Adorning the Gospel
“That they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” — Titus ii. 10.
I AM afraid that there are some Christians who would hardly like the best preaching that they could ever have. The best doctrine that could ever be delivered would be like that of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, — eminently ethical, full of precepts and words of wisdom for daily life. I verily believe that if some stern doctrinists had heard some of Christ’s sermons, they would have said that they had not the gospel in them. He did not preach, every time he spoke, those grand doctrines which plainly show the way of salvation, but he frequently proclaimed those important precepts which show us the fruits of salvation, and which help us to judge whether we have been saved or not.
You will notice that it was often the same in the preaching of the apostles. Although Paul himself is a master of doctrine, and in the Epistle to the Ephesians he gives us a whole system of theology in miniature, though he never shrinks from the profoundest doctrine, and goes to the very depths of the doctrine of election, and to the very heights with the doctrines of justification by faith and the final preservation of the saints, yet is he pre-eminently practical in his teaching, and he often deals with the details of ordinary life. Exceedingly noticeable is this in his Epistle to Titus. As you know, Titus was a teacher of teachers. He had to set in order the things that were wanting, and to show other preachers how they were to preach. He was told to bid the aged men to “be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” Further, he was to instruct “the aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things.” This was very close dealing with most practical matters. These aged women in their turn were to be instructors: “that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded.” You see how much of the Epistle is taken up with the affairs of ordinary life, matters of holy practice; so let our preaching be, and let Christian people learn to receive joyfully such instruction. God will assuredly bless it, not only to its own great end of promoting holiness, but also as the means of convincing men of sin wherein they deviate from these blessed precepts, and so by conviction of sin leading them to feel their need of a Saviour, and thus incidentally driving them to the cross where all hopes of salvation must alone be fixed.
I feel glad that my text is so practical, and I am not ashamed to preach the practical precepts of our holy faith. Yet I want you to notice how continually and how wisely Paul interweaves his practical exhortations with the doctrines of religion. He would have the bondservants to be obedient, honest, and faithful towards their masters, for this reason, “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” Ah! you who despise doctrines, who turn upon your heel if there is a doctrinal sermon, where are you now, when the true motive for which holiness of life is to be carried out is to be found here, “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things”? It is the fashion, nowadays, to talk much about preaching Christ, but not his doctrines. I neither understand nor wish to understand what that expression can mean. Christ without his doctrine? The great Teacher without his teachings? The Lord without his commands? The Christ without his anointing? Jesus, the only Saviour, without his precious blood of atonement? This is Judas-like, to betray the Son of man with a kiss, to set up a graven image in the place of Christ, a stuffed idol from which everything is absent that is vital to the true Christ of God. Dear friends, we love “the doctrine of God our Saviour” with all our hearts; we have received it to the joy of our spirit, and in it we find the mainspring of motive which leads us to love our God, and to walk in obedience to his precepts.
There are two matters upon which I am going to speak as the Holy Spirit shall guide me. First, here is a name of adornment for the gospel: “the doctrine of God our Saviour”; and, secondly, here is a method of adornment for the gospel. These poor slaves were bidden so to act that they should adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things.
Dear friends, our misery was great, else we had never needed a Saviour who should be called “God our Saviour.” For a little sin, or for a sin, however great, which had but little of evil in its consequences, we might have been saved by some finite being; but if God himself must quit his high abode, and sojourn here to be our Saviour, then was our ruin terrible in the extreme. It is part of the doctrine that we have learned from the Bible that man is lost and utterly undone by nature, and by practice, too; and we could not fully preach “the doctrine of God our Saviour” if we did not show first how awful is the gulf which is open before us, which none but God could fill. To proclaim aright the remedy for sin, we must declare how desperate was the disease, which none but God could heal, nor even he except by shedding of his own blood. Surely, this is a grand doctrine, that we need a Divine Saviour, and that there is such a Saviour provided, but that apart from him there is no salvation.
It is also a very precious thought to us that, while our ruin is evidently great, yet it is most sure that the remedy is equally great, or even greater, for we have a Saviour whose name is “God our Saviour.” He is the one door of hope for the most despairing and desponding of men, “God our Saviour.” Further down in this chapter, Paul calls him “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” He that has come from heaven to save us is a man, and feels for us with all the sympathy of a man; but he is also God, and therefore “able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him.” It is the best news that was ever published among the sons of men, that he whom we have offended has himself become our Saviour. When no eye had pitied, when, even had it pitied, there was still no arm that could have sufficed for our rescue, his eye pitied, and his arm was made bare for the salvation of the sons of men. This was the doctrine that, in Paul’s days, was whispered about everywhere, from Nero’s palace down to those horrible holes where the slaves had to sleep at night. Afterwards, in the catacombs, and in the caves of the earth, this was the story that the poor people came together to hear, that God was a Saviour, that the Most High had himself interposed to save the fallen and ruined sons of men. When it could be preached in the streets, it was so preached; when it might be proclaimed in the public synagogue, or in a school where philosophers gathered, or on Mars Hill at Athens, it was so preached; but when it could not be spoken in public, it was whispered and told privately from one to another of those who believed, and even the slaves passed on the message of hope to their fellow-slaves, so that this grand doctrine, “the doctrine of God our Saviour,” was scattered abroad as the light is spread when the sun rises in the East, and hastens on his course till the whole round globe is lightened by his golden rays.
“The doctrine of God our Saviour.” Once more, my dear friends, this doctrine is in itself divine, for there is an idiom here by which we are made to understand that it is not only a doctrine which speaks of God our Saviour, but it is the doctrine of God our Saviour, it is his breath, the doctrine is itself the very breath of God. This divine teaching, this revelation, this doctrine of salvation by a Divine Saviour, has a divinity about itself. Let us therefore publish it wherever we have the opportunity; and let us not attempt to conquer the world with any other weapon but “the doctrine of God our Saviour.” Let us take it as David took Goliath’s sword from Ahimelech, and say, “There is none like that; give it to me.” I do not believe in the science of comparative religions. No! there is but one true religion, all the rest are lies. There is but one faith of God's elect. There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” There is but one faith that comes from God. Paul once wrote the words “another gospel”, but, directly, as if afraid somebody would catch at the expression, and think there might be two gospels, he recalled the words, and said, “which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” There is but one message of salvation, and that concerns the one and only Saviour; and “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” This will be thought by some people to be very narrow minded talk, but we are not at all afraid of being thought narrow minded; we are a great deal more afraid of running in the broad way with the multitude to do evil, and excusing others in the doing of it. No, the word of Christ himself still stands, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
So, you see, this wonderful teaching of Paul’s reminds us of the greatness of our misery, and of the divine nature of our Saviour, and implies that the doctrine itself is of a divine order. I think I ought also to say, dear friends, that these things being so, our safely is great; our salvation, because we have God for our Saviour, is great indeed. In his Epistle to the Hebrews, Paul asks the question which has never been answered: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”
You can never think too much of this great salvation. When you desire it, prize it as a beggar might prize gold; when you have it, grasp it as the pearl of great price. We have indeed a great salvation; it is salvation from spiritual death, salvation from the rule and government of Satan, as well as from the manners and customs of an ungodly world; and it is also salvation from the guilt of sin, salvation from the dread of hell, salvation from the fear of death, and it shall ultimately be perfect salvation from the least spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Our salvation to the full will only be revealed in the day of Christ’s appearing, when the body also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and all the surroundings of this poor sin-smitten earth, and the creation itself also, through this great salvation, shall be brought into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.
“The doctrine of God our Saviour” — the more I think of all that is meant by these words, the more it seems to be an ornament of the rarest kind for the neck of the gospel. “The doctrine of God our Saviour.” Turn the words over in your minds; see what a gospel it is that you have received, see how great it is, see how divine it is, prize it so as to rejoice in it day by day, and so as to defend it if need be with your lives, rejoice in it so that, when you come to die, it shall be the light that shall remove the darkness of the last dread hour.
Let us make a little further enquiry into this doctrine of God our Saviour. Why is the gospel called by this name? Well, first, because God, our Saviour, is the Author of the doctrine, and the Author of the salvation which it brings. It all comes from him. It seems to been thought , nowadays, that the gospel which we have received has been evolved from man’s inner consciousness, and that there are to be further evolutions which will blot out the present as the human race keeps rising, from platform to platform, till, one of these days, it will get up — God alone knows where, but certainly far beyond any necessity for such a gospel as the martyrs died for, and the apostles declared. With such views we have no sympathy whatever, and we entertain towards such erroneous notions the most determined opposition. We believe in a revelation from God, and we believe that it is woe unto him who adds to or takes from that revelation. We do not think the Church will have a particle of enthusiasm left in it, — and it has none too much now, — if ever people should get the idea that the gospel is not a divine revelation, but only the product of human thought. Dear friends, the doctrine that we believe, and teach, and by which we have been saved, is “the doctrine of God our Saviour” because it came from him, he is the Author of it.
And next, it is “the doctrine of God our Saviour” because he is the substance of it. If you take the whole truth of the gospel, and compress it till you got the very essence of it, you will find that it is, “Jesus only.” The very substance of the gospel is Jesus Christ himself, his person, his work, his glorious offices. It is indeed “the doctrine of God our Saviour.” Beware that ye hear no doctrine but that which exalts him. If there be any teaching which puts him into a corner, get you into a corner as far as ever you can from it. If there be any teaching that does not lift him up, how can it be blessed of the Holy Spirit, since it is the Holy Spirit’s work to reveal Christ to his people, and to make him great in their thoughts?
“None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good,”
and therefore to this gospel we must adhere with all our hearts. It is the doctrine of God our Saviour, for he is the substance of it.
Yet again it is the doctrine of God our Saviour because he is the object of it, it all points to him. If you hear a real gospel sermon, it directs you to look to Jesus Christ. That teaching which leads you to think of the priest, and to think of the church, whatever there may be about it that is good, is not “the doctrine of God our Saviour.” “To him give all the prophets witness,” to him the gospel continually points, and this is the preacher’s one cry, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
This “doctrine of God our Saviour” is simplicity itself, and yet no man ever understood it except by the Holy Ghost’s teaching, for no man can rightly say that Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Spirit. Simple as it is, it seems to me that it is the most wonderful thing that ever was revealed if I think of the effect it has upon the hearts of men. When Paul began to preach it, and when he wrote these words to Titus, this simple teaching was being carried all over the known world by enthusiastic spirits, some of them able to speak in strange tongues, and with words of eloquence, but the great mass of them poor people, servants, slaves. Yet, wherever they went, they that were scattered abroad spread everywhere this doctrine, and it burned away until the great Roman Empire simmered like a pot on the fire, and after a while it boiled over, and scalded many with its scum. The great ones of the earth of course ridiculed this “doctrine of God our Saviour”; it was “foolishness” to them, and he that received it was thought to be just an idiot, he had forsaken the gods of his fathers, so he must be a fool. Yet still the doctrine went on spreading, and then they tried to put out the fire and to quench it with blood; but men bravely died for it rather than deny it. They pressed to the judgment seats, so determined to avow their faith in Christ that Roman governors had to write home to know what they were to do. The more they put the Christians to death, the more Christians there were. Further cruelties were committed, unspeakable tortures of all kinds were invented; but, for Christ’s sake, his followers endured all. They seemed to come on with an almost omnipotent force to make a huge hecatomb of victims; they appeared to press onward through martyrdoms of a most horrible kind; and all the while this “doctrine of God our Saviour” had a wonderful power among men.
And, dear friends, you who are conversant with church history know how often this doctrine has broken all the bands that wicked men tried to fasten around it. I often wondered, until I understood the supernatural reason for it, what made the French Protestants, for instance, meet together in the Desert, towards the South of France, while they were being dragooned by the king’s soldiers, and while multitudes of them were being hunted to the death. How was it that, in the dead of night, in lonely places, they came together to hear the gospel? What is there about this gospel that seems to touch the soul of man, and that makes him quite another creature, — makes him joyous instead of sad, and makes him so mighty that he dares to defy death and hell in defence of it? The reason is, because this doctrine cures the woe and misery of the soul, and brings light, comfort, happiness, and hope to it. It is made by God on purpose to touch the heart of man, and stir it to its very depths. As for the new doctrine that many are teaching, it has not enough in it to make even a mouse enthusiastic; it has not enough in it for them to bait a mouse-trap of their own, and the only way in which they can make any progress at all is by sneaking into our churches, obtaining a hearing and winning attention, and then, traitors as they are, speaking against the very truth that has built our houses of prayer. They cannot build their own places of worship; there is nothing in their teaching that can make anybody generous, and there is nothing in it that can make anybody glad. No, it is “the doctrine of God our Saviour” that Paul insists upon, and he says to Titus, “having adorned it as well as I can with my preaching, now you take care that you and your people adorn it with your lives.”
II. That is to be the second part of my subject, A METHOD OF ADORNMENT FOR THE GOSPEL.
Let us enquire, first, who were the persons who were to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things”? They were, according to our translation, “servants”; but the correct word would be serfs, or slaves. These Christian slaves were to adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour. Some of these slaves — the women slaves especially— spent much of their time in adorning their mistresses. I will not attempt to repeat the terrible stories that are told of Roman women and their cruelty to their handmaids. Certainly, the poor slaves had to spend hours upon hours in the adornment of their mistresses; and some of the male “swells” of the Roman Empire wasted a great deal of the time of their slaves — the men, I mean, — in the adornment of themselves. So that these slaves would have a pretty good idea of what was meant by the ornamenting or adorning of the gospel; and it must have struck them as a very wonderful thing that they should be selected to adorn the gospel.
The word is not applied to the masters, to the princes, or to any of the great ones of the earth; but to those who, in addition to being poor, were not even owners of themselves. Slaves in Paul’s days were simply goods and chattels, only they were regarded as goods and chattels of the very lowest kind; they were as often and as freely sold as the sheep in the market. Think of how they used to be treated, when, for instance, for making a slight mistake in waiting at table, a slave was thrown into the fish-pond to be eaten up alive by the fish; the thing was frequently done. The most fearful punishments were executed on them; and you might have seen in Pompeii the wretched places by the doorway where the slave, who was the porter, had an iron collar and a weight about his neck, and where he slept under the stairs, as a dog might do in a kennel, and perhaps for years never left his miserable den. Yet these were the kind of people who were to adorn the gospel. Paul did not think badly of them; everybody else did, but he set the task of adorning the gospel, by making it lovely and beautiful in the eyes of men, to even the very poorest and worst-off as to their position. Is it not wonderful to think of, and yet such is the literal fact?
Paul also told them how they were to adorn the gospel. I do not think for a moment Paul believed that the practice of slavery ought to exist. He believed to the fullest extent that the great principles of Christianity would overthrow slavery anywhere, and the sooner they did so the better pleased would he be; but, for the time being, as it was the custom to have slaves, they must adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in the position in which they were.
Slaves in those days were constantly rebelling. At one time, they rose up, and for a while they kept all Rome in fear and alarm, for the masters thought they would all be killed by their rebellious slaves. So Paul exhorts them, first, “to be obedient unto their own masters.” Then the man’s master, however wicked he might be, would say, “Whatever has come over my slave? My orders are carried out exactly; all I could wish to have done is done, and done well. He is not an eye-servant or a mere man-pleaser; but he does his work heartily, and I have heard him say that he does it out of love to one Jesus, who is his God and Saviour.” The slave was to put aside all his selfishness, and, finding himself a slave, to determine that he would so serve his master that he might recommend his religion to his master.
The slaves were also to be “well pleasing” to their masters: “to please them well in all things.” They were not to be always quarrelling, and grumbling, and complaining about this, and that, and the other, but to wear a contented spirit. Then the master would be sure to ask, “What can have come over my slave?” and, by the way in which he acted, the slave would be a practical missionary to his master.
Paul added, “not answering again.” Of course, the slaves were usually sharp in their retorts to their masters. They did not care whether they lived or died, and they said hard things. Paul says, let the quiet patience of the Christian slaves make their masters and mistresses wonder what it is that has made such a difference in them.
He also added, “not purloining.” Slaves and servants in Paul’s time were all thieves. In the writings of secular authors of that period, you constantly meet with the declaration that “to multiply servants is to multiply thieves.” Of course, the poor creatures helped themselves whenever they could; if you treat a man like a dog, should you be surprised if he acts like one? But the Christian slave might be trusted with untold gold; and obedience to this precept, “not purloining,” was the way in which he adorned the doctrine of God his Saviour.
He was also to be faithful to his master: “shewing all good fidelity.” There were Christian slaves, who had bad masters, who nevertheless were faithful to them in guarding their interests; and it was such a marvel that the rich heathen, who despised the name of Christ, yet coveted to buy Christian slaves, for they found them to be the most faithful of mankind, and wondered what it was that made them so. This is what Paul meant, when he said that they should adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in their sad and low estate, by not being degraded by it, but standing up in the grandeur of their Christian liberty, determining that they would not be the slaves of sin; and this was a wonderful adornment for the gospel.
You and I are not slaves; we have been saved from that degradation by this gospel of God our Saviour, for our fathers were as much slaves as these poor people were, but we are free. What can we do to adorn the gospel of God our Saviour? Well, first, remember that the adornment of the gospel of God our Saviour is not to be aesthetic. We cannot adorn the gospel with music, and with painting, and with architecture. When you stand beneath the blue sky, and see how God has decked his world with many flowers beneath your feet, and all around you hear the birds singing; and when, in the still and silent night, you gaze upon the silver stars, you feel that there is nothing we can build and nothing we can make that is in the least worthy of the great God. You remember how Stephen said of the temple at Jerusalem, “Solomon built him an house,” and then added, “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?” As much as to say, there was nothing in all that material grandeur, for, from the very day in which Solomon built the temple, with all its splendour, religion declined and decayed throughout all Israel. You cannot “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour” with anything tangible and material, it is to be adorned in quite another way.
Neither can you adorn the doctrine by anything peculiar in your garb or your mode of speech, as some have tried to do. The gospel is not any the better for a broad brim to your hat, it will not be any the worse for the colour of your coat; neither can it be adorned by any ecclesiastical addition whatever. Neither can it be adorned by the flowers of rhetoric. What grand speeches are sometimes made about the gospel! Yet, somehow, they do not seem to fit it. The gospel is best adorned when most unadorned. In her native beauty she is altogether unrivalled, she is then a queen; but when you deck her out, as they do who come from Rome, with meretricious garments, her true splendour is marred and hidden.
How then can we ornament the gospel? An ornament should always be suitable; nothing is really ornamental that is not suitable to the person upon whom it is placed. Then, what is appropriate to the gospel? Well, holiness suits the gospel. Adorn it with a holy life. How pure, how clean, how sweet, how heavenly, the gospel is! Hang, then, the jewels of holiness about its neck, and place them as rings on its hands. The gospel is also to be adorned with mercifulness. It is all mercy, it is all love, there is no love like it: “God so loved the world.” Well, then, adorn the gospel with the suitable jewels of mercifulness and kindness. Be you full of lovingkindness to others, for you have tasted of the lovingkindness of the Lord. The gospel also is the gospel of happiness; it is called, “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” A more correct translation would be, “the happy God.” Well, then, adorn the gospel by being happy.
“Why does your face, ye humble souls,
Those mournful colours wear?”
Adorn the gospel by a cheerful countenance and a happy life.
Men of business, adorn the gospel by the strictness of your integrity. Ours is a just gospel, for God is just, and yet the Justifier of everyone that believeth in Jesus. The gospel makes abundant provision for justice to all men; so I pray that you may be so exact, so particular about everything that, when men speak of you, they will not be able to say that you make a profession of religion, but it has not much effect upon your life. Never let it be so said truthfully; be so strictly just that people will not need to count money after you, for in that way they will see what is the meaning of the expression, “adorning the doctrine.” A person asked me, one day, “Is not such-and -such a persona Baptist?” I replied, “I do not know him.” He said, “He is a fellow who says a very long grace before his dinner, and he goes to such-and-such a chapel.” “Well,” I answered, if he goes there, “he certainly attends a Baptist chapel.” Then he said, “He is as big a thief as there is out of prison anywhere.” I said, “I hope he is not a Baptist; at any rate, he is not a Christian if he is what you say, for a Christian is an honest man.” Unless we are strictly so, we do not adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.
Adorn the gospel, next, by your unselfishness. If you are always looking to your own interests, if you have no thought but for your own personal comfort, if your religion can live and die within your own hearts, you have not any that is worth having. If you would adorn the gospel, you must love others, love them intensely, and make it one object of your lives to make other people happy, for so you will then be acting according to the spirit and genius of the gospel, and you will be adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.
Again, let a spirit of quick forgiveness be upon you. Resent no injury. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Thus you will have a fine set of jewels to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.
Next, have patience under trouble. Be not afraid of sudden fear. Be not carried away into grumbling or murmuring in the time of your poverty or pain. A patient woman, who can bear up and bear on, under all kinds of adversity, is one of the greatest ornaments of the gospel.
A placid and steady calm is also a great adornment for the gospel. One has seen such gentleness of spirit in some Christian matrons that we have felt that they have been an ornament to the doctrine of Jesus Christ. May we learn that holy calm, and may the Spirit of God so dwell in us that, in all we say, and all we do, and all we are, we may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things! May the Lord add his blessing upon this discourse, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.