Tit_3:8. 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. These things are good and profitable unto men.
ONE of the principal ends of a Christian ministry is, to stem the torrent of iniquity, and to meliorate the moral habits of mankind. If this be not attained, nothing is done to any good purpose. The mysteries which may be opened might as well be concealed: the arguments which may be urged might as well be suppressed. No glory can be brought to God, no benefit be secured to man, but through a moral change wrought upon the hearts and lives of men. In this, all are agreed. Even the profane, who neither regard nor practise one moral duty, will acknowledge this.
But then a question arises; ‘How shall this end be obtained?’ Upon this question there will be a great diversity of sentiment. The general answer would be, ‘Preach upon good works; inculcate the value and importance of them: trouble the people as little as possible about the doctrines and mysteries of religion; and labour principally, if not exclusively, to establish good morality.’ Unhappily for this land, this sentiment has in past times been too generally adopted. There may be some indeed (we trust they are very few), who run to a contrary extreme, and dwell upon doctrines to the utter exclusion of good works: but a very great part of the Christian world imagine, that the inculcating of Christian principles is of but little use in the production of morals: and hence it is that the peculiar doctrines of our religion have so small a share in our public ministrations. Many will even quote the words of our text as sanctioning this practice, and as enjoining ministers to dwell principally upon the subject of good works. But the text, properly understood, has a directly opposite aspect: it is an express injunction to Titus to bring forward continually the leading doctrines of our religion, in order to [Note:
, to the end that.] lead men to the practice of its duties.
Following his instructions, we propose to shew,
What subjects a Christian minister ought chiefly to insist upon—
The things which St. Paul “willed us constantly to affirm,” are those which are specified in the foregoing context: they are,
The extreme degeneracy of our nature—
[What St. Paul speaks of himself and of all the other Apostles in their unregenerate state, is equally true of us [Note: ver. 3.]: whether we look around us, or within us, we shall see that the representation is just. The foregoing part of it characterizes us at all times: the latter, whenever suitable opportunities are afforded us for displaying the feelings of our minds. The evil principles are within us, whether exercised or not: they may sleep, and thereby escape notice; but they are easily roused, and ready to act the very moment that an occasion arises to call them forth.
Now men like to have these humiliating representations kept out of sight: they love to hear flattering accounts of their own praise-worthy conduct and amiable dispositions. But we must declare to them what God has declared to us; and what we know by bitter experience to be true. If we neglect to shew them these things, how can we hope that they should ever be brought to repentance? If they know not the depth of their own depravity, they can never be duly humbled for it, and consequently can never receive aright the consoling doctrines of the Gospel.
On these things then we must insist; and respecting the truth of these things we must “constantly affirm.”]
The means which God has used for our recovery—
[In the fulness of his heart St. Paul expatiates upon the wonders of redeeming love [Note: ver. 4–7.]. He traces all to the free, the rich, the boundless mercy of Jehovah; who, in execution of his eternal counsels, has, for Christ’s sake, poured out his Spirit upon man, in order to renew his nature, and to fit him for glory. In short, he traces the salvation of man to three united causes; the Father’s love, the Son’s merits, and the Spirit’s influence.
One would suppose that these subjects should be the most welcome of all that can be presented to our view. But this is not the case: for, however great the encouragement that is derived from them, they all have an humiliating tendency: they shew us the depth of our misery, that called for such a remedy: they constrain us to acknowledge our obligations to the grace and mercy of God, and our entire dependence on the merits of his Son, and the influences of his Spirit. On these accounts men would rather be amused with moral essays, than instructed in these mysterious truths.
But we must “affirm these things;” we must affirm them “constantly;” for they are “faithful sayings,” and truths in which our everlasting welfare depends. To make these known, and understood, and felt, should be the great object of all our labours.]
That we may not be thought to lay too great a stress on these subjects, we shall shew,
Why they deserve so great a portion of our attention—
The Apostle assigns reasons the most satisfactory imaginable:
They are the appointed means of promoting good works—
[It is a lamentable but undoubted fact, that where morals only are insisted on, or where the foregoing doctrines are but occasionally stated, the great mass of the people are ignorant of the fundamental truths of our religion, and their morals rarely experience any visible or important change. Nor can we wonder at this, if only we consider, that God has appointed other means for the reformation of mankind; and that the means he has appointed, are alone suited to produce the end.
Is it asked, ‘Whence the stating of Christian doctrines should work so powerfully, while the pressing home of moral duties fails to produce any such effects?’ we answer, That God will bless the means which are of his own appointment, when he will not prosper those which are substituted in their place; and, that there is in the doctrines before stated a natural and proper tendency to produce a change both of heart and life. Suppose a person truly to receive what God has declared respecting the extreme degeneracy of our nature; can he fail of being humbled in the dust? Can he do otherwise than stand amazed at the forbearance of God towards him? Can he refrain from saying, ‘O that I could serve my God with as much zeal and diligence as ever I exerted in violating his commands?’ Suppose him then to receive all the glorious truths relative to the way of salvation; will he not be filled with admiring and adoring thoughts of God’s mercy? Will not “the grace of Christ,” and “the love of the Spirit,” constrain him to cry out, “What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?” Yes; let him only be penetrated with a sense of what God has done for his recovery, and he will not only “be careful to maintain,” but studious to excel
.] in, good works: he will not be contented to conform to the world’s standard of morality, but will seek to become pure as God is pure, and “holy as God is holy.”]
They “are good and profitable unto men”—
[This expression of the Apostle may be understood either of the doctrines of Christianity, or of the good works produced by them, or (which we rather prefer) of both together.
Who must not acknowledge the excellence and utility of the doctrines? We confidently ask, What has reformed the world, as far as any change has taken place in its habits? Have the dogmas of philosophers produced this effect; or has it been wrought by the influence of Christianity? Let any one contemplate the change that took place upon the converts on the day of Pentecost; let him see the odoriferous myrtle starting up in the place of the noxious brier, and say whether these doctrines be not “good and profitable unto men?” Or let the appeal be made to living Christians: are there not many that must say, ‘Before I heard those doctrines I was altogether earthly, sensual, and devilish; but from the moment that I received them into my heart, I have experienced a total change of character: my spirit and temper have been wonderfully improved; my desires and pursuits have been altogether altered; I am become quite a new creature: now also my peace flows down like a river; death has been disarmed of its sting, and I look forward to the eternal state with unspeakable delight?’
That the good works which are produced by these doctrines are also beneficial, we gladly affirm. As for the works that are unconnected with these doctrines, they are neither good nor profitable unto men; because they are essentially defective both in their principle and end: but the works that flow from them are both “good and profitable:” they are truly “good,” because they proceed from love to God, and from an unfeigned desire to promote his glory; and they are “profitable,” because they are evidences to us of our own sincerity; they bring peace and joy into the soul [Note: Isa_32:17.]; they advance our meetness for heaven; and they increase that eternal weight of glory which shall be given us in exact proportion to the number and quality of our works [Note: 2Co_5:10.]. Let not any one imagine, that, by dwelling on the principles of religion, we mean to disparage its fruits: no: only let the fruits proceed from love to God, and a desire to promote his glory, and they cannot be spoken of too highly: the smallest service performed in such a way, shall in no wise lose its reward.]
Hoping that the giving to the doctrines of Christianity a considerable share of our attention is vindicated to your satisfaction, we conclude with two words of advice:
Meditate much and deeply on the fundamental principles of our religion—
[If it be the duty of ministers constantly to set before you the leading truths of Christianity, it must doubtless be your duty constantly, as it were, to revolve them in your minds. It is on them that you are to found your hopes: from them, you are to derive your motives and encouragements: through them, you will receive strength for the performance of all your duties. It is by them that you are to be brought to believe in God, and, “having believed in God,” to be made careful and diligent in all good works. Let them therefore be your meditation day and night, and you shall find them “sweeter than honey, or the honeycomb,” and “dearer than thousands of gold and silver.”
Display the influence of those principles in your life and conversation—
[If you dishonour your profession, the ungodly world will take occasion from your actions to vilify your principles, and to represent your misconduct as the natural effect of our preaching. If they would argue so in their own case, they would do well: for their disregard of all the higher duties of religion does indeed arise from their contempt of its doctrines. But the experience of the primitive saints, and of thousands that are yet alive, sufficiently refutes the idea of our principles tending to licentiousness. However, be careful that you do not give to your adversaries any occasion for such reflections. Shew them, that the doctrines you profess, are “doctrines according to godliness.” The light of holiness will do more than ten thousand arguments to stop the mouths of gainsayers, and to recommend the Gospel to their acceptance. “Shew them therefore your faith by your works;” and constrain them to acknowledge, that you by your principles are enabled to attain a height of holiness, which they shall in vain attempt to emulate.]