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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 obtain 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 show 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."
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 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.
• Τον αγώνα τον καλον ἡγωνισμαι. στεφανεται, εαν μη νομίμως αθληση,
Εαν δε και αθλη τις, 8
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 shown 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 strive, 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, and a steady practice of virtue. Hopes of preferment in times of ease and prosperity may be as dangerous and ensnaring as fears of death, or of the loss of goods, in a time of persecution. Yea both these temptations usually meet. The strictly conscientious must in most times forego some advantages, which might be obtained, and incur some inconveniences,
• Pool's Annotations.
which might be avoided by compliances, not reconcileable 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 wé 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 many allusions to them in the books of the New Testament, it is not the design of the sacred writers to recommend or justify those diver sions. They only intend to recommend to christians that zeal, diligence, activity, and perseverance, in the cause of truth and virtue, which they showed who had a part in those exercises. But those persons might not be altogether innocent in the principle they acted upon, nor in all their actions. Their principle might be ambition or vain glory. And in some of their combats the action might be detrimental to the antagonist.
But the exercise of faith is perfectly innocent. It pro ceeds from no bad principle. It is injurious to none.
principles it maintains and contends for, are certain truths, built upon sure evidence. And they have no bad tendencies. The principles of the gospel inspire not men with any hurtful designs. The actions, which they recommend, are all reasonable and beneficial. Nor are they who exercise in this exercise moved by envy and ill-will to any; nor yet by an exorbitant love of gain; nor by pride, or ambition of worldly honour.
2. It is good, inasmuch as it is worthy and important, not mean and trifling.
The celebrated contentions to which the apostle alludes, though in so much repute, were trifling, in comparison of this exercise of faith. They consisted chiefly in the show of bodily strength, and some skill in matters of small moment. But they who exercise the exercise of faith are employed in matters of great value. The principles which they maintain, and resolutely refuse to deny, are truths of great importance. And they are engaged in designs and actions of much moment; governing the affections, with regard to all the sensible things of this life, and ordering the whole of the conversation, according to the rules of right reason. This is much more considerable than all the exploits of the Grecian combatants.
3. Consequently, the exercise of faith is a good exercise, as it is very honourable.
Though christians were then had in contempt, and their faith was ridiculed, the apostle calls the "exercise of faith," that is, steadiness in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue, a good exercise. It is a thing of more true honour than the combats so much applauded at that time in many parts of the world. It is a thing of vast difficulty. And it depends upon a very noble resolution and firmness of mind. The greatest offers which the world can make, and the worst evils which it can inflict, are oftentimes set before men, to induce them to desert the interest of known truth, and transgress the rules of virtue; and their compliance is solicited with long and tiresome importunity, and all the arts, most suited to gain the consent against the convictions of conscience; or to silence its dictates and remonstrances. To be fixed and immovable in the way of virtue upon such occasions is very honourable. Yea, not only for men thus to exert themselves on some special and extraordinary occasions, as the Olympic combatants did in the time of their solemnity, and the preparatory exercises, possibly, of some few months or years continuance; but to maintain and carry on this exercise of faith, a steady regard to the princi
ples and rules of the gospel throughout the whole life, in the various and trying occurrences of it, amidst allurements and discouragements. This is truly honourable and commendable.
4. The exercise of faith is a good exercise, with regard to its event, as it has a good reward annexed to it.
That reward is now distant, and out of sight. It is not bestowed here. But it is very sure; and it is great and transcendent. In allusion to the custom of the Grecian games, the apostle sometimes calls the reward of virtue a crown; but he gives it the preference greatly above the crowns, or garlands of the Olympic victors. And we ought to do the same; though we should take in other advantages annexed to it; some distinguished honours and privileges in the cities where they dwelt. "Now they do it," says he, "to obtain a corruptible crown; we, an incorruptible," 1 Cor. ix. 25. And St. Peter assures the elders who behave well, that "when the chief Shepherd shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away," 1 Pet. v. 4.
That is justly styled a good exercise, which has a good reward annexed to it.
5. It is a good exercise, as all who perform it are entitled to the reward of eternal life.
This is a singular advantage, peculiar to the exercise which has been instituted by the Lord of all; men, however willing and large-hearted, being obliged to limit the recompences, which they propose to such as they would encourage, according to the proportion of their small abilities. This circumstance is particularly taken notice of in a text before cited. "Know ye not, that they which run in a race, run all; but one receiveth the prize. So run, that ye may obtain ;" that is, that ye may all obtain, 1 Cor. ix. 24.
In those Olympic exercises, whether of race or combat, one only in each received a prize, even the victor. But in the christian race and combat every one is victor who performs well. Every one that denies himself, and, notwithstanding the temptations of this world, is steady in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue, is a conqueror, and shall receive a crown of righteousness from the righteous judge.
6. Once more, the exercise of faith is a good exercise, on account of the supports and encouragements afforded to those who undertake it.
They are encouraged by the greatness of the reward proposed to them by him who is able to do more than we think