1 Tim. 6. 12.
"Laying Hold on Eternal Life." What is it?
by Ephraim Venn
AMONGST the many seasonable exhortations given by Paul the aged to his youthful son Timothy, we get the twice repeated words, "Lay hold on eternal life."
The double use of this expression in chapter vi. might intimate that such teaching would be specially needed by the saints, amidst the abounding perils of the last days, when love of self, and love of silver, and love of pleasures become the great features of the times, and the "love of His appearing" is, alas! too often supplanted by the "love of this present evil age" (see 2 Tim. iii. 1-4; iv. 8-10).
It also shows the importance of "affirming constantly" the "word in season," not because it is palatable, but "good and profitable to men." A further lesson, however, seems to be, that truth, which is specially called for at any period, is of the widest application, being needed by every class alike.
Eternal life here I judge to mean that "which pertains to life and godliness," that which is life indeed; the danger is to let this go in favour of "the life that now is," and therefore, those who desire to be rich, and "those who are rich in this present age," are equally exhorted to lay hold on eternal life. But while the end to be attained is the same, the word must be rightly divided, and fitly spoken in each case.
1. In the early part of the chapter, the apostle exhorts servants to do service to their "believing masters" with due respect, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed. These are "wholesome words," and well fitted to check the swelling restlessness of the heart's pride and vanity, which is ever ready to suppose '"that gain is godliness," or even to make a gain out of godliness.
How many amongst us whom the Lord has called in that honourable position, and have served the Lord Christ, abiding therein with God, have nevertheless made shipwreck upon this sunken rock! When once the soul gets away from the Lord, it is no longer possible, "having food and raiment, to be therewith content." The heart wanders, and the eye begins to "look out" for a "better situation" with "more money," which is ofttimes obtained, regardless of spiritual considerations, at the expense of Christian privileges, and pursued with present damage and eternal loss to the soul.
Well might Paul, who had joyfully suffered the loss of all things, counting them dung, that he might gain Christ, remind all who are anxiously seeking to "better" themselves at such a cost, that "we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." May the Lord help us, beloved, to beware of that which can only "cast us down from our excellency," knowing that "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Therefore "godliness with contentment is great gain."
But this applies more widely, since "they that will be rich" are not confined to any one class, nor are they chiefly found amongst those already spoken of. "The love of money" is, we fear, a wide-spread malady, and even amongst saints, alas! "Some have coveted after" the mammon of unrighteousness, to their sorrow and loss. Lot, Achan, Gehazi, and such like examples solemnly show that "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house" (Prov. xv. 27). And in our own day, how often have our hearts mourned for those who have "erred from the faith" through greed of gold, plunging themselves headlong into the all-engrossing race for riches, so common around us "falling into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts," they have "pierced themselves through with many sorrows." O beloved saints! there is a crying need just now of a faithful reminder of our subtle danger. May the Lord deliver His own people from the deadly curse of covetousness, that, like Abraham, we may be content to let the earthly-minded choose their portion in the well-watered plains of this Sodom-world, whilst we find in God, our shield and our exceeding great reward.
There is yet a special use for the words "Lay hold on eternal life." Even the "man of God," whose business it is to stand for God here below, and witness a good confession, where "all men seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ," he feels the conflict of "things on the earth" with "things above," and needs the exhortation, "Flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life." Yes, beloved brethren, we must flee, follow, and fight, if we would lay hold; we must let go the earthly to lay hold of the heavenly. But we must be often in the sanctuary of God, or, like Asaph, we shall be envious at the prosperity of the wicked, rather than laying hold of God as the "Strength of our heart, and our portion for ever" (Psalm lxxiii.). O for a closer acquaintance with the heart of Christ, that we may be satisfied in Him, so shall we be "content with such things as we have;" our minds and hearts will be at leisure from "earthly things" and set on things above. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance, and of my cup; Thou maintainest my lot." Here is blessing beyond conception—blessing without end.
In verse 19, the same expression occurs in connection with those "that are rich in this age." From the charge here given to such, we conclude that, though riches are called "that which is not" (Prov, xxiii. 5)—i.e., uncertain in their possession—they are not in themselves necessarily a "root of all evil."
The evil lies in the immoderate lust for possession, the anxiety to rise in the world; the sin is in the will to be rich, the love of the money, the coveting after it. "He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye" (Prov, xxviii. 22). The eye fixed on earth can never look above the well-watered plains of Sodom (Gen. xiii. 10), and "where the treasure is, there will the heart be also." Then, in its possession, the curse is either in trusting in it or the wrong use of it.
In Proverbs xxiii. 4, 5, we are warned against both these evils. "Labour not to be rich; cease from thine own wisdom;" this surely applies to the former evil. "Wilt thou set thine eyes (cause thine eyes to fly, margin) upon that which is not? for riches certainly make to themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards heaven." It would seem that the apostle referred to this when charging the rich that "they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches. On the one hand, he saw a selfish willingness to possess them, and on the other, he discerned a sad willingness to part with them. Yet how does he combat this double vice of covetousness and idolatry? Not by asserting that gold is only yellow earth, a mere nonentity, and therefore not worth possessing, but by telling them that "the love of money is the root of all evil;" that it has caused some to "err from the faith,” and that at best, it is a mere uncertainty alongside of the "living God," who gives us richly all things—not to hoard—but to enjoy." He puts the stamp of vanity on the treasured idol, that they may learn to fix the heart on a better and an enduring substance.
He informs us that we can carry nothing, out of the world, not that he would have us like "the fool and brutish person, who leave their wealth to others" (Ps. xlix. 10), but suggests that as the traveller to distant lands, packs up and sends on his luggage before him for future requirements, so should those who are rich in this life "lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come."
That which to love is sin, to covet is idolatry, to trust in is folly, and to misuse is a curse, when rightly applied, becomes an unspeakable blessing. Thus, when those among us, having this world's goods, are delivered from the engrossing fetters of their possessions, and are ready to distribute to those that have need, they become rich in good works also. When by grace they "are willing to communicate," whether to the poor saints, or to the spread of Christ's Gospel, or otherwise, as the Lord directs, they not only "do good," but make to themselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, for everlasting habitations (Luke xvi. 9). The same is true, of course, of every one who gives as the Lord has prospered him, for "the Lord loveth a cheerful giver," and "the liberal soul shall be made fat."
Lastly, these exhortations remind us of the sad degeneracy of these last days from the unselfish love seen for a little while at the beginning of the Church's history; yet do they kindle the hope that our hearts might again be freed from the entangling affairs of this life, fired with the constraining love of Christ, and filled with the blessed hope of His appearing; that whether our lot here be poverty or riches, we may fight the good fight of faith, and "lay hold on eternal life."
“The Witness” 1896