Take Heed unto Thyself, from I Timothy 4:16

A SERMON PREACHED AT THE ORDINATION SERVICEON TRINITY SUNDAY AT ST. MARY’S CASTLE STREET, READING

BY DAVID N SAMUEL

Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them:for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.(I Tim 4:16).

Timothy was a young man, a native of Lystra. His father was a Greek and his mother Eunice was a pious Jewess. He was converted to the Christian faith during Paul’s first visit to Lystra. When Paul came the second time he selected Timothy as his companion, and ordained him in a solemn manner, as we have done with these young men here this morning.

Now as a young man and a minister, Timothy needed advice and instruction, which was the reason for Paul’s writing this letter and the later one to him. Here we find the Apostle giving him wise counsel and guidance. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine. Pay particular attention to these two things in this order. We all stand in need of counsel and advice. Where better can we find it than in the Word of God? And I hope therefore that what I have to say will have relevance not only for those who have been ordained here today, but for all present this morning.

First, attend to your personal life and conduct. Take heed unto thyself. That is where you must begin. Take care to live as becomes Christians, the followers of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Do not become lax and careless. How we live can either make or mar our witness. Somebody once said, “I cannot hear what you are saying, because your actions speak so loudly”. So this advice of Paul’s applies to all Christian people, but especially ministers of the Gospel. “Actions speak louder than words.” If our words are not backed up by our lives, then our work and witness will fail. How then are we to live out such lives as shall be an ornament of our profession?

The answer is, that we must live closely with our Lord and Saviour. We must be daily in communion and fellowship with Him. When Moses came down from the mountain where he had been with God, his face shone. All could see where he had been, though he was not aware of it himself. Communion with the Lord transforms.

What did the members of the Council of the Jews think before whom Peter and John appeared? They took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus. They were regarded as unlearned and ignorant men, but there was something wonderful about them. They commanded attention; they spoke with authority and power. Where did they get this authority from? They had been with Jesus. So that is the first thing. If our manner of life and conduct is to be consistent and to support what we say, we must live closely with the Lord.

Now, how can we do that? Well, for one thing we must read the Scriptures daily. Do not neglect to do this, it is the food for the soul. Man doth not live by bread only but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live. If we do not feed regularly upon the Scriptures we shall not be healthy and strong spiritually.

There is a special danger here for the minister. He is always dealing with the Bible, he has to prepare sermons and addresses from it. He can fall into the way of thinking that that is enough, and so neglect his personal reading and study of it. But he must read the Scriptures for his own benefit, and for his own soul’s sake. If he does not, he will lack vitality and freshness.

And the same is true of prayer. Apart from his public duties, he must engage in personal prayer and communion with God. Without that he will be deficient in resilience and strength, and will not be able to face trials, which will inevitably come to him. Commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still, Psalm 4:4. These are the words of David. He knew something about trials and tribulations, both in his own life and as the King of Israel as a public figure. And this was his answer, this was the secret of his strength. Take heed to yourself, then, in these matters or you will lack the strength and resilience that you need for your calling.

But there is another reason why you should take heed to yourself, for if you do not you will lack spiritual discernment. You will fail to see how the world is changing, and how you are in danger of changing with it. It is so easy for us to let standards slip and become like the world. I believe it is the besetting sin of the institutional churches and the Christian today. They are letting the world set the agenda, determine standards, and guide conduct. But the apostle says, Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. Unless you take heed to yourself, you will not be able to speak prophetically, and address yourself to the needs of the church. You will, unknowingly, be moulded and fashioned by the world. Only personal communion with the Lord can prevent that happening.

What did the prophet Habakkuk say? I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what the Lord will say unto me. Standards are falling in our society, they have been for some time. But this does not happen all at once. It takes place gradually, imperceptibly, little by little, so that most people are unaware of what is happening. But little by little in time becomes much. If you walk into the BBC in Langham Place, London, you will see texts of Scripture in large letters engraved upon the walls. Nation shall speak peace unto nation; Whatsoever things are true… honest… just… pure … lovely … of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. But what has happened now to the BBC? It has become the medium for transmitting to the nation what is base, vulgar, trivial and immoral. How are the mighty fallen! But it has happened gradually, so that most people have been unaware of what was happening.

Come ye yourselves apart … and rest awhile, said our Lord to the disciples, for there were many coming and going. Jesus knew what was good and necessary for his disciples. We need to spend time apart with out Lord, for only in that way shall we be able to discern the nature of the times in which we live, and to walk circumspectly. Ask God to enable you to keep close to Him and to cleanse your heart. Take heed to yourself.

Secondly, pay particular attention to the teachings of Scripture, understand the doctrines of the faith. Take heed unto the doctrine. It is necessary for a young minister to lay a foundation in this respect in his early years. That is the time to do it, the mind is supple and the memory receptive and retentive. Make a systematic study of doctrine by going through The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. This will give you a framework, and then you will be able to work out from there, and read other things, and evaluate them in the light of what you know. It is most important that you give attention to this.

But there are two caveats:

i) Do not treat your congregation as if they were theologians. Do not give them doctrine neat and undiluted. Congregations are sometimes made to suffer in this way. Read John Bunyan and see how he makes doctrine interesting. John Newton also made a good point on this subject. He said, “I treat doctrine like lumps of sugar; I do not eat them whole, I dissolve them in my tea”. And, of course, follow the example of the greatest preacher of all. Our Lord spoke of everyday things, but he wove into them the things of eternity, of salvation and the kingdom of God. He said, the kingdom of heaven is like this and like that; like treasure hid in a field, like a mustard seed, like a net, and so on. An old preacher was asked once what he thought of a sermon. He thought for a while and then he said, “There were not enough ‘likes’ in it”.

ii) Do not imagine theology comes mainly from books. They can be useful, but we do not learn the deepest things there. Martin Luther said that he learned his theology “where his temptations took him”, that is, through the testings and trials and sufferings of life. It is there we get the deep insights. So, while books are good and useful, we must not be ‘bookish’. Let our preaching be shot through with experience.

“This is the library where he keeps his books”, said Wordsworth’s maidservant to a visitor to his home in the Lake District, “but his study is out of doors”. I think there is something in that for ministers to learn from. Do not let your preaching be stuffy, but experiential, down to earth; from heaven, yes, but down to earth.

Take heed unto the doctrine then, it is very necessary in these times. Today the church is becoming decidedly non-doctrinal. The voice of the pulpit is tentative and hesitant. The trumpet gives an uncertain sound. There are basically two reasons for this. One is the triumph of liberal theology. Man has set himself over rather than under the Word of God. The scholar supposedly tells us what we may or may not believe. But man is in no such position to tell us how to judge of the things of God. The answer to such presumption is in the Book of Job. Canst thou by searching find out God? No, man must sit humbly at the feet of God and hear his Word. Nothing else will avail. And it is your duty to declare that Word. Is there a word from the Lord? People come to you to know that, and you must declare it. Today hungry sheep look and are not fed.

But there is another reason also for uncertainty and confusion in the churches. Ours is an age which tends to set aside the Bible and to rely only upon experience. Experience they regard as self-authenticating, they do not need the Word. In all this there is nothing new. At the time of the Reformation Luther encountered the Zwickau prophets. They claimed the gifts of the Spirit, and said to Luther, “What is the use of clinging so closely to the Bible? The Bible: Always the Bible: … It is by the Spirit alone we can be enlightened.” Luther, quite rightly, gave them short shrift. That spirit is abroad today, setting aside the Bible, claiming direct revelations, tongues and experiences. But it is your job to teach the Bible. Attend to doctrine. Faith and experience must be properly grounded upon Scripture. It is rather like food; we have digestive systems, but they need food. They cannot feed on air. We must feed upon the Word of God. The Spirit of God takes the Word and applies it to our souls’ need. That is the Scriptural doctrine of the Word and the Spirit. So, take heed to the doctrine.

Do not be afraid to preach a full-orbed gospel – all the doctrines of grace: predestination and election, the fall and the total depravity of man, sovereign grace, justification by faith alone, and the final perseverance of the saints. The many colours of the spectrum combined give pure light, so the many doctrines of grace give a pure gospel. Remember the testimony of Augustus Toplady. He confessed that when he began his ministry he confined his preaching to two main themes, justification and holiness. He was afraid to speak of the doctrines of grace. But later God freed him from the fear of men, and he preached the entire mystery of God. The result of the first course of action, he said, was that many were pleased, but few converted. The result of the latter was that many were angry, but many more converted. Pray for courage to declare the whole counsel of God.

Finally, Paul says to Timothy, for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. There will be a double benefit; you will be doing good to yourself and to others at the same time. As you teach the Scriptures, they will have a beneficial and edifying effect upon you, as well as on those whom you teach. You will grow in grace and knowledge of Christ. You teach yourself by teaching others. There is a principle at work here that is at work throughout society. The trader, the shopkeeper performs a service, he seeks to satisfy people’s needs, and in so doing he promotes his own good and prospers. And so the minister of the gospel, in seeking to teach others and to disseminate the saving truths of the gospel, becomes ever more firmly established and grounded in the truth. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. May that be your experience. May the Lord bless you in your work and service for him. Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

Forasmuch as man, being not borne to ease and rest, but to labour and travail, is by corruption of nature through sin, so far degenerated and grown out of kind, that he taketh idleness to be no evil at all, but rather a commendable thing, seemly for those that be wealthy, and therefore is greedily embraced of most part of men, as agreeable to their sensual affection, and all labour and travail is diligently avoided, as a thing painful and repugnant to the pleasure of the flesh: It is necessary to be declared unto you, that by the ordinance of God, which he hath set in the nature of man, every one ought, in his lawful vocation and calling, to give himself to labour: and that idleness, being repugnant to the same ordinance, is a grievous sin, and also, for the great inconveniences and mischiefs which spring thereof, an intolerable evil: to the intent that when ye understand the same, ye may diligently flee from it, and on the other part earnestly apply yourselves, every man in his vocation, to honest labour and business, which as it is enjoined unto man by God’s appointment, so it wanteth not his manifold blessings and sundry benefits.

In what points the true ornaments of the Church or Temple of God do consist and stand, hath been declared in the two last Homilies, entreating of the right use of the Temple or house of God, and of the due reverence that all true Christian people are bound to give unto the same. The sum whereof is, that the Church or house of God, is a place appointed by the holy Scriptures, where the lively word of God ought to be read, taught, and heard, the Lords holy name called upon by public prayer, hearty thanks given to his Majesty for his infinite and unspeakable benefits bestowed upon us, his holy Sacraments duly and reverently ministered, and that therefore all that be godly indeed, ought both with diligence at times appointed, to repair together to the said Church, and there with all reverence to use and behave themselves before the Lord. And that the said Church thus godly used by the servants of the Lord, in the Lords true service, for the effectual presence of God’s grace, wherewith he doeth by his holy word and promises, endue his people there present and assembled, to the attainment, as well of commodities worldly, necessary for us, as also of all heavenly gifts, and life everlasting, is called by the word of God (as it is indeed) the Temple of the Lord, and the house of God, and that therefore the due reverence thereof, is stirred up in the hearts of the godly, by the consideration of these true ornaments of the said house of God, and not by any outward ceremonies or costly and glorious decking of the said house or Temple of the Lord, contrary to the which most manifest doctrine of the Scriptures, and contrary to the usage of the Primitive Church, which was most pure and incorrupt, and contrary to the sentences and judgements of the most ancient, learned and godly Doctors of the Church (as hereafter shall appear) the corruption of these latter days, hath brought into the Church infinite multitudes of images, and the same, with other parts of the Temple also, have decked with gold and silver, painted with colours, set them with stone and pearl, clothed them with silks and precious vestures, fancying untruly that to be the chief decking and adorning of the Temple or house of God, and that all people should be the more moved to the due reverence of the same, if all corners thereof were glorious, and glistering with gold and precious stones. Whereas indeed they by the said images, and such glorious decking of the Temple, have no thing at all profited such as were wise and of understanding: but have thereby greatly hurt the simple and unwise, occasioning them thereby to commit most horrible idolatry. And the covetous persons, by the same occasion, seeming to worship, and peradventure worshipping indeed, not only the images, but also the matter of them, gold and silver, as that vice is of all others in the Scriptures peculiarly called idolatry or worshipping of images. (Eph 5, Col 3) Against the which foul abuses and great enormities shall be alleged unto you: First, the authority of God’s holy word, as well out of the old Testament, as of the new. And secondly, the testimonies of the holy and ancient learned Fathers and Doctors, out of their own works and ancient histories Ecclesiastical, both that you may at once know their judgements, and withal understand what manner of ornaments were in the Temples in the Primitive Church in those times, which were most pure and sincere. Thirdly, the reasons and arguments made for the defence of images or idols, and the outrageous decking of Temples and Churches, with gold, silver, pearl, and precious stone, shall be confuted, and so this whole matter concluded. But lest any should take occasion by the way, of doubting by words or names, it is thought good here to note first of all, that although in common speech we use to call the likeness or similitude of men or other things images, and not idols: yet the Scriptures use the said two words (idols and images) indifferently for one thing always. They be words of divers tongues and sounds, but one in sense and signification in the Scriptures. The one is taken of the Greek word Ei¶dwlon; an Idol, and the other of the Latin word Imago, and Image, and so both used as English terms in the translating of Scriptures indifferently, according as the Septuagint have in their translation in Greek Ei¶dwla, and St. Jerome in his translation of the same places in Latin hath Simulachra, in English, Images. And in the new Testament, that which St. John calleth Ei¶dwlon (1 Jn 5), St. Ierome likewise translateth Simulachrum, as in all other like places of Scripture usually he doeth so translate. And Tertullian , a most ancient Doctor, and well learned in both the tongues, Greek and Latin, interpreting this place of St. John , Beware of Idols, that is to say (saith Tertullian ) of the images themselves: the Latin words which he useth, be Effigies and Imago, to say, an Image (Lib. de corona militis). And therefore it skilleth not, whether in this process wee use the one term or the other, or both together, seeing they both (though not in common English speech, yet in Scripture) signify one thing. And though some to blind men’s eyes, have heretofore craftily gone about to make them to be taken for words of divers signification in matters of Religion, and have therefore usually named the likeness or similitude of a thing set up amongst the Heathen in their Temples or other places to be worshipped, an Idol. But the like similitude with us, set up in the Church, the place of worshipping, they call an Image, as though these two words (Idol and Image) in Scripture, did differ in propriety and sense, which as is afore said) differ only in sound and language, and in meaning be in deed all one, specially in the Scriptures and matters of Religion. And our Images also have been, and be, and if they be publicly suffered in Churches and Temples, ever will be also worshipped, and so Idolatry committed to them, as in the last part of this Homily shall at large be declared and proved. Wherefore our Images in Tem ples and Churches, be in deed none other but Idols, as unto the which Idolatry hath been, is, and ever will be committed.

Almighty GOD, to the intent his most holy Name should be had in honour, and evermore be magnified of the people, commandeth that no man should take his Name vainly in his mouth, threatening punishment unto him that irreverently abuseth it by swearing, forswearing, andblasphemy. To the intent therefore that this commandment may be the better known and kept, it shall bee declared unto you, both how it is lawful for Christian people to swear, and also what peril and danger it is vainly to swear, or to be forsworn.

Unto a Christian man, there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable, than the knowledge of Holy Scripture; forasmuch as in it is contained God’s true word, setting forth his glory, and also man’s duty. And there is no truth nor doctrine, necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation, but that is, or may be, drawn out of that fountain and well of truth. Therefore, as many as be desirous to enter into the right and perfect way unto God, must apply their minds to know Holy Scripture; without the which, they can neither sufficiently known God and his will, neither their office and duty. And as drink is pleasant to them that be dry, and meat to them that be hungry; so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture, to them that be desirous to know God, or themselves, and to do his will. And their stomachs only do loathe and abhor the heavenly knowledge and food of God’s word, that be so drowned in worldly vanities, that they neither saviour God, nor any godliness: for that is the cause why they desire such vanities, rather than the true knowledge of God. As they that are sick of an ague, whatsoever they eat and drink, though it be never so pleasant, yet it is as bitter to them as wormwood; not for the bitterness of the meat, but for the corrupt and bitter humour that is in their own tongue and mouth; even is the sweetness of God’s word bitter, not of itself, but only unto them that have their minds corrupted with long custom of sin and love of this world.

Of all things that be good to be taught unto Christian people, there is nothing more necessary to be spoken of, and daily called upon, then charity: as well for that all manner of works of righteousness be contained in it, as also that the decay thereof is the ruin or fall of the world, the banishment of virtue, and the cause of all vice. And for so much as almost every man, maketh and frameth to himself charity after his own appetite, and how detestable soever his life be, both unto God and man, yet he persuadeth himself still that he hath charity: therefore you shall hear now a true and plain description or setting forth of charity, not of men’s imagination, but of the very words and example of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In which description or setting forth, every man (as it were in a glass) may consider himself, and see plainly without error, whether he be in the true charity, or not.

Among all the creatures that God made in the beginning of the world most excellent and wonderful in their kind, there was none (as the Scripture beareth witness) to be compared almost in any point unto man, who as well in body and soul exceeded all other no less, then the Sun in brightness and light exceedeth every small and little star in the firmament. He was made according to the image and similitude of God, he was endued with all kind of heavenly gifts, he had no spot of uncleanness in him, he was found and perfect in all parts, both outwardly and inwardly, his reason was incorrupt, his understanding was pure and good, his will was obedient and godly, he was made altogether like unto God, in righteousness, in holiness, in wisdom, in truth, to be short in all kind of perfection.

In the last Sermon was declared unto you, what the lively and true faith of a Christian man is, that it causeth not a man to be idle, but to be occupied in bringing forth good works, as occasion serveth.

Of our going from God, the wise man saith, that pride was the first beginning: for by it mans heart was turned from God his maker. For pride (saith he) is the fountain of all sin: he that hath it, shall be full of cursings, and at the end it shall overthrow him. (Ecclus 10) And as by pride and sin we go from God, so shall God and all goodness with him go from us. And the Prophet Hosea doth plainly affirm (Hos 5), that they which go a way still from God by vicious living, and yet would go about to pacify him otherwise by sacrifice, and entertain him thereby, they labour in vain. For, notwithstanding all their sacrifice, yet he goeth still away from them. For so much (saith the Prophet) as they do not apply their minds to return to God, although they go about with whole flocks and herds to seek the Lord, yet they shall not find him: for he is gone away from them.

A Sermon of the Misery of all Mankind and of his Condemnation to Death Everlasting, by his own Sin.

Because all men be sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds (seem they never so good) be justified, and made righteous before God: but every man of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness or justification, to be received at God’s own hands, that is to say, the forgiveness of his sins and trespasses, in such things as he hath offended. And this justification or righteousness, which we so receive of God’s mercy and Christ’s merits. embraced by faith, is taken, accepted and allowed of God, for our perfect and full justification.