It has been well said of the epistle to Titus that it contains directions to an apostolic delegate, as to outward order rather than doctrine.
Yet we have some very important truths in it; the manifestation of the Word through preaching (by which God's full grace and promise before the world began are made known) should produce a wonderful effect upon the Cretans, and change the laziest, the most degraded of the Mediterranean islanders, into active and devoted servants of God with a heavenly hope.
Perhaps in no place could the ruined state of man be more conspicuous than in Crete. Liars sometimes tell the truth, and this is the case, for once at least, with Epimenides (himself a Cretan), when he described his fellow-countrymen as being liars, evil beasts, and slow-bellies.
"What bad material!" man would say, and indeed it is too true. The law could do nothing with it; and this is one of the chief reasons why the apostle speaks so severely in this epistle of those who were attempting to judaize. But what the law could not do, through the utter badness of the material, grace has accomplished, setting aside the flesh for ever.
The epistle begins in a very remarkable manner. Paul's mission is according to the faith of God's elect, and the knowledge of the truth that is after godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began. The sovereignty of God comes before us here. Long before Adam was created, or the degenerate sons of Japhet disgraced the island of Crete, God had chosen His own. He has elected certain men unto life, and this in His own absolute and inscrutable counsel.
The faith of the elect of God is the first characteristic of the apostleship of Paul here, and before looking a little at the epistle it may be well to notice this expression with those which accompany it. It is divinely in keeping with the subject; that is, with the mission confided to Titus - the task was a great one, putting things in order and establishing elders in each town (verse 5); and I have no doubt that the Cretans were not very pleasant people to deal with.
Paul, then, speaks as an apostle according to the faith of God's elect; God has made known to believers the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand unto glory. We are upon ground at once lofty and clear, for we believe that the sovereign God has been pleased to choose us in pure mercy, so that we may inherit eternal glory. A whole world of light opens up before our eyes, our faith sees Jesus crowned with glory and honour, and we know that our portion is with Him for ever. Sovereign grace and mercy! There is nothing of the natural man here, nor of any religious system by which man can be improved, it is the grand truth of God's own choice, and the faith of those who are the subjects of it.
There is then a faith in the midst of this world of conflicting creeds which is the true one. The elect of God, by their very position, bow with adoration to His sovereign will, and receive His revelation without reasoning. Of course I do not mean that there are no Christians who reason (we are all, alas! naturally apt to ask "Why?") but the faith of God's elect is the simple and full belief in the whole Christian revelation. It is orthodoxy in the true sense, it is Christianity.
It is the faith of God's elect, and not a partial faith or persuasion, such as Calvinism, Armenian views, or any other "faith" where man has succeeded in narrowing the truth and forming a system. The Athanasian creed itself is not an adequate expression of the "faith of God's elect," for we need the whole revelation given to us in scripture of Christ's glory. Sovereignty on God's side, dependence on that of the chosen believer, and divine grace and glory known in Christ.
The knowledge of the truth which is "after godliness" goes with this faith (it should not be translated "acknowledging," but rather "full knowledge") and makes the preceding phrase more clear, for this truth, whilst putting everything in its place, brings the soul into contact with God. When God is thus known there is true piety, which is very different from sanctimonious attempts to be good. Thus Paul maintained a godly walk in his arduous work, and he can encourage Titus to work amongst the Cretans (no sinecure) upon the principles which we have just considered. Paul gives to God His full place, and it would be a happy thing indeed were all Christians to follow his example in this.
Then the following sentence goes along with divine sovereignty. "In hope* of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." The end of the course is looked forward to, as always in such passages in Paul's writings; and we have the exclusion of all that is false as to God's word. He cannot lie, it is absolute. All that is not true is shut out, and this (blessed be His name) accompanies His sovereign choice.
*This is a peculiar term, expressing the condition upon which his apostleship was based.
We may consider later on, if God will, the effect of the manifestation of God's word in due time. There was a certain time chosen of God for making known His mind - when all man's failure had been exposed, his history run out, and his utter ruin proved. Crete, no doubt, was a notorious example of this. Paul had the great work of preaching the word committed to him by our Saviour-God. We considered lately the manner in which he fulfilled His service.
We have now had especially before us the faith of God's elect as characterising the mission. May we know more of what this means. It is a great thing in the present day to be free of imagination and fanciful views, and to hold to the grand truths of Christianity. The soul that enters into this will not be frozen up in some narrow system where nothing but "election" is discussed, but will give His true place and honour to the sovereign Saviour-God. E. L. Bevir.