For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
Grace teaches us, not only by referring us to the great facts of the past, but also by setting before our awakened hope the sublime and crowning event of the future, and in this respect also she exhibits the superiority of her teaching to that which law could offer. Under the law the future could hardly be contemplated without terror; for who could feel so secure of his legal righteousness as to be able to look forward to that day without a misgiving? We cannot entertain such happy anticipations with respect to the future unless we are quite sure of our own relations to God in the present. Let us put a case. If our Queen were about to make a progress through this realm, and if it was understood that, as soon as she reached the city of York, of one dozen felons confined in the prison yonder, six were to be taken out and promptly executed at the moment of her arrival, while six should be liberated; and if of those twelve felons no single one knew for certain whether he were one of the six that were to be set free, or of the six that were to be executed, is it conceivable under such circumstances that any of those felons would long for and entreat Her Majesty's speedy advent? Would it not be far more conceivable that they would all, if they were permitted, petition her to defer her visit, and, if possible, to abandon it? Not otherwise must it be with us, as we look forward to this dread event of the future, unless we know that by the saving grace of God we are prepared for it. But while our attitude towards this great event of the future may serve as a test of the reality or unreality of our religion, it may also be employed by the true Christian as a gauge of his spiritual condition. Do we really love His appearing? Is it a subject much in our thoughts? Does it cheer us, or does it make us uncomfortable to think of it? How apt are even those who have known something of the grace of God to take root, as it were, here upon earth, instead of living as strangers and pilgrims! But the love of Christ's appearing is not only a test of our spiritual health and progress, it may also largely contribute to the promotion of these. The truth is the life and the hope act and react upon each other. Personal godliness must ever strengthen and intensify our hope; but then again our rejoicing in hope will ever stimulate our desires after growth in grace. What the effect of Advent light upon our daily lives must needs be is indicated by numerous passages of Scripture. "We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." It is not difficult to understand in how many ways we may be favourably affected in our present personal experience by the thought of this blessed hope. Surely much of the gloomy despondency or depression that frequently paralyses our spiritual activities might be more easily mastered if we only lived more in the Advent light, cheering our hearts with the anticipations of coming glory. But the thought of this blessed hope does more than cheer us amidst the vicissitudes of life; it also tends to strengthen our faith, and thus to invigorate our whole spiritual experience; for while we dwell upon the thought of the complete victory that Christ is one day to win, the thought will naturally suggest itself to our minds, as we return to the consciousness of the present from the hopes of the future, Cannot He who will one day conquer the world conquer even now our old nature? Thus the very contemplation of these glorious prospects in the future proves a source of strength as well as of cheer in the present. But most of all, the thought of this blessed hope is specially designed to induce watchfulness. "Therefore be ye also ready," cries our blessed Lord; "for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh." One other benefit likely to arise from the thought of the glorious appearance of our Saviour, and affecting our conduct and character, suggests itself here. Surely we cannot fail to find in this prospect a mighty stimulus to our zeal. The time is short. Soon the Master will come to take account of His servants. Fain would we be able to say when He appears, as He was able to say to His Father, "I have finished the work that Thou gavest Me to do." But if this habit of looking for that blessed hope is likely to be productive of so many advantages in our present experience, it may be asked, How is such a habit to be formed? Strangers passing through a hostile land cannot but look forward to a change in their position. Grace teaches us then to love the Lord's appearing, by reminding us that we are already citizens of the heavenly kingdom, in the revelation of which we are to find a full satisfaction, which cannot be ours amidst the hostile influences of the house of our pilgrimage. We long for the moment when the power of the usurper shall be overthrown, and our King receive the homage which is His due from all, just as a Hushai or Ittai must have longed for the restoration of David, and the downfall of the odious traitor Absalom. Nor does the expectation of the true Christian end even here. He cannot forget that human history is to be crowned by "the marriage of the Lamb." In that mysterious event of the future the destiny of the creature is to be attained, and the pleasure of the Creator in His own work is to be fulfilled. But it is Grace, and Grace alone, that bids us cherish such hopes as this. Law might train a servant, but could not prepare a bride. To sum up, we may say that Grace teaches us to love Christ's appearing by revealing to us the mystery of our spiritual union with Him, from which there arises a certain identity of interests, and consequently of desires. As He is, so are we in this present world, "despised and rejected of men"; where He is, there in Him we are in the world of glory — seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus, accepted of the Father in the Beloved. As He shall be, such shall we be by and by, when He appears in His kingdom. "We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." Surely it is indeed "a blessed hope," and every one that hath it must needs "purify himself, even as He is pure." We see then that while our hope becomes bright and real just in so far as we walk soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, so the cultivation of this blessed hope helps us and stimulates us thus to live.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,