We have now a blessed subject before us in the kindness and love toward man* of our Saviour God.
*The word is philanthropy; that is, in this case, God's love to man. We use the word philanthropy generally in a different, and alas! far inferior sense.
We were no better than the Cretans (observe the state of democratic socialism and its fruits in the first three verses); but the kindness and love of God have appeared, and we have been saved according to His thoughts, and in His own blessed way.
We may well consider the passage before us: the Holy Spirit begins by excluding all works of righteousness of our own, for these could not change the nature of a Cretan, nor of any other son of Adam. "According to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." Mercy would come down to us where we were; there was divine pity and compassion for such wretches; and now we have a very important truth in that which follows.
First of all "the washing of regeneration." The word here, "regeneration," is a peculiar one, and is only found in Matthew 19:28, besides this passage; it implies a new order of things. Many philosophers and so-called philanthropists of that day would have spoken of improved culture in Crete, and of elevating the tone of that unhappy island, but it is not this.
There must be a thorough cleansing, a real work in the soul of man alienated from God. For what is there in common with God in those who were foolish, disobedient, etc.? (v. 3.)
The cleansing is not an outward change, as a Pharisee might cover the blackest of hearts with a white robe and blue fringe; but an interior work, by which evil is truly judged, and new desires are formed. The man must be born again; it is not a polished philosopher that God would form, but a new foundation is laid in the soul by the Holy Ghost's power, and that in connection with a new order of things.
It is a very interesting aspect of the new birth, and may, with great profit, be compared with John 3. I merely wish to point out the grand truth, and repeat that the washing implies the judgment of man's evil nature.
But this is not all; there is the renewing of the Holy Ghost, for there can be no power to enjoy the things of the new creation without the Holy Spirit, nor can there be true communion with God.
Notice the word "renewing," for it implies that which had not existed before; it accompanies the blessed gift of the Holy Spirit, a real new power in a new man. The thoughts supplied by Him take us up to the highest point (God's heart), and the energy for good cannot be imitated by man; it is divine.
Thus we have a new nature, and then a new power, by which we live in a new order of things, from which evil is excluded, and where God's grace and glory are known.
This is God's way of bringing poor, lost Cretans and others out of the ruin; His way of saving us. Blessed be His name!
But we must look at the sixth verse, which is a kind of parenthesis; the Holy Spirit has been poured richly upon us, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. We have the very fulness of blessing, and who shall limit our joy?
The seventh verse terminates the passage, and implies both present and future blessing; justified by grace, we are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Sure, unfailing hope of the full enjoyment in glory of that which is already made good in our hearts by the Holy Ghost!
How different is all this from any attempt at outward reformation; how wonderful is the love of God toward man, philanthropy in its true and divine sense!
May we be led to look into these blessed truths, and live in the power of them by the Holy Spirit!
A few practical things follow. Those who have believed God* are to be careful to maintain good works; and when good is being followed in a practical way the foolish questions which troubled the Cretans will be avoided. I think we should not despise Dr. Watts' lines:
"For Satan finds for idle hands
Some mischief still to do;"
and the remedy for mischief in Crete was the being engaged in good works. It is the same in other places.
*Notice the perfect participle.
A sectary was to be rejected after due admonition; it is always God's own way, in dealing with men, to warn offenders before judging them, and this should be carried out in the assembly.
The last words evidently show that Titus was a delegate, acting under the orders of the apostle; and the care evinced is very blessed. The converted Cretans, so false and lazy before, were now to be the very first to help and provide necessaries; Zenas and Apollos deserved the care of true devotedness, and the habit of serving such was to be acquired.
It is a very beautiful ending to the epistle, for nothing could be more convincing of the power of Christianity than to see self-denial and care for others in these converted islanders.
May they be seen in ourselves, being the true fruit of our entering into the thoughts, by the Holy Spirit, of our Saviour God! E. L. Bevir.