Now this evil influence would too surely be exercised. The power of the holy truth of God would be lost in the assembly and among Christians; and those who bore this name would become (under the influence of the enemy) the expression of the will and passions of man, while still maintaining the forms of godliness; a peculiar condition, which betrays in a remarkable way the influence and the work of the enemy. This was to be expected; and they would be perilous days.
The open opposition of the enemy is doubtless a painful thing, but he deceives souls by the specious appearances of which the apostle here speaks-that which bears the name of Christianity, that which before men has the character of godliness, and which the flesh will accept as such much more readily than that which, because it is true godliness, is contrary to the flesh. Nevertheless all the worst features of the human heart are linked with the name of Christianity. What then does the testimony become? It is, so to speak, an individual prophecy, clothed in sackcloth.
There is activity in this perilous evil of the last days: these deceivers would creep into houses, and gain the ear of feeble souls, who, governed by their passions, are ever learning yet never learn. Teachers like these resist the truth, they are men of corrupt minds, reprobate as to the faith; but they shall proceed no farther. God will make manifest their folly and their falseness by means even of their own pretensions, which they can no longer maintain.
The man of God is to turn away from such men while they are yet deceiving and exercising their influence. God will expose them in due time. All will then judge them, and condemn their pretensions; the spiritual man does so while they are deceiving the others in security.
We may remark here that which evidences the sad and dangerous character of the days of which the apostle is speaking. If we compare the lists of sins and abominations, which Paul gives at the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans, as characterising heathen life and the moral degradation of men during those times of darkness and demon-worship, with the catalog of sins that characterise those who have the form of godliness, we shall find that it is nearly the same, and morally quite the same; only that some of the open sins which mark the man who has no outward restraint are wanting here, the form of godliness precluding them and taking their place.
It is a solemn thought, that the same degradation which existed among heathens is reproduced under Christianity, covering itself with that name, and even assuming the form of godliness. But in fact it is the same nature, the same passions, the same power of the enemy, with but the addition of hypocrisy. It is only the departure from, and corruption of, the true doctrine of the Mediator; as Paganism was that of the true doctrine of the only God.
Different directions are given for the conduct of the man of God, with regard to the vessels unto dishonour, and the men who act in the spirit of the last days. From the former he is to purge himself: he is to think of faithfulness in his own walk; and by cleansing himself from those vessels which do not honour the name of Christ, which (although in the great house) do not bear the stamp of a pure desire for His glory, he shall be a vessel unto honour, fit for the Master's use. By keeping apart from such vessels, he is sheltered from the influences that impoverish and degrade the testimony he has to render to Christ; he is pure from that which deteriorates and falsifies that testimony.
In the other case-that of the men who gave the character of "perilous" to the last days, the corrupt opposers of the truth, bearing the name of godliness-with regard to these his testimony is to be distinct and plain. Here he is not merely to cleanse himself; he testifies his moral abhorrence, his loathing, of those who, being, the instruments of the enemy, bear this character of formal piety. He turns away from them, and leaves them to the judgment of God.
Timothy had the walk and spirit of the apostle for his pattern. He had been much with him; he had seen, in times of trial, his patience and his sufferings, the persecutions he had endured; but the Lord had delivered him out of all. It would be the same with all who sought to live according to godliness, which is in Christ Jesus:[See Footnote #7] they should endure persecution. Evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse, deceiving others, and being, at the same time, deceived themselves.
The character of the last days is strongly marked here, and gives no hope for Christianity as a whole. The progress of evil is described as developing itself in two distinct characters, to which we have already alluded. The great house-Christendom as a whole- in which there are vessels to dishonour, from which we are to purge ourselves, and the positive activity of corruption, and of the instruments who propagate it and resist the truth, although they who corrupt themselves assume the form of godliness. Under this last aspect the wicked will go on growing worse and worse; nevertheless the hand of God in power will demonstrate their folly.
We may distinguish, in this second category, the general character of pride and corruptness in all who submit to this malignant influence, and those who themselves labour to extend it. Of the latter of this class, the apostle says, are they who creep into houses. The character is that of the mass who are seduced but there are seducers. These resist the truth, and their folly shall be manifested. It may be that God may demonstrate it, wherever there is faithfulness, in order to save His own from it; but, in general, their evil work will go on, and the seduction grow worse and worse, until the end, when God will make manifest the folly of those who have departed from Him and given themselves up to the errors of the human mind, and laboured to maintain and propagate them.
The apostle then tells Timothy of the safeguard on which he may rely to preserve himself, through grace, steadfast in the truth, and in the enjoyment of the salvation of God. Security rests upon the certainty of the immediate origin of the doctrine which he had received; and upon the scriptures received, as authentic and inspired documents, which announced the will, the acts, the counsels, and even the nature of God. We abide in that which we have learnt, because we know from whom we have learnt it. The principle is simple and very important. We advance in divine knowledge, but (so far as we are taught of God) we never give up, for new opinions, that which we have learnt from an immediately divine source, knowing that it is so. By a source immediately divine, I mean, a person to whom God Himself has communicated the truth by revelation with authority to promulgate it. In this case I receive what he says (when I know him to be such) as a divine communication. It is true that the scriptures always remain as a counter proof, but when-as in the case of the apostles-a man is proved to be the minister of God, gifted by Him for the purpose of communicating His mind, I receive what he says in the exercise of his ministry as coming from God. It is not the assembly that is in view in this case. It cannot be the vessel of divine truth directly communicated to it from God. Individuals are always that. We have seen that its part is to confess the truth when communicated, not to communicate it. But we here speak of a person to whom and by whom God immediately reveals the truth-such as the apostles and prophets. God has communicated to them, as elect vessels for this purpose, that which He desired to communicate to the world, and they have so communicated. None could do it who had not received it himself from God as a revelation: if this is not the case, the man himself has some part in it. I could not then say, "I know of whom I have learnt it," as knowing that it came immediately from God and by divine revelation.
When God had something to communicate to the assembly itself, He did it by means of such persons as Paul, Peter, & etc. The assembly is composed of individuals; it cannot receive a divine revelation in a mass, as the assembly, except it be by hearing in common a divine voice, which is not God's way. The Holy Ghost distributes to every one, severally as He will. There are prophets, and the Spirit says, " Separate unto me Barnabas and Paul." Christ has given gifts to men, some apostles, some prophets, & etc. Accordingly the apostle says here, not "where," but "of whom" thou hast learnt these things.
Here, then, is the first foundation of certainty, strength and assurance for the man of God with regard to divine truth. It has not been revealed to him immediately. It was Paul and other instruments, whom God chose for this special favour. But he knows of whom he has learnt it; even of one (here it was Paul) to whom it had been directly made known by inspiration, and who has authority from God to impart; so that they who learn of him know that it is divine truth, exactly as God communicated it (compare 1 Cor. 2), and in the form in which He was pleased to communicate it.
There is another means, which has a character of its own; the scriptures, which are as such the foundation of faith to the man of God, and which direct him in all his ways. The Lord Jesus Himself said (speaking of Moses), "If ye believenot his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" His words were the words of God; He does not contrast the authority of what He said with that of the written word, but the means of communication. God has been pleased to employ that means as a permanent authority. Peter says " No prophecy of scripture ....". There have been many prophecies which are not written; they had the authority of God for those persons to whom they were addressed. For the word speaks more than once of prophets-who must therefore have prophesied-with out communicating their prophecies to us. They were instruments for making known the will of God, at the moment, in order to guide His people in their actual circumstances, without its being a revelation necessary to the people of God at all times, or applicable either to the world, to Israel, or to the assembly in all ages. It was not a general and permanent revelation from God for the instruction of the soul at all periods.
A multitude of things, spoken by Jesus Himself are not reproduced in the scriptures; so that it is not only a question of from whom we have heard a truth, but also of the character of that which has been communicated. When it is for the permanent profit of the people or the assembly of God, God caused it to be written in the scriptures, and it abides for the instruction and the food of His children in all ages.
The expression, " knowing of whom thou hast learned them,'' establishes us on personal apostolic authority, viewing the apostles as teachers authorized by the Lord. John says, "They who are of God hear us." It is not necessary that scripture should be written by apostles; God has made known therein His will and the truth, and has committed the sacred deposit to His people for the profit of all ages. The scriptures have authority as such. And it is not that which, as a spiritual man, one may receive from them, that by which we have profited (as to application to one's soul that is indeed all); but it is the entire holy scripture, such as we possess it, which has this authority.
From his childhood Timothy had read the holy scriptures; and these writings, such as he had read them as a child, guarded him-as divine authority- against error, and furnished him with the divine truths needful for his instruction. To use them aright, faith in Christ was requisite: but that which he used was the scripture known from his youth. The important thing to observe here is that the apostle is speaking of the scriptures, as they are in themselves, such as a child reads them; not even of that which a converted or spiritual man finds in them, but simply the holy writings themselves.
It may perhaps be said, that Timothy as a child possessed only the Old Testament. Agreed: but what we have here is the character of all that has a right to be called holy scripture. As Peter says as to the writings of Paul, these, " They wrest, as they do also THE OTHER SCRIPTURES.' [See Footnote #8] title to that name, its writings possess the same character and have the same authority as the Old Testament.
The scriptures are the permanent expression of the mind and will of God furnished as such with His authority. They are His expression of His own thoughts. They edify, they are profitable: but this is not all-they are inspired. It is not only that the truth is given in them by inspiration. It is not this which is here stated. They are inspired.
The greater part of the New Testament is comprised in the first source of authority, "knowing of whom thou hast learnt them," namely, all that which the apostles have written; because, in learning the truth therein, I can say I know from whom I have learnt it-I have learnt it from Paul, or from John, or from Peter, & etc. But, besides this, being received as scriptures, they have the authority of divine writings, to which, as a form of communication, God has given the preference above the spoken word. They are the permanent rule by which every spoken word is to be judged.
In a word the scriptures are inspired. They teach, they judge the heart, they correct, they discipline according to righteousness, in order that the man of God may be perfect, that is, thoroughly instructed in the will of God, his mind formed after that will and completely furnished for every good work. The power for performing these comes from the actings of the Spirit. Safeguard from error, wisdom unto salvation, flow from the scriptures j they are capable of supplying them. We are to abide in that which we have learnt from the apostles, and to be governed by the writings of God.
8: This too is the real sense of Romans 16:26, where we should read, "by prophetic writings.