Five Great Immovable Pillars
Rev. Howard F. Sugden, D.D., Pastor of Ganson Street Baptist Church, Jackson, Michigan
“For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”—2 Timothy 1:12
An Imperial Saviour
I checked down in the margin of my Bible that this great Apostle had placed his confidence and trust in an Imperial Saviour. Now, I use the word ‘imperial’ because it suggests the sovereignty of my wonderful Lord, and I notice that the Apostle suggests to us that there was an acquaintance he had made and he uses the word “I know.” It is the strong word for knowing. It is not the word we would ordinarily use. If we were to use the word today it would be the word for seeing. Paul says that he has seen the Lord; he has met Him face to face; he has had a personal experience with Him. There has been an acquaintance. With that acquaintance there has come an assurance. He says, “I know that He is able.” Now, I know that you have already done this, but it’s such a wonderful thing to do. Some evening when you are alone and you have your concordance and your faithful Bible, to just begin to study the Scriptures on these three little words “He is able,” and you begin way back in the book of Genesis when the Lord visited with Sara and Abraham in the heat of the day. You’ll find there when Abraham talked with the Lord, the Lord said, “Is there anything too hard for me?” and that little word ‘hard’ is an interesting one because it is later translated in Isaiah 9:6, “His name shall be called wonderful” and that is true. There is nothing too hard for the Wonderful One for He is able and you discover with this acquaintance and this assurance that there comes a commitment that the Apostle Paul makes. He has committed unto Him his whole being—body, soul, spirit has been committed into the hands of our glorious Lord. To know Him is to be acquainted with Him personally as Jesus Christ, as Saviour, then comes the great assurance “He is able.” Then come the commitment of our lives unto Him. The one who is faithful is able to keep, and it always works out just this way when we meet this Imperial Saviour face to face.
A few years ago the phone rang one morning and a gentleman informed me about a young chap who was ordered to prison. He was a young fellow I had not seen, I had no occasion to know, but he had written a letter suggesting that he was in great need. We have the largest penitentiary in the world in Jackson. At the present time I believe we have 5,900 men incarcerated behind those walls and I understand from the man I talked with the other day that one-third of those men had been our veterans of the last war—a tragic thing. Well, on this day we drove out to the prison. It was one of those wonderful October days and I walked in, stood by the desk, they asked me whom I would like to see and I told them the man’s name and the number, and I walked in. In a little while they called me and I waited in the pen where I would meet the fellow. I saw him as he came up the steps. He came up out of that long prison cell, stepped in the place where I was and reached out his hand. He gave me his name, and I gave him mine. He had no reason for knowing me. Then, when we walked into that place where we visited—a long stretch of seats and there is a little raised platform in the middle of the table so you can’t pass things across—I sat down, he sat down. I said, “Tell me your story,” and this young chap opened up and told me a story like I had never heard before in all my life. After he had told me the story I discovered we were the same age. We were both youngsters, I thought. He had been a pugilist; he was a French Catholic; he had never seen a Bible and never heard about the Lord Jesus as we know about Him. After he had told me his story I said, “But for the grace of God, Ted, I would be sitting across the table where you are sitting and I am glad that I met Him face to face. Wouldn’t you like to hear the story?” And he said, “I would, Sir. I would like to hear about Him.” And as best I could, so this prison boy could understand, I told him the wonderful story of Jesus Christ, about this Imperial Saviour, the One who was able. As I talked the man who was in charge of visitation in the prison sat on his little bench at the right end by my side. He had placed us there because there was a little spot about so long where there wasn’t any wood between and we could talk a bit more personal.
When I finished my story I reached out my hand to his big rough hand, and he clasped mine and I said, “Ted, it’s up to you. I have told you the story of the Saviour. I have told you how He can meet your need. Now, I ask you for a decision. Will you receive Him as your Saviour?” He said, “I will, Sir, I will receive Him this very moment as my Saviour.” We bowed there in that prison place, and while the angels of heaven listened and were attentive, this man who was at the end of the table bowed his head in prayer and we prayed together and this prison lad was saved. I wish I had time to tell you about the earnestness of that boy.
A week later I went back. He had gone to the library and had secured a reference Bible. He had never seen a Bible before and he couldn’t understand the references, he couldn’t see where they might fit in the picture, and he had worked all week on the first two verses of John’s Gospel trying to fit in those references. I explained to him as best I could, wrote to Dr. Houghton, told him about the case. Dr. Houghton said, “I’ll be so glad to send him correspondence work with Moody Bible Institute.” I can still see the picture of that boy as he would stand in the nighttime—they turn off the lights at nine o’clock and the only light that shines is the light that is down that long corridor—and Ted would be there in his cell with his Scripture up like this reading his Bible as the light from the corridor fell upon the page. One day as I visited I said to him, “How long have you been here, Ted?” He said, “Well, I have been here fourteen years.” “Any hope?” He said, “I don’t know if there is any hope or not, Mr. Sugden,” and he said it with such a wonderful smile upon his face that I knew it came from his heart. He said, “You know it doesn’t make much difference whether there is hope of getting out of here or not, because you know I have committed everything I have into the hands of an Almighty Saviour.” It is wonderful to know that it was this that made the Apostle what he was—this Imperial Saviour that he had met.
An Impregnable Foundation
In the second chapter over in the 19th verse I will do a thing that tonight, perhaps, you will forgive me for. I want to read the verse and then explain a bit about the way I like to use it. In 2 Timothy 2:19 “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” I wrote beneath this word of the Imperial Saviour that this man also had an Impregnable Foundation. Now, I like the word because it speaks of all the ways that might sweep against this foundation and it cannot be overthrown.
A few days ago as times had grown a bit difficult for us, I was riding along the road and wondering about all the problems of life that I was facing with my people as I visited with them—sorrow and death and little boys and little children with dreadful diseases—I said within my own heart, “You know the atheist has something to talk about if that’s all he sees. If that’s all he knows he has something to say if he doesn’t know more than that.” But I am glad that these three words, I can sort of lift them out tonight if you will permit me, and use them for this great foundation that I must have in my life which the Apostle had, “The foundation of God standeth sure…the Lord knoweth,” and I like to put a period there if you’ll let me tonight, because I like to take just those words and ring them out in my own soul and send a hallelujah in my heart, to know when people come to me and say, “Pastor, why does this happen?” I don’t have an answer for them, God has the answer. When they say, “Why does this come?” I cannot answer them, God knoweth. I can never explain why Isaiah was sawn asunder, why Jeremiah was placed in a dungeon and that Daniel was freed. I can’t understand why that night when James was beheaded with a sword that Peter was loosed from prison. There are things that are absolutely inexplicable as far as I am concerned, but I love to take this verse and know that as the Apostle faced life he recognized this that the foundation of God stood sure, that God knew those things that were coming to pass and the seal was upon it, that we belong to Him and He knows us by name, and what an Impregnable Foundation it is.
A few years ago Mrs. Sugden and I were ministering at Keswick. It came one of those evenings when the young college students were giving their experiences and telling something about the future. As we sat there in the auditorium listening to those fine young people as they gave their witness and testimony, there was a young lady arose. I shall never forget as long as I live what she had to say. She had planned to go to the mission field; she had planned to be married, and that was wonderful. The day had been set, there was the long gown that had been purchased, the little hat that set securely on her head and the veil. And then there were all the flowers and the bridesmaids, the maids of honor and all the rest that go with it, the ushers and, of course, the groom. Then the day came, and the day that that young lady was to have walked down the aisle of that place to take her husband, instead of walking down the aisle dressed in white she walked slowly behind that casket and she sat down quietly, and then as she looked up into the face of God she must have thought of these triumphant words of the great Apostle “The foundation of God standeth sure” and these two little words must have come to her with new meaning that “God knows,” and in the midst of life’s adversities what a wonderful foundation it is for us to rest upon.
An Infallible Book
Then, I notice again in the third chapter these words that are so familiar to all of us tonight, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” I’m glad that I hold in my hand an Infallible Book, and I’m glad that when all the word has been said concerning it and all has been spoken about it, yet it becomes dearer and more pleasant as the days come and go, for it is an Infallible Book—every word moved by the Spirit of God. Holy men of God wrote as they were moved upon and you know, as Peter tells us, as the flying of the ship across the face of the lake the Spirit of God moved upon men of God and they were moved to write the Scripture. Now Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is the very breath of God, and I like to notice what this Scripture has for us. “It is profitable for doctrine,” that has to do with our forward steps. If we are ever to go forward in our Christian life, in our spiritual experience, it will be when we have doctrine for our forward step. We’ll have “reproof” for our false steps, and so I take the Word of God and I find out these places where I step aside and it reproves me for my false steps. I have “correction” for my faltering steps, and I have “instruction” and the word is the word that is used for first steps, or the instruction that is first given to a child of God. Now why is this given to us?—“That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” and the Apostle uses two interesting words. He uses the word that a man might use who has gone to a doctor because his arm was out of joint, and it is placed back so that it is usable again, and that is the first word for perfect. In other words, a man who does not know Jesus Christ as Saviour, he is out of joint—out of joint with himself, out of joint with his fellow men; out of joint with God. But the Word of God comes to him and it makes him perfect. He is fitted so that he is usable.
The next word “thoroughly furnished unto all good words” is an intriguing word for it means literally “completely furnished out.” If you were to go down here and find your way upon one of the great ships and you found that everything had been provided for you, everything that would meet your need for the journey from the time you got on the ship until you landed over there, wherever your destination was, that’s the word that is used here. And so the Word of God is this Infallible Book that comes to us. It takes care of every one of our needs, beginning from the time we met Christ first of all until the day we finally see Him face to face. I’m glad tonight, aren’t you, that we have an Infallible Book in which to put our trust.
An Immutable Hope
You’ll notice next that we have down in verse 8 of chapter 4 an Immutable Hope, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all of them also that love his appearing.” Now the Apostle is nearing the end of life and he is saying that the time of his departure is at hand. He is thinking about that day when he shall launch out and go to meet his Lord, and he has an Immutable Hope, that is, of meeting his Lord face to face. He knows of His coming, he knows of the resurrection, and he says, “The time of my departure is at hand.” The word ‘departure’ brings to us so many things when we read the Scripture. It is the word of a sailor that he would use as he untied his ship to sail out across the sea, and so that is true of us when death comes to us. If it comes to us before our Lord returns it will be the unmooring, the launching out, and we’ll say some certain evening star. It is the word of a farmer, that he used after he had used his oxen all day long, and they were tired with the day’s work, then the heavy yoke was taken off the oxen and they were turned out to rest. Paul said, “Life is about over for me. I plowed the furrow and soon this yoke is going to be taken off from me.” It is the word of a philosopher—a philosopher who has gone through life with weighty problems upon his heart and upon his mind, and now he has come to the end and this great problem, that mystery that has faced him is now being untied. And so the time of his departure is at hand and he says he has this Immutable Hope that he shall meet his Lord whom he loves and he will receive in that day a wonderful reward.
The greatest hope that we have today and the most Immutable Hope that is ours is not in things. I am afraid of atomic bombs and atomic warfare. I always read the paper and then read the Word to discover that my hope rests not in these fleeting things that are happening around me, but in this wonderful Lord of mine who some day shall come again and whose reward is with Him; if I fall to sleep and Mrs. Sugden places me beneath the sod, then that glorious day will come when I shall arise with those who have gone before and be forever with our Lord.
One day as we were having a funeral and we were moving out along the wayside—it was one of those interesting days that a pastor sometimes finds himself in—as we had gone to the funeral home the man in charge said, “Mr. Sugden, you’ll have an interesting day today. You’ll notice we have brought the dear wife in, whose husband is being buried, and she is resting on the stretcher out there. She has no limbs and so we’ll carry her and put her in the ambulance, and when we have taken her out to the cemetery we’ll drive the ambulance up on the place where we will have to leave her and then we’ll carry the casket upon the little hillside and you stand out in the middle of that cemetery and give the committal service.” And I said, “Thank you. I have never given one like that before.” And so as we rode along that day—it was rather a dark, dismal day, raining, not a nice day—but as we drove along I began to think about what a wonderful experience it would be to stand out there in the midst of that great silent city of the dead were thousands were buried, and just to lift my voice and to cup my hands around my lips and to read the wonderful portions of Scripture.
And so we arrived, and they parked the ambulance and put the casket way up there and I stood out in the middle and I raised my voice and I had a wonderful picture of that wonderful day when the Lord will return again, and I cupped my hand like this and cried, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” And then we read, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” And the more I read the more excited I became as I thought of that great day when He who came once despised and rejected of men, will once again come to call us unto Himself, and I share with that great Apostle that Immutable Hope that made him look beyond all the difficulties of life and made his soul to soar in the midst of life’s problems.
An Inspiring Presence
One last thing and we have to close. In the last chapter you find this, not only did the Apostle have this Imperial Saviour to whom he had committed his all; this Impregnable Foundation which could not be shaken—prison bars, beatings, scourgings, could not change it. Imprisonments only made the Apostle to go on because he knew that God had a purpose for him and God had that in store for him. This Infallible Book which cheered his soul and he always encouraged them to bring the parchments that he might have them safe by his side, this Immutable Hope, and then he closes this letter to Timothy, his last fond word, speaking of an Inspiring Presence. You’ll notice it in the 4th chapter of the 16th verse, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me,” and I put a little circle around that in my Bible and said, “That’s enough.” When everyone else flees, when we stand alone, as the little laddie said, “I see what you mean, teacher, when there’s only one of us, there’s always two of us, because the Lord is with us.” And you trace it back to the Old Testament. It was what encouraged Abraham when he was alone that God was with him. It was what encouraged David in hours of trial; he could say, “The Lord is my refuge and my fortress.” It was this that makes men of God across the years to sing, to know that this Imperial Saviour comes to us with an Inspiring Presence, and when all men forsake us and flee away as they did from Paul, to be able to say, “Nevertheless the Lord stood with me,” and that’s enough—to have Him is to have everything.
I understand some years ago it was the custom over in Scotch and English universities when dignitaries were brought in, to give honorary degrees, that there was a great bit of heckling done by the people who happened to be standing around, and especially the lower classmen. It happened that on this day that there was a gentleman along with others to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Law. They had come—these young folk had come from the lower classes and they were there with all their planned heckling for the day, and then the name of this gentleman was called and he stepped out and he stood. There was a hush swept over the audience—his emaciated face, his gaunt body, and arm hanging by his side, and the name of David Livingstone was called, and those boys who had come looked into the face of that man, a face filled with passion and earnestness, and David Livingstone stepped for a moment out before the crowd to give just a word. And as he gave the word about his desire and the passion of his life and spoke a moment about the hardships of Africa, then he said these words worthy to be written in our hearts tonight, “That which sustained me all the time of my sojourn and of my hardship in Africa were these words, ‘Lo, I am with you always.’” And Paul is saying when all others flee away, then to know that the Lord stands with us. What an Inspiring Presence in such an hour as this. It’s wonderful for my own heart to discover as I minister that it is the desire of our Lord constantly to break in upon the thinking of men to enter into life’s experiences that they may know Him whom to know is life eternal; that they may come to know Him as an Imperial Saviour and discover all these pillars plentiful for their lives as they live day by day.