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1 Remind them to be subject to principalities and powers From many passages it is evident that the Apostles had great difficulty in keeping the common people subject to the authority of magistrates and princes. We are all by nature desirous of power; and the consequence is, that no one willingly is subject to another. Besides, perceiving that nearly all the principalities and powers of the world (256) were at that time opposed to Christ they thought them unworthy of receiving any honor. The Jews especially, being an untamable race, did not cease to mutiny and rage. Thus, after having spoken of particular duties, Paul now wishes to give a general admonition to all, to observe peaceably the order of civil government, to submit to the laws, to obey magistrates. That subjection to princes, and that obedience to magistrates, which he demands, is extended to edicts, and laws, and other parts of civil government.
What he immediately adds, To be ready for every good work, may be applied to the same subject, as if he had said, “All who do not refuse to lead a good and virtuous life, will cheerfully yield obedience to magistrates.” For, since they have been appointed for the preservation of mankind, he who desires to have them removed, or shakes off their yoke, is an enemy of equity and justice, and is therefore devoid of all humanity. Yet if any prefer to interpret it without any immediate relation to the context, I have no objection; and indeed there can be no doubt that, in this sentence, he recommends to them kind offices towards their neighbors throughout their whole life.
(256) “ Toutes des principautes et puissances du monde.”
2 To speak evil of no one He now lays down the method of maintaining peace and friendship with all men. We know that there is nothing to which the disposition of every man is more prone than to despise others in comparison of himself. The consequence is, that many are proud of the gifts of God; and this is accompanied by contempt for their brethren, which is immediately followed by insult. He therefore forbids Christians to glory over others, or to reproach them, whatever may be their own superior excellence. Yet he does not wish them to flatter the vices of wicked men; he only condemns the propensity to slander.
Not given to fighting As if he had said, “Quarrels and contentions must be avoided.” The old translation has therefore rendered it better, Not quarrelsome; for there are other ways of fighting than the sword or the fist. And from what follows it is evident that this is the meaning; for he points out the remedies for the evil, when he enjoins them to be kind, and to shew all meekness towards all men; for “kindness” is contrasted with the utmost rigor of law, and “meekness” with bitterness. If, therefore, we are disposed to avoid every kind of contentions and fighting, let us learn, first, to moderate many things by gentleness, and next to bear with many things; for they who are excessively severe and ill-tempered carry with them a fire to kindle strife.
He says, towards all men, in order to intimate that he should bear with even the lowest and meanest persons. Believers, holding wicked men in contempt, did not think them worthy of any forbearance. Such severity, which arises from nothing else than pride, Paul wished to correct.
3 For we ourselves (257) also were formerly foolish Nothing is better adapted to subdue our pride, and at the same time to moderate our severity, than when it is shewn that everything that we turn against others may fall back on our own head; for he forgives easily who is compelled to sue for pardon in return. And indeed, ignorance of our own faults is the only cause that renders us unwilling to forgive our brethren. They who have a true zeal for God, are, indeed, severe against those who sin; but, because they begin with themselves, their severity is always attended by compassion. In order that believers, therefore, may not haughtily and cruelly mock at others, who are still held in ignorance and blindness, Paul brings back to their remembrance what sort of persons they formerly were; as if he had said, “If such fierce treatment is done to those on whom God has not yet bestowed the light of the gospel, with equally good reason might you have been at one time harshly treated. Undoubtedly you would not have wished that any person should be so cruel to you; exercise now, therefore, the same moderation towards others.”
In the words of Paul, there are two things that need to be understood. The first is, that they who have now been enlightened by the Lord, being humbled by the remembrance of their former ignorance, should not exalt themselves proudly over others, or treat them with greater harshness and severity than that which, they think, ought to have been exercised towards themselves when they were what those now are. The second is, that they should consider, from what has taken place in their own persons, that they who to-day are strangers may to-morrow be received into the Church, and, having been led to amendment of their sinful practices, may become partakers of the gifts of God, of which they are now destitute. There is a bright mirror of both in believers, who“
at one time were darkness, and afterwards began to be light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8.)
The knowledge of their former condition should therefore dispose them to συμπάθειαν fellow-feeling. On the other hand, the grace of God, which they now enjoy, is a proof that others may be brought to salvation.
Thus we see that we must be humbled before God, in order that we may be gentle towards brethren; for pride is always cruel and disdainful of others. In another passage, (Galatians 6:1,) where he exhorts us to mildness, he advises every one to remember his own weakness. Here he goes farther, for he bids us remember those vices from which we have been delivered, that we may not pursue too keenly those which, still dwell in others.
Besides, seeing that here Paul describes briefly the natural disposition of men, such as it is before it is renewed by the Spirit of God, we may behold, in this description, how wretched we are while we are out of Christ. First, he calls unbelievers foolish, because the whole wisdom of men is mere vanity, so long as they do not know God. Next, he calls them disobedient, because, as it is faith alone that truly obeys God, so unbelief is always wayward and rebellious; although we might translate ἀπειθεῖς unbelieving, so as to describe the kind of “foolishness.” Thirdly, he says that unbelievers go astray; for Christ alone is “the way” and the “light of the world.” (John 8:12.) All who are estranged from God must therefore wander and go astray during their whole life.
Hitherto he has described the nature of unbelief; but now he likewise adds the fruits which proceed from it, namely, various desires and pleasures, envy, malice, and such like. It is true that each person is not equally chargeable with every vice; but, seeing that all are the slaves of wicked desires, although some are carried away by one and others by another desire, Paul embraces in a general statement (258) all the fruits that are anywhere produced by unbelief. This subject is explained towards the close of the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
Moreover, since Paul, by these marks, distinguishes the children of God from unbelievers, if we wish to be accounted believers, we must have our heart cleansed from all envy, and from all malice; and we must both love and be beloved. It is unreasonable that those desires should reign in us, which are there called “various,” for this reason, in my opinion, that the lusts by which a carnal man is driven about are like opposing billows, which, by fighting against each other, turn the man hither and thither, so that he changes and vacillates almost every moment. Such, at least, is the restlessness of all who abandon themselves to carnal desires; because there is no stability but in the fear of God.
(257) “We ourselves, who had the oracles of God, that had greater privileges than others, were carried out with as strong an impetus naturally, till grace stopped the tide, and, after stopping, turned it against nature. When the mind was thus prepossessed, and the will made the lusts of the flesh its work and trade, there was no likelihood of any co-operation with God, in fulfilling his desires, till the bent of the heart was changed from the flesh and its principles. The heart is stone before grace. No stone can cooperate with any that would turn it into flesh, since it hath no seed, causes, or principles of any fleshly nature in it. Since we are overwhelmed by the rubbish of our corrupted estate, we can no more co-operate to the removal of it than a man buried under the ruins of a fallen house can contribute to the removal of that great weight that lies upon him. Neither would a man in that state help such a work, because his lusts are pleasures; he serves his lusts, which are pleasures as well as lusts, and therefore served with delight.” — Charnock.
(258) “The Apostle speaks of what naturally we all were. This, then, is a most merciful influence that is given forth in the regenerating work. It is as if God should have said, I see those poor creatures are perishing, not only tending to hell, but carrying with them their own hell into hell, ‘hell being at last cast into hell’ (as the expression in the Revelation is.) It is a throwing hell into hell, when a wicked man comes to hell; for he was his own hell before. God, beholding this forlorn case of wretched creatures, saith, I must either renew them or lose them; I must either transform them, or they must perish: they are in the fire of hell already. Such and such we were, but of his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing by the Holy Ghost. O! the compassionate influence that is shed upon a soul in this case! The balmy dews that descend from heaven upon a distempered soul, which quench the flames of lust, and which implant and invigorate (after their implantation) a divine principle, in-create a new life, that leads to God and Christ, and the way of holiness and heaven at last.” — Howe.
Either the principal clause in this sentence is, that “God hath saved us by his mercy,” or the language is elliptical. Thus it will be proper to supply, that they were changed for the better, and became new men, in consequence of God having mercy upon them; as if he had said, “When God regenerated you by his Spirit, then did you begin to differ from others.” But since there is a complete sense in the words of Paul, there is no necessity for making any addition. He classes himself along with others, in order that the exhortation may be more efficacious.
4 But after that the goodness and love towards man appeared First, it might be asked, — “Did the goodness of God begin to be made known to the world at the time when Christ was manifested in the flesh? For certainly, from the beginning, the fathers both knew and experienced that God was good, and kind, and gracious to them; and therefore this was not the first manifestation of his goodness, and fatherly love towards us,” The answer is easy. In no other way did the fathers taste the goodness of God under the Law, than by looking at Christ, on whose coming all their faith rested. Thus the goodness of God is said to have appeared, when he exhibited a pledge of it, and gave actual demonstration, that not in vain did he so often promise salvation to men.“
God so loved the world”, says John, “that he gave his only-begotten Son.” (John 3:16.)
Paul also says in another passage,“
Hereby God confirmeth his love towards us, that, while we were enemies, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8.)
It is a customary way of speaking in Scripture, that the world was reconciled to God through the death of Christ, although we know that he was a kind Father in all ages. But because we find no cause of the love of God toward us, and no ground of our salvation, but in Christ, not without good reason is God the Father said to have shewn his goodness to us in him.
Yet there is a different reason for it in this passage, in which Paul speaks, not of that ordinary manifestation of Christ which took place when he came as a man into the world, but of the manifestation which is made by the gospel, when he exhibits and reveals himself, in a peculiar manner, to the elect. At the first coming of Christ, Paul was not renewed; but, on the contrary, Christ was raised in glory, and salvation through his name shone upon many, not only in Judea, but throughout the neighboring countries, while Paul, blinded by unbelief, labored to extinguish this grace by every means in his power. He therefore means that the grace of God “appeared” both to himself and to others, when they were enlightened in the knowledge of the gospel. And indeed, in no other way could these words apply; for he does not speak indiscriminately about the men of his age, but specially addresses those who had been separated from the ordinary ranks; as if he had said, that formerly they resembled those unbelievers who were still plunged in darkness, but that now they differ from them, not through their own merit, but by the grace of God; in the same manner as he beats down all the haughtiness of the flesh by the same argument. “Who maketh thee to differ,” or to be more highly, esteemed than others? (1 Corinthians 4:7.)
Goodness and love He has with propriety assigned the first rank to “goodness,” which prompts God to love us; for God will never find in us anything which he ought to love, but he loves us because he is good and merciful. Besides, although he testifies his goodness and love to all, yet we know it by faith only, when he declares himself to be our Father in Christ. Before Paul was called to the faith of Christ, he enjoyed innumerable gifts of God, which might have given him a taste of God’s fatherly kindness; he had been educated, from his infancy, in the doctrine of the law; yet he wanders in darkness, so as not to perceive the goodness of God, till the Spirit enlightened his mind, and till Christ came forth as the witness and pledge of the grace of God the Father, from which, but for him, we are all excluded. Thus he means that the kindness of God is not revealed and known but by the light of faith.
5 Not by works (259) Let us remember that here Paul addresses his discourse to believers, and describes the manner in which they entered into the kingdom of God. He affirms that by their works they did not at all deserve that they should become partakers of salvation, or that they should be reconciled to God through faith; but he says that they obtained this blessing solely through the mercy of God. We therefore conclude from his words, that we bring nothing to God, but that he goes before us by his pure grace, without any regard to works. For when he says, — “Not by works which we have done”, he means, that we can do nothing but sin till we have been renewed by God. This negative statement depends on the former affirmation, by which he said that they were foolish and disobedient, and led away by various desires, till they were created anew in Christ; and indeed, what good work could proceed from so corrupt a mass?
It is madness, therefore, to allege that a man approaches to God by his own “preparations,” as they call them. During the whole period of life they depart further and further from him, until he puts forth his hand, and brings them back into that path from which they had gone astray. In short, that we, rather than others, have been admitted to enjoy the salivation of Christ, is altogether ascribed by Paul to the mercy of God, because there were no works of righteousness in us. This argument would have no weight, if he did not take for granted, that everything that we attempt to do before we believe, is unrighteous and hateful to God.
Which we had done. To argue from the preterite tense of this verb, that God looks at the future merits of men when he calls them, is sophistical and foolish. “When Paul,” say they, “denies that God is induced by our merits to bestow his grace upon us, he limits the statement to the past time; and therefore, if it is only for the righteousness going before that no room is left, future righteousness is admitted to consideration.” But they assume a principle, which Paul everywhere rejects, when he declares that election by free grace is the foundation of good works. If we owe it entirely to the grace of God, that we are fit for living a holy life, what future works of ours will God look upon? If, previously to our being called by God, iniquity holds such dominion over us, that it will not cease to make progress till it come to its height, how can God be induced, by a regard to our righteousness, to call us? Away then with such trifling! When Paul spoke of past works, his sole object was to exclude all merits. The meaning of his words is as if he had said, — “If we boast of any merit, what sort of works had we?” This maxim holds good, that men would not be better than they were before, if the Lord did not make them better by his calling.
He hath saved us He speaks of faith, and shews that we have already obtained salvation. Although, so long as we are held by the entanglements of sin, we carry about a body of death, yet we are certain of our salvation, provided that we are ingrafted into Christ by faith, according to that saying, —“
He that believeth in the Son of God hath passed from death into life.” (John 5:24.)
Yet, shortly afterwards, by introducing the word faith, the Apostle will shew that we have not yet actually attained what Christ procured for us by his death. Hence it follows, that, on the part of God, our salvation is completed, while the full enjoyment of it is delayed till the end of our warfare. And that is what the same Apostle teaches in another passage, that “we are saved by hope.” (Romans 8:24.)
By the washing of regeneration I have no doubt that he alludes, at least, to baptism, and even I will not object to have this passage expounded as relating to baptism; not that salvation is contained in the outward symbol of water, but because baptism tells to us the salvation obtained by Christ. Paul treats of the exhibition of the grace of God, which, we have said, has been made by faith. Since therefore a part of revelation consists in baptism, that is, so far as it is intended to confirm our faith, he properly makes mention of it. Besides, baptism — being the entrance into the Church and the symbol of our ingrafting into Christ — is here appropriately introduced by Paul, when he intends to shew in what manner the grace of God appeared to us; so that the strain of the passage runs thus: — “God hath saved us by his mercy, the symbol and pledge of which he gave in baptism, by admitting us into his Church, and ingrafting us into the body of his Son.”
Now the Apostles are wont to draw an argument from the Sacraments, to prove that which is there exhibited under a figure, because it ought to be held by believers as a settled principle, that God does not sport with us by unmeaning figures, but inwardly accomplishes by his power what he exhibits by the outward sign; and therefore, baptism is fitly and truly said to be “the washing of regeneration.” The efficacy and use of the sacraments will be properly understood by him who shall connect the sign and the thing signified, in such a manner as not to make the sign unmeaning and inefficacious, and who nevertheless shall not, for the sake of adorning the sign, take away from the Holy Spirit what belongs to him. Although by baptism wicked men are neither washed nor renewed, yet it retains that power, so far as relates to God, because, although they reject the grace of God, still it is offered to them. But here Paul addresses believers, in whom baptism is always efficacious, and in whom, therefore, it is properly connected with its truth and efficacy. But by this mode of expression we are reminded that, if we do not wish to annihilate holy baptism, we must prove its efficacy by “newness of life.” (Romans 6:4.)
And of the renewing of the Holy Spirit (260) Though he mentioned the sign, that he might exhibit to our view the grace of God, yet, that we may not fix our whole attention on the sign, he immediately sends us to the Spirit, that we may know that we are washed by his power, and not by water, agreeably to what is said, —“
I will sprinkle on you clean waters, even my Spirit.” (Ezekiel 36:25.)
And indeed, the words of Paul agree so completely with the words of the Prophet, that it appears clearly that both of them say the same thing. For this reason I said at the commencement, that Paul, while he speaks directly about the Holy Spirit, at the same time alludes to baptism. It is therefore the Spirit of God who regenerates us, and makes us new creatures; but because his grace is invisible and hidden, a visible symbol of it is beheld in baptism.
Some read the word “renewing,” in the accusative case, thus: — “through the washing of regeneration and (through) the renewing of the Holy Spirit.”, But the other reading — “through the washing of regeneration and of the renewing of the Holy Spirit” — is, in my opinion, preferable.
(259) “Perhaps the reader will give me leave to add a short expository lecture upon the most distinguished parts of this very important paragraph. I. — We have the cause of our redemption; not works of righteousness which we have done, but the kindness, the love, the mercy, of God our Savior. To these, to these alone, every child of man must ascribe both his fruition of present, and his expectation of future blessedness. II. — The effects, which are — 1. Justification, being justified, having our sins forgiven and our persons accepted through the righteousness of Christ imputed; all this without any the least deserving quality in us, solely by his grace and most unmerited goodness. 2. Sanctification expressed by the washing of regeneration — that washing in the Redeemer’s blood which cleanses the soul from guilt, as the washing of water cleanseth the body from filth, which reconciles to God, gives peace of conscience, and thereby lays the foundation of an universal spiritual change — the renewing of the Holy Ghost, whose influences, testifying of Christ, and applying his merits, introduce an improvement into all the faculties of the mind, something like that annual renovation and general smile which the return of spring diffuses over the face of nature. III. — The end and consummation of all — that we should be made heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and live more in the assured hope, hereafter in the full enjoyment, of eternal.” — Hervey.
(260) “It remaineth that we declare what is the office of the same, what he, is unto us, as the Holy Spirit; for although the Spirit of God be of infinite, essential, and original holiness, as God, and so may be called Holy in himself; though other spirits which were created be either actually now unholy, or of defectible sanctity at first, and so having the name of spirit common unto them, he may be termed holy, that he may be distinguished from them; yet I conceive he is rather called the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit of Holiness (Romans 1:4,) because of the three persons in the blessed Trinity, it is his particular office to sanctify or make us holy. As, therefore, what our Savior did and suffered for us belonged to that office of a Redeemer which he took upon him; so whatsoever the Holy Ghost worketh in order to the same salvation, we look upon as belonging to his office. And because without holiness it is impossible to please God, because we all are impure and unholy, and the purity and holiness which is required in us to appear in the presence of God, whose eyes are pure, must be wrought in us by the Spirit of God, who is called Holy, because he is the cause of this holiness in us, therefore we acknowledge the office of the Spirit of God to consist in the sanctifying of the servants of God, and the declaration of this office, added to the description of his nature, to be a sufficient explication of the object of faith contained in this article — ’I believe in the Holy Ghost’.” — Bp. Pearson on the Creed.
6. Which he shed, (or, whom he shed.) In the Greek, the relative may apply either to the “washing” or to the “Spirit;” for both of the nouns — λουτρόν and Πνεῦμα — are neuter. It makes little difference as to the meaning; but the metaphor will be more elegant, if the relative be applied to λουτρόν the “washing” Nor is it inconsistent with this opinion, that all are baptized without any distinction; for, while he shews that the “washing” is “shed,” he speaks not of the sign, but rather of the thing signified, in which the truth of the sign exists.
When he, says, abundantly, he means that, the more any of us excels in the abundance of the gifts which he has received, so much the more is he under obligations to the mercy of God, which alone enriches us; for in ourselves we are altogether poor, and destitute of everything good. If it be objected that not all the children of God enjoy so great abundance, but, on the contrary, the grace of God drops sparingly on many; the answer is, that no one has received so small a measure that he may not be justly accounted rich; for the smallest drop of the Spirit (so to speak) resembles an ever-flowing fountain, which never dries up. It is therefore a sufficient reason for calling it “abundance,” that, how small soever the portion that has been given to us it is never exhausted.
Through Jesus Christ (261) It is he alone in whom we are adopted; and therefore, it is he alone, through whom we are made partakers of the Spirit, who is the earnest and witness of our adoption. Paul therefore teaches us by this word, that the Spirit of regeneration is bestowed on none but those who are the members of Christ.
(261) “When we wish to ascertain the method of our salvation, we must begin with the Son of God. For it is he who hath washed us by his blood — it is he who hath obtained righteousness for us by his obedience — it is he who is our Advocate, and through whom we now find grace — it is he who procured for us the adoption by which we are made children and heirs of God. Let us carefully observe that we must seek all the parts of our salvation in Jesus Christ; for we shall not find a single drop of it anywhere else.” — Fr. Ser.
7 That being justified by his grace If we understand “regeneration” in its strict and ordinary meaning, it might be thought that the Apostle employs the word “justified” instead of “regenerated;” and this is sometimes the meaning of it, but very seldom; yet there is no necessity which constrains us to depart from its strict and more natural signification. The design of Paul is, to ascribe to the grace of God all that we are, and all that we have, so that we may not exalt ourselves proudly against others. Thus he now extols the mercy of God, by ascribing to it entirely the cause of our salvation. But because he had spoken of the vices of unbelievers, it would have been improper to leave out the grace of regeneration, which is the medicine for curing them.
Still this does not prevent him from returning immediately to praise divine mercy; and he even mingles both blessings together — that our sins have been freely pardoned, and that we have been renewed so as to obey God. This, at least, is evident, that Paul maintains that “justification,” is the free gift of God; and the only question is, what he means by the word justified. The contest seems to demand that its meaning shall be extended further than to the imputation of righteousness; and in this larger sense it is seldom (as I have said) employed by Paul; yet there is nothing that hinders the meaning of it from being limited to the forgiveness of sins.
When he says, by his grace, this applies both to Christ and to the Father, and we ought not to contend for either of these expositions, because it will always hold good, that, by the grace of God, we have obtained righteousness through Christ.
Heirs according to the hope of eternal life This clause is added by way of exposition. He had said that we have been saved through the mercy of God. (262) But our salvation is as yet hidden; and therefore he now says that we are heirs of life, not because we have arrived at the present possession of it, but because hope brings to us full and complete certainly of it. The meaning may be thus summed up. “Having been dead, we were restored to life through the grace of Christ, when God the: Father bestowed on us his Spirit, by whose power we have been purified. and renewed. Our salvation consists in this; but, because we are still in the world, we do not yet enjoy ‘eternal life,’ but only obtain it by ‘hoping.’”
(262) “ Par la grace et misericorde de Dieu.” — “By the grace and mercy of God.”
8 A faithful saying He employs this mode of expression, when he wishes to make a solemn assertion as we have seen in both of the Epistles to Timothy. (1 Timothy 1:15; 2 Timothy 2:11.) And therefore he immediately adds: —
I wish thee to affirm these things (263) Διαβεβαιοῦσθαι under a passive termination, has an active signification, and means “to affirm anything strongly.” Titus is therefore enjoined to disregard other matters, and to teach those which are certain and undoubted — to press them on the attention of their hearers — to dwell upon them — while others talk idly about things of little importance. Hence also, we conclude that a bishop must not make any assertions at random, but must assert those things only which he has ascertained to be true. “Affirm these things,” says he, “because they are true and worthy of credit.” But we are reminded, on the other hand, that it is the duty and office of a bishop to affirm strongly, and maintain boldly, those things which are believed on good grounds, and which edify godliness.
That they who have believed God may be careful to excel in good works, (or, to extol good works, or, to assign to them the highest rank.) He includes all the instructions which he formerly gave concerning the duty of every person, and the desire of leading a religious and holy life; as if he contrasted the fear of God, and well-regulated conduct, with idle speculations. He wishes the people to be instructed in such a manner that “they who have believed God,” may be solicitous, above all things, about good works.
But, as the verb προΐστασθαι is used in various senses by Greek authors, this passage also gives scope for various interpretations. Chrysostom: explains it to mean, that they should endeavor to relieve their neighbors by giving alms. Προΐστασθαι does sometimes mean “to give assistance;” but in that case the syntax would require us to understand that the “good works” should be aided, which would be a harsh construction. The meaning conveyed by the French word avancer , “ to go forward,” would be more appropriate. What if we should say, — “Let them strive as those who have the pre-eminence?” That is also one meaning of the word. Or, perhaps, some one will prefer what I have enclosed in brackets: “Let them be careful to assign the highest rank to good works.” And certainly it would not be unsuitable that Paul should enjoin that those things should prevail in the life of believers, because they are usually disregarded by others.
Whatever may be the ambiguity of the expression, the meaning of Paul is sufficiently clear, that the design of Christian doctrine is, that believers should exercise themselves in good works. (264) Thus he wishes them to give to it their study and application; and, when the Apostle says, φροντίζωσι (“let them be careful,”) he appears to allude elegantly to the useless contemplations of those who speculate without advantage, and without regard to active life.
Yet he is not so careful about good works as to despise the root — that is, faith — while he is gathering the fruits. He takes account of both parts, and, as is highly proper, assigns the first rank to faith; for he enjoins those “who believed in God” to be zealous of “good works;” by which he means that faith must go before in such a manner that good works may follow.
For these things are honorable I refer this to the doctrine rather than to the works, in this sense: “It is excellent and useful that men be thus instructed; and, therefore, those things which he formerly exhorted Titus to be zealous in affirming are the same things that are good and useful to men.” We might translate τὰ καλά either “good,” or “beautiful,” or “honorable;” but, in my opinion, it would be best to translate it “excellent.” He states indirectly that all other things that are taught are of no value, because they yield no profit or advantage; as, on the contrary, that which contributes to salvation is worthy of praise.
(263) “Meaning, ‘and I would have you constantly insist on these truths; so that those who have believed in God may maintain good works.’ The cause of the obscurity, and consequent diversity of interpretation, arose from the Apostle not having here shewn how it should be, that the doctrine of salvation by grace should produce holiness of life. But he has done it in another kindred passage, namely, Ephesians 2:9, where, after having at large treated on the subject of salvation by grace, (as here,) adding that it is not of works, lest any man should boast, he subjoins, αὐτοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν, κ.τ.λ. where the γὰρ refers to a clause omitted, q. d. (Yet works must be done,) for, etc. Hence it would seem that καλῶν ἔργων here must have the same sense as ἔργοις ἀγαθοῖς there; and consequently it must not be limited, with many eminent commentators, to works of benevolence, still less to the business of our avocation, but be extended to good works of every kind.” — Bloomfield.
(264) “The original word προΐστασθαι has a beauty and an energy, which, I believe, it is impossible for our language to preserve by any literal translation. It implies, that a believer should not only be exercised in, but eminent for, all good works; should shew others the way, and outstrip them in the honorable race; be both a pattern and a patron of universal godliness.” — Hervey.
9 But avoid foolish questions There is no necessity for debating long about the exposition of this passage. He contrasts “questions” with sound and certain doctrine. Although it is necessary to seek, in order to find, yet there is a limit to seeking, that you may understand what is useful to be known, and, next, that you may adhere firmly to the truth, when it has been known. Those who inquire curiously into everything, and are never at rest, may be truly called Questionarians. In short, what the schools of the Sorbonne account worthy of the highest praise — is here condemned by Paul; for the whole theology of the Papists is nothing else than a labyrinth of questions. He calls them foolish; not that, at first sight, they appear to be such, (for, on the contrary, they often deceive by a vain parade of wisdom,) but because they contribute nothing to godliness.
When he adds genealogies, he mentions one class of “foolish questions;” for instance, when curious men, forgetting to gather fruit from the sacred histories, seize on the lineage of races, and trifles of that nature, with which they weary themselves without advantage. Of that folly we spoke towards the beginning of the First Epistle to Timothy. (265)
He properly adds contentions; because in “questions” the prevailing spirit is ambition; and, therefore, it is impossible but that they shall immediately break forth into “contention” and quarrels; for there every one wishes to be the conqueror. This is accompanied by hardihood in affirming about things that are uncertain, which unavoidably leads to debates.
And fightings about the law He gives this disdainful appellation to those debates which were raised by the Jews under the pretence of the law; not that the law of itself produces them, but because the Jews, pretending to defend the law, disturbed the peace of the Church by their absurd controversies about the observation of ceremonies, about the distinction of the kinds of food and things of that nature.
For they are unprofitable and unnecessary In doctrine, therefore, we should always have regard to usefulness, so that everything that does not contribute to godliness shall be held in no estimation. And yet those sophists, in babbling about things of no value, undoubtedly boasted of them as highly worthy and useful to be known; but Paul does not acknowledge them to possess any usefulness, unless they tend to the increase of faith and to a holy life.
(265) See p. 23.
10 Avoid an heretical man This is properly added; because there will be no end of quarrels and dispute, if we wish to conquer obstinate men by argument; for they will never want words, and they will derive fresh courage from impudence, so that they will never grow weary of fighting. Thus, after having given orders to Titus as to the form of doctrine which he should lay down, he now forbids him to waste much time in debating with heretics, because battle would lead to battle and dispute to dispute. Such is the cunning of Satan, that, by the impudent talkativeness of such men, he entangles good and faithful pastors, so as to draw them away from diligence in teaching. We must therefore beware lest we become engaged in quarrelsome disputes; for we shall never have leisure to devote our labors to the Lord’s flock, and contentious men will never cease to annoy us.
When he commands him to avoid such persons, it is as if he said that he must not toil hard to satisfy them, and even that there is nothing better than to cut off the handle for fighting which they are eager to find. This is a highly necessary admonition; for even they who would willingly take no part in strifes of words are sometimes drawn by shame into controversy, because they think that it would be shameful cowardice to quit the field. Besides, there is no temper, however mild, that is not liable to be provoked by the fierce taunts of enemies, because they look upon it as intolerable that those men should attack the truth, (as they are accustomed to do,) and that none should reply. Nor are there wanting men who are either of a combative disposition, or excessively hot-tempered, who are eager for battle. On the contrary, Paul does not wish that the servant of Christ should be much and long employed in debating with heretics.
We must now see what he means by the word heretic. There is a common and well-known distinction between a heretic and a schismatic. But here, in my opinion, Paul disregards that distinction: for, by the term “heretic” he describes not only those who cherish and defend an erroneous or perverse doctrine, but in general all who do not yield assent to the sound doctrine which he laid down a little before. Thus under this name he includes all ambitious, unruly, contentious persons, who, led away by sinful passions, disturb the peace of the Church, and raise disputings. In short, every person who, by his overweening pride, breaks up the unity of the Church, is pronounced by Paul to be “heretic.”
But we must exercise moderation, so as not instantly to declare every man to be a “heretic” who does not agree with our opinion. There are some matters on which Christians may differ from each other, without being divided into sects. Paul himself commands that they shall not be so divided, when he bids them keep their harmony unbroken, and wait for the revelation of God. (Philippians 3:16.) But whenever the obstinacy of any person grows to such an extent, that, led by selfish motives, he either separates from the body, or draws away some of the flock, or interrupts the course of sound doctrine, in such a case we must boldly resist.
In a word, a heresy or sect and the unity of the Church — are things totally opposite to each other. Since the unity of the Church is dear to God, and ought to be held by us in the highest estimation, we ought to entertain the strongest abhorrence of heresy. Accordingly, the name of sect or heresy, though philosophers and statesmen reckon it to be honorable, is justly accounted infamous among Christians. We now understand who are meant by Paul, when he bids us dismiss and avoid heretics. But at the same time we ought to observe what immediately follows, —
After the first and second admonition; for neither shall we have a right to pronounce a man to be a heretic, nor shall we be at liberty to reject him, till we have first endeavored to bring him back to sound views. (266) He does not mean any “admonition,” whatever, or that of a private individual, but an “admonition” given by a minister, with the public authority of the Church; for the meaning of the Apostle’s words is as if he had said, that heretics must be rebuked with solemn and severe censure.
They who infer from this passage, that the supporters of wicked doctrines must be restrained by excommunication alone, and that no rigorous measures beyond this must be used against them, do not argue conclusively. There is a difference between the duties of a bishop and those of a magistrate. Writing to Titus, Paul does not treat of the office of a magistrate, but points out what belongs to a bishop. (267) Yet moderation is always best, that, instead of being restrained by force and violence, they may be corrected by the discipline of the Church, if there be any ground to believe that they can be cured.
(266) “ Au droit chemin.” — “To the right road.”
(267) “ Ce qu’il convient au Pasteur de faire.” — “What it belongs to the pastor to do.”
11 Knowing that he who is such is ruined He declares that man to be “ruined,” as to whom there is no hope of repentance, because, if our labor could bring back any man to the right path, it should by no means be withheld. The metaphor is taken from a building, which is not merely decayed in some part, but completely demolished, so that it is incapable of being repaired.
He next points out the sign of this ruin — an evil conscience, when he says, that they who do not yield to admonitions are condemned by themselves; for, since they obstinately reject the truth, it is certain that they sin willfully and of their own accord, and therefore it would be of no advantage to admonish them.
At the same time, we learn from Paul’s words that we must not rashly or at random pronounce any man to be a heretic; for he says, “Knowing that he who is such is ruined.” Let the bishop therefore beware lest, by indulging his passionate temper, he treat with excessive harshness, as a heretic, one whom he does not yet know to be such.
13 Zenas a lawyer It is uncertain whether “Zenas”, was a Doctor of the Civil Law or of the Law of Moses; but as we may learn from Paul’s words that he was a poor man and needed the help of others, it is probable that he belonged to the same rank with Apollo, that is, an expounder of the Law of God among the Jews. It more frequently happens that such persons are in want of the necessaries of life than those who conduct causes in civil courts. I have said that Zenas’s poverty may be inferred from the words of Paul, because the expression, conduct him, means here to supply him with the means of accomplishing his journey, as is evident from what follows.
14 And let ours also learn to excel in good works. (268) That the Cretans, on whom he lays this burden, may not complain of being loaded with the expense, he reminds them that they must not be unfruitful, and that therefore they must be warmly exhorted to be zealous in good works. But of this mode of expression we have already spoken. Whether, therefore, he enjoins them to excel in good works, or to assign the highest rank to good works, he means that it is useful for them to have an opportunity afforded for exercising liberality, that they may not “be unfruitful” on this ground, that there is no opportunity, or that it is not demanded by necessity. What follows has been already explained in the other Epistles.
END OF CALVIN’S COMMENTARY ON TITUS
(268) “As he said before, let them apply their mind to it. He contrasts this with the foolish presumption but too common among those who thought that they were clever men, when they had speculated on this and the other subject. You have fine speculations, says he, but yet consider what is the true excellence of the children of God; it is to shew that they have profited well in doing good, and that this is the subject to which they have given their study. And then he says, Let them learn; as if he had said, Hitherto you have employed your time very ill, for there was nothing but foolish ambition, you yielded too far to your vain fancy. You must now follow a different course. Henceforth you must excel in doing good, and not in rambling talk. Instead of being led by curiosity and ambition, let every man be employed in doing good to his neighbors. Let every man consider what is his ability; and according to the power which God has given us, let us serve one another. Thus shall we shew that it is not in vain that we have received the gospel.” — Fr. Ser.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Titus 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18