So when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left on our own in Athens.
I. HE SACRIFICES HIS OWN IMMEDIATE COMFORT TO THEIR BENEFIT. "We thought it good to be left at Athens alone."
1. Though Timothy was most necessary to him in the ministry, he parted with him for their good.
2. Athens, as a seat of boundless idolatry, exercised such a depressing influence upon him that he needed the stimulus of Timothy's society. Yet he denied himself this comfort that he might serve them.
II. HE DESPATCHES TO THEM THE MOST HIGHLY ESTEEMED OF HIS FELLOW-LABORERS. "Our brother, and minister of God, and fellow-laborer in the gospel of Christ." He selects one best fitted to serve them by his gifts, his experience, and his knowledge of the apostle's views and wishes. The various titles here given to Timothy help to honor him before the Churches, and to challenge the abiding confidence of the Thessalonians.
III. THE DESIGN OF TIMOTHY'S MISSION. It was twofold: "To establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith," and "to know your faith."
1. The necessity for his mission. The afflictions which they were enduring for the gospel.
(1) These afflictions had a most disturbing tendency. "That no one be disquieted by these afflictions." The converts had newly emerged from heathenism, and therefore the apostle was more concerned on their behalf. Yet, as we know from the Second Epistle, they remained firm. "We ourselves glory in you in the Churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure" (2 Thessalonians 1:4).
(2) These afflictions were of Divine appointment. "For yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto." They were, therefore, "no strange thing." They come by the will of God, who has determined their nature, severity, and duration. "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves." The afflictions were not accidental.
(3) They were clearly foreseen by the apostle. "When we were with you we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction."
(a) It is the duty of ministers to forewarn their converts of coming affliction, lest they should be offended thereby.
(b) Converts, when forewarned, ought to be forearmed, so that they may not sink under them, much less forsake the gospel on account of them. "For the light afflictions are but for a moment, and work out an exceeding weight of glory."
(4) Satan is the main source, of danger in these afflictions. "Lest by any means the tempter had tempted you. The apostle was "not ignorant of his devices," and was apprehensive lest Satan should get an advantage of his converts by moving them from the hope of the gospel, and causing them to relinquish their profession of it.
(5) The only security against Satan's temptations - faith; for this "is the victory that overcometh the world" - this is the shield "wherewith they could quench all the fiery darts of the wicked."
2. The manner in which Timothy's mission was to be discharged. "To establish you and to comfort you concerning your faith."
(1) In relation to the Thessalonians. Timothy would
(a) establish them by giving them a fresh exhibition of the truth with its manifold evidences. The strongest faith needs confirmation. The apostles were in the habit of confirming the souls of the disciples (Acts 14:22).
(b) He would comfort them concerning their faith by exhibiting the example of Christ, the glory that must accrue to God from their steadfastness, and the hope of the coming kingdom.
(2) In relation to the apostle himself. "To know your faith." One object of his sending Timothy was to put an end to his own anxieties and doubts on their behalf, for he might fear that "his labor would be in vain." He might hope the best but fear the worst, for he was most deeply concerned in their welfare. - T.C.
I. THE CHARACTER PAUL GIVETH OF TIMOTHY. Elsewhere he calls him "my son"; here he calls him "our brother." Timothy was Paul's junior in age, his inferior in gifts and graces, and of a lower rank in the ministry; for Paul was an apostle, and Timothy but an evangelist; yet Paul calls him "brother." This was an instance of the apostle's humility, and showed his desire to put honour upon Timothy, and to recommend him to the esteem of the Churches. He calls him also a "minister of God." Ministers of the gospel of Christ are ministers of God, to promote the kingdom of God among men. He calls him also "our fellow labourer." Ministers of the gospel must look upon themselves as labourers in the Lord's vineyard; they have an honourable office and hard work, yet a good work (1 Timothy 3:1). And ministers should look upon one another as fellow labourers, and should therefore love one another, and strengthen one another's hands; not strive and contend one with another, which will hinder their work; but strive together to carry on the great work they are engaged in — namely, to preach and publish the gospel of Christ, and to persuade people to embrace and entertain it, and live suitably thereto.
Wherefore, when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone
I. THIS MISSON WAS THE SUGGESTION OF AN UNCONTROLLABLE ANXIETY. "Wherefore, when we could no longer forbear." This anxiety sprang from the intensity of the apostle's love. It is a striking feature of genuine Christian love, that while it bears external suffering with uncomplaining patience, it is impatient of delay in doing good. The mother can endure anything but restraint in her desire to promote the best welfare of her child. David was indifferent to exposure and danger, but his soul panted after God.
II. THIS MISSION INVOLVED GREAT PERSONAL INCONVENIENCE. "At Athens alone." True love, in its unselfishness, ever prefers another's good to its own. Timothy had travelled so constantly with Paul, and had been so great a comfort, that his absence was a loss keenly felt. Specially was his sympathy and cooperation needed at Athens. What a sublime historical picture is pourtrayed in the words "at Athens alone." Christianity embodied in a single, lonely man, standing in the midst of the populous metropolis of pagan culture and idolatry. Yet the power enshrined in that solitary man broke up and scattered the huge fabric of heathenism.
III. THIS MISSION WAS ENTRUSTED TO A THOROUGHLY QUALIFIED MESSENGER. The high character of Timothy and his relations with Paul are brought out in the epithets —
1. Brother. Elsewhere Paul calls him his "own son in the faith," his "dearly beloved son"; but in speaking of him to the Churches, he recognizes him on the equal footing of a brother.
2. Minister of God. Solemnly set apart by the voice of prophecy and by the hands of the presbytery, and of Paul himself.
3. Fellow labourer in the gospel of Christ, not only as all God's ministers are — i.e., working the work of the same Lord — but also on the ground of that special intimacy of personal intercourse and cooperation to which he was from the first admitted by the apostle. Thus Timothy was thoroughly qualified —(1) To carry out the apostle's wish concerning the Thessalonians: and(2) to sympathize with the Church's peculiar difficulties and trials. He was more than a mere courier. He was faithful to Paul's instructions, and valuable to the Church in himself.
IV. THIS MISSION WAS CHARGED WITH A WORK OF HIGH IMPORTANCE AND NECESSITY.
1. To establish, to confirm, or set fast their faith, by a fresh authoritative manifestation of the gospel truth and its Divine evidences; and this would be done by private conversation and public ministration.
2. To comfort. The word means also — and especially here — to exhort, though, doubtless, comfort would be mingled with the exhortation. The Thessalonians were exposed to the storm of persecution that was everywhere raging against the gospel and its adherents, and they were exhorted to steadfastness, "that no man should be moved by these afflictions." Paul and Barnabas had a similar mission to the Churches in Lesser Asia (Acts 14:22). There are none so strong in faith but need confirmation; none so courageous but need comfort. Lessons —
1. The establishment of believers is ever a subject of anxiety to the true minister.
2. The desire to promote the highest welfare of the Church should ever be paramount.
II. THE DESIGN PAUL HAD IN SENDING TIMOTHY. This was to establish the Thessalonians, and comfort them concerning their faith. Paul had converted them to the Christian faith, and now he was desirous they might be confirmed and comforted — that they might be confirmed in the choice they had made of the Christian religion, and comforted in the profession and practice of it. The more we are comforted, the more we shall be confirmed; because, when we find pleasure in the ways of God, we shall thereby be engaged to continue and persevere therein. The apostle's design, therefore, was a preeminently worthy one concerning his Thessalonian converts — their faith and the object of their faith, the truths of the gospel, and particularly that Jesus Christ was the Saviour of the world, and so wise and good, so powerful and faithful, that they might surely rely upon Him. He would also have them remember the recompense of faith, which was more than sufficient to balance all their losses and reward all their labours.
III. THE MOTIVE INDUCING PAUL THUS TO ACT. He cherished a godly fear or jealousy lest the Thessalonians should be moved from the faith of Christ. He was exceedingly desirous that not one among them should waver or apostatize; and yet he apprehended danger, and trembled for the consequence. They could not but perceive what afflictions the apostles met with; and also those who made profession of the gospel were persecuted, as without doubt these Thessalonians themselves were, and these evils might possibly stumble them. But the danger did not end here; there was the tempter's subtlety and malice. He had often prejudiced the minds of men against religion on account of the sufferings its professors are exposed to, and he would do his utmost to damage the faith of these converts. Naturally, therefore, the apostle feared lest his labour should be in vain. To prevent the consequence of the danger, he sent Timothy to them to put them in mind that, as concerning affliction, they were appointed there unto. Troubles and persecutions do not come by chance, nor merely from the wrath and malice of the enemies of religion, but by the appointment or permission of God.
(R. Fergusson.)1. St. Paul puts upon himself the sacrifice of solitude in a strange city simply because it comes in the line of his duty. To his tastes ether appointments would be more agreeable. Some familiar place would suit better his longing for sympathy. He is a scholar, and would prefer retirement. He is the worn hero of many battles, and would like to rest in some peaceful household of faith. That he cannot do and be faithful; and this with any honest soul settles the question. At Athens, busy as he is, he remembers the affectionate little band left behind at Thessalonica.
2. In his person, on landing at the Piraeus, the morning light of the new age rose on a second continent. Yet everything was bleak, every face unfriendly. Any courage less valiant than his must have quailed before the overpowering splendour and despotism of old heathenism in its stronghold. Paul had come to it as fearless of its sophistries and arrogance as he had been of the swords and dungeons of Syria.
3. Without some common interests, cities are wildernesses and society the saddest of solitudes.(1) From the moment that Paul's feet touched the pier, the monuments of the dominant mythology began to lift themselves forbiddingly before him, to make him feel himself "alone." His own heart burning with love to Christ, the first objects that greet him are the statue of Neptune, a sensual temple of the God of Wine, images of Mercury, Minerva, Apollo, and Jupiter. Reaching the market place, his sense of separation deepens at every step. The buildings are memorials of a foreign history. Their walls are covered with paintings of barbarous exploits and alien manners. Processions of disgusting ceremonies meet him.(2) If he turns from the world of sight to the world of thought, he finds the schools of unbelieving speculation strong in great names, but distracted with debate between doubt and delusion, and full of eloquent error. What was all this to the man who could say, "It is no more I that live; Christ liveth in me." Deeper and darker the solitude grew; and yet he could banish himself into a completer exile for the sake of the little band of Christians at Thessalonica.
I. IN GOD'S APPOINTMENTS THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF LONELINESS.
1. Outward and physical.(1) The providential conditions are so settled for many that they have much less than the average share of social communication.(a) Sometimes, by a shrinking turn of the constitution, or by natural reserve, or by lack of magnetic quality, or by a fatal propensity to say the wrong thing, or by necessities of occupation or residence, they are cut off from society.(b) There is the solitude of temperament, the earnest heart all the while yearning for companionship, and yet strangely held back.(c) There is a solitude of pride where social advantages are bitterly given up to escape making an appearance inferior to that of one's class.(d) There is the solitude of obligation, created by the necessities of toil or devotion, by poverty or pity, imprisoning body and mind alike.(e) There is the solitude of bodily infirmity.(2) Among the perils of such a situation we must set down —(a) A tendency to a belittling self-consideration. Finding nothing beyond self to fasten upon, affection stagnates or sours. Religion will have hard work to save such a life from contempt. It has been the snare of all monks.(b) In other cases we see censoriousness. Rigid standards are applied to others. Allowances are not made for unavoidable differences, and so the first commandment of love is broken.(c) Along with these bigoted ways of thinking, comes envy and cynicism. You have never had your fair chance. You are distanced by your contemporaries. Outside your sick chamber are the gay children of health and wealth. It needs a steady faith in God's impartiality to keep down your discontent. So Martha felt her solitude — "Carest thou not that my sister hath left me"; and Peter — "What shall this man do?" — contrasting John's brighter lot with his own martyrdom.(d) Add to these a certain unwholesome fastidiousness, which is apt to arise from constant preoccupation with private tastes. The hand is withheld from many a useful office, and the tongue from many a cordial utterance. Opportunities for Christian benefaction are despairingly thrown away, and life miserably bereft of its true glory.
2. Involuntary and moral loneliness. While this, too, has its dangers, it may be made the occasion, as it was with Paul, of great spiritual gains.(1) It is indispensable that at some period souls who follow Christ should stand morally apart, without honour or sympathy. This is one of the crosses which brave men have to take up, a school where strong principles are planted, convictions nourished, and energies trained. Rules of action taken up out of deference to prevailing notions fluctuate; these, wrought into the conscience in solitude, are more apt to come at first hand from God. Here is the test for all real characters. Can you live, work, suffer, stand out, move forward alone? This settles it whether you are a mere piece of movable furniture, moulded by the hands of fashion, or a living independent soul, satisfied to walk with Him who had not where to lay His head while He was showing the world the truth and love of God, satisfied to live with the apostle who thought it good to be left in Athens alone.(2) In all the biographies of human greatness we find this proved by examples. I try in vain to think of one memorable saint who has not had the discipline of the desert or the mountain. It is there that great leaders have gathered gifts from on high, broken the bondage of ambition and vanity, and came so close to Christ that His sacrificial power has entered them. Out of the Bible, no less than in it, master men have been lonely men.(3) Hence the defect you are sure to find in people who have never accepted or made intervals of seclusion. They may be stirring characters, but thin; loud, but shallow, wanting in reverence and steady power, over-anxious about results and appearances, over-deferential to the popular cry; at home only in the multitude, but afraid of the mount. It is the earnest, hearty worker with God who knows how to be refreshed with fellowship at Thessalonica, and to be left at Athens alone.(4) In our fast and outward living generation, and our noisy and showy age the Church needs most religious retirement and private prayer. The greater the tendency to secular arrogance and surface morality the more Christians ought to guard the sacred retreats. This nation would hardly have been what it is or done what it has if our ancestors had brought up their sons and daughters in the glaring parlours of a vast hotel. Strong character is a separate thing, and requires a separate, individual nurture. Promiscuous intermixtures never produce it. It might well be defined as the power of standing alone. How we see the want of it wherever men and woman meet together; wherever majorities brow beat an unpopular faith; whenever you are likely to be a loser in money, or to be laughed at. Righteousness never counts her companions. This is the heroic loneliness of all God's great ones from the beginning; of Jacob left alone through the long night wrestling with the Angel; of Moses receiving commission to emancipate a nation, alone in the mountains; of Elijah when he cried "I only am left"; of Daniel watched by an idolatrous monarch kneeling three times a day; of Peter answering the rulers "Whether it is right in the sight of God," etc., and higher yet, of Him who trod the winepress alone, and yet not alone, for the Father was with Him.
II. THE GOD OF OUR LIVES PUTS INTO ALL OF THEM SOME SOLITUDE FOR A PURPOSE OF HIS OWN.
1. He arranges it for us that we cannot be always in anybody's company. Friend after friend departs. Misunderstandings arise. There is a night between every two days. Sickness is sent. Is it not plain that this is because the deepest and holiest exercises of the spirit are where no human presence is by?
2. Look back. If repentance ever took hold of you and bade you look up for mercy; if the great choice between God and self was ever made, was it not when you were alone with your Saviour.
3. Before the Spirit has done His deepest and best work in you, He will have you all to Himself. The question of everlasting love is a private question — "Wilt thou be Mine forever?" Each succeeding struggle, when we make the tremendous sacrifice which carries us clear of some entangling alliance, is solitary work. Great griefs are solitary — the heart breaks alone.
4. Our communion with Christ only obeys the law of all lofty delicate friendships. Intervention is interruption; and even the best society on earth is not good enough to divide your intercourse with your Master.
III. LONELINESS SOMETIMES BECOMES LONESOMENESS. The excessively secluded life is imbittered by a craving for sympathy. This would have been Paul's feelings at Athens, and he would not have thought it "good" to be left there, but for the one Divine Friend who stayed with him. It is in His felt presence that those hearts are to find their consolation which are separated from their kind. However thronged the streets or brilliant the season, these uncheered souls are all around us. By far the greater number of us have hours when we long for nothing so much as to hear some fellow soul say "I know how you suffer; one heart at least answers to yours." There are constitutions finely tempered which need continual protection, but have it only under coarse, sordid hands, lacerating wherever they touch. There are self distrustful, timid creatures, tortured with a despairing sense of failure who never get an encouraging look. What is the comfort? Only one. For all these the Man of sorrows is the only companion, and His hidden love the only consolation. What would Athens have been to Paul without his Saviour?
IV. CHRIST'S BLESSING RESTS AS GRACIOUSLY ON OUR MORE SECLUDED AND LEAST NOTICED SERVICES FOR HIM AS UPON THE MOST CONSPICUOUS OF HIS WORKMEN. Paul the despised missionary at Athens is as sure of his Saviour's presence and benediction as when the populace of Lystra are hailing him as a god. We are slow to learn that the spirit of the gospel is no more in the assembly of ten thousand than where one tired labourer watches by the sick orphan, or one daughter of fortune and culture cheerfully crucifies every taste to teach a group of unclean vagabonds how to pray. We hurry into publicity as if that were heaven, and are impatient to count converts and see results, as if that were salvation. The most glorious chronicles and monuments of Athens are not in her letters, temples, arms, but in that little record of the friendless traveller who thought it good to be left there alone.
(Bp. Huntington.)cf. Acts 17:16, 17): —
I. AFFORDS A PAINFUL OPPORTUNITY TO REFLECT ON ITS MORAL CONDITION: "He saw the city wholly given to idolatry."
II. AWAKENS PROFOUND CONCERN IN A GREAT SOUL: "His spirit was stirred in him."
III. ROUSES TO IMMEDIATE ACTION IN PROMOTING THE WELFARE OF THE CITIZENS: "Therefore disputed he in the synagogue and in the market daily."
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THERE ARE TWO CLASSES OF SOLITUDE. The first consisting of insulation in space, the other of isolation of the spirit.
1. The first is simply separation by distance. When we are seen, touched, and heard by none, we are said to be alone. And all hearts respond to the truth of that saying. This is not solitude, for sympathy can people our solitude with a crowd. The fisherman on the ocean alone at night is not alone when he remembers the earnest longings which are arising up to heaven for his safety. The traveller is not alone when the faces which will greet him on his arrival seem to beam upon him as he trudges on. The solitary student is not alone when he feels that human hearts will respond to the truths which he is preparing to address to them.
2. The other is loneliness of soul. There are times when hands touch ours, but only send an icy chill of indifference to the heart; when eyes gaze into ours, but with a glazed look that cannot read into the bottom of our souls; when words pass from our lips but only come back as an echo reverberated without reply through a dreary solitude; when the multitudes throng and press us, and we cannot say as Christ did, "Somebody hath touched Me"; for the contact has been not between soul and soul, but between form and form.
II. THERE ARE TWO CLASSES OF MEN WHO FEEL THIS LAST SOLITUDE IN DIFFERENT WAYS.
1. The first are the men of self-reliance — self-dependent; who ask no counsel and crave no sympathy, who act and resolve alone, who can go sternly through duty, and scarcely shrink let what will be crushed in them. Such men command respect: for whoever respects himself constrains the reverence of others. They are invaluable in all those professions of life in which sensitive feeling would be a superfluity: they make iron commanders, surgeons who do not shrink, and statesmen who do not flinch from their purpose for dread of unpopularity. But mere self-dependence is weakness; and the conflict is terrible when a human sense of weakness is felt by such men. Jacob was alone when he slept in his way to Padan Aram, the first night that he was away from his father's roof, with the world before him, and all old associations broke up; and Elijah was alone in the wilderness when the court had deserted him, and he said, "I only am left." But the loneliness of the tender Jacob was very different from that of the stern Elijah. To Jacob the sympathy he yearned for was realized in the form of a simple dream. A ladder raised from earth to heaven figured the possibility of communion between the spirit of man and the Spirit of God. In Elijah's case the storm and the earthquake and the fire did their convulsing work in the soul before a still, small voice told him that he was not alone. In such a spirit the sense of weakness comes with a burst of agony, and the dreadful conviction of being alone manifests itself with a rending of the heart of rock. It is only so that such souls can be touched that the Father is with them and that they are not alone.
2. There is another class of men who live in sympathy. These are affectionate minds which tremble at the thought of being alone; not from want of courage or weakness of intellect comes their dependence upon others, but from the intensity of their affections. It is the trembling spirit of humanity in them. They want not aid, nor even countenance, but only sympathy.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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