Not by works of righteousness - Those who were foolish, disobedient, and deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, could not possibly have works of righteousness to plead; therefore, if saved at all, they must be saved by mercy. See the note on Ephesians 2:8; and see a discourse entitled, Salvation by Faith proved, 8vo., 1816, in which I have examined every system invented by man for his restoration to the Divine favor and image: and have demonstrated, by mere reason, their utter insufficiency to answer the end for which they have been invented; and have proved that the doctrine of salvation by faith is the only rational way of salvation.
By the washing of regeneration - Δια λουτρου παλιγγενεσιας· Undoubtedly the apostle here means baptism, the rite by which persons were admitted into the Church, and the visible sign of the cleansing, purifying influences of the Holy Spirit, which the apostle immediately subjoins. Baptism is only a sign, and therefore should never be separated from the thing signified; but it is a rite commanded by God himself, and therefore the thing signified should never be expected without it.
By the renewing of the Holy Ghost we are to understand, not only the profession of being bound to live a new life, but the grace that renews the heart, and enables us thus to live; so the renewing influences are here intended. Baptism changes nothing; the grace signified by it cleanses and purifies. They who think baptism to be regeneration, neither know the Scriptures nor the power of God; therefore they do greatly err.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done - The plan was not based on our own good works, nor are our own good works now the cause of our salvation. If people could have been saved by their own good works, there would have been no need of salvation by the Redeemer; if our own deeds were now the basis of our title to eternal life, the work of Christ would be equally unnecessary. It is a great and fundamental principle of the gospel that the good works of men come in for no share in the justification of the soul. They are in no sense a consideration on account of which God pardons a man, and receives him to favor. The only basis of justification is the merit of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the matter of justification before God, all the race is on a level; see the notes at Ephesians 2:8-9.
But according to his mercy -
(1)It had its origin in mercy;
(2)It is by mere mercy or compassion, and not by justice;
(3)It is an expression of great mercy, and,
(4)It is now in fact conferred only by mercy.
Whatever we have done or can do, when we come to receive salvation from the hand of God, there is no other element which enters into it but mercy. It is not because our deeds deserve it; it is not because we have by repentance and faith wrought ourselves into such a state of mind that we can claim it; but, after all our tears, and sighs, and prayers, and good deeds, it is a mere favor. Even then God might justly withhold it if he chose, and no blame would be attached to him if he should suffer us to sink down to ruin.
He saved us - That is, he began that salvation in us which is to be completed in heaven. A man who is already renewed and pardoned may be spoken of as saved - for:
(1)the work of salvation is begun, and,
(2)when begun it will certainly be completed; see the notes at Philemon 1:6.
By the washing of regeneration - In order to a correct understanding of this important passage, it is necessary to ascertain whether the phrase here used refers to baptism, and whether anything different is intended by it from what is meant by the succeeding phrase - “renewing of the Holy Ghost.” - The word rendered “washing” ( λουτρόυ loutrou) occurs in the New Testament only in this place and in Ephesians 5:26, where also it is rendered “washing” - “That he might sanctify and cleanse it (the church) with the washing of water by the word.” The word properly means “a bath;” then water for bathing; then the act of bathing, washing, ablution. Passow and Robinson. It is used by Homer to denote a warm or cold bath; then a washing away, and is thus applied to the drink-offerings in sacrifice, which were supposed to purify or wash away sin. Passow. The word here does not mean “laver,” or the vessel for washing in, which would be expressed by λουτὴρ loutērand this word cannot be properly applied to the baptismal font.
The word in itself would naturally be understood as referring to baptism (compare notes at Acts 22:16), which was regarded as the emblem of washing away sins, or of cleansing from them. I say it was the emblem, not the means of purify ing the soul from sin. If this be the allusion, and it seems probable, then the phrase “washing of regeneration” would mean “that outward washing or baptism which is the emblem of regeneration,” and which is appointed as one of the ordinances connected with salvation; see the notes at Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” It is not affirmed in this phrase that baptism is the means of regeneration; or that grace is necessarily conveyed by it; and still less that baptism is regeneration, for no one of these is a necessary interpretation of the passage, and should not be assumed to be the true one. The full force of the language will be met by the supposition that it means that baptism is the emblem or symbol of regeneration, and, if this is the case, no one has a right to assume that the other is certainly the meaning.
And that this is the meaning is further clear, because it is nowhere taught in the New Testament that baptism is regeneration, or that it is the means of regeneration. The word rendered “regeneration” ( παλιγγενεσία palingenesia) - occurs in the New Testament only here and in Matthew 19:28, - “in the regeneration when the Son of man,” etc. It means, properly, a new birth, reproduction, or renewal. It would properly be applied to one who should be begotten again in this sense, that a new life was commenced in him in some way corresponding to his being made to live at first. To the proper idea of the word, it is essential that there should be connected the notion of the commencement of life in the man, so that he may be said to live anew; and as religion is in the Scriptures represented as life, it is properly applied to the beginning of that kind of life by which man may be said to live anew. This word, occurring only here and in Matthew 19:28, and there indubitably not referring to baptism, should not be here understood as referring to that, or be applied to that, because:
(1)that is not the proper meaning of the word;
(2)there is no Scripture usage to sanction it;
(3)the connection here does not demand it;
(5)it is a dangerous use of the word.
Its use in this sense leaves the impression that the only change needful for man is that which is produced by being regularly baptized. On almost no point has so much injury been done in the church as by the application of the word “regeneration” to baptism. It affects the beginning of religion in the soul, and if a mistake is made there, it is one which must pervade all the views of piety.
And renewing of the Holy Ghost - This is an important clause, added by Paul apparently to save from the possibility of falling into error. If the former expression, “the washing of regeneration,” had been left to stand by itself, it might have been supposed possibly that all the regeneration which would be needed would be that which would accompany baptism. But he avoids the possibility of this error, by saying that the “renewing of the Holy Ghost” is an indispensable part of that by which we are saved. It is necessary that this should exist in addition to that which is the mere emblem of it - the washing of regeneration - for without this the former would be unmeaning and unavailing. It is important to observe that the apostle by no means says that this always follows from the former, nor does he affirm that it ever follows from it - whatever may be the truth on that point - but he asserts that this is that on which our salvation depends. - The word rendered “renewing” ( ἀνακαίνωσις anakainōsis) occurs only here and in Romans 12:2, where it is also rendered “renewing;” compare Note on that place. The verb ( ἀνακαινόω anakainoō) occurs in 2 Corinthians 4:15, and Colossians 3:19, in both which places it is rendered “renewed,” and the corresponding word, ἀνακαινίζω anakainizōin Hebrews 6:6.
The noun properly means making new again: a renewing; a renovation; compare H. Planck in Bib. Repos. i. 677. It is a word which is found only in the writings of Paul, and in ecclesiastical Greek writers. It would be properly applied to such a change as the Holy Spirit produces in the soul, making one a new man; that is, a man new, so far as religion is concerned - new in his views, feelings, desires, hopes, plans, and purposes. He is so far different from what he was before, that it may be said he enters on a new life; see the notes at Ephesians 4:23-24. The “renewing of the Holy Ghost” of course means that which the Holy Spirit produces, recognizing the fact, everywhere taught in the Scriptures, that the Holy Spirit is the Author of the new creation. It cannot mean, as Koppe supposes, the renewing of the mind itself, or producing a holy spirit in the soul.
He bids Titus instruct the church that while they should trust to the merits of Christ for salvation, divine grace, dwelling in their hearts, will lead to the faithful performance of all the duties of life. “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.... This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” (Titus 3:1-8). SL 87.1
Paul seeks to impress upon our minds the fact that the foundation of all acceptable service to God, as well as the very crown of the Christian graces, is love; and that only in the soul where love reigns will the peace of God abide. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above put all these things on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:12-17). SL 87.2Read in context »
In the parable the first laborers agreed to work for a stipulated sum, and they received the amount specified, nothing more. Those later hired believed the master's promise, “Whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.” They showed their confidence in him by asking no question in regard to wages. They trusted to his justice and equity. They were rewarded, not according to the amount of their labor, but according to the generosity of his purpose. COL 397.1
So God desires us to trust in Him who justifieth the ungodly. His reward is given not according to our merit but according to His own purpose, “which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 3:11. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Titus 3:5. And for those who trust in Him He will do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20. COL 397.2
Not the amount of labor performed or its visible results but the spirit in which the work is done makes it of value with God. Those who came into the vineyard at the eleventh hour were thankful for an opportunity to work. Their hearts were full of gratitude to the one who had accepted them; and when at the close of the day the householder paid them for a full day's work, they were greatly surprised. They knew they had not earned such wages. And the kindness expressed in the countenance of their employer filled them with joy. They never forgot the goodness of the householder or the generous compensation they had received. Thus it is with the sinner who, knowing his unworthiness, has entered the Master's vineyard at the eleventh hour. His time of service seems so short, he feels that he is undeserving of reward; but he is filled with joy that God has accepted him at all. He works with a humble, trusting spirit, thankful for the privilege of being a co-worker with Christ. This spirit God delights to honor. COL 397.3Read in context »
It is thus that every sinner may come to Christ. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Titus 3:5. When Satan tells you that you are a sinner, and cannot hope to receive blessing from God, tell him that Christ came into the world to save sinners. We have nothing to recommend us to God; but the plea that we may urge now and ever is our utterly helpless condition that makes His redeeming power a necessity. Renouncing all self-dependence, we may look to the cross of Calvary and say,— DA 317.1
“In my hand no price I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling.” DA 317.2
The Jews had been instructed from childhood concerning the work of the Messiah. The inspired utterances of patriarchs and prophets and the symbolic teaching of the sacrificial service had been theirs. But they had disregarded the light; and now they saw in Jesus nothing to be desired. But the centurion, born in heathenism, educated in the idolatry of imperial Rome, trained as a soldier, seemingly cut off from spiritual life by his education and surroundings, and still further shut out by the bigotry of the Jews, and by the contempt of his own countrymen for the people of Israel,—this man perceived the truth to which the children of Abraham were blinded. He did not wait to see whether the Jews themselves would receive the One who claimed to be their Messiah. As the “light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9) had shone upon him, he had, though afar off, discerned the glory of the Son of God. DA 317.3Read in context »
The Jewish elders had commended the centurion to Christ because of the favor he had shown to “our nation.” He is worthy, they said, for “he hath built us a synagogue.” But the centurion said of himself, “I am not worthy.” Yet he did not fear to ask help from Jesus. Not to his own goodness did he trust, but to the Saviour's mercy. His only argument was his great need. MH 65.1
In the same way every human being can come to Christ. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Titus 3:5. Do you feel that because you are a sinner you cannot hope to receive blessing from God? Remember that Christ came into the world to save sinners. We have nothing to recommend us to God; the plea that we may urge now and ever is our utterly helpless condition, which makes His redeeming power a necessity. Renouncing all self-dependence, we may look to the cross of Calvary and say: MH 65.2
“In my hand no price I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling.” MH 65.3