Men of the Bible; Some Lesser-Known
BY REV. PRINCIPAL DAVID ROWLANDS, B.A.
2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
Many a man who figures in history, is only known in connection with some stupendous fault—some mistake, some folly, or some sin—that has given him an unenviable immortality. Mention his name, and the huge blot by which his memory is besmirched starts up before the mind in all its hideousness. Take Cain, for example. He occupies the foremost rank as regards fame; his name is one of the first that children learn to lisp; and yet what do we know about him? Very little indeed; our knowledge, in fact, is limited to a single act—an act which is the most horrible of human crimes. His name is suggestive only of violence, murder, the shedding of innocent blood—the foulest deeds that man can possibly commit. Or take Judas Iscariot. We know more particulars about him—we know that he was one of the original apostles, that he managed their common fund, that he posed as a strict economist, and above all, that he was a consummate hypocrite. Yet when we mention his name, we call up the remembrance of only one vile deed, one treacherous act—an act that has made his name a curse and a byword throughout the ages. The same remark is applicable to Demas. His name is familiar enough, but the story of his life is almost unknown. Paul refers to him more than once as a fellow-labourer, which shows that for a time at least he was an exemplary Christian. But he failed in the hour of trial—failed through being dominated by an inordinate love of the world—and his memory survives, therefore, as a representative of that worldly-mindedness which leads to apostasy.
The tone in which the great apostle mentions Demas, in his second letter to Timothy, is very touching. “Demas,” saith he, “has forsaken me, having loved the present world” (2 Timothy 4:16). We might have expected him to give vent to his feelings in bitter invective—as is customary in such cases—and to denounce the cowardliness of this desertion in language aflame with indignation. It would have been no more than justice to the offender, and it might have deterred others from stumbling in the same way. But no, he does nothing of the kind; his words contain nothing more than the brief, deep, pathetic groan of a wounded heart. He had probably built many hopes upon Demas, and not without reason. In his arduous labours among the Gentiles he had found him an efficient helper, and many were the hours of sweet communion he had spent with him and others, in discussing the triumphs of the Gospel. And he was confident that now in his bonds, waiting the pleasure of the Roman tyrant, he would have derived comfort from his companionship and encouragement from his faithfulness. But alas! these bright hopes had been cruelly shattered; for in the hour of his greatest need Demas had abandoned him. The apostle was too grieved to use harsh language—too grieved, not only at his own disappointment, but also when he thought of Demas’s own future. Unconsciously, in this unostentatious exercise of self-restraint, he has left us an impressive lesson in Christian charity, and has shown us the way in which those who fall away from their steadfastness ought to be treated. How many of those hapless delinquents might have been reclaimed, had the high, noble, generous spirit which animated the apostle been manifested towards them by those whose confidence they had betrayed, it is impossible to tell; but it is certain that not a few.
The question that presents itself here is this: In what light are we to regard Demas’s character? Was he a cool, calculating, determined apostate; or did he simply give way to weakness? There is an essential difference between the two cases, and they ought to be judged accordingly. There are men who through sheer perversity renounce their faith, and are not ashamed to vilify the religion which they once professed. They are generally embodiments of irreverence, who glory in their atheism, and talk of infidelity as if it were a cardinal virtue. Whenever there is foul work to be done, they are almost always to the fore; whenever holy things are to be held up to ridicule, they are the men to do it. These are deliberate apostates; men who with their eyes open prefer darkness to light, who of set purpose deny the truth and embrace error. Happily the world contains but few such. To the honour of human nature, fallen though it be, it may be said that it instinctively recoils from such characters with a sense of horror. We do not think for a moment that Demas belonged to this class, though the terms in which he is sometimes spoken of might lead one to suppose so.
There are others who fall away through weakness. They find themselves in circumstances for which they are not prepared—circumstances by which their faith is sorely tried—and, lacking that strength of conviction, which alone can give stability, they recede from the position which they took up with so much apparent enthusiasm. Theirs is not that deep spiritual experience which makes its possessor count suffering as a privilege and martyrdom as a crown. They rejoice for a season in Christ and His salvation, but “they have no root in themselves,” so that “when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by they are offended.” We are inclined to think that Demas belonged to this class. The apostle was now overwhelmed by calamities. His career as a messenger of the Cross had been ruthlessly cut short. There were unmistakable signs of a coming storm, when he, and possibly those around him, would be tortured and slain, to gratify the bloodthirstiness of the Roman emperor. He seems to be fully cognisant of this, for he says, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” It is probable, therefore, that Demas feared lest by continuing with the apostle he might share his dreadful fate. He pictured himself being carried away in chains by the brutal soldiery, as he had seen many others, to the great amphitheatre, to be thrown into the arena, and there to be drawn limb from limb by ferocious beasts, for the amusement of the frivolous thousands who gloated on such scenes. The bare thought of it made him tremble. He “loved the present world”; to him life was too precious, too full of delightful possibilities, to be thrown away in the prime of manhood—to be thrown away especially in this awful fashion. Visions of former days began to haunt him. His early home, the comrades of his youth, his loving kindred, all that he had left when he became a convert, completely engrossed his thoughts, and cast over him a fascination that was becoming irresistible. There was nothing else for it; he must see them once more, even though it should cost him his hope of heaven. And so he “departed to Thessalonica,” the place where he was bred and born. Some suppose that he took this step for the sake of gain—for the sake of engaging in some lucrative trade. It may be so; but there is no evidence to prove it.
These considerations, though they explain, do not excuse Demas’s conduct. Far from it. He richly merits all the censure that has been meted out to him. He ought to have played the man, and braved any danger for the sake of his principles. Like the Psalmist, he ought to have said: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” Compared with the kingdom to which he belonged, what was Rome with all its power? Compared with the King whom he served, what was Nero with all his glory? Compared with the joys of holy living, what was the world with all its attractions? But he failed to realise these great facts, and hence he acted the part of a weakling; he bent as a reed, when he ought to have stood firm as an oak. If all the first disciples had been made of such pliable stuff as himself, what would have been the condition of the world to-day? How mean and cowardly his action appears when contrasted with the heroic endurance of weak women, who rather than deny their Lord faced the “violence of fire!” Weakness in certain situations amounts to a crime. Who ever thinks of justifying Pontius Pilate? He was not guilty of wilful wrong; he would have gladly acquitted our Lord, had he been able to do so without risking his own safety; when he delivered Him to be crucified, he simply gave way, through fear, to the clamour of an enraged populace. Nevertheless he stands convicted by after-ages of the vilest act that any judge has ever committed. Wrong-doing is not to be palliated by ascribing it to the overpowering force of temptation. The claims of conscience are paramount, and no inducements, however plausible, can justify us in setting them aside.
It is sometimes asked, what became of Demas eventually? Did he, after wandering in the world, and finding no rest to his soul, identify himself again with the cause which he had deserted? We should like to be able to believe this. But the record is silent; and this silence is ominous; for when the Bible describes the fall of a good man, it generally gives some account of his restoration. Peter is a notable instance. Amidst the terrors of the Judgment-hall he thrice denied his Lord. The evangelists make no attempt to shield him from adverse criticism; on the other hand, they mention in detail every circumstance that enhances the baseness of his behaviour. But they are equally careful to dwell also upon the reality of his repentance. John, in a passage of marvellous beauty, relates how in a saner mood, on the shore of the sea of Galilee, he thrice confessed his Lord—confessed Him with such glowing fervour, that he was there and then restored into the position which he had so miserably forfeited. But the last word about Demas is that which points him out as a backslider; and as such he must be for ever known.
The lesson of Demas’s life is clear, nay even obtrusively clear, and the need of it has been freely acknowledged at all times. We could almost wish that it were inscribed in letters of fire upon the midnight sky. He was a man who “loved this present world,” and we see in his history how loving the world involves separation from God, and how separation from God results in the abandonment of His cause.
It is difficult to discourse to any purpose upon worldliness. You might get a crowd of people anywhere to hear you dilate upon it. They would probably applaud to the echo your most scathing denunciations of its baseness. But after all the probability is that no one would apply those fervid periods to himself. And why? Just because this evil principle manifests itself in such a variety of ways. A man who detects worldliness in his neighbour with the greatest ease may be absolutely incapable of seeing it in himself, simply because his own and his neighbour’s are so different in form. It is the old story. David boiled over with indignation at the hard-hearted monster who had taken the poor man’s lamb; but the fact that he himself had taken another man’s wife, gave him no concern whatever.
It will be readily conceded that the miser is a worldly man. He loves gold for its own sake; he hoards up riches, not with the view of enjoying them, but in order to satisfy an inordinate greed of possession; his chief object in life is to die worth his hundreds, his thousands, or his millions. Though rich, he is frequently tormented with the fear of ending his days in want, and is more anxious for the morrow than the poorest of the poor. The only redeeming point in his character is his self-denial—a truly noble characteristic when associated with a generous disposition—which, however, in his case, loses its value through the sordidness of its aim. Yes, he is a worldly man, beyond the shadow of a doubt. But this is equally true of the man whose manner of life is the very opposite of this—the spendthrift. He values money only in so far as it enables him to make a grand display, to spend his days in riotous living, to gain the goodwill of the empty, useless, pleasure-living society in which he moves. How totally different the latter from the former! How frequently do they despise and condemn each other—the miser the spendthrift, and the spendthrift the miser! And yet they worship, so to speak, at the same shrine; they are victims of the same delusion; they both make this world their all.
This love of the world leads in every case to separation from God. The story of the Fall furnishes an apt illustration of this fatal result. Stript of its poetic setting, what have we there depicted? Covetousness—the desire of material good—the determination to obtain it at all hazards. It was under this guise that sin made its first entrance into human life—sin, which in its turn
“Brought death into our world and all our woe.”
Now mark the effect of the first act of transgression. We are told that when Adam and his wife heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they “hid themselves” from His presence “amongst the trees.” In other words, the cords of love which up to that point bound man to God were rudely severed. Before this the thought of God filled their souls with joy; they loved to hear His voice in the whisperings of the wind, to see His smile in the merry sunshine, to trace His power in the structure of the heavens; but now all was mysteriously changed, things which previously ministered to their enjoyment became a source of terror.
Why should the love of the world lead to this result? It is because God must be all or nothing to the human soul. The first commandment in the law is—”Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” This is not an arbitrary enactment, but it has its ground in the eternal fitness of things. God is the infinitely powerful, the infinitely wise, and the infinitely good, and as such demands the undivided love of man. Anything less than this, not only falls below His lawful claim, but also fails to satisfy our profoundest aspirations. As Augustine puts it, “Thou hast made us for Thyself; our hearts are restless, until they find rest in Thee.” But it may be asked, Does love to God exclude all other loves? By no means. The second commandment in the law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” is inseparable from the first. It is impossible to obey the one without obeying the other. Obedience that does not regard both is partial, and therefore futile. The reason is plain. God is immanent in creation. The Christian beholds God in everything, and everything in God. Thus it comes to pass that his supreme love—his love to God—intensifies, ennobles, and hallows every other. If you would have an example of the highest type of love—love to God manifesting itself as love to man—go to a Christian home, and you will find it there in all its charm, uniting husband and wife, parents and children, master and servants, making the house a veritable “paradise regained.”
There is a sense in which the Christian even loves the world—loves it as no other man can love it—that is, when the term is applied to the wondrous system of nature. He loves sometimes to wander in the fields, where innumerable lovely forms, both animate and inanimate, reveal their beauty to the eye; and at other times to meditate upon the illimitable expanse of heaven, crowded by ten thousand worlds, which all declare the glory of Him who is Lord over all. Paul could not have had this meaning in his mind when he spoke of Demas as having, through loving the present world, made shipwreck concerning his faith. He was thinking rather of the sum-total of those pursuits, pleasures, and ambitions which bind man to earth, hamper his spiritual growth, and lead him to his ruin. The “world” in this sense is God’s rival; to love the “world” is to hate God.
What does separation from God imply, and when can it be said to take place? God is everywhere; who can flee His presence? God is a spirit; who can do Him injury? These are questions that have always presented some difficulty. It was asked in the days of Malachi, “Will a man rob God?” as if such a thing were beyond the range of possibility. At the day of judgment, those on the left hand will ask the Judge, “Lord when saw we Thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto Thee?” as if the things laid to their charge were without foundation. Now, the objectors in the days of Malachi who asked, “Wherein have we robbed thee?” were answered, “In the tithes and offering.” And the objectors at the day of judgment will be answered, “Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me.” Evidently, therefore, God—or God in Christ—and His cause are in a very real sense identical; so that he who forsakes the one, of necessity forsakes the other also.
Separation from the world is an inward process; it takes place in the heart, and cannot therefore be perceived by a man’s most intimate friends. But the forsaking of God’s cause is the outward expression of this process, the manner whereby it becomes known to all the world. If it is asked why we assert that Demas had forsaken God, the answer is evident; it is because he forsook Paul, who was the representative of God’s cause.
This is never the work of a day, though it may sometimes appear such. A professedly religious man commits a flagrant act of sin—or perhaps a punishable crime—which places him at once among the open enemies of religion. We wonder at it; we say in our minds, “What a sudden change! yesterday a saint, to-day an unmitigated villain!” But are we right in saying so? Certainly not. That rash act was simply the culmination of a process that had been going on through a long period. The man had been sailing towards the rapids for months, or perhaps years, only the fact was unobserved; it was not until he was hurled headlong over the precipice into the foaming gulf, that the attention of the world was attracted to it.