The Call to Witness
Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,—II TIMOTHY 1:8-9.
ALTHOUGH God shows His glory and majesty in the gospel, yet the unthankfulness of men is such, that we have need to be exhorted, not to be ashamed of this gospel. And why so? Because God requires all creatures to do Him homage: yet the greater part rebel against Him; despise, yea, and are at defiance with the doctrine whereby He would be known and worshipped. Although men are so wicked as to lift up themselves against their Maker, let us, notwithstanding, remember that which is taught us in this place; to wit, that we be not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the witness of God.
If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, buried. Therefore, let us stand as witnesses, and do Him this honor, when we see all the world so far out of the way; and remain steadfast in this wholesome doctrine. St. Paul here setteth his own person before us: not that he wished particularly to be approved, but because we often get in difficulty, if we separate ourselves from the servants of God. When there is a minister of the Word of God troubled, molested, and persecuted, we are apt to forsake him in time of need, thinking it is but mortal man: but in doing this, we offend God; because this man that suffereth, beareth the mark of the gospel: thus the cause of God is betrayed. Therefore, St. Paul saith to Timothy, be not ashamed of me.
The mind of Timothy might have been shaken; therefore, St. Paul saith to him, though the world despise me, though they mock and hate me, yet must thou not be moved by these things; for I am the prisoner of Jesus Christ. Let the world speak evil of me; it is not for my offences: God alloweth my cause; for indeed it is His. I suffer not for mine own evil doings, having His truth always on my side. Therefore, the cause of my persecution is, because I have maintained the Word of God, and continue to maintain it. Thou shouldest not be guided by the world’s judgment, for men are carried away with evil affections. Let it be sufficient for thee then, that I am as it were a pledge for the Son of God; that He magnifieth my person; that if it be reproachful to the world, it ceases not to be honored before God, and His holy angels.
Let us not deceive Jesus Christ in the testimony we owe Him, by stopping our mouths, when it is needful to maintain His honor, and the authority of His gospel. Yea, and when we see our brethren afflicted for the cause of God, let us join with them, and assist them in their affliction. Let us not be shaken by the tempests that arise, but let us always remain constant in our purpose; and stand as witnesses for the Son of God, seeing He is so gracious as to use us in such a good cause. Let us mark well, whether men suffer for their sins, or for the truth of God. When we see one oppressed, we must not despise him, lest we do injury to God: we must ascertain for what cause men suffer. If they have walked in a good conscience, and are blamed, if they are tormented because they serve God, this is enough to remove whatever the wicked world can say against them. Therefore St. Paul adds, "Be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel."
There is no man but what would willingly escape affliction; this is according to human nature; and although we confess, without dissembling, that it is a singular grace which God bestows, when He enables men to bear affliction, and maintain His cause, yet there is not one of us, but what would willingly draw his neck out of persecution. For we look not at the lesson given by St. Paul, which saith, the gospel bringeth troubles. Jesus Christ was crucified in His own person, and His doctrine is joined with many miseries. He could, if it pleased Him, cause His doctrine to be received without any gainsaying. But the Scripture must be fulfilled: "Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies" (Psalm 110).
We must come to Him upon this condition; to be willing to suffer many bickerings; because the wicked lift up themselves against God, when He calleth them to Him. Therefore, it is impossible for us to have the gospel without affliction. We must be exercised; we must fight under our Lord Jesus Christ. Doth he not then renounce his salvation, that would get rid of the cross of Christ? What is the hope of life? Only in this, that we are bought by the sacrifice of the Son of God. Then will He have us made like unto Him, and have us transformed into His image.
We must not be ashamed of our brethren; when we hear evil reports of them, and see them cast off by the world, let us always be with them, and endeavor to strengthen them; for the gospel cannot be without affliction; as I have already said. It pleaseth God, that men should be so divided. But He calleth all to the unity of faith; and the doctrine of the gospel is the message of atonement; but yet the faithful are drawn by the virtue of His Holy Spirit (as we shall notice more particularly hereafter) ; but the unbelievers remain in their hardness: thus the fire kindleth; as when thunder engendereth in the air, there must needs be trouble; so it is when the gospel is preached.