Once More: The “Good” Life


Titus 3:12-15

Text Comment

v.12

As we mentioned in our introduction to this letter several months ago, Paul wrote Titus, perhaps in largest part, to tell him to join him in Nicopolis, on the Adriatic coast of Greece. But Titus can’t leave to join Paul until his replacement arrives. Paul understands that the work in Crete is not complete and is unwilling to require these young churches to fend for themselves. We know nothing else of this Artemas, but Tychicus is mentioned on several occasions in the New Testament and in 2 Tim. 4:12 we learn that he was sent to Ephesus to relieve Timothy, indicating, perhaps, that Artemas was the one sent to replace Titus in Crete.

v.13

These two men no doubt carried Paul’s letter to Titus. We don’t know anything else about Zenas, but Apollos was the gifted Alexandrian, whom we find in Acts 18 receiving instruction from Priscilla and Aquila, and whose later teaching at Corinth was so enthusiastically received that it created a division between his followers and those of Paul. So far as we can tell, Paul and Apollos themselves were always on good terms and this statement is further indication of that.

v.14

This is the tenth and last reference in this short letter to the Christian life as a doing of what is good. Obviously the hospitality and help asked for on behalf of Zenas and Apollos serves as an example of what Paul is after. The NIV’s “daily necessities” is not a literal translation. What Paul wrote is literally “necessary needs,” that is, pressing or urgent needs. It seems he is still talking about such things as providing help to strangers coming through. In other words, Paul is eager that the Christians on Crete learn to be ready at all times to do good, to invest their lives in the service of others and, all the more, in the service of the gospel. Then, when the opportunity arises, as it often will, they will be ready. That is Paul’s prescription for a fruitful life or what Paul calls a productive life.

This short conclusion to Paul’s letter to Titus adds an interesting and important piece of spiritual theology. It is a detail of the Bible’s teaching of the Christian life, but an important one and one that every serious Christian ought to think about. It may very well prove to be the way in which we find the most important things that we will do in the service of God while we live in this world.

Our faith as Christians rests on this foundation twice described in Titus: first in Chapter 2 and then again in Chapter 3, that God is our creator and the creator of all things; that Jesus Christ is God the Son come in the flesh; that he died on the cross for our sins; that he rose to life again; that the Holy Spirit was given to the church to equip her to carry the good news about Jesus to the whole world; that there exists in the world and shall always exist the church of the Lord Jesus Christ; that Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the world; and that those who believe in him will enjoy eternal life in the coming world of joy.

Based upon that confession is the life that Christians are to live in response. A life of love, of purity, of goodness lived in thankfulness for the sake of others and the glory of God. It is a law of obedience to God’s commandments, but it is also a life of service, of acts performed to bless others and to further the cause of Christ in the hearts of men. But what acts? What services? What are you and I, in particular, to do? How are we to serve the Lord?

That is a more difficult question and not one that can be answered specifically for any Christian. Certainly one Christian cannot answer that question for another. Far more, it is a case of “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Far more, it is a case of learning to do what is good through rising to meet the opportunities that are placed in your way. This seems to be Paul’s meaning in v. 14. Zenas and Apollos are coming. Show them hospitality and speed them on their way and so serve the interests of Christ’s gospel and kingdom. Then the next time, you will know what to do. And, in ways you might never have predicted, your readiness to serve will produce a productive life.

Insofar as aspiration, desire, longing to live such a life for the Lord’s sake is most of the battle – i.e. those who most desire it, find a way to live it and are not deterred by difficulties – I want to inspire you this morning with one more example drawn from the excellent book I read recently and from which I took the account I read to you on Easter evening. It is stories like these – true stories – that increase our drive to do more good and be more fruitful, that inspire us, and, since an adequate amount of spiritual drive and inspiration is most of the battle, such inspiring accounts are always valuable, always helpful to earnest Christians. [Once again, this material is taken from Don Stephens, War and Grace, 191-205] It is an account of a man who found his Zenas and Apollos quite unexpectedly, but served them, and found in that way the great work of his life.

It was Sunday, 9 June 1940. The congregation in the Scots Presbyterian Church in Rue Bayard, Paris, could hear the sound of the distant guns of the approaching and all-conquering German Army. Donald Caskie, the thirty-eight-year-old bachelor minister, knew that he would be a marked man when Hitler’s troops entered Paris. Frequently in his sermons he had denounced both Nazi ideol­ogy and Germany’s obviously warlike intentions. One of his particular targets was their racial persecution. When news of the atrocities in the concentration camps reached him, he had condemned what was being done to the innocent. French spies in the pay of the Nazis sometimes sat among his congregation and had heard him say that Hitler had ‘sown the wind and would reap the whirlwind’.

Born in 1902, at Bowmore on the island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland, he had six brothers and one sister. His father was a poor crofter and a devout Presbyterian. In a letter to this writer Donald Caskie wrote the following about his conversion: ‘One evening, after a time of searching, I knelt down at my bedside and surrendered myself to Christ. The words which came to me as I knelt that night were words which our minister uttered at the close of his sermon: “Whoever comes to me I will never turn away.” There was nothing emo­tional or spectacular about it. This simple act of faith completely changed my life, and made me, and all things, new.’

After school at Dunoon, he studied at Edinburgh University, receiving his MA in 1926. Training for the ministry took place in the same city at New College. After preaching at Dauphin Plains in Manitoba, Canada, he engaged in archaeological research work in Libya for the University of Michigan. Finally he was ordained in 1932 and his first three-year period of ministry was at Gretna Green, just north of Carlisle. In 1935 he transferred to the Scots Church in Paris. It was this move to Paris that would eventually pitch him into difficul­ties with the Nazis which nobody could have foreseen.

When that morning service of June 9th, 1940 was over, he took a last look round the church building. There on a table near the exit was a bunch of white heather. He had brought it from his native island the previous year. His friend Gaston, who owned the café next door, agreed to look after the keys to the church. Gaston had decided to remain in Paris, and would witness the pomp and arrogance of the victorious German Army as it marched into the city in triumph a few days later.

With a bag on his back and sadness in his heart Donald Caskie joined the great exodus of miserable crowds escaping from Paris. First walking, and then cycling, he headed for the south of France. Several times, diving German planes bombed and shot at people on the roads. Men, women and children were needlessly killed before his eyes as a consequence of this random strafing.

After a very eventful journey, Caskie arrived at Bayonne, a port on the south-west coast. To his relief, the British consulate was open. The last ship for Britain would be leaving in a few hours’ time and there was a place on board for him. In his mind he could already see the peaceful safety of Britain, but his heart was uneasy. Surely men wounded in the fighting had a moral right to priority? God had called him to minister in France. Was he prepared to let the Nazis frighten him away?

He heard himself tell the consular officials that he would not be going. With mixed feelings he watched the last ship steam out of Bayonne. Then news came through that France had surrendered. As part of the armistice arrangements, it was agreed that German troops would occupy the entire north and the west coast of France. There would be an unoccupied area of France that history has called ‘Vichy’ France. German troops would not enter this area providing the French authorities carried out Nazi policies. In this way the French government cooperated with the Nazis until November 1942, when Hitler brought the arrangement to an end by taking over all of France. One condition imposed by the Nazis insisted that the French must capture and imprison any British troops who had escaped to the south during the confused fighting in the north. The greatest part of the British Army had been rescued by the Royal Navy from the beaches of Dunkirk — and taken across the English Channel to safety.

Caskie was informed that many of the men who had not escaped had found their way to the south coast of France, particularly to the port of Marseilles. Hearing that, he found transport to take him south-east to Marseilles. To his horror there were many thousands of British soldiers on the seafront. Quite a few were wounded. All were battle-stained, exhausted and lacking direction. The local French government and people would give them neither food nor help. Worse, soon they would be arrested by the French [as the Germans demanded].

To Caskie the troops looked like ‘sheep without a shepherd’. The conviction grew that God wanted to use him to minister to the needs of these men and, if possible, help them to escape. It was the summer of 1940. America was still a neutral country and the American Consul was looking after British interests in France. To Caskie’s delight, the US consulate offered to supply as many identity cards as he required. They were British identity documents with an imposing American seal, heavily embossed and ornate. All he had to do was distribute them to the British soldiers to fill in and the men would have secure civilian identity papers. The consulate also suggested that he take over a deserted building nearby — the British and American Seamen’s Mission at 46 Rue de Forbin.

Caskie nailed up a big notice on the wall of the mission. It said, ‘Now open to British civilians and seamen only’. Before long the mission was crowded with British soldiers whose uniforms had to be destroyed as soon as possible to save them from arrest by the new pro-Nazi French police. The desperate British troops had to change into second­hand civilian clothing, initially supplied by local Greek and Cypriot merchants from downtown Marseilles. Their original British uniforms were dumped in the sea. Having saved them from prison by passing them off as civilians, Caskie’s biggest problem was how to get them over the border into neutral Spain, and so to freedom via Gibraltar. Throughout the summer of 1940 more and more British troops arrived. They packed the chapel of the former Seamen’s Mission.

His unexpected activities reached the ears of a branch of British Military Intelligence, M19. Caskie was no secret agent. He had no experience of escape lines. He relied on the Bible and prayer to God to shape the way he acted, ‘My only armor was the grace of God and my native gumption.’ was how he put it later. It was nerve-wracking, because the French police raided the mission regularly to make sure there were no British ser­vicemen present. With the help of M19, guides were found. Sometimes British secret agents would visit him with advice and money.

For his part Caskie kept records in Gaelic, which the enemy would not be able to read even if they found the papers. He took down each man’s name, address, service number, regi­ment and the name and address of his next of kin. As a result he could send telegrams via Lisbon in neutral Portugal to the Church of Scotland offices in Edinburgh. These telegrams would say something like this: ‘Tell Thomson, No. X. Tollcross, Edinburgh, that Jock…number …, Seaforth Highlanders, is safe with me.’ In this way hundreds of families all over Britain received unexpected reassurance from the Church of Scotland offices that their men were alive and well.

One cockney soldier, Corporal Alf Smith, found seven ration cards in a gutter. That would have provided a way of feeding seven men. Caskie examined the cards and observed that they belonged to a French widow, Madame Jeanne Tillois, who had six children to feed. Caskie insisted that his work would not have God’s blessing if he took advantage of another person’s loss.

When he returned the cards to the owner, he discovered that Madame Fillois was an evangelical Christian. She was a mem­ber of the local Reformed Evangelical Church led by Pastor Heuzy. This good man had worked as a pastor in Glasgow before the war. As a result he had an unusual Franco-Scottish accent when he spoke English. His assessment of the new forces that controlled Germany was shrewd. He took the view that the Nazis produced ‘professional evil-doers’.

Never in Caskie’s life did an honest action bring so great a reward. Pastor Heuzy and his people were all anti-Nazi. Like all Christian congregations, they were a varied group: professional men, factory workers, intellectuals, old and young. They were prayerful, godly folk from the historic French Reformed tradi­tion. Pastor Heuzy and his congregation became a vital link in the emerging escape route. They provided parcels of civilian clothes, compasses, maps and other escape materials. Some even hid British escapers in their homes for short periods.

By the winter of 1940-41 British agents had integrated the Seamen’s Mission into the PAT escape line, named after the agent known as Pat O’Leary. By that winter the line was operating like a well-oiled machine. Men were regularly smuggled into Spain and so to freedom. One M19 agent, Airey Neave, who himself escaped from Colditz prisoner-of-war camp, later estimated that the PAT line spirited at least 600 men out of France back to Britain.

For Donald Caskie, the whole experience of helping men to freedom was ultimately a matter of dependence on God and the outworking of his Christian faith. Often he describes sinking to his knees and turning circumstances over to his Heavenly Father. ‘Dear God,’ he would pray, ‘you think this out for me please. I’m beaten.’ As he relied on the Lord and his regular reading of the Bible, he experienced answers to prayer, guid­ance in dealing with difficult situations and, on occasion, unusual insights which he believed were given him by God.

For some time Caskie had had an unsettling belief that one of the guides on the route into Spain was a traitor, He had told Pat O’Leary his view that Harold Cole was a double agent working for the enemy as well as the British, but he had to abide by the decisions of those who ran the escape line. Yet the doubts about Cole continued to nag him and were eventually shown to be true. After the war was over, a book was written about Cole, which was given the subtitle The Worst Traitor of the War.

Cole’s treachery led to many tragedies. Pastor Heuzy had been under suspicion for some time. The Gestapo, the German state secret police, shot this godly man. At least 500 British servicemen had their ‘cover’ blown. Some were shot as ‘spies’ because they were wearing civilian clothes. The others were imprisoned.

For Caskie, this marked the end of his work at the Seamen’s Mission. Already in April 1941 he had been arrested by the Vichy French police, questioned, warned, but then released. This time he was put on trial before a French ‘military tribunal’ meeting in a room at the old Fort St Nicholas. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Fortunately for him, it was only to be served if he offended again. The judge ordered the Seamen’s Mission to close within ten days. Caskie himself was instructed to remove himself from Marseilles. The judge suggested that he should go to Grenoble.

A few days after his trial, a British agent arrived at the Seamen’s Mission, ‘Padre’, he said, ‘we know all about your trial and condemnation and we feel sure that from now on your life will be in danger. A plane will take off from an airfield near Aries in a day or two, and I have been told to offer you a flight to England.’ However, by this time Caskie was even more firmly convinced that the Lord wanted him in France. The pilot arrived safely in England — without Donald Caskie.

He was destined to spend two years in Grenoble. Noting his impressive academic qualifications, the University of Grenoble appointed him as visiting Professor of English. That provided him with an income. He also preached regularly in local French Reformed churches. His time became balanced between preaching and study, on the one hand, and helping M19, on the other. Once a month he visited the prison at St Hippolyte near Nimes to preach and take a communion service. This was a seventeen-hour journey by train. As chaplain to British prisoners of war, he would bring the solace and challenge of gospel preaching. At the same time he smuggled in files, scissors, small crowbars and false identity papers.

It was now April 1943, a month of glorious sunshine. Caskie did not know that he had helped his last prisoner of war to escape. He always recalled that man’s name, William Nash from Whitburn. Hardly was Nash free before Caskie was in captivity. 16 April was especially memorable. It was a warm spring night. Caskie returned to his lodgings in Grenoble, praying all the time as he walked down the road. He opened the door to his rooms, flicked on the light, turned around and found himself with five revolvers pointing at him. The faces behind the guns were serious and unsmiling. One voice said, ‘Pastor Caskie, you are under arrest. You must come with us — now.’ He was handcuffed. At first it seemed faintly amusing that it took five armed men to arrest the ‘little minister’, as some Scottish escapers called him. What was to come, however, was far from humorous.

Donald Caskie was imprisoned without trial, first by the Italians, then by the Germans. When his Bible was taken from him, he relied on his childhood training. At that time he had memorized whole chapters and complete psalms. ‘My knowl­edge of the Scriptures saved me,’ was his later assessment. Long hours were spent in solitary confinement, living on dry bread and water.

He was held in seven different prisons in 1943 and 44. One was the Villa Lynwood in Nice. On that beautiful coast in times of peace it had been the property of a well-to-do English lady. When Caskie was there in May 1943, it had been turned into a house of torture surrounded by barbed wire. Heavily armed men guarded every entrance. Dogs wandered loose in the garden at night. From his cell he heard screams… The diet was stale bread and water. There were signatures etched on the plaster of the cell wall. Some had been written by men he knew to be dead. With his long, uncut nails he carved his name and added some verses from Isaiah in English:

Thus saith the LORD… Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee’ (Isaiah 43:1-3).

He had run out of fingernails and plaster space. Then he prayed that the Holy Spirit would use the words to meet the need of some tired soul in need of the peace of God. A Frenchman, Captain Vallet, followed Caskie in the same cell. Afraid of torture, Vallet was about to open one of his veins and kill himself, when he caught sight of the words inscribed on the plaster. The Word of God spoke to him, settled his mind and saved his life. Not long after this incident, Vallet and Caskie shared a prison cell at San Remo in Italy. The soldier told Caskie about the words that had prevented his suicide. ‘I will never forget those words,’ he said. To prove it, he recited them from memory. Caskie’s prayer had been answered.

In mid-August he was taken in chains by train to the prison of Fresnes on the southern outskirts of Paris. The next major test was to face a tough Gestapo ‘trial’ in a building on the Rue des Saussaies, strangely enough only a short distance from the closed British Embassy in Paris. They took him from his cell on 26 November 1943. For eight exhausting hours he was accused of being a spy, an agitator, an agent for escaping soldiers and other prisoners of war. The final crime was being friendly towards the Jews. Pierre, one of the guides used during his days at the Seamen’s Mission in Marseilles, gave evidence against him.The result was inevitable. He was sentenced to death.

Before his execution he asked the prison authorities if he might consult a Christian minister. Next day, Pastor Hans Helmut Peters came into the cell. To Caskie’s astonishment, he was a Bible-believing Lutheran. The two men found that they were real brothers in Christ. Peters read the closing verses of Romans chapter 8, prayed and conducted a communion service in the cell. Peters promised that he would do all in his power to have the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. For the next seven weeks in Fresnes, Caskie daily expected death. During this time, many fellow prisoners were dragged away and executed.

On 7 January 1944 news reached him that the death sentence had been lifted. Although we cannot be certain, it is likely that those whom Peters had spoken to on his behalf included, among others, the anti-Nazi Major-General Dr Hans Speidel, Field Marshal Rommel’s second in command, and possibly also some German officers who later lost their own lives after the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944.

Caskie was moved to St Denis prison in Paris, where a more relaxed regime awaited him. Finally, in August 1944, the triumphant Allies set Paris, and Donald Caskie, free. Now the exodus from Paris was going in the opposite direction — towards Germany.

Though liberated, Caskie still refused to return to Britain. There was a ministry for him in France. His first act was to see if Gaston, the café owner, still had the keys to the church from which he had fled in June 1940. After an emotional reunion, the precious keys were returned. The church building remained as he had left it in 1940, dusty but otherwise untouched. The bunch of white heather he had left on a table remained in the same place.

As for Caskie, he became an army chaplain in addition to ministering the Word of God in his church. On the day of liberation from the Nazis, he wrote, ‘My happiness can only be imagined; it cannot be described.’

On the first Sunday of freedom, he led worship, preached and finally walked out of the Scots Church in Rue Bayard to be greeted from the turret of a passing tank by a soldier he had rescued from Marseilles three years earlier.

A new stage of his life was beginning. Donald Caskie had not been home since 1937. As 1944 drew to a close he was flown back to southern England. On the BBC news that night it was broadcast that Donald Caskie, ‘The Tartan Pimpernel’, had arrived in Britain.

In later correspondence, the writer asked Donald Caskie to state his most basic conviction in a sentence. The answer he gave is this: ‘My most basic Christian belief is that God is our Father, that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world for us and our salvation, and that if we believe in him and receive him by faith into our hearts, he will save us and keep us, use us in his service, and make us a blessing to others. What a remarkable life; what a productive and fruitful life! And did it come to be? A Christian man did what his hand found to do with all his might. Zenas and Apollos appeared and he helped them and that led to everything else.

We’ve all heard of the Scarlet Pimpernel, but how many of you had heard of the Tartan Pimpernel, not a hero in a novel, but a real man who helped real men? He was a man who thought it his calling to serve the Lord and be a blessing to others. That is all. He never planned for the great work of his life, he simply thought of others as a Christian should and did what was before him to do. And in that he has set us an example. He did what Paul tells us to do: to devote ourselves to doing good, especially when the opportunities come, when there are real needs to meet and people to be helped. Such needs are around us all the time!

The best way for a Christian to live a productive life, to do good in the Lord’s name, real good, lasting good, is simply to seize the opportunity right in front of you and then seize the next and the next, until you find your life mattering to others in ways you could scarcely imagined before. Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for pressing needs and not live unproductive lives.