For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; (Titus 2.11-12)
Thomas Taylor, An Exposition of Titus, pp. 190-191:
Doct. 2. Where the gospel brings salvation to any person, it looks for return of some recompense, namely that it be entertained with sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, which are the three graces which go hand in hand, every one looking at another.
Sobriety keeps the house, and moderates the mind at home; righteousness looks forth and gives every man his due abroad; piety looks up to God and gives Him His right. Sobriety preserves, and is content with its own state and portion. Righteousness preserves, and is content that other men enjoy their estate and portion. Piety preserves, and is willing that God's part be reserved unto him.
Again, sobriety must go before, as a nurse of the other two; for he who deals not soberly cannot deal justly, but deprives men of their due. Righteousness without godliness is but atheism, and a beautiful abomination; and piety without righteousness is but hypocrisy. How absurd it is to be precise in dealing with man, and careless how wickedly we deal with God!
Now as sobriety is listed first, as the nurse of the two latter, so piety is listed last, as the mother of the two former; for where it is lacking, neither of the former can commend a man unto God. Therefore none of these three may be forgotten, for they jointly contain all the rules of Christian life.
In each we will observe two points, its proper work and the rules by which it may be practiced.
1. First, of sobriety. Its proper work is to moderate the mind, and contain it in due compass, both in all the affections of the soul and the actions of life unto which it turns itself. This will appear in things outward and inward.
(a) First, in the inward gifts of the mind, it teaches three things.
(i) To be wise to sobriety, and not to presume above that which is written. It does not allow us to pry into the ark, as the Bethshemites did to their cost, neither in inferior things to meddle with curious arts and sciences; but it exercises itself in things which not only have a show of wisdom, but which are profitable, yea necessary.
(ii) To contain and content itself with its own measure of gifts, to know their own bounds and keep within them. The portion of grace, which is given according to the measure of the gift of Christ, it acknowledges with thankfulness, but does not arrogate that which he has not. This would be to run over the measure, and Christ gives no gift which is not in the measure of it. We have a singular precedent of sobriety in the apostles themselves. "We rejoice not in things outside our measure, nor stretch ourselves beyond our measure, nor boast of things outside our measure" (2 Cor. 10:13,14).
(iii) As it teaches a man to know himself, so it teaches him not to despise another, although he has not received the like measure (1 Cor. 4:6); it does not swell against another, for itself has nothing but what it received. It does not eny those whom God has made superiors, since the wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, not judging and not avenging (James 3:17).
(b) In outward things, it is a moderator, as may appear in things concerning a man's calling, estate, pleasures, and things indifferent.
(i) It forces a man to abide in his calling, but not as drudge unto it; it will not allow the heart to be oppressed with the cares of this life, no more than with surfeiting and drunkenness. It curbs the restive desire of increasing wealth, and so both gives freedom to the duties of the general calling, and fences from being too much wrapped and entangled in the duties of the particular calling.
(ii) In his estate, this virtue of sobriety settles a man in a quiet comfort and contentment, for it teaches him to lack and to abound, and puts into his hand the benefit of contentment in all states. If want comes, he who was rich can rejoice in being made low (James 1:9); he is taught to be empty as well as full. Again, if prosperity befalls him, and the world comes upon him, this prosperity does not puff him up; he can use the world as not using it. This excellent grace hedges his heart, and will not allow it to be greedy in its desires.
(iii) In the pleasures and delights of this life, in which a number have become as filthily drunk as others in beastly quaffing. Prove the heart with joy, and bid it take pleasure in earthly things; it can say of laughter. "You are madness," and to joy, "What do you do?" (Eccl. 2:1) It does not allow a man to pour out his heart to pleasure, nor to become a lover of pleasure more than of God.
(iv) In things indifferent, as meat, drink, apparel, sleep, etc., it keeps within compass. It does not look at the wine in the cup; it drinks for strength, and not for drunkenness; to make a man more fit for his calling, not duller and heavier. In apparel it shuns pride, lightness, and idleness, and reduces to comeliness and decency, and inward decking rather than outward. Its attire not only becomes holiness, but also agrees with the calling, custom of the country, example of the graver sort of our rank, and the right ends of apparel. Sobriety causes sleep to be seasonable and moderate, and does not allow a man to sleep until he is clothed in rages. In marriage, it holds from being drowned in carnal delight, but moderates the affection as though he were free from a wife (1 Cor. 7:29). Thus the excellence of this grace is shown.