But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, arguments, and quarrels about the Law, because these things are pointless and worthless.
I. THE THINGS WHICH ARE TO BE PLACED OUTSIDE THE SPHERE OF MINISTERIAL THOUGHT AND CONCERN.
1. Foolish questions. Questions not easily answered, yet if answered without practical bearing upon Christian life. Such were many of the Jewish discussions about the oral Law, the nature of God and the angels, the power of the Name Jehovah. In Christian times papists have discussed for a whole century "which side of Jesus was pierced by the spear?" Such are "foolish questions."
2. Genealogies. Jerome tells us the Jews were as well acquainted with the genealogies from Adam to Zerubbabel as with their own names. It is possible that the Jewish Christians attached great importance to their family registers. The genealogies, however, are significantly linked by the apostle with fables.
3. Contentions and strivings about the Law. There were many disputed and disputable points in the Law, especially respecting the authority and confirmation of the commandments (Titus 1:14).
II. THE ATTITUDE OF THE MINISTER TOWARD SUCH THINGS. "Avoid them."
1. This implies that he is not even to discuss them, on account of their utter frivolousness.
2. The reason is that they are "unprofitable and vain," and therefore exactly opposed to the things "good and profitable to men." The apostle would deliver all ministers from such folly and trifling, by placing before them Jesus Christ, the one glorious Object of the Church's love and adoration, leaving questions of another sort to the dead. Such questions had eaten the heart out of Judaism. They must not be allowed in Christianity. - T.C.
Avoid foolish questionsI. Amongst the QUESTIONS TO BE AVOIDED, such as the following may be included.
1. Those which savour of scepticism and unbelief, or which imply a doubtfulness of the truth of Divine revelation, or of any of its fundamental doctrines. Religion is not intended to gratify our curiosity, or to answer our speculative inquiries; its object is to renew and sanctify the heart, and to meeten us for heaven.
2. Intricate and controversial questions are in general to be avoided, as engendering strife rather than ministering to godly edifying.
3. Prying questions relative to futurity, and which tend only to gratify a vain curiosity, ought to be avoided.
4. Questions arising from impatience and discontent are generally in a high degree improper, and unworthy of a Christian. When the mind is disquieted and full of trouble, we are commonly dissatisfied with everything about us, and wish if it were possible to have it otherwise. But this is a spirit which the Scriptures condemn, as utterly inconsistent with submission to the will of God, and as savouring of presumption and unbelief.
5. Perplexing and disquieting questions, which have no tendency to promote the great objects of practical religion, but only to excite unnecessary doubts and fears, are also prohibited in the text. Instead of asking the anxious question, for example, Are we elected? our great concern should be to know whether we be effectually called? Not, are our names written in heaven, but is God's law written in our hearts?
6. Trifling and uninteresting questions which serve only to amuse and not to impart any useful information, ought by all means to be avoided. There is too great a disposition, even in serious people, to indulge in frivolous disputes, or in a strife about words rather than things, to the neglect of the weightier matters of the law, judgment, charity, and the love of God.
II. Notice some things that are NECESSARY TO A PROFITABLE CONVERSATION.
1. Beware of loquacity, or too much speaking. Let not your words go before your thoughts; think twice before you speak once.
2. Accustom yourselves to a sober way of thinking and talking, using at all times sound speech which cannot be condemned.
3. It may be proper to lay in a stock of interesting questions as matter for after conversation. Inquiries relative to our state, tending to promote experimental religion, both in ourselves and others, would at all times be useful and edifying. We cannot too frequently ask ourselves, Are we in a state of acceptance with God; do we grow in grace; do we hate sin and love holiness; are we more weaned from the world, and fit for heaven? An awakened sinner would naturally inquire, What must I do to be saved? and those who have believed through grace should be anxious to inquire, What shall we do that we may work the works of God?
4. Living as in the sight of God, and under a conviction that for every idle word we must give an account in the day of judgment, will exclude a great deal of light and trifling conversation, and give a savouriness to our speech, which will minister grace to the hearer.
(B. Beddome, M. A.)
I. THAT OUR SAVIOUR AND HIS GOSPEL GAVE NO REAL JUST OCCASION FOR THOSE CONTROVERSIES, which since have been so hotly moved, will appear if we consider a little His doctrine and way of teaching whilst He was here on earth, for we shall find all along that He delivered His message not in any studied, artificial, spruce, and affected method, but with the greatest perspicuity and plainness imaginable. He accommodated not His discourses to the learned or wiser part of mankind only, but to the ignorant and simple. Thus also, if we consult the Acts of the Apostles, we shall find it was in the first and early times of the gospel. Much pains it cost them to convince Gentiles and Jews of the truth of our Saviour's religion, and to take off their prejudices against it and His person, and to resist and gainsay apostate Christians who would set up new religions of their own in opposition to Christ's, but little or none, in comparison, to make them understand the doctrine of it when once they were ready to follow and embrace it. They did not perplex their hearers with any quirks and intricacies, but avoiding all needless disputations, which engender strife and are not unto edification, told them plainly that Jesus commanded them everywhere to repent of their sins, and to forsake them, and to behove His gospel, and become His disciples, and obey what He enjoined in being temperate, humble, just, and charitable, and they should be forever happy in the other world; and that for the effecting of this the Son of God came down from heaven, and lived here amongst men, and died, and rose again, of which they were witnesses.
II. IT IS TRUE SOME DISPUTES SOON AROSE IN THE CHURCH, AND WHAT GAVE OCCASION TO THEM I AM NEXT TO INQUIRE. Some did arise even in the apostles' days, occasioned either by that great respect and veneration the Jews had for Moses' laws and institutions, or that fond presumption they had of God's particular inconditionate favour to them, and His absolute election of the seed of Abraham only; or else by the wickedness of those who for some private ends would pretend to Christianity, but, being unwilling to undergo the severities of it, invented such doctrines as might best serve to patronise their lusts or impieties. Thus though there were disputes, then, yet they were chiefly between Christians and their open and professed enemies, or such as had apostatised from them, or were but in part converted; but for some considerable time (whilst the persecutions lasted) the Christians amongst themselves lived in all love and peace, professing the same faith, joining in the same worship, and agreeing in the same principles and practices. But when once our religion had triumphed over all others and brought the greatest part of the world to its subjection, and the princes of the earth and the great and wise men became Christians, and there was no public enemy, either Jew or Gentile, to oppose, and find work for busy wits, then they began to fall out about their own religion; and this still increased more as the Christians grew more learned and idle, and less honest, and found time and leisure to study philosophy, the greatest part of which about that time was nothing else but sophistry, or the art of wrangling, and making plain things obscure.
III. But yet by anything I have now said I WOULD NOT BE THOUGHT TO PERSUADE YOU THAT THERE WAS NOTHING IN OUR RELIGION THAT WAS DIFFICULT OR MYSTERIOUS. There are, without all doubt, some things contained in Scripture which are past our understandings, the particular modes and circumstances of which we cannot perfectly comprehend, but only that it would have been much more for the honour of God, the interest of Christianity, and the good of souls, if men would have suffered those things which were mysterious to have remained so, and also left those things that were plain in the same condition they found them.
IV. Had I time in particular to show HOW SUCH IDLE DISPUTES IN MATTERS OF RELIGION ARE STILL CONTINUED IN THE WORLD, I MIGHT TELL YOU —
1. Some men there are of a voluble tongue and of a talking, prating humour, who debate and dispute about everything, and therefore religion shall not escape if it ever comes in their way; you can say nothing but they presently contradict and oppose it.
2. Others there are that are pretty cool, tame, and calm, and can discourse freely and civilly about any ordinary common affair; but let the smallest and most inconsiderable point of religion be started, and they shall be presently all on fire, and as quarrelsome as if they had been born disputing, and as fierce as if at the pronouncing of every article of their belief their swords were to be drawn, and it was to be fought out.
3. Others there are who furnish themselves for dispute by reading a great deal of Scripture and getting it by heart, and so pouring it forth upon all occasions, interpreting it as peremptorily, and explaining it as confidently, as if they were guided by the same infallible spirit that the writers of it were endued withal.
4. Others there are who are very eager in maintaining a great many opinions, which are not to be found in Scripture, but in some authors they have great esteem of, or first chanced to read, or were directed to by those whose judgments they most valued; and these men's books such make their Bible, and from them fetch all their divinity.
V. But whatever be, and many more there are, occasions of these quarrels and debates in religion, THE INCONVENIENCE OF THEM IS GREAT AND NOTORIOUS.
1. This foolish contending consumes so much time of our lives, which ought to be spent in our honest employments, in serious devotions, and doing the offices of justice, friendship, and charity one towards another; and I doubt not but much of our religious brawling and disputing shall be accounted for at the last day as idle words, for which neither ourselves, nor neighbours, nor anybody else was anything the better.
2. That which is a greater mischief than this, from hence men's lusts learn to dispute, and from these controversies in and about religion men have found out how to quiet their consciences in a way of sin, and to go on securely and undisturbedly, hoping by the help of a distinction or two they shall for all that get to heaven at last.
3. These disputes have been the occasion of those great breaches that have been made amongst Christians, whose care it ought to be to be of one mind, of one faith, and of one Church, and to adorn the doctrine of our Saviour by their mutual good will and serviceableness to one another; but instead of this, Christians, by their several little models of faith and their passions, have made it their business to divide the Church, excluding as many from salvation and their communion as are not just of their own way and fancy.
(Memoir of Dr. Brock.)
GenealogiesI. The second thing which Titus must resist are genealogies, which also must be rightly taken, because there always was, and yet is, an excellent use of them in Scripture. Before Christ they were so necessary, as the Jews were commanded to keep public and private records of their tribes and families — yea, and if there were any that could not tell or find his genealogy, he was not to be admitted, or, if inconsiderately he were, was to be deposed from public office (Numbers 1:18; Nehemiah 7:62); and to this purpose some holy writers of Scripture have set down for the use of the Church to the end whole books of genealogies, but especially that the Jews might be able to bring their descent from the patriarchs, as we read of Paul, who no doubt could bring his line down from Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). The use of these genealogies was to manifest the truth of God in the Scriptures.
I. In the accomplishment of many special prophecies to particular persons.
II. What is it, then, the apostle condemneth? Not any such as serve to the edification of the faith of the Church, whereof this of Christ a public person and Saviour of the world is the chief of all; neither the keeping of the descent so far as serveth to the preservation of right justice and civil peace. In which respect kings and nobles, yea, and other inferior persons, may inquire into that right which their ancestors have made their due, and must so hold their genealogy as they may hold their right against all claims. But here is condemned all that recounting of kindred and pedigree in all sorts of men, which proceedeth from a vain mind, and tendeth to worldly pomp and vainglory. For this was the sin of the Jewish teachers, that whereas now by Christ's appearance all distinction of families was in religious respect abrogated, and now was no such need of genealogy as before, unless it were before infidels and such as were not persuaded of the right descent of Christ, yet they out of their pride would be much and often in extolling of their tribes and kindred, and so not only for these accessories let go the substance of religion, but, as if they would build up that polity again which was now abolished, to the great hurt of their hearers, would much busy themselves in fruitless discourses.
(T. Taylor, D. D.)
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