For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
The apostle proceeds to state that grace not only saves but undertakes our training; and this, of course, is a life-long work, a work that will only be concluded 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. 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 calm the tumultuous misgivings which fill our hearts; and until grace has done this for us, how can she instruct us? If I am learning my lesson with a view to obtain grace, it cannot be grace that is acting the part of the teacher, for she can only teach where she has been already obtained. Grace cannot at one and the same moment be my teacher, and also that to obtain which I am being taught, for this, of course, involves a contradiction in terms. Hence, as we have said, unless this first point be settled, and we know that we are in the enjoyment of God's salvation, we are not in a position to learn from grace, whoever else it be that we may learn from. And thus it comes to pass, as a matter of simple fact, that a large number of nominal Christians are taught, indeed, after a certain fashion, but they are not taught by grace. They seek to learn of Christ in order that they may obtain the grace of Christ; they endeavour to become conformed to Christ in order that their resemblance to Christ may dispose the heart of God to regard them with the same favourable consideration which He bestowed on Him whom they seek to resemble. Such persons are under the law. Grace, then, is to be our instructress, and she has plenty of work before her in the training and preparation of the human subject for the glorious destiny which lies before him. Then only is it possible, after the adoption has taken place, for the education to begin. With these thoughts in our mind we will proceed to consider grace as our teacher, and first we will point out the contrast between the training of grace and the operation of law. Before the grace of God appeared men were under another teacher, and his name was "Law." Grace is our teacher, and she teaches us far more powerfully, far more efficiently, and far more perfectly than law can ever teach us. But observe, she will not share her office of teacher with law. The Christian is not to be a kind of spiritual mongrel, nor is his experience to be of a mongrel type — part legal, part spiritual, part savouring of bondage, part savouring of liberty: but the design of God is that we should stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and never allow ourselves, even for a moment, to be entangled in a yoke of bondage. How many Christians are there who never seem to have perceived that we are no more to be saved by grace and then trained by law, than we are to be saved by law and then trained by grace? How many who need to learn that as we are to be saved by grace at first, so we are to be trained by grace afterwards, until at last the cornerstone is raised upon the wondrous structure which only grace has reared, amidst shouts of "Grace, grace unto it!" All is of grace from first to last. Now in order that we may very clearly apprehend what the teaching of God's word is on this subject, let us just put side by side the teaching of law and the teaching of grace, contrasting them one with the other, and then we shall see how much to the advantage of grace the contrast is. Grace teaches better than law.
1. She teaches better than law, first, because she delivers to us a fuller and more distinct exhibition of the mind and will of God as regards human conduct, based upon a more complete manifestation of the Divine character. Grace, as she takes possession of our heart, makes us acquainted with the mind and will of God in a manner in which we should never have become acquainted with these by the mere influence and teaching of law. If you reflect for a moment, you will see that the object of law is not to reveal the mind and the will of the Lawgiver, but to lay down certain positive precepts for the direction of those to whom the legislation is given, or for whom the legislation is designed. If an Act of Parliament is passed by the British Legislature, by both Houses of Parliament, and a person were to ask, "What is the object of this Act?" nobody would reply, "To reveal to the British public what is the mind and will of the members of our Legislature." Nothing of the kind. The object of the Act is to meet some specific political need, or to give some specific political direction to those who are subject to its authority. Even so the law delivered from Sinai was not primarily designed to reveal the mind and will of God. The law contained only a very partial revelation of the mind and will of God. The law consisted of certain positive precepts, which were given in the infancy of the human race for the direction and guidance of mankind. The rules and precepts which are laid down in the nursery are not designed to exhibit the mind and will of the parent, although they are in accordance with that mind and will. They are laid down for the convenience and for the benefit of those for whom the rules were made. A child knows something of the mind and will of the parent from personal contact with that parent, but not from the rules, or only to a very slender degree from the rules, which are laid down for its guidance. But when we turn from law to grace, then we see at once that we now are dealing with a revelation of the mind and the will of Him from whom the grace proceeds. Each act of favour which a parent bestows upon his child, or which a sovereign bestows upon his subject, is a revelation, so far as it goes, of the mind and will of the parent towards that particular child, or of the sovereign towards that particular subject, as the case may be. And even so every act of grace which we receive from God is a revelation, as far as it goes, of the mind and will of God towards us who are affected by the act.
2. Not only is the teaching of grace in itself fuller and more complete, but we are still more impressed by the superiority of the mode in which the teaching is given — the form in which this new doctrine is communicated. In the decalogue you are met with, "Thou shalt," or, "Thou shalt not" — and you observe at once that the command addresses itself directly to your will. Children are not appealed to so far as their understandings are concerned. They are told to act in a certain particular way, or not to act in a certain particular way; and if a child stops to reason with its parents, an appeal is at once made to parental authority. "Your duty, my child, is to obey, not to understand." Or, once again, the decalogue makes no appeal to the affections of those to whom it was delivered; it deals not with our moral states, or with the motives from which actions proceed; it simply concerns itself with those actions, and speaks to the will which is responsible for them. But when we turn from the decalogue to the sermon on the mount we find that all is changed. It does not begin with a direct appeal to the will, and yet the will is touched by a stronger influence, and moved to action by a more mighty force, than ever operated upon the will of the Israelites at Sinai. Grace is our teacher; and we observe that the first word that she utters in this lesson is a blessing. The law had summed up its all of teaching with a curse "Cursed is he that continueth not in all things that are written in this book to do them."
2. She does not say, "Ye shall be blessed if ye will become poor in spirit." Grace drives no bargains; but she explains to us that a state of experience from which most of us would naturally shrink is a state of actual blessedness. Here you will observe that she appeals to our enlightened understanding, indicating to us a new and a higher view of self-interest, showing that God's will, so far from being opposed to our truest well-being, is in complete and full harmony with it; for He is our Father, and He loves us, and therefore desires to see us supremely happy like Himself. Does she not teach better than law? Once again. Not only does she teach by giving us a fuller and a deeper revelation of the mind and will of God, and exhibiting these to us in such a way as that she appeals not merely to our own will, demanding action, but to our understanding, and, through our understanding, to our feelings, kindling holy desires, and so setting the will at work almost before it is aware that it is working; but she does more than all this.
3. Grace teaches us by setting before our eyes the noblest and the most striking of all exemplars. Grace speaks to us through human lips; grace reveals herself to us in a human life. Now we all know how much more we learn from a personal teacher than from mere abstract directions. To watch a painter, and to see how he uses his brush, and carefully and minutely notice the little touches that give so much character and power to the product of his genius, does far more for us in the way of making us painters than any amount of mere abstract study of the art itself. This in itself may suffice to show the superiority of grace as a teacher. While the thunder sounded from Sinai and the fiery law was given, God still remained concealed. When the yell was taken away, and God was made flesh in the person of Christ, human eyes were allowed to look at Him, and human ears heard the sound of His voice. Perfection stood before us at last in concrete form. When grace teaches us, she always teaches us by leading up to Christ — by exhibiting fresh views of His perfection, drawing out our heart in admiration towards Him. Happy they who thus set themselves to learn Christ as their life lesson, not as a mere duty — that is legality — but because they have fallen in love with Christ! Happy they who learn Christ just as the astronomer learns astronomy! Why does he study astronomy? Would a Newton tell you that he has spent all those hours in the careful examination of the phenomena of nature, or absorbed in profound mathematical calculations, because he thought it his duty to do it? And even so those who are under the teaching of grace learn Christ, not because they are under a legal obligation to learn Him, but because they are mastered by an enthusiastic admiration for the Divine object. There is a beauty in Christ which wins the heart. But grace does more than even this.
4. She not only sets before us the highest of all exemplars, but she establishes the closest possible relationship between that Exemplar and ourselves. Grace is not content with merely setting an example before us; she takes us by the hand and introduces us to the Exemplar, tells us not only that this Exemplar is content to be our friend, but, more wonderful still, that He is content to be one with us, uniting Himself to us, that His strength may be made perfect in our weakness. "Know ye not," says grace, "that Christ is in you?" In you; not merely outside you as a source of power, not merely beside you as a faithful companion on life's journey, but in you. "Christ is your life," says grace. Do you prefer to be under the law? Do you really elect to be bondslaves? You say your prayers in the morning; it is your duty to do it. You do not feel comfortable if you do not say them. You go to church; but it is not because you love to go and cannot stay away, or because you want to know more and more of God, or delight in His worship. "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord." You go because it is your habit. May God save us from such bondage as this! Let us remember that all the while that we are thus trifling there is within our reach, if we would but have it, the glorious liberty of the children of God.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,