Great Texts of the Bible
Saving and Instructing Grace
For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world.—Titus 2:11-12.
1. To this important statement the Apostle is led up by the consideration of certain very homely and practical duties which fall to the lot of Christians in various walks of life, and these matters he refers to as “the things pertaining to sound doctrine.” He has a word of practical counsel for several distinct classes of persons; for he knows the wisdom of being definite. He speaks to elder men and elder women, to young men and to servants; and it is from inculcating upon these last the first principles of common honesty that he passes with one of his characteristic “for’s” to enunciate the sublime truths which the text contains.
2. St. Paul always had a tremendous reason for the simplest duty; his motives are always great and far-reaching. This is not only Pauline, but Christian; great reasons for doing little things; high motives for all conduct; every act linked to some eternal purpose—this is the distinctive feature of Christianity. It appears in the text. He would have Titus teach the Cretans to be sober and righteous and godly, but he prefaces it by a statement of the great gospel—a word which is itself full of beauty, a sweet, melodious word: “For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” It sounds like a strain caught from an angel’s hymn. It is that, and it is also solid truth. All Christian injunctions and precepts rest on that truth—God’s grace appearing and bringing salvation to all men. That fact is the ground on which we stand; it is the atmosphere about us; it is motive, path, end. God’s gracious love, not sought or deduced, but appearing by its own spontaneous will, moved by its own yearning heart, bringing salvation to all men, so that it is here, an already accomplished fact, food to eat, air to breathe, shelter to cover us—a great investing fact or condition, changing our whole life and giving direction to it.
3. The arrangement of words in the Authorized Version, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” is not what St. Paul means. These last words, “to all men,” should be connected with the previous ones, “that bringeth salvation.” It is not part of his purpose to declare, what was not in fact true then and is not true now, that the grace of God has appeared to all men; but it was part of his purpose to declare that that grace brings salvation to all men, however the present range of its manifestation may historically be contracted.
“The grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men.”
1. What is salvation? What is it to be saved?
(1) First of all, it is to be forgiven. If we have ever done a wrong, if ever an estrangement between us and one whom we love dearly has cast a shadow over our life, we know what forgiveness, even from human love, means to us; how the estrangement ceases, how the burden is lifted, and love once more is joy and not pain to us. Now, let us remember that, as long as we are in the bondage of sin, we are estranged from God. We know God is holy and hates sin. So long as we cleave to our sin we cannot be at home with God. Even God’s love is pain to us, because we know our sin is grieving that love, is hindering our enjoyment of the blessing that that love might bring to us. To be forgiven of God, to have Jesus Christ coming to us in the name and from the very heart of God, and saying, “Thy sins are forgiven thee; go in peace”—what an immeasurable blessing that is! Now that forgiveness is not only God’s word, it is God’s deed. It comes to us through the love that suffered for us, and as we look upon the cross, and see God’s love in the self-sacrifice there, we must know that the love that would so suffer for us is a love that will not let us go. It is love that claims us for itself. It is love that will restore us when we have been estranged from and distrustful of God.
(2) But not only do we want forgiveness, and to be put right with God. We want the power of sin to be broken in us. Jesus Christ offers us that strength. He offers to break the fetters of sin so that they shall no longer bind us. He offers us the strength that shall come into our weakness and give us victory, making us more than conquerors amid all the evils that are in the world. Why, we have something like it, even in human life. Take a companion, a strong, wise, loving companion. If that companion be beside the tempted, the weak, the companionship gives strength. We have known men who have been under the power of strong drink, and who have been saved by some good man who gave them friendship, help, and counsel when they were assailed by temptation at the end of their day’s work. His strength passed into their weakness. Now something far more wonderful, far more certain, is offered to us in Jesus Christ. He is with us in all the fulness of His Divine power and pity. He is with the drunkard who is struggling to pass the public-house door. He is with the selfish man when he is trying to be a little more thoughtful for others. If there is only trust in Him, if there is only faith that will claim His grace, strength will be given, victory will be secured.
Successful resistance of temptation seems to consist of three fairly distinct movements of the mind. The first step is obviously, and always, of the nature of a recoil. The mind starts back from the evil suggestion at least so far as to plant itself more firmly down in the attitude of resistance. The next step in resistance is obviously the reaching for and grasping one’s weapon. First the mind recoils, next the mind recalls. Opposite the alluring suggestion it places the steadying word from the mind of God. “Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour?” said our tempted Lord. But His recoiling mind recalls, “For this cause came I unto this hour.” Now, what shall we recall? For us all the mind of God is gathered up in Christ; the full glory of that mind shines in the face of Christ. In a moment we may recall the loving-kindness, holy purity, strong sympathy, and present grace of the Supreme. For the Christian man who believes in the ubiquitous, ready presence of “grace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” the claim of goodness is instantaneously recalled, the help of Divine strength instantaneously summoned, by one single gesture of the spirit. Thirdly, to work for its translation into redeemed lives of men and redeemed nature—that is the last part of successful resistance of temptation. It is the hardest bit of all, for it means thinking of others’ needs as much as of one’s own. Yet it is notorious that for real healing a man must come forth and step out into sympathy with others, and in that kindly preoccupation discover the secret of a quiet spirit. So it is in temptation: the field of victory is the field of battle for others’ good.1 [Note: G. A. Johnston Ross, in Youth and Life, 175.]
2. Salvation is ours by “the grace of God.” What is the grace of God? It is the forth-putting of His power for the good of mankind, the motive of which is mercy born of love. It is God Himself, moved by a deep, tender compassion, which has its source and support in His own infinite affection, coming down to the fallen race, and, departing from the strict ground of justice and retribution, dealing with it not according to its sins, but according to His mercy. Divine grace, we may say, is the child of love, and the parent of mercy. It is because God is Love that He is disposed to assume a favourable attitude towards those whose sins have merited His wrath, and must ever of necessity be contemplated by Him with disfavour. The essential love of the great Father’s heart takes definite form, and accommodates itself to our need; reveals itself in facts and presents itself for our acceptance; and then we call it grace.
That word “grace” played a much larger part in the thoughts of our fathers than it does in ours; and I am not sure that many things are more needed by the ordinary Christian of this generation than that he should rediscover the amplitude and the majesty of that old-fashioned and unfashionable word. For what does “grace” mean? It means a self-originated love. Grace is love that has no motive but itself. Grace is a self-motived love that is in full energetic exercise. Grace is a self-motived, ever-acting love that delights to impart. Grace is a self-motived, ever-acting communicating love which bends in tenderness over and floods with gifts those that stand far beneath itself. Grace is a self-motived, ever-acting, communicating, and stooping love which brings in its hands the gift of forgiveness, and deals with those on whom it lavishes this tenderness, not according to their merits, but according to the pulsations of its own heart. And thus grace is the shorthand word for the self-motived, ever-acting, communicating, stooping, and pardoning mercy which has its very home and throne in the heart of God Himself.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
3. The grace of God “hath appeared.” St. Paul does not say it awoke or sprang into existence, but it appeared, it was made manifest. Grace for sinners dwelt in the heart of God from the beginning, but it was a secret hidden from the world. The nations of the earth walked in ignorance, without the knowledge of God’s grace; in Israel alone did God shed forth rays of His grace in the promises of the prophets and the manifold types of the Levitical law. The fathers lived in the dawn; they had to sigh and did sigh for the breaking of the day; but when God’s time had come the day did break and His grace appeared in all its fulness and glory. When, where, how? Here is the fountain of our Christmas joy. The grace of God appeared in its fulness when the Virgin gave birth and the angels chanted over the fields of Bethlehem. “In this,” says St. John, “was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” In the birth of Jesus Christ it is become manifest, clear as the noonday, that God is graciously minded towards men, because this Infant is the own and only begotten Son of the Father.
The same word is used in telling of the stormy darkness when “neither sun nor stars” had for many days “appeared,” and then at last a rift came in the thick cloud, and the blue was seen, and the blessed sunshine poured down on the damp and desolate world. So, by some historical manifestation, this mighty thing, the love of God, has been put into concrete shape, embodied and made a visibility to men. What can that point to except the incarnation of Jesus Christ, His life and death, the cradle and the cross, with all that lay between, and all that has come after? The mission of a Saviour, in whom the Unseen has drawn near to human sense; in whom the love of God, like sunbeams caught in a cloud, has been diffused, encircled with a revealing because a veiling medium, is what Paul points to. The Man Christ Jesus, in the sweetness of His life, in the sacred mystery of His death, in the power of His indwelling Spirit, stands before us, the embodiment of the love of the unseen God. Scientists can make sounds visible by the symmetrical lines into which heaps of sand upon a bit of paper are cast by the vibration of a string. God has made invisible love plain to the sight of all men, because He has sent us His Son, and now we can say, “That which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands have handled of the Word of life, that declare we unto you.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
4. The grace of God hath appeared “bringing salvation to all men.”
(1) The grace brings salvation to all men, because all men need that more than anything else. In the notion of salvation there lie the two ideas of danger and of disease. It is healing and it is safety; therefore, if it be offered to all, it is because all men are sick of a sore disease, and stand in imminent and deadly peril. That is the only theory of men’s deepest need which is true to the facts of human existence. There are plenty of shallower diagnoses of what is the matter with mankind, and therefore of less radical and drastic cures offered. In their places, and for the purposes to which they may wisely be confined, they are good and wholesome for mankind. But we want to dig far deeper than the shallow husbandry of agriculturists who have no tools but education, culture, reformation of manners, and alteration of the conditions of society can ever reach.
(2) The grace of God brings salvation to all men. It is a wonderful assertion; but, on reflection, we see that it does not state too much. Wide and strong as the affirmation undoubtedly is, it is only commensurate with the fact. Yes, God’s free favour, manifested in the Person of His own blessed Son, is designed to produce saving effects upon all. God makes no exception, excludes none. He has not sent a message down to the world, that He purposes to take the case of a certain number of persons into consideration, and leave the rest to perish. St. Paul simply could not have used this expression if that had been his view of God’s mind and will; but it is stated in the strongest possible terms that to every man this revelation has been made, and for every man this grace has been exhibited; and that, as the result of this, obviously every man, if he only will, is in a position to become the recipient of the salvation which the grace of God has brought within his reach.
(3) But when the Apostle says that this grace brings salvation unto all, he does not say that all receive the salvation which is brought to them. There is a whole world of difference between the two expressions. And the word that he employs—for it is one word in the original which is rendered in our Version by the three “that bringeth salvation”—describes not an actuality, but a potentiality and a possibility. The aim and purpose, not the realized effect, is what is pointed out in this great word of the text.
For there is a condition necessary from the very nature of the case. If God could save all men, be sure that He would do it; the love that thus takes its rise in the counsels of Eternity, and flows on for ever through the waste and barren ages of human history, and is ever waiting to bestow itself, in its tenderness and in its liberality upon all men, is not made less universal, but it is conditioned by the nature of the gifts that it brings. Salvation cannot be flung broadcast and indiscriminately upon all men of all sorts, whatever their relation to God. If it could, be sure that it would be. But just because it is a deep and inward thing, affecting men’s moral and religious state, and not only their position in regard to some future hell, it cannot be given thus broadcast, it must be sown in the fitting places. The one thing that is requisite, and it is indispensably requisite, is that we shall trust Him who brings salvation, and, trusting Him, shall take it out of His hand. If the medicine stands on the shelf, in the bottle with the stopper in, the sick man will not be cured. That is not the fault of the medicine; it is a panacea, but no remedy can work where it is not applied. This great ocean of the Divine love goes, as it were, feeling along the black cliffs that front it, for some cranny into which it may pour itself, but the obstinate rock can fling it all back in impotent spray. Though the whole Atlantic surges against the cliff, it is dry an inch inwards. Thus the universality of the gift, the universal potency of the gift, is not in the slightest degree affected by the fact that, where it is not taken, its benefits are not realized.
Miss Nightingale, on this and her later visits to the Crimea, saw and heard of many deeds of heroism which she loved to tell. “I remember,” she wrote, “a sergeant, who was on picket, the rest of the picket killed, and himself battered about the head, stumbled back to camp, and on his way picked up a wounded man, and brought him in on his shoulders to the lines, where he fell down insensible. When, after many hours, he recovered his senses, I believe after trepanning, his first words were to ask after his comrade, ‘Is he alive?’ ‘Comrade, indeed! yes, he’s alive, it is the General.’ At that moment the General, though badly wounded, appeared at the bedside. ‘Oh, General, it’s you, is it, I brought in? I’m so glad. I didn’t know your honour, but if I’d known it was you, I’d have saved you all the same.’ This is the true soldier’s spirit.”1 [Note: Sir Edward Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, 1:257.]
“Instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world.”
1. The grace of God not only saves us but also trains us. This is a lifelong work, a work that will be concluded only when grace ends in glory. Now, obviously, if this work is to be done as it should be done, the soul must, first of all, be in a position to receive teaching. The last person that we should regard as open to instruction is one whose mind is so taken up and preoccupied with considerations relating to his own personal safety that he can scarcely be expected to afford a thought to any other subject. For purposes of instruction you need that the mind of the person to be instructed should be at leisure. As long as our mind is occupied, it is scarcely conceivable that we should be in a position to bestow that amount of attention upon the instruction communicated to us which might render the lesson of any considerable service. If grace is really to undertake our training, and to teach us such lessons as only grace can teach, surely she must first of all put us at our ease, so to speak—still our inward anxieties, calm the tumultuous misgivings which fill our hearts; and until grace has done this for us, how can she instruct us?
Go into yonder prison, and set that wretched felon in the condemned cell to undertake some literary work, if he is a literary man. Put the pen into his hand, place the ink and the paper before him. He flings down the pen in disgust. How can he set to work to write a history or to compose a romance, however talented or gifted he may be by nature, so long as the hangman’s rope is over his head, and the prospect of a coming execution staring him in the face? Obviously the man’s thoughts are all in another direction—the question of his own personal safety preoccupies his mind. Give him that pen and paper to write letters which he thinks may influence persons in high quarters with a view to obtaining a reprieve, and his pen will move quickly enough. I can understand his filling up reams of paper on that subject, but not on any other.1 [Note: W. H. M. H. Aitken, The School of Grace, 26.]
2. There is plenty of first-rate teaching in the world, without Jesus Christ and His grace. If men and nations go to the devil their own wicked, wilful way, it is not for want of teaching. But to try and cure the world’s evils by teaching, in that narrow sense of the expression, is something like trying to put a fire out by reading the Riot Act to the flames. You want fire engines, and not paper proclamations, in order to stay their devouring course. But it is to be noticed that the expression here, in the original, means a great deal more than that kind of teaching. It means correcting, or chastening. It is the same word that is employed, for instance, in the well-known phrase, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” and when Christ from Heaven says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” It implies the notion of correction, generally by pain, at all events of discipline, of something done, and not merely something said, of a process brought to bear on the sensitive nature. And such a work of correcting and chastening is a worthy work for “the grace that appears.”
Jesus Christ comes to us and brings the external means of communicating instruction in the record of His life in this Book. And He comes to us, also, doing what no other teacher can do, for He passes into our spirits, and communicates not only instruction but the Spirit which teaches them in whom it abides, and guides them with gentle illumination into “all truth” concerning God, Christ, and themselves, which it is needful for them to know.
“The grace of God, that bringeth salvation to all men, hath appeared disciplining us,” for this purpose, that “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Christ and His love; Christ and His life; Christ and His death; Christ and His Spirit; in these are new hopes, motives, powers, which avail to do the thing that no man can do. An infant’s finger cannot reverse the motion of some great engine. But the hand that made it can touch some little tap or lever, and the mighty masses of polished iron begin to move the other way. And so God, and God only, can make it possible for us to deny ourselves ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to “live soberly, righteously, godly, in this present world.” He, that Jesus who comes to us to mould our hearts into hitherto unfelt love, by reason of His own great love, and who gives to us His own Spirit to be the life of our lives, gives us by these gifts new motives, new powers, new tastes, new affections. He puts the reins into our hands, and enables us to control and master our unruly tempers and inclinations. If you want to clear out a tube of any sort, the way to do it is to insert some solid substance, and push, and that drives out the clogging matter. Christ’s love coming into the heart expels the evil, just as the sap rising in the trees pushes off the old leaves that have hung there withered all winter. As Luther used to say, “You cannot clean out the stable with barrows and shovels. Turn the Elbe into it.” Let that great flood of life pour into our hearts, and it will not be hard to “live soberly.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
3. The first lesson taught by grace is a negative lesson. Before teaching us what to do, she teaches us what we are to have done with; before introducing us into the positive blessedness of the new life, she first of all separates our connexion with the old. This negation of the old must always come before the possession of the new; and unless our experience follows this order, we shall find that what we mistake for the new is not God’s new at all, but simply Satan’s travesty of God’s new creation. Ungodliness must be denied before we can walk with God, and worldly lusts must be denied before we can live as citizens of the New Jerusalem.
When our Lord came up to Jerusalem that by His death He might rend the veil of the Temple in twain, and open up for us a way into the holiest of all, His first care was to cleanse the outer courts of that Temple from the presence of the traders and the money-changers who defiled it. In this He signified that the first object of the manifestation of His saving grace is to cleanse those whom He would consecrate as temples of the Holy Ghost from the ungodliness and worldly lusts by which they are defiled, that, having cleansed them thus, He may lead them on to the practice of those positive duties of the Christian life to which He has called them, so that they shall bear His image and reflect His glory as holy temples of the Lord.
Let us not fail to observe that the Apostle here speaks of our “denying ungodliness.” He does not speak of our combating ungodliness, or of our gradually progressing from a state of ungodliness into a state of godliness. There is no description here of any such process, although I am persuaded that such a process is very generally believed in by large numbers of professing Christians.1 [Note: W. H. M. H. Aitken, The School of Grace, 97.]
(1) Ungodliness.—This sounds a very strong word, and at first most people are disposed to affirm that they cannot be charged with this, whatever else they may be guilty of. But we must endeavour to find out what ungodliness is. This is certainly important, because unless we understand what it is, it is impossible to deny it. Now ungodliness is the cardinal and root-sin of the world. It was the first sin committed in the history of the world, and it was the parent of all other sins; and it is usually the first sin in the life of each individual, and equally the parent of all the sins that follow. Ungodliness, in one form or another, has been at the root of them all, and the deadly growth from this evil root has cast its baleful shadow over universal history. As our eye wanders down through the annals of mankind, we find therein a long, weary, tragic record of ungodliness and its fruits. The false step taken by Adam, and by him no doubt deeply lamented, becomes a law of life to his son—that first murderer, Cain. Of him we read that after his judgment and condemnation he went forth from the presence of God. It is now an object with the man to escape from all thought of God, and to lose all sense of His presence. His course lies in the land of wandering; for is he not already “a wandering star”? And there he seeks to find substitutes for the God whom he has forsaken, in the material objects of a transient world, and the thronging interests of domestic and political life. God is now in none of his thoughts.
The form which the infidelity of England, especially, has taken, is one hitherto unheard of in human history. No nation ever before declared boldly, by print and word of mouth, that its religion was good for show, but “would not work.” Over and over again it has happened that nations have denied their gods, but they denied them bravely. The Greeks in their decline jested at their religion, and frittered it away in flatteries and fine arts; the French refused theirs fiercely, tore down their altars and brake their carven images. The question about God with both these nations was still, even in their decline, fairly put, though falsely answered. “Either there is or is not a Supreme Ruler; we consider of it, declare there is not, and proceed accordingly.” But we English have put the matter in an entirely new light: “There is a Supreme Ruler, no question of it, only He cannot rule. His orders won’t work. He will be quite satisfied with euphonious and respectful repetition of them. Execution would be too dangerous under existing circumstances, which He certainly never contemplated.” … The entire naïveté and undisturbed imbecility with which I found persons declare that the laws of the Devil were the only practicable ones, and that the laws of God were merely a form of poetical language, passed all that I had ever before heard or read of mortal infidelity. I knew the fool had often said in his heart, there was no God; but to hear him say clearly out with his lips, “There is a foolish God,” was something which my art studies had not prepared me for. The French had indeed, for a considerable time, hinted much of the meaning in the delicate and compassionate blasphemy of their phrase “le bon Dieu” but had never ventured to put it into more precise terms.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters, v. ch. xii. § 5 (Works, vii. 445).]
(2) Worldly lusts.—The word “lusts” here has not the carnal associations cleaving to it which have gradually accrued to it in the changes of language since our translation was made; it implies simply desires, longings, of however refined and incorporeal a sort, which attach themselves to the fleeting things of this life. Pride, ambition, and all the more refined and less sensual desires are as much included as the grossest animalism in which any man can wallow. Worldly lusts are desires which say to earth, and to what earth can give, in any of its forms, “Thou art my god, and having thee I am satisfied.”
Now the Apostle affirms that we have denied worldly lust as well as ungodliness. We have renounced and repudiated it for ever. But here rises the question, How have the world and worldly lust been thus denied? or how are we to deny it? and how are we to be freed from it? Various answers to this inquiry meet us from different quarters.
(a) “Turn your back upon the world,” says the ascetic. “Wander into the depths of the desert. Shut yourself up in a hermit’s cave, or hide yourself within a monastic enclosure.” But even so, how shall I be sure that I may not carry a little world of my own along with me? And is there not a possibility that that little world of my own may be just as opposed to God, and just as tyrannous and exacting, as the bigger world that I have run away from? Am I quite sure that monastery walls will shut the world out? Or is the world so subtle that perhaps its spirit may find its way through bricks and mortar? Yes, even within the enclosures of a monastery there may be just as much of real essential worldliness as in the hubbub of a great city.
(b) “Despise it,” says the cynic. “Be indifferent to all considerations of pain and pleasure. Never mind what the world thinks of you. Rejoice in being peculiar. Abstain from doing what men generally do, just because they generally do it. And do things that no one else would think of doing, just because no one else does them. The more peculiar and extraordinary you make yourself, the more you will issue a kind of protest against conventional life; and thereby you will gradually train and educate yourself to a position of independence, and will be ready to tell your Alexander to stand out of your sunshine.” Yes, that sounds very sublime; but is it really so? May not our Diogenes be creating for himself a greater conqueror, or a greater tyrant, in his own inflated self-consciousness, than ever was an Alexander or a Xerxes?
(c) I am living in the world. I am surrounded by the influences of the world. How am I to be lifted up above them? We shall ask a certain tent-maker whether he can throw any light, such as neither mediæval ascetic nor cynic philosopher can throw, upon this great and all-important problem. And we hear him reply, “God, far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” That is his answer; and if we would ask him, “Who taught you that lesson?” we have not to wait long for a reply. Grace had taught St. Paul that lesson. He learned it, not on Sinai, but at Calvary. As he gazed on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, grace had drawn aside the curtain of mystery and explained to him the great sight; and she has a similar lesson for all who learn at her school.
Christ came. The soul the most full of love, the most sacredly virtuous, the most deeply inspired by God and the future, that men have yet seen on earth—Jesus. He bent over the corpse of the dead world, and whispered a word of faith. Over the clay that had lost all of man but the movement and the form, He uttered words until then unknown—love, sacrifice, a heavenly origin. And the dead arose. A new life circulated through the clay, which philosophy had tried in vain to reanimate. From that corpse arose the Christian world, the world of liberty and equality. From that clay arose the true man, the image of God, the precursor of Humanity. Christ expired. All He had asked of mankind wherewith to save them—says Lamennais—was a cross whereon to die. But ere He died He had announced the glad tidings to the people. To those who asked of Him whence He had received it, He answered: From God, the Father. From the height of His cross He had invoked Him twice. Therefore upon the cross did His victory begin and still does it endure. Have faith, then, O you who suffer for the noble cause—apostles of a truth which the world of to-day comprehends not—warriors in the sacred fight whom it yet stigmatizes with the name of rebels! To-morrow, perhaps, this world, now incredulous or indifferent, will bow down before you in holy enthusiasm. Tomorrow victory will bless the banner of your crusade. Walk in faith, and fear not. That which Christ has done, humanity may do. Believe and you will conquer.1 [Note: Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini, iii. 143.]
4. Hitherto we have been occupied in considering the negative teaching of grace, by which her pupils are trained to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. But while this negation and repudiation must necessarily come first, no greater mistake could be made than to suppose that the teaching of grace is merely or mainly negative, or that it aims simply at repressing that which is recognized as evil. On the contrary, this is one of the most prominent points in which grace stands in contrast with law. The demands of law are, not exclusively perhaps but mainly, negative. The claims of grace are principally positive.
Much is being said now in regard to different types of Christianity—an Oriental type and an Occidental type, a first-century type, a mediæval type, and a modern type; and we hear also of a possible Japanese and Hindu type. There is some truth in such distinctions, but, after all, there is but one type of true life. No matter when a man lived, there was but one way to live—a sober, righteous, and godly way. No matter what type of Christian life may be developed in Japan or India, it must be a sober, righteous, and godly type.
(1) Soberly.—The word “soberly” has by no means the narrow signification which the besetting vice of England has given to it now—viz., abstinence from, or a very restrained use of, intoxicating liquors, nor even the wider one of a curbing of the desires of sense. The meaning may be better represented by self-control than by any other rendering. Now, if there were no men in the world but myself, and if I had no thought or knowledge of God, and if there were no other standard to which I ought to conform, I should have had, in my own nature, with its crowd of desires, tastes, inclinations, and faculties, plain indication that self-government was essential. For we all carry with us desires, inclinations, appetites—some of them directly connected with our physical frame, and some of them a little more refined—which are mere blind inclinations to a given specific good, and will be stirred up, apart altogether from the question of whether it is expedient or right to gratify them.
Of how few who [like Mr. Gladstone] have lived for more than sixty years in the full sight of their countrymen, and have been as party leaders exposed to angry and sometimes spiteful criticism can it be said that there stands on record against them no malignant word and no vindictive act! This was due not perhaps entirely to natural sweetness of disposition, but rather to self-control and to a certain largeness of soul which would not condescend to anything mean or petty. Pride, though it may be a sin, is to most of us a useful, to some an indispensable, buttress of virtue. Nor should it be forgotten that the perfectly happy life which he led at home, cared for in everything by a devoted wife, kept far from him those domestic troubles which have soured the temper and embittered the judgments of not a few famous men. Reviewing his whole career, and summing up the concurrent impressions and recollections of those who knew him best, this dignity is the feature which dwells most in the mind as the outline of some majestic Alp thrills one from afar when all the lesser beauties of glen and wood, of crag and glacier, have faded in the distance. As elevation was the note of his oratory, so was magnanimity the note of his character.1 [Note: J. Bryce, Studies in Contemporary Biography, 477.]
(2) Righteously.—The idea of righteousness springs from the recognition of right. There are certain rights which have their origin in the nature of our relations with others, which they are justified in claiming that we should respect, and from which we cannot escape, and the recognition of these rights and the fulfilment of these claims is that which we understand by “righteousness.” We are under certain obligations in the first instance to God, and God has certain rights in us which He cannot for a moment ignore or decline to assert and enforce. In recognizing these rights, and in responding to these claims, we fulfil the law of righteousness so far as God is concerned. Further, there are certain rights which our fellow-men have in us, which we are not less bound to respect. This is the righteousness which the Apostle has in mind.
Now “righteousness” in reference to our fellows demands mercy. The common antithesis which is drawn between a kindly man and a just man, who will give everybody what he deserves and not one scrap more or less if he can help it, is erroneous, because every man has a claim upon every other man for lenient judgment and undeserved help. He may not deserve it, being such a man as he is; but he has a right to it, being a man at all. And no man is righteous who is not merciful. We do not fulfil the prophet’s exhortation, “do justly,” unless we fulfil his other, “love mercy.” For mercy is the right of all men.
This is something far more than observance of the common maxims of honesty and fairness and justice; it is righteousness, with God behind it, and with God’s very process of gracious love and righteousness going on around us. It makes a great difference whether we live a righteous life out of a sense of this world, or out of a sense of the eternal world; because the laws require it, or because God requires it; that is, whether we act from the greater or the lesser motive. It is the motive that gives tone and force to character. Conduct is secondary; motive is first. God is the only true motive for human conduct.
The sublimest lines in English poetry perhaps are those translated by Dr. Johnson from Boëthius:—
From Thee, great God, we spring; to Thee we tend;
Path, Motive, Guide, Original, and End.
God the way, the motive, the guide, the beginning and end of all conduct—this is what is meant.1 [Note: T. T. Munger, Character Through Inspiration, 65.]
(3) Godly.—This is the crowning characteristic of the new life and grandest lesson that grace essays to teach. All her other lessons, however important in themselves, are designed to lead up to godliness; and unless this lesson is learnt, all others must remain incomplete; for this word brings before us the true end of man. Man was not called into existence in order that an inward harmony might be established within his being, and that he might know the calm and serenity of the sober life. Nor was he sent into the world merely to do his duty to others by whom he might be surrounded, to abstain from violence and wrong, and to cultivate and exercise benevolence. The true end of man is to be attained in his own personality; it is in the proper development and education of the highest and most spiritual faculties of his nature, and in the concentration of these upon their proper object, that man rises to his true destiny and fulfils the great purpose of his being. That object is God; and in the development of those faculties which have God for their proper object, and in their concentration upon Him, consists the state or habit of godliness, while the education and training of these faculties is the work of grace.
Only the godly man, the man who lives in habitual communion with God, who walks humbly with Him, who earnestly seeks His help and rests upon His grace, is able in any worthy manner to discharge personal and relative duties. One might as well attempt to build some Tadmor in the wilderness, without leading to it the streams by which life springs up in the midst of death, and the barren land is made to yield fruits of increase, as attempt to produce in the wastes of our fallen humanity the goodly fruits of a truly sober and truly righteous life without first establishing a living relation to the living God.2 [Note: James Brown, Sermons with Memoir, 121.]
You cannot sliver up the unity of life into little sections and say, “This deed has to be done soberly, and that one righteously, and this one godly,” but godliness must cover the whole life, and be the power of self-control and of righteousness. “All in all or not at all.” Godliness must be uniform and universal. Lacking their supreme beauty are the lives of all who endeavour to keep these other two departments of duty and forget this third. There are many men punctiliously trying to control their natures, and to live righteously; but all their thoughts run along the low levels, and they are absolutely blind and deaf to voices and sights from heaven. They are like some of those truncated pyramids, broad-based upon the solid earth, and springing with firm lines to a certain height, and then coming to a dead stop, and so being but stumps, which leave a sense of incompleteness, because all the firm lines have not gathered themselves up into the sky-piercing point which aspires still higher than it has reached. “Soberly,” that is much; “righteously,” that is more; “godly,” that is, not most but all.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
It is not heaven alone,
Which godliness attains;
It makes as much its own
The best of worldly gains:
Since out of all on earth it draws
The ore which of its worth is cause.
From godliness there flows
A current of content:
And ill to blessing grows,
By thought of blessing meant:
Each lot as sent by God it holds;
And each a bounty straight unfolds.
It keeps the mind from wrong,
And so of peace secure;
It keeps the body strong,
Because it keeps it pure:
And hath enough, on which to wait
The heirship of a large estate.
And thus a double bliss
To godliness pertains:
The world which present is,
And that to come it gains:
The earthly good is heaven’s begun;
The promise rolls the two in one.2 [Note: Lord Kinloch, Time’s Treasure, 28.]
5. “In this present world.” St. Paul has told us how to live. It is the question of questions—how to live in this world, with what spirit, and for what end. It is not so simple a matter as it seems, nor are men agreed upon it. It is the question that earnest minds are all the while asking; it underlies education; parents ask it anxiously for their children; every young man comes to a parting of the ways when he asks what path he shall take. There are vast numbers who do not know how to live in the world. It is one of the mysteries of human life that we should not know how to live it. It is the strange and pathetic thing about life that it is all we have to do, and we do not know how to do it. We come as near finding a true plan of living in these words as can be found anywhere—“denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.”
The Christian life lies between the first and the second coming of Christ. We confess this whenever we sit down at the Lord’s Table. “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” We look backward in memorial and forward in anticipation—backward to that death by which our salvation is secured, and forward to that coming by which our redemption shall be completed. Our life here lies between the two. It is nourished by the memorials of the past, and by the pledges of the future. It may be lowly and commonplace in itself, but we can never fail to realize its dignity as long as we remember that from which it begins and that toward which it tends. It may be compared to a highway between two great capitals. The road may be dull and unromantic, leading up toilsome heights and down into cheerless villages, or stretching for weary miles across featureless wastes. It may be dry and dusty and rugged, with nothing to distinguish it from any other highway of the world; but from time to time we come to the milestones on which we read the names of the great city whence we came, and the great city whither it is leading us. And when, as we rest by the wayside of our Christian pilgrimage, and call up by the Vision of Faith the old Jerusalem with its place called Calvary, where He died amid rending rocks, its empty sepulchre whence He rose in glory, its Olivet from which He ascended into heaven, and its upper room where the Spirit descended; and when we call up by the Vision of Hope the new Jerusalem with its walls of jasper, its gates of pearl, and its streets of gold, whence He shall come to receive His ransomed people, and whither He shall lead them, that where He is there they may be also—then we feel that the way of our Christian life that stretches out between these two is a royal way indeed, lighted by heavenly light, and guarded by the angels of God.
Do you know that as I live I become more and more impressed by one word, and that word is “now.” Between twilight and sunrise at Peniel Jacob went through what he could never recall. “What saidst thou, O Jacob, in that night-long contest?” Jacob could not have remembered that except in its main lines. The veerings of hope and passion and doubt and fear and intense stringent resolution passed as the rolling night clouds passed, melting into flecks and streaks of morning light.
It is the now that makes the sinner;
It is the now that makes the saint.
Satan has great power over the past and over the future; he has less power over the Now. He has terrified me many a time, as if to the gate of death, by his power over the past, to make it lurid and terrible and inexpiable. He has made heart and flesh fail with the thought of all that lies before me. But he has far less power over the Now. Here I am more truly myself. I can dip my pen and go on writing, and he can’t compel me to do nothing or to do wrong. Oh that I “could sport the oak” between the past and the future very frequently and dwell in the shrine of the present, forgetting the things that are behind as far as they cloud the great work of the Now!1 [Note: Letters of James Smetham, 193.]
Live well to-day, to-day is thine alone;
To-morrow is not, and may never be;
And yesterday no longer is thine own;
But now belongs to thee.
Then take the task that’s nearest to thy hand,
And do it earnestly with all thy might;
Though men may cavil or misunderstand,
Heed not their blame or slight.
What though the common lot of toil be thine,
Thy task the meanest drudgery under heaven,
Thou may’st transform and make it all divine,
If love thy labour leaven.
Work is the daily worship of thy hands,
The service thou dost render to mankind
Must be the measure of thy worth; it stands
The index of thy mind.
Arise, go forth, thy growing powers employ
In helping those who need, their load to bear;
And thus thy life shall be a growing joy,
Freed from all self and care.
Thus live each day, and so thy lowly life
Shall be to all around a beacon bright,
Whose beams shall lead men upward through the strife,
To heaven’s pure joy and light.1 [Note: David Lawton.]
Saving and Instructing Grace
Aitken (W. H. M. H.), The School of Grace, 1.
Alexander (J. A.), The Gospel of Jesus Christ, 221.
Brown (James), Sermons with Memoir, 111.
Calthrop (G.), The Lost Sheep Found, 245.
Dewhurst (E. M.), The King and His Servants, 50.
Jones (S.), Sermons, i. 41, 48.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., ii. 49.
Maclaren (A.), Paul’s Prayers, 47, 57.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 2 Timothy, etc., 140, 149.
Miller (J.), Sermons Literary and Scientific, i. 216.
Munger (T. T.), Character through Inspiration, 54.
Reynolds (H. R.), Notes of the Christian Life, 262.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxxii. (1886), No.1894.
Wilson (F. R.), The Supreme Service, 65.
Christian World Pulpit, xvi. 298 (J. Foster); lxi. 106 (F. Pickett), 165 (R. W. Forrest); lxii. 179 (H. Varley); lxxxi. 11 (G. C. Morgan); lxxxii. 258 (A. E. Garvie).
Church Family Newspaper, Jan. 19, 1912 (T. G. Bonney).
Church Pulpit Year Book, 1909, p. 137; 1910, p. 10; 1912, pp. 57, 59.
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., vi. (1893) 289.
Expositor, 2nd Ser., vi. 391 (J. O. Dykes).