A Study of 1st Timothy 3:9

Preached at Brixton Tabernacle, June, 1889 – By Charles Cornwall

“The mystery of the faith.”
(1st Timothy 3:9)

In this chapter, the apostle Paul states what kind of a man a Bishop ought to be; yea, he tells us the sort of man a Bishop must be, he must be blameless, vigilant and sober: he must be of good behaviour, given to hospitality and apt to teach: he must not be greedy of filthy lucre, patient and no brawler: he must not be covetous, must rule his own house, and keep his children in subjection; he must not be a novice, that is, a young believer, and he must have a good character of them which are without. God only knows where to find such an one. The primary meaning of the Apostle is unmistakeable, but there is only one way in which I can fully understand this Chapter, and that is, to apply all these qualifications to our Lord Jesus Christ; or else to view the perfections here required in the light of imputation; for a sinner who is clothed with the Saviour’s righteousness, is ofcourse righteous as He is righteous. The ninth verse is applied to deacons, and as deacons are chosen out of the church, it belongs to the church as well as to them.
Let us have a few words upon the whole verse before I deliver my thoughts upon the line; “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” We read of those who made shipwreck of their faith; but the faith that was wrecked, according to my conception, was not the faith spoken of in my text. Why was it wrecked? because it was not held in a
pure conscience. Did the apostle go clinging to them to beg of them to
return to their faith? no, he looked upon them as not belonging to the household of faith at all, and simply said, “the Lord reward them according to their work.” Others are said to have erred concerning the truth, and these overthrow the faith of some. They never overthrow the faith which God gives. There is a mystery in this; and it dwells in a pure conscience. There is a faith spoken of in Scripture, which is a general belief in the Diety, and in all salvation matters. Such as possess it tell us that they believe in God the Father; they believe that the Spirit quickeneth into life; they believe that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners:” they believe they are sinners, and He saved them; they tell us how they love the Lord, and that everybody on earthvmight believe as they do if they would; so they might. But there is no mystery in universal faith. The mystery of the faith is only held in a pure conscience: a conscience purified by blood.

The faith which God gives holds the blood of Jesus Christ as the one thing needful to the soul’s salvation; and if it be wrecked it can’t be overthrown. The mariners threw Jonah overboard, but if he was shipwrecked his faith was not. He was thrown out of the boat, but the faith was not thrown out of his heart. His faith seems to have been almost, if not quite dormant or inactive, for three days and nights; for it was after he had been in the belly of the fish three days and nights, that we read, “Then Jonah prayed.” When you hear men talk of making shipwreck of faith, and of overthrowing faith, you may at once conclude that it is not the faith which Jonah possessed; nor the faith which God gives; for all who receive it hold it in a pure conscience. Coming to our text, let us notice:-

  • I. The matter.
  • II. The mystery of the faith.


The word faith is a somewhat difficult word to explain. I do not remember that there is more than one person in all the Scriptures who tried to tell us in plain language what real faith was; from one standpoint, he said, it is “the substance” and “the evidence” (Hebrews 11:1), “Now faith is the substance (margin, ground or confidence) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The various explanations of this verse are not very satisfactory, but we may notice that Faith is here described as confident expectation, which arises from a conviction of the existence of unseen things. It is the “undaunted faith of matured saints, empowered by this heaven born principle to do, dare and suffer for the God they love,” as the whole of the chapter sets forth. I get one glimpse of the excellency of faith, one glimpse of its beauty, one glimpse of its glory, one glimpse of its substance; when I view it in contrast with false faith, which is nothing but fancy. Whenever I am invited to preach at a place where I have never been before,
the chapel, and other things connected therewith, present themselves to my fancy. As, however, I have no evidence of the facts, there is no substance in my fancy; therefore, when I arrive, I discover things to be different to the picture presented to me by my fancy. On the contrary, faith itself bears testimony, and is the evidence of things not seen as yet. It also lays a substantial foundation for our hope. It is not deceived as fancy is; but is the substance which overcame (in Noah) the drowning world, and threw down the mighty walls of Jericho, which fancy could not do. The faith which God gives is the substance which cannot be overthrown, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it; and the man who possesses it, has as much evidence of the existence of heaven and hell, as if he had seen that; for faith, while here, tastes of the joys of salvation, which are the joys of heaven. But I will, in this first part of our subject, only briefly name a few Scriptures, descriptive of the matter of faith.
Firstly, it is called, “the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1), “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.” Why is this faith called “the faith of God’s elect”? Because it is peculiar to them only. None others ever possess it; and none of God’s elect ever make shipwreck of it. The people who possess, the faith are called, “God’s elect,” because they are elected by Divine favour and because they were pre-ordained to eternal life. Hence we find in Acts 13:48, the only reason given why any believed, viz., their ordination by God. The faith they had was a consequence of their Divine choice. The Jews rejected the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, contradicting and blaspheming. “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles; and when the Gentiles
heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” If ten thousand more had been ordained to live with God for ever, they would also have been, by His power, made the partakers of living and vital faith.

Secondly. The next scripture I call your attention to is that which speaks of faith as purifying faith (Acts 15:9). There were a large number of Pharisees who believed in the gospel, which had been preached by Paul and Barnabas. But they did not think faith Sufficient, they held their former religious observances with a tenacity worthy of a better cause, and they were therefore determined to add to their faith the circumcision of Moses. And they said “Except ye be circumcised after the circumcision of Moses, ye cannot:be saved.” When the apostles came to the church at Jerusalem to settle this growing dispute, some of the Pharisees there vigorously opposed new covenant teaching, and said, “That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” This was like digging up the dead husband of Anna, binding him about her neck, and making her subject to the law of marriage, between him and her (Romans 7:3). However, after much disputing, Peter rose up, and reminded them how God had given the Holy Ghost unto the Gentiles: “And put no difference between us’and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” Wherever God drops a particle of faith, in a sinner’s heart, that faith will have its purifying effect. The secret operation of faith, which werketh in the heart, is of the power of God. And if God has given you faith, that faith which He hasgiven has done something for you. It cleansed those who received it from every false way; this is called purifying their hearts. Before faith came, they bowed down to idols; now their hearts are fixed upon the atoning blood of the dear Redeemer.

Thirdly, the faith of God is called precious faith (2nd Peter 1:1).
Peter directs his second epistle, “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” My faith must be like that of the apostles. There was a faith which was not like theirs: but like a wave of then sea, driven to and fro, and tossed with the wind of false doctrine from one object to another: sometimes resting upon creature performances; at other times trying to settle upon the Creator. Again, wavering faith seeks a refuge in obedience to a carnal commandment; at another time it tries to build its nest in the Rock. My hearers, this is not like the faith of the apostles. The word like here does not mean a mere resemblance, as it does in Psalm 72:6, but a facsimile likeness to the faith depicted by the incident recorded in James 5:17, which produces the fruit thereof. Faith is precious. Precious sometimes means rare, or scarce; and I am sure apostolic faith is scarce and is all the more valuable because of its rarity. The value of the faith which God gives is beyond estimation, it is the gift of God, and of Christ: and is precious alike both to God and man (1st Peter 2:4).

Fourth. It is victorious faith; “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world, even our faith” (1st John 5:4). It is vital faith. there is nothing upon the face of the whole earth, but faith, somehow or other, is able to surmount. It helped Enoch to walk with God in the dark ages of the first world. It enabled Noah to build an ark. It spake through the Syro-Phoenician woman – “Lord, help me.” It showed Abraham the day of Christ, and it came with a deep soul groan from the heart of the publican, in the words, “God be merciful to me.” I cannot stay now to recount the mighty conquests of faith; but in every age it has “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” There is a power in the heart of man which is sinful, filthy, wicked, and devilish. There is in life a portion of affliction, temptation, disappointment, bereavements, sickness, halting, and persecution. But there is something in the heart, blessed be God, that overcomes all, and that is a mighty powers it is the faith of Godts elect. For this is the victory whereby they overcome, even their faith.

Fifthly. The sure standing of those who hold the mystery of faith in a pure conscience. In Revelation 14 there are the chosen, the called, and the faithful – “these are they that kept the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” What a blessing heaven was to those who wondered a thousand times on earth whether they should
… Ever reach the place,
Where God unveils His beauteous face,
And makes His glories known.
It is said in the first part of that chapter, that they stood with Christ upon Mount Sion, and many thousands with them – they were in good company – and they sang a new song before the throne of God. They were a New Covenant people, and God had given them a new spirit and a new heart; with all things new they were sure to sing a new song. They were redeemed from among men, and were the first fruits unto God and the Lamb. They are for ever with the Lord. These are they that kept the faith of Jesus, and this will be the portion and the joy of those who keep it now.


In dealing with mysteries we have to touch things that are beyond human or natural comprehension. It is, however, upon a mystery that is revealed to faith that I am speaking, and therefore I will be as plain as I can. The first mystery I will name in the work of faith is that faith forms the union between Christ and the soul. Moses went unto the people in Egypt to tell them that God had sent him, and that they should go forth to inherit the land which God had given to their fathers. They began to wonder if such a thing could be possible after so much hard bondage and so many years’ toil; after such cruel taskmasters, so hard-hearted a king, and so powerful an army. At this time there was no manifest union between them and the God of Abraham, who had promised them the land. They were careful at first in listening to what Moses, the man of God, had to say to them concerning their release; nevertheless they received his testimony when they saw the miracles which he did. And they bowed their heads and worshipped the God of their fathers. But a little time afterwards they said, “We are not delivered at all.” Thus their fear that God would not deliver them returned upon them; unbelief crept in, and their bondage was more terrible than it ever was before, and their daily labour doubly hard. When they came to the Red Sea there was a mystery there, which is only understood by the people of God.
They were commanded to “Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD.” Stand still means, do not run away from your enemies; do not rush upon them; neither fly at them-nor flee from them; go neither backwards nor forwards, until God gives command. Here they seem to have some faith to believe that they should one day see the promised land of peace, and inhabit houses which their fathers had not built, and drink water from wells which their fathers had not digged. I have sometimes thought that they looked upon the “sea of glass,” as John calls it, with some little suspicion as to their safety as they passed through with a wall of congealed water on either hand. But afterwards when they saw their enemies dead on the sea shore, “then they believed the LORD and His servant Moses.” Thus the happy union between their souls and their Saviour was formed by faith. Their faith grasped the mighty fact that their God had saved them, and had delivered them from their enemies. You can read the same lesson as is here taught in John 2 when Jesus had turned the water into wine His disciples believed on Him as the manifested Messiah. Their faith took hold of Him, and-from that time the union between Him and His disciples was a blessed reality. But we see this clearer, perhaps, in John ix. You will all remember the incident of the man who was born blind. The scribes and Pharisees cast much reproach upon that poor sinner, and cast him out. Soon after he was cast cut, the Saviour found him, and asked him, “dost thou believe on the Son of God?” He said, “Who is He, Lord?” It is not at all strange that he was ignorant of his heavenly benefactor; he most probably had not seen Him before, but had only heard His voice. There are many who are now saying, “Oh, if I could believe, all things would easy be,” and they are believing all the time; for, thirsting for God is believing in Him. I said just now it was not at all strange that Christ should have opened his eyes and yet he not knew Him: Christ must reveal Himself. It was not until Christ found him, and asked him, “dost thou believe?” and also replied, “I am,” that he worshipped Him. Faith came, and he said, “Lord, I believe.” His faith led to worship, his faith laid hold on the Son of God, and thus the happy union was effected, and his soul and his Saviour were one. My hearers, it is not works but faith that comprehends the union between the heaven-born soul and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Second, The second mystery is seen in faith’s steady pace – “He that believeth shall not make haste.” Whatever a man may preach, if he preach not Christ and Him crucified, faith will net accept his testimony. Revivalists, in their wild enthusiasm, offer their services, and faith rejects them all. The land is filled with false teachers, crying lo here, and lo there; faith does not stir one step after them. She waits upon her God, and “Blessed are all they that wait for Him.” I have often thought that Saul and David are a good illustration of the words I just quoted from Isaiah 28. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” Saul was always in a hurry; he offered sacrifice before Samuel came; he sought to slay David, the man after God’s
own heart; he took a hasty oath, whereby his own son Jonathan nearly lost his life; in his haste he slew “four-score and five persons who did wear the linen ephod.” He enquired of the LORD, but waited not for an answer; he fled to the witch of Endor for counsel with regard to the government of his kingdom; and because his armour-bearer refused to kill him at once, he killed himself.
What did David? He enquired of the LORD. When the Philistines came up against Keilah, David enquired of the LORD: Will the Philistines invade Keilah?
The LORD said, they will. Shall I go and fight against them? I will, saith God. O, how cautious faith is! David went, smote the Philistines, and took
up his abode in Keilah, and soon it was told Saul, “David is in Keilah.”
David again enquired of his God: Will Saul come to Keilah? The LORD said he will. And will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hands? They will, saith the LORD. What safe travelling is this! “He that believeth shall not make haste.” We read of some in the New Testament, who are like unto some now-a-days. They tell us, after attending the meetings of some fleshly religionists, that they went in sinners and came out saints. But they know no more about the second birth than an oyster knows of the government of heaven. The Saviour said, “Such hear the word, they receive it, they rejoice in it.”
So they do now. They snatch up the lamp of salvation, crying, “I’ve found Christ,” and off they run, leaving far behind them the awakened soul, whose burden is so heavy that he can’t walk, much less run. He stands still upon
the road, crying, “O Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” and if you could see deep down into the bottom of his heart you would read there the language of a true penitent: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” This is the man who shall go down to his house justified rather than the other, for the mystery of faith is found in these words, “He that believeth shall not make haste.”

Third. We shall obtain a glimpse of the mystery of the faith, if we notice the enemies with which faith has to contend. The more numerous the enemies the more precious faith becomes. The enemies of faith are like the afflictions cf the righteous – they are many; but I will only name three of theme the first is the flesh – call it reason – carnal reason. This is one of the greatest enemies to faith. Carnal reason, worldly wisdom, fleshly suggestions, and reasonable conclusions do so press themselves upon me sometimes that faith is almost lost sight of in the confusion: “For some say one thing and some another.” (Acts 19:32). These are the snares which entangled Abraham, the father of the faithful, and the friend of God. He promised Abraham a son, He also promised sarah she should be the mother of it. Years pass away, and old age comes upon the happy pair: there’s no foundation for their hope (this I take to be the meaning of the words in Romans 4:18, “Who against hope believed in hope.” He believed in hope when all his natural conclusions said, there is no foundation for such an expectation). So carnal reason came in to the rescue, and proposed a way to help on the promise of God, They only brought trouble upon themselves. Sarah was provoked to jealousy, and Abraham is commanded to cast out of doors the very objects which carnal reason had tried to set his affections upon, and brought faith back to lean so firmly upon the promise of God that even the command to sacrifice Isaac could not shake it. The mystery here lies in the adverse dispensations which faith passes through. Sometimes it is so strong that a thousand falls at its side, and ten thousand at its right hand (Psalm 91:7); at another time it seems to be gasping for its last dying breath, and we wonder whether :It will ever revive again. This is seen in the case of David. There was a time when he could fling aside the armour of Saul, take a sling and a stone, and that while he was but a youth, and by faith trample under foot the man who made the hearts of all Israel to quake. Yes, and there was also a time after he became a man, when he took his own sword and 300 chosen men of Israel, all with their swords drawn, and well—trained men. All this, my hearers, all this preparation was made to go against a helpless drunkard, named Nabal. Ah, he might well bless God for the interposition of a poor
weak woman, whose tears sheathed their swords. The second enemy is the devil.
“Above all, taking the shield-of faith, wherewith ye may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” I always think that the wicked in this verse means the wicked one; namely, the Devil. And there is something remarkable in the piece of armour with which the devil is to be met. A sword was to be taken, but that is an offensive weapon, with which men kill, slay, and destroy; but that is of no use against Satan; you cannot wound him, you cannot even lame him; you had betted not go into his ground at all. Take the shield of faith, that is a defensive weapon only, and is only intended for defence; it is the only weapon which will quench the fiery darts of the wicked one.

Transgression, if I may personify it, is the third enemy. I say transgression, not sin; for sin itself, when put away by the great Surety is no trouble to faith. But when it breaks out in rebellion or transgression, then the child of God trembles again, and often with many tears bemoans his fallen state. Where is faith now? Oh, blessed mystery: Faith says, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Faith takes up hope and flies away to the end of the trouble; and says, when the trial is over, I shall be to the praise, and honour, and glory of God. (1st Peter 1).

Fourth. The fourth mystery of faith is that it can see. When the child of God walks in darkness, and has no light, faith then can trust in the Lord and stay itself upon its God. The faith of Abraham penetrated through the dim distance of 1,800 years, and saw the day of Christ. Faith now mounts up, and takes a lofty flight, it scars many millions of miles higher than the eagle’s eye; penetrates. the skies, an& sees the. King in His beauty. “We see Jesus.”‘ Faith sees Him sitting upon the circle of the earth and says to every sinner redeemed by blood, “Be of good cheer, all things work together for good.” Faith sees Him crowned King of Glory and says unto Zion, “Thy God reigneth.” Faith looks forward unto a heaven of immortal light and endless glory; comforting herself with, “I shall be like Him.” Is the soul hungering and thirsting after righteousness? faith “fetches her food from far,” and being the offspring of God, she says, “shall overcome at the last.”

Fifth. Let us notice the sacrifices that living faith is prepared to make for the sake of Christ, her living head. We have a noble instance of this mystery in Moses. He was brought up as the son of a princess, surrounded with all the riches and glory of one of the mightiest kings under heaven, yet he — or rather, his faith, for this was the work of faith — refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter. What principle but that of faith would have taken such a strange step? Few there are who would not have laboured hard to retain the riches and honour which were cast into his lap; but “he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God.” The same divine principle lived in the Apostle Paul; he counted all things but loss that he might win Christ, and be found in Him. This faith, while mysterious, is so real that it cheered the heart of John while in ‘the Isle of Patmos; it opened heaven to his view. He saw his prayers ascend to heaven from Christ, the golden altar, and heard the song of spirits redeemed from a world of sin and loss.

Sixth. Another mystery is seen in the way in which faith meets her difficulties. Faith endures all things, believes all things work for good, and overcomes all things. In Genesis 32 we read of a man wrestling with God; his name was Jacob when the combat began, and Israel when it ended. If you have not ploughed with Jacobs heifer you will not find out his riddle, for nothing but the mystery of faith can explain one sentence which dropped from his lips, that was, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” Hosea said of him, “By his strength he had pc:4er with God.” Another instance is recorded in Matthew 15 quite as remarkable as that of Jacob, and this time a poor woman seeks relief for her daughter. But I cannot stay now to touch upon this.

Seventh. The last mystery of faith that I will mention is that it ever continues. Faith is a never—dying principle, Mr. Huntington says, it is like a duck which swims en the top of all waters, as may be seen in Noah: for through faith he built an ark; and it is like an eel that can live in the mud, when the great water—floods overflow, as is seen in the case of Jonah. It is also proof against the hottest fire of persecution, for the heavenly principle of Divine faith, which lived in the three Hebrew brethren, could not be consumed by the fire of Babylon, though it was heated seven times hotter than it was wont to be heated. Faith descended with Daniel into the lion’s den, and comforted him there, for it was because he believed in his God, that no manner of hurt was found upon him.

“The faith that unites to the Lamb,
And brings such salvation as this,
Is more than mere notion or name;
The work of God’s Spirit it is:
This faith shall eternally fail,
When Jesus shall fall from His throne;
For hell against both must prevail,
Since Jesus and he are but one.”

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