Dr. W.A. Criswell

2 Timothy 1:15-18

9-28-58    7:30 p.m.



We turn now to the second letter of Paul to Timothy; the second letter of Paul to Timothy, the first chapter.  Last Sunday night in our reading, we stumbled at Phygellus, and Hermogenes, and Onesiphorus, as though we had never seen those brethren before. So tonight, I have prepared a sermon on them. I had not planned any such thing, never entered my mind to preach on these brethren.  But after last Sunday night and our evident “unacquaintance” with them, I just decided it would be good to know these gentlemen.  So we are going to see them, and shake hands with them, and look at them, and get acquainted with them tonight.

Now we are going to read the passage together; it is Phygellus, and Hermogenes, and Onesiphorus.  All right, let us start at the twelfth verse and read to the end of the chapter, 2 Timothy, 1:12 to the end.  All right, everybody:


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.

Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us. This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me;  of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain:

But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day:   and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well. 

[2 Timothy 1:12-18] 


Now you read those names as though you were really acquainted with them. We are already beginning to feel at home with them, these men. Well, I can pray earnestly that after this service is over tonight, you can read that passage with a new appreciation, a new cognizance, a new realization. It has in it a wonderful message to us. 

This Bible, all of its words, all of its revelations, have been made through the character, through the soul, through the life of men—like a stained-glass window and the light shines upon it, and, thereafter, the words, the light colored.  So it is in the Holy Book, these words are delivered through the mind and the soul and the character of men, and without a man is there no revelation.  All of these words have been written down.  They have been delivered by a man or men.

Now these men greatly differ as they are presented here in the Bible, which is nothing but a reflection of the life that we see all around us, in this generation, in every generation. There are men who are noble, God-inspired, God-breathed, God-directed, men of great character. There are men who are ignoble; there are men who are traitors to the faith. There are men who forsake the Lord God.  There are men whose words eat like a canker. There are women—there are men and women who are deceived of the devil, as Eve was [Genesis 3:1-6].  There are men who lend themselves as an agency of Satan, as Judas did, and Satan entered into Judas after the Lord Jesus gave him the sop at the Passover supper [John 13:26-27].  All of these men are differentiated, not because of their abilities, not because of their talents or their endowments or their gifts, but they differ in what they are; they differ in character.

You can expect crookedness from a schemer, heresy from a dissembler, shame from a coward, the act of treachery from a traitor. You can expect truth and honesty from a great soul and devotion from a Christian committal. It is character—what a man is— that abides forever.  Talent may shine and gleam for a moment, gifts, endowment may glitter and scintillate for a while, but what the man is, [his] character is stellar and lasts forever.  What a man is, his character is something that cannot be disguised. It will shine through; it will break through, inevitably.

A devil quoting Scripture is still a devil. He's recognized as such. However he may be robed, even in the embellishments, the paraphernalia of an angel of light, he's still the devil. So it is with men, their opinions, their lives, their works are nothing other than a reflection of what they themselves are. Every system is the incarnation of a man; what he says, what he thinks, what he does, and that lasts forever and forever.

Moses, and Paul, and John stand on their immovable pedestals, unwasted by the ravages of time. What they were, they are. What they are, they ever shall be through the immeasurable, unmeasured ages of eternity.  The divine legislation of Moses is Mosaic, ever shall be. The divine doctrine of Paul is Pauline and ever shall be. The divine apocalypse of John is Johannine and ever shall be. These characters, what these men are, abide forever. And it is so with you; it is so with all of these who pass like characters across a stage, pass before our view in the Bible.

Jannes and Jambres, Philetus and Hymeneus, “whose words doth eat like a canker” [2 Timothy 3:8, 2 Timothy 2:17], Judas, the Judaizers; the enemies of Christ, they are that way forever!  And it is thus with these men whose names are introduced here tonight; written large there on the page, they are men of a certain turn, of a certain character. They are a certain thing.  And what they were and how they are, comes out, shines forth, in what they did, and it is written there on the page forever and forever.

Now the apostle Paul lived in an eclipse, he lived in a dark hour. His life closed when it looked as though the faith that he had preached and the gospel seed he had sown would be forever stifled and destroyed.   He lived in a wretched and miserable time. He lived to see and died in the first, great, terrible, ruthless persecution of the Christian faith. He lifted up his heart. He lifted up his eyes. He had great faith in the ultimate triumph of Christ in His appearing, in His coming again.   Had it not been for that, Paul would have died in abject misery, without any hope, without any light, without any promise. "This thou knowest… this thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes…"  [2 Timothy 1:15].

Asia, the Roman province of Asia—with its seven great churches of Asia, with its capital city on the Caýster River, Ephesus—Asia was the scene of Paul's greatest, grandest ministry.  In all of his life, there was no blessing upon his preaching as fell upon him in Ephesus and in the Roman province of Asia.

In this last letter, he's pleading with Timothy himself to be faithful and true. In this one chapter here as I look at it, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner" [2 Timothy 1:8].  Why, Timothy who would ever have thought about being ashamed?  Because everybody seemingly was ashamed, "I don't know Him. I never heard of Him."

Be not thou ashamed of the Lord, nor of me His prisoner,

—then again, in the same chapter—

I am not ashamed:  for I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded

—in the face of this dark and foreboding eclipse—

 that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.  Timothy, hold fast the form of sound words... That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the power of the Holy Ghost.

[2 Timothy 1:8, 12, 14]


You can't read those words without sensing the great dread and darkness that has overwhelmed the Christian faith and the preaching of the Christian religion.

Then he mentions what had happened in Asia, "This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes" [2 Timothy 1:15].

How is it that those men repudiated the apostle? We just have to guess. Maybe they were with him when Paul was arrested. And when the time came and Paul stood before the court, true to the faith of Jesus Christ, those two men—converted by Paul, converts there in Asia—they forsook him, denied him, turned away from him.

"To me, he's just another sophist. He's just another itinerant purveyor and scatterer of false, vain ideas."  Or, "We don't know him. We never heard of him."  Or else they were men who were leaders in the church.  And in that hour of darkness and despair, they lead the church into apostasy, into the denial of the faith. "All they which are in Asia be turned away from me: of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes." Then he speaks of one, we forget the other two. They denied the faith; traitors to the cause, lead the church into heresy.

Then he mentions one:


The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain:  But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me.

The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day:   and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.

[2 Timothy 1:16-18]


Onesiphorus: he was a convert in Asia, in Ephesus.  And he seemingly was a most able, well-to-do, gifted man.  For in the ministry of Paul in that great capital Asian city, he ministered unto Paul and everybody knew it, and especially Timothy.  He helped Paul, he encouraged Paul, he stood by Paul, he saw him through.

Upon a day, this man, Onesiphorus, who was a household word would mean an affluent home in which were many servants, a family, many servants, a household. Upon a day, Onesiphorus is in Rome. I would suppose he was a merchantman.  He traveled, he was a man apart, he was in Rome upon a day. And while this merchantman from the city of Ephesus was in the great capital Roman city, he heard that his old friend and preacher, the apostle Paul, was a prisoner in the city.  

A strange thing: in reading and preparing that sermon on St. Patrick, our great Baptist preacher, I discovered that Christianity was brought to the British Isles by merchantmen from the Roman province of Asia. The preaching of the Word, of the sowing of the seed of the gospel, that first came to our forefathers was brought to them by businessmen from Ephesus and the cities of the Roman province of Asia.  It was Eastern Mediterranean Christianity that was first inculcated and preached and received by our forefathers in those ancient British churches, up there in the British Isles. 

This man, Onesiphorus, was one of those traveling merchantmen—well-to-do, affluent—and he finds himself in the city of Rome, and he hears that Paul is a prisoner in Rome. So he sets himself to find the apostle. Things have changed since Paul was there the first time. When Paul first was a prisoner in Rome, he lived in his own hired house. He preached the gospel openly and fearlessly. And anybody who would, could come and go and listen to the marvelous news of the gospel of the Son of God.

But not so this time; Onesiphorus, very diligently sought.  Nobody knew where Paul was; it's another day, it's another hour. For the persecution inaugurated by Nero is burning furiously!   And for a man to be known as a Christian is to risk death itself. Nobody knew where Paul was.

Onesiphorus, this merchantman, makes his way up to the city officials.  And he asks where is Paul, the prisoner?  They don't know, "We don't know him, we never heard of him."  He makes his way to the Praetorian Guard. "Where is Paul the prisoner?"

"We don't know. We never heard of him." 

He asks his business associates, "Where is Paul, the preacher of Christ?"

"We don't know. We never heard of him."

Finally, somebody draws Onesiphorus aside and whispers in his ear, saying, "Onesiphorus, hush, hush!  Don't ask openly and publicly about Paul, the preacher of Christ. "Don't you know?  Whoever is found to be a Christian is thereby indicted as an atheist and an enemy of the gods and an enemy of the state and is subject to immediate death!   Hush, Onesiphorus, don't ask for Paul."  That fine noble merchantman drew himself up to his full height and said, "If Paul, the preacher of Christ, is in the city of Rome, I shall find him, death or life!"  He searches, he asks, he goes from one prison to the other. He meets somebody.

"Oh, Paul, Paul, I remember Paul, a Roman citizen, a Jew, a Christian. I happened to be in the courtroom when he was condemned to death. You'll find him in the Mamertine prison where they are lodged to await final and inevitable execution."  Mamertine prison, where those are kept who are to be slain by the order of the Roman emperor; Onesiphorus the merchantman makes his way to the Mamertine prison.   It's cut out of the solid rock on the Capitoline Hill—the only entrance to that awful dungeon, made like a cistern; up at the top, a grating of iron, through which the prisoner is let down into that awful hole, through which what food and water is offered is let down.  A stench, a horror—the only light, that which can struggle through the iron grating, awaiting execution, no escape!

Onesiphorus goes to the guard, and he asks, "Sir, in the dungeon, a prisoner named Paul?"

"Yes," says the guard.

Onesiphorus draws from a secret pocket in his robe a little pouch of gold, places it in the hand of the guard. "May I see him?"  The guard is astonished! Gold. "Yes, yes," he says. "Yes."  He goes to the iron grating, he lifts it away, he lets Onesiphorus down into the dungeon, he looks around and there chained to the solid rock is Paul the aged, the preacher of the gospel of the Son of God. And Paul lifts up his face, and there is his old friend Onesiphorus.

In the twentieth chapter in the Book of Acts it says, "And Paul kneeled down, and prayed with them all.  And they wept, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him" [Acts 20:36-37].  Why can't you see that? Chained to the solid rock in that Mamertine prison, and Onesiphorus comes. Why, I can see the old preacher of the cross as he falls into the arms of his friend, and as his friend hugs close to his heart the man who won him to Christ, Paul, the preacher of Jesus:


Onesiphorus, Onesiphorus, he sought me out diligently, very diligently, and found me.  And he oft refreshed me, for he was not ashamed of my chain. 

[2 Timothy 1:16-17] 


He came back on another day. And out of this pocket, a little bag of gold, into the hand of the guard to see Paul.  "Yes," he says. "Yes," he says.  And he removes that iron grating. Onesiphorus is let down into that foul, stinking dungeon again:

“Look, Paul," he says. And he has bread to eat. 

"Look, Paul," he says. And there's a little water for him to wash with. And,

"Look, Paul," he says. He has a cloak.

"Look, Paul." And he has a book.

"Look, Paul." And he has pencil and paper.

Every time that he came he brought something. "He oft refreshed me. He helped me. He brought me something,” 

Then upon a day, a jackal of a dog, a craven slave, noticed that rich merchantman.  Evidently, from one of the great provinces of the East, making his way to that Mamertine dungeon, and he watched him again, and he saw the gold pass to the guard.  And that craven jackal made his way like a serpent to Tigellinus.

Tigellinus was that evil, bestial beast behind Nero.  Because of his ministering to the sensual appetite of that, of that indescribable beast, Nero, he had wormed himself to be the leader of the Praetorian Guard.  And this jackal of a dog makes his way to Tigellinus, draws Tigellinus aside and says:


Tigellinus, listen, listen.  I know the name, I can point out to you the man, a rich merchant, and he goes to see Paul, the Christian. He's bound to be a Christian himself.  Tigellinus, seize him, accuse him. And you can confiscate his property, and all that he has is yours!  Tigellinus, just give me something and I'll show you the man.  I'll point him out. I'll name him.


And evil Tigellinus, seeing an opportunity to confiscate a rich merchantman and despoil him, said, "How much?" And they agree on a traitor's price.  And the craven slave takes some of the Praetorian Guard, and he waits just beyond the shadow of the Capitoline Hill.  And when Onesiphorus comes with love and prayers and bread and water for his friend, the preacher of Christ, that craven jackal points him out!  "That's him, Onesiphorus."  And he's arrested in the hands of the cruel and venomous Tigellinus.

 How did Tigellinus destroy him? We have to guess.  If he was a Roman citizen, he was beheaded; he was brought to trial.  There before the Roman court, this craven jackal of a dog arraigned him, "This man is a Christian!"   And the Roman judge, a deputy of Janus or of Jupiter or of Juno or of Venus, the Roman governor looks at him and says, "Are you a Christian?" Onesiphorus says, "I am."

"Are you a friend of Paul the preacher of Christ?" "Sir, I am." 

If he were a Roman citizen, he was tried and beheaded.  If he were a provincial—and I think he was a provincial—if he was a citizen of Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia, Tigellinus, to destroy him, had no other, no other trouble, no other choice, no other obstacle, but to give the command, and he's fed to the lions; he's murdered by the Praetorian Guard; he is fed to a gladiatorial combat and spectacle. That ended the life of Onesiphorus, and Tigellinus seized his wealth and his property.

And the next day, Onesiphorus didn't come. And the next day Onesiphorus didn't come. And the next day he didn't come, and Paul wondered and wondered.  And somebody told him—was it Luke, the physician?  Was it the guard who heard?  But somebody said, "Onesiphorus has lost his life."  And Paul, as though he didn't have trouble and sorrow enough, Paul picks up his pen, and he writes, "The Lord give mercy unto the household of Onesiphorus back in Ephesus. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day" [2 Timothy 1:16-18].   And when he closed the letter, the last salutation that he ever wrote; “Salute the household of Onesiphorus” [2 Timothy 4:19].  “For he was not ashamed of my chain, But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.”  I'd like to meet him, wouldn't you? I'd like to shake his hand. I'd like to bow my head in his presence. That's what it is to be a Christian:


If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 

Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.

 [Romans 10:9; Matt 10:32]


Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this sinful and evil generation; of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. 

[Mark 8:38] 


And Peter cursed and swore, saying, "I never heard of Him.  I do not even know Him."  And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.  And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, "Before the cock crowed twice, thou shall deny Me thrice." And he went out and wept bitterly [Luke 22:57-62]. That's what it is to be a Christian, to stand up and be counted. 

“Are you a Christian?”

"I am. I am!"   If it costs your life? The blood of the Passover was to be placed on the front door and on either side of the lintels openly, publicly displayed, for all Egypt—and the king himself—could see this house is set aside for God, openly displayed [Exodus 12:7, 13-14, 23].   That's what it is to be a Christian.

And Daniel, as his want was, as his custom was, opened wide the window where all could see, and prayed [Daniel 6:10].  “Whosoever bows not at the sound of the trumpet shall be thrown into the fiery furnace,” and the three Hebrew children were counted: one of them, two of them, three of them, refusing to bow before the golden image of the king [Daniel 13:12-18].  When they were thrown in the fiery furnace, there was one of them, there were two of them, there were three of them, there was a fourth One—and He looked like the Son of God [Daniel 3:11-29]. That's what it is to be a Christian:


The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.

[2 Timothy 1:16-18]


And he will, "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," that day [2 Timothy 1:12].  What does it matter if our little life is snuffed out here?  What does it matter if we're ostracized here?  What does it matter if we're ridiculed and made fun of here?  He is able against that day!

Onesiphorus, Onesiphorus, God raise up more like you in this and every generation, who stand up, who are counted for Christ, "I am a Christian. I am. By the grace of God in His mercy and strength, I am a follower of the Lamb."

While we sing this appeal, somebody you give your heart to Jesus. Would you come openly, publicly, where everybody can see?  If there were twenty thousand here tonight, openly, publicly; if all the angels in glory are looking down, openly, publicly;  if  somebody were to laugh, or mock, or ridicule tomorrow, openly, publicly, “I am a disciple of the Lord, my trust is in Him.” 

Before men, unashamed, confessing Jesus as Lord, would you come?  In the balcony around, in this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, here I come.”  Would you make it now?  A family to put their lives with us in the church, or one somebody you, while we make appeal, would you come, as we stand and sing?