That the aged men be sober I.
SINS TO BE AVOIDED.
1. Indulgence in wine.
3. Folly, "Temperate" here is really prudent, sound minded.
II. VIRTUES TO BE CHERISHED.
Our apostle exempteth not old men from being subject to the doctrine of God because of their age, but rather sendeth them first to school, notwithstanding all that knowledge and experience which they might pretend (1 John 2:13
). For God's school is as well for old as for young, in which men are not only to be initiated in the principles of religion, but also to be led forward unto perfection of wisdom; and seeing no man can attain in this life unto perfection, therefore every man is still to press forward, and to wax old daily learning something. And there is great reason that as old men must first be instructed by Titus, so they should be the first in learning their duty.
1. First, in regard of example, for their presidence prevaileth much, and would be a great inducement to the younger, who need all encouragements in the ways of God, which example not being generally given by oar elder men, besides that they entangle themselves in the sins of the younger, we cannot marvel at the licentiousness of our youth.
2. The honour of their age, yea, the ornament and crown of their years, is to be sound in the ways of righteousness, that is, in a life led holily and justly, which two can never be found but in a heart submitted to the Word of God, the rule of both.
3. Whereas old men are delighted with relations of idle antiquities, and things formerly passed as long as they can recall, the Holy Ghost recalleth them from such unfruitful spending of their time, and showeth them that Christ and His doctrine, both of them being from the beginning, are most ancient, and consequently the knowledge and remembrance of Him is a matter best beseeming them; to have their senses and tongues exercised herein should be the delight of their age; to be conversant in the holy exercises which witness of Him should be their chief business, as old Hannah went not out of the Temple, and old Simeon waited there to see his salvation.
4. Their time by the course of nature cannot be long to fit themselves to heaven, and therefore they had not need slack any opportunity which might hasten them thither.
Sobriety in all things is the peculiar character befitting age. Hasty, impulsive, intemperate speech, frivolous gaiety, thoughtless indulgence, are hateful in the old. The Christian elders should at least aim to possess the virtue without which hoary hair would be a disgrace rather than a crown of glory. They are not only to be "sober," but "grave and discreet," terms which nobly pourtray and illustrate the highest characteristics and the truest consecration of age,
Age should fly concourse, cover in retreat
Defects of judgment, and the will subdue;
Walk thoughtful on the silent, solemn shore
Of the vast ocean it must sail so soon.Healthy, or sound, must they be "in respect to their faith, love, and patient endurance." The apostle, in his earliest Epistle (1 Thessalonians 1:3), congratulated that Church on "work" of theirs which originated in "faith," on "labour unto weariness" which was dictated by "love," and on "patient endurance" which was born of Christian "hope." In writing to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:13), he says, "Now abideth faith, hope, love." The Lord, from His throne of glory, addressed the Ephesian Church (Revelation 2:2) thus: "I know thy works, thy labour unto weariness, and thy patient endurance." The passages throw light upon each other. Occasionally "hope," the child of faith, the source of patience, the secret of peace, and the wellspring of joy, is substituted by the apostle for one or other of the emotions with which it is so closely associated, either as antecedent or consequent. But, making allowance for this characteristic touch, it is profoundly interesting to trace in this — one of the latest of the Pauline Epistles — the vibration of a note struck by him in his earliest; an argument of no small weight in determining the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles. Paul would have Titus cultivate among the aged men of Crete the root principles out of which all holy living proceeds. The peculiarity of the Pastoral Epistles — reference, i.e., to the being "sound" or "healthy" in these respects — suggests the possibility that "faith" may be under mined or perverted; that "love" may become irregular, sentimental, partisan, or hysterical; and that "patience" may degenerate into listlessness, obstinacy, or stoicism, if it be not fed at the fountains of Christian "hope." Does not the reference here to the causes and sources of holy living, rather than to those effects of them on which he had enlarged when writing to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:3), suggest to us that the longer St. Paul lived, he more and more acquired the habit of putting confidence in Christian principles and "sound" motives?
He that hath received much must bring forth much fruit, as the servant that had five talents committed unto him gained five other talents. So old men must be grave and sober, and carry a majesty in their countenance, that they may after a sort resemble the majesty of God. As gravity and sobriety agreeth to every age, so most especially to the elder age, contrary to which is lightness, lasciviousness, and waywardness, which make them not honourable, but odious, not to be reverenced, but to be despised in the eyes of the younger sort. Let them adorn their years with those virtues which the apostle nameth. If they be careful to express these things which become wholesome doctrine, they shall manifestly show that their living so in the world hath not been in vain; but honour is not seemly for a fool. The wise man saith, "The beauty of the young men is their strength, and the glory of the aged is the greyheaded," that is, wisdom, counsel, experience, whereby they are more adorned than the young man is beautified by his bodily strength. For the ornaments of the mind are to be preferred before the properties of the body. Again, they must be examples of a godly life and holy conversation, that youth may stand in fear to commit any indecent and unseemly thing in their presence. Thus Job saith of himself (chap 29), "When I went out of the gate, the young men saw me, and hid themselves." But when the elder sort are ringleaders and examples of an evil and corrupt life, there is more gravity on their heads than piety in their hearts; in their white hairs than in their behaviour; and so the crown of honour is taken from them, and they are justly condemned, despised, and reproached of those of whom they should be honoured. For we may see old men so hardened in wickedness, that if a man would find whole heaps of wickedness, he need seek no farther but to them. We are all to honour the grey head and to magnify old age, for (as Solomon saith) "Age is a crown of glory when it is found in the way of righteousness," whereby he meaneth that old age, seasoned with a godly life and upright, bringeth with it as great glory as a crown on the head and a sceptre in the hand doth unto a king, and therefore such old men are greatly to be reverenced and highly to be esteemed. But many, except they should be honoured for their ignorance, superstition, frowardness, maliciousness, waywardness, covetousness, drunkenness, licentiousness, and self-will, there is nothing else to be found in them, to be learned of them, to be gathered from them. By these foul enormities they bring themselves into contempt, and bring shame and reproach upon their own heads, so that no man defameth and dishonoureth them so much as themselves. Surely, if young men misbehave and misgovern themselves, they are not to be excused, but to be reproved, because they ought to order their lives aright, and remember their Creator in the days of their youth, and not deserve to be evil spoken or reported of; but old folks are doubly worthy of the shame that men do them, if they be not honoured for their virtues. They should learn by their long life and old age to grow in the knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ, to hate sin, to delight in righteousness, and daily to die unto the world.
One of the uses of the aged is to keep our theology sweet. I should be very much afraid for evangelical doctrine if there were none but young men in the Church. Youth loves to speculate. Old age loves to rest in ascertained realities. Youth is destructive. You have seen a boy when he has got a gun. He goes popping at everything — sparrows, cats, barn doors. He can hardly resist levelling even at his own father. So, when a young man becomes conscious of the possession of reason, he is for exercising it upon everything. Nothing is so sacred as to be beyond the reach of this destructive weapon, and truths are often in danger of being swept away along with the falsities. But, on the other hand, old age is proverbially conservative, and so the needful counteractive is supplied. A man may have gone very wide in his young days, but, as a rule, he comes round again to the old starting point — comes home to the old centre when he is verging upon threescore years and ten. A soul that is consciously on the brink of eternity cannot do with the shallow fallacies that once passed muster as excellent substitutes for the old faith. It finds that, after all, the old gospel is the thing it wants. The late learned Dr. Duncan said to a student, "I do not forbid you to speculate. I like speculation. I have speculated a great deal during my life, but now that I am turning an old man, I am in love with the facts." Then he added in a quasi-humorous tone, "Now that I'm an auld man, I have just come back to the theology of the old wives and the bairns. I like that." This is a useful element in the Church. Thank God for the aged and for their tenacious grasp of the essential verities of the gospel.
An old river without water quencheth not our thirst. An old friend that hath lost his honesty is worse than an old picture that hath lost its colour. Old wine no man commends; when it is turned to vinegar, let them take it that like it. An old house is no safe harbour when it is ready to fall on the inhabiter's head. An old man that hath lost his experience is like a boulter; much good flour hath gone through it, but there is nothing left in it but bran.
Notice the frequent occurrence of a single epithet which may almost be said to characterise Christian behaviour, as St. Paul, in his later days, came to conceive of it. The repetition of the word I mean is veiled from readers of the Authorised Version by variations in the rendering of it. In one form or another it really occurs in these verses four times. First, old men are to be "temperate": that is its first occurrence. Then, elderly females are to teach the young wives to be "sober," another use of the same word. Next, the younger women are to be "discreet," the same word. Finally, it is the solitary requirement for young men that they be "sober minded," where once more the same word is retained. What is this moral quality which Paul felt it to be so necessary to enforce upon every age and on both sexes? It denotes that moral health which results from a complete mastery over the passions and desires, "so that," in Archbishop Trench's words, "they receive no further allowance than that which the law and the right reason admit and approve." Self-control would probably come as near the idea as any single word we can employ. But it includes such moral sanity or wisdom of character as is only to be attained through the habitual control of the reason over loose, illicit, or excessive desires of every kind. It is by no means to be wondered at that St. Paul should have laid much emphasis on this virtue. Heathen society in its later periods was remarkable for the weakening of self-control. Self-indulgence became at once its danger and its disgrace. When religion came to be thoroughly divorced from ethics, no curb remained strong enough to restrain the bulk of men either from angry passion or from sensual gratification. Against this tendency of the later classical period philosophers and moralists were never weary of inveighing. The very word which St. Paul here uses was with them the technical name for a cardinal virtue, the praises of which, as "the fairest of the gifts of the gods," they were always sounding. But the foolish excess which heathen religion had failed to check defied heathen philosophy too. The time had come for Christianity to try its hand. The task was a hard one. I have no doubt Paul beheld with anxiety the growing inroads which, before his death, the loose and reckless habits of his age had begun to make even upon those little sheltered companies that had sought a new refuge beneath the Cross. In these latest writings he reiterates the warning to be sober minded with no less urgency than Plato or Aristotle. We may well thank God that he based the admonition on more prevailing pleas. It took a long time for Christianity to lay the foundations of a manlier and purer society; but it did so in the end. The old civilisation was past remedy and perished. Into the new, which should take its place, the gospel inspired a nobler temper. The restored authority of Divine law and the awful sense of the evil of sin, which were the Church's inheritance from Judaism, the value of personal purity which it learned at the Cross, the new conception of sanctity which Christ created, the hopes and dreads of the hereafter: these things trained our modern nations in their youth to a reverential sobriety of character, an awe for what is holy, and a temperate enjoyment of sensual delights, such as had utterly disappeared from the Greco-Roman world. It is for us to take heed, lest, amid the growth of wealth, the cheapening of luxuries, and the revolt against restraining authority which distinguish our own age, we should forfeit, before we are aware of it, some of that chastened decorous simplicity and manly self-control which lies so near the base of a noble Christian character, and which has been one of the gospel's choicest gifts to human society.
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