“Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck.”
That we may duly appreciate the importance of the charge which Paul gave to Timothy, and the indispensable qualifications which Timothy possessed for the good warfare in which he was engaged, we must bear in mind there were in that day, as well as at the present, various kinds of faiths and consciences. Of faith, we read of the faith of God, and the faith of men, and of the faith of devils. There were also good consciences, bad consciences, weak and tender consciences, pure consciences, consciences void of offense, in those whose hearts were sprinkled from an evil conscience; and there were also consciences seared with a hot iron. In our text, both the faith and conscience of Timothy are approved by the apostle Paul; and they were to be held together, for in the absence of either, a shipwreck, concerning faith was to be apprehended, according to examples given in the connection.
The term “faith” is sometimes used in its application to the saints, in reference to the doctrine of the gospel, as the faith once delivered, and but once delivered, to the saints, and signifies that gospel system which is distinguished from the old covenant dispensation; and it is also used in reference to the grace or vital principle of faith which is born of God, (1 John v. 4, 5,) and which is the fruit of the spirit. Those who are, by regeneration, made the recipients of the vital principles of faith as a production of the Spirit of which they are born of God, can never put it away, nor lose it; for it overcomes the world. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.” This living faith is therefore the victory; it cannot be overcome by the world, for it must triumph over all opposing power, or it would not be “the victory.” But the faith of even the saints, so far as the doctrine which they hold is concerned, may be overturned, (2 Tim. ii. 18,) and shipwrecked as implied in our text. Presuming that our first proposition, namely, that the vital principle of faith which is born of God can never be removed from them unto whom it is given, we will not take the time and space to prove it by other testimony than that already presented, but pass on and show that the shipwreck of faith, in our text, has reference to the doctrine, and not the vitality of faith. This position is most clearly established beyond all successful contradiction, by the connection, not only in this chapter in which our text occurs, but also throughout both of these epistles to Timothy.
First. It is in reference to the doctrine of faith, that Timothy was Paul’s own son. He had received his consistent views of the gospel and its doctrine, (after having received the grace of faith by regeneration,) through the instructions of Paul, so that, as a son reflects the image of a father, Timothy reflected the sentiments and doctrine held by Paul.
Second. The reason why Paul desired Timothy to abide at Ephesus, was that he might charge some, that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart and a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned; from which some having swerved, have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. (Verses 3-7.) And in the example given immediately after the statement that some concerning faith have made shipwreck, he instances Hymeneus and Alexander, and in repeating substantially the same charge or admonition in 2 Timothy ii. 16-18, he shows wherein they erred, and that it was not the principle, grace or vitality of faith, but the doctrine of faith, that they had departed from. He says to Timothy, “But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is passed already; and overthrown the faith of some.” The shipwreck or overthrow of the faith of some, was manifestly effected by their denial of the future resurrection: shaking the confidence of the brethren in a prospective resurrection of the bodies of the saints, by their sophistical arguments, asserting what they did not understand, and affirming that which they did not know. These false teachers were desirous of preferment, and desired to be teachers of the law, and to distinguish themselves by confronting the apostles themselves; denying what the apostles had affirmed, and were ready to make up in zeal that wherein they were deficient in knowledge, and so, in their vain jangling, they denied the doctrine which divine inspiration had established, and were charged even with blasphemy, and expelled from the communion of the church, and delivered over to Satan.
But Timothy, as a faithful minister of Christ, was left at Ephesus that he might do battle in the good cause; fight the good fight of faith, and by holding the faith in a good conscience, and the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, and in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves, if God will, peradventure, give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, into which they had been drawn by the false teaching to which they had been exposed. As ships are wrecked upon the rocks when driven by the tempests, so are the saints dashed ruthlessly upon prevailing heresies when carried about by every wind of doctrine, crippled and unfit, in their wrecked condition, to make way upon the seas, until the Lord delivers them from their difficulties; so, in regard to the principles of their faith, when wrecked by error, they are involved in difficulty and distress, and disqualified for usefulness in the church of God, and for the communion and fellowship of the saints, until they are, by a divine interposition, released from the snares of the devil.
But, however the saints may be subject to shipwreck and distress concerning their faith in the doctrine of God our Savior, it is pleasant to know that Christ, their glorious and all-prevalent advocate with the Father, has prayed for them, that their faith, as a vital production of the Spirit, and the special gift of God, shall not fail them. It shall be tried as the precious gold is tried, but it shall not be lost. For the life which they live in the flesh, they live by the faith of the Son of God, who has loved them, and given himself for them.
Middletown, N. Y.
September 1, 1856.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 367 - 370