Tit_3:4-7. After that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justifiea by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
THE doctrine of the Trinity must be acknowledged to be deeply mysterious, and utterly surpassing our weak comprehensions. Yet is it so clearly laid down in the sacred writings, that we cannot entertain a doubt of its truth. Indeed, without admitting a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, the Scriptures are altogether inexplicable. What interpretation can we put on those words which are appointed to be used at the admission of persons into the Christian Church?—they are to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Here are evidently three distinct Persons, all placed upon the same level, and all receiving the same divine honour: to suppose either of them a creature, is to suppose that a creature may have divine honours paid to him; when we are expressly told that God is a jealous God, and that he will not give his glory to another: and therefore, while we affirm that there is but one God, we cannot but acknowledge that there is, in some way incomprehensible by us, a distinction of persons in the Godhead. This is further confirmed by the manner in which the inspired writers set forth the work of redemption: they frequently speak of it as effected by three distinct Persons, whom they represent as bearing three distinct offices, and as acting together for one end: thus St. Peter says, “We are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:” thus also St. Paul, in the passage before us, having represented all men, Apostles as well as others, in a most wretched state both by nature and practice, proceeds, in the words of my text, to set forth the work of redemption. He begins with tracing it up to the Father, as the source from whence it springs: he then mentions the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, the one as the Author who procures it, the other as the Agent who applies it; and then he concludes with declaring that the glorification of sinful man is the grand end, for the accomplishing of which the Sacred Three co-operate and concur: “After that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, 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.”
From these words we will take occasion to unfold the glorious work of redemption, from its first rise to its final consummation; and herein to set before you its original—procuring—efficient—and final cause.
Its original cause—
The original cause of our redemption is represented in my text to be “the kindness and love of God the Father.” God is love in his own nature; and every part of the creation bears the stamp of this perfection: the whole earth is full of his goodness. But man, the glory of this lower world, has participated the fruits of his kindness in far the most abundant measure; having been endued with nobler faculties, and fitted for incomparably higher enjoyments than any other creature. In some respects, God has loved man more than the angels themselves: for when they fell, he cast them down to hell, without one offer of mercy: but when man transgressed, God provided a Saviour for him. This provision, I say, was wholly owing to the love of God the Father: it was the Father who, from all eternity forseeing our fall, from all eternity contrived the means of our recovery and restoration. It was the Father who appointed his Son to be our Substitute and Surety; and in due time sent him into the world to execute the office assigned him: and it is the Father who accepts the vicarious sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. He accepts at the hands of his own Son the payment that was due from us, and confers on us the reward which was due to Christ. Thus the Father’s love contrived, appointed, and accepts the means of our salvation; and therefore in my text he himself is called “our Saviour;” “the love of God our Saviour.” This title belongs more immediately to the Son, who died for us: but yet, as the Father is the original cause of our salvation, he is properly called “our Saviour.” Nor is it the text only that represents the Father’s love as the source of our redemption; the Scriptures uniformly speak the same language: “God so loved the word, that he gave his only-begotten Son:” “God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us:” and again, “Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
This love, however, did not fully appear till after the ascension of our blessed Lord. The text says, “After that the kindness and love of God our Saviour towards man appeared.” The word in the original refers, I apprehend, to the shining forth of the sun. Now the sun shines with equal brightness when it is behind a cloud, or when this part of the globe is left in midnight darkness; only it is not visible to us till it actually appears above the horizon, or till the clouds that veil it from our eyes are dissipated. So the love of God has shone from all eternity; “He has loved us,” says the prophet, “with an everlasting love.” But this love was behind a cloud till our Lord had finished his course upon earth; and then it appeared in all its splendour: so that now we can trace redemption to its proper source; and instead of imagining, as some have done, that the Father was filled with wrath, and needed to be pacified by the Son, we view even Christ himself as the Father’s gift, and ascribe every blessing to its proper cause, the love of God.
It is true, however, that much was necessary to be done, before this love of God could shed forth its beams upon us. We proceed therefore to set before you,
The procuring cause of our redemption—
This in my text is set forth both negatively and positively: it was not any works of righteousness which we have done, but it was Jesus Christ: they who are saved will no doubt abound in works of righteousness; but these works are not the procuring cause of our redemption. What good works did Adam perform before God promised to send him a Saviour? What good works can any man do, before God endues him with his Holy Spirit? Or even after our conversion, what works of ours can challenge so glorious a reward? Yea, when do we perform any work whatever, which is not miserably defective, and which does not need the mercy of God to pardon it? Every one who knows the spirituality of God’s law, and the defects that are in our best performances, will say with the Apostle Paul, “I desire to be found, not having my own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ.” We may well acknowledge, therefore, as in the text, that we are saved, not by works of righteousness which we have done. The only procuring cause of our salvation is Jesus Christ. Every thing which we receive comes to us on account of what he has done and suffered: if the Father’s love appear to us, or if the Spirit be shed forth upon us, it is, as the text observes, “through Jesus Christ.” It was his death which removed the obstacles to our salvation: the justice of God required satisfaction for our breaches of the divine law: the dishonour done to the law itself needed to be repaired: the truth of God, which was engaged to punish sin, needed to be preserved inviolate. Unless these things could be effected, there could be no room for the exercise of mercy, because it was not possible that one perfection of the Deity should be exercised in any other way than in perfect consistency with all the rest. But the death of Christ removed these obstacles. Christ offered himself as an atonement for sin; and at once honoured the law, satisfied justice, and paid the utmost farthing of our debt: thus, “mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other:” yea, by this means, “God is faithful and just, (not to condemn us, but) to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Nor is it in this view only that Jesus Christ procures our salvation: He has taken upon him the office of an advocate, which he is ever executing in heaven: “He ever lives,” says the Apostle, “to make intercession for us.” He pleads our cause with the Father: he urges his own merits on our behalf: like the high-priest of old, he presents blood, yea, his own blood, before the mercy-seat, and fills the most holy-place with the incense of his own intercession. Thus does he continually prevail for us; and we, for his sake, are loaded with all spiritual and eternal benefits.
That we obtain mercies thus, by virtue of his death and intercession, is evident also from other Scriptures; the Apostle says, that we have redemption through Christ’s blood; and our Lord says, “I will pray the Father, and he shall send you another Comforter:” so that, while we trace back our redemption to the Father’s love, we ascribe it also to the mediation of the Son.
The third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity also bears his part in this glorious work: we shall proceed therefore to set before you,
The efficient cause of our redemption—
As our salvation is not procured by our own merit, so neither is it effected by our own power: the text informs us, that we are “saved by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”—The washing of regeneration may here refer to the rite of baptism, whereby we are introduced into the visible Church; and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, to the internal change by which we are made real members of Christ’s body; or, they may both mean the same thing, the latter being explanatory of the former; and this I rather suppose to be the true meaning, because they are both put in opposition to the works of righteousness done by us: but, whichever it be, the Holy Ghost is here declared to be the only efficient cause of our salvation. It is He who regenerates us, and makes us partakers of the Divine nature: we are of ourselves dead, and therefore cannot restore ourselves to life: we have only an earthly and carnal nature, and therefore cannot perform the operations of an heavenly and spiritual nature: this is effected only by “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” We cannot of ourselves secure an interest in Christ, or discern the excellency of those things which he has purchased for us by his blood. We are told, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, nor can know them, because they are spiritually discerned:” It is the Spirit’s office to reveal them to us. Our Lord says, “I will send you the Holy Ghost, and he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” So neither can we feel the kindness and love of God the Father, unless it be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us. Thus we shall remain ignorant of the Father’s love, and uninterested in the mediation of the Son; yea, we shall continue dead in trespasses and sins, if the Holy Ghost do not work effectually in us. Notwithstanding all that the Father and the Son have done for us, we must eternally perish, if we be not renewed and sanctified by the influences of the Blessed Spirit. No resolutions or endeavours of our own will effect the work: nothing less than a divine power is sufficient for it: we must therefore experience the agency of the Holy Ghost on our own hearts, or remain for ever destitute of the salvation provided for us.
Under the law, whatever good appeared in the saints of God, was wrought in them by the Holy Spirit. But they received the Spirit in so small a measure, in comparison of what is vouchsafed to us under the Christian dispensation, that He can scarcely be said to have been given at all till after our Lord’s ascension. The Evangelist says, that “the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified:” but from the time of that first effusion of the Holy Ghost, even to this present day, the Holy Ghost has been poured out abundantly, or richly, as the original word means, upon the Christian Church: so that not a few only may expect to feel his influences, but all; even all that will ask for them in Jesus’ name.
We come now, in the last place, to speak of the final cause of our redemption—
The final cause is the end; and, after having seen how the Sacred Three are engaged, we are naturally led to inquire, What is the end proposed? What is it which these Divine Persons intend to accomplish? The text furnishes us with a full and sufficient answer. It tells us, that the final cause for which such wonderful provision has been made, is, that man may be saved; or, in the express words of the text, “that, being justified by faith, we may be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” The justification of sinful man was a concern so dear to God, that he gave his only-begotten Son in order to effect it; and so precious were our souls in the sight of Christ, that he willingly laid down his life for them. The Holy Spirit also cheerfully undertook his part in the economy of redemption. But it was a free justification, i.e. a justification by mere grace, that each Person of the Trinity had in view; they would cut off most effectually all boasting on the part of man, and reserve the whole glory to God alone. They have therefore freely offered it from first to last. The Father freely provided, the Son freely executed, and the Spirit freely applies, that salvation. Nor is it merely our justification, but our glorification also, which has been provided for. The Scriptures promise us eternal life, and encourage us to hope for it. They set it forth as an inheritance to which we are constituted heirs: and that, as heirs, we may in due time take possession of it, was the united design of the Three Persons in the Godhead. How astonishing that such an end should ever be proposed, and that such wonderful things should ever be done for the accomplishment of it! Well may we admire the kindness and love of God! well may we stand amazed at the condescension and compassion of the Son! and well may we burst forth into praises and thanksgivings for the grace and goodness of the Blessed Spirit! and indeed, “if we can hold our peace, surely the very stones will cry out against us.”
We shall now conclude with a few inferences from what has been said. And,
We may see how secure is the salvation of every believer—
The Three Persons in the Trinity are engaged to each other, as well as unto us. The Father gave his elect to Christ, on condition that he would make his soul an offering for them: and Christ laid down his life, on condition that the Spirit might be sent down into their hearts, to make them meet for his glory. Now we are sure that Christ died for those who were given to him; and that the Holy Ghost will renew and sanctify those for whom Christ died. The only question that can arise is this; Has the Father loved me, and has Christ died for me? To this I answer, We cannot look into the book of God’s decrees, and therefore we can only judge by what is already manifest. Are we regenerated and renewed by the Holy Ghost? if we are, we may be sure that whatever is needful shall be done for us. All that is required of us is, to wait upon God for fresh supplies of his Spirit; and to yield ourselves to the government of that Divine Agent. We then need not fear either men or devils: for none shall pluck us out of the Redeemer’s hands; nor shall we have any temptation without a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it. If, however, we have not yet an evidence that we are regenerate, we must not hastily conclude that there is no salvation for us; for all the elect of God were once unregenerate, but in due time were begotten by the Spirit to a lively hope: so that we must still go to God for the gift of his Spirit, and for an interest in Christ: nor will he refuse the petition of any who call upon him in sincerity and truth. But if we have a good hope that we have believed in Christ, then let us rejoice in our security; for, Has the Father shewn such proofs of his eternal love in vain? Has the Son laid down his life for nought? Has the Spirit undertaken such a work, without ability to accomplish it? And is the salvation of our souls the grand end which each of these Divine Persons has had in view, and shall we at last be left to perish? Be of good courage, brethren! and rest persuaded, with the Apostle of old, that “none shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We may see from hence, how great must be the condemnation of those who continue in unbelief—
If we reflect a moment upon the most astonishing provision which is made for us in the Gospel, and the dignity of the Persons concerned for our welfare, we cannot but exclaim with the Apostle, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” Surely, to despise the kindness and love of God our Father, will greatly aggravate our guilt: to trample on the blood of a dying Saviour, will add tenfold malignity to all our other sins: and to do despite to the Spirit of grace, will render our state hopeless, and inconceivably dreadful. Yet such is the state of all who reject the offers of the Gospel. As for the heathen, I had almost said, they are innocent in comparison of those who live and die unregenerate in a Christian land. O, my brethren, beware how you bring such aggravated condemnation upon your own souls! St. Paul expressly cautions you respecting this: he says, “He that despised Moses’s law died without mercy: of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and hath done despite to the Spirit of grace?” Beware, therefore, lest ye lose this day of grace, and, like the foolish virgins, be shut out from the marriage-supper. Blessed be God, there are none excluded from the Gospel offer: we are commanded to preach it to every creature; and to assure you, that, if you will return to God, there is a way of access opened for you, and that you may at this instant come to him through the Son, and by the Spirit. If therefore you now desire mercy, beg the Holy Spirit to guide you unto Christ; and entreat the Lord Jesus Christ to introduce you to the Father. Nor need you doubt for one moment but that in this way you shall be partakers of everlasting salvation: though you are now dead, and doomed to everlasting death, you shall have spiritual and eternal life: though you are now hopeless, you shall be begotten to a lively hope: and though you are now strangers and foreigners, you shall be heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
Lastly; we see what obligations lie upon every professor of religion to abound in good works. The Apostle, in the words immediately following the text, says, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that (N. B. to the end that) they who have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.” Now these words are frequently understood as an exhortation to preach about good works; but it is not so: it is an exhortation to preach the very doctrines that I have now set before you; and to preach them to the end that believers may be careful to maintain good works. And indeed it is impossible to conceive stronger motives to a holy life than may be deduced from hence. Did the Father set his love upon us from all eternity, and choose us that we might be a holy people unto himself; and shall we do that which his soul hateth? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? Again: Did Christ undertake to become our surety; and did he actually die for us, in order to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify us unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works; and shall we take occasion from his death to rest secure in our wickedness? Shall we thus make the Holy One of God a minister of sin? Again: Did the Holy Spirit engage to renew and sanctify us, and shall we resist all his motions, till we have altogether quenched them? Shall we not rather comply with his solicitations, and cherish his sacred influences? And, once more: Have the blessed Trinity done so much, on purpose to make us heirs of eternal glory; and shall we to the utmost of our power thwart the Divine counsels, and reject the proffered mercies? O no! let us rather feel the obligations that are laid upon us: let us say with the Psalmist, What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits he hath done unto me? and let us endeavour to abound in good works, not that we may be saved by them, but that we may please Him who hath called us unto his kingdom and glory.