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Bible Commentaries

MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Titus 3

Verse 8

Titus

MAINTAINING GOOD WORKS

Tit_3:8 .

THERE is so much about ‘good works’ in the so-called Pastoral Epistles the two to Timothy, and this to Titus, that some critics who think they have sharp eyes have concluded that Paul was not their author. But surely it is very natural that as a man gets older he shall get more practical, and it is equally natural that he should fight the enemies who are in front of him at the moment, and not thrice slay the slain. Obviously the churches whom he had in view in his letters to Timothy and Titus did not stand in need of the elaborate and far-reaching argumentation of the Epistle to the Romans, or of the great protest against Jewish ritualism in the Epistle to the Galatians, or of the profound teaching about the Church which is in the Epistle to the Ephesians. The foundation had been laid, and, like a sensible man, Paul proceeded to build upon it. So instead of the difference in tone between those more theological letters and this more practical one being a cause of suspicion as to the authorship of the latter, it seems to me to be an argument in favour of the identity of authorship. The variation in tone corresponds to what happens in the case of every thoughtful Christian teacher as he grows in years, and comes to feel more and more that all doctrine is for practice. Here, then, we have the Apostle’s last will and testament, so to speak, left to all the churches, that ‘they which believe in God might be careful to maintain good works.’ According to that, the hall-mark of a Christian is conduct - ‘good works.’ But we must beware of narrowing the meaning of that expression, as is too often done, so as to include in it mainly certain conventional forms of charity or beneficence, like ‘slumming’ or tract-distributing, or Sunday- school teaching, and the like. These and such as these are, no doubt, one form of good works, but by no means the whole, and their having all but monopolized the name is one reason why many Christian people fail to apprehend the full significance of New Testament teaching on the subject. These acts are but as a creek in a great sea. Paul tells us what he takes to be included in the designation, when he bids the Philippians think on ‘whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,’ and having thought on them, do them. I have omitted one word in that quotation, for Paul speaks also of ‘whatsoever things are lovely.’ Loveliness is an essential quality of the highest kind of good works. Many of us know that the Greeks, wise beyond many who have clearer light but duller eyes, used the same word to express goodness and beauty. The Apostle uses that pregnant word in our text, and we should well ponder the teaching given by that word. For it tells Christians that they are to take heed to make their goodness lovely, not to ‘graft grace on a crab-stock,’ nor to present a frowning goodness to the world. It is not enough that they who believe in God should be careful to exhibit conduct which commends itself to every man’s conscience as right and pure. They should also commend themselves as being fair with a more than earthly beauty, and lustrous with a more than earthly radiance. There are many Christian people who spoil the effect of high-principled, self-sacrificing conduct by forgetting that beautifulness is an essential part of the highest goodness. Sour grapes are not the grapes that are intended to be grown on the true vine. But now, will you notice, as a further light upon Paul’s notion of how to go about growing these grapes, what goes before? ‘These things. I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which believe in God might be careful to maintain good works.’ What are ‘these things’? They are a brief summary of what we call ‘the Gospel’; the evangelical teaching that ‘the kindness and love of God our Saviour’ had ‘appeared,’ and that ‘He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost... that.. ‘we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ In effect Paul says to Timothy: ‘Now keep on insisting upon that.’ The word translated ‘affirm constantly’ is a very strong one. It means a forcible and continually repeated enunciation, and the plain English of Paul’s injunction to Timothy is: Keep on preaching the gospel as the surest way to produce disciples full of good works. People say to us: ‘Come down to daily life and conduct; never mind your dogmas.’ If you leave out what these critics mean by dogma, and try to make daily life beautiful without it, you may as well hold your tongue. And the men who forget to ‘affirm’ these things ‘constantly,’ and preach morals without gospel, are like Builders who begin to build on the second story, whose baseless castles in the air are sure to come down in ruins. The true way to produce moral conduct is to bring into clear prominence evangelical truth. But notice again, it is ‘those which believe in God who will be careful to maintain good works.’ That is to say, faith is the productive cause of good works, and good works are, as I said,’ the hall-mark of faith.’ If a man believes, then he will do ‘good works.’ The converse must also be true. If a man does not do good works, what, then, about his belief? ‘Show me thy faith without thy works’ - that is an impossible demand. The only way to show faith is by our works, and so all attempts to rend them apart, either in theory or in practice, are as absurd as it would be to take a piece of cloth, and try to tear away the inside from the outside. ‘Faith’ is the underside, ‘good works’ is the upper, and the web is one. Faith is the principle of works; works are the manifestation and making visible of faith. So now turn for a moment to another point. The Apostle’s command here implies a principle, that Christian work should always, and will always, if the faith is genuine, be in advance of all other sorts of good work. That is implied in one of the words used here which means literally’ be foremost, stand in the front,’ and I see no reason why the literal meaning should not be retained here. If it is retained, we have the thought implied - if you are a Christian man you should be ahead of the world in your goodness. You should lead, and not follow, or keep step with those who are not Christians. The Church’s morality on the wide scale and individual practice on the narrow, ought to be, and will be, if we are true to the gospel, far in advance of the ordinary opinion and practice of the day in which we Bye. If we are Christians, we are meant to be leaders, and that means that we shall often, like other leaders, have to endure a great deal of obloquy and calumny from the people whom we are trying to lead, and who are loitering behind us. The Christian Church, as the Apostle James says, is meant to be a ‘kind of first fruits of God’s creatures,’ ripe before the others, riper than the others always. Does the Christian Church lead the conscience of England to-day? Does it even try to do it? Does it recognise that its function is not to re-echo the morality of the street or of the newspaper, but to peal out the morality of Jesus Christ? Is it enough that Christian people should be as good, as charitable, as beneficent, as much interested in social questions as others, or should have the better, the purer, and the happier lives of the community for their great aim, as much as other people have them? Would it be enough to say ‘the electric light is about as bright as a tallow candle?’ Is it enough to say, ‘Christian people keep abreast of the world’s morality?’ Let them go in advance, and if they go very far ahead sometimes, none the worse; the laggards will perhaps come up. But at all events, whether they do or not, ‘I will that these things thou affirm constantly, in order that they which believe in God may take the lead in good works.’ And now there is a last point to be noted, and that is the Apostle’s warning that, although thus the belief of the gospel, and the faith which springs from the belief, are the spring of good work, yet these will not become ours unless we are careful to stand in front. What does that carefulness mean? The word implies two things, and the first of them may be put in the shape of an exhortation - bring your brains to bear on these truths that are being thus ‘constantly affirmed.’ Bring them into your hearts through your minds, that they may filter into and shape the life. I believe that one main reason why the morality of the Christian Church is not much further in advance of the morality of the world than it is, is because the individual members of the Church do not bring their minds into contact with the great truths of the gospel in such a fashion as they should. Christian practice is thin and poor and inconsistent, because Christian meditation on the gospel and on the Lord of the gospel, is shallow and infrequent. The truths that are to be ‘affirmed’ are the fuel that feeds the fire, and if there are no coals put on, the fire will very soon die down-And so there must be ‘carefulness,’ which means the occupation of the mind with the truths that produce holiness of life. And there must be another thing, there must be a definite and direct and continuous effort to increase our faith. I have been saying that faith is the underside of all noble conduct; and in the measure in which it is strengthened, in that measure accurately will our ‘good works’ increase. Suppose Manchester had had two pipes from Thirlmere instead of one, during recent droughts, should we have been in such straits for water? There was plenty in the lake, but we could not get it into our houses because we had not piping enough. There is plenty of power in our gospel and in our God to make us rich in ‘good works.’ What is lacking is that we have not that connection, which is made by faith, through which the fulness of God will flow into our lives. If they want to grow crops in Eastern lands they have little to do but to sow the seed and to irrigate. Christ has sown the seed in His gospel. We have to look after the irrigation, and the crops will come of themselves. So our main effort should be to keep ourselves in touch with that great Lord, and to increase the faith by which we make all His power our very own.

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Bibliographical Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Titus 3". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mac/titus-3.html.