The close of his imprisonment discloses to us a very different state of things from that at the beginning of his imprisonment. It is thought by some that 1 Timothy was written after the first imprisonment, and there is much to corroborate this view ; but it is very evident that there is a very marked change between 1st and 2nd Timothy. In the former the apostle is occupied with order, writing to Timothy at Ephesus ; and in the latter he is occupied with disorder, and how the man of God should behave in such a time. It is to be remarked that in the first epistle, in connection with the proper ordering of the assembly, he sets forth the two great evils which were impending, namely, Romanism in chapter 4, and radicalism in chapter 6 ; or Christianity without Christ-religion with independence of God on the one hand, while on the other, gain was godliness or whatever exalted man. One was exalting man under the form of the Christian religion, the other making human advancement everything.
Now in 2 Timothy, which describes the state of things at the close of Paul's second imprisonment, we see the apostle in quite different times from those at the beginning of his first imprisonment, when he wrote, " I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel," Phil. i : 12. This epistle (2 Tim.) was written after his first answer (chap. 4: 16), when none of the saints stood with him. He begins by saying, " God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind " ; and in the same chapter announces " that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me ; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes." When we bear in mind that Asia was the country where he had chiefly laboured, we can form some idea of the grief and distress which their alienation must have given him. How touchingly his heart clings to even one there, as he writes, "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus."
But Paul is not discouraged. If in the epistle to the Ephesians he led us to the glorious heights of God's calling, so now, when disaffection and the utmost obstruction prevailed in the assembly, he having unfolded to us its glory with God, is now the one to support and to guide us in the direst confusion, when " instead of a girdle there is a rent, and burning instead of beauty." (See Isaiah 3: 24.) In a few sentences pregnant with divine blessing he instructs Timothy and through him all who would be faithful to Christ what is to be done at such a time. His instructions may be classed under two heads : one, that being strong himself in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, Timothy was to commit the things that he had heard from the apostle to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also ; the other, that lie was to be most absolute in his separation from the vessels to dishonour. " If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work," chap. 2: 21.
As our apostle had been prepared of God to be the fit vessel of communicating the beauty and glory of God's chief interest on the earth, so also now is he instructed to warn us of the difficult times which were coming. " This know also, that in the last days perilous [difficult] times shall come," chap. 3 : i. The aim of the opposers will be the same as Jannes and Jambres ; as they withstood Moses, so do the opposers in the last days withstand the truth. Their character is " Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof," and then follows, " Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth," which would indicate who they are. Now Paul's doctrine with his example, " manner of life " (see verses i 0, i i), is firstly our resource ; not only the doctrine, which had been abandoned by all in Asia, but the very discipline through which he had passed would be an evidence of being in the right course. Secondly, " Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness : that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (vv- 14-17).
Our apostle having prepared us for the last days, intimates that his course is finished. He says, " I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing " (chap. 4: 6-8) ; a blessed finish to his great service. And then in the calmness and confidence of one perfectly subject to the will of God, he can think of having the profit of Timothy's company: " Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me." Also, " Take Mark and bring him with thee." Nothing is unthought of The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments." Thus this dear and honoured servant closes his course. If his beginning in Acts 9 was marked by the light out of heaven shining down on him, so, as he disappears from this scene, there is a beauty and a moral grandeur about him which has never been surpassed except by the perfect Master whom he served. Tribulation had worked patience with him ; indeed, patience had its perfect work, for he was " perfect and entire, wanting nothing." How blessedly effectual the divine discipline, so that Christ was magnified in his body, by life or by death!
While we thank the Lord for having given such a servant to the church, may we learn from that servant to be cast entirely on the One who only can lead us on in the same ,path of faith. Amen.