The Epistle To Titus
Introductory Lectures On The Epistles Of Paul
The epistle to Titus has much in common with those to Timothy, as all must observe; not only as being addressed to a fellow‑servant, and indeed a son in the faith, but in general similarity of character. Like them, its objects are pastoral, as being addressed to a companion in labour, whose work lay among the assemblies of God. Nevertheless, there is no portion but what has its own special design; nor could there be a single scripture lacking without positive loss to the saints, and, indeed, to God's glory by us.
In writing to Titus, we shall see the apostle giving more prominence to external order than in the epistles to Timothy. We have observed already that although in these epistles the Holy Ghost does not develop the higher and special privileges of the saints of God, nevertheless the church, in its earthly place of responsibility, is brought largely before us. It is the house of God; first in order, next in disorder. The one gave the measure of responsibility; the other furnished provision for the guidance of those whose desire is towards the Lord, and who would shrink from the least approach to presumption. These are instructed of the Spirit to be faithful, without fear or favour; leaving with God all consequences, and judging simply as in conscience before Him. Hence they have it laid upon them as a positive obligation to carry themselves in such a way as the love and humbleness of a saint of God might have hesitated to take, without a peremptory word from the Lord. Of course, there is no real ground to charge such with presumption; but faith, in its language and ways alike, looks so to those who do not possess it. Much move are they open to it who despise His word, and ignore their own state. Those who purge themselves from the vessels of dishonour are found in the lowliest place of all - that of obedience.
But in writing to Titus the apostle does not take up so much the question of the house of God, either in its responsible order, or in the provision which the Lord makes for the worst of times. He introduces himself as "a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness." (Titus 1: 1.) It is evident, therefore, that it is more a question of the truth here than of the house of God. It is that which is not only not perishable, but whose value is increasingly felt when in face of the ruins of Christendom. The house of God, alas! we know, might be grievously affected. Called to be the pillar and the support of the truth, it nevertheless might be grossly corrupted, as, in point of fact, it has been; but the faith of God's elect abides, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness is always a duty. In the very nature of things this does not change. God holds to it and maintains it, and so do those who bow to His word.
There is great force, therefore, in the description - "the faith of God's elect." I do not mean that the latter designation is limited to the epistle to Titus. The apostle employs it in the epistle to the Romans, and there, too, with very marked emphasis, in closing his grand recapitulation of the Christian privileges - the ordinary standing blessing of the saints of God - in presence of all that could harm them. He takes the ground of a challenger. Let what will be brought against them, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?" In the present case it is not a question of furnishing Christians with a knowledge of their privileges, and a maintenance of them against all antagonists, as in Romans 8, but the calm yet serious writing of the apostle to a confidential fellow‑servant, in which, as at an earlier day, so now in one of his latest communications, be still holds this blessed word, "God's elect." But he adds another element - "the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness." There is no small importance in this acknowledgment. The faith of God's elect is not to be hidden under a bushel; it must be owned before men and the enemy, as well as learnt from God. It is to be confessed without compromise, no matter what the difficulty. The acknowledgment - not the belief only - of the truth must never be given up, and in its most practical shape - "the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began."
There we touch again that which came before us in the second epistle to Timothy; but a few words more may be now added. The occasion was exactly suitable for it. The value of eternal life is proved when all that is connected with the testimony of God among men has received a severe shock. In this lies the blessedness of seeing how truly that into which we are brought is of God. There was a creation formed of God on a ground of responsibility. Its tenure depended on the fidelity of man. Soon all was ruined; but in the midst of this havoc God wrought, according to His own wisdom, and in various ways, for the purpose of making manifest the whole question of the state of the creature in relation to Himself. Now, late in the world's history, the Son of God is come, who was Himself that eternal life which was with the Father, and has displayed it in every possible circumstance here below.
Here we have another order of things, the truth in fact revealed - grace and truth. Those who are called to follow and to confess the Saviour have themselves proved that, looked at in their responsibility, they too had brought shame and confusion on the name of the Lord. So far from God giving up His glorious counsels, the truth of eternal life is brought out far more fully in the decay of Christian profession. In the sad flood of evils that had swept over Christendom, this was just the moment when the Holy Ghost saw fit to call attention not merely to the grace of God saying sinners, and the faithfulness of God keeping His own children, but to the character of the life which was their portion in Christ. Thus, therefore, the apostle here refers to it in the introduction to this epistle. "In hope (says he) of eternal life, which God that cannot lie" - an expression evidently used because of the character of the persons to whom he is writing, who are, indeed, but a sample of what man has always proved himself, even such as bear the name of Christ. God, at any rate, that cannot lie, promised it, "before the world began." Nor can anything touch this life; but the value is now more, felt of this eternal life that was in Christ before the world began. It had come down into this scene; it had been utterly rejected by man; but it nevertheless became the possession of faith in Christ. Now it shines. It was not merely a reality, not merely that believers had it in Christ; but now the Holy Ghost causes them to take notice of it, brings out the value of it, and strengthens them in the confidence of it. After all, that eternal life in the hope of which they had been formed and called by the power of the Spirit of God, that eternal life which God who could not lie promised before the world began, was now their known portion. They had it in Christ. It is also of exceeding encouragement, and indeed a truth of immense import for souls, both in itself and in the fact, that the Holy Ghost brings us into the more distinct apprehension and enjoyment of the wondrous bliss of possessing the very eternal life of Christ, when all that can decay has already shown the most fatal symptoms at work.
In accordance with this, it may be profitable to observe the ways of God. It was before the world began, no doubt; but in due time it had been manifested. He had "in due time manifested His word through preaching,." This gives us to see the very special place that Christianity has in the ways of God. We do not often take notice of what is after all a very striking and evident fact, that, for very much the largest period of this world's history, no such thing was known as preaching. We are so used to think of preaching, that we do not always weigh what it means, or what a light it casts on the character of God, and on that blessing which He has now given us in Christ. All through the previous history of the world, the creature as such was the object of the divine dealings. Now it is not so. Christ is the object before Him; and our best blessing of grace through redemption is that we have Him as our very life. Oh that God's children, with all simplicity, laid hold of this truth! What a place it gives us as passing through the world! I am not merely speaking of being secured. The heart continually lowers eternal life to a simple question of being delivered from wrath, and going to heaven, perhaps, through a process of judgment. Were this all true, how short of Christianity! How much more to know, with the authority of a God that cannot lie, and in all the breadth that preaching gives, that we no longer belong to this creation, in virtue of the only life we have as saints; that God has now made it a revealed certainty, that the eternal life which was in Christ, and which Christ was, is now for ever ours in Him. Accordingly God has manifested His word now through preaching showing the universality of the testimony of grace in contrast with the narrow limits of law. Thus, when the special separation of Christians takes place, when God attaches unto Himself His children here below, He makes them conscious that they do not belong to the world; yet is it coincident with the gospel sent forth everywhere. His church is gathered out from the world at the same time that His word goes all over the whole world. These two points are very characteristic of Christianity; and they are of immense importance for the soul to seize clearly, and not let slip.
Let me just sum up briefly again. First of all the life that we have received in Christ shuts us up, as it were, to Him, and gives us the consciousness that we belong as Christians to an order of being which never can be impaired or corrupted - of course, therefore, to that which has no connection whatever with the world, or with the creature that has slipped through sin into ruin. That eternal life, which is ours now, was in the Son of God, and this before there was a world made or lost. While man's probation in various forms went on, it was hidden; when the world was manifestly lost, as in the rejection of the Lord Jesus, it was manifested by preaching. Up to this time the dealings of God were comparatively narrow, and had either individuals or a particular race as their object - all this while there was no revelation of eternal life at all. Now there is, and with increasing distinctness, when it became evident that Christendom itself proved no exception to the past ages of man's failure. Thus, when all had closed in the cross, God still waits till Christendom was a judged thing, too, in principle. Then it is that the Spirit of God, not exactly gives us the life in Christ, but makes us know that we have the life that was true in Christ when the gospel went out. But when the gospel was being corrupted, as far as men could, or rather when there were the manifest germs of Christendom everywhere showing the ruin of the latest and highest testimony of God, then it is that God directs fresh attention to the kernel of the blessing conveyed to us. Come what will, eternal life is our portion. Let the world dissolve by judgment, let the creature perish morally by its own sin, eternal life never can. That eternal life was in Christ; that eternal life is now given to us; that eternal life God would have us to enter into more than ever, enjoying it at its fullest worth at the very time when there seems nothing else to enjoy, when it becomes simply a question of falling back on that which never can be lowered or destroyed. Such, then, is the "due time" when "he manifested his word through preaching."
Thus there is the other point - what goes out, as well as shuts us up to Christ, giving the true principle of separation to God in the most blessed manner: for it has nothing to do with assuming or pretending to anything. Setting up of ourselves is wholly excluded. How can a man, according to nature, vaunt of another who proves his own good‑for‑nothingness? All evil boasting, all that is injurious, is of self; but that which is our only just ground of exultation is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Consequently, though we have in Him a worthy object of boast, it flows from the grace of God, and is thus the fountain of genuine humility in His sight. We are thus shut up, so to speak, in the circle of divine life; it may seem a narrower one, but, in truth, there is nothing that can rival it in point of large and deep affection - not alone resting on those within, but actively going out; for along with the fact that we have Christ Himself as our actual and eternal life - life in the Son - our changeless portion, there is an increasing and world‑wide manifestation through preaching.
True, you will find that, whenever children of God take up one of these truths to the exclusion of the other, there is invariably very great damage done to souls. Thus, take some whose hearts go out to what they consider the only desirable aim, that is, the spread of the good news through evangelizing. It is a blessed work; but it is never safe when exclusive. Again, look at another section of God's children, all whose comfort is confined to the circle of what is elect, or Christian. But the truth embraces both. It is excellent to hold fast Christ, and to know that we have eternal life in Him; but do you not see that when God was pleased to make this known, in the person of His Son, is just the time when the glad tidings are sent out by His grace to all men, breaking through every question of race, tongue, law, or any other distinction you please? When a ministration of death and condemnation was in question, a limit was good and wise; when eternal life, and remission of sins in Christ's name were the burden, God could not, would not, keep the good news pent up to one only class of the human family. "Preach the gospel to every creature."
It is evident that in all this, lower glories disappear from view. It is no longer a question of the Messiah as such. The title of Son of David did connect Christ with a particular nation. But now, when we behold a far deeper glory of Christ brought out, there is an unlimited manifestation of God's word through preaching, "which is committed unto me," says the apostle. In point of fact, it will be found that Peter, for instance, speaks but little of this great truth. He does tell us of life; he makes much of our blessed Lord Himself as the Living Stone; he treats of the saints of God as living stones, as also of their being begotten again by the word of God. But he never handles the subject either in the comprehensive, or in the precise, manner of the apostle Paul. If he writes, it is only to those that were of the dispersion. Both his epistles are addressed to believers of the circumcision. It would be unnatural, therefore, that there should be either depth or breadth comparable to that which appears when St. Paul presents it. I need not now dwell on James or Jude, who are manifestly distinct. John does take up the very point at which Paul leaves off; for his special work was to show life eternal. But then he traces it as a question, first, of divine life in the person of Christ, for the purpose of maintaining His glory; and, secondly, as that life, or divine nature, in the saints of God. He does not present it in its connection with the ruin of Christendom, neither does he treat it explicitly in his epistle as a testimony to man at large. Paul presents it both in the counsels and in the ways of God; John, rather as bound up with His nature, first in Christ, and then in the saints. Both are admirably suited to the objects of God, but they are different, however harmoniously they may blend.
The apostle then gives his salutation, "To Titus, mine own child in the common faith: grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour;" and next proceeds to instruct him as to the object for which he was writing. "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and establish elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot or unruly. For the overseer must be blameless." Here we have positive regulations, as well as principles laid down, that were to guide the conduct of Titus. One main part of his commission was the appointment of men in certain exterior charges.
A difficulty may be felt by some children of God. They may enquire, how is it, if these charges were not intended to be continued, that the Holy Ghost inspired these directions? I believe that they are of the utmost practical value in two ways: first, negatively, and second, positively; negatively, inasmuch as they enable us to judge the pretensions of those who appoint, and of those that are appointed. By their help, we can see that those who boast most of ministerial order are the very men who palpably offend against these scriptures as well as others. It will always be found, and more particularly in a day of difficulty and darkness, that there is no security except by dependence on the Lord and cleaving to His word. Not only do the simple and the humble find themselves kept of the Lord's grace, but the truest order will prove to be among them. Wherever order is confidently vaunted of be not surprised to discover a real departure from that which the Lord prescribes. His word invariably refutes, as His Spirit never formed, so self‑complacent a tone.
But then there is a more direct value still. Undoubtedly there are some things wanting now; and I for one believe that it is of God that they should be wanting in the present state of Christendom. Where would be the moral fitness of sound exterior order, when the condition is deplorably bad, the world is rampant, the word exercises small authority, and the Spirit of God is systematically hindered and quenched? As to the matter of appointing these local officers, the apostles were the pillars of authority. The absence of apostles, and consequently of such a delegate as Titus, is fatal to those who set up to have everything fully and literally according to the word of God. For my part, far from considering this fatal for God's glory in the present state of Christendom, I believe that. the presence of apostles would be an enormous anomaly. The reason is simple. Anything would be unseasonable now that tends to weaken the sense - first, that God's mind, God's truth - no matter what it may be about - abides unchangeable and obligatory; and, secondly, that God takes account of the present scattering of His children, and would have us to feel the havoc that has been wrought in Christendom. Now suppose the apostles (as we cannot but suppose they must) adhere to nothing but the word of God, what could keep them from seeming to deny the relationship of the mass of misled Christians, carried away by error, self‑will, human tradition, etc., contrary to the word? God was pleased, in view of the corruption already begun, and still graver departure from His word that was impending, to cause that there should be no perpetuation of the apostles; that there should be consequently a lack felt, which could not be made good, yet essential to that outward order which men would most loudly pretend to when it was irreparably lost.
Thus the path of lowly obedience is easily proved to be the only safe and sound one; because it refuses to swerve from God's word; it acknowledges the absence of a validating authority which none on earth possesses; it justifies the Lord, who is adequate for all exigencies, and provides amply for every present need; it confesses the ruined state of God's testimony in the earth, while it owns whatever of Himself there may be, and wherever it is. Yet none the less, but the more, it adheres to the word of God, as the only and the sufficient warrant of faith and conduct in a state of ruin. The directions that the apostle gives are not in vain, though neither you nor I can do all that Titus did. To do so would be presumption. He was expressly left in Crete, and charged by the apostle to appoint elders there; and we are not. There is no disobedience nor neglect on our part, but rather fear of God, and maintenance of godly order in not exceeding our real powers. But there is manifest haughtiness in all who imitate an apostle, or an apostolic delegate, without warrant from the Lord, and infringing His word in that imitation. Who on earth now can authorize like Paul? Who can appoint like Titus? Certainly not a minister of the Crown, or an ordinary preacher, or a synod of preachers, still less a Christian congregation.
God took care that the direction should not be in a general epistle, nor in one addressed to an assembly. In the epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. no such orders are given, any more than in those of James, Peter, or John. When the apostle addresses the church in any place, he never lays down injunctions about the appointment of elders or bishops. Had it been so, either the leading brethren, or perhaps the saints as a whole, would have been too ready to take the matter into their own hands. As it is, there is no possible excuse for it. Directions are given to individuals who had a special place in the work and church of God. No other was qualified so to do. Thus Apollos and Silas never attempt it, while Titus does. An inspired epistle was addressed to him. No doubt there was a suitability in his gift; but besides that he has an outward authority and inspired credentials, on which he was entitled - nay, bound - to act. Where is there such a person at the present time? Hence, therefore, for any one to act upon the fact that Titus was thus empowered by the Spirit of God would be altogether invalid. But then for that reason these. directions, far from being obsolete, are of permanent value.
To this use I would now direct attention, that although we cannot, in the absence of apostles, have the due outward authority to clothe men with local charges in this or that place, still, if we see those in whom the qualities are really found, - if we see men who possess that which the Spirit of God treats as suitable for the overseer or elder, it is evident that it is the positive duty of the children of God to own this in their persons. No doubt an unfaithful heart would take advantage of the fact that they had never been formally installed as elders. A believer with the spirit of godly obedience would if possible be more careful to own and honour in the absence of any such outward title. Thus a state of ruin always tests the heart more than when things are in primitive order. When all is in its normal state, even the careless, or those that sooner or later turn out refractory, are overawed by the strength of the current that runs in the right direction; but when that current becomes weaker, and shallows begin to show themselves, and all sorts of obstructions in the way, then is precisely the moment when real faith and humility of heart are not only displayed by the saints, but are specially honoured of the Lord. Observe it, for instance, in the messages to the seven churches; so that we may surely see that the grace of the Lord is never defeated or in vain.
We cannot now nominate, then, because we are not apostles, nor even apostolic delegates. Still we are wholly wrong if we do not profit by that which the word of God has laid down as to local charges. We can gather from these and other scriptures at least enough for our practical warning and guidance. We are thus kept from the confusion of gifts with them, which is the parent of the clerical system - Popish, national, or dissenting; and we can discern what remains and what exists no longer. "If any be blameless, husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly." Thus moral weight is the main point here. And this is much to be heeded. It is not a question of eminent gift. In dealing with the practical difficulties of the saints of God, spiritual power and experience, of course free from outward reproach, personal or relative, are of the greatest possible value. These are the men who really do act on souls for good day by day in the jar of circumstances, and justly so. Others may possess far more ability, either for spreading the gospel or for unfolding the word of God. I do not mean that in dealing with practical difficulties men are duly qualified for eldership who cannot aptly wield the word in application to passing things. But it is clear that an elder or bishop is not necessarily a teacher, though he should be apt to teach - able to use the word so as to convince gainsayers and encourage the weak. All this is evident on the surface of scripture; but it does not constitute exactly a doctoral gift. It might not go beyond house to house service. I believe therefore that it still remains a positive duty and an important part for the children of God to take heed that they be not absorbed in those that are called to a large public work. No doubt in Christendom generally the error is complete; but those who seek to purge themselves from the vessels to dishonour may not have considered this with the gravity it deserves.
While giving then evangelists and teachers their place, we should also value those who in a simpler and less obtrusive way are devoting themselves day by day to strengthen the links of affection, and to repress the sources of disorder which, as we all know, continually spring up in Christian assemblies. Now these are the persons that were of old by competent authority appointed elders or overseers, as it is said here, "the overseer must be blameless, as God's steward, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, not a striker not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers." And if we see men of such ways and endowments labouring now, surely they are to be respected and acknowledged as the men who have the qualities and do the work of elders, though from circumstances their formal appointment is no longer possible.
What made this to be the more urgently needful, even for these Gentile minds, among the Cretans as well as elsewhere, was the Jewish element, the constant fruitful cause of trouble, and in two ways that we might not reasonably expect to see united. "There are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped." Not that I mean necessarily Jews, when speaking of the Jewish element. Alas! the evil of Judaism infects Gentiles; the spirit of tradition pervades some, legalism imbues others very largely. These are the persons who give especial trouble, "whose mouths," we are told, "must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." To this end is used the testimony of one of their own prophets. This witness, says the apostle, is true. One of themselves, not wanting in patriotism, had conscience enough to confess that "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies." Therefore Titus was to rebuke them sharply. What sin and folly to brand care for their souls as lack of charity or love of domination! Let us remember the whole case for our own profit and guidance.
Although men have, alas! common qualities of evil, and, no matter where they are found, the same corrupt nature, the Spirit of God takes national character into account, and more particularly in practical service. This requires wisdom, and also experience, where our lot may be cast. So in connection with the overseers of whom he had been speaking. Elders are a local charge. They are not like teachers and preachers, many of whom went about visiting various lands and widely scattered towns in their wide circuit among the nations. Elders as such were necessarily limited in that function to the quarters in which they lived, though they might have gifts which would carry them elsewhere. For them it was of the utmost importance to bear in mind the particular tendencies of those among whom they lived and laboured. The apostle here acts and speaks on this himself. He refers to the sentiment uttered by one of their own poets; for a poet is often truer than a philosopher, and a religious zealot can never be trusted. Your boasted "thinker" loses himself for the most part in dreamy speculations of the closet. A poet may be frivolous indeed, but after all he lets out the real character; it may be in his own person, but at any rate he ordinarily expresses the feeling of the age and place in which he lives, if not the heart in its depths. And this was what one of their own poets, whom the apostle cites, tells about his countrymen. Here Paul was not writing to the church. It might be a matter of doubt whether to speak out so bluntly to themselves; but there could be no question of its importance as information for the fellow‑servant to bear in mind in their midst.
Their national character must be taken into account; for though this is a small thing where the grace of the Spirit is in question, it becomes a serious handle to the enemy of souls, who turns the various workings of flesh to his purpose of opposition to the glory of Christ. Their slippery turn of mind would expose them to receive Jewish fables, as these would to misuse the law in general. This was the twofold mischief of which I wish to say a few words. Not merely does the law generate habits of tradition of slavish adherence to human prescription in the things of God, which so soon are apt to rise up to the destruction of practical faith, but along with this goes what might not at first be suspected - imaginativeness; Jewish fables, as he says. And it is remarkable how the famous repository of Rabbinisrn to this day wears this twofold character: on the one hand, the most servile adherence to the letter, without the least insight into the spirit of Holy Scripture; and, on the other hand, the wildest fictions to feed the fancies of women and children. How contrasted is the word of God, that affords the most healthy exercise for heart and conscience, according to the faith of God's elect!
There is nothing like scripture for delivering from both snares. The word of God never gives us a mere line of duty to be followed. In scripture the duties are the expressions of life, in the relationships wherein God has set us; and the main object of every teacher should be not to impose anything as a bare work, to be done blindfold and unintelligently, but to bind up with Christ Himself the course of God's will we have to follow' so that each servant may be led into direct communication with the Master, and look to His grace alone for all needed wisdom and strength, in carrying out whatever may be His call. Thus, even supposing the teacher disappears in any way, Christ abides, and that which is according to Him tells on the heart. The Christian might not have been able to see it without the teacher; but all else vanishes away when the man is, so to speak, brought face to face with Christ and His word.
Such, according to God, is the object of all teaching; never to interpose the teacher, nor the mere letter of a duty, between the soul and the Lord, but to blend the smallest practical duty with His will, and grace, and glory, who is our life. This is what the apostle did himself, as he sought also to guard Titus, and direct him, as his plenipotentiary - if I may so say - acting among the Cretans. And it is no easy task to keep souls from that which is the devil's substitute for the truth - fables; and the law misused. For these shut out the word of God, which is the one aliment of faith. On the one hand, the law appealed to man in flesh. instead of judging him for dead. On the other hand, Jewish fables filled the imagination, instead of the heart and mind being drawn out by the blessed entrance into the life of Christ, and carrying it out here below according to the word.
After this he adds another point of instruction: "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure." How true! Unbelief always degrades even the precious word of God, turns it into a path of self, and in effect severs it from Christ. This accordingly is to make nothing pure. On the other hand, the power of the saint of God is the Holy Spirit acting on that life which is in Christ. He is speaking of practical ways here below. How great then is the spring that the believer possesses! Would that those who teach always knew where their secret of strength lies! It is the ability to mingle Christ with everything that comes before us, and that is incumbent on us. Hence, in contrast with the power of faith, which makes all things pure to the pure, the apostle speaks most solemnly of the character of those that believe not. "They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." What a filling up of the picture Christendom manifests at this day!
The next chapter turns from the question of those that guide and govern in each assembly and district to the saints themselves. Titus is exhorted to speak the things which become sound doctrine, taking in first aged men and aged women, and then young women and young men. It is all remarkably simple, homely, and wholesome. There is nothing that more marks Christianity than this very elasticity and breadth. Where there is not humility or true greatness, people are afraid of little matters; they shrink instinctively from touching on work‑a‑day details. The power of Christ makes everything sweet and precious, and lends dignity to the very smallest thing that occupies the heart and mind. How blessed that there is not a person you may have to do with who does not become to you an object for drawing out the grace of Christ. May we cultivate the desire that there may be the growing manifestation of our life, according to His image who is its source and only perfect exemplar!
Hence, therefore, the Holy Spirit, by the apostle, puts before Titus things and persons exactly as they were, and as He would have them be. "That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine; teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." There are those who might think these exhortations uncalled for, setting up their judgment, and regarding it as a slight on Christians, as if it were impossible that godly men and women could fall into such snares as taking too much wine, or violence in word and deed. But we must remember that the corruption of the best thing is the worst; and if Christianity has unbound fetters, liberty may be used to shameful excesses. It was wise and needful to exhort young women, among the rest, to be keepers at home, to mind their children, as well as to be obedient to their husbands. I believe you will find that the starting‑point of many a Christian's ruin is apt to begin practically with high‑minded inattention to the small duties of daily life. How many persons, who afterwards fell into the depths of gross sin, failed originally in something that looks trivial and commonplace, which even natural conscience would recognize and rebuke
The true safeguard, then, of the saints' well‑being is an exercised conscience, in self‑judgment before God, with dependence on Him, whilst withal the heart enters into that blessed truth which the apostle himself put before Titus - eternal life in Christ before the world began. What can be more completely out of the scene of present things than that which is here presented? But if there be what my soul knows I have got, unchanging, before time, and entirely outside the first creation, God reveals it to me that it may be proved and manifested in the family, with the children, with men at large, with the aged and the young of either sex. There is no relationship, there is not a single thing of the most ordinary kind, that does not become a test. And this is particularly shown in what follows: "Young men likewise exhort to be sober‑minded. In all thing showing thyself a pattern of good works." For the example of an eminent servant of God is of great consequence; therefore he adds, "In doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you." But this also draws out in a remarkable way what to my mind is very characteristic of Christianity. I refer to the great price that God sets on the poor, yea, the very slave. None but God so thought of them then, though even infidelity has filched it from the Bible to work into the aggrandisement of the first man since, and at no time more than in our day, for the final struggle.
Writing to a cherished fellow‑servant, when the apostle comes to the slaves, he breaks out into one of the finest developments of the doctrine of grace found in this epistle, or anywhere. If God pays particular attention to any, it is to those that man as such despised. If God makes much of one, it is because circumstances particularly expose that one to be passed by. "Exhort slaves," then says he, "to be obedient unto their masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining." What! Christian slaves? To what might not Satan tempt, and into what might not those fall, especially, who regard it as impossible! "Not answering again; not purloining but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." Here he opens to us the lovely view of what the doctrine of God our Saviour is. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation unto all men hath appeared, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present age; looking for that blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."
Thus we have in the most truthful, terse, and luminous terms the foundation, the walk, and the hope of the believer. The foundation is not a law which puts man to the proof, discovering his vanity and the impossibility of so standing in the presence of God, but holding out in its ordinances the pledges of good things to come. The good is come; the test of the first man, and the shadows are not before the Christian. They had their place in schooling the flesh, if it could be; but the time is arrived for realities, which never pass away; and the greatest reality of all is that which God has revealed to us in the Saviour, and His great salvation. It is the saving grace of God, therefore; for man deserves it not, and, as a lost sinner, has no claim on the God he despises and rebels against. But it holds out salvation unto all, and so it has appeared. It is neither hidden nor limited. When it was a question of the law, bringing death and condemnation, its range was restricted; when it is salvation that goes forth, how could a God of grace confine it in boundaries narrower than the need of ruined man? I do not speak of how far it takes effect, but I say that God sends it wherever there are wants, and that He loves to display it where there is the most palpable ruin.
The grace of God, therefore, that bears salvation to all men, has appeared, instead of a law directed to a particular nation. Nothing is farther from the revealed truth of God than the theory that, when we are saved of grace, we are put back again under the law. Rather does the grace which saves teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; for God will make us feel what we are, what our nature is. but then it is grace that makes us judge what we are, and most truly teaches us to detect its evil and lusts.
Observe, too, that it is not a question simply of fleshly but of worldly lusts. All was hatred to God, and discontentedness with that which He gives as our portion. Hence insatiable yearning is indulged after that which we have not. These are worldly lusts; but God's grace teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly as to ourselves, righteously as to those around us, godly in His sight, and all this in the present world where we find ourselves, once sinners but now brought to God.
Nor is this all. The heart wants that which may lift it above all present things; and God does not fail to supply it. He fills not the imagination but the heart, and this with a bright vision of divine and enduring glory, so much the more needed where there is, alas! the reality of sin and misery and sorrow all around. "Looking therefore for that blessed hope, and the, appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ."' If grace has appeared, we know that glory is about to appear. God does not mean to have the world always wretched; He intends to put down His enemies with a high hand; He will not consent that His saints shall ever more be exposed to the efforts and wiles of Satan, who lures men to his deceits and their own destruction. The falsehood of either ameliorating human nature or improving the world will soon end in worse confusion and in the sorest judgment. What a comfort for the Christian to have the certainty that God will take it in hand! It is His fixed mind so to do. Hence, therefore, we have a blessed hope, as sure as the faith that rests on His grace that has already appeared.
But when His glory appears, it will be that of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is the glory of no secondary God. Any subordinate sense is here repudiated explicitly. If there is any difference, there is always maintained in scripture the utmost care to assert the glory of the Lord Jesus. His humiliation in grace placed Him in circumstances where His supreme glory might be questioned; man readily took advantage of it; and Satan, always the antagonist of the Son of God, has prompted men to abuse His grace so as to deny His glory. But He, the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, is our great God as well as Saviour, and, if this be His glory, it is the very same Jesus who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Thus the heart, when it looks forward to the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, finds in Him who will usher in the glory the very One who gave Himself for us in self‑sacrificing, atoning love. Hence the affections are kept in the liveliest play, and all dread, so natural to be felt at the approach of the glory of the great God and Saviour, is a denial of the love we have already and so fully proved in Him, "who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity," etc. "These things," says he, "speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee."
In the last chapter the exhortation is pursued, as to what was more outside. "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men." There are two reasons given to confirm the saints in this. The first is that we ourselves were once so evil; the second is that God has been so good to us. "For we ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another." What could be worse? "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done" - we have done the very reverse - "but according to his mercy he saved us," - and how? - "by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."
It is not to be thought that these two things are exactly the same. The washing of regeneration looks at our old condition, outside of which it places us; the renewing of the Holy Ghost looks more at that inward work which is made ours by the Spirit of God. The former appears to be set forth in baptism; the latter refers rather to our connection with the new creation. According to the language of the day, the one is a change of position or objective, the other is subjective and inward. This seems the difference between the two. And this is carried on in the next verse more fully. Speaking of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, it is added, "which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour." It is not merely that God continues the work He has always wrought in souls. There never was a time, since sin came into the world and grace followed, when souls were not born again. It must be so, unless all were left to perish. None could enter the kingdom of God unless they had a nature capable of understanding and enjoying the true God. This, of course, the Christian has; but then the Christian should not only know that he has this new nature, but that he has it after the richest sort and fullest measure - "which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour."
Here we learn the blessed truth of Christianity. There is no disparagement done to what was of old among the saints; but, on the other hand, there is no hiding the transcendent blessedness of the Christian. Of no Old Testament saint could it be said that it was shed abundantly. This was suitable and only imparted when our Lord Jesus accomplished redemption. God would put honour on Christ and His cross in every way; so that, as the fruits of His infinite work, the richest blessing is lavished on the Christian now. This is what is referred to here - "which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that being justified by his grace we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Thus he binds together the doctrine which met us in the preface of the epistle with the rest; but that which comes before us at the close as at the first - eternal life, has justly an immense place here.
Then in the closing verses he gives some needed practical exhortations. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works." It is a beautiful trait to find the apostle, near the end of his course, so exceedingly simple. Not that the depths of truth were not prized by him or not intimated. But plain every‑day need goes along with the deepest truth (and there is no deeper or more blessed way of looking at the saint than as having life in Christ which was before the world began). While the unearthly place of the saint is affirmed, there is the greatest care to maintain these small matters so often overlooked and neglected. Is not all this worthy of God? It tells its own tale to every heart that can appreciate what the blessedness of the truth is. How needful for us to be reminded of that which such high truth might seem to leave out of sight! But it is not so with the Spirit of God.
Nor does he speak only of those within. "Avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject." By "heretic" is not meant necessarily one who holds false doctrines.* Such is the sense that is in modern usage put upon the word. In scripture a "heretic" might be sound enough in doctrine. The evil is making his own particular views, etc. the occasion and badge of a party. Supposing, for instance, a person were to press his private opinions of the law of Moses, or the second coming of Christ, and make either these or anything else an indispensable condition for reception as a Christian, or of Christian fellowship, such a course would stamp him as a heretic. Nor am I now raising a question of his thoughts (right or wrong) either about the law or the Second Advent: the use made is the evil here. At the time one finds commonly that where men despise practical grace and godliness, their doctrine sooner or later is apt to turn out unsound. Fundamental error as to Christ is called in scripture antichrist. A man that overthrows His personal glory is not merely a heretic (in the Biblical meaning) but in antichrist; and this must be dealt with in the most stringent and peremptory manner if we pretend to obey God's word. Nothing less is due to Christ. 2 John goes far beyond 2 Thess. 3 or even 1 Cor. 5. It is not merely a question of our own soul, though it is certainly perilous for any to treat it lightly, but there is a holy duty to Christ; and it is our bounden obligation to the slighted Son of God that we never make terms of compromise or neutrality with His dishonour. The only scriptural procedure is to deal unsparingly with such evil doctrine as is fatal to the glory of our Lord and Saviour. Need I say that He ought to be infinitely dear to us - dearer than friends, life, or even the church itself?
* Pravity of doctrine, as to Christ's person at least, constitutes the ground of the darker guilt of an "Antichrist" in scripture.
But a "heretic" here is quite another thing. It supposes the making of a party. Disputes within lead to heresies without. (Gal. 5) When a man has turned his back on the assembly, when he leaves the table of the Lord, and this because of his own views, drawing others after him, you have not a schismatic only but the "heretic" of these passages. Consequently there is no question of removing such an one from the midst of the saints; he is away; he has gone himself, and would form a party outside. I fear that the present distractions of Christendom blind many to this sin. How often we hear believers indulging in words of this sort as to such: "Ah yes; but still he is a dear brother, and we ought to go after him and try to win him back." What does the apostle say of a man who is a heretic, even to such a confidential labourer as Titus? "After one first and a second admonition shun." Have nothing more to do with him. And this is the more instructive because certainly Titus was no common man. He stood in a post of special authority, and was surely gifted with suitable wisdom and power for the extraordinary office that the Lord called him to; but even he was not to be tampering with this evil thing. Titus himself is forbidden to have intercourse with him after a first and second admonition. And it is found constantly in practice, as I have known cases myself over and over again, that when a Christian presumes to trust his own mind, feelings, or instinct, in the face of such a warning as this, the result is not that the party‑man is won, but that he gains another adherent. There are then two "heretics," we may say, instead of one. Our best wisdom is implicit subjection to God's word; whilst the man who, with the best of intentions, tries to correct according to his own mind and heart him that forms a party away from the Lord and His table, enters into temptation, and gets drawn into that evil or some other erratic course himself. There is neither fidelity nor even security except in rejecting such ways and persons, and the word of God is the only just and divine measure of rejecting. We must always stand on the authority, and seek simply the just application of the word of God. The one question for us is, "What is the case to which the scripture applies?" The moment you have ascertained that this or that is what the scripture means, then simply obey, trusting the Lord, no matter what may be the reproach. People may denounce or detract: if we cleave to the Lord and His word, it matters not. The reproaches of men are no more than the dust of the balance. The one thing is to do the will of God. He that does His will abides for ever.
The reason assigned here confirms what has been said, and makes all very plain. "A man that is a heretic after a first and second admonition shun; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." The whole root of it is self. He. first takes up his own opinion and, contrary to the word of God, presses it on others. Not that it must be heterodox in itself; the opinion may be sound enough, but the use made is sectarian. He that prefers his own opinions and line to the church is self‑condemned. Sometimes indeed the opinions may be quite erroneous; but this matters little. The question is not whether one's view is erroneous or not: to go out because of it is purely selfish, and contrary to Christ. The party‑maker is pressing his will or view for ends of his own; and he that does so sins - yea, as it is said here, is self‑condemned.
The word "heresies" in 1 Cor. 11: 19 may confirm what is after all a very important point, especially at the present time, in regard to Christendom. The apostle tells the Corinthians that there were already divisions or schisms among them, and says that "there must be also heresies" among them. There is no connection whatever necessarily between a schism and a false doctrine; but there is a most vital link between a schism within leading to a party without. The schismatics still met at the same table of the Lord. But the apostle lets them know that if they made splits within, these are sure to work with increase of evil till the fomenters go without as a fixed party there. Divisions already existed within the Corinthian church. These if unjudged would end in open heresies or "sects" (as in the margin) outside. But the result would be in God's hand that the approved were to be made manifest.
This is a graver matter than many might imagine. What a call to us always and resolutely to resist the first germs of evil! It matters not what the occasion may be. Take that which may pain and grieve deeply: we are entitled in the grace of the Lord to be above it; and the more right we may be, the more we can afford to be gracious. Let us leave results in the hands of the Lord. If ever so right, still, if one fights for self, it will effectually hinder the vindication which the Lord can give in His own due time. From the very fact of your fighting people will never give you credit for singleness of eye. It always stirs up opposition in others. No sooner do you leave it in the hands of the Lord than He appears, and will make it perfectly manifest who is on His side and who is against Him.
There is another thing, too, that must claim our notice for a moment. The apostle speaks about sending a faithful labourer to Titus. "When I shall have sent Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for there I have determined to winter." Of course, such directions were in accordance with the action of the Holy Ghost. It is a great mistake to suppose that there may not be such a thing as arrangement in ministry. Need I say that what was wrong in itself would not be consecrated by an apostle's doing it? An apostle inspired by the Holy Ghost would never in writing call for a thing that was contrary to the mind of the Lord. Now Paul does speak of sending to Crete one or other of his fellow‑labourers in whom he had confidence; and it was quite right. It is a matter that requires wisdom from above, because one might send a wrong person. But the principle is caring for the work. of the Lord, and not leaving things as if it were contrary to truth and the Lord to have an interest even where you cannot be. The notion that such things must be untouched through fear of trenching on the Lord is a fallacy; it is contrary to this word of God and others also. Scripture authorizes care in this kind of way. If I could be a means of sending or inclining the heart of a servant of the Lord to a place where he was calling another servant from it, it would be my duty to do it. Not that this should be meddled with unless the Lord give assurance of His own mind in the matter; but it is not a thing to be left, as if it were contrary to faith to desire such a thing. The apostle here proves to my mind the clean contrary.
On the other hand, it is not everybody that possesses a competent judgment about, such a matter; and there, too, is need of the Lord's own power. The word and the Spirit of God are amply sufficient, although we have neither apostles nor the charges that depended on them. Now, what He tells the apostle here is (and, I have no doubt, was meant in the long run) for the instruction of the saints of God. "When I shall send Artemas or Tychicus, bring Zenas the lawyer, and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them." He adds a few words of great practical moment: "Let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful." It was not merely a question of man supplying his own wants; we ought to have a heart for others. It is a great joy that God uses one for the good of another; and as tie does so spiritually, He would have the saints also consider the value of an honest occupation; not merely to provide for necessary uses, but also not to be unfruitful. What a joy is the joy of grace, the joy of believers over circumstances, the joy that makes us feel we are identified, in our measure, with the great and blessed work of God here below!