The title of this paper will be familiar as part of Pauls request to Timothy :--
"The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments." (II. Tim. 4, 13).
The uninstructed often remark upon the trifling matters which are so often mentioned in Scripture. Surprise has been expressed that so small a matter as a cloak should be mentioned in an inspired book, or why a tonic for a disordered stomach should find a place in Gods revelation. These personal touches, of course, are some of the many indications that this book is by the same Divine Author as is the book of nature.
In the volume of creation around us there are many things which our short-sightedness would call trifles. What is the peculiar value of the daisy upon the lawn, or the buttercup in the meadow? Compared with the ocean or the mountains how insignificant they seem! Why is there such curious machinery in the foot of a fly, so that it may walk upside down upon the ceiling, or such a matchless optical arrangement in the eye of a spider? Because to most men these things seem trifles, are they really so? The greatness of the Divine skill is as apparent in the minute as it is in the magnificent, and in the same way in the Scriptures the little things which are embalmed in the amber of inspiration are far from being inappropriate or unnecessary.
In the affairs of men there are many things which are considered trifles, but what are the true values? It is not every day that a nation is torn by revolution, far more often is a birds nest destroyed by a child; it is not every hour that a flood sweeps a town away, but how frequently does the rain moisten the green leaves.
A hand-writing expert can deduce a writers character by such things as a slight quivering in the upstrokes, the turn of the final letter, a dot, or a cross, or smaller things still. We ought to realise that we can observe the legible handwriting of God, not only in nature and in the affairs of men, but in the very fact that the sublimities of revelation are interspersed by homely, everyday remarks. For these things are not trifles at all, if one has a true sense of values. This word from the letter to Timothy is only a small fragment of Scripture, but Pauls cloak may warm our hearts and his books give us instruction even at this distance of time.
Troas was a principal sea-port town of Asia Minor, and it is possible that Paul was arrested there on the second occasion of his being taken before the Roman Emperor. It was a custom of the Roman soldiers to confiscate an extra garment in the possession of an arrested person, and it could well be that Paul, warned of his impending arrest, had prudently handed his few manuscripts and his outer cloak (which were probably all he possessed) to the care of his friend Carpus. Troas is fully 6oo miles from Rome, yet Paul does not seem to be able to afford the purchase of another cloak, and asks Timothy, as he is coming that way, to bring it with him. He needs it badly, for the winter is coming on and his dungeon is bitterly cold.
Paul writes in one place that he has "learned to suffer loss," but this reference to the cloak brings home to us very vividly what he really had sacrificed in a personal manner. He was once great and wealthy, he had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, he tells us himself in the record that he had received a liberal education, had a zealous temperament, abundant gifts, and had enjoyed the general esteem of the Jewish rulers, but "what things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ," and now he is badly in need of even a winter cloak. He has grown grey, and the very men who owe their conversion to him have forsaken him. When he first came to Rome they all stood with him, but now they have nearly all gone, like winters leaves, and the poor old man, "such a one as Paul the aged," sits with nothing in the world to be called property but an old cloak and a few books, and these are six hundred miles away.
If Paul was right in all this, if his personal sacrifices were reasonable, what are we? If he acted as a believer should, what should we say of ourselves? If he will forsake everything for Christ what shall we say of those who profess Christ but will forsake nothing, not even their pride, that Christ may be exalted? We can condemn Paul and charge him with foolish ness, if we wish, but if what he gave was "reasonable service" and such as the grace of God required of him, ought we not to look to ourselves?
And Pauls request for his cloak adds point to his statement that all had forsaken him. If he had no cloak of his own surely someone could have lent him one, but evidently no one came to visit him, and they care so little, and forget him so completely that Onesiphorus, when he came to Rome, had to "seek him out very diligently." He was as obscure as if he had never had a name.
"At my first answer no man stood with me, nevertheless the Lord stood with me and strengthened me."
The reference to the cloak is in the Scripture so that when those of us who were once popular become forgotten, when friends desert us because of our beliefs, we may remember Paul, and remember that "nevertheless." David has his Ahithophel, Christ His Judas, and Paul his Demas; we should not really expect to fare better.
But it is not only physical comfort that Paul requires, he asks for "the books, especially the parchments." We do not know what these scrolls or vellums were, but Paul was evidently anxious to have them. Possibly they were wrapped up in the old cloak, possibly they were Scriptures, we do not know. What the verse does tell us is that EVEN AN APOSTLE MUST READ. The popular preacher is one who comes into the pulpit, pretends to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense. The popular writer is one who writes evidently without premeditation, never producing what has been called "a dish of dead mens brains." But look at Paul ! He is inspired, and yet he wants books. He has been preaching and writing for thirty years at least, and yet he wants books. He has been caught up into the third heaven and had heard words which it was not lawful for man to utter and yet he wants books. He has written the major part of the Greek Scriptures, and yet he wants books. Paul says to Timothy (and to us all) "Give attention to reading."
The man who never reads will never be read, he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other mens brains proves that he has no brain of his own. And yet we find that few professing believers care to read anything serious regarding the Scriptures, nor even the Scriptures themselves, very much. We ought to read everything that bears upon our search for truth, bringing it all to the acid test of the Scriptures to establish what is good and reject what is unsound. Paul says "bring the books," and we ought to echo the cry.
But note that he says "especially the parchments."
Whatever books there may have been, there can be little doubt that the "parchments" were rolls of Scripture, and with our own reading it must be "especially the Scriptures." Never was advice more sorely needed than now, for the number of persons who seek to intelligently read and understand the Scripture grows less every day. We read our magazines, we read the views of those we consider sound expositors, but THE Book, from which all revelation wells up, this is too often left. It is foolish to go to human puddles and forsake the clear crystal stream. Read all the books, certainly, but especially the parchments!
Most of us have a mental picture of Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, but probably it does not square up with the picture of himself that he paints for Timothy. Have a look at him--he is in a horrible dungeon where it is almost too dark to see, without his cloak, and alone except for Luke, as all the others have turned away from him. What sort of mood is he in?
Well, he is full of confidence in God--" I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is ABLE--."
And he is resigned and prepared for the future--" I am now ready to be offered up, I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."
And he thinks of all those down the centuries who 'will respond to his teaching--" Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, and not for me only, but for all them that also love His appearing."
"Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?"
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
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