Habitual Devotedness to the Ministry
“Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. 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.”—1 Tim. 4:15, 16.
My dear brother, you will find many things in these Epistles worthy of your attention. With a view of showing the connexion of the text, let us notice what is said in the preceding verses.
Ver. 12. Timothy was a young man, and was charged to let no man despise his youth. But how could he prevent that? By being “an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Then, whoever might dislike him, no one could despise him.
Ver. 13. It is supposed that Paul expected shortly to see Timothy, when he would have many things to say. Meanwhile he directed him how to spend his time to good purpose. In reading.—God knows all things; but we must receive ere we impart. Exhortation.—He was not to hide, but to communicate his knowledge of Divine things, as he received it: the reading of a minister should be for his people, that he may be furnished with sentiments suited to their cases. Exhortation seems to be that kind of teaching which is from house to house, consisting of counsels, cautions, &c. Doctrine.—He was to dig in this mine, that he might enrich others.
Ver. 14. He was supposed to have a gift, an extraordinary gift, foretold in prophecy, by some of the New Testament prophets, and imparted by the laying on of hands. Yet even this was a talent to be improved, and not neglected. Then how much more ordinary gifts!
Ver. 15. This verse expresses how his gift was to be improved. It is a shameful abuse of the doctrine of Divine influence to allege it as a reason for neglecting diligent study for the pulpit. Yet such things are; and the advocates of this perversion can quote Scripture for it; as—“Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither premeditate; but whatsoever shall be given to you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” But this has no application to pulpit exercises, or ordinary ministrations. It was very suitable for the persecuted Christians; for how could they know what to answer, before they were questioned by their persecutors: it was therefore greatly calculated to encourage them, and relieve them from all anxiety. But to apply this direction to our ordinary ministrations is a shameful perversion. See Eccles. 12:9–11.
Give me your attention, my dear brother, while I endeavour to illustrate the different branches of the exhortation of the text, and consider the motives held up to enforce it.
I. Let us endeavour to Illustrate the exhortation.
The things on which you are called to meditate are what you “read,” the things to which you “exhort,” and the “doctrine” of Christ. Or on the Scriptures—on the precepts contained in them, and on the doctrines to be deduced from them.
“Meditate on these things.”—There is a depth in them that requires it. You may read the Scriptures a hundred times over, and yet be only on the surface, far from having fathomed them. They are able to make us wise, through faith; but to believe without searching argues great indifference, and Is building without a foundation. The Scriptures were always considered a deep mine, even when they consisted of only the five Books of Moses. David meditated in the law of the Lord “day and night.” It was to his spiritual growth as water is to a tree.
Do not imagine you understand enough of the Bible; or because you have assented to a few truths, therefore you are in possession of all.—Paul desired to know yet more. Angels desire to look into the things revealed there. David intimates that the law contains “wondrous things,” and prays that his mind might be enlightened to comprehend them. A spiritual state of mind is the best expositor, and more is discovered with it, in a few verses, than in whole chapters without it.
Do not be content with general truth.—Study the Scriptures minutely, and for yourself, and pray over your study. This will make it your own; and it will be doubly interesting to yourself and your people, than if you adopt it at second hand.—Read and think, not merely as a minister, but as a Christian.
“Give yourself wholly to them.”—No man can excel in any art or science, but by giving himself wholly to it. Why is it one understands law? Because he gives himself wholly to it. Why is it another understands physic? Because he gives himself wholly to it. Why do rulers understand government? Because “they attend continually upon this very thing.” And though Divine knowledge differs in some things from that which is natural and worldly, yet not in this. It is by constant application and use that our senses discern truth from error, and good from evil, Heb. 5:14. And you must not only give your whole time to this study, but your whole heart.
“Be thou in them.”—It is a shocking thing to be engaged in a work which is against the heart. It is not what we think officially, but spontaneously, that proves what we are: not what we do at certain appointed seasons; but the bent of our minds in common, in our leisure hours, when we sit in the house, or walk by the way. Engaging in the work without the heart is the forerunner and cause of many scandals. Time hangs heavy on their hands—they saunter and gossip from place to place—scandalize and listen to scandal—and not seldom terminate their career by impurity.
“Take heed to thyself.”—It were an awful thing to guide others to the right way, and not walk in it ourselves. See that all is right between God and your own soul. Public religion, without that which is private and personal, is worse than no religion. We had better be any thing than preachers of the gospel, unless we be personally interested in it.
“And to thy doctrine.”—There is great danger of going off from the gospel—perhaps in submission to great authorities, or to please the people. That minister who makes the taste of his hearers the standard of his preaching may go on, and succeed in pleasing them and himself; but, at the coming of his Lord, it will be said to him, Thou hast had thy reward!
There is also danger of going off from the gospel by leaning to our own understanding. Consult your own understanding; but remember you are liable to err; therefore do not lean to it, in opposition to the Scriptures.
Finally, “Continue in these things.”—That only is true religion which endures to the end.
II. Let us consider the motives by which the exhortation is enforced.
1. Your growth in gifts and graces will be hereby apparent.—“That thy profiting may appear to all.” The meaning is much the same as the parable of the talents—five, by improvement, gaining other five. It holds true in temporal things even, Prov. 22:29. There is, however, this difference between their pursuits and yours: they labour to obtain an earthly good; you a heavenly, spiritual, and eternal one. If worldly profit or honour were your object, you might study the embellishments of style, or the arts of the partisan; but if you would be the servant of God, your heart must be in your work. A diligent minister will be a useful one.
2. Your own salvation is involved in it:—“Thou shalt save thyself.” This language does not denote that we are the cause of our own salvation any more than of the salvation of others. But as we may be instrumental in the latter, so we may be active in the former, Acts 2:40. Take refuge in the Saviour you recommend to others. The expression may also have reference to that particular kind of salvation which consists in being delivered from the blood of souls.
3. The salvation of your people may be involved in it.—A spiritual, diligent minister is commonly a fruitful one, and a blessing to his people. Consider these exhortations, and the motives by which they are enforced, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things. Thus thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.
Excerpt from: “Habitual Devotedness to Ministry the Ministry,” In Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 506–508). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.