THE WAY OF LIFE
Titus 3:4-7:—"But when the kindness of God, our Saviour, and his love towards man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
The short epistle to Titus contains, amid its practical and ecclesiastical directions for the giving of which it was written, two doctrinal statements of quite wonderful richness and compression both of which have been easily brought into the compass of the passage read in your hearing this afternoon. They differ from each other in intent and content, as you will doubtless have observed. But they are alike in gathering into the narrow space of a few words the essence of the Gospel, and expressing it in words of a singularly festal and jubilant character, words which strike the reader as at once precise and comprehensive, as at once theologically exact and peculiarly fitted for public credal use.
Statements of this kind are characteristic of these latest epistles of the Apostle Paul, which we class together under the common title of the Pastoral Epistles, and which share not only the late date but also a character appropriate to their
origin at the end of Paul's life when he was busied
with consolidating and extending the churches he had founded rather than with the first planting of Christianity in the fresh soil of an unbelieving world. They present the doctrines of Paul, after they had been used, and worn round by use. They represent the sifting down of his doctrinal expositions into compact form; their compression into something like pebbles from the brook ready to be flung with sure aim and to sink into the foreheads of the Goliaths of unbelief. They represent the form which his doctrinal expositions had taken as current coin in the churches, no longer merely Paul's teaching, though all of that, but the precious possessions of the people themselves, in which they were able to give back to him a response from their listening hearts. They are no longer mere dialectical elaboration of the truth; but have become forms of sound words. As such, such passages are sometimes accompanied by a phrase peculiar to these Pastoral Epistles, which advertises these statements as something other than a teacher's novel presentations of truth to as yet untaught hearers: "This is a faithful saying." "This is a faithful saying"—a "trustworthy saying"—in other words, this is a saying well-known among you, that has been long repeated in your ears, that has been tested and found not wanting. This is good coin; and "worthy," it is sometimes added, "of all acceptation."
Our present passage is one of these "faithful
sayings." "Faithful is the saying," the Apostle adds on completing it, "and concerning these things I will that thou shouldst affirm confidently." Thus he tells us how important, how well-considered, how final and trustworthy this statement of truth is. Let us approach its study in a spirit suitable to so solemn an injunction.
The first thing that we observe in the passage is the melody that rises from it of praise to God. It is the "kindness of God our Saviour'and his love towards men" which sets its key-note. The special terms in which God's goodness is here praised, His "benignity" and "philanthropy," are due, indeed, to the context. The Apostle had just been thinking and speaking about men; and he could not think or speak of them as either "benignant" or "philanthropic." He would have them exhorted to be subject to those over them, obedient, prone to good works, and averse to evil speaking and contentiousness, gentle and meek. But such they were not showing themselves. Christians themselves could remember how aforetime they lived in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. What could be expected from man? WTiat a contrast when one lifted his eyes from this scene of lust and malice and envy and hatred—men striving with one another to surpass each other in doing injury to their fellows —and set them on God, to see His benignity and philanthropy! The whole passage is pervaded by the suggestion of God's kindness and humanity; thrown out into sharp relief by its contrast with man's malice and hatred. Nothing can be expected of or from man; but God has manifested His benignity and philanthropy to us and by them saved us. Man would destroy, God saves. But there is much more than this to be said. The passage is not only pervaded by the suggestion of God's general goodness; it is a psalm of praise to God for His saving love. It sings not only "Gloria Deo" but "Soli Deo Gloria." Our salvation is its subject. It not only ascribes salvation in its root to God's love; it ascribes it in every one of its details to God's loving activities and to them alone; it ascribes its beginning and middle and end to Him and to Him only. The various activities that enter into our salvation are enumerated; and every one of them is declared to be a loving activity of God and of Him alone. This passage is even remarkable in this respect. Even in that classical passage in Ephesians, which is designed to ascribe salvation wholly to God, and to empty man of all ground of boasting, we have faith, at least, mentioned: "We are saved by grace, through faith"; though it is immediately added: "And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." But this passage leaves faith itself to one side as not requiring mention. There are no subjective conditions to salvation, in the sense of conditions which we must perform in order to
obtain or retain salvation. It is God alone who saves, "not by means of any works in righteousness which we have done ourselves but in consequence of his mercy" and of that alone. Not even faith itself, that instrument of reception to which salvation comes, can be conceived of as entering causally into God's saving work. It is He and He alone who saves; and the roots of His saving operations are set deep in His mercy only. If we are saved at all, it is because—not that we have worked, not that we have believed,— but that God has manifested His benignity and philanthropy in saving us out of His mere mercy. He has, through Jesus Christ, shed down His Holy Spirit to regenerate and renovate us that we might be justified "by His grace,"—in other words, gratuitously, not on the ground of our faith,—and so be made heirs of eternal life.
Our passage empties man of all glory in the matter of salvation and reserves all the glory to God. But this is not because it does not know how to distribute honour to whom honour is due. Man has no part in the procuring or in the applying of salvation, but there are Three Persons who have; and our passage recognizes the praise due to each, and distributes to each Person of the Holy Trinity the saving operations which belong to Him. "God . . . according to His mercy, . . . saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost, which He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour." The source of our salvation is to be sought in the loving mercy of God the Father. The ground of the saving activities exerted on us is to be sought in the work of Jesus Christ our Saviour. The agent in the actual saving work is to be sought in the Holy Ghost. Here are brought before us God our Lover, Christ our Redeemer, the Spirit our Sanctifier, as all operative in the one composite work of salvation. To God the Father is ascribed the whole scheme of salvation and the entire direction of the saving work; it is His benignity and philanthropy that is manifested in it; it is according to His own mercy that He has saved us; it is He that saved us; He saved us through the Holy Spirit; He poured out the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ; it is His salvation and it is He that has given it to us. To Jesus Christ is ascribed the work of "Saviour" by which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was rendered possible to God. The nature of His work is not precisely outlined in our passage; but in the preceding passage we are told that "He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity." This it is that the Son does for us. To the Holy Spirit is ascribed the actual application of the redemption wrought out by Christ. The items of this application are very richly developed, and the development of them constitutes the strength of the passage. If we will scrutinize the items in which the applying work of the Holy Spirit is developed, we shall perceive that they supply us with a complete "order of salvation." We are told that God saves us in His mere mercy, by a renovating work of the Holy Spirit, founded on the redeeming work of Christ; and we are told that this renovating work of the Holy Spirit was in order that we might be justified and so become heirs. Here the purchase by the death of Christ is made the condition precedent of the regeneration of the Holy Spirit; but the action of the Holy Spirit is made the condition precedent to justification and adoption. We are bought unto God by Christ in order that we may be brought to God by the Holy Spirit. And in bringing us to God, the Holy Spirit proceeds by regenerating us in order that we may be justified so as to be made heirs. In theological language, this is expressed by saying that the impetration of salvation precedes its application: the whole of the impetration, the whole of the application. And in the application, the Spirit works by first regenerating the soul, next justifying it, next adopting it into the family of God, and next sanctifying it. In the more vital and less analytical language of our present passage, this is asserted by founding the gift of the Holy Ghost upon the work of Christ: "which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour"; by including in the work of the Holy Ghost, regeneration, justification, adoption, and a few verses lower down, sanctification; and by declaring that the regeneration of the Holy Spirit is "in order that being justified we might be made heirs."
Now what are the practical fruits of this teaching? The Apostle says it is faithful teaching, which he wishes to have confidently affirmed, to the end that they which have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. It is encouraging teaching to believers to tell them that they are not their own saviours but God is their Saviour; that their salvation is not suspended on their own works or the strength of their own faith, but on the strength of God's love and His mercy alone; that all Three Persons of the Trinity are engaged in and pledged to their salvation; that Christ's work for them is finished and they are redeemed to God by His precious blood and are, henceforth, God's purchased possession; that it is not dependent on their own weakness but on the Spirit's strength whether they will be brought into the enjoyment of their salvation; that the Spirit has been poured richly out upon them; that He has begun His work of renovation within them; that this is but the pledge of the end and as they have been regenerated and justified, so have they been brought into the family of God and made heirs of eternal life. This is encouraging teaching for believers! Shall they, then, because they are saved out of God's mercy and not out of works in righteousness which they have done themselves, be careless to maintain good works? I trow not; and the Apostle troweth not. Because of this, they will now be careful "to maintain good works." Let us see to it then that by so doing we approve ourselves as true believers, saved by God's grace, not out of works but unto good works, which He hath afore prepared that we should walk in them! This is what the Apostle would have us do.