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Among the Last of the Sermons in Aberystwyth – Part 2

Category Articles
Date August 10, 2016


2 Timothy 4:9-15, 19-22. ‘Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him because he strongly opposed our message . . . Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.’

These are the last words written by the apostle Paul, about the year 64, and perhaps in the Marmetine prison in Rome, written in one of its dungeons, or even one of its caves with a hole in the roof through which you would be lowered on a rope to the cave floor. Was it as grim as that? Maybe, and yet it was there he wrote this letter and expressed his great hope for the future of meeting his Saviour and receiving his reward. Then you see he ends his theological instruction, moral exhortations, encouragements and warnings to Timothy the pastor in Ephesus, with a few simple requests. Read these words often. I think that here is nothing like them for a minister handing over the church he has pastored to another preacher.

Now Paul was an apostle, and as an apostle he had certain miraculous gifts – no one in the world has possessed such gifts since the time of the apostles though a few have made such fanciful claims. They were apostolic gifts. Paul writes to the Corinthians reminding them of their existence. ‘The things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance’ (2 Corinthians 12:12). One of the consequences of possessing such powers was that the church has inherited thirteen or so infallible letters –

Paul having been guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit to write exactly what God wanted him to write. There were other such signs that he was also able to perform, for example, when a young man named Eutychus fell asleep at midnight as Paul was preaching and he fell out of a second floor window. Initially it seemed that the man had been killed by the fall, but Paul went down to him and the apostle raised him up. Of course wonders have occurred at every age in every congregation for the last 2,000 years but there is no man we can send for who can cure the woman who has Alzheimers or the man who has Downs.

Now we are not sure how such apostolic signs ‘worked.’ It was certainly not true that no Christian in his congregation was ever ill, and no church member died – that never happened even with Jesus the Son of God in Galilee. Paul did not put the grave-diggers in the places where he preached out of a job. Why am I saying all this? Because here we are told in verse 20 that Paul had left a man called Trophimus sick in Miletus. He did not raise him up and heal him. He left him there to recuperate.  We know that he told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his many infirmities. So we are not sure how and when Paul exercised his miraculous gifts, but he did so, I suppose quite unconsciously, whenever he wrote his letters.

Certainly we know that the apostle had a flesh and blood existence in the world, that Paul was open to inspection and examination, and that in some respects he did not make a very powerful impression on people. His critics dismissed him saying that his ‘bodily presence is weak, and his speech is contemptible’. He had no charisma like a John Wayne entering a western saloon and the conversation all stopping, glasses suspended in their hands above the tables, and heads slowly turning to see who it is that’s come into the room. You wouldn’t know the fact that Paul had slipped into a room. And he was no orator as Peter was. There was no hint of rabble rousing in his sermons. He was a man of like passions as ourselves, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. And in these closing verses of this letter we see as clearly this truth as anywhere in his epistles or in the book of Acts. Here is the man Paul with the same human desires and longings and fears that every Christian possesses. Paul was a sinner saved by grace, dependent, as we are day by day, on the means God provided for grace coming to us helping and strengthening us to follow Christ. He shows us the parameters of desire and concern that all of us have who live the Christian life. Let us look at his longings as expressed in the final words of this letter.


Paul was evidently a people person. Here are the names of seventeen people, all except Claudia and Priscilla being men. If you look at the last chapter of his letter to the Romans you find him listing the names of many more people whom he’s greeting or whose greetings he is passing on to the congregation in Rome that at that time he had not visited. In fact he mentions in total about a hundred people in Acts and the letters. Paul was no monk; he was not someone who buried himself in his study, coming to the services and then speedily returning to his own quarters again. He is the world’s letter-writer par excellence. When he wrote here to Timothy he told him twice to ‘do his best’ to do something, in verses 9 and 21. What was Timothy to strive with all his powers to do? It was simply to visit Paul, on the first occasion he exhorts him to come quickly, and in the second place to come before winter. Paul needed to see him soon. Don’t wait until winter when there would be no sailing from Turkey to Greece and Rome. Come before then. It was a tough time for Paul, and tough times call for tough friends.

Paul has begun this letter telling Timothy of his affection for him, ‘Recalling your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy’ (2 Timothy 1:3). Now at the letter’s end he presses on Timothy to come quickly, and soon. It’s not the typical portrait you have of Paul any more than the images we have of John Calvin or John Owen or John Knox; they are portrayed as rather stern and unaffectionate men. We don’t know how wrong we are. We have just enough revealed to us here to underline the fact we’re not dealing with an angel or a robot but with a human being.

People in the UK are getting used to the fact that they have a new Prime Minister who is a woman. We pray for her and we note that she’s already been christened by some of the press as the ‘ice maiden.’ The press wants touchy feely people everywhere. In the past decades we’ve witnessed this ghastly process of what the world calls ‘humanization,’ in other words, our leaders falling over themselves to show the so-called softer side, the ‘real’ them. Politicians tweet endlessly, elevating the trivial and trivializing themselves; ‘we’re just like you’ they’re insisting – except that they have larger expense accounts. The mob bays for more access and insight into leading figures. The world also wants preachers who talk about their children and their families, and prime ministers who give (for a handsome fee) 17 page exposés of life with their families and scores of shots of their new babies in Hello magazine. ‘Show us more!’ is the cry. But the new prime minister doesn’t. There is a certain decorum. When the sheen of what is private and personal is rubbed away so too is the sheen of respect, and soon eggs will be thrown at them.

Now we are fascinated that in the passage before us Paul opens his heart and tells us a few things about himself, that he was missing companionship, and some creature comforts and mental stimulus. So far he goes in sharing this with us, but little further. Then a force field of inscrutability is raised against the prying gaze or the personal question. Paul would never have gone on the first century equivalent of the chat-show circuit. He and Timothy didn’t do the equivalent of selfies. ‘I’ll tell you this about myself, but no more simply to satisfy idle curiosity. But I will tell you that I am missing you Timothy and some creature comforts and mental stimulus, but I do have the Lord with my spirit.’

Do you best to come quickly . . . come before winter.’ A man named Armand Walker was a student in the Jefferson Medical College, and in the 1930s he heard a famous sermon on this very passage preached by Dr. Clarence McCartney; the text was ‘Do your best to get here before winter,’ and the text lingered in his mind as he walked back home after the morning service. After dinner he said to himself, ‘I had better write a letter home to my mother. She’s not been well. Perhaps the winter of departure is near her.’ Evidently there were things he should have said to her before that time.  Perhaps there was an apology that he needed to express to her, whatever it was, and so he sat down and he wrote his letter. Two days later he was in college, and a telegram came, and it was about his mother, and it said she was gravely ill, and he left for home immediately, but when he got to his mother she was still alive. She saw him enter her room, and there was a smile of recognition and satisfaction on her face. Under her pillow lay a treasured possession, the loving letter her son had written after that Sunday sermon. It had cheered her and still comforted her as she was entering the valley of the shadow of death.

Many of us (and I’m certainly one of them) have regrets when loved ones have died and we hadn’t been there. We hadn’t been able to say those last things we wanted to say. What an opportunity this afternoon perhaps, to write that letter to someone in your circle . . . to someone perhaps with whom you’ve had disagreements . . . before winter comes, before it’s too late to write that little word and do what Paul is desirous of doing here.

Then we see that Paul also tells Timothy to urge John Mark to come with him, and bring him along too, ‘because he is helpful to me in my ministry’ (v.11). Now, that’s a beautiful thing, because from the book of Acts we have learned that Paul and John Mark had not hit it off. There had been a disagreement between them. Paul felt deeply let down by John Mark when Mark, on the island of Cyprus on that first missionary journey, went back home instead of going on with Paul. Then when it came to the second missionary journey, Paul didn’t want to take John Mark with him, and if it hadn’t been for Barnabas, ‘the son of encouragement’ – if it hadn’t been for him – then who knows what would have happened to John Mark – the man who a little later wrote the gospel of Mark. But now at the end of Paul’s life, that rift – whoever’s fault it was – that rift had been healed. There’s a lesson! What a lesson! There’s been reconciliation and friendship restored, and Paul is saying to Timothy, ‘Come before winter, and bring John Mark with you, because I want to see him just one more time and he helps me.’

This need of companionship was especially important because of the people who were no longer there helping Paul. ‘Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.’  Tychicus has been sent to Ephesus. If Timothy is going to come from Ephesus to Rome, at Paul’s request, then Paul is sending Tychicus to take charge of things in Ephesus once Timothy has gone. Then there is also the hurt of old friend Demas’ jumping ship. Demas was a fellow worker of the apostle. He’s mentioned warmly in Paul’s correspondence to the Colossians and to Philemon, as a man of such potential and leadership, but now he’s fallen in love with the present unbelieving world system. Perhaps the threat of persecution and death was too much for Demas, that’s why he’s gone. It pains the apostle Paul. Handley Moule suggests of Demas that ‘he was smitten with cowardice in Nero’s reign of terror.’ Maybe. Perhaps that’s too harsh a judgment. He has certainly moved on to a community where there was a strong church. But the years have a way of taking our ideals away, of making us satisfied with less, we lower our standards very subtly so that we hope others don’t notice it. I think that that has happened to some of us; it might have happened to me.

Now when God made Adam he said, ‘It is not good for a man to be alone,’ and he made a companion for Adam; he created Eve. God himself has never known aloneness. With God the Father there has always been God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There’s never been a time when there was not fellowship and communion and love in God, before any act of creation. But God has made man who was unlike himself, all alone, and God quickly corrects what he has done and he says, ‘This isn’t good. I will make him a helper who will be perfect for him.’ Human friendship is part of the provision of God for human beings. There is no substitute for it. You admit people into your friendship and you admit them into the formation of your characters. Maybe there are people who glory in their loneliness and never welcome another person into the place they live. That is not good. Paul was not like that; he knew it was not good for him to be alone. That was so particularly when Paul was meeting fierce opposition. At such times you need your friends more than ever. ‘Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him because he strongly opposed our message’ (vv. 14&15). I read the two volumes of the life of Dr. Lloyd-Jones and the one volume life of Dr. Cornelius Van Til and it was not until I had completed those books did I realize how lonely those great men were, and how few people understood and appreciated what they were doing, and how they felt neglected. I thought they were so immensely famous and successful and admired that they would never feel that theirs was a lonely path, and I sadly acknowledge that I could debate and argue with Dr. Lloyd-Jones in my almost school-boy folly. How much I regret that now. He gave little clues to his appreciation of receiving encouragement. Almost fifty years ago he had cancer and resigned from Westminster Chapel and I wrote to him then and said to him how much we were thankful to God for him and praying for him at this time. He kept my letter! He kept it . . . it is there in the Lloyd-Jones archives in the National Library of Wales here in Aberystwyth today. People have actually made photocopies of my letter and sent it to me. I wish I had more boldly sought to be his companion, but I didn’t know how. I was immature. He was always my role model and the finest preacher I ever heard, by a mile. What future regrets lie before all of us that we did not show more appreciation and affection to older Christians. How few friends we have in life and how we need to nurture the friendships we are in. It is so easy to end a friendship, to take offence, either imaginary or real. A gentle answer turns wrath away. Be slow to speak and swift to hear. Overcome men’s evil with your good.


Paul tells Timothy, ‘When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas’ (v.13). Here we see Paul’s desire for warm clothes. Isn’t that a strange thing? It is strange in a couple of different ways. What was the congregation in Rome doing? Was there not one elder, one brave man who would go to the prison and take a blanket to Paul? Why this Christian inactivity that he has to ask Timothy to travel for four to six months from Turkey and bring him something to keep him warm? Then it is also fascinating for this reason. Paul tells the Philippian church that he had learned in whatever state he was in to be content, and that should be the desire for every Christian, concerning our health or our salary or the home and place in which we live. We are to be content. Godliness with contentment is great gain. We do this initially by saying to God, ‘Thy will be done.’ But that does not make us fatalists. Paul doesn’t say to slaves simply that God has ordered their estate and they should accept their slavery. If they can obtain their freedom Paul then he urges them to do so. If we can improve the conditions of ourselves and our families then we have a duty to do so. We are to live somewhere between acceptance of everything that God allows us and a desire to improve ourselves and our conditions. The apostle in his prison cell was content, aware that God had put him in that cell in the Marmetine prison. He writes to the Philippians from another incarceration, ‘what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel . . . that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body whether by life or death’ (Phils. 1:12&20), and yet amongst his dying words, he would say ‘Could you bring me that overcoat.’

He’s in this prison . . . it’s cold. People on holiday can visit the Marmetine Prison in Rome. I’ve never been there. I suppose in one’s imagination it’s a bit like visiting the dungeons in the Tower of London. Paul was in a cavern of some kind where condemned prisoners were briefly housed. There was no sunlight, it was probably damp and cold; the kind of chill, you know, that gets right into the bones, that encourages tuberculosis and pneumonia. And Paul, even though he has expressed in this very chapter that he has finished the course and that he is ready, as it were, to go to his heavenly Father, yet he may last through another winter. His letter will take weeks to reach Timothy and Timothy will take months to reach Rome and so he is no thinking of an immanent execution. So there are other letters he could write and other soldiers to speak to. He has to look after his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit and so he needs a warm coat.

Evidently some deliverance had already taken place. He tells us that like Daniel in Babylon he has been delivered from the lion’s mouth (v.17), (and he’s not speaking of the amphitheater. I guess it’s a code for the Emperor Nero). ‘So Timothy  . . .  if you’re going to be able to come and see me – before winter if possible – when you pass through Troas pick up my cloak. You’d think that Timothy would buy a cloak for him in Rome. I suppose that Troas was the place where Paul was finally arrested and brought again to Rome. The cloak would be a kind of a poncho, circular with a hole in the middle that you put your head through, and it would be made of some material that would keep the cold at bay – his favourite coat.

What does that say to us?  This human being, Paul, was a very practical man. That dimension of his life was enhanced when he became a Christian not diminished. Here is this man who has written half the New Testament, this man who writes on doctrines that thousands and thousands and thousands of books in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth are unable to fully explain, this man who has traveled all around the known world who was content to accept the will of God of whom and through whom and to whom are all things, and yet he’s concerned about a coat! And God the Holy Spirit, through a letter of Paul, is concerned about the apostle having his overcoat in the prison cell? It’s saying that true godliness and real spirituality have a practical dimension to them. You’re thinking of going to Kenya? Then pack some malaria tablets with you. Don’t let the tap water there enter your mouth even when you brush your teeth. Use bottled water. Again, after shaking hands with everyone at the close of the morning service wash your hands before you eat. Christianity is practical.


The apostle says to Timothy, ‘When you come, bring . . . my scrolls, especially the parchments’ (v.13) . Isn’t that fascinating? Paul is probably in the Marmetine Prison; he may well be chained to a bored soldier for that man’s four hour watch, or maybe one or two of his guards would be interested in his message though the opening words of others would be, ‘Do you know any dirty jokes?’ But Paul is concerned about books, or parchments, maybe codices, in other words a collection of papyrus sheets with a cover, rather than a scroll. What might these have been? What did they contain? Some have conjectured that they might have been Greek philosophical writings. I hardly think so. Some artsy types (for whom the worst sin is not to be interested in literature and music and paintings) have conjectured that Paul might be in need of books of poetry and Greek drama. Again that is doubtful. Some have thought that it was early versions of Christian preaching or sections of the Greek Old Testament that he wanted. The entire Scriptures of 39 books would have been huge! But if Paul hadn’t had time to bring some of the Scriptures with him when he had been arrested and taken off to prison, certainly the Bible would have been one of the things that the apostle would have wanted: as much of the Greek Old Testament as Timothy could bring. But Paul would also want those notebooks, those parchments in which there might well have been half-written letters, notes that he had penned on such themes as union with Christ and the doctrine of the resurrection, all kinds of sayings of Jesus that had been passed down by oral tradition, and he had scribbled them on pieces of papyrus. Or maybe there was his certificate of Roman citizenship. ‘Bring them to me,’ he says. What a preacher, studying to the very end! He is showing us how to leave the world.

Calvin is very bold. He says that this passage refutes the madness of the fanatics who despise books and condemn all reading and boast only of their own private inspirations by God. But this passage commends continual reading to all godly men as a thing from which they can profit. Or again listen to Spurgeon, and a famous sermon of his on this very text: ‘Even an apostle must read. Some of our very ultra-Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermons must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call ‘a dish of dead men’s bones – Oh, that is the preacher!’ How rebuked are they by the apostle. He is inspired, and yet he wants books. He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books. He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books. He’s had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books. He had been caught up into the third heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, and yet he wants books. He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books. The apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every preacher, “Give thyself unto reading.”‘

So, what is the Holy Spirit saying to us in this section? So far three things: when our spirit is lonely we need friends. When our body is cold we need clothing. When our mind is bored we need reading matter. The big lesson is that man is never for one moment denaturalized by grace. We dare not deny our humanity or our frailty or pretend that we are made out of anything else than dust.

Let me read you a little extract from a letter written by the Luther of England, William Tyndale, from his prison cell in Vilvorde, Belgium, to the Marquis of Bergen, the governor of the jail where he was being held captive before he was strangled and his body burned. It is fifteen hundred years later than this letter of Paul, but listen to what William Tyndale wrote; ‘I entreat your lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I must remain here for the winter you would beg the Commissary to be so kind as to send me, from the things of mine which he has, a warmer cap; I feel the cold painfully in my head. Also a warmer cloak, for the cloak I have is very thin. He has a woolen shirt of mine, if he will also send it. But most of all my Hebrew Bible, Grammar and Vocabulary, that I may spend my time in that pursuit.’ How one’s emotions are stirred in read those words! What a price some men paid that we might have what we take for granted, the word of God in our own language.


The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of Christians who today are incarcerated in concentration camps and gulags and jails all over the world for following Christ, and many are forbidden any visitors and they cannot send out for books and clean warm clothing. But one thing they have that can never be taken from them is what Paul finally longs for here for Timothy; ‘The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you’ (v.22). The Lord who was in Galilee and in the Upper Room, the same Jesus with the same personality and the same values and the same love but with more awesome power and glory be with Timothy. The Lamb in his passion is now the Lion in his resurrection. May he be the one who is with Timothy’s spirit, operating in his feelings, thoughts and decisions. His grace – omnipotence acting to save and keep his people – with Timothy and with us every day. Pastor Sandor of Romania was imprisoned in the 1950s. Kept in an overcrowded cell he longed for time to be alone with Jesus, for deeper prayer and an increased spiritual usefulness. And then, for helping a weaker prisoner he was sentenced to a lengthy spell in a below-ground punishment box where he could hardly sit, enduring insufferable heat, no sanitation and minimal food and drink. Initially he was despairing and confused, and then he remembered what he’d been praying for, and realized that Jesus was with his spirit there, that he has been given two weeks of undisturbed fellowship with the Lord. He always afterwards blessed God for that wonderful cell. There he knew this presence, this real, protecting, transforming, faith-enriching, holiness-developing, wisdom-granting, preacher-emboldening presence that would sustain Timothy and enable him to stand alone in Asia Minor and triumph over all these adversaries in the world and in the professing church.

This is what Timothy must have as Paul had the Lord with him, more than Timothy needed to have friends and warm clothes and books, he must have the presence of the Lord Jesus with his spirit. Do you see that? Look at the choice. On the one hand you can have a new building, an eloquent preacher, great music and many people attending. On the other hand you can have the presence of the Lord with your spirit. What will be your priority? You can have them both, yes, but what will be your first choice? What do you think is the church’s greatest need? Like Steve Jobs wanting to hire a man who had high office as an executive with Coca Cola. Jobs could not match his salary but he asked him about his priorities for the future. ‘Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared, coloured water, or do you want to change the world?’ What is your priority, is it the presence of the Lord here changing our lives, or is it all the things that we are able to do without the Lord, restricted only by cash?

How will we know that the Lord is with our spirits in our congregation? There will be more front-line praying in our prayer meetings, asking for things that will hurt Satan, and break his power over others in the church, as well as our asking Jesus to help us to love and obey him and become more like him. If the Lord is with us then he will be savingly active and the children and visitors will know his presence and will become joined to him by faith. If the Lord is with us then the love of the lovely Son of God will be with us all. We will feel loved and be awed by the presence of the Lover. If the Lord is with us what will we won’t lose much sleep about the activities of an enemy like Alexander the metal-worker, or the actions of the heretics Hymeneus and Philetus, or even what the unspeakable Nero himself is doing? When Richard Wurmbrand was suffering under the totalitarian regime in Romania the top man on the Central Committee then – with seemingly limitless power – was Vasile Lucaciu. Soon Wurmbrand was in prison and one day into his crowded cell came an official and he began to question the prisoners as to why they were there. The first man said, ‘I slandered Vasile Lucaciu.’ Then he asked another man, ‘What did you do?’ That man replied, ‘I supported Vasile Lucaciu.’ Then he came to another man and he said to him, ‘And why are you in prison?’ ‘I am Vasile Lucaciu,’ he replied. Only the Lord Jesus reigns for ever, and this Lord must be the one whom we long to be with, in all we do for him, in our goings out and in our comings in from this time forth and even for evermore. That by him we shall be more than conquerors. By him we can do everything he wants us to do, by the Lord and his grace being with our spirits.

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