Darby's Bible Synopsis
The Second Epistle to Timothy has a very peculiar character. It is the expression of his heart, who out side Palestine had, under God, founded and built the assembly of God on earth, and it was written in sight of its failure, and its departure from the principles on which he had established it. God remained faithful; His foundation was sure and immovable; but the work committed into the hands of men was already enfeebled and decaying. The consciousness of this state of things, which moreover betrayed itself in the way in which the apostle himself was then forsaken oppressed his heart; and he pours it out into the bosom of his faithful Timothy. By this means the Spirit instructs us in the solemn truth, that the church has not kept its first estate, and sets before us the ways of safety for those who seek God, and desire to please Him, in such a state of things as this.
The apostle John gives the history of the fall of the assembly here below, and of its judgment, and that of the world likewise. He also sets before us a life which, apart from all questions of the assembly's condition, abides ever the same, which renders us capable of enjoying God, and makes us resemble Him in His nature and character.
As a witness John was to remain until the Lord came: but Paul sees for himself the ruin of that which he had built and watched over so faithfully. He had spent himself for the assembly, accomplishing that which was behind of the sufferings of Christ; and he had to see that which he had so much loved (which he had cared for even as a mother cherishes her nursling which he had planted as God's plant on the earth) grow feeble as to its condition and testimony in the world, depart from the source of strength, and become corrupt. What a painful experience! But it is that of the servant of God in all ages and in all dispensations. He sees indeed the power of God acting to plant the testimony on earth, but he sees that men soon fail in it. The house inhabited by the Holy Ghost becomes dilapidated and in disorder. Nevertheless (and we love to repeat it with the apostle) the sure foundation of the Lord abides for ever. Whatever may be the condition of the whole company, the individual is always to depart from all iniquity, and to maintain, by himself if need be, the true testimony of the name of the Lord. This can never fail the faithful soul.
In view of the mixture and confusion which began to shew itself in the assembly, the apostle's comfort was founded on these two principles, while remembering and joyfully availing himself of the communion and faithfulness of some precious souls. He had such as Timothy and Onesiphorus, amid the afflictions of the gospel and the sorrow of being forsaken by so many who were seals to his testimony before the Lord.
The apostle begins by taking the ground of grace and of individual life which never changes in essential character outside church privileges. Not that these had changed; but he could no longer connect them with the general body on earth. He calls himself here an apostle according to the promise of eternal life which is in Christ Jesus. It is not merely the Messiah, it is not the head of the body, it is the promise of life which is in Him.
Paul addresses his dearly beloved son Timothy, whose affection he remembers. He desired greatly to see him, being mindful of his tears, shed probably at the time when Paul was made prisoner, or when he was separated from him on that occasion, or when he heard of it. It is the confidence of a friend that is speaking to one whose heart he knew. We see something of this, but in the perfection that was peculiar to Himself, in Jesus on the cross, in that which He said to John and to His mother. A similar form would have been unsuitable in Paul. The affections of men shew themselves in and by their wants, the wants of their hearts; those of the Lord by His condescension. With Him all is in itself perfect. With us it is only by grace that all is in its right place. But when separation to service in power, which knows but that, is over, nature according to God has its right place. In the consecrated meat offering that was to be made with fire, honey had no place.
Verse 3 (2 Timothy 1:3). The apostle does not speak any longer of the high character of his work, but of his personal position rightly felt according to the Spirit. He had served God, following in the steps of his forefathers, with a pure conscience. In every way he was a vessel made unto honour. For more than one generation his ancestors were distinguished for a good conscience; and personal piety, founded on the truth, shewed itself in the service of God. Paul was not here pressing a judgment as to the inward condition of each generation: it was their character. He calls to mind a similar fact with regard to Timothy, in whose case however personal faith is referred to, known to Paul himself, so that the bond, though of personal feeling, was christian. [See Note #1] Judaism, as to its outward obligations, is totally absent; for the father of Timothy was a Greek, and the marriage of his Jewish mother was unclean according to the law, and would have rendered Timothy also unclean and deprived him of Jewish rights; and in fact he had not been circumcised when an infant. Paul did it, which was also not according to the law, unless Timothy had become a proselyte. Both heathens and their children were excluded, as we read in Nehemiah. Paul's act was above the law. Here he takes no notice of it; he leaves the Gentile father out of sight, and speaks only of the personal unfeigned faith of Timothy's mother and grandmother, and that of his beloved disciple himself.
The state of the assembly was only an additional occasion for the exercise of his faith, and for his zealous activity of heart and courage. Difficulties and dangers multiplied on every hand; the unfaithfulness of Christians was added to all the rest. But God is none the less with His people. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind, so that the Lord's labourer, the man of God, he who kept himself in communion with God in order to represent Him on the earth, was to stir up the gift that was in him, and (as the apostle expresses it with admirable and touching force and clearness) to endure the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God. Here, in the case of Timothy, the apostle could make mention of a special gift of the Spirit, which had been conferred upon Timothy through the laying on of hands. In the First Epistle he had spoken of the prophecy which had called him or pointed him out for the possession of this gift, and told us that it had been accompanied by the laying on of the hands of the elders; here he tells us that the laying on of his own hands was the means of bestowing it upon him.
The apostle reminds him of this proof of power and reality in his ministry (and in that of Paul himself), in view of this period when its exercise was more difficult. When all is prosperous, and the progress of the gospel is remarkable, so that even the world is struck with it, the work is found to be easy, in spite of difficulties and opposition; and such is man even in consequence of this opposition one is bold and persevering. But when others, Christians even, forsake the labourer, when evil and the deceptions of the enemy come in, when love has grown cold, and, because one is faithful, prudence takes alarm, and desires a less forward walk, to stand firm in circumstances like these, to persevere in the work, and maintain one's courage, is not an easy thing. We must possess Christianity with God, so that we know why we stand fast: we must be ourselves in communion with Him, in order to have the strength necessary to continue laboring in His name, and the sustainment of His grace at all times.
God then has given us the Spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind; the apostle had received such a position from God, that he had been able to bestow on Timothy the gift needed for his service but the state of spirit and soul which could use it was part of the inheritance of every Christian who leaned really on God. Nor was he to be ashamed either of the testimony, which was losing outwardly its onward current in the world, nor of Paul who was now a prisoner. How precious to possess that which is eternal, that which is founded on the power and on the work of God Himself! There were indeed the afflictions of the gospel, but he should take part in them and not shrink, enduring according to the power of God. God has saved us, has called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, as though any thing depended on man, but according to His own purpose and His grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. This is the sure and immovable foundation, a rock for our souls, against which the waves of difficulty break in vain, shewing a strength which we could not resist for a moment, but shewing also their total powerlessness against the purpose and work of God. The efforts of the enemy only prove that he is without strength, in the presence of that which God is, and of that which He has done for us. And the apostle identifies his ministry with this, and the sufferings he was undergoing. But he knew whom he had believed and his happiness was safe laid up with Him.
That which we have to seek is the power of the Spirit, in order that we may realise this gift of God by faith, and that we may abide, as to our hearts, as to our practical faith, in the sense of our union with Christ, upon this immutable foundation, which is nothing less than the immutability and the glory of God Himself. For His purpose has been manifested; that purpose, which gave us a place and a portion in Christ Himself, was now manifested through the appearance of that very Christ.
It is no longer a nation chosen in the world to display in it the principles of the government of God, and of His ways in righteousness, in patience, in kindness, and in power, on the earth (however unchangeable His counsels, however sure His calling), as manifested in His dealings with regard to the people whom He called.
It is a counsel of God, formed and established in Christ before the world existed, which has its place in the ways of God, outside and above the world, in union with the Person of His Son, and in order to manifest a people united with Him in glory. Thus is it a grace which was given us in Him, before the world was. Hidden in the counsels of God, this purpose of God was manifested with the manifestation of Him in whom it had its accomplishment. It was not merely blessings and dealings of God with regard to men it was life, eternal life in the soul, and incorruptibility in the body. Thus Paul was apostle according to the promise of life.
While Christ Himself was alive, although life was in Him, this purpose of God was not accomplished with respect to us. The power of life, divine power in life, was to manifest itself in the destruction of the power of death brought in by sin and in which Satan reigned over sinners. Christ then in His resurrection has annulled death, and by the gospel has brought to light both life and incorruptibility, that is to say, that condition of eternal life which puts the soul and the body beyond death and its power. Thus the glad tidings of this work were addressed to all men. Founded in the eternal counsels of God, established in the Person of Christ, the work necessary for its fulfillment being accomplished by Him, possessing a character altogether outside Judaism, and the mere government of God in the earth, Paul's gospel was unto all men. Being the manifestation of the eternal counsels and power of God, having to do with man as lying under the power of death, and with the accomplishment of a victory that placed man beyond that power, and in an entirely new condition which depended on the power of God and His purposes, it addressed itself to man, to all men, Jews or Gentiles without distinction. Knowing Adam dead by sin and Christ alive in the power of divine life, he announced this good news to man deliverance, and a totally new state of things.
It was to proclaim this gospel that the apostle had been called as a herald. It was for this he suffered, and, in the sense of what had caused it, was not ashamed to suffer. For he knew whom he had believed; he knew His power. He believed in the gospel that he preached, and therefore in the victorious power of Him in whom he believed. He could die with regard to the life that he had received from the first Adam, he could be dishonoured and put to shame in the world and by the world: life in Christ, the power by which Christ had won a place for man outside the condition of the first Adam, life as Christ now possesses it was not touched thereby. Not that life had not been there before, but death and he that had the power of death were not overcome, and all was dark beyond the closing tomb: a lightning flash might pass across the gloom, adequate ground be laid for the just conclusion of the Pharisee, but life and incorruptibility were not brought to light but in Christ and His resurrection.
But this is not all which is here expressed. The apostle does not say " in what I have believed," but " whom :" an important difference, which places us (as to our confidence) in connection with the Person of Christ Himself. The apostle had spoken of the truth, but truth is allied to the Person of Christ. He is the truth; and in Him truth has life, has power, is linked with the love which applies it, which maintains it in the heart and the heart by it. "I know," says the apostle, " whom I have believed." He had committed his happiness to Christ. In Him was that life in which the apostle participated; in Him, the power that sustained it, and that preserved in heaven the inheritance of glory which was his portion where this life was developed.
Encouraged by this hope and committing himself to Jesus, he had endured all things for Him, and for those who were His; he had accepted all suffering here, he was ready to die daily. His happiness, in the glory of that new life, he had committed to Jesus; he laboured meanwhile in affliction, sure of finding again, without being deceived, that which he had committed to the Lord, in the day when he should see Him and all his sorrows ended. It was in the expectation of that day, in order to find it again at that day, that he had committed to Him his happiness and his joy.
Moreover, his own career would soon be finished; his eyes therefore turn towards Timothy for the welfare of the assembly here below. He exhorts him to be steadfast, to hold fast the truth, as he had taught it to him (it was the testimony of the Lord), but the truth in its realisation by faith in Christ, and according to the power of love that is found in communion with Him. It is this which, as we have seen, the apostle had realised. The truth, and living grace in Jesus, in faith and in love, which gave it its power and its value these are, as it were, the pivots of strength and faithfulness at all times, and especially for the man of God, when the assembly in general is unfaithful.
Truth as it was taught by the apostles and expressed by them, the manner in which they presented the truth, "the form of sound words," is the inspired expression of that which God was pleased to reveal; and that, in all the relationships in which the truth is linked together, in all its different parts, according to the living nature and power of God, who is necessarily its centre as He is its source. Nothing except revelation could be this expression. God expresses everything as it is, and in a living way; and by His word all exists. He is the source and the centre of all things. All flow from Him are in relation with a living Person, namely Himself, who is their source, from whom all hold their existence. This existence only subsists in connection with Him; and the relationship of all things to Him, and between themselves, is found in the expression of His mind in that measure at least in which He puts Himself in relation with man in all these things. If evil comes in, as regards will or its consequences in judgment, it is because this relationship is broken; and the relationship that is broken is the measure of the evil.
Thus we see the immense importance of the word of God. It is the expression of the relationship of all things to God; whether as regards their existence that is, creation or with respect to His counsels; or even as to His own nature, and the relationship of man with Him, and the communication of life received from Him, and the maintenance of His true character. It comes from heaven as did the living Word, reveals what is there, but adapts itself, as the living Word did, to man here, directs him where there is faith here, but leads him up there where the living Word is gone as man.
Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby [1857-62]
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.