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Says St. Paul to Timothy: "Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine. Continue in them. For so doing, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee,” 1 Tim. iv. 16. This is the design of our preaching; to teach men the way of salvation, and to persuade them to walk and persevere therein. Such therefore must be the usual topics of our discourse, as explain the certain principles, and enforce the great duties of religion. And such things ought to be carefully attended to.
And when men receive the truth in the love of it, and come under the power of it; when their affections are set upon things above; and they can be contented in every condition; when men live in love and friendship; and their moderation is conspicuous; and they are ready to offices of goodness of various kinds, to all men; this is the best recompence, the most desirable fruit of well meant endeavours, to instruct men in things of religion; greater than applauses for elegance of speech, and exactness of method, or any thing else that can be named. Such hearers are an honour to their instructors. And if they who speak, and they who hear, are saved in the day of the Lord, they will be mutually a crown of glory and rejoicing, when the most splendid, and the most durable things of this earth are no more.
THE GOOD EXERCISE OF FAITH
Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold on eternal life: whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. 1 Tim. vi. 12.
THERE are some texts of scripture, that at first appear plain, and easy to be understood; which yet are somewhat difficult and obscure, and the precise meaning is not readily apprehended. And sometimes we are liable to be diverted from the right meaning by a translation. Which is not always owing to the mistake of the translators of the Bible; but rather to some defect in modern languages, which want words corresponding to the ancient original.
Of this we seem to have an instance in the present text. "Fight the good fight of faith." Many may be apt to
think, that the apostle's metaphorical expressions are taken from wars and battles; and that he here recommends to Timothy, to behave as a valiant soldier in the service of the gospel. And they may be the more induced to this apprehension by some other exhortations to Timothy, where the allusion is manifest. "This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, -that thou mightest war a good warfare, 1 Tim. i. 18. And, "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," 2 Tim. ii. 34. Moreover St. Paul has made use of the same allusion in an exhortation to christians in general: "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God-Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth; and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God," Eph. vi. 13-17.
Nevertheless it appears from the original words, that the apostle alludes not here to the life of a soldier engaged in wars, but rather to the games, at that time very famous among the Greeks, and in some parts of Asia, which had learned the Greek customs; and, indeed, almost all over the Roman empire. In which games there were contentions in the way of racing, on foot and in chariots, and in the way of combat. And the present text is rather to be explained by that in the ninth chapter of the first to the Corinthians, than by that before cited from the epistle to the Ephesians. The passage is to this purpose:"Know ye not, that they which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery, is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air," 1 Cor. ix. 24-26; where the apostle alludes to two of the exercises of those games, running and boxing.
Such is the figurative expression in the text; and perhaps the allusion might be made more manifest, and the ambiguity in some measure avoided, if the original were rendered, "Exercise the good exercise of faith." The word here rendered "fight," is the same with that which is rendered" striving for the mastery" in the passage just quoted from the first to the Corinthians. Everyb❝ one Αγωνίζει τον καλον αγωνα της πίσεως. * Πας δε ὁ αγωνιζόμενος.
that striveth for the mastery," or every one that striveth in the games," is temperate in all things." And we have the same expression again in another place, where St. Paul says, "I have fought a good fight," 2 Tim. iv. 7; or, I have exercised a good exercise. He had himself done what he here exhorts Timothy to do.
It is not unusual with the apostle to compare, and very elegantly, the christian course, that is, the life of private christians, or of those who are in some office in the church, to a warfare, and to a contention in the public and celebrated games, then in use among the people most renowned for politeness; in which games some of the most distinguished citizens of those places entered themselves. And these two allusions are joined together by him in a text, in part quoted already: "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that wars, entangles himself in the affairs of this life; that he may please him, who has chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man strive for the mastery, he is not crowned, unless he strive lawfully," 2 Tim. ii. 3-5.
The general design of the exhortation is: Exercise the good exercise of faith, so as to obtain the prize of eternal life, to which thou art called in the gospel; and for obtaining which, thou hast engaged to exert thyself, by that good profession, which thou hast already made in the 'presence of many witnesses, or spectators.'
In farther discoursing on these words I shall observe this method.
I. I shall show what is meant by "exercising the exercise of faith."
II. Why it is called a good fight or exercise.
III. And then conclude with a practical application. I. I would consider what is meant by "exercising the exercise of faith."
Some have hereby understood, contending for the truth of the gospel, maintaining, and propagating it in the world. But that, I think, is but one part of the exercise or contention here spoken of. For Timothy appears to me to be here as much, or rather more exhorted as a christian, than as an Evangelist.
By the fight of faith I suppose to be intended the fight of the gospel; or that fight and exercise which the gospel requires; or which Jesus Christ teaches and recommends in the gospel.
Τον αγώνα τον καλον ἡγωνισμαι. στεφανεται, εαν μη νομίμως αθληση.
Εαν δε και αθλη τις, 8
And by the fight or exercise of faith, I would understand the practice of all virtue, a course of holy obedience to the dictates of reason, and the commands of God. The connection assures us of this. St. Paul had argued against the selfish designs of some, and shown the evil of covetousness. Whereupon he adds: "But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness," 1 Tim. vi. 11. Fight the good fight of faith." Or, exercise the good exercise of the gospel. Which is also agreeable to another exhortation in the second epistle to this same person, 2 Tim. ii. 21, 22.
This exhortation is fitly addressed to private christians, as well as to a minister of the gospel; whilst at the same time different stations and circumstances will infer, in some respects, different duties and obligations.
The fight of faith, as one expresseth it, includes an. open profession, and strenuous defending the doctrine of 'faith, and making it good by a life suitable to the rule of 'faith.'
This open profession, and zealous defence of truth, accompanied with a suitable practice of virtue, may be fitly compared to the exercises in the Olympic games, because of the difficulty of the performance. There is a necessity that we be temperate in all things, watchful and circumspect. And we may meet with opposition and discouragement. And as in those exercises there was a crown or garland proposed to those who excelled, so a life of holiness here will be rewarded with glory and happiness hereafter.
These resemblances are the foundation of this comparison, and of those allusive exhortations which we meet with in the New Testament. The word exercise, fight, or strive, seems particularly to have a reference to the opposition we may meet with in the practice of virtue. In the games alluded to there was always a contention. So are we likely to meet with things that will try our strength, and oblige us to exert ourselves to the utmost. Not only in times of persecution, but in all seasons there are difficulties attending sincere profession of religious truth, and a steady practice of virtue. Hopes of preferment in times of ease and prosperity may be as dangerous and ensnaring as fears of death, or of the loss of goods, in a time of persecution. Yea both these temptations usually meet. The strictly conscientious must in most times forego some advantages, which might be obtained, and incur some inconveniences,
a Pool's Annotations.
which might be avoided by compliances, not reconcileable with religion and virtue.
St. Paul therefore here requires, and earnestly exhorts, Timothy, to" exercise the good exercise of faith:" that is, to be steady and resolute, and hold out in the open profession and zealous defence of the plain truth of the gospel, and the practice of all the duties of righteousness, meekness, and charity; and to shun every thing contrary to them; so acting according to the directions of the gospel, or the doctrine of faith, without being moved by hopes of worldly ease, wealth, honour, and authority; and likewise without being terrified by threats of adversaries, and fears of any temporal evils, which he might be in danger of; as that he might not fail of obtaining that eternal life which is proposed as the reward of constancy and perseverance.
This exhortation is much the same with that at the beginning of the twelfth chapter to the Hebrews. With which therefore I conclude this head. "Wherefore, seeing we are encompassed with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us. And let us run with patience the race set before us; looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame; and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
II. In the next place we are to consider, why this is called a good exercise. The apostle had some reasons for adding that character. Very probably the word is expressive and emphatical. We should therefore try to discover the design of it.
8. It is good, as it is innocent.
This could scarce be said of the exercises in the games of Greece. For, notwithstanding the many allusions to them in the books of the New Testament, it is not the design of the sacred writers to recommend or justify those diversions. They only intend to recommend to christians that zeal, diligence, activity, and perseverance, in the cause of truth and virtue, which they showed who had a part in those exercises. But those persons might not be altogether innocent in the principle they acted upon, nor in all their actions. Their principle might be ambition or vain glory. And in some of their combats the action might be detrimental to the antagonist.
But the exercise of faith is perfectly innocent. It proceeds from no bad principle. It is injurious to none.