It is an evil thing and a bitter to frighten Timothy. And it is woefully easy to do. Timothy is very young. He always was! He always will be! Timothy has solved the problem of perpetual youth. He will never grow old. He was very young when he went up to Corinth that first time. Paul felt sorry for him. He was such a boy. “If Timothy come,” the wise old man wrote to those Corinthian Christians, anticipating their amazement as they beheld the boyish ambassador, “if Timothy come, see that he be with you without fear. Let no man despise him.” And ten years later poor Timothy is still in trouble about this perennial juvenility. “Let no man despise thy youth,” Paul writes again in this later letter. It is very beautiful. The boyishness of Timothy is chronic, inveterate, incurable. He simply won’t grow old. He was very young when Paul sent him to Corinth. He was still blushing over his boyish bearing when the veteran addressed to him his last pathetic letter. And he was still young when I myself met him. And just because there are still so many Corinthians who despise poor Timothy’s youth, it is still necessary for Paul to beg and entreat those thoughtless believers not to frighten Timothy. “If Timothy come, see that he be with you without fear.”
“If Timothy come,” says Paul. And Timothy often comes. I met him once as a young convert, setting himself with great hesitation, and with much trembling, to the high and holy enterprise of local preaching. I met him again as a young home missionary, encountering insuperable obstacles in his large and lonely district in the Never-Never Country, yet not half as much afraid of the muddy roads and impassable fords as of the peril of unfaithfulness among his scattered people. I met him again as a student pastor, burdening himself, after the heavy scholastic toils of the week, with the spiritual oversight of a pastorless congregation on the Lord’s Day. And I met him once as a young minister, fresh from college, pulling himself together after the solemn and searching ordeal of his instruction, and wondering who, among the saints or angels, was sufficient for these dreadful things. Poor Timothy! Paul felt very sorry for him. So did I. “If Timothy come, see that he be with you without fear.” Timothy is very shy, very sensitive, very timid. At least, so all the commentators say, and if they don’t know, who should? Yes, I feel sure that they’re right. It is impossible to read of Paul’s tender solicitude for Timothy without being driven to the conclusion. Timothy is very shy, and very sensitive, and very timid. All the most winsome and most lovable things are. The birds on the bough, the rabbits in their burrow, the deer in the forest glades—all the feathered and furry creatures to which we feel irresistibly and instinctively drawn—are shy, and timid, and shrinking. And so was Timothy. “If Timothy come, see that he be with you without fear.”
Some day, when I have a Sunday to spare, I mean to run down to that bush congregation, to that country pastorate, to that suburban out-station, at which Timothy usually preaches. I should like to have a quiet talk with the people about this matter of frightening Timothy. I cannot persuade myself that they fully recognize the gracious opportunity which Timothy’s presence offers to them. It may be theirs to foster, and cherish, and nurture in him all that is most spiritual, and tender, and noble, and Christlike; and to send him forth at last from their tearful farewell meeting, not only with a silver-mounted umbrella or a Gladstone bag, but with a spirit sweetened, and instructed, and enriched in preparation for a great and fruitful ministry. Nor do I feel quite sure that they recognize the weight to their responsibility. They may quite easily and innocently spoil Timothy. They may frighten him out of all that is best in him. And they may dispatch him at last from their farewell meeting with a very beautiful silver-mounted umbrella, or a very handsome Gladstone bag—and with nothing else. And neither a silver-mounted umbrella nor a Gladstone bag is quite adequate preparation for the Christian ministry in strenuous days like these.
It is a dreadful thing to frighten Timothy out of his dreams, his ambitions, his ideals. He always has them. There is nothing else to attract him into the ministry. It is perfectly safe to assume that when Timothy boards the train that will bear him to his country pastorate, his head is full of the most beautiful ideas as to what a Christian minister should be. He has been reading Richard Baxter, or William Law, or Alexander Whyte, or the Yale lectures. Or at least he has been reading his Bible, and feels it a fearful thing to be called to follow in the footsteps of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament preachers. And he has prayed until his face has shone that he may show himself worthy of so solemn and sacred a charge. And all his thinking and dreaming and talking and reading and praying have enlarged his heart, and inflamed his emotions, and heightened his ambitions. And with all this wealth of spiritual fervour surging, like a tumult of flood-water, through every fibre of his being, he sets his face for his mission district or student pastorate. And when Paul sees him setting out in this temper, he trembles for him. Such a spirit is very fragile. It would be so easy for those thoughtless but well-meaning people at Corinth to frighten it all out of him. “If Timothy come, see that he be with you without fear.” …
Ian MacLaren has a lovely story of John Carmichael that I somehow think would have been very much to Paul’s taste as he thought of Timothy and his peril at Corinth. Now, Carmichael was like Timothy, very young, very shy, very sensitive, and very shrinking. He entered upon his first charge. But he felt—painfully, acutely, constantly—the awful chasm that yawned between his radiant dreams and his actual achievements. And he felt that the people must be regarding him either with pity or contempt. One Sabbath, as he was sitting in the vestry, all the elders filed solemnly in. He felt that they had come to tell him that they could tolerate it no longer. Then the sagest and kindliest of them all addressed him. They had noticed his fearfulness, and nervousness, and timidity, and wished him to be completely at his ease. Was he not among his own people? They would have Timothy among them without fear. “You’re never to be troubled in the pulpit,” the old man went on, “or be thinking about anything but the word of the Lord and the souls of the people, of which you are the shepherd. We will ask you to remember, when you stand in your place to speak to us in the name of the Lord, that as the smoke goeth up from the homes of the people in the morning, so will their prayers be ascending for their minister, and as you look down upon us before you begin to speak, maybe you will say to yourself, next Sabbath, ‘They are all loving me.’ Oh, yes, and it will be true from the oldest to the youngest, we will all be loving you very much.” “And that,” Ian McLaren says, “that is why John Carmichael remained in the ministry of Jesus Christ, the most patient and mindful of ministers.” And I, for one, can easily believe it.
—Taken from Mountains in the Mist (1914), pp. 21-29.