GOD'S STEWARDS
by
Alexander Maclaren


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"That good thing which was committed to you,
keep by the Holy Ghost who dwells in us."
2 Timothy 1:14

The Apostle [Paul] is evidently thinking mainly of the gospel message which was entrusted to himself and to Timothy. That is shown by the whole context. The previous verse is, 'Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.' And the same connection appears in the First epistle to Timothy, where the same exhortation is repeated: 'Keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings . . . which some professing have erred concerning the faith.' The same idea of the gospel as the deposit committed to the trust of Christian men lies in other words of the first epistle, where the Apostle speaks of the 'gospel of the glory of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.'

Whosoever has accepted the message of salvation for himself is, ipso facto, put in charge of that message for carrying it to others. You, Christian people, are responsible in this connection for two things: for the preservation of the truth and for the diffusion of the truth.

We are bound to keep it for the food of our own souls, and to see that the atmosphere in which we live and the prevailing tendencies around us--the worldliness, the selfishness, the absorption in the things seen to the exclusion of the things that are unseen and eternal--do not rob us of the treasure which we say that we value. See to it that you keep it as what you profess that it is, the anchor of your hope and the guide of all your lives; binding it upon the palms of your hands that all your work may be sanctified; writing it between your eyes that all your thoughts may be enlightened; and inscribing it on the posts of your doors and your gates that whenever you go forth to work you may go out under its guidance, and when you come back to rest and solitude you may bear it with you for your meditation and refreshment. The charge that is given to us is the preservation of God's Word, and the gospel which we have received we have received with this written upon it--'Hold fast that which thou hast; let no man take thy crown.'

And then, further, all of us Christian people are responsible for the diffusion of that Word. It is given to us that we may spread it; and this is no exclusive prerogative of an apostolic class, or of an order of ministers or clergy in God's Church, but every Christian man and woman who has the Word is thereby bound to tell the Word faithfully.

And then, subordinately and connected with this, I may put another thought--that the reputation and character of our Master are committed to us to keep. People take their notions of Jesus Christ a great deal more from you than from the Bible, and the Christian Church is the true scripture which most men know best. The written revelation is often negated, or at all events neutralized, by the representation which we Christians make of Christ. He has given into our hands His reputation, as if He said: 'Live so that men may know what sort of a Christ I am; and so set forth the spirit of life that was in Me that men may be led to believe that there is something in the truths and principles which make men like you.'

But there is a wider application legitimately to be given to the words of my text, on which I touch for a moment. The great trust which is committed to us all is ourselves; and in connection therewith we are responsible for two things--first, for the development of character; and second, for the exercise of capacity.

We are responsible for the development of character. We have to cut off and suppress, or at least to subordinate and regulate, a great deal within us in order that the true self may rise into sovereign majesty and power. We have to cultivate shy graces, unwelcome duties, sides of our character which are not naturally prominent. The faults that we have are not to be cured simply by the repression of them, but by the cultivation of their opposites. All this is given to us to do, and nobody can do it for us. We are stewards of many things but the most precious gift of which we are stewards is this awful nature of ours, with possibilities that tower heaven-high and evils that go down to the depths of hell, shut up within the narrow room of our hearts. The man who has himself put into his own hands can never lack a field for diligent cultivation. And we are responsible for the use of capacities. God gives these to us that we may by exercise strengthen them. And so, brother, as a man, your natural self is your charge; as a Christian, the word which brings your better self is that which is committed to you to keep.

Now notice our keeping of our charge. The word rendered here 'to keep' rather means 'to guard' than to keep in the sense of preserving. 'Keeping' is the consequence of the 'guarding' which my text enjoins. We may get a picture which may help us to understand the drift of the apostolic exhortation if I remind you of two of the uses of the word in its non-metaphorical sense in Scripture. It is the expression employed to describe the occupation of the shepherds on the upland slopes of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. They were 'keeping watch over their flocks by night.' That is how you have to watch yourselves and the word that is committed to your care. Again, it is the word employed to describe the vigilant watchfulness of the sentry outside the prison gates where the apostles lay immured [imprisoned]; or of the four quaternions of soldiers that had to take charge of Peter when he was chained to them. And that is how we have to watch--as the shepherd over his flock, as the sentry over the prison house, or as the guard over some treasure. So Christian men and women have to live exercising all the care needful to prevent the stealing away of some of the flock, the escape of some of the prisoners, the filching from them of some of their treasure. Let me expand the apostolic exhortation into two or three precepts.

Cultivate the sense of stewardship. It is a very hard thing for us to keep fresh the feeling that all which we are and have is given to us, and that not for ourselves but for God. The beginning of evil is the weakening of that sense of responsibility and the dawning of the dream that we are our own. The prodigal son's downfall began with saying, 'Give me the portion of goods that falls to me." And the next step came naturally after that: 'He gathered all together and went away into a far country.' And the next step came just as naturally after that: 'He wasted his substance in riotous living.'

If a sense of stewardship and responsibility is weakened within us, the mainspring of all good is weakened within us and we shall become self-willed, self-indulgent, self-asserting, God-forgetting. If we think that the talent or the pound is ours, we shall spend it for our own purposes, and that is 'waste.'

And is it not a sad commentary on the tendency of human nature to forget stewardship and to lose the impression of responsibility; that that very word 'talents,' which is borrowed from Christ's parable, is used in common speech without the slightest sense that it suggests anything about stewardship, faithfulness, or reckoning? Let us, then, take care to cultivate the sense of responsibility.

Again, let us exercise unslumbering vigilance. A great political thinker says, 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.' The price of keeping the treasure that God has given us is the same. There are old legends of fabulous riches hid away in some rocky cave amongst the mountains, guarded by mythological creatures of whom it is said that their eyes have no lids. They cannot shut them, and they never sleep. And that is what Christians need to be--with lidless, wide-opened, vigilant eyes, watching ever against the evils that are ever around us and the robbers who are ever seeking to drag the precious deposit from our hands. Live to watch, and watch that you may live.

Then, again, familiarize yourselves with the truth which you have in charge. I am not half so much afraid that intellectual doubts and the formulated, conscious disbelief of this generation will affect Christian people as I am afraid of the unconscious drift sweeping them away before they know it. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has a solemn figure in regard to this matter. He says: 'Let us take the more earnest need to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should drift past them.' And that is exactly what befalls Christian men and women who do not continually renew their familiarity with God's Word and the gospel to which they trust. Before they know where they are, the silent-flowing, swift stream has swept them down, and the truths to which they fancied they were anchored are almost invisible on the far horizon. For every man who loses his Christianity by yielding to the arguments of the other side, there are ten who lose it by evaporation.

That is true about a great many who are professing Christian people. The Word has slipped out of their hands, and they do not know how nor exactly when it escaped from their slack fingers. If you will put plucked flowers into a glass without any water, you cannot but expect them to wither; and if you will refrain from refreshing your belief and your trust by familiarity with the truths of the gospel and by meditation upon these, you cannot wonder that they should shrivel up and lose their sweetness for you. Keep that word hid in your hearts that you sin not against Him and it.

And then, further, exercise your gifts. The very worst way to keep the talent is to keep it in a napkin. The man who buried it in the earth, and then dug it up and presented it to his lord, did not know how much weight it had lost by rust and decay while it was hidden away. For though gold does not rust, the gold of the talent that we possess does; and the sure way to make our gifts dwindle is that we neglect to use them. It seems an odd way to keep corn, to fling it broadcast out of a basket over the fields; but 'there is that scatters, and yet increases.' Live your faith; let what you believe be the guide of your practice; increase your grasp upon it by meditation and by prayer; use your capacities, exercise your faculties, and they will grow and you will be strong.

Lastly, note our Ally in our keeping of our charge. 'Through the Holy Ghost which dwells in us.' Then all is to be done, not in our own strength, but in the strength of the great indwelling Guest and Helper. So, then, there arise two thoughts from this.

The one is that we keep ourselves best when we give ourselves to God to keep us. The Apostle has just been doing that for himself, and he now would exhort Timothy to do the same. Our faith brings this great Ally into the field. If we commit to God what God has committed to us, then as the patriarch upon his dangerous and doubtful path beheld in the heavens above him the camp of the angels hovering over his little camp, so if we commit the keeping of ourselves and of all our responsibility in connection with God's work to Him, we too may be sure that 'the angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him,' and that He will keep us. Then there will be a fourth in the furnace like unto the Son of Man, and no fire shall consume anything but the bonds of those who, in the very fire, trust themselves to the strong hands of God. We best keep ourselves when we give ourselves to God to keep.The one is that we keep ourselves best when we give ourselves to God to keep us. The Apostle has just been doing that for himself, and he now would exhort Timothy to do the same. Our faith brings this great Ally into the field. If we commit to God what God has committed to us, then as the patriarch upon his dangerous and doubtful path beheld in the heavens above him the camp of the angels hovering over his little camp, so if we commit the keeping of ourselves and of all our responsibility in connection with God's work to Him, we too may be sure that 'the angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him,' and that He will keep us. Then there will be a fourth in the furnace like unto the Son of Man, and no fire shall consume anything but the bonds of those who, in the very fire, trust themselves to the strong hands of God. We best keep ourselves when we give ourselves to God to keep.

But another thought here is that God keeps us by enabling us to keep ourselves. 'Through the Holy Spirit that dwells in us'--so His protection is no mere outward wall of defense around us, nor any change of circumstances which may avert danger, but it is the putting within us of a divine life-principle which shall mold our thoughts, regulate our desires, reinforce our weakness, and be in us a power that shall preserve us from all evil. God fights for us--not in the sense of fighting instead of us, but in the sense of fighting by our sides when we fight. A faith which says, 'God will take care of me,' and does not take care of itself, is no faith but either hypocrisy or self-deceived presumption. Faith will intensify effort instead of leading to shirk it; and the more we trust Him the more we should ourselves work. We keep ourselves when God keeps us; God keeps us when we keep ourselves. Both things are true, and therefore our fitting temper is the double one of self-distrusting confidence and of earnest diligence.

Dear brother, we travel on a dangerous road. We never can tell from behind what rock a gun barrel may be leveled at us, or where the highwayman may swoop down upon us to rob us of our treasure. That is no country to travel through carelessly, in loose order with our gun upon another horse away at the back of the caravan and we ourselves straying hither and thither gathering flowers or seeking easy places to walk in; but it is a land in which we must be unslumberingly vigilant, and rouse ourselves up to all effort. And it is a country in which we shall certainly be robbed unless we commit ourselves unto Him who alone is able to keep us from falling.

If we say in life and in death, 'Father! into Thy hands I commit my spirit,' then we may be humbly but not idly confident that the old promise will be fulfilled to us: 'The Lord will keep thee evermore.'

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