For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
You will observe that inasmuch as grace proposes to form Christ in our nature, she proceeds upon an altogether different method from that which is followed by law. Grace purposes to make the tree good, and then concludes, reasonably enough, that the fruit will be good; whereas law aims, so to speak, rather at improving the fruit than at regenerating the tree. Grace deals with the springs of action, and not primarily with action itself. She deals with actions, but deals with them only indirectly. She begins her beneficent operations by setting right that part of our nature from which actions proceed, and so, from first to last, grace is chiefly concerned with our motives, checking the sordid and the unworthy, and developing the noble and the godlike. Now, the contrast here lies between an outward objective law exhibited to the human understanding, claiming the homage of the will, and an inward and subjective law which becames part and parcel, so to speak, of the nature of him who receives it. Now it is by the teaching of grace that this new state of things is introduced; it is by the operation of grace that the Father's Law is to be written upon the hearts of His once rebellious children. She effects this blessed result, first by opening up to us through His Son a revelation of the Father's heart, and by showing us how deep and strong is His love towards us; in the second place, by sweeping away all obstacles between the Father's love and our experience of it; and thus in the third place, by bringing our humanity under the mighty operation of the Holy Spirit of God, whose work it is to form within us the nature of Christ; and once again, in the fourth place, grace indelibly inscribes God's law upon our hearts in the very terms of her own manifestation. For it is from the Cross that Grace is manifested and it is involved in the terms of its acceptance, that to the cross the eye of him who accepts it should be turned. We have just said that the first effect of grace is to reveal the Father's love to us, and to sweep away all the barriers which interfere with our enjoyment of that love; by this first act of grace we are introduced into what may be described as the life of love — a life in which we are no longer influenced by mere considerations of moral or legal obligation. The love of God shed abroad in the heart, like the genial rays of the sun, produces a responsive love within us which is simply the refraction, so to speak, of those rays; and this love, the gospel teaches us, is the fulfilling of the law.
1. But love fulfils the law, not by a conscious effort to fulfil it, but because it is the voluntary response of the soul to the Person from whom the law has emanated. Love fulfils the law, not by commanding me to conform my conduct to a certain outward and objective standard, but by awakening within me a spiritual passion of devotion for the Person of Him whose will is law to those who love Him. Love knows nothing about mere restriction and repression — love seeks to please, not to abstain from displeasing; and so love fulfils, not merely abstains from breaking, the law. Thus we see that love takes us up to an altogether higher level than law. I cannot illustrate this point better than by referring for a moment to our earthly relationships to each other. There are certain laws which are applicable to these relationships. For instance, there are certain laws of our land, and there are certain laws contained in the Bible, which apply to the natural relationships of the father and of the husband. It is obviously the duty of the father and the husband to care for his wife and his children, to protect them, to provide for them, to endeavour to secure their well-being so far as in him lies. A man who occupies that relationship is bound to do not less than this. But does a really affectionate husband and father perform those various offices because the law constrains him to do so, because it is his legal duty to do them? Does he perform acts of tenderness towards his wife and towards his child because the law demands them of him? Even so the man whom grace has taught finds a new law within his nature, the law of love, in surrendering himself to which he fulfils indeed the outward and objective law, not because he makes an effort to fulfil it, but because he is true to his new nature. So that I may say, to put the thing concisely, grace is not opposed to law, but is superior to law; and the man who lives in grace lives not "under the law," because he is above the law. We imprison the wife beater. Why? Because he has fallen from the level of love altogether, and thus he has come down to the level of the law, and is within the reach of the law. Even so here the only persons who are not under law are the persons who are above law. Is the law written within our hearts, or is it only revealed from without? In our attempt to do what is right, do we simply do, or endeavour to do, what is right because we have recognised a certain external standard of duty, and are endeavouring to conform our conduct to it? Or do we do what is right because we are living in happy, holy intercourse with an indwelling God in whose love we find our law, and in surrendering ourselves to the influence of whose love, our highest enjoyment? Herein lies the test of the difference between legal experience and evangelical experience.
2. But here let me point out that grace, whilst she teaches us gently and tenderly, and in a very different way from law, has nevertheless sanctions of her own. They are the rewards and punishments which are congruous to the life of love, whereas the rewards and punishments of legal experience are such as are congruous to the life of legal servitude. We shall detect in a moment what these sanctions are if we reflect upon the nature of our relation to Him who has now become to us our law of life. It is the glory of the life of love that we have something to love. Our love is not merely an empty abstraction, nor is it merely a wasted energy that wanders in infinity; it is attracted towards a living Person. In the enjoyment of His society, which to the real Christian is not a matter of sentiment, but a matter of practical experience, the soul finds its highest privilege. Ah! grace disciplines as well as teaches. She does not spoil her children. She is not like some fond and indulgent mother, who fancies that she is benefiting her children when she is really injuring them more cruelly than in any other way she possibly could, by always giving them their own way. Grace does not teach us to be negligent, thoughtless, heedless, careless. Grace does not whisper in our ears, "Now that you are saved once you are saved forever. Go on, and never mind what happens to you." But grace teaches us very delicately. "I will guide thee," says grace, "with my eye." Grace teaches us. She brings out the scales of the sanctuary, and into the one she puts our worldly idol — our love of popularity, our self-seeking, our slothfulness, our self-indulgence, our pride of heart, all those little and great things which we are so apt to set against the society of Jesus, or rather which we are so apt to allow to come in between us and the society of Jesus. Yes, grace has her sanctions. And I am afraid that there are only too many Christians who have often to feel the force of those dread sanctions. Their whole life has come to be a clouded, unsatisfactory, melancholy, woebegone life. How many Christians are there of whom it cannot be said that the joy of the Lord is their strength! And why? They are under the discipline of grace. Yes, God does not forsake them altogether. He has not left them to their own waywardness, but He has visited their offences with the rod and their sin with scourges. They cannot be happy in the world since they have tasted something better in Christ. Nor can they be happy in Christ while they cast longing looks towards the world. But grace has also her rewards, and I love to think of them. What are they? The eye, perhaps, wanders on towards the future, and we think of the glories that are to be revealed. In this present world, amidst all the trials to which the Christian may be exposed, the school of grace has its prizes. Grace has her prizes. "The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace." Grace teaches indeed, but she teaches by first of all correcting, nay, by regenerating, the secret springs of our actions. Unless these are set right, how can our actions be right? How can you love God unless the love of God has conquered your heart?
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,