James Nisbet Commentary - Titus 3:5 - 3:5

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James Nisbet Commentary - Titus 3:5 - 3:5

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.’


St. Paul had left Titus in Crete, ‘to set in order the things that were wanting, and to ordain elders in every city,’ as he had appointed him. For his help and guidance, he addressed to him this Epistle, in which he sets forth the conduct he was to maintain, the discipline he was to enforce, and the doctrines he was to teach. In the text there is a clear statement of some important doctrines.

I. Salvation is not by works

(a) Became of our relation to God.—We are His creatures; we owe Him everything always.

(b) Because of our moral inability to perform works of righteousness.

(c) Because every attempt to procure salvation by works implies the principle of ‘value for value.’

II. The true source and character of salvation.

(a) It has its origin in Gods kindness and love toward man (Tit_3:4).

(b) His kindness and love were manifested through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Tit_3:6).

(c) This salvation includes justification by His grace, adoption into His family by His love, regeneration by the power of the Holy Ghost, the blessed hope of eternal life while here, and the blessed reality of eternal life hereafter (Tit_3:5; Tit_3:7).


‘There is no doubt that those men were right who, a hundred years ago or less, declared to a self-satisfied world that the true cure for all moral evil was, not sound moral advice, too good to be followed, not earnest moral effort which the sinful soul was unable to make, or at least to sustain, but the reception of a cleansing power from without, that the soul must be supernaturally, miraculously, divinely, undeservedly delivered from its evil past, if it were ever to start on a new and better life, if it were ever to be made natural to it to do good or possible for it to deserve well. Nothing short of a miracle can put a sinner in the way of repentance.’



The words of our text occur in the passage appointed as the Second Lesson for the evening of Christmas Day. The selection is appropriate and wholesome. In the midst of family and other festivities—consecrated, as we hope they are, by the abiding presence of the Master—we need to have our minds recalled to the great fact of Christmas, what it is, and what it means to us. We should ever remember that it was ‘for us men and for our salvation’ that the Lord Jesus Christ ‘came down from heaven and was Incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.’ Christmas means to us the manifestation of God’s mercy, and it is ‘according to His mercy He saved us.’

I. A neglected truth.—We have been taught the way of salvation again and again, and yet so anxious are men to find their own way to heaven, that they neglect to take in and appropriate the great truth that it is by the mercy of God, and by that alone, that we are saved. Just as in the days of the early Church, when St. Paul found it necessary to press home upon all men that it is ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done,’ so now we clergy have to be constantly reminding our people, and reminding ourselves, that salvation is not by ‘works,’ but through God’s mercy in Christ Jesus. Men and brethren, keep this truth ever before you; neglect it no longer; think of it day by day; let it be the inspiration of your daily life.

II. Trust your works of righteousness no longer.—They are but poor and weak works at the best, and when we have done all that is required of us we are still unprofitable servants. You lose the joy of Christian service if you do these works with any sort of feeling that they may after all be of some use in atoning for past neglect or past sin. Works performed in that spirit are dead; but when, recognising that it is God’s mercy that saves us, our hearts are filled with love and gratitude to Him, the works that flow from a heart of love become a living power in the world.

III. Salvation according to mercy.—It is a precious truth; hold it fast. Salvation is a big word and covers every relation of life.

(a) Salvation from the punishment of sin.

(b) Salvation from the guilt of sin.

(c) Salvation from the power of sin.

(d) Salvation unto holiness.

And all this is ‘according to His mercy.’ We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves, but His mercy endureth for ever.


‘We are often told that Gospel teaching is far away from daily life, and some people go the length of saying that the central doctrine of the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ is an immoral doctrine. I am not going to discuss the latter statement now. If the former one is ever true, it is the fault of the preacher, not of the message. Rightly understood and presented, the great body of truth which we call the Gospel grips daily life very tightly, while on the other hand, of all the impotent things in this world, none are more impotent than exhortations to be good, which are cut away from the great truth of God’s mercy. If it be true that the best foundatiou for all practical godliness is in the possession of the great message of God’s mercy, it follows that Christian people ought to familiarise themselves with the practical side of their faith as the motive and the pattern for holy living.’