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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Titus 3

 

 

Verses 1-3

Chapter 24

THE DUTY OF OBEDIENCE TO AUTHORITY, WITH ITS LIMITS THE DUTY OF COURTESY WITHOUT LIMITS. - Titus 3:1-3

ST. PAUL, having in the previous chapter sketched the special duties which Titus is to inculcate upon different classes of Christians, - aged men and aged women, young women, young men, and slaves, - now passes on to point out what must be impressed on all Christians alike, especially as regards their conduct towards those who are in authority and who are not Christians.

Here he is on delicate ground. The Cretans are said to have been a turbulent race, or rather a group of turbulent races; neither peaceable among themselves, nor very patient of foreign dominion: and the Roman rule had been established there for less than a century and a half. Previous to their conquest by Metellus in B.C. 67, they had been accustomed to democratic forms of government, and therefore would be likely to feel the change to the Roman yoke all the more acutely. As our own experiences in a neighboring island have taught us, people who have been allowed to misgovern themselves, and to fight among themselves, for many generations, do not readily give a welcome to a power which deprives them of these liberties, even when it offers in exchange for them the solid but prosaic advantages of peace and security. Besides this, there was in Crete a strong mixture of Jews, whose rebellious propensities seemed to be unquenchable. Nor was this all. Within the Church itself the spirit of anarchy had displayed itself: partly because, as in the Churches of Corinth and Galatia, the characteristic faults of the people still continued to show themselves after the acceptance of Christianity; partly because, as everywhere in the Churches of that age the contests between Jewish and Gentile converts were always producing disorder. This appears in the first chapter of our Epistle, in which the Apostle states that "there are many unruly men specially they of the circumcision," and in which he finds it necessary to make it a qualification for the office of bishop or overseer, that the persons appointed should be such as "are not accused of riot or are unruly." Besides which, as we learn from numerous sources in the New Testament, there was in various quarters a tendency to gross misconceptions respecting Christian liberty. Through Gnostic and other anti-nomian influences there was a disposition in many minds to translate liberty into license, and to suppose that the Christian was above the distinctions of the moral law, which for him had no meaning. Lastly, there were probably some earnest Christians, who, without going to any of these disastrous extremes, or sympathizing with the factious and seditious spirit of their fellow-countrymen, nevertheless had serious doubts as to whether Christians were under any obligation to obey a pagan magistrate, and perhaps were inclined to believe that it was their duty to disobey him.

For all these reasons St. Paul must have known that he was charging Titus to give instructions which would be very unwelcome to a large number of Cretan converts, when he told him to "put them in mind to be in subjection to rulers and authorities, and to be obedient." But it was the very fact that the instructions would be unwelcome to many that made it so necessary that they should be given. Both for the internal well-being of the Church, and for the maintenance of right relations with the State, it was imperative that the principle of obedience to authority, whether ecclesiastical or civil, should be upheld. There must be peace, and there must be liberty: but there could be neither the one nor the other without a respect for law and for those who have to administer it.

The Apostle does not here argue the case. He lays down certain positions as indisputable. The loyal Christian must submit himself to those who are placed over him; he must render obedience to existing authorities. There is one obvious limit to this which he indicates by a single word to be noticed hereafter, but with that one qualification the duty of obedience is imperative and absolute. Jew and Gentile Christian alike must obey the laws, not only of the Church, as administered by its overseers, but also of the State, as administered by the magistrates, even though the State be a heathen power and the magistrate an idolater. The reason why St. Paul does not argue the matter is obvious. He is not writing to those who are likely to dispute or disobey these injunctions, but to one who has to see that they are obeyed. His object is not to prove the excellence of the rules which he lays down, but to advise Titus as to what rules are to be most insisted upon. Titus was well aware of the principles upon which these rules were based and of the arguments by which the Apostle was accustomed to defend them. He does not need information on that point. What the Apostle thinks may be necessary for his guidance is a clear intimation of those practical lessons of which the Cretans needed most to be reminded. It was quite possible that Titus might have taken the view that the question about obedience to existing authorities was a burning one, and that it would be better for the present to say as little about it as possible. To object, therefore, that these directions in the second and third chapters of this Epistle are unworthy of St. Paul, and consequently not written by him, because they contain nothing which might serve as a sufficient refutation of the adversaries, is to beat the air without effect. They contain nothing calculated to serve as a refutation of the adversaries, because the apostle writes with no intention of refuting opponents, but in order to give practical instructions to his delegate.

But although the Apostle does not here argue the case, we are not left in ignorance as to the principles upon which he based the rules here laid down so emphatically. The thirteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is quite clear on that point. "There is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God." That is the kernel of the whole matter. The fact that a few rule over the many is not to be traced to a world-wide usurpation of the rights of the simple and the weak by the selfishness of the crafty and the strong. That theory may explain the terrorism of a bully, or of a band of brigands, or of a secret society; it is no explanation of the universal relations between governors and the governed. Nor is it the result of a primeval "social compact," in which the weak voluntarily surrendered some of their rights in order to have the advantage of the protection of the strong: that theory is pure fiction, and finds no support either in the fact of man’s nature, or in the relics of primitive society, or in the records of the past. The one explanation which is at once both adequate and true, is, that all authority is of Divine origin. This was the declaration of the Forerunner, when his disciples complained to him of the influence which Jesus exercised over those who came in contact with His teaching: "A man can receive nothing, except it have been given him from heaven." [John 3:27] This was the declaration of the Christ, when the Roman Procurator pointed out to Him that He had power of life and death over Him: "Thou wouldest have no power against Me, except it were given thee from above". [John 19:11] The power of the Redeemer over the minds of men and the power of a heathen governor over the bodies of men have one and the same source, - Almighty God. Christ declared His innocence and asserted His claims; but He made no protest against being tried by a pagan official, who represented the power that had deprived the Jewish nation of its liberties, because he also represented the principle of law and order, and as such was the representative of God Himself.

St. Paul, therefore, is doing more than restating what the Lord had already taught both by word and example. Christians must show submission to rulers and constituted authorities, and must yield ready obedience to magistrates, even when they are heathen. As heathen they were no doubt rebels against God, however little they might be aware of the fact. But as magistrates they were His delegates, however little they were aware of the fact. The Christian is aware of both facts; and he must not suppose that the one cancels the other. The magistrate still remains God’s delegate, however inconsistent his own life may be with such a position. Therefore it is not only allowable for Christians to obey him; but they must make it a matter of conscience to do so: and the history of the Church throughout the eras of persecution shows how greatly such teaching was needed. Whatever may have been the case when St. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans, we may safely maintain that persecution had already taken place when he wrote these instructions to Titus. Not that he seems to have a persecuting power in his mind, when he enjoins simple obedience to existing authority; but he writes with full knowledge of the extreme cases that might occur. A moralist who could insist upon the duty of submission to rulers, when a Nero had been on the throne for twelve or fourteen years, was certainly not one who could be ignorant of what his principles involved. Nor could it be said that the evils of Nero’s insolent despotism were counteracted by the excellence of his subordinates. The infamous Tigellinus was Praetorian Prefect and the Emperor’s chief adviser. Helius, who acted as governor of Italy during the Emperor’s absence in Greece, was in character a second Nero. And Gessius Florus, one of Pilate’s successors as Procurator of Judea, was so shameless in his enormities that the Jews regretted the departure of his predecessor Albinus, although he had mercilessly oppressed them. But all these facts, together with many more of the same kind, and some also of an opposite character, were beside the question. Christians were not to concern themselves with discussing whether rulers governed well or ill, or whether their private lives were good or bad. The one fact which concerned them was that the rulers were there to administer the law, and as such must be respected and obeyed. The conscience of Christians and the experiences of politicians, whether rulers or ruled, throughout all the subsequent ages have ratified the wisdom of St. Paul’s injunctions; and not only their wisdom, but their profound morality. Renan says with truth, but with a great deal less than the whole truth, that "Paul had too much tact to be a preacher of sedition: he wished that the name of Christian should stand well, and that a Christian should be a man of order, on good terms with the police, and of good repute in the eyes of the pagans" ("St. Paul," p. 477). The criticism which resolves a profound moral principle into a mere question of tact is worthy of the critic who makes it. Certainly St. Paul was far-sighted enough to see that frequent collisions between Christians and the recognized administrators of the law would be no good thing for Christianity: but it was not because he believed obedience to be the best policy that he charged Titus to insist upon it.

It is of the very essence of a ruler that he is "not a terror to the good work, but to the evil: for he is a minister of God to thee for good an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil." It is quite possible that the law which he administers is unjust, or that he administers it in such a way as to make it work injustice, so that good deeds are punished and evil deeds are rewarded. But nowhere is good punished as good, or evil rewarded as evil. When Naboth was judicially murdered to gratify Jezebel, it was on the assumption that he was a blasphemer and a rebel; and when Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and by the Procurator, it was on the assumption that he was guilty of similar crimes. So also with all the monstrous and iniquitous laws which have been made against Christianity and Christians. The persecuting edict "cast out their name as evil."

It was because men believed, or professed to believe, that Christians were grievous offenders or dangerous citizens, that they brought them before the magistrates. And the same holds good of the religious persecutions of which Christians have been guilty against other Christians. Nowhere can we point to a case in which a person has been condemned for having been virtuous, or for having failed to commit a crime. Many have been condemned for what was really meritorious, or for refusing to do what was really wicked; but in all such cases the meritorious conduct and the wicked conduct were held to be of exactly the opposite character by the representatives of the law. Legally constituted authority, therefore, is always by profession, and generally in fact also, a terror to the evil and a supporter of the good. It is charged with the all-important duty of upholding right and punishing wrong in human conduct, a duty which it never disowns. For even when through blindness or perversity it upholds what is wrong or punishes what is right, it professes to be doing the opposite. Therefore to rebel against it is to rebel against the principle of moral government; it is a revolt against that principle which reflects and represents, and that by his ordinance, the moral government of Almighty God.

St. Paul assumes that rulers aim at what is just and right. The Christian is "to be ready unto every good work": and, although the words are no doubt intended to have a general meaning as well, yet the context suggests that their primary meaning in this place is that Christians are always, not only to be obedient to rulers and magistrates, but to be ready to support and assist them in any good work: the presumption being that what the authorities direct is good. But, without perhaps having this object in view, the Apostle here indirectly intimates the limits to Christians’ obedience and support. They are to be given to further "every good work": they cannot of course be given to further what is evil. What then must a Christian do when lawful authority requires him to do what he knows to be wrong? Is he to rebel? to stir up a revolt against those who make this demand? No, he is still "to be in subjection to rulers": that is, he must disobey and quietly take the consequences. He owes it to his conscience to refuse to do what it condemns: but he also owes it to the representative of Divine law and order to abstain from shaking its authority. It has the power to give commands and the right to punish disobedience, and he has no right to refuse both obedience and punishment. To disobey and submissively take the consequences of disobedience is his plain duty in so painful a case. In this way, and in this way only, will loyalty to conscience and loyalty to authority both alike be preserved. In this way, and in this way best (as history has again and again shown), is the reformation of unjust laws effected. The moral sense of society is far more impressed by the man who disobeys for conscience’ sake and unresistingly goes to prison or mounts the scaffold for his disobedience, than by him who violently resists all attempts to punish him and stirs up rebellion against the authority which he cannot conscientiously obey. Rebellion may succeed in redressing injustice, but at a cost which is likely to be more grievous than the injustice which it redresses. Conscientious disobedience, accompanied by loyal submission to the penalty of disobedience, is sure to succeed in reforming unjust laws, and that without any cost to counterbalance the good thus gained.

Having thus trenchantly determined the duty of believers towards rulers and magistrates, St. Paul passes on to sketch their proper attitude towards other members of society. And just as in speaking of conduct towards authorities he evidently has in his mind the fact that most authorities are unbelievers, so in speaking of conduct in society he evidently is thinking of a state of society in which many of its members are unbelievers. What kind of conduct will Titus have to insist upon as befitting a Christian? "To speak evil of no man, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all meekness towards all men."

It would he difficult to point to a precept which is more habitually violated by Christians at the present day, and therefore more worthy of constantly being brought to the front and urged upon their consideration. There are plenty of precepts both of the Old and of the New Testaments, which are habitually violated by the godless and the irreligious, by those who, while bearing the name of Christian, scarcely make even a pretence of endeavoring to live Christian lives. But here we have a group of precepts, which a large number, not only of those who profess to live soberly and righteously, but of those who do indeed in other respects live as Christians should, consent to forget or ignore. "To speak evil of no man; not to be contentious; to be gentle, showing all meekness towards all men." Let us consider calmly what such words as these really mean; and then let us consider what we constantly meet with in the controversial writing, and still more in the controversial speaking, of the present day. Consider the tone of our party newspapers, and especially our religious newspapers, on the burning questions of the hour and on the men who take a leading part in them. Read what a High Church paper says of a Low Church Bishop, or what a Low Church paper says of a High Church Bishop, and measure it by the injunction "to speak evil of no man." Or, again, read what some of the organs of Dissent allow themselves to say respecting the clergy of the Established Church, or what some Church Defense orators have allowed themselves to say respecting Liberationists, and measure it by the injunctions "not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all meekness towards all men." It is sometimes necessary to speak out and call attention to real or suspected evils; although not nearly so frequently as we like to think. But it is never necessary to throw mud and deal in personal abuse.

Moreover, it is very unbecoming to do so. It is doubly unbecoming, as St. Paul reminds us. First, such conduct is utterly unchristian. Secondly, it is very much out of place in those who before now have been guilty of quite as grave faults as those for which we now abuse others. We are just the persons who ought to remember, because we know from personal experience how much the grace of God can effect. If we have by His mercy been brought out of the sins which we now condemn in other people, what may we not hope for in their case, provided we do not disgust them with virtue by our acrimonious and uncharitable fault-finding? Abuse is the wrong weapon to use against unrighteous conduct, just as rebellion is the wrong weapon to use against unrighteous laws.


Verses 4-7

Chapter 25

THE CO-OPERATION OF THE DIVINE PERSONS IN EFFECTING THE NEW BIRTH-THE LAVER OF REGENERATION. - Titus 3:4-7

FOR the second time in this short letter we have one of those statements of doctrine which are not common among the practical instructions which form the mare portion of the Pastoral Epistles. The other doctrinal statement was noticed in a previous discourse on 1 Timothy 2:11-14. It is worth while to compare the two.

Though similar, they are not identical in import, and they are introduced for quite different purposes. In the earlier passage, in order to show why different classes of Christians should be taught to exhibit the virtues which specially befit them, the Apostle states the purpose of Christ’s work of redemption, a purpose which all Christians are bound to help in realising, stimulated by what has been done for them in the past and by the hope which lies before them in the future. In the passage which we have now to consider, St. Paul contrasts with the manifold wickedness of unbelievers the undeserved mercies of God towards them, in order to show what. gratitude those who have been brought out of their unbelief ought to feel for this unearned blessing, a gratitude which they ought to exhibit in gentle forbearance and goodwill towards those who are still in the darkness of unbelief as well as to others.

The passage before us forms the main part of the Second Lesson for the evening of Christmas Day in both the old and the new lectionaries. Its appropriateness in setting forth so explicitly the Divine bounty in the work of regeneration is manifest. But it would have been equally appropriate as a lesson for Trinity Sunday, for the part which each Person of the Blessed Trinity takes in the work of regeneration is plainly indicated. The passage is in this respect strikingly parallel to what St. Peter had written in the opening of his Epistle: "According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ". [1 Peter 1:2] The goodness and love of God the Father towards mankind is the source of man’s redemption. From all eternity He saw man’s fall; and from all eternity He devised the means of man’s recovery. He appointed His Son to be our representative; and He accepted Him on our behalf. In this way the Father is "our Savior," by giving and accepting One Who could save us. The Father "saved us through Jesus Christ our Savior." Thus the Father and the Son co-operate to effect man’s salvation, and each in a very real and proper sense is called "our Savior." But it is not in man’s own power to accept the salvation thus wrought for him and offered to him. For power to do this he needs Divine assistance; which, however, is abundantly granted to him. By means of the outward laver of baptism the inward regeneration and renewal by the Spirit is granted to him through the merits of Christ; and then the work of his salvation on the Divine side is complete. Through the infinite mercy of the Blessed Trinity, and not through his own merits, the baptized Christian is in a state of salvation, and is become an heir of eternal life. It remains to be seen whether the Christian, thus richly endowed, will continue in this blessed state, and go on, by the daily renewal of the Holy Spirit, from grace to grace; or will through his own weakness and willfulness, fall away. But, so far as God’s share in the transaction is concerned, his salvation is secured; so that, as the Church of England affirms in the note added to the service for the Public Baptism of Infants: "It is certain by God’s Word, that children which are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are undoubtedly saved." And the several parts which the Persons of the Blessed Trinity take in the work of salvation are clearly indicated in one of the prayers before the baptismal act, as in the present passage by St. Paul. Prayer is offered to the "heavenly Father," that He will "give His Holy Spirit to this Infant, that he may be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation; through our Lord Jesus Christ." Thus, as at the baptism of the Christ, so also at that of every Christian, the presence and co-operation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indicated.

It is the Apostle’s object in this condensed doctrinal statement to emphasize the fact that it was "not by works in righteousness which we ourselves did," but by the work of the Blessed Trinity, that we were placed in a state of salvation. He does not stop to make the qualifications, which, however true and necessary, do not alter this fact. In the case of adults, who are converted to Christianity, - and it is of such that he is thinking, - it is necessary that they should be duly prepared for baptism by repentance and faith. And in the case of all (whether adults, or infants who live to become responsible for their actions), it is necessary that they should appropriate and use the graces bestowed upon them; in other words, that they should grow in holiness. All this is true: but it does not affect the position. For although man’s co-operation is indispensable-for God saves no man against his will-yet without God’s assistance man cannot either repent or believe before baptism, nor can he continue in holiness after baptism. This passage expressly denies that we effect our own salvation, or that God effected it in return for our merits. But it gives no encouragement to the belief that we have nothing to do with "working out our own salvation," but have merely to sit still and accept what has been done for us.

That "the washing of regeneration," or (as the margin of the R.V. more exactly has it) "the laver of regeneration," signifies the Christian rite of baptism, ought to be regarded as beyond dispute. This is certainly one of those cases to which Hooker’s famous canon of interpretation most thoroughly applies, that "where a literal construction will stand, the farthest from the letter is commonly the worst" ("Eccl. Pol.," 5. 59:2). This Hooker holds to be "a most infallible rule in expositions of sacred Scripture"; and although some persons may think that assertion somewhat too strong, of the soundness of the rule no reasonable student of Scripture can doubt. And it is worth our while to notice that it is in connection with this very subject of baptismal regeneration that Hooker lays down this rule. He is answering those who perversely interpreted our Lord’s words to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit," [John 3:5] as meaning no more than "Except a man be born of the Spirit," "water" being (as they imagined) only a metaphor, of which "the Spirit" is the interpretation. On which Hooker remarks: "When the letter of the law hath two things plainly and expressly specified, Water, and the Spirit; Water as a duty required on our parts, the Spirit as a gift which God bestoweth; there is danger in presuming so to interpret it, as if the clause which concerneth ourselves were more than needeth. We may by such rare expositions attain perhaps in the end to be thought witty, but with ill advice." All which may be fitly applied to the passage before us, in which it is quite arbitrary and against all probability to contend that "the bath of regeneration" is a mere metaphor for regeneration without any bath, or for the Holy Spirit, or for the unmeasured bounty with which the Holy Spirit is poured upon the believer.

This might be tenable, if there had been no such rite as baptism by water enjoined by Christ and practiced by the Apostles as the necessary and universal method of admission to the Christian Church. In Ephesians 5:26 (the only other passage in the New Testament in which the word for "laver" or "bath" or "washing" occurs) the reference to baptism by water is indisputable, for the water is expressly mentioned. "Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself up for it; that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word." And in the passage in the First Epistle to the Corinthians which, like the one before us, contrasts the appalling wickedness of unbelievers with the spiritual condition of Christians, the reference to baptism is scarcely less clear. "And such were some of you: but ye were washed (lit. ‘he Washed away’ your sins), but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God". [1 Corinthians 6:11] In which passage, as here, the three Persons of the Trinity are named in connection with the baptismal act.

And in speaking to the Jews at Jerusalem of his own admission to the Church, St. Paul uses the same forms of the same word as he uses to the Corinthians of their admission. The exhortation of Ananias to him, as he lay at Damascus, was "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins" ( απολουσαι ταας σου), "calling on His Name": [Acts 22:16] words which are very parallel to the exhortation of St. Peter on the day of Pentecost: "Repent ye, and be baptized, every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38; comp. Hebrews 10:23). In these passages we have a sacred rite described in which the human and the Divine elements are clearly marked. On man’s side there is the washing with water; and on God’s side there is the washing away of sin and pouring out of the Spirit. The body is purified, the soul is purified, and the soul is hallowed. The man is washed, is justified, is sanctified. He is regenerated: he is "a new creature." "The old things," his old principles, motives, and aims, then and there "passed away" (aorist tense, parhlqen): "behold, they are become new". [2 Corinthians 5:17] Can any one, with these passages before him, reasonably doubt that, when the Apostle speaks of "the washing of regeneration" he means the Christian rite of baptism, in which, and by means of which, the regeneration takes place?

We are fully justified by his language here in asserting that it is by means of the baptismal washing that the regeneration takes place; for he asserts that God "saved us through the washing of regeneration." The laver or bath of regeneration is the instrument or means by which God saved us. Such is the natural, and almost the necessary meaning of the Greek construction ( δια with the genitive). Nor is this an audacious erection of a comprehensive and momentous doctrine upon the narrow basis of a single preposition. Even if this passage stood alone, it would still be our duty to find a reasonable meaning for the Apostle’s Greek: and it may be seriously doubted whether any more reasonable meaning than that which is here put forward can be found. But the passage does not stand alone, as has just been shown. And there are numerous analogies which throw light upon the question, proving to us that there is nothing exceptional in God (Who of course does not need any means or instruments) being willing to use them, doubtless because it is better for us that He should use them.

In illustration of the Greek construction we may compare that used by St. Peter of the event which he takes (and the Church of England in her baptismal service has followed him) as a type of Christian baptism. "When the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water; which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism." St. Peter says that Noah and his family "were saved by means of water" ( δι υδατος) just as St. Paul says that God "saved us by means of the laver of regeneration" ( δια ας). In each case the water is the instrument of salvation. And the analogy does not end with the identity of the instrument; that is the mere external resemblance between the flood and baptism. The main part of the likeness lies in this, that in both cases one or the same instrument both destroys and saves. The Flood destroyed the disobedient by drowning them, and saved Noah and his family by floating them into a new home. Baptism destroys the old corrupt element in man’s nature by washing it away, and saves the regenerated soul by bringing it into a new life. And the other event which from the earliest days has been taken as a figure of baptism is of the same kind. At the crossing of the Red Sea, the water which destroyed the Egyptians saved the Israelites. In all these cases God was not tied to use water, or any other instrument. He could have saved Noah and the Israelites, arid destroyed the disobedient and the Egyptians, just as He could have healed Naaman and the man born blind, without employing any means whatever. But for our edification He condescends to employ means, such as we can perceive and understand.

In what way is the employment of perceptible means a help to us? In two at least. It serves the double purpose of being both a test of faith and an aid to faith.

1. The acceptance of Divinely appointed means is necessarily a test of faith. Human intellect is apt to assume that Omnipotence is above using instruments. "Is it likely," we ask, "that the Almighty would employ these means?" Are they not altogether beneath the dignity of the Divine Nature?

2. Man needs tools and materials: but God needs neither. It is not credible that He has ordained these things as conditions of His own operation. All which is the old cry of the captain of the host of Syria. "Behold, I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper." That is, why need he enjoin any instrument at all? But if he must, he might have enjoined something more suitable. "Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?" In precisely the same spirit we ask still, "How can water wash away sin? How can bread and wine be Christ’s body and blood? How can the laying on of a man’s hand confer the gift of the Holy Spirit? Do not all such assumptions savor of magic rather than of Divine Providence?" Therefore humbly to accept the means which God has revealed as the appointed channels of His spiritual blessings is a real test of the recipient’s faith. He is thus enabled to perceive for himself whether he does sincerely believe or not; whether he has the indispensable qualification for receiving the promised blessing.

The employment of visible means is a real aid to faith. It is easier to believe that an effect will be produced, when one can perceive something which might contribute to produce the effect. It is easier to believe when one sees means than when none are visible; and it is still easier to believe when the means seem to be appropriate. The man who was born blind would more readily believe that Christ would give him sight, when he perceived that Christ was using spittle and clay for the purpose; for at that time these things were supposed to be good for the eyes. And what element in nature is more frequently the instrument both of life and of death than water? What could more aptly signify purification from defilement? What act could more simply express a death to sin and a rising again to righteousness than a plunge beneath the surface of the water and a re-issuing from it? As St. Paul says in the Epistle to the Romans: "We were buried therefore with Him through baptism" ( διασματος.) "into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life". [Romans 6:4] And again to the Colossians: "Having been buried with Him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God. Who raised Him from the dead". [Colossians 2:12] Faith in the inward gift, promised by God to those who believe and are baptized, becomes more easy, when the outward means of conferring the gift, not only are readily perceived, but are recognized as suitable. In this way our faith is aided by God’s employment of means.

Is the "renewing of the Holy Ghost" the same thing as the "washing of regeneration?" In this passage the two expressions refer to the same fact, but in their respective meanings they are not co-extensive. The Greek construction is ambiguous like the English; and we cannot be sure whether St. Paul means that God saved us by means of the washing and by means of the renewing, or that God saved us by means of a laver, which is both a laver of regeneration and a laver of renewal. The latter is more probable: but in either case the reference is to one and the same event in the Christian’s life. The laver and the renewing refer to baptism; and the regeneration and the renewing refer to baptism; viz., to the new birth which is then effected. But, nevertheless, the two expressions are not coextensive in meaning. The laver and the regeneration refer to one fact, and to one fact only; a fact which takes place once for all and can never be repeated. A man cannot have the new birth a second time, any more than he can be born a second time: and hence no one may be baptized twice. But the renewing of the Holy Spirit may take place daily. It precedes baptism in the case of adults; for it is only through a renewal which is the work of the Spirit that they can prepare themselves by repentance and faith for baptism. It takes place at baptism, as the Apostle clearly indicates here. And it continues after baptism; for it is by repeated quickening of the inward life through the action of the Spirit that the Christian grows in grace day by day. In the case of the adult, who unworthily receives baptism without repentance and faith, there is no spiritual renewal. Not that the sacred rite remains without effect: but the renewing of the Spirit is suspended until the baptized person repents and believes. Meanwhile the mysterious gift bestowed in baptism becomes a curse rather than a blessing; or at least a curse as well as a blessing. It may perhaps increase the possibilities of repentance: it certainly intensifies the guilt of all his sins, Such a person has thrust himself into a society without being qualified for membership. He has incurred the responsibilities of membership: if he desires the privileges, he must obtain the qualifications.

It is God’s gracious purpose that all should have the privileges in full. In baptism He washed us from our sins, He gave us a new birth, He poured out His Holy Spirit upon us richly, through Jesus Christ; "in order that, being justified by His grace, we might be made heirs according to hope of eternal life."


Verse 10-11

Chapter 26

THE MEANING OF HERESY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, AND THE APOSTLE’S DIRECTIONS RESPECTING THE TREATMENT OF HERETICAL PERSONS. - Titus 3:10-11

IT is in connection with this instruction respecting the treatment of heretical persons that we have some of the earliest testimonies to the genuineness of the Epistle to Titus. Thus Irenaeus about A.D. 180 writes: "But as many as fall away from" ( αφιστανται, 1 Timothy 4:1) "the Church and give heed to these old wives’ fables" ( γραωδεσι μυθοις, 1 Timothy 4:7), "are truly self-condemned" ( αυτοκατακριτοι, Titus 3:1): "whom Paul charges us after a first and second admonition to refuse" ("Adv. Haer.," I 16. 3). It will be observed that in this passage Irenaeus makes an obvious allusion to the First Epistle to Timothy, and then quotes the very words of our text, attributing them expressly to St. Paul. And about ten or twelve years later, Tertullian, after commenting on St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among, [1 Corinthians 11:19] continues as follows: "But no more about that, seeing that it is the same Paul who elsewhere also in writing to the Galatians reckons heresies among sins of the flesh," [Galatians 5:20] and who intimates to Titus that a man who is heretical must after a first admonition be refused, because he that is such is perverted and sinneth as being self-condemned. But in almost every Epistle, when insisting on the duty of avoiding false doctrines, he censures heresies of which the practical results are false doctrines, called in Greek heresies, with reference to the choice which a man exercises, whether in instituting or in adopting them. For this reason he says that the heretical person is also self-condemned, because he has chosen for himself that in which he is condemned. We, however, may not allow ourselves anything after our own will; nor yet choose what any one has introduced of his own will. The Apostles of the Lord are our authorities; and even they did not choose to introduce anything of their own will, but faithfully consigned to the nations the instruction which they received from Christ. And so, even if an angel from heaven were to preach any other gospel, he would be called accursed by us" ("De Pries. Haer.," 6). In this passage, which contains a valuable comment on the meaning of the word "heresy, " it will be noticed that Tertullian not only quotes the text before us as coming from the Epistle to Titus, but, like Irenaeus, his earlier contemporary, says expressly that the words are those of St. Paul. Thus, from both sides of the Mediterranean, men who had very large opportunities of knowing what books were accepted as Apostolic and what not, attribute our Epistle without hesitation to St. Paul. And in both cases this is done in treatises directed against heretics, who might be expected to reply with very telling effect, if it could be shown that what was quoted against them as the writing of an Apostle was of quite doubtful origin and authority.

But the testimony which these passages bear to the authenticity of this Epistle is not the main reason for their being quoted here. Their interest for us now consists in the light which they throw upon the history of the word "heresy," and upon the attitude of the primitive Church towards heretics.

"Heresy," as Tertullian points out, is a word of Greek origin, and the idea which lies at the root of it is "choice." Choosing for oneself what pleases oneself, independently of other considerations; -that is the fundamental notion on which later meanings of the term are based. Thus in the Septuagint it is used of a free-will offering, as distinct from what a man is bound to offer (Leviticus 22:18; comp. /RAPC 1 Maccabees 8:30). Then comes the notion of choice in reference to matters of opinion, without, however, necessarily implying that the chosen opinion is a bad one. And in this sense it is used quite as often for the party or school of thought which holds the particular opinion as for the body of opinion which is held. In this sense it is several times used in the Acts of the Apostles; as "the sect of the Sadducees," [Acts 5:17] "the sect of the Pharisees": [Acts 15:5; Acts 26:5] and in this way Christianity itself was spoken of as a "heresy" or "sect"; that is, a party with chosen opinions. [Acts 24:5; Acts 24:14; Acts 28:22] And in profane literature we find Diogenes Laertius in the second or third century speaking of ten "heresies" or schools in moral philosophy (1:19). But it will be seen from the passages in the Acts that the word is already acquiring somewhat of a bad meaning; and indeed this was almost inevitable, unless the original signification was entirely abandoned. In all spheres of thought and action, and especially in matters of belief, a tendency to choose for oneself, and to pursue one’s own way independently, almost of necessity leads to separation from others, to divisions and factions. And factions in the Church readily widen into schisms and harden into heresies.

Outside the Acts of the Apostles the word heresy is found in the New Testament only in three passages: 1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 5:20; and 2 Peter 2:1. In the last of these it is used of the erroneous opinions themselves; in the other two the parties who hold them may be indicated. But in all cases the word is used of divisions inside the Church, not of separations from it or of positions antagonistic to it. Thus in 2 Peter 2:1 we have the prophecy that "there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them." Here the false teachers are evidently inside the Church, corrupting its members; not outside, inducing its members to leave it. For the prophecy continues: "And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of." They could not cause "the way of the truth to be evil spoken of," if they were complete outsiders, professing to have no connection with it. In Galatians 5:20 "heresies" are among "the works of the flesh" against which St. Paul warns his fickle converts, and "heresies" are there coupled with "factions" and "divisions." In 1 Corinthians 11:19 the Apostle gives as a reason for believing the report that there are divisions in the Church of Corinth the fact that (man’s tendency to differ being what it is) divisions are inevitable, and have their use, for in this way those which are approved among Christians are made manifest. It is possible in both these passages to understand St. Paul as meaning the "self-chosen views," as in the passage in 2 Peter, rather than the schools or parties which have adopted the views. But this is not of much moment. The important thing to notice is, that in all three cases the "heresies" have caused or are tending to cause splits inside the Church: they do not indicate hostile positions outside it. This use of the word is analogous to that in the Acts of the Apostles, where it represents the Pharisees and Sadducees, and even the Christian Church itself, as parties or schools inside Judaism, not as revolts against it. We shall be seriously misled, if we allow the later meaning of "heresy," with all its mediaeval associations, to color our interpretation of the term as we find it in the New Testament.

Another important thing to remember in reference to the strong language which St. Paul and other writers in the New Testament use with regard to "heresies" and erroneous doctrine, and the still stronger language used by early Christian writers in commenting on these texts, is the downright wickedness of a good many of the "self-chosen views" which had begun to appear in the Church in the first century, and which became rampant during the second. The peril, not only to faith, but to morals, was immense, and it extended to the very foundations of both. When Christians were told that there were two Creators, of whom one was good and one was evil; that the Incarnation was an impossibility; that man’s body was so vile that it was a duty to abuse it; that his spirit was so pure that it was impossible to defile it; that to acquire knowledge through crime was estimable, for knowledge was good, and crime was of no moral significance to the enlightened; -then it was necessary to speak out, and tell men in plain terms what the persons who were inculcating such views were really doing, and what strong measures would be necessary if they persisted in such teaching.

Unless we keep a firm grasp upon these two facts; -

(1) the difference between the meaning of the word "heresy" as we find it in the New Testament and its usual meaning at the present time; and

(2) the monstrous character of some of the views which many persons in the first century, and many more in the second, claimed to hold as part and parcel of the Christian religion; -we shall be liable to go grievously astray in drawing conclusions as to our own practice from what is said on the subject in Scripture.

"Woe unto the world," said our blessed Lord, "because of occasions of stumbling! For it must needs be that the occasions come; but woe to that man through whom the occasion cometh". [Matthew 18:7] Human nature being what it is, it is morally impossible that no one should ever lead another into sin. But that fact does not destroy the responsibility of the individual who leads his fellows into sin. St. Paul takes up the principle thus laid down by Christ and applies it in a particular sphere. He tells his Corinthian converts that "there must be heresies" among them, and that they serve the good purpose of shifting the chaff from the wheat. Wherever the light comes, it provokes opposition; there is at once antagonism between light and darkness. This is as true in the sphere of faith and morals as in that of the material world. Sooner or later, and generally sooner rather than later, truth and innocence are met and opposed by falsehood and sin; and it is falsehood, willfully maintained in opposition to revealed and generally held truth, that constitutes the essence of heresy. There are many false opinions outside what God has revealed to mankind, outside the scope of the Gospel. However serious these may be, they are not heresies. A man may be fatally at fault in matters of belief; but, unless in some sense he accepts Christianity as true, he is no heretic. As Tertullian says, "In all cases truth precedes its copy; after the reality the likeness follows" ("De Pries. Haer.," 29.). That is, heresy, which is the caricature of Christian truth, must be subsequent to it. It is a distortion of the original truth, which some one has arrogantly chosen as preferable to that of which it is the distortion. Error which has not yet come in contact with revelation, and which has had no opportunity of either submitting to it or rebelling against it, is not heretical. The heretical spirit is seen in that cold critical temper, that self-confident and self-willed attitude, which accepts and rejects opinions on principles of its own, quite independently of the principles which are the guaranteed and historical guides of the Church. But it cannot accept or reject what has never been presented to it; nor, until the Christian faith has to some extent been accepted, can the rejection of the remainder of it be accounted heresy. Heresy is "a disease of Christian knowledge." The disease may have come from without, or may have developed entirely from within; and in the former case the source of the malady may be far older than Christianity itself. But until the noxious elements have entered the Christian organism and claimed a home within the system, it is a misuse of language to term them heretical.

We have not exhausted the teaching of the Apostles respecting this plague of self-assertion and independent teaching, which even in their time began to afflict the infant Church, when we have considered all the passages in which the words "heresy" and "heretical" occur. There are other passages, in which the thing is plainly mentioned, although this name for it is not used. It has been said that "the Apostles, though they claimed disciplinary authority, had evidently no thought of claiming infallibility for any utterances of theirs." But they certainly treated opposition to their teaching, or deviations from it, as a very serious matter. St. Paul speaks of those who opposed him in the Church of Corinth as, "false apostles, deceitful workers" and "ministers of Satan" [2 Corinthians 11:13-15]. He speaks of the Galatians as "bewitched" by those who would pervert the Gospel of Christ, and pronounces an anathema on those who should "preach any gospel other than that which he preached". [Galatians 1:7-8; Galatians 3:1] Of the same class of teachers at Philippi he writes: "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision." [Philippians 3:2] He warns the Colossians: against any one who may "make spoil of them through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition" "of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ"; [Colossians 2:8] just as he warned the elders of the Church at Ephesus that after his departure "grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock; and that from among themselves men would arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them". [Acts 20:29-30] And in the Pastoral Epistles we have several utterances of the same kind, including the one before us. [1 Timothy 1:3-7; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 1 Timothy 6:3-4; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; Titus 1:10-16; Titus 3:8-11; 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Timothy 3:8; 2 Timothy 3:13]

Nor is St. Paul the only writer in the New Testament who feels bound to write in this strain. The same kind of language fills no inconsiderable portion of the Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. [2 Peter 2:1-22; Jude 1:8-16] More remarkable still, we find even the Apostle of Love speaking in tones not less severe. The Epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia abound in such things. [Revelation 2:3] In his General Epistle he asks, "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22 : comp. 1 John 2:26; 1 John 4:1; 1 John 4:3). In his letter to "the elect lady and her children" he speaks of the "many deceivers" who "confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh." And, in a passage not unlike the direction to Titus which we are now considering, he says: "If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works."

The impression which these passages produce on our minds is at least this; -that, whether or no the Apostles were conscious of being protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching anything that was doctrinally false, they were at any rate very stern in their condemnation of those Christians who deliberately contravened what an Apostle had taught. And this sternness is not confined to those who resisted the instructions of Apostles in matters of discipline. It is quite as clearly manifested against those who contradicted Apostolic teaching in matters of faith. The context of the passage before us shows that by "a man that is heretical" is meant one who willfully takes his own line and thereby causes divisions in doctrine quite as much as one who does so as regards the order and discipline of the Church.

What, then, does St. Paul mean when he directs Titus to "refuse" such a person after once or twice admonishing him? Certainly not that he is to excommunicate him; the passage has nothing to do with formal excommunication. It is possible to maintain that the direction here given may imply excommunication; but it is also possible to maintain that it need not imply anything of the kind; and therefore that such an interpretation substitutes an uncertain inference for what is certainly expressed. The word translated in the R.V. "refuse," and in the A.V. "reject," is the same as that which is used in 1 Timothy 5:2 in the text, "Younger widows refuse" ( παραιτου). It means, "avoid, shun, excuse yourself from having anything to do with". {comp. Hebrews 12:25} It is also used of things as well as of persons, and in much the same sense: "Refuse profane and old wives’ fables," [1 Timothy 4:7] and "Foolish and ignorant questions refuse." [2 Timothy 2:23] The meaning, then, here seems to be that, after a few attempts to induce the heretical person to desist from his perverse and self-willed conduct, Titus is to waste no more time on him, because now he knows that his efforts will be useless. At first he did not know this; but after having failed once or twice, he will see that it is vain to repeat what produces no effect. The man’s self-will is incorrigible; and not only that, but inexcusable; for he stands self-condemned. He deliberately chose what was opposed to the received teaching; and he deliberately persists in it after its erroneous character has been pointed out to him. He "is perverted, and sinneth": that is, he not only has sinned, but goes on sinning: he continues in his sin, in spite of entreaty, exhortation, and reproof.

In what way are the directions here given to Titus to be used for our own guidance at the present time? Certain limitations as to their application have been already pointed out. They do not apply to persons who have always been, or who have ended in placing themselves, outside the Christian Church. They refer to persons who contend that their self-chosen views are part and parcel of the Gospel, and who claim to hold and teach such views as members or even ministers of the Church. Secondly, they refer to grave and fundamental errors with regard to first principles; not to eccentric views respecting matters of detail. And in determining this second point much caution will be needed; especially when inferences are drawn from a man’s teaching. We should be on our guard with regard to assertions that a particular teacher virtually denies the Divinity of Christ, or the Trinity, or the personality of God. But when both these points are quite clear, that the person contradicts some of the primary truths of the Gospel, and that he claims to do so as a Christian, what is a minister to do to such a member of his flock? He is to make one or two efforts to reclaim him, and then to have as little to do with him as possible.

In all such cases there are three sets of persons to be considered:-the heretic himself, those who have to deal with him, and the Church at large. What conduct on the part of those who have to deal with him will be least prejudicial to themselves and to the Church and most beneficial to the man himself? The supreme law of charity must be the guiding principle. But that is no true charity which shows tenderness to one person in such a way as to do grievous harm to others, or to do more harm than good to the person who receives it. Love of what is good is not only consistent with hatred of what is evil; it cannot exist without such hatred. What we have to consider, therefore, is this. Will friendliness confirm him in his error? Would he be more impressed by severity? Is intercourse with him likely to lead to our being led astray? Will it increase his influence and his opportunities of doing harm? Is severity likely to excite sympathy in other people, first for him, and then for his teaching? It is impossible to lay down a hard-and-fast rule that would cover all cases; and while we remember the stern instructions which St. Paul gives to Titus, and St. John to the "elect lady," let us not forget the way in which Jesus Christ treated publicans and sinners.

In our own day there is danger of mistaking lazy or weak indifferentism for Christian charity. It is a convenient doctrine that the beliefs of our fellow-Christians are no concern of ours, even when they try to propagate what contradicts the creed. And, while emphasis is laid upon the responsibility of accepting articles of faith, it is assumed that there is little or no responsibility in refusing to accept, or in teaching others to refuse also. To plead for tenderness, where severity is needed, is not charity, but Laodicaean lukewarmness; and mistaken tenderness may easily end in making us "partakers in evil works." To be severe, when severity is imperatively called for, is not only charity to the offenders, it "is also charity towards all men besides. It is charity towards the ignorant as carrying instruction along with it; charity towards the unwary, as giving them warning to stand off from infection; charity towards the confirmed Christians, as encouraging them still more, and preserving them from insults; charity towards the whole Church, as supporting both their unity and purity; charity towards all mankind, towards them that are without, as it is recommending pure religion to them in the most advantageous light, obviating their most plausible calumnies, and giving them less occasion to blaspheme."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Titus 3:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/titus-3.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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