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Alexander the Coppersmith

Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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THERE are some most interesting and most important questions of New Testament scholarship, and New Testament sanctification, connected with Alexander the coppersmith of Ephesus. And the first of those questions is this: Have we got in our present text the very and identical words that Paul penned in his parchment to Timothy? Have we got the literal and exact expressions, and discriminations of expressions, that Paul so studiously employed? Have we got the very moods and tenses, both in grammar and in morals, that were in Paul's mind and heart at the moment when he wrote these two so difficult verses about Alexander? That is a very interesting, important, and indeed indispensable, question. Only, the settlement of that question must be left in their hands who alone are able to grapple with such questions. But, meantime, a question and a lesson of the very foremost importance faces us and forces itself on the most unlearned and ignorant of us. And that question and that lesson is this. Suppose that Paul both thought and felt and wrote about Alexander as our version literally reads, what are we to do? Are we free to follow Paul, and to do what he here does? Are we free to execrate and denounce bad men, and hand them over to be rewarded according to their works? Are we free, and is it our duty, to imprecate God's judgments on those who do us much evil, and who withstand the work of God which has been committed to our hands? A whole controversy of New Testament scholarship, and another whole controversy of New Testament morals and religion, have arisen around this text concerning Alexander the coppersmith. But, taking the text just as it has been put into our hands tonight, what are we able to make of it? What shall we succeed in taking out of it tonight for our own guidance tomorrow, and for every day we live on the earth?

The first time we come on Alexander he is a Jew of Ephesus, and a clever speaker to an excitable crowd. By the next time we meet with Alexander he has thought it to be for his interest to be baptized and to be seen openly on Paul's side. But Paul's side did not turn out to be so serviceable to the coppersmith as he had expected, and thus it is that he is next discovered to us as having made complete shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. And, then, as no man is so implacable at you as a complete renegade from you, so there was no man, among Paul's many enemies, who so hated Paul, and so hunted him down, as just this Alexander the coppersmith.

To go back to his beginning. Alexander had this temptation, that he was fitted by nature to be much more than a mere coppersmith, he was so clever and so captivating with his tongue. Unless you are a man of a very single heart and a very sound conscience, it is a great temptation to you to be able in a time of public commotion to speak so as to sway the swaying multitude and to command their applause and their support. You rise on a wave of popularity at such a season, and you make use of your popularity for your own chief end in life. Many were the clever speeches the coppersmith made during his baptized days also; the Christians putting him forward to speak, just as the Jews were wont to put him forward when he was one of themselves. But, the wind working round and setting strongly in another direction, the coppersmith himself also instantly obeyed the law of the weather-cock he had fashioned with his own hands and had fastened on the roof of his workshop; for, as his copper creature did, so did he before the variable skies of those unsettled days. And thus it is, that when Paul is so soon to depart from all his false friends and all his implacable enemies alike, the Apostle writes this much-needed warning to his young and inexperienced successor, and says, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil, the Lord reward him according to his works, of whom be thou ware also, for he hath greatly withstood my words." Alexander did Paul and his apostolic work much evil, and that not out of ignorance and fanaticism, but out of sheer unmitigated malice. Sometimes malice is bought and sold in the open market, till everybody sees it and understands it. Sometimes a man is to be had for money, and he will write letters or make speeches for you as long as you pay him best. But genuine malice is a different article from that. There is no getting to the bottom of real and original and priceless malice. Its bottom is not here. Its bottom is in the bottomless pit. Unless Alexander sets himself, nay, unless God sets Alexander, to search in his own heart for the roots of his malice against Paul, no other man can come near understanding or believing the depth and the strength and the malignity of Alexander's ill-will. At the same time, Paul and the other apostles could not but see as clear as day, and every day, Alexander's ill-will and the malignity of it, so much was it thrust upon their painful experience continually. Alexander followed Paul about wherever he went, poisoning the minds and the hearts of all men to whom his tongue or his pen had access. One of our latest and best authorities thinks that Alexander even followed Paul to Rome, and did his best to poison Nero and his court still more against Paul. But, whether he made that malicious and superfluous journey or no, Alexander certainly did Paul and his good name and his divine work all the evil that his great gifts of speech and pen could do. It was no wonder that the constant presence of Alexander, and his implacable and sleepless malice, was almost too great a trial for Paul to bear. So studied, so systematic, and so persistent, were Alexander's evil words and evil deeds.

Now, surely there can be no question as to Paul's duty to Timothy in that case. Paul would have been sinning both against Timothy and against the Gospel had he not taken Timothy and warned him against the malignity of Alexander. True, Timothy had not yet suffered as Paul had suffered from the coppersmith. Alexander had not yet followed Timothy about poisoning the wells everywhere against him. But to prepare Timothy for what he might expect, and would be sure to meet with, Paul told Timothy, with all plainness and all pain, what his experience of Alexander and his malice had been. Now, what do you say? What do you do? Suppose such a man as Alexander the coppersmith has arisen in your community and is doing Alexander's very same work over again under your eyes every day, what do you do in that case? Do you content yourself with despising and detesting the mischief-making man in your heart? Should you not rather take some of his more wicked letters and speeches and point out to the simple and inexperienced the great lessons that lie on the face of such things? Is malice and misrepresentation less important to point out to a young man entering on life, than bad grammar and slovenly composition? There are studies in sheer malignity set us every day, as well as studies in style; and a teacher of morals should treat the one kind just as a teacher of letters always treats the other. Why should we be so careful to point out solecisms and careless composition to our young people, and pass by studied malice, misrepresentation, perversion, and suppression of the truth? And malice, too, that is not limited and localised in its scope as Alexander's malice was in his day, but which has all the resources of civilisation in our day to spread it abroad. And resources also such that Alexander and his seed can do their wicked work in our day out of sight, and nobody know who they are till the day of judgment.

But by far and away our most important lesson out of Paul and Alexander is yet to come. Only, that lesson throws us back again on the previous question. Did Paul feel in his heart, and did he entertain and express to Timothy, all the anger and resentment that is expressed in the text? Did Paul actually say, "The Lord reward Alexander the coppersmith according to his evil works?" Whether he did or no, that makes no difference to us. Even if he did, we must never do so. Were another Alexander to rise in our day, ay, and were he to do all the evil to us and to our work that Alexander did to Paul and to his work, we must never say what Paul is here made to say, Paul was put by Alexander to the last trial and sorest temptation of an apostolic and a sanctified heart. And it is the last two-edged sword that pierces to the dividing of soul and spirit in ourselves, not to forgive insult and injury done to ourselves, but to forgive Alexander all that when he does it to the Church of Christ. Only, Christ Himself will have to be formed in you, and will have to live in you, and will have to think and feel and write in you, before you will be able to love that bad man, and to do him good, all the time he is doing, not you, but Jesus Christ Himself, evil. But when Jesus Christ truly dwells in you, then no malediction, and no revenge; nothing but good wishes and good words, will ever escape your lips or your pen. It is for this that bad men like Alexander are let live among us. It is first for their own repentance and reformation, and then it is that they may be the daily sanctification of men like Paul. Of men, that is, who would not be tempted by any less spiritual trial than anger and resentment at the enemies, not of themselves, but of the Church of Christ. And such men among us are sent to school, not to David on his deathbed, nor to Paul in his prison, but to Jesus Christ on His Cross; Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps. I once asked a friend of mine who had been subjected to more reviling than any other man of his land and day, how he thought such and such another man who had suffered still more reviling could go on with his public work under such diabolical ill-usage. "Oh," said he, "So-and-so always lives in facie eternitatis." And nothing but the nearness of eternity and the nothingness of time, and the still more nothingness of either the praise or the blame of such men as Alexander; nothing but the constant presence of such things as these could support Paul and could keep his heart quiet and sweet under the malice and maltreatment of such a wicked man as the coppersmith. The face of eternity and the nearness of eternity will do it. The face of eternity and the nearness of eternity, and the face and the nearness of the Lord of eternity, that will do it.

Whether, then, this is some corruption in the text, as the scholars call corruption; or some of the remaining corruption in Paul's heart, as he would have called it himself, I do not know. But this I know, that it is the essence, and the concentration, and the core, of all corruption in my heart, when I again detect myself hating this man and that man for the love of God. Long after I am able to forgive this man and that man for what he has said or done against myself, I am compelled to cry out, O wretched man that I am! as often as I despise, or detest, or desire to hear of hurt to Alexander or to any of his widespread seed. I must not even let myself say, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. No, I must rather say, 'Let thy vengeance fall on me rather. For I have been a disappointment to Alexander's ambition. I have been a provocation to him and an offence to him in many ways. He has stumbled and has been broken on me. I am not without blame in his shipwreck of faith and a good conscience.' Instead of cursing Alexander to God, William Law would the more have prayed for him late every night, according to that great man's life-long practice-'if you pray for a man sufficiently often, and sufficiently fervently, and sufficiently in secret, you cannot but love that man, even were he Alexander the coppersmith.' That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

But all questions of corruptions in the text, and in Paul's heart, apart, let us part with Paul when he is indisputably at his very highest and his very best. And he is at his very highest and his very best in the very next verse to his two unhappy verses about Alexander. "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge." Paul is at his very best in that; for it is not Paul at all who says that, but it is He speaking in Paul who, when He also was forsaken, said, "Father, forgive them." "I am crucified with Christ," says Paul when he is at his best. "Nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: liveth in me and forgiveth Alexander the coppersmith in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me."

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Alexander the Coppersmith'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​a/alexander-the-coppersmith.html. 1901.
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