Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
32. Prayer of Worship
1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16
It May Seem Somewhat Strange that in the Pastoral Epistles (which should receive special attention from all ministers of the gospel) there is no record of a single prayer which their author offered for any of the recipients, though they were his own "sons" in the faith. He did indeed inform Timothy that "without ceasing" he had "remembrance of him in his prayers night and day" (2 Tim. 1:3), but no mention is made of any particular requests that he offered to God on his behalf. Probably several practical lessons may be learned from that silence. But may we not see in this omission a lovely delicacy of spirit? Had the apostle specified that he was begging God to strengthen this or that grace or to equip him for the discharge of certain duties, it probably would have conveyed the impression that Timothy was defective in the one or remiss in the other. Hence the absence of what might be regarded as casting reflection upon his spirituality. But while no petitionary prayers on his behalf are recorded, two most blessed doxologies are contained in the first epistle, thereby inculcating an essential ministerial duty, and setting before this young servant of Christ an admirable example which he did well to emulate.
"Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Tim. 1:17). "Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen" (1 Tim. 6:15-16). We do not propose to treat these two prayers singly, but rather couple them together, for they both partake of the same character, are found in the same epistle, and obviously have much in common. In our contemplation of them we shall point out first their distinctive nature; second, the Object to which they are addressed; third, their substance. They are of a most elevated character; therefore one must be in a truly spiritual attitude in order to appreciate their sublime contents and make personal use of them.
General Classification of the Prayers of Scripture
Earlier we pointed out that for the purpose of general classification the prayers of Scripture may be described as those of humiliation, those of supplication, and those of adoration. The first are expressions of repentance, and consist of confessions of sin. The second are expressions of faith, wherein we request God to supply the needs of ourselves and others. The third are expressions of veneration and love, wherein we are occupied with the perfections of God Himself, and pour out our hearts in worship before Him. The last are doxologies, which consist in magnifying the divine Being, celebrating His excellence. Both of the passages quoted above are of this nature. In them God is adored for what He is in Himself. We often request the Lord, "Teach us to pray," when we ought to entreat Him to cause us to make better use of what He has already taught us. He has graciously furnished us with all necessary instruction, both in His own recorded prayers and in those of His apostles. In them He has plainly revealed that our hearts should be engaged with God Himself, contemplating His wonderful attributes and seeking His glory; we should not be thinking solely of ourselves and the supply of our wants.
In that prayer which Christ has given His disciples He has supplied a perfect model. In it He has taught us not only that it is our privilege to ask for those things which are needful for ourselves and fellow believers, but also to ascribe to God those excellences which pertain to Himself. The due consideration that He is "our Father which art in heaven" and the expression of the fervent desire, "Hallowed be thy name" take precedence over presentation of our own personal requests. "Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory" is to be heartily acknowledged, and a sense of the same should remain upon our souls at the conclusion of our petitions. To praise and adore God for what He is in Himself is an essential part of our duty. We are required to respond to the call "Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Neh. 9:5). That is the chief end of worship: not to benefit ourselves but to honor God. Many of our petitions begin and end with self, and therefore in no way honor God. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Ps. 50:23) is His own declaration. Praise is to be offered to God not because He needs it but because He is entitled to it, and because it is a testimony to our reverence, faith, and love for Him.
Occupied with the Glory of God
The hearts of the apostles being fully enthralled with the glory of God, their mouths and pens frequently gave expression to it. Often Paul broke forth in the midst of an argument or discussion to bless God. Thus in Romans 1, when charging the heathen for having changed the glory of the incorruptible God into that of the creature, he, with holy horror at such a dishonor done to the great God, interjected, "Who is blessed for ever. Amen" (Rom. 1:25). Also in Romans 9, on mentioning the name of Christ, the apostle added, "Who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen" (Rom. 9:5). Concluding his discussion of election and reprobation in Romans 11, he was filled with awe and adoration at the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God and at the absolute independence and inscrutability of His sovereignty, and ended with "to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). So too he concluded that epistle: "To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen." At the beginning of the Galatian epistle, having mentioned the Father, he at once added, "To whom be glory for ever and ever" (Gal. 1:5). The Ephesian epistle he began thus: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and ended the third chapter with a fuller doxology. In the Philippian epistle he stated, "Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Phil. 4:20).
In a narration of his conversion, Paul broke out in the first of the two doxologies which we are here considering; later, while mentioning "the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ," he burst forth in the latter doxology. At the close of the letter to the Hebrews, after mentioning Christ the author added, "To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:21). In like manner, Peter’s heart was so full that he began his first epistle with "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope." Later he uttered praise "that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Pet. 4:11). Again in chapter 5 he adored the God of all grace thus: "To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Pet. 5:11). The spirit of Jude was also elevated to such a height that he concluded, "To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen." John, at the beginning of the Revelation, followed the salutation from God the Father, the Spirit, and Jesus Christ with "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Rev. 1:5-6).
What fervor of heart, elevation of spirit, homage of soul, such utterances breathe! What an example they set before all the servants of God to exalt and magnify Him both in their own affections and before the saints! How they rebuke the formality of the modern pulpit and the coldness which now prevails in the pew! How they give point to that injunction "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name" (Ps. 29:2), that is, for what He is in Himself, and not simply for His benefits. It is a duty incumbent on us not only to return thanks to God for His mercies but to magnify Him for the excellence of His nature and the glory of His name. The ebullitions of praise quoted above are extracted from all blessings received, being spontaneous adorations of the divine perfections. They were attributes due to God Himself. How little venerating of the divine Majesty is now heard! It is sad indeed, a mark of the low level of spirituality now obtaining in the gatherings of the Lord’s people, that they do not resound with His praises. The absence of praiseful worship indicates a grievous lack of the sense of God’s excellence and the coldness of our affections, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, as from its emptiness the lips are silent.
When the soul is in a healthy condition it cannot help but exclaim, "Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name" (Ps. 103:1). Yet how rarely do we now hear such language as this: "Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all" (1 Chron. 29:10-11). The praises rendered to God by His saints are so acceptable and delightful to Him that they are termed a "habitation" for Him (Ps. 22:3). Note that that was what supported the Lord Jesus, though the nation treated Him as a "worm" (Ps. 22:6). Not only is praise due to God but it is fitting for us. Believers are "an holy priesthood" (1 Pet. 2:5), therefore they are to bring offerings to God. The offerings they present must accord with the nature of their priesthood; and since the one is spiritual, the other must be. Therefore the Church is urged, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name" (Heb. 13:15).
God to Be Worshiped Collectively and Individually
God should be worshiped by us not only collectively in the assembly but by the saint individually in private. "I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore" (Ps. 86:12). A gracious soul cannot really contemplate God without exalting Him and exclaiming, "Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Ex. 15:11). If our hearts were more engaged with the divine Being, and if our minds meditated more on His wonderful character, we would admire Him more and sound forth His worth.
The Psalmist exulted, "I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth" (Ps. 34:1). If such were the case with us, we should be lifted above the petty trials of this life and forget our minor aches and pains. Praising and adoring God is the noblest part of the saint’s work on earth, as it will be his chief employ in heaven. The unregenerate are blind to the divine beauty and incapable of perceiving His glory, much more so of rejoicing in it. But those who behold Him with the eyes of faith as He is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ cannot help but overflow in expressions of veneration and admiration of Him.
"Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen"; "Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, or can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen." Who is thus celebrated in these verses? Different answers have been given. Some, in view of John 1:18, say it is the Father; others, influenced by the context, regard it as the Son. While it is plain from John 5:23 that the incarnate Son is entitled to equal honor and homage as the Father, and while Revelation 5:12-13 compared with Revelation 4:11 makes it clear that in heaven He actually received the same, yet some of the expressions made use of in these doxologies scarcely appear applicable to the God-man Mediator. He is neither invisible nor unapproachable. Moreover, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in His times, shall show or demonstrate "who is the blessed and only Potentate." On the other hand, we would not personally restrict these ascriptions of worship to the Father; rather we regard them as having the Godhead in view.
It seems to the writer that these doxologies contemplate the triune Jehovah, the Godhead without distinction of Persons, yet not viewed abstractly but rather as revealed in and through the Mediator, the Lord Jesus. Admittedly that conducts us into deep waters where it behooves us to move with the utmost circumspection, and express ourselves in holy fear and trembling. The finite mind is utterly incapable of forming any concept of the essence of God in its absolute nature, infinity, and blessedness. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit exist, and coexist, in a manner quite incomprehensible to us. The unity of the divine essence and the trinity of Persons in the Godhead is inconceivable. We must go to the Scriptures for any proper conception of this. There we have the doctrine stated, but no explanation is furnished. The triune God is the great I AM: "Which is, and which was, and which is to come" (Rev. 1:4). Abstracted from all beings and things, He is of Himself and from Himself alone, self-existent, self-sufficient. But the doctrine of the Trinity is a revelation which God has given us concerning His nature, persons, and perfections in Christ. The eternal Three can only be known to us in Their covenant transactions and as They stand related to us in the Lord Jesus. We have nothing whatever to do with an absolute God, but with God as made known by that One in whom dwells "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9).
Christ the Image of the Godhead
Christ is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), not simply of the Father but of the Godhead. The Lord Jesus is "God [the triune God] manifest in flesh." In Him the blessed Trinity is declared, made known to Their uttermost discovery. He is the Partner of the Lord of hosts. He is "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person" (Heb. 1:3). Christ is the Medium and Mirror in which we behold Him, worshiping God in the acknowledgment of His Persons. Not that the three Persons are swallowed up in Christ, but that Their persons and perfections are revealed in and through Him. All thoughts of the Godhead apart from Christ and without the consideration of Him as God-man lead only to the contemplation of absolute Deity, and leave us without any view of the ineffable subject as it is declared in the gospel. Only as we view the eternal Three as they stand related to us in Christ can we form any right concepts of Them. The divine Persons have manifested Themselves in the distinctive acts of Their wills toward us, in Their purpose respecting us, in the salvation planned for us before time, and its accomplishment in Christ. The Father’s everlasting love to us in Christ (Eph. 1:3-4), and the Spirit’s office and work in us, are from Christ: making Him precious to us, conforming us to Him, maintaining our communion with Him. When Christ was openly declared at His baptism, the whole Trinity was manifest.
Turning now more directly to the substance or contents of these doxologies, we are taught how we are to conceive of the Glorious One, and why worship is due Him. A close comparison of the two prayers reveals that the same essential perfections of Deity are extolled in both of them, though various terms are employed, the one serving to amplify and cast light upon the other. Thus, we conceive that "the King eternal" of 1 Timothy 1:17 signifies the same as the fuller expression "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" of 1 Timothy 6:15. The "invisible" of 1 Timothy 1:17 is explained as "dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see." "The only wise God" in the former has no balancing clause in the latter. The one closes with "be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen," the other with "be honor and power everlasting. Amen." Let us now try to contemplate these several perfections of the Godhead, begging Him for quickened minds and enlarged hearts.
"Now unto the King eternal"; "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords." The very expression "the King eternal" at once intimates that the essential perfections of Deity are here being exalted. In considering this expression our thoughts are lifted far above all dispensational relations or temporal considerations. Jesus Christ is indeed "the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16), but considered as God-man He has not been so eternally, for His humanity had no existence before time began; nor was He vested with such dominion during the days of His flesh. It was after His resurrection, as the reward of His unparalleled humiliation and suffering, and in testimony of His meritorious and finished work, that God so highly honored the Son of man, and that He Himself declared, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18). What has just been pointed out in no way conflicts with the fact that because Christ was the Son of God incarnate, worship was due Him from the moment of His birth, so that during the days of His public ministry He was entitled to obedience and subjection; yet it was subsequent to the completion of His earthly mission that God crowned Him with glory and honor. Hence it is Deity as such which is here owned and magnified as "the King eternal."
"The Blessed and Only Potentate"
"The blessed and only Potentate." The reference is to the Godhead itself, without distinction of Persons. God Himself, the triune God, is the source of all blessedness and joy. God is self-sufficient, infinitely blessed and happy in Himself, and nothing can impair or disturb His serenity and sublimity. "The blessed and only Potentate." God’s blessedness and dominion are necessarily joined, for the glory of God especially appears in His unrivaled sovereignty and supremacy whereby He rules over all. It is His distinct honor that He has no equal, "for who in heaven can be compared unto the LORD?" (Ps. 89:6). He is "the only Potentate," for all subordinate, derivative authority is from Him: "By me kings reign, and princes decree justice" (Prov. 8:15); "There is no [magisterial] power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom. 13:1). When Pilate said to the Savior, "Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" He answered, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:10-11). "His kingdom ruleth over all" (Ps. 103:19); "None can stay his hand" (Dan. 4:35).
"The King eternal." He is "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity" (Isa. 57:15). He is "high" in the excellence and transcendence of His being, "lofty" in His independence and dominion, inhabiting eternity when none of His creatures had a being, dwelling all alone in His self-sufficiency. It brings real and solid peace to a grace-touched soul to realize that God is on the throne of the universe, directing its affairs both small and great, and working all things after the counsel of His own will. As the believer views Him thus, he is constrained to say, "Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high, who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth!" (Ps. 113:5-6). If our hearts were more occupied with the King eternal we should be less perturbed by what is happening in the world. Indeed, if our renewed minds were truly engaged with the high and lofty One our response would be "I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever. I will speak of the glorious honor of thy majesty" (Ps. 145:1, 5).
"The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). The apostle here gives glory to the triune God, first for that blessedness which is in Himself. To be "blessed" is to be richly endowed and joyous. Such is God to an infinite and inconceivable degree, for there is in Him such a meeting together and such a fullness of all His excellences as to render Him complete in Himself. God has no need to go outside Himself for perfect fulfillment. As the apostle declared to the Athenians, the great God who made and rules the world is not dependent on men for the worship of their hands "as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (Acts 17:25). God is obligated to none, being absolutely independent. Praise then is rendered to God as the "only Potentate," as sovereign over all. He has not only all-sufficiency and happiness within Himself but absolute power and dominion over all creatures and things. Put the two together—infinite fullness and infinite might—in Himself, and God is indeed "blessed," and is to be owned as such, yes, feared, admired, and adored as "the blessed One." "Blessed be the most high God" (Gen. 14:20). No less an honor is ascribed to Christ: "Who is over all, God blessed for ever" (Rom. 9:5).
The Immortality of God
"Who only hath immortality" (1 Tim. 6:16). This is in apposition to, or is the complementary perfection of, "the King eternal." God is not only without beginning of days but without end of them also. "Who only hath deathlessness" would be a literal rendering of the Greek word. The reason why God is immortal is because He is impeccable, or not liable to sin. A different term used in 1 Timothy 1:17 for "immortal" signifies "incorruptible." God cannot be tempted with evil (James 1:13). Why? Because He is its very opposite, the ineffably Holy One. Death is the wages of sin, and since God is impeccable and incorruptible, He is immortal, or deathless. Moreover, He is the living God: "With thee is the fountain of life" (Ps. 36:9). He has "life in himself" (John 5:26) by essence and not by participation. God is not only immortal but He "only hath immortality." The holy angels are immortal, as will also be the resurrected bodies of the redeemed, but that immortality is derived, bestowed by God. But God, and He alone, "hath immortality" essentially, underived, in full possession, in Himself and from Himself. He alone has immortality simply and absolutely, being the fountain of it. As such He is to be acknowledged and adored.
"Invisible" (1 Tim. 1:17). Observe carefully this is also mentioned as another of the divine perfections. There is a fullness in the words of Scripture which is not present in man’s words. Frequently there is more contained in and implied by the words of Scripture than is actually expressed. Such is the case here. God is not only invisible to sight but He is impalpable to the senses and incomprehensible to reason. He is, in Himself, inscrutable to all creature intelligence. Notwithstanding the revelation of Himself which God has been pleased to make by His Word and by His works, we still have to say, "Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?" (Job 26:14). Matthew Henry said, "What we know of God is nothing in comparison with what is in God, and what God is. After all the discoveries which God hath made to us and all the inquiries we have made after God, still we are much in the dark concerning Him." We cannot conceive of His essential glory. Only as we entertain a due appreciation of the greatness of God and the immeasurable distance between Him and us shall we be filled with holy fear and awe for Him.
"Dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto." How is that to be harmonized with "Clouds and darkness are round about him" (Ps. 97:2)? First, the Psalmist had reference to the ways of God which are hidden from us. We are incapable of perceiving how He acts, much less of understanding why. His providences are a great deep; His counsels are inscrutable to the human mind. Second, that language was designed to reprove our curiosity and presumption. We are far too prone to pry into what is not revealed, instead of performing our known duty. Third, this was said to try our faith: God will be trusted and honored even when we cannot see His hand or perceive His undertaking for us. Fourth, after all, Psalm 97:2 approximates very closely 1 Timothy 6:16, for even the saint is utterly incapable of understanding the divine essence or nature. There is such an overwhelming light in God that it is inscrutable to us. As one said, "The most eagle-like eyes of a human understanding are not only dazzled but quite blinded by His brightness." We may indeed draw near by faith to Him who is light, but not by reason.
Deity Dwells in Unapproachable Glory
The symbolism of the old covenant taught the same truth, namely, the unapproachable glory in which Deity dwells. We see this in the setting of "bounds unto the people round about" the base of Sinai (Ex. 19:12) at the giving of the law; in the veiled darkness of the holy of holies in the tabernacle and the temple, where the Shekinah abode between the cherubim on the mercy seat, to which Solomon alluded at the dedication of the temple: "The LORD said that he would dwell in the thick darkness" (1 Kings 8:12); and in the seraphim veiling their faces as they stood above the throne of Jehovah (Isa. 6:1-2). On the other hand, the figure is varied in "The light dwelleth with him" (Dan. 2:22) and "In thy light shall we see light" (Ps. 36:9). Putting the two together, "dwelling in light unapproachable" signifies that the divine glory is too ineffable for any creature to draw near to or apprehend. God only is able to apprehend Himself. Our most spiritual and exalted notions of Him are obscure and inadequate at best. There must forever remain an incalculable distance between the Infinite and the finite: the God-man Mediator is alone qualified to make known the One to the other, so far as it is for His glory and our good.
"Whom no man hath seen, nor can see." That fact is stated again and again in the Scriptures. Even the highly favored Moses, who was granted such intimate and prolonged communion with God, when he requested, "Shew me thy glory" received the answer "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee . . . Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Ex. 33:18-20). And almost at the end of the New Testament we are told, "No man hath seen God at any time" (1 John 4:12). God is invisible, though the whole universe is full of Him and exhibits Him. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork" (Ps. 19:1). Yet that is not to "see God" but only what He has wrought. It is evident that He is, for He clothes Himself with light as with a garment (Ps. 104:2). It is not evident what He is, for "he maketh darkness his secret place" (Ps. 18:11). The fullness of His glory can never be known by any creature: "His greatness is unsearchable" (Ps. 145:3). Even a beatific vision of heaven will not consist of a sight of God as God, but rather as He shines forth in a manifestative and communicative way in the person of Christ, as suited to finite capacities.
God Only Wise
"To the only wise God." As those words were previously discussed, they need not detain us now. They extol another of the perfections of Deity, namely, His omniscience. Yet when we utter such a term, how feebly we grasp its immeasurable purport. "His understanding is infinite" (Ps. 147:5). "There is no searching of his understanding" (Isa. 40:28). Someone has said, "The profoundest creature wisdom deserves not the name of it when compared with God’s. The wisdom of the angels is but folly to Him." All creature wisdom is imparted by God: His wisdom is original, essential, incapable of addition or diminution. God "by wisdom made the heavens" (Ps. 136:5). "In wisdom hast thou made them all" (Ps. 104:24). But above all God is to be praised for that "hidden wisdom" which He ordained before the world for our glory. A contemplation of this fact moved the apostle to exclaim, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Rom. 11:33). To the "only Potentate, . . . who only hath immortality, to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen."