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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament

1 Timothy 4

Verse 1

As if our apostle had said, "Although the mystery of godliness, the doctrine of Christianity, be so clearly revealed, and fully confirmed, yet the spirit of prophecy has very plainly told us, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith once embraced by them, either in whole or in part; turning apostates, by giving heed to impostures and doctrines of men, teaching erors suggested by devils, who cover their lies with hypocritical pretences, and are men of hardened hearts, seared consciences, profligate lives, forbidding some, whom they have seduced, to marry, and commanding them to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by them which do believe and know the truth."

Observe here, 1. That the apostasy and defection of a considerable part of the Christian church in the latter times was foreseen and foretold very long before it came to pass: by Daniel, say some, Daniel 11:28; Daniel 11:38 &c. by St. Paul, say others, in his second epistle to the Thessalonians; and in his first epistle to Timothy, the Spirit speaketh expressly, that some shall depart from the faith, that is, from the doctrine of the faith received; which we know the church of Rome has most notoriously done.

Observe, 2. The cause of this apostasy and defection from Christianity, Giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.

Quest. But what is here meant by doctrines of devils?

Ans. These (says our reverend archbishop Tillotson) can be no other doctrines than those tending to idolatry, which the scripture every where doth in a particular manner ascribe to the devil, as the inventor and promoter of; therefore he tells us, that, in some ancient copies, the words run thus: In the latter times some shall apostatize from the faith; for they shall worship the dead, having regard to doctrines of devils: -- so that the particular kind of idolatry into which some part of the Christian church should apostatize, is here pointed out, namely, that they should worship souls departed, or the spirits of dead men, which was part of the heathen idolatry, into which the people of Israel did frequently relapse; these departed souls were called Daemons, and were esteemed a middle sort of divine powers, between the supreme gods and mortal men, whose office it was to be agents and mediators between the gods above and men below; thus is the holy city trodden down by the Gentiles, that is, overwhelmed with the Gentiles' idolatry.

Observe, 3. The persons revolting, who they are foretold to be; not all, but, but some only: In the latter days, some shall depart from the faith; not the whole visible church, but a very great and considerable part of it.

Learn thence, That the true church of Christ was never wholly extinguished, nor the light of the gospel ever quite put out , no, not in the greatest darkness, that ever was, to overwhelm it; some (only) and not all, that shall depart from the faith.

Observe, 4. The persons described who should be the occasion of this apostasy and revolt: namely, such as speak lies in hypocrisy, and have seared consciences, that is, such stupid consciences as have lost the sense of good and evil, and no longer do their office. These lies, which the apostate church of Rome is guilty of, the profound Mr. Mede styles, "Lying miracles, fabulous legends of the acts of saints and sufferings of martyrs, counterfeit writings under the name of the first and best antiquity."

Lord! who could have coined or believed such monstrous stuff as the popish legends are fraught with, but such as are cauterized, past all feeling and tenderness both of conscience and sense itself.

Observe, 5. The doctrines discovered which these apostates would teach, namely, the forbidding marriage to some, and enjoining abstinence from some meats as unlawful and unclean to others, both which are called doctrines of devils, that is, wicked and devilish doctrines.

Learn thence, That the Popish doctrine forbidding marriage, not absolutely to all, but with restrictions and limitation to some, to wit, their clergy, and all such as shall enter into holy orders, is a devilish and wicked doctrine: for it forbids that which the word alloweth, nay, in some cases commandeth, Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled; Hebrews 13:4 if honourable in all, then surely lawful for all; under the Old Testament, the prophets, priests, and Levites, did marry; under the New, the ministers of God have a power to marry; Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife? 1 Corinthians 9:5 And that they made use of their power is evident from the following words, as well as other apostles and Cephas.

The other wicked doctrine concerning meats is also found in the church of Rome, who by a law to oblige some orders of men, as monks, to abstain from certain meats reducing them thereby from Christian liberty to a conformity to the legal rites, which may well by reckoned as an apostasy from the Christian faith; for although St. Paul, Romans 14 doth allow the forbearance of some sorts of meats to avoid scandal, yet he doth no where condemn the eating of them as unclean: the doctrine therefore of the church of Rome, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, is wicked and devilish.

Verse 4

Here our apostle assigns a reason why Christians are not forbidden under the gospel to abstain from particular meats, namely, because the distinction of meats (clean and unclean) is taken away, and every creature of God is good in itself, and clean to us, and nothing to be refused, as unlawful or unclean, if it be received thankfully from God's hand: For it is sanctified by the word, that is, by the gospel; it is made clean to us, that having taken off the difference of meats, and to the pure made all things pure.

Note here, 1. The quality of all God's creatures as they come from him, and are given to us, Every creature of God is good.

Note, 2. The use of God's creatures consisting in their lawfulness unto us, and our liberty unto them, Nothing is to be refused; so that there is no sin in the use of them, nor no religion in the forbearing of them, or abstaining from them; this liberty was given us by God, and restored by Christ, therefore we must not suffer our Christian liberty to be impeached by Judiasm.

Note, 3. A condition necessary on our part, lest the creatures, otherwise good and lawful, should become unto us evil and hurtful, and that is, thankfulness: If it be received with thanksgiving, with the thankfulness of the heart expressed by the language of the lips.

Note, 4. The way and means by which the creatures become clean and sanctified to us; namely, by the word of God and prayer.

1. By the word of God; here observe, a threefold word of God, by which the creature is sanctified, namely, the word of donation, the word of benediction, and the word of promise. By the first he bestows his creatures upon us, by the second he blesses the creatures to us, and by the third he confirms his blessing in Christ; in whom, and by whom, we have a covenant right unto, and a sanctified use of, all the mercies which we do enjoy.

2. By prayer; namely, as it obtains from God, first, a right improvement, and secondly, a comfortable enjoyment of all that we do receive; or thus, the creature is sanctified to us by prayer in the procurement of it, in the fruition of it, in the review and recognition of it, and God's mercy in it, with thanksgiving and praise, loving it after God, and for God, and in subordination to God. Thus then is every creature of God good, and nothing to be refused, being sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

Verse 6

Our apostle proceeds from this verse to the end of the chapter, to lay several directions before Timothy with reference to his ministerial office.

The first of which is that he suggest unto, or put the brethern in remembrance of, those things which the apostle had taught him, in order to their preservation from the peril and poison of these imposters; thus doing, he would approve himself a good minister of Jesus Christ, and one nourished up with the sincere doctrine of the gospel.

Here note, That the ministers of the gospel are in the first place ministers or servants of Jesus Christ; secondarily, and in subserviency, they are ministers of the church; as a nobleman's servant employed by him to distribute wages, or appoint work to the inferior servants, is secondarily a minister to the servants, but primarily a servant to the lord.

The second duty that Timothy is exhorted to, is the avoiding and rejecting the doctrines of abstinence from meats and marriage, and to regard them no more than an old woman's tale and to exercise himself unto real godliness.

Note here, Something that Timothy must forbear, and something that he must follow after: he must forbear and refuse profane old wives' fables; if thou wilt not swim down the tide of these apostatizing times, take heed of steering thy course by profane, though ancient, customs, refuse them with scorn, and reject them with anger; one way to prevent apostasy, is to refuse ungrounded antiquity; that which Timothy is exhorted to follow after, is real godliness; this is his duty, both as a minister, and as a member of Jesus Christ: real godliness ought to be minded as every man's especially every minister's, chief and principal business; religion must be our chief occupation.

Verse 8

By bodily exercise he meaneth corporal austerities, abstinence from meats and marriage; all the external exercises of religion; these do profit a little, though but a little, in comparsion of the profit of godliness.

Where note, That fastings, humiliations, and watchings, with other bodily exercises, which serve to bring down the pride and wantonness of the body, have their proper and necessary use, and are expressive of a just revenge which a sinner takes upon himself for former excesses; they are, when wisely managed, what God accepts, but the least that God expects from us: Bodily exercise profiteth little.

But observe, The universal usefulness of godliness to all the purposes of life, Godliness is profitable to all things.

1. It is profitable to make a man rich, to help him to get and increase an estate; because it makes a man wise and prudent, diligent and industrious, thrifty and frugal.

2. It is profitable to make a man renowned as well as rich; it is the only way to attain a good name and reputation: the godly man is a worthy and excellent man, and he is an useful and servicable man, and such do seldom miss of a good reputation in the world; those that want goodness themselves, will yet commend it in others.

3. It is profitable for pleasure, as well as for riches and honour; for a life of religion doth increase the relish and sweetness of all our sensible enjoyments, so far is it from abridging us of any earthly delights: and besides, it adds to us a world of pleasures of its own; thus godliness is profitable unto men in all things, having the promise of happiness both in this life, and that which is to come, annexed to it.

Verse 9

Note, That this phrase of a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, used here, was used before, 1 Timothy 1:15. That Christ came into the world to save sinners.

Learn thence, That this proposition, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and this, that such sinners as of ungodly will become godly, and persevere in the practice of godliness, shall be happy in the life that now is, and that which is to come; these two propositions are faithful and remarkable sayings, worthy of the acceptation of all reasonable creatures.

Note farther, that the belief of this proposition, that godliness has the promise of this and the next life, will cause all Christians, as it did St. Paul, to labour in the work of God, to suffer reproach in the cause of God, and this without weariness and fainting.

Note, lastly, The title given to Almighty God, The Saviour of all men; that is, the preserver of all men, but especially of all good men, when their temporal preservation conduces most to the advantage of his glory and their good: or if it be understood of eternal salvation, we must take it thus; that he publishes and proclains, offers and tenders, salvation to all men, although believers only are actually saved, because they only accept the offers and conditions of salvation.

Verse 11

Still our apostle proceeds in farther direction and advice to Timothy, both as to his preaching and his practice, both as to his doctrine and conversation.

1. As to his preaching, he requires it to be done with due authority: These things command and teach, that is, these things teach commandingly, and with a necessary authority; the ministers of God speak from God, therefore may command from God.

2. As to his conversation, he exhorts him to exercise such a becoming gravity in his deportment, that, though he was very young, none might despise him or his function because of his youth: where piety and modesty meet in young ministers, it will preserve their youth from contempt; and where levity and vanity are found, it will expose not only youth, but gray hairs also, to contempt and scorn.

3. He directs them to be not only a precedent to all ministers, but a pattern to all believers: Be thou an example of the believers, and that,

1. In word, or speech; look that thy discourse be wise and instructive, not idle and impertinent, much less frothy and profane, but let something for edification always drop from thy lips.

2. In conversation, look that thy gravity be beyond thy years, make up in thy deportment what is wanting in thy age observe a just equality, neither too amusing nor too prostrate, behave not thyself neither above nor below thyself.

3. In charity, show benevolence and exercise beneficence towards all mankind, according to thy ability and opportunity: nothing gives a minister a greater advantage for the success of his labours than charitable distributions; this gives us a throne in the hearts of our people, when wisely managed.

4. In spirit, that is, in zeal and warmth of spirit, in fervency and affection, in an active and sprightly zeal for the glory of God and the good of souls, such a zeal as may render thee industrious in feeding, governing, and instructing thy flock.

5. In faith, that is, in fidelity to, and constancy in, the true religion, not enduring either to be huffed or wheedled out of the truth; for it is a sacred depositum, an holy treasure, which we must transmit to our posterity, as our forefathers did to us with their precious blood.

6. In purity, in chastity and cleanliness, abstaining from sensual lusts, from wantonness and worldly-mindedness; choose spiritual delights now, for they are the entertainment which we must live upon to eternal ages.

By all this we see how much it is in a minister's own power to procure a due esteem to himself, at least to prevent his own contempt, since an holy and exemplary deportment, faithful and constant labours, never fail to do that in some measure: but if we fail here, what other methods soever we use, we shall find God making good his threatening, 1 Samuel 2:30, that they which despise him shall be lightly esteemed; nor will any titles, dignities, or pre- eminences above others, secure the guilty from the efficacy of this curse, which will cleave to their persons, yea, to their memories, like a girdle to their loins.

Verse 13

St. Paul, being uncertain when he should see this young labourer again, adds farther instructions to those already given him.

And here, 1. He requires him to give attendance to reading, that is, be diligent in private reading the holy scriptures, to enable him to teach, instruct, and exhort others, what they ought to believe and know, and what they ought to practise and do.

Where note, That the illuminations and teachings of the Holy Spirit must not take off any ministers from reading and studying the holy scriptures, but we must fit ourselves the better thereby to exhort, direct, and instruct others.

2. He stirs up and exhorts Timothy not to neglect, but to excite, to use, and diligently improve, those eminent gifts which were given him by prophecy, that is, according to the foregoing prophecies concerning him, and by laying on of the hands of the presbytery, when he was ordained.

Where note, That the ceremony of laying on of hands in ordination, is very ancient and apostolical; not accidental or indifferint, but a very necessary rite in the performance of that service; neglect not the gift which was given thee, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

Note, 2. That persons ordained ought, with great care and diligence, to stir up the gifts of God's Holy Spirit conferred upon them; for negligence quenches the Spirit of God in them.

Verse 15

He exhorted him to read the scriptures before, now to meditate upon what he read.

Where note, That if those who were inspired, and divinely qualified, must yet read, meditate, study hard, and employ their whole time to fit themselves for the ministerial work, what shall we think of the ignorance and impudence of our lay-preachers, who, without any such divine qualification, or without any call or commission, without giving themselves wholly to these things, dare presume to teach the scriptures, when they never understood them; nay, can hardly read them!

Meditate on these things, and give thyself wholly to them. Be in them, says the original, lay out thy whole strength and time in studying God's will, and making known thy people's duty.

Three things are here explicitly condemned in persons set apart for the holy function.

1. Sloth and negligence; it is a painful service we are engaged in, and woe unto us if we be slothful in business, if we be sparing of our pains for fear of shortening our days, and hastening our end; verily the lamp of our lives can never burn out better than in lighting others to heaven.

2. Worldly-mindedness, 1 Peter 5:2 feed the flock, but not for filthy lucre: the spiritual man must not so mind earthly things as to make them his principal aim and scope; for if so, he will act accordingly, and defeat all the ends of his ministry. The apostles had no settled maintenance, but their subsistence to seek: yet were wholly in these things. How much should we be so now, who have our maintenance, but their subsistence to seek: yet were wholly in these things. How much should we be so now, who have our maintenance legally secured! How should we seek the kingdom of God, and the welfare of our people's souls, seeing all other things are added to us, in measure, though not in excess!

3. Incumbrance by worldly business: he that must give himself wholly to these things, what leisure can he find for magistracy, for managing law-suits, for farming of lands, and for secular concerns: we cannot make a business of two things so widely different from each other.

Can we be spiritual persons, and yet mere seculars in our thoughts and care?

Well therefore might St. Paul say to Timothy, But thou, O man of God, flee these things, 1 Timothy 6:11

Observe lastly, The reason which the apostle subjoins why he would have Timothy do all this: That his profiting may appear to all men; he must read, meditate, pray, and study, that he may improve and profit himself; though he was inspired, yet he must rely upon the Spirit's assistance without his own endeavors: and his improvement by study must appear not barely to himself, but to others, to his people as well as himself, yea, to all persons; his growth and improvement by study and exercise must be so conspicuous, that all his flock may bear witness to it, and bless God for it. Meditate on these things, and give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear unto all men.

Verse 16

As if the apostle had said, "Have a special regard to the piety of thy life, and to the purity of thy doctrine, and this continually; so shalt thou do what lieth in thee, to save both thine own soul, and the souls of all thy people."

1. Take heed unto thyself. Our lives must be such as become ministers of God, and preachers of righteousness; for the eyes of God and the whole world are upon us; the observing eye of God, the censorious and insidious eye of the world, who will charge the miscarriages of a single person upon the whole order, and condemn all for the faults of one: therefore let every one take heed unto himself; the honour of our profession requires it, the conscience of our duty challenges it, a due regard to the glory of God and our own reputation commands it.

2. Take heed unto thy doctrine, that it be the pure and uncorrupted word of God, expounded agreeably to the sense of the ancient church, and of our own church in particular, which has with the greatest care followed the ancient pattern: many errors are abroad in the world, which have adulterated the truths of the gospel; it is therefore prudential and necessary, that the ministers of God keep at a great distance from every opinion which looks like heretical, and not to come within the reach of suspicion: it is not enough for us to be innocent, unless we appear so.

Note farther, The order of the words: St. Paul bids Timothy first to take heed of his life, and next to his doctrine; not first to his doctrine, and then to his life: Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine. Because the success of our doctrine depends upon the goodness of our lives; it is this must render our doctrine operative and effectual; this is the principal thing; we must do as well as teach: for who will believe him in the pulpit, who contradicts himself in his conversation? therefore take heed to thyself and to thy doctrine.

Note lastly, The great benefit of this course, and the blessed advantage of it: we shall save ourselves, deliver our own selves by our diligence and care; for the faithful nurse shall be paid, though the child die at the breast; and not only ourselves, but our people also; them that hear us: that is, "We shall do our utmost, and all that lieth in us, to save the souls that are committed to us, that they may be our crown of rejoicing, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming." God will pronounce us pure and innocent from the blood of all men; and if our people perish, their blood will be upon their own heads; which God avert for his mercy's sake. Amen.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. 1700-1703.