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hands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword, and would have killed himself." Here we see the rashness and resolution of a man of strong passions. "But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Now he is affected to a great degree, and in good measure humbled and softened. Sensible of his ignorance and guilt, he inquires how he may be saved: and he is open to conviction. When the truth is proposed to him, he embraceth it, and practises compassion and tenderness, to which he had hitherto been a stranger. "And they said unto him: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his straightway." How obedient is he to the heavenly, saving doctrine of the gospel! "And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." How great is this change!
Indeed, the doctrine of the gospel, setting before men the evil of sin, the necessity of holiness the future misery of the wicked, the glory of heaven for the righteous, and the grace of God to all that repent: and speaking of these things clearly and strongly, in a manner unknown to reason, and the law of Moses, is adapted to make impressions npon all who are capable of thought and consideration.
And thus, as "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," 1 Tim. i. 15; and "to call men to repentance," Matt. ix. 13; he does by his doctrine effectually bring them to repentance, and saves them from their sins.
5. The Christian religion, and they who are animated by its principles, are concerned for the welfare of men of every age and every condition.
This person said to Paul and Silas: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house:" some, very probably, in early age, some of very mean condition, hired servants and bondsmen, slaves for a time, or for life: but all rational, accountable beings, capable of salvation, and formed for everlasting life, if they do not render themselves unworthy of it. And Cornelius, of Cesarea, was directed by an angel to send for Peter: who would tell him words whereby he and all his might be saved.
6. We learn from this history, as well as from divers other things in the book of the Acts, and from other parts of the New Testament, that the Christian doctrine, or the great things of religion, may be taught and understood in a short space of time.
It could be only some general knowledge of the doctrine of Paul, which this person had before. But now upon some short discourses and arguments of the apostle, he becomes a believer, and is baptized. So likewise Lydia "attended to the things that were spoken of Paul :" and she and her household were baptized forthwith. And upon Peter's first sermon at Jerusalem, after our Lord's
ascension, they that gladly received his word, were baptized. And the same day were added to them about three thousand men," Acts ii. 41. Afterwards, "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake; hearing and seeing the miracles which he did-And there was great joy in that city-And when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women,' ch. viii. 5-12. Not long after this, Philip by divine direction, meets the chamberlain and treasurer of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, a proselyte of the Jewish religion, who had been up at Jerusalem to worship: and Philip preached Jesus unto him. After a short conversation, travelling in the chariot, he is convinced, and proposes to be baptized. Philip said: "If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. He answered, and said: I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Then Philip baptized him," ver. 26-38.
It seems therefore, that the Christian religion may be so set before men, as that they shall in a short time attain to a competent knowledge of it, and believe upon good grounds. And it must be agreeable to think, that the knowledge of the doctrine of salvation, in which all men are concerned, is not a very abstruse and difficult science, but easy, and upon the level with ordinary capacities.
Indeed, where there are strong prejudices and worldly passions prevailing greatly, as in most of the Jews in our Saviour's time, the best instructions will have little effect. But when men are well disposed, the Christian religion and its evidences may be soon perceived and understood, if rightly proposed. This is manifest from the instances in the Acts, just mentioned: and from many sincere conversions, and numerous churches formed by the apostles in divers places in a short space of time.
However, in such a world as ours, where there are temptations of no small force, and numerous amusements and avocations, it is requisite that we carefully attend to "the things which we have heard,” Heb. ii. 1, and often meditate upon them. Nor should we forsake the assemblies of Christians, but stir up one another to love and good works, ch. x. 24, 25.
Moreover some will teach things which they ought not, for the sake of private interest: and there is danger, if we are not upon our guard, lest some articles should be mixed with the pure and uncorrupted doctrine of the gospel, that tend to enervate its purifying and sanctifying influences.
And we should go on to perfection, and improve in religious knowledge and useful gifts, that we may be able to instruct and admonish others.
St. Paul, as we all know, cultivated the good principles which he had planted in the minds of men. He was greatly solicitous for their welfare, and apprehensive lest by some means they should be seduced and perverted from the simplicity that is in Christ. He therefore sent to them some of his fellow-labourers, in whom he could confide, to strengthen and comfort them: or by personal visits, or by epistles, reminded them of the truths he had taught: exhorting them to be "steadfast in the faith," and to adorn it by a holy conversation: "Beseeching and exhorting them by the Lord Jesus, that as they had received of him, how they ought to walk and to please God, so they would abound more and more," 1 Thess. iv. 1.
7. We are hence enabled to form a just estimate of the conduct of those who receive, and of those who reject the gospel.
For the doctrine of the gospel is a kind proposal and gracious message from God to mankind, by Jesus Christ and his apostles, and others after them, instructing men in the way of salvation, teaching them how they may obtain eternal life, and surmount and overcome every obstacle in the way to it.
They therefore who receive and obey it act wisely. They consult their present peace, and secure to themselves the happiness of a better life.
What then do they who reject it? As St. Luke says of some: " they reject the counsel of God against" or toward "themselves," Luke vii. 30. It becomes us to be cautious how we censure particular persons: remembering St. Paul's advice: "Judge nothing before the time," 1 Cor. iv. 5. God only knows the hearts of men, and all their peculiar circumstances. But where the gospel is proposed in truth and simplicity, men had need to take heed how they reject it: and should at least afford it a serious attention and impartial examination.
8. It follows from what has been said, that we, to whom the doctrine of the gospel has been preached, and who have received it as the word of God, know the way of salvation, and may obtain eternal life if we use due care and diligence.
And, certainly, we ought so to do; and not neglect any of the rules and precepts that have been delivered to us. The profession of Christianity will not save us. Christians, so called, if they are wicked, are not in the way of salvation: for they do not the things which their religion teaches they ought to do in order to be saved. They are condemned, and excluded from happiness by the very rules and laws of that religion which they profess to receive as divine. Such therefore are still "in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity. They have no part or lot in this matter. Their heart is not right in the sight of God," Acts ix. 20-23. And they cannot but know, that they should immediately repent and seek forgiveness of God, or they perish for ever; and their ruin will be great and terrible.
9. We have here a good argument to be stedfast in the truth as it is in Jesus, and to let his word abide in us.
For it is the word of life. It is the doctrine of salvation. Does it want any thing to complete that character? Is there any other word equal to it? Is it not strict to a great degree? Are not its rules and precepts reasonable and excellent? And does it not afford the best arguments that can be devised, to promote and secure that universal holiness which it requires ?
Indeed, it is supposed in the epistle to the Hebrews, that "some may fall away, who were once enlightened, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come," Heb. vi. And St. Peter makes the supposition, "that some, who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord, and Saviour Jesus Christ, may be again entangled therein, and overcome," 2 Pet. ii. 20. And St. Paul with grief speaks of " many, who so walked," as to shew themselves "enemies of the cross of Christ," Philip. iii. 18.
But these instances do not invalidate the truth of God, nor the power of the gospel of Christ which does very forcibly "teach us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world," Tit. ii. 12. St. Paul therefore was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: knowing it to be "the power of God to salvation, both to Jews and Gentiles." And he therefore glories in it, because " thereby the world had been crucified to him, and he to the world." St. James makes no hesitation to exhort men to " receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save their souls," Jam. i. 21.
Let us then esteem the doctrine of the gospel as a very precious advantage, teaching us how to act, so as to approve ourselves to God: how to perform the duties of our stations: how to improve the mercies and afflictions of this state, so as that we may lay up a good foundation against the time to come, and obtain everlasting life.
Happy discoveries are pleasing and entertaining to men, whilst new and fresh: but they are really a good foundation of lasting joy. We have reason always to rejoice, and think ourselves happy, that we have the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation through him. It was the abiding frame of the apostle Paul. And after that the gospel had cost him much of those things which are highly esteemed by the most, he declares, that he "counted all things" base and contemptible, "for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord," Philip. iii. 8.
10. Finally, this subject puts us in mind of the importance of our preaching and hearing. 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 recompense, 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.
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 exhor tations 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. Everyone 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 ob'tain 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 shew 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.'
Αγωνιζε τον καλον αγωνα της πίςεως, * Πάς δε ο αγωνιζόμενος.
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
* Τον αγώνα τον καλον ηγωνισμαι.
• Εαν δε και αθλη τις, 8 ξεφανεται, εαν μη νομίμως άθληση.
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.
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 shewn 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 strife, 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 a sincere profession of religious truth, nd a steady practice of virtue. Hopes of preferment in times of ease and prosperity may be as angerous and ensnaring as fears of death, or of the loss of goods, in a time of persecution. Kea both these temptations usually meet. The strictly conscientious must in most times forego some advantages, which might be obtained, and incur some inconveniences, which might be avoided by compliances, not reconcilable 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 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
a Pool's Annotations.