“I Charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their oars from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” – 2 Tim. iv. 1-4.
In the gospel of Christ, which is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” exhortation occupies an important and large place; therefore let ns consider it in the light of revelation, meekly and prayerfully. To do so understandingly and profitably, and to the glory of “Christ, we should see the scriptural relation and place of exhortation in the gospel of salvation, that we may neither undervalue nor overvalue it, and that we may see the need and true use of it. The text plainly reveals the need and use or purpose of exhortation with all long-suffering and doctrine or teaching. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. “It was for this cause that Paul thus solemnly charged Timothy, and further commanded him: “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” For all this was needful, because the time would come when they would not endure sound doctrine; and from them Timothy should suffer afflictions and reproaches. That time soon came, and it has ever been coming.
“They” who would not endure sound doctrine, but should “turn away their ears from the truth,” were the professed disciples of Christ, who had itching ears for something more than “the word” and “sound doctrine,” and desired “some new thing,” something philosophical and pleasing to the mind and reason of men, as taught and accepted by scholars and doctors of theology, but called “fables” by Paul, who says that “God hath made foolish the wisdom of this world.”
The text shows that the first and most important part in fulfilling the gospel ministry is to “Preach the word.” This is the foundation of all exhortation in the gospel. And so Paul was “determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” And Peter says, “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” Thus did he preach the first gospel sermon after the ascension of the risen Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost; for he preached Christ, and him crucified, and risen from the dead, the only Savior. And not until the people heard the word, and cried out, “What shall we do!” were they either commanded or exhorted to do anything; but then “did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” That is, having “gladly received the word” preached, he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, in whom they believed, and thus separate themselves from the impenitent and unbelieving generation of the Jews. So the text shows the same order later on in the gospel, when Timothy should preach the word; reprove, rebuke and exhort, for the purpose stated. Therefore the faithful preaching of the word of truth, with gospel exhortation, is the Lord’s ordained way of calling out and separating his believing followers from the unbelieving world, and of maintaining the true church and the truth as it is in Christ. The recorded words of Jesus clearly establish this fact, and it is fully confirmed by the inspired writings of his chosen apostles.
Let us then turn to their testimony, that we may see the relation of exhortation to the fundamental troth of the gospel of salvation, for there is a divine unity and harmony in the New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and this is carried out in the gospel of his grace, as one complete and perfect system of divine truth and salvation, to the praise and glory of God in his Son Jesus Christ. And so the word says, “And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.” This tells it all. Let us pause here, and dwell a little on this wonderful revelation, for our instruction and reproof, exhortation and comfort. It was John the Baptist that bore this testimony of Jesus, of whom he said, “He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.” And so Jesus was before Moses, and the prophets, and the apostles, and all the ministry and church; therefore the words, “And of his fullness have all we received,” apply to all these, to all the children and servants of God, and they clearly show that “all we” have received only of the fullness of Christ, and not all his fullness, but only “of his fullness.” This fullness of which all we have received certainly includes all the fullness of the gospel, all the spiritual and ministerial gifts and qualifications as the members of Christ and of his gospel church, for all this is in him and of him. Hence we have nothing whatever pertaining to the gospel of salvation outside “of his fullness.” And not only so, but it is just as true that all the gospel fullness of blessing and salvation that all we have received, is “grace for grace.” Not grace for work, but “for grace;” that is, because of grace given us in Christ Jesus we receive grace. This then is the only gospel principle upon which “all we” receive “all spiritual blessings,” and “every good gift and every perfect gift;” for God the Father gives them; they are all of Christ’s fullness, “and grace for grace.”
Now it will be well for us to see how this gospel doctrine and truth is carried out in the ministration of the gospel of grace, and in the churches of the saints, by the inspired apostles of the Lord Jesus, who have set in their proper place and order the things that pertain to the kingdom of God. In the epistle to the saints at Rome, Paul first very fully shows the awful guilt and condemnation of all the children of the flesh, by the disobedience of the first man, and the consequent dominion or reign of sin unto death over all the race of man, which is unconditional and absolute. He then presents the perfect obedience of Christ, the second Man, and his everlasting righteousness, as the Head of the new covenant, showing that by his obedience shall his many people be made righteous; that unto them and in them shall grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. Of Christ and us he says, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” One surely follows the other, as cause and effect. “For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is the doctrine of Christ and his reigning and saving grace, the doctrine of the gospel, the sure foundation of salvation unto eternal glory, upon which the church and the ordinances of the gospel rest. Upon this doctrine of grace reigning by our Lord Jesus Christ, and much more abounding, where sin abounded, reigning in the hearts of all who are dead with Christ unto sin, reigning through righteousness unto eternal life, – upon this doctrine of Christ is based all gospel ordinances, commandments and exhortations unto the obedience of faith and love in the gospel kingdom. “Our beloved brother Paul,” therefore, goes right on and exhorts, saying, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” What is the constraining incentive thus to do f Hear Paul tell us, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then, shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” This is the sentiment of grace, and this its effect. What a blessed foundation is this grace to base all gospel exhortation upon, for grace secures its subjects from the dominion of sin; it qualifies them to live righteously and godly in the world, to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things, and it is sufficient for them in their weakness to support them against the buffetings of the wicked one. There is no other foundation-principle to build gospel exhortation upon than the doctrine of God’s grace that bringeth salvation; for the gospel kingdom is the kingdom of grace, and the children of the kingdom are under grace, and in this kingdom grace is the only power that reigns, for grace has no rival. The law of works has no place here, for the people of grace are not under the law; therefore exhortation in the kingdom of Christ, by whom grace reigns, cannot be upon any legal principle, which is necessarily conditional, and therefore defective and attended with failure. Not so with grace, the governing principle in the new covenant, which is unconditional, is rich in mercy, full of grace and truth, has Jesus, not Moses, for its Mediator, “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption;” and this new and better testament is ministered by the Spirit of the living and true God, who says of the people of the covenant, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” Nothing doubtful, contingent “upon ourselves,” conditional, uncertain here, for all the promises of God in Jesus Christ are yea, and in him amen, unto the glory of God by us, declares Paul. O, what a blessed ground of assurance is here furnished us in the gospel of the new covenant to build all exhortation upon unto the obedience of faith, and the work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in Christ Jesus! For thus furnished and supported, in the full assurance of faith and hope, we can with comfort take up Paul’s cheering exhortation and say, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
Now then it is evident that all gospel obligations flow from grace, and partake of the nature of grace; therefore every gospel exhortation is of grace, and grace gives it its force and sanction, for the gospel itself is “the gospel of the grace of God,” so termed by Paul, so all that the gospel is, all that belongs to it, is of grace; its faith and hope and love; its ordinances and commandments and exhortations; its ministration and obedience and good works; its promises and salvation and blessing – all, all are of grace, for all the fullness of the gospel of Christ is the free, unmerited, unbought bestowment and gracious gift of the “God of all grace and comfort.” “To them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” All this goes before, and is the groundwork of the exhortation which follows: “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 2 Peter i. In Gal. v., Paul shows that these christian virtues and graces are the fruit of the Spirit; not the works of the flesh, but their opposite. And he there says, “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” Paul therefore prayed to the Father for the brethren, “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith: that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” – Eph. iii. This has no reference to the power of the Holy Spirit in the impartation of spiritual life in Christ Jesus, but to the needed ministration of daily bread and strength, that the brethren might be enabled through the Lord’s sufficient grace to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called “of God, and to fulfill the work of faith in love. And so Paul said to another gospel church, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.” – Phil. i. And to still another church Paul says, “We [Paul and Timothy] give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth. * * * For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” – Col. i.
Let us now pause, and behold how continually dependent are the saints in Christ upon the Father and Son and Spirit for spiritual understanding, wisdom and strength, both to prepare and enable them to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing,” and to be “fruitful in every good work.” And here we are taught, too, the great and continual necessity that is upon us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Yea, also, here we have strong encouragement to come to this heavenly throne. The precious Scriptures quoted point us to the blessed and only source of mercy and grace, knowledge and ability, fitness and acceptance, faith and love, that we may walk obediently as the dear children of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is most evident, therefore, that all gospel commandments, exhortations, admonitions and reproofs have their source and strength in the continual supply of the Spirit and grace of God in the heart, and that every obedient act of faith in Christ Jesus is wrought only through this supply, and is the fruit thereof. No truth is more clearly and fully revealed in the holy Scriptures than this. This is God’s most gracious work, and his blessed truth. Underlying and giving authority and efficacy to all commandment and exhortation in the gospel to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” is the all-sufficient cause; “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” So then at all times whenever we have the will and the power to thus obey, God gives both to us, and he “worketh” in us. Paul’s true testimony is, “Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” He therefore says, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” All this is true of all others, in whom Christ lives. “Christ is our life.” All the fruits of righteousness in us are by him, unto the praise and glory of God. This is a sure foundation for all gospel obedience, and all good works, and for all commandments and exhortations thereunto, for herein (in Zion) “the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” The Lord said of Zion, “All my springs are in thee.” Both the pure river of water of life and the tree of life are in the Zion of God, and all the streams of salvation flow from the river of life. The Lord gives both grace and glory, and he freely gives them. “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” Thus it is positively established that all the bestowments of rewards and blessings in the kingdom of grace are not rewards of debt or for service, but of grace; for all service and obedience have their source in abounding grace, and flow out freely from the heart in which grace reigns; therefore to grace is all the praise due. It should not be thought, then, that any divine blessing in Zion, any comfort or joy of salvation, is a conditional reward, dependent upon our obedience to the Lord, for then “the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” Grace itself is not conditional, but free, and it “much more abounds “than sin; therefore all the rewards and blessings of grace are both unconditional and free, like grace itself, for they are of grace. This applies to all gospel salvation; yea, it applies to all service in the gospel, all its ministration, its exhortation unto good works, and its obedience of faith in Christ Jesus; for the gospel itself, and all that the gospel means and is, is “the gospel of the grace of God.” So, but for grace there would be no gospel of salvation, no gospel exhortation and service, no comfort of love, no joy of salvation, no reward of grace. Hence, as obedient servants of the Lord, in the fulfillment of all gospel service, we ourselves are entirely dependent upon the “sufficient” grace of Christ, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation.” For this cause Paul says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” This is equally true of all gospel labor in the service of the Lord, therefore every subject of grace would do well to disclaim any sufficiency of his own to perform any conditions of salvation, and thus to obtain any reward, but be lowly enough to confess with Paul, It was not I that did the service and labored, “but the grace of God which was with me.” Were all thus like Paul, the effect would be unity, quietness and peace, and each would meekly endeavor to be “to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.” “A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Contention would then cease about this, and that, and the other salvation; one by grace, others of works; one unconditional, others conditional; one dependent upon the Lord, others dependent upon ourselves; for all the saved in Christ Jesus would then happily unite in thankfully ascribing all salvation from all sin, and from all the sinfulness and weakness of the flesh, and unto all loving obedience in the faith of Christ, to God and his grace. Unto this end is all exhortation unto gospel obedience directed in the New Testament, wherein exhortation abounds, under which blessed obligations of loving service grace has brought the dear children of God; therefore the holy and blessed obligations of unmerited grace should not be prostituted to selfish aims and ends by degrading them to the principle of conditions of salvation, by doing which we obtain many salvations in time as conditional rewards. For this is both selfish and legal in its nature, and is antagonistic to grace, and a reproach upon it, and as different from grace as law is from gospel, or Adam from Christ, or flesh from Spirit.
“This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. And he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.”
Signs Of The Times
Volume 68, No. 4
FEBRUARY 15, 1900.