is especially becoming that we should have in mind that it will be our wisdom too, as it is manifestly our duty, "to keep the deposit inviolate" and to shun the worldly inanities and contradictions of
falsely so-called knowledge, by making profession of which so many in every age, and in our age too, have gone astray with respect to faith.
These latest epistles of Paul are commonly called Pastoral because of their direct address to the shepherds of the flock, and every word in such an exhortation as this, in such an Epistle as this, has a quasi-technical value. The key word among these words is the one which I have ventured to render after the Vulgate, "the deposit," and which the Authorized Version deals with by means of a paraphrase: "that which is committed to thy trust." It does not occur very often, but it does occur frequently enough to show that it and its cognate verb are employed by the Apostle as a well-known designation of the Gospel, considered as a body of Divine truth entrusted to those whom God has chosen as its ministers. As such, it stands in very clear relations with another technical term employed by the New Testament writers to describe the function of the ministers of the Gospel,—the term "witness." The Gospel is a "deposit"; the function of the minister is, therefore, "witnessing." The two ideas, you see, go necessarily together. The witness is in his essential nature not a producer but a reproducer; he is not the author of his message but its transmitter; his message is, therefore, not of his own devising but something committed to his trust,— a deposit. I do not know where the fundamental significance of the word "deposit" and its implications as to the duty of the minister is more richly developed than in a Fifth Century exposition of this passage, by Vincent of Lerins. His comment is so instructive that I cannot forbear quoting a part of it to you. "What," he asks, "is a deposit?" "It is something," he answers, "that is accredited to thee, not invented by thee; something that thou hast received, not that thou hast thought out; a result not of genius but of instruction; not of personal ownership but of public tradition; a matter brought to thee not produced by thee, with respect to which thou art bound to be not an author but a custodian, not an originator but a bearer, not a leader but a follower."
It is this that Paul means to emphasize when he calls the Gospel a "deposit." I rightly say he means to emphasize this. For he not only calls the Gospel a "deposit," but he sets it as such in contrast with its opposite, and that opposite proves to be just irresponsible speculation. O Timothy, he says, keep the deposit inviolate! And how is he to keep the deposit inviolate? "By shunning the profane inanities and contradictions of falsely so-called knowledge." You see the contrast is precisely between the Divine deposit and worldly knowledge. And he describes this worldly knowledge by epithets which are sufficiently discrediting to it. It consists of a mass of inanities and self-contradictions; it is, therefore, not real knowledge but only knowledge falsely so called. No doubt he had his eye on a specific instance,—-the nascent Gnosticism, let us call it, which was disturbing the church at Ephesus, and to rebuke and correct which Timothy was in Ephesus. But I think that it would be wrong to suppose that the Apostle had this exclusively in mind. Rather he seems to be viewing it as a type of a whole class. Or, let us at once put it as broadly as we think it lay in his own mind; there is no reason to doubt that the Apostle would speak in exactly these terms of any worldly knowledge whatever, any form of earthly philosophy or science, that infringed upon or sought to substitute itself more or less for the "deposit" of the Gospel of Christ. Any speculation, any philosophizing, any form of learning, any scientific theorizing which sought to intrude itself, in the way of modifying it in the least respect, upon the Gospel of Christ,—which is a sacred deposit committed to its ministers not to dilute or to alter or to modify, but to learn, hold, guard and preach,— would be characterized by Paul without hesitation as among the profane inanities and contradictions of knowledge falsely so called.
Our memory reverts at once to the splendid passage in the opening chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in which Paul magnificently contrasts the wisdom of the world with the simplicity of the message of the cross, and passion
ately declares that God has made the wisdom of the world mere foolishness. Yes, there is passion, a holy passion, but real passion, in Paul's renunciation of all human wisdom and declaration that God will destroy the wisdom of the wise and reject the prudence of the prudent. And some of that same passion is throbbing in the vigorous language of our present passage. Not indeed knowledge as such, but all human knowledge as a substitute for, or a modifying force in, the Gospel of Christ, is to Paul a mass of mere profane inanities and self-contradictions, to give oneself to which is to miss the mark with respect to faith. Dirt has been illuminatingly denned as matter out of place. Any substance, no matter how precious in itself, if out of place is nothing more or less than just dirt. Gold-dust in your eye is just dirt; wash it out; it is an offence there. Diamonds scattered in your porridge are dirt; cast them out. To the starving man seeking nourishment and life, they are not only an offensive evil but a destructive evil. You all know how King Midas found that gold in the wrong place could become the worst of ills. So it is with knowledge. What, in its proper place, is knowledge,—to be sought, loved and cherished as such, to be valued and utilized for its own good ends,—becomes knowledge falsely so called whenever it intrudes into a place not its own; a mass of mere inanities and self-contradictions. And it is just this that Paul means here. He is not condemning knowledge as such. He, too, would say with the poet—
"Who loves not knowledge? Who shall rail
Against her beauty? May she mix
With men and prosper! . . .
. . . Let her work prevail."
But just so soon as it presses beyond its mark and presumes to substitute itself for the Gospel of Christ, or to demand an alteration in that Gospel, or a modification of it, however slight, his righteous passion rises. Dirt! he cries,—matter out of place! the profane inanities and selfcontradictions of falsely so-called knowledge!
"Falsely so-called knowledge"—that phrase is his tribute to the value of real knowledge. When thus debauched knowledge ceases to be knowledge and becomes mere "falsely so-called knowledge." "Profane inanities and self-contradictions," that is Paul's description of what knowledge out of place is; pressing beyond its mark to become procuress to the lords of hell. For, says he, those that make so much profession of such knowledge are too often observed to miss the mark with respect to faith. The passion that burns in these words rises to sight everywhere in these epistles, when the intrusion of human speculation into matters of faith falls to be mentioned, and quite a choice vocabulary of reprobation might be extracted from Paul's expression of it. On the other side, what a fervour of love is manifested for that "deposit" which is the Gospel of God's saving grace! He calls it in the present passage, to be sure, simply "the deposit," but I am not sure that the very simplicity of the designation is not surcharged with passionate devotion. "The Deposit," "The Deposit," "The Deposit," "Guard the Deposit," "Keep The Deposit inviolate." It is as if there were but one deposit conceivable to him and to those to whom he wrote. And see how he claims it as his own, in 2 Tim. 1:12, calling it "my deposit." "I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded—though I fall by the way —yet He is able to keep my deposit against that day." To Paul his deposit was more than life itself. Paul may go—but what then? "The deposit," "his deposit" is safe in the hands of Him who committed it to him. And then, again, two verses lower (2 Tim. 1:14), "Keep, O Timothy, keep inviolate, the beautiful deposit through the Holy Ghost that dwelleth in us." Ah, it is the devotion of Paul for "the deposit" that makes him speak such passionate words against that which would supplement or adulterate it. It is its surpassing glory which makes dull the glory of that which away from it would itself be glorious. The glory of the world of intellect itself fades like that of the face of Moses, like that of the old covenant in the presence of the new,—by reason only of the glory that surpasses all—the glory of that glorious Gospel of the grace of God. It is, in a word, the inherent preciousness of the Gospel, not the inherent valuelessness of knowledge, that makes all knowledge in contrast with it, but foolishness— but a mass of profane inanities and self-contradictions which should not be permitted to intrude into these sacred precincts.
A practical lesson imposes itself upon us. Preach a full-orbed, a complete Gospel. The deposit is not yours to deal with as you will; it is another's entrusted to your care. The deposit is not your product to be treated as you will; it is the creation of another placed in your keeping. You are but its witnesses. Bear your witness truly and bear it fully. Keep the deposit inviolate.