The enemies of the doctrines of grace are Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Synergism, Arminianism, Amyraldianism, etc. But there is another enemy … apathy. There are those who may grant that these doctrines are true but they have no heart for them. The doctrines of grace are not essential, they say, and their importance in preaching and catechizing is questioned. Can we not just preach the “simple” gospel?
The Westminster Confession and Catechisms are, of course, of a different mind, as are the Three Forms of Unity, especially the Canons of Dordt. God’s sovereign grace was the reason the Reformers seceded from the apostate Roman Church. The pre-Reformers, Wycliffe and Hus, proclaimed God as the sovereign Saviour. In the ninth century, Gottschalk rotted in prison for nearly twenty years for the truth of double predestination. Before this, Augustine in the fifth century steadfastly taught the mighty grace of God.
This teaching of God’s sovereignty is taken, of course, from the Holy Scriptures. It is taught from Genesis to Revelation, with the apostle Paul being preeminently, as Augustine puts it, “the preacher of grace.”1 In his letters, he inculcates these doctrines in the churches (particularly Romans, Ephesians and I Thessalonians) and Paul’s second canonical epistle to Timothy is also instructive in this regard.
The apostle is imprisoned in a Roman cell (1:8) and fettered as a criminal (1:16; 2:9). Evidently he is cold and short of good reading material (4:13). He is under no illusions; he knows he will be executed: “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (4:6). He has no soul-torturing regrets: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (4:7). For him, to live had been Christ and so now to die would be gain: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” (4:8).
Paul was a man of foresight and vision. He, the apostle and teacher of the Gentiles (1:12), was to pass into another world. As a wise master builder, he would use his last letters to guard against the intrusion of wood, hay and stubble upon the foundation of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 3:11-12). At stake was the preservation of the church of Christ and the continuation of the gospel in this wicked world. There had already been apostasy in Asia (present day Turkey) and heretics had arisen (II Tim. 1:15; 2:17-18). Paul knew that the messianic kingdom did not preclude the power of evil in this present age (3:1-13). In Christian congregations, the time will come, he told Timothy, when they will no longer endure sound doctrine but will, after their own lusts, heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears (4:3-4).
Paul wrote to Timothy, to gird him with strength for the battle (2:3) and urge him to steadfast perseverance in the gospel (1:13-14; 3:14). The struggle would be great, the truth would be assailed and all the godly would be persecuted (3:12). There would be temptation to “trim” the gospel, to knock off its rough edges, in order to gain it more acceptance but “the form of sound words” must be held fast (1:13). Timothy had spent much time with Paul, and Paul, of course, knew that Timothy was convicted of the truth of the gospel. In his last letter, the inspired apostle would underscore these things to Timothy and the whole Christian church.
Paul greets his younger brother in the faith with great affection in Christ, assuring him of his prayers and desire to see him (1:1-5). He stirs him up to zeal for the gospel (1:6f.). God’s salvation has its fountain in His eternal purpose (1:9), is manifested in the incarnation and victorious resurrection of Christ (1:10), and is preached to the nations (1:11). Christ’s atonement and the church’s preaching are efficacious and powerful (1:8) to those eternally loved in Him. Our salvation and calling are according to God’s gracious purpose “before the world began” (1:9). God’s decree to save is effected by means of Christ’s cross (1:9-10). This was the message the apostle preached and taught the Gentiles (1:11). The elect heard the preaching and were saved “through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15). This salvation was wholly of God, who “saved us, and called us with a holy calling.” To make all misconception impossible, Paul added, “not according to our works” (1:9). It is no wonder that the apostle was not ashamed (1:12) and Timothy must not be either (1:8). To those eternally chosen in Christ, God gives His grace and Holy Spirit (1:6-7, 9).
This gospel, “the form of sound words,” in all its riches and in all its parts, must be held fast (1:13). However, this gospel also brings affliction and can only be kept in faith and love, by the Holy Ghost, the power of God, who dwells in us (1:7, 13-14).2 He is the One who works Christ’s salvation in us, and He is the One who must preserve His word in our hearts. Phygellus and Hermogenes were (inwardly) strangers to this grace and apostatized (1:15), but God had been faithful in Timothy’s covenant line (1:5) and has always preserved His church (1:3).
This gospel was to be maintained by Timothy: “Therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus” (2:1). Paul was also concerned for the future church. The generations to come must hear the pure gospel: “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2:2). This is the true apostolic succession!
The apostle preached his “Calvinism” (to use an anachronism); he did not merely say that he held these truths.3 Moreover, his “Calvinism” influenced and governed how he worked. Thus, in his suffering, he was comforted in the knowledge that His gracious Father, who was sovereign over all things, had ordained them as a means of saving His elect (2:8-10).
Likewise, God’s sovereignty in salvation was his consolation and anchor when professing Christians erred in doctrine. Hymenaeus and Philetus taught a heretical view of the resurrection and some had followed them (2:17-18). The apostle knew that in all this God would preserve His people for “the foundation of the Lord standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2:19).
This, of course, did not lead to a sinful slackness in Paul, for he immediately exhorts, “Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2:19), before giving several other commands (2:20-23) and explaining how to instruct those entrenched in error (2:24-26). The apostle urges the Christian minister, as “the servant of the Lord,” to gentleness, patience and meekness, in keeping with the doctrines of grace (2:24-25). The “opponent” is to be viewed as primarily opposing himself rather than the pastor (2:25), for he is ensnared by the devil (2:26). His “repentance to the knowledge of the truth” is totally dependent upon the will of the Almighty (2:25).
The doctrines of the bondage of the will (2:26) and God’s sovereignty in salvation (2:25), instead of being a hindrance to true evangelism, are rather its crucial presuppositions.4 God’s sovereign grace and man’s accountability and responsibility to obey the living and true God are interwoven in II Timothy. The truth of God’s grace must be maintained, confessed and preached in the church.5 Paul commanded Timothy and, indeed, all Christian ministers: “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (4:1-2).
Just as he opened his letter to Timothy with grace (1:2), Paul closed by writing, “The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen” (4:22).
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