on 1-timothy 4 :8
For bodily exercise profiteth little - Προς ολιγον εστιν ωφελιμος. Those gymnastic exercises, so highly esteemed among the Greeks, are but little worth; they are but of short duration; they refer only to this life, and to the applause of men: but godliness has the promise of this life, and the life to come; it is profitable for all things; and for both time and eternity.
But godliness is profitable unto all things - By godliness we are to understand every thing that the Christian religion either promises or prescribes: the life of God in the soul of man; and the glory of God as the object and end of that life. To receive the first, a man must renounce his sins, deny himself, take up his cross, and follow his Lord through evil and through good report. To obtain the latter, a man must labor to enter into that rest which remains for the people of God.
Having promise, of the life that now is - The man that fears, loves, and serves God, has God's blessing all through life. His religion saves him from all those excesses, both in action and passion, which sap the foundations of life, and render existence itself often a burden. The peace and love of God in the heart produces a serenity and calm which cause the lamp of life to burn clear, strong, and permanent. Evil and disorderly passions obscure and stifle the vital spark. Every truly religious man extracts the uttermost good out of life itself, and through the Divine blessing gets the uttermost good that is in life; and, what is better than all, acquires a full preparation here below for an eternal life of glory above. Thus godliness has the promise of, and secures the blessings of, both worlds.
on 1-timothy 4 :8
For bodily exercise profiteth little - Margin, "for a little time." The Greek will admit of either interpretation, and what is here affirmed is true in either sense. The bodily exercise to which the apostle refers is of little advantage compared with that piety which he recommended Timothy to cultivate, and whatever advantage could be derived from it, would be but of short duration. "Bodily exercise" here refers, doubtless, to the mortifications of the body by abstinence and penance which the ancient devotees, and particularly the Essenes, made so important as a part of their religion. The apostle does not mean to say that bodily exercise is in itself improper, or that no advantage can be derived from it in the preservation of health, but he refers to it solely as a means of religion; as supposed to promote holiness of heart and of life. By these bodily austerities it was supposed that the corrupt passions would be subdued, the wanderings of an unholy fancy lettered down, and the soul brought into conformity to God. In opposition to this supposition, the apostle has here stated a great principle which experience has shown to be universally correct, that such austerities do little to promote holiness, but much to promote superstition. There must be a deeper work on the soul than any which can be accomplished by the mere mortification of the body; see the notes on Colossians 2:23, and compare 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.
But godliness - Piety or religion.
Is profitable unto all things - In every respect. There is not an interest of man, in reference to this life, or to the life to come, which it would not promote. It is favorable to health of body, by promoting temperance, industry, and frugality; to clearness and vigor of intellect, by giving just views of truth, and of the relative value of objects; to peace of conscience, by leading to the faithful performance of duty; to prosperity in business, by making a man sober, honest, prudent, and industrious; to a good name, by leading a man to pursue such a course of life as shall deserve it; and to comfort in trial, calmness in death, and immortal peace beyond the grave. Religion injures no one. It does not destroy health; it does not enfeeble the intellect; it does not disturb the conscience; it does not pander to raging and consuming passions; it does not diminish the honor of a good name; it furnishes no subject of bitter reflection on a bed of death.
It makes no one the poorer; it prompts to no crime; it engenders no disease. If a man should do that which would most certainly make him happy, he would be decidedly and conscientiously religious; and though piety promises no earthly possessions directly as its reward, and secures no immunity from sickness, bereavement, and death, yet there is nothing which so certainly secures a steady growth of prosperity in a community as the virtues which it engenders and sustains, and there is nothing else that will certainly meet the ills to which man is subject. I have no doubt that it is the real conviction of every man, that if he ever becomes certainly "happy," he will be a Christian; and I presume that it is the honest belief of every one that the true and consistent Christian is the most happy of people. And yet, with this conviction, people seek everything else rather than religion, and in the pursuit of baubles, which they know cannot confer happiness, they defer religion - the only certain source of happiness at any time - to the last period of life, or reject it altogether.
Having promise of the life that now is - That is, it furnishes the promise of whatever is really necessary for us in this life. The promises of the Scriptures on this subject are abundant, and there is probably not a lack of our nature for which there might not be found a specific promise in the Bible; compare Psalm 23:1; Psalm 84:11; Philippians 4:19. Religion promises us needful food and raiment, Matthew 6:25-33; Isaiah 33:16; comfort in affliction, Deuteronomy 33:27; Job 5:19; Psalm 46:1-11; Hebrews 13:5; support in old age and death, Isaiah 46:4; Psalm 23:4; compare Isaiah 43:2; and a good reputation, an honored name when we are dead; Psalm 37:1-6. There is nothing which man really "needs" in this life, which is not promised by religion; and if the inquiry were made, it would be surprising to many, even with our imperfect religion, how literally these promises are fulfilled. David, near the close of a long life, was able to bear this remarkable testimony on this subject: "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread;" Psalm 37:25. And now, of the beggars that come to our doors, to how few of them can we give a cup of cold water, feeling that we are giving it to a disciple! How rare is it that a true Christian becomes a beggar! Of the inmates of our alms-houses, how very few give any evidence that they have religion! They have been brought there by vice, not by religion. True piety sends none to the alms-house; it would have saved the great mass of those who are there from ever needing the charity of their fellow-men.
And of that which is to come - Eternal life. And it is the only thing that "promises" such a life. Infidelity makes no "promise" of future happiness. Its business is to take away all the comforts which religion gives, and to leave people to go to a dark eternity with no promise or hope of eternal joy. Vice "promises" pleasures in the present life, but only to disappoint its votaries here; it makes no promise of happiness in the future world. There is nothing that furnishes any certain "promises" of happiness hereafter, in this world or the next, but religion. God makes no promise of such happiness to beauty, birth, or blood; to the possession of honors or wealth; to great attainments in science and learning, or to the graces of external accomplishment. All these, whatever flattering hopes of happiness they may hold out here, have no assurance of future eternal bliss. It is not by such things that God graduates the rewards of heaven, and it is only "piety" or "true religion" that furnishes any assurance of happiness in the world to come.
on 1-timothy 4 :8
4:8 Bodily exercise profiteth a little - Increases the health and strength of the body.