THE CHRISTIAN PRACTICE.
A SERMON ON
TITUS ii. 11, 12.
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation, hath appeared to all men; teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.
The disease of our nature, our dislike of that which is good, and our love of that which is evil, has been observed and lamented by wise men in all ages. The fact could not be denied. The difficulty was, where to find a cure. Many attempts were tried, but all in vain, till Jesus Christ the great physician appeared. The gospel alone affords a certain and universal remedy for the fatal distemper of the soul; and this is the substance of our text.
St. Paul is here directing Titus, who was a minister of the gospel, how to discharge his duty so as to be useful to all sorts of people, because the gospel was sent to all sorts of people. He was to teach and exhort both young and old, parents and children, masters and servants; it being the design of the gospel to bring a present salvation from sin, as well as a future deliverance from hell, and to teach all sorts of men to deny all doctrines and practices which are ungodly; and all worldly lusts of sensuality; and that we should live soberly with respect to ourselves; righteously and honestly with respect to our neighbour; and in a holy manner with respect to God. This will appear more plainly by considering the several parts of the text distinctly, and in the following order:
I. We learn by the text that the gospel of Christ is the grace or gift of God.
II. It bringeth salvation.
III. It hath appeared to all men.
IV. It teacheth us to live a holy life.
I. The gospel is the grace of God.
The word grace signifies, in general, the free favour of God, either in his good will towards us, or in his good gifts to us. Here it means one of his good gifts to us, namely, the gospel: and the gospel may well be called his grace, for it is the Gift of his grace; it is the Revelation of his grace; and, it is the Instrument of his grace.
The gospel is called the grace of God, because it is the Gift of his grace; it is a matter of pure favour that we have the gospel; it ought to be thought a very great blessing indeed, and to be esteemed above all earthly blessings. It is a mercy to have health, it is a mercy to have bread, but it is a much greater mercy to have the gospel. Blessed is the people who know the joyful sound.
The gospel is called the grace of God, because it is the Revelation of his grace and good-will to poor sinners. We could never have known whether God would be gracious to poor sinners or not, without the bible. We could never have known that salvation is by grace. All mankind naturally seek it by their own works, and not by grace. But the very design of the gospel is to declare the grace of God; to let us know the love of God to man, which he has proved in the gift of his Son, and in his readiness to pardon sin for the sake of his Son. Sinners had more reason to expect a revelation of his wrath than of his mercy, for all have sinned, and "the wages of sin is death." As soon as our first parents had sinned, and heard the voice of the Lord God in the garden, they were afraid, and ran to hide themselves, for they expected to hear nothing but the sentence of death. But they were mistaken, for God was pleased to give them a promise of his Son. In all ages he gave some hints of his intended mercy, but never so plainly as by the gospel, or good news of salvation by grace. We must take care to distinguish the gospel from the law. The law of the ten commandments requires perfect love and perfect obedience, and it condemns every man who breaks it but once. Ignorant people expect little from the bible but to teach them their duty, and how to be good, and so to get to heaven by their obedience. To be sure the Bible does teach us our duty, and it would be well if people learned and did it better; but the first design of the Bible is to reveal Christ as a Saviour. The design of the law is not only to teach us our duty, but to convince us we have not done it; to show us our sin and our danger, and to oblige us to fly to Christ, that we may be saved by grace.
Again—the gospel is called the grace of God, because it is the Instrument of his grace: it is what he sends by his ministers, and blesses by his Spirit, "to open men’s eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." Nothing but the truth of God will do this. All the finest preaching in the world about virtue and morality, will do no good as to the conversion or salvation of a sinner. It often makes men proud of themselves, keeps them ignorant of Christ, and makes them "go about to establish their own righteousness;" which is to "frustrate the grace of God," and is much as to say that "Christ died in vain." But the gospel is the sword of the Spirit, the rod of his strength, and the power of God to salvation to every one that believeth. You see therefore, with what good reason the gospel is called the grace of God. We are now to show that,
II. The gospel bringeth salvation.
The grand subject of this gospel is salvation. It supposes the guilt and danger of man as a sinner. It declares what Christ has done and suffered for our deliverance. It declares God's readiness to forgive all manner of sin and blasphemy, if we come to him by Jesus Christ. In short, it is to restore man from all the effects of his fall. Is he far gone from God? it is to bring him back. Is he fallen? it is to raise him up. Is he condemned on account of sin? it is to justify him from all things. Is he an enemy of God? it is to make him a friend. Is he a slave of Satan? it is to make him a freeman. Thus it bringeth salvation.
It brings it to the Ear. The trumpet of the gospel sounds with an inviting voice, it is a joyful sound. No music was ever so sweet, as the sound of mercy to a convinced sinner. And faith cometh by hearing. It is the will of God that this sound should go out into all the earth, and that the gospel should be preached to every creature "He that hath ears to hear let him hear."
It brings it to the Mind or understanding. All God's children are taught of God, and every one that is taught of God cometh to Christ. Many people plead their ignorance, and think they shall be excused on account of it; but the gospel is sent on purpose to enlighten the ignorant, and it will be our own fault and our own ruin if we remain in the dark: it can only be because we love darkness rather than light. The gospel is a glorious light, and when it is attended with the power of the Spirit, it chases away all the natural darkness of our minds, and makes us clearly see the wonderful plan of salvation by grace.
It brings it to the Heart. It comes with power and life. It is not entertained with a cold and formal assent, as a matter of small concern, but cordially welcomed as the messenger of life. It is said of Lydia, in the Acts of the Apostles, that "the Lord opened her heart, so that she attended to the things which were spoken of Paul." He does the same for all real Christians. They receive the word with joy. They approve of it heartily. It brings peace to their troubled consciences, and it brings love to God and man into their hearts.
It brings it to the Life. It is designed to regulate the conduct, and to make the believer holy in all manner of conversation and godliness. But this will appear more plainly hereafter.
III. The gospel of salvation hath appeared to all men.
To all nations of men; it was not confined to the Jews, as they thought it would be. Jesus Christ ordered it to be preached to all nations, to all the world, to every creature. Accordingly on the day of Pentecost the apostles preached it in a great variety of languages to people of various countries, and afterwards they, and many other preachers, went into all the countries then known.
To all sorts of men. This is the chief design of the words. In human society there must be various ranks and orders of men, and they must be distinguished by different names; but the gospel knows no distinctions; it is equally sent to high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female, "for Christ is all and in all." Col. iii. 11. Let none therefore think they may be excused from regarding it. Many of the rich think the gospel is well enough for the poor, but they are too wise to need it. Many of the poor, on their part, think religion rather belongs to the rich; but they are so ignorant, and have so much to mind for the body, that they think they may be excused. But you see, this salvation is sent to all men; and "how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" But again, this gospel is sent
To sinners of every degree; great sinners, or little sinners, if it be proper to call any so. Jesus Christ came to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance; and none but those who feel themselves to be sinners will regard his call. Such persons heard him gladly on earth, while the proud Pharisees, who thought themselves good, despised him, and abused him, as the friend of publicans and sinners. Blessed be God that sinners, however great, are not excluded from the hope of the gospel. Christ commanded it to be first preached at Jerusalem, among his murderers; where, probably, many of them were converted; and to this very day, "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin."
Let it also be observed that our text says, the gospel bringeth salvation; not it shall bring it hereafter, but it bringeth it now. It brings it near at this moment; "the word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thine heart." Many people dreadfully mistake the matter, who look only for a salvation hereafter; they do not think of being saved till they die; but salvation is a present business; and if we are not saved before we die, we shall never be saved at all. We must now be enlightened, convinced, believe in Christ, pass from death unto life, and thus be made new creatures, or we can never enter into the kingdom of heaven. O that this gospel may now bring into our hearts a present salvation! We proceed to the last and principal thing in our text.
IV. The gospel which bringeth salvation, teacheth us to live a holy life
It teacheth us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; that is, it teacheth us what a holy life is, the necessity of living such a life, and how we may attain it.
The gospel, which bringeth salvation, teacheth us what a holy life is—the true nature and full extent of it. We have no other sufficient rule. The world affords nothing but imperfect examples, and our own deceitful hearts would often curtail the perfect rule. This is our teacher. Let us ever hear and read it with this view. Let it be a light to our feet, and a lamp to our paths.
This holy guide directs us, in the first place to deny ungodliness—to renounce, abhor, and forsake all infidelity, idolatry, and impiety of every kind; every thing contrary to the four first commandments. If the devil, or wicked men, or our own wicked hearts, would tempt us to neglect the worship of God, or to take his name in vain, or to break the Sabbath, we must deny and refuse to do it. We must also deny worldly lusts, all irregular inclinations and desires, forbidden by the last six commandments. These are worldly lusts; such as the men of the world gratify, and place their happiness in. These will often ask for indulgence. They will plead very strongly that they are natural, that there is no harm in them, that all the world indulges them; but they are "worldly lusts," and must be denied, unless we are willing to be damned with the world; for "the end of these things is death." These are the things which chain men to the world and to a life of sense, make us like the brutes, cause us to forget God, to neglect the salvation of our souls; and "for these things' sake, cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience." This ungodliness, and these worldly lusts must, therefore, be denied; and this is that self-denial which our Lord insists upon, and without which we cannot be his disciples.
But this is not all. We are taught by the gospel how to live. We are to live—soberly—righteously—and godly; these three words tell us our duty as to ourselves, our neighbour, and our God.
To live soberly is not only to abstain from drunkenness, which is a damnable sin, but from all excess in eating, drinking, and other bodily indulgences. It is to be sober and moderate in our passions, our recreations, our speech, our dress, and whole behaviour; it is to be temperate and moderate in all lawful things, using the world as not abusing it; using it as pilgrims and strangers; not making it our rest or portion: but making all worldly comforts secondary things, subservient to the interests of our souls and the glory of our God. This is to live soberly.
We are also to live righteously, that is, in respect of our neighbour; to give every one his due; to honour all men; and do the duty of our stations, whether to our superiors, inferiors, or equals. The New Testament is full of excellent directions as to relative duties. The apostles largely teach us the duties of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters, servants, and subjects. A true Christian will study his Bible in this view; and, in every relation of life, he will endeavour to conform himself to it; and he that pretends to religion without this, is a mere hypocrite. This is too little regarded by many professors of religion, as beneath their notice; they would even deter ministers from enforcing the relative duties, by calling it "legal stuff, working for life, and arminianism;" but these people know not what they say, and how much they disgrace the gospel of Christ, which our text declares, is intended to teach us these things. It was a weighty saying of Mr. Whitfield, that "To be really holy, is to be relatively holy." All sincere believers think so, and act accordingly.
But the gospel also requires us to live godly. Many ignorant people think that if they live soberly and righteously it is enough. How many do we hear excusing themselves from all regard to gospel-religion by pleading that they are sober and honest. And will these people call themselves Christians? Moral heathens they may be. We deny they are Christians; for the Christian has a constant regard to God in Christ; he knows him, be believes in him, he fears him, he loves him, he prays to him, he converses with him, he lives to him. O the miserable blindness of many in this land of light! How many on a dying bed, build all their hopes on their honesty, and having done no harm; while they have lived all their days in neglect of the salvation of Christ, neglect of his Sabbath and worship, buried alive in the cares of the world; sensual, worldly, covetous; perhaps opposers of the gospel, and persecutors of the faithful. The Lord in his infinite mercy open the eyes of such mistaken persons, and preserve them from going out of the world with a lie in their right hand!
To live godly includes a great deal. We must know God by the teaching of his Spirit. We must believe on him as a God reconciled in Christ. We must love him as our heavenly Father. We shall then love his law, and gladly be governed by his commandments. His word will be precious to us. His Sabbath delightful. His worship pleasant. His ordinances sweet. In a word, we shall "walk humbly with our God;" it will be our meat and drink to do his will; and being no longer our own, but bought with a price, we shall glorify God in our bodies, and in our spirits, which are his.
This is that kind of life which the gospel teaches us. This is its nature and extent. The gospel also shows us the absolute necessity of it. Many deceive themselves with vain words, and think there is no occasion to be so strict; and they labour to render a life of holiness contemptible, by calling it ill names, such as fanaticism and enthusiasm, and by ridiculing serious persons as Methodists, hypocrites, and righteous over-much. But we abide by the Bible. We abide by our text. The God of truth has prescribed this as the way of life; and has awfully declared that, without repentance, without faith, without holiness and godliness, no man shall see the Lord. By this we are determined to abide, and let others look to themselves.
But should any say, All this is very right and good, but who can come up to it? By what means can we attain it? I answer, the gospel that bringeth salvation teacheth us how to attain it; and this is the peculiar excellency of the gospel. The teachers of mere morality are like the task-masters of Pharaoh, who required the Israelites to make brick without straw. They are always preaching that men should do this and that, but they tell them not their own inability, nor where their great strength lies. When we view a natural man wedded to the world, or tied and bound with the chains of his sin, or wallowing in the mire of sensual lusts, we are ready to say, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? But nothing is too hard for the Lord. The gospel first directs the sinner to repair by faith to Christ, and to obtain the pardon of his sins through his precious blood. This is his first business; and if the sinner be enabled to believe in Jesus, his faith will work by love, will purify his heart, and overcome his lusts. We are not, by our own power, first to reform our lives, and then, as gracious and good people, to trust in Christ for salvation; but as soon as ever we discover our need of a Saviour, to fly to him without delay, just as we are. And he casts out none that come to him. Believing in him will give a new turn to our affections. We shall mourn for pardoned sin. We shall hate the murderers of our Lord. We shall be crucified to the world by the cross of Jesus; and the ways of godliness will no longer be a burden and a task, but our pleasant and easy service. The love of Christ will constrain us, and we shall judge that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that henceforth they who live should not live to themselves, but unto him who died for them.
Besides, Whoever believes in Jesus is really united to him in the same manner as the vine and its branches are united. All our fruitfulness in good works depend on this union. "Abide in me," said our Lord; "thus shall ye bring forth much fruit, for without me, ye can do nothing." This is the true secret of godliness, the gospel mystery of sanctification, and the only way of becoming holy. In this way nothing is too hard to be accomplished; and on this ground every believer may say with St. Paul, "I can do all things, through Christ which strengtheneth me."
We shall now conclude with some Inferences and Exhortations.
Is the gospel the Grace of God? The Gift of his grace? The Revelation of his grace? And the Instruments of his grace? Then take care to distinguish the gospel from false doctrine. Beware of "another gospel." Whatever does not bring to helpless sinners the good news of a free grace salvation is not the gospel. Reject it.
And O take care that "you receive not the grace of God in vain." 2 Cor. vi. 1. The grace of God, as a divine principle in the heart, cannot be received in vain, but the gospel, which is also called the grace of God, is often received in vain. It is a great privilege to have the gospel preached to us, but a dreadful thing to have it prove "the savour of death to death," for (Christ has said it) "He that believeth not shall be damned." Mark xvi. 16.
Is the gospel the grace of God? Prize it yourselves, and recommend it to others. Next to Christ himself, it is the greatest gift of God to a ruined world. What an inexpressible privilege and honour is it, to be in any way instrumental in communicating this heavenly gift to others! Let us invite our neighbours to hear it. Let us put some gospel tracts into their hands. Let us speak of it to our relations and friends. Let us support and countenance the preaching of it at home and abroad; and, especially, Let us recommend it to others by the holy effects it has produced on ourselves. Let us recommend it by our lives.
It appears from what has been said that there is no ground for the reproach often cast on the gospel of grace, that it leads to licentiousness, or that the doctrine of faith and grace is hurtful to morality and good works. It is a foul and groundless slander. Nothing is more false. Our text confutes it at once. We have shown that the gospel is properly called the grace of God; it is the gospel that bringeth salvation by grace; and this free grace gospel teacheth us to live a holy life. What can be plainer? And let it be noted, that nothing but the gospel of grace can truly teach or produce a holy life. This was at first the power of God to the salvation of bigotted Jews and beastly heathens. In every succeeding age it has had the same blessed effects. And it is the same to this day. While moral preachers labour in vain, and many of them address their heathen lectures to sleepy hearers and empty pews, we know and are sure, that the plain truths of the gospel are effectual to quicken dead sinners, to convert notorious rebels, and to produce in numberless persons "the fruits of good living." This is its proper tendency; these, its genuine fruits. And we adore the grace that renders the word powerful for these blessed purposes.
If any false professors of religion abuse the doctrines of grace for licentious practices, they have no countenance in so doing from the gospel or the preachers of it. Our text will at once confront and confound such base hypocrites. It teaches them the nature, necessity, and method of attaining a holy life. Believers were "chosen in Christ that they might be holy, and without blame before him in love." All the commands of God, both in the Old and New Testament, require it. It was an eminent branch of the design of Christ in dying for his people. It is necessary to the present peace and happiness of our souls, in the world of sin and vanity. This is the way in which God expects us to glorify him among men. And in this consists our "meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light."
May our holy God, who has favoured us with his holy gospel, render it effectual by his Holy Spirit, to make us "holy in all conversation and godliness," and, at the great day, "present us holy, and unblameable, and unreprovable in his sight." To Him be glory now and for ever.