For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
All things in outward nature have their element, and our moral nature must have its element, in which to live, and move, and have its being. Beasts live on earth, birds fly in air, fishes swim in water; but each of these animal organisms requires its own element, and no amount of education will make a fish enjoy fresh air. Even so the ungodly man has this world for his element, even as the true believer has God for his element. The ungodly is of the earth earthy; he receives the world's spirit; he enters into its mind; he forms his character in accordance with its genius; he submits to its dictates; he measures everything by its standard. He lives in the world, and is of the world, just as the true believer lives in God, and is of God. He is one with the world, and the world with him. He is represented by the world; for he is in the world, just as the Christian is in Christ, and the world lives in him, just as Christ lives in the heart of His own people, forming its own nature within him, and conforming him to its character. Yes, the child of the world will always be like the world that he makes his god. You remember what the Psalmist says about the gods of the heathen. "Their idols are silver and gold, the works of men's hands." Then he goes on to add the startling assertion, "They who make them are like unto them; so are all they that put their trust in them." And "they that make them are like unto them" — not only do we become the slaves of that which we have created, but we also become assimilated to the creation of our own perversity. I mean to say that those who live in the world and for the world become worldly; and if that sounds but a little thing to some ears, let me say that, if my observation have not failed me, "worldly" means hollow-hearted, empty-headed, frivolous, selfish, sordid, incapable of realising the true dignity of our own nature, insensible to higher motives, heedless of grave responsibilities, unreal, conventional, hypocritical, false, deceiving and deceived. Shall I give an example of what I mean? There are scores of mothers in our land who are at this moment quite prepared to sell their daughters to the highest bidder. The question with them is not "What is the moral character?" — far less "What is the religious character of the man that shall marry my daughter?" — but "How many thousands a year has he? What will be his position in society?" I only mention that as one of the many instances that could be given of the hollowness and heartlessness of the worldly life; because we see it here conquering and paralysing one of the very strongest and purest instincts of nature — a mother's love. So the world goes on, getting hollower and hollower. The very conversation of the worldling is suggestive of the havoc which the spirit and genius of worldliness have made in the man's true character. What is worldly conversation for the most part but an exhibition of littleness and frivolity? It never seems to get below the surface. Men of the world know nothing of the fellowship of heart with heart. Just think how impossible it would be for two such persons to discuss with each other their inner life and heart experiences. Oh, empty, hollow, world, is this man's best substitute for God! Now the apostle affirms that we have denied worldly lust as well as ungodliness. We have renounced and repudiated it forever. 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. "Turn your back upon the world," says the ascetic. "Wander into the depths of the desert. Shut yourself up in an eremite'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? How shall we get rid of the world's bondage? or how shall we deny this worldly lust, and rise above it? "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." 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? No; we want a better answer than this. Again I ask, "How am I to deny worldly lust?" It is all round me. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world hath been crucified to me, and I unto the world." That is the answer. Grace had taught St. Paul that lesson. He did not learn it on Sinai, but at Calvary. "There was a time when thou didst think well of the world, wast elated by her blandishments, wast alarmed at the thought of her frown. Thou didst value her good opinion, and didst shrink above everything else from forfeiting it; thou wast attracted by her glitter, and blinded by her display. But now, behold the world is revealed as a traitress and a usurper, a rebel against Infinite Benevolence, and a deceiver of all her deluded votaries; for in her judgment theirs is revealed. Child of God, the world is crucified to thee. There she hangs, represented in the great Victim of her malice under the ban of God's wrath, blighted with a curse, blasted by the dread thunderbolt from the hand of Omnipotent Justice. Thou seest her now exposed to shame and everlasting contempt. Nor canst thou make a cunning compromise between thy God and her whom thou seest crucified yonder; for there can be no compromise between a condemned culprit and his judge, No: 'If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him'; for the friendship of the world is enmity towards God. And even that is not all," Grace goes on to say. "By that same Cross thou, too, art crucified unto the world. To the world He is a despised, rejected outcast, crucified outside the camp; and as He is, so art thou in this present world. Surely thou canst not refuse to bear His reproach, to whom thou owest thy all of dignity and honour. But even this is not all. Thou art crucified unto the world; 'for thou art dead, and thy life is hid with Christ in God.' Thy old worldly life has been forfeited; but through death and resurrection thou hast been born again as a citizen of the New Jerusalem. Thou art raised up into the heavenly places in Christ Jesus; and now thou art not of the world, as He is not of the world. Art thou content to accept the privileges of the Atonement? Thou rejoicest to accept them. Then understand that one of the privileges of the Atonement is, that thou shouldst be separated, by the very terms of the Atonement, from thy old relationship to a God-resisting world — a world which has presented itself to the hearts of its children as a substitute for the Being to whom it owed its origin." Can we conceive it possible for a true believer to address his Saviour thus: "O Lord, I desire to escape hell, and I understand that Thy Atonement has been made in order that I may escape it; but I understand also that Thy Atonement had in view several other objects, about which I have no concern. I gather that it was also designed to save me from sin; but about that I am indifferent, so long as I escape sin's consequences. I will accept the immunity from condemnation. I will be very glad to know that the doors of hell are shut in my face, and that the doors of heaven are opened. But further than this I have no desire; indeed, were I to accept more, the consequences to myself might not be pleasant." It is, perhaps, impossible to conceive of such language in the lips of any true child of God; yet I fear that such words describe only too accurately the attitude assumed by too many who think themselves Christians indeed. They seek to retain sufficient religion to enable them to entertain the hope of heaven; but they cover this over so skilfully with a cloak of worldly conformity, that they are hardly suspected by their acquaintance and friends of possessing any religion at all. Such Christians attempt to lead a double life in religious society; they can talk as well as any one on religious subjects, and may pass with strangers for earnest and decided Christians; but amongst the citizens of the world they assume quite a different manner, and can be as flippant and frivolous and insincere as any with whom they associate. Yes; it must be one thing or the other — the world or God; we cannot choose both. If we decide to choose the world and seek a substitute for God, then let us get the very best substitute we possibly can find. Do you select money for your substitute? If it be pleasure you select, then live for pleasure. Our choice lies between the two; but ere we decide for the world, let us remember the solemn sentence uttered by inspired lips, but amply confirmed by daily observation, "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof." If we make choice of it, we cannot keep it; if we decline to deny it, it will soon deny us.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,