The Laver of Regeneration
January 18th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE LAVER OF REGENERATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-18-59 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Laver of Regeneration. It is a message upon one of the great, great passages in the Bible. It is found, and you can easily follow it, in the third chapter of Titus, the last part of the second through the last part of the eighth verses. Paul says to the young minister, Titus, that he is to put his people in mind to be "gentle, showing meekness to all men."
For we ourselves also were one time foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared,
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit; Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior;
That being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they who have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.
That is the passage, and we follow it verse by verse, letter by letter.
Paul begins in that incomparable message, he begins by a description of what we once were, "For we ourselves were one time, once, foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another" [Titus 3:3]. He who knows most of this modern Babylon is the most deeply grieved. But our condemnation ought never to be in bitterness because we ourselves were one time a part of it. Paul does not say, "Ye yourselves at one time were foolish and disobedient and deceived"; but he says, "We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deceived" [Titus 3:3]. That means the preachers, that means the deacons, that means the church members, that means you; we ourselves, all of us. It’s a very mistaken man who stands up and condemns another man in bitterness; for he himself is also in the same condemnation. His iniquity and his sin, his dereliction and his weakness, may not be the same as this one or that one; he may have a different sin and a different weakness, but all of us are alike: "We ourselves," that’s Paul, that’s Simon Peter, that’s the old patriarchs, that’s our present generation, that’s the past generation, that’s our forefathers, that is we, and it is our children.
"We ourselves were once," then he names three kinds of sins. One, he starts off with sins of the mind: "We were one time foolish, disobedient, and deceived" [Titus 3:3]. We were foolish; we thought we knew, therefore we didn’t learn. We thought that we could see, therefore we were blind – foolish, disobedient – like Pharaoh who said, "Who is this God Jehovah, that I should obey His voice?" [Exodus 5:2]. The great message of the gospel of Christ fell upon us like a man might beat upon the water; no impression, disobedient, deceived, trying like sheep to follow whichever way a lush watercourse might lead, in company and in custom deceived, following others: these aberrations of the mind.
Then he mentions false pursuits; the ambitions of life, "serving divers lusts and pleasures" [Titus 3:3], going our own ways, following our own self-chosen paths. "I have this I want to do, and this way I want to follow, and that place to which I want to go," slaves of our own personal predilections, and affinities, and ambitions. And then he names sins of the heart, "living in malice, in anger, in envy, hateful, and hating one another" [Titus 3:3].
I could not think of a more poignant illustration of that than in the story of the prodigal son. The prodigal boy, the younger son returns, having wasted his life and his substance in riotous living. But the elder brother that stayed at home, when he looked upon the younger brother, he envied him all the praise and love in the father’s house, and he was angry because emoluments had been bestowed upon him and rewards given him that he said he himself, though he deserved them more, he himself had not won. Of the two, you cannot help but be more in sympathy with the prodigal, who wasted his life in riotous living, more than the elder son who at no time, he says, transgressed the father’s commandment [Luke 15:11-32], and yet filled with envy and anger, hateful and hating one another. Sins of the spirit are far more grievous and detestable – anger, unforgiveness, hatefulness – these are far more despicable and detestable than sins of lust or of passion. And when Paul gets through naming that list, all of us are in it: "We ourselves also were at one time, at some time, foolish, or disobedient, or deceived, or serving pleasure, or in anger, or envy, or full of hate and hating one another."
Then he speaks of the divine interposition of God: "But when we were in our iniquity and in our sin, in that estate, the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared" [Titus 3:4]. Do you notice Paul says the initiative is in Him, not in us? We did not seek God, but God sought us. We were not loving God, but God was loving us. When Adam sinned he hid himself from God [Genesis 3:1-6]. And God came in the cool of the evening and said, "Adam, where art thou? [Genesis 3:8-9]. Why do you hide yourself away from God?" Whenever you think that the heathen and the pagan in other lands long after the gospel, you’re mistaken. And when you think the lost people in our city have a desire for holiness and a hunger for God, you’re mistaken. It is just the opposite. A lost man does not seek God, and pagan people do not cry after the true God; the initiative comes from heaven. We rather don’t seek the face of God, we don’t have time for the preacher, we don’t want to be bothered with an appeal for Christ – we’re busy, we are consumed, we are at our tasks, we have our pleasures, we are going our separate ways – but it is in our headlong flight toward destruction and death that the kindness and love of God our Savior appears. Isn’t that a marvelous thing? Paul is saying, "You’d be a lost man, you would. And you’d be a lost soul, you would, had it not been for the kind interposition of God in your life." You weren’t seeking God, He was seeking you. And you were not choosing the things of the Lord, God was choosing you.
And it was in the kindness and love of God in Christ that we were brought to a saving knowledge of our Lord. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done" [Titus 3:5], not because God chose us because we were good, we were holy, we were sanctified, we were lovely; He loved us when we were unlovely, and He chose us when we were unsought, and He bought us when we were unwanted [1 Corinthians 1:27-29]. We were worthless. We were foolish, disobedient, deceived, in anger, in envy, hateful, and hating one another. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done," it was not because we were good, or we were worthy, or were fine, or we were noble, or we were lovely, "not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy He saved us" [Titus 3:3-5]. God looked upon us and He had pity upon us. And according to His elective choice, according to His merciful purpose, He saved us. "He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy" [Romans 9:15, 18], and "it is not of him that willeth, and it is not of him that runneth, but it is of God that showeth mercy" [Romans 9:16].
"By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; Not of works," lest any man should say, I bought it, or I won it" [Ephesians 2:8-9]. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done" [Titus 3:5]. Nothing we ever did would commend us to God. Our finest altruism is somehow still stained and tainted with selfishness. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit" [Titus 3:5]. By the laver," the Greek word is, "by the laver of regeneration." Beautiful symbol there; in the tabernacle worship of the ancient Hebrew people, when you went into the court, first was the great altar – there the sacrificial victim was tied to the horns of the altar, and there the sinner would kneel and confess over the head of the sacrificial victim the sins of his life, and then would slay the sacrificial victim, and the priest would pour out its blood, and then it would be burned as an offering unto God [Leviticus 4:27-33]. The altar is a sign, a figure, a type, a picture of the sacrifice of the Son of God. There atonement was made for our sins, and there the penalty of our guilt was all washed away.
Then beyond the great altar [Exodus 30:1-10] – which is a picture of the atoning sacrifice of our Lord, the expiation of sin, the washing away of sin, a life has been paid, blood has been shed – beyond that great altar was the laver. And the laver was for the washing, was for the washing, was for the cleansing, was for the bathing of the priest. Before he went into the house of God and stood in the presence of the Holy of Holies he had to be washed, he had to be bathed, he had to cleansed [Exodus 30:17-21]. And after our sins have been forgiven in the blood of the Lamb [John 1:29], after atonement has been made [Romans 3:25], we must be washed, we must be cleansed, we must be bathed [1Corinthians 6:11]. And that laver is called "the laver of regeneration," the cleansing work and power of the Holy Spirit of God [Titus 3:5]. And having renewed us, having cleansed us, having washed us, He keeps us clean, and He keeps us saved; the renewing of the Holy Ghost [1 John 1:7-9]. Why, I’d be lost in five minutes again were it not for the sustaining Spirit of God. No man could keep himself saved; it is through the renewing of the Holy Spirit, that having been regenerated, having been saved, we are kept saved in the power of God [Ephesians 4:30]; the laver of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5].
And all of it, Paul says, this kindness and mercy, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but the mercy of God that saved us by the laver of regeneration, by the renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior" all of it comes through Him [Titus 3:5-6]. The gift of the Holy Spirit is through Him [Titus 3:5-6]. The atonement for our sins is through Him [Romans 5:11]. Justification is through Him [Romans 4:25; Titus 3:7]. Sanctification is through Him [1 Corinthians 1:30]. All of the blessings of our lives come through Him. Whether they’re of the soul and the spirit, whether they’re of the body and the life, all of them are mediated through His gracious hand. He makes us new: "Behold, I make all things new" [Revelation 21:5]. "And without Him was not anything made that was made" [John 1:3]. All of the gifts have come through His gracious hands. And our thanksgiving, and our gratitude is not, "O God, look what I’ve been able to do. Look what I’ve been able to achieve. Look how fine and strong I am"; but our gratitude and our thanksgiving to God is far and away and over beyond us: it is to the Lord.
Oh, what God has been able to do! Thank You Lord, for the grace that forgives our sins [Ephesians 2:8]. Thank You, Lord, for the hope that encourages our hearts [Romans 5:5-6]. Thank You Lord for the atonement that washes our lives and souls clean and white [Romans 5:11]. Thank You, Lord, for the justification that allows us to stand in Thy presence as one without spot and blemish [Romans 4:25]. Thank You, Lord, for the strength of the pilgrimage that renews us day by day, and someday shall present us in the glories of heaven itself [Jude 1:24].
All the praise and all the thanksgiving to Him – He makes the sun to shine, He makes the life to grow, He makes the flower to fruit, He makes us to live in His sight – all of it is through Jesus Christ our Lord. This grace and mercy and regeneration which He shed on us abundantly without cost, without price, through Jesus Christ our Lord; it’s a mercy and it’s a kindness, it’s a goodness, it is a gift from Jesus. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy" [Titus 3:5] . . . "For by grace are we saved and kept; and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God" [Ephesians 2:8].
Paganini was one of the great, great, great violinists of all time. On a cold, bitter winter afternoon, he was walking through the streets of an Italian city and saw on the street corner a little ragged, forlorn urchin playing a violin with a little cup there by his side; and the little, ragged fellow playing in the hope that somebody would put a penny in his cup. Paganini stopped and looked at him. He walked over to the little fellow and took the violin out of his hands, and began to play on the street corner by his side. The rushing feet stopped, the passing throngs stood still; they crowded around that little boy, listening to the great master violinist. Some of them wept tears of unalloyed wonder as they listened to the incomparable music. And when Paganini finished, he gave the violin back to the little boy and walked away. Coins fell into the cup, bills fell at his feet. And when it was over, the little boy had his cap full of money, and his pockets full of money, and his cup full of money; and he went home richer than he ever could have dreamed of. And when I read that story I thought of this text. We who were sometimes poor and feeble, and ragged, and miserable, and hungry – in every part of our soul and life, unprofitable, we have been made rich through the abundant mercy of Jesus Christ, showered upon us; gift, gift, gifts from heaven [2 Corinthians 8:9].
The little boy would have been so mistaken had he been like some of us and say, "We did that. We deserved that. We played that melody." Some of us are like that: "We do it, we deserve it." How much truer the little boy to say, "He did it. Paganini did that. And all of this came because of his kindness, and goodness, and tenderness, and sympathy." So with us in our lives: all of these gracious gifts come to us, are shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Lord [Titus 3:6]. In ourselves we are so ragged, and poor, and forlorn, and unprofitable, and wretched, and miserable; but in the mercy and grace of God, so many riches shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, "that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" [Titus 3:7]. Can you imagine bridging a chasm, bridging a gulf like this? Look, "We who were sometime foolish, and disobedient, and deceived, in anger and envy, hateful, and hating one another, we who were one time foolish and deceived [Titus 3:3], now we are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" [Titus 3:7]. Who would ever have thought such a gulf as that could have been bridged? Who would ever have thought of that but God? Who would ever have thought that God could make saints out of such worthless, darkened, sinful people as the children of old man Adam? And yet that’s what God does every day: we – we ourselves who were at one time foolish and disobedient, and deceived, and hateful [Titus 3:3] – we now are made heirs with Jesus, joint heirs with Christ, according to the hope of eternal life [Titus 3:7].
That’s what God does all the time: takes these who are foolish and deceived, filled with malice and envy and hate, and He makes of them His sainted children. The apostle Paul, breathing out threatening and slaughter one day, the next day standing in the streets of the city of Damascus preaching the faith that he once destroyed; that’s the Lord God [Acts 9:1, 20; Galatians 1:23]. That’s the grace and mercy of God. "But by the grace of God, I am what I am. I persecuted the church above measure, I am not worthy to be called the least of the apostles; but by the grace of God I am what I am" [1 Corinthians 15:9-10]; what God can do.
Robert Ingersoll and Lew Wallace, General Lew Wallace, were both bitter critics of the Christian faith and of the Christian religion. Riding on a train together, Robert Ingersoll said to General Lew Wallace, "You study this New Testament and write a book of scorn, showing its foolishness." And so General Lew Wallace decided he’d do just that: he’d study the New Testament, and write a book showing its foolishness. And when he got through studying the New Testament, he set him down to write his book. But his book was a story of the Christ; you call it Ben Hur. It’s a story of great faith and adoration of and trust in the Lord Jesus. That’s what God does. And some of you, and some of you were one time foolish, and deceived, disobedient, full of envy and anger and hate, following courses self chosen; and the grace of God spoke to your heart. And look at you: you’re a new man, you’re a new life, you’re a new dedication; you have a new ambition, a new love, a new way, a new hope. That’s the grace of God. "We who sometimes were foolish and disobedient, now we have been made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" [Titus 3:3, 7].
Don’t ever give up; don’t ever stop praying. I have to remind myself that, I reminded myself that this morning. Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever stop. If God could change the apostle Paul, if God could change Augustine, if God could change General Lew Wallace, if God could change some of you, some of you, God can change others of us. That lost man, so critical and so bitter, the very criticalness of his mind, the very bitterness of his heart, may be because he’s waging an awful war against the appeal of Christ in his soul; and the very next word may change him, the very next appeal may break his heart, the very next song may win him to Christ. That’s God’s business: showing mercy, showing kindness, regenerating, washing clean and white, making we – making of us who were sometimes foolish and disobedient – making us joint heirs according to the hope of eternal life [Titus 3:3, 7]. You don’t know what God can do. Try Him, and ask in the faith that He will.
Then he closes the passage: "This is a faithful saying," pistos ho logos; this is the fifth time that Paul uses it. We have spoken on all five of them. I haven’t time to review them; I meant to this morning:
This is a faithful saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief [1 Timothy 1:15] . . . This is a faithful saying, godliness is profitable, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come [1 Timothy 4:8] . . .This is a faithful saying: If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him . . . If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself [2 Timothy 2:11-13].
I preached on all of those. And now this last one: "This is a faithful saying . . . that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works" [Titus 3:8]. All of us who have trusted in the Lord, who have been washed again in the Holy Spirit, in the laver of regeneration [Titus 3:5-6], we are to bear unto God the fruit of the Spirit [Titus 3:8]. "For the fruit of the Spirit is love, and joy, and peace, and longsuffering, and meekness, and temperance, and kindness" [Galatians 5:22-23]. We who have believed in God, we are not to be bitter, no longer; we are not to be critical any longer; we’re not to be hasty any longer. We are to be filled with love, and joy, and quietness, and tenderness, and confidence, and peace, and longsuffering. It is to be evident that we have found the Lord.
That’s what happened to John Wesley: came over here to convert the American Indian, went back discouraged and in despair, saying, "I went to America to convert the Indian, but who will convert this heart of mine?" And on the boat returning back to England, in discouragement and despair, there came a great storm, and every one on the ship was frightened and full of terror; the ship was certainly going down, and John Wesley himself was frightened and filled with terror. And on board the ship were some Moravian missionaries. And when the storm blew, and the wind raged, and the lightning flashed, and the thunder roared, and the waves mounted high, and the ship was certainly to sink, the Moravian missionaries were unperturbed; they were quiet, they were filled with confidence, they were trusting in the Lord. And John Wesley sought them out, and he said, "I don’t know the Lord. You have found in Him a preciousness, and an encouragement, and a strength, and a solace, and a comfort I do not know." And they taught John Wesley the way of the Lord. And John Wesley then wrote, in the Aldersgate Chapel, while he was seated there, he says, "And there came into my heart a great quietness, and a great comfort."
That’s the way we are to be. Whenever we appear frustrated, just in that degree are we denying the ableness of God to care for us. Just in the degree that we are all at odds, and all in pieces, just in that degree are we denying the might and the wisdom and the power of God to see us through. It is never the part of the Christian to be filled with anxiety and care and concern. And when you see your pastor that way, it’d be good for your pastor if you’d say to him, "Pastor, you know what you need to do? You need to go home and close that door. You need to go inside that closet and lock it tight. Pastor, you need to get down on your knees, and make an acquaintance once again with Him who holds the worlds in His hands." All of our lives are to be filled with great quiet and great confidence.
Like the ocean, the top of it may be covered with froth and wave when the storm blows over it; but the great, great depths underneath are unmoved. By the weakness of our human nature, we may fall into momentary turmoil and perturbation; but as a Christian, as a child of God, the great depths of our souls are never to be moved. "These things I will that thou constantly affirm: we who have believed in God careful to maintain good works," to exhibit in our lives the fruit of the Holy Spirit, joy, and peace, kindness and tenderness, great confidence and trust.
May I take this moment just to point out very pertinently one other thing there? You notice he says, "I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works, they which have believed in God" [Titus 3:8]. Good works without that faith, without that belief, are as filthy rags in His sight [Isaiah 64:6]; they are as nothing. A living faith must be accompanied, living works must be accompanied by a living faith, and loving works must be accompanied by a loving faith. "They that have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works" [Titus 3:8] that is first. "God had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But God had not respect unto Cain and to his offering" [Genesis 4:4-5]. Not, "God had respect to the offering, then to Abel; God had not respect to the offering then to Cain," no, it’s the other way around. God looked at Cain, God looked to Cain, and God refused Cain, therefore God refused his offering, refused his works. God looked upon Abel, and God accepted Abel; then God accepted his works. None of our works are ever acceptable unto God until first, until first our hearts are given unto Him. "They who have believed in God, that they be careful to maintain good works" [Titus 3:8]. This is first: our trust in Him, the committal of our lives to Him, the giving of our days in trust to Him.
And that’s our appeal to you this morning. While we sing this song of invitation, while our people prayerfully make this appeal with this pastor, in the great concourse of people in this balcony round, you today, to give your heart to Christ, would you come down these stairwells here at the front or at the back, and come here and stand by me? You who are on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Today, pastor, I give my heart to God; I give my hand to you." I cannot make the appeal; if it is the appeal of a man it is nothing. God has to do that. God has to say the word. God has to open the door. God has to lead in the way. If the Lord bids you come, would you make it now? Would you make it now? Down here to the front, coming down these stairwells, or into the aisle and here to the front. "Today, I give my heart to Christ." Or, "Today I’m putting my life in the fellowship of the church." Would you do it now? One somebody you, or a family you, while we stand and while we sing.