For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
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. In the connection indicated by that little word "for" we have both an introduction to, and a striking illustration of, the great truth that the passage is designed to set forth. It is the gospel with its wondrous revelation of grace that is to provide us with new and high incentives boa life of practical virtue and holiness. It is because we are not under the law, but under grace, that the righteousness of the law is to be fulfilled in us. To destroy the works of the devil, and to restore and perfect the grandest work of God on earth, was indeed an undertaking worthy of such conditions as the Incarnation and the atonement. The apostle speaks of grace itself before he proceeds to indicate the effects of grace, and of the first grand object and work of grace before he proceeds to enlarge upon its ulterior effects. He begins with the assertion that "the grace of God which bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared." In these opening words, first our attention is invited to this central object, the grace of God, then to the fact of its epiphany or manifestation, and then to its first most necessary purpose and mission — the bringing of salvation within the reach of all men.
I. ALL TRUE AND EVANGELICAL RELIGION MUST HAVE ITS COMMENCEMENT IN THE APPREHENSION OF DIVINE GRACE, AND THEREFORE IT IS OF NO SMALL IMPORTANCE THAT WE SHOULD ENDEAVOUR CLEARLY TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS DENOTED BY THE WORD. Divine grace, we may say, is the child of love and the parent of mercy. 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 grace received rescues from the disastrous effects of sin; heals our inward diseases, and comforts our sorrows; and then we call it mercy. But grace does not exhaust itself in the production of mercy any more than love exhausts itself in the production of grace. The child leads us back to the parent; the experience of mercy leads us back to that "grace wherein we stand"; and the enjoyment of grace prepares us for the life of love, and for that wondrous reciprocity of affection in which the heavenly Bridegroom and His Bride are to be bound together forever. Thus of the three mercy ever reaches the heart first; and it is through accepted mercy that we apprehend revealed grace; similarly it is through the revelations of grace that we learn the secret of eternal love. And as with the individual so with mankind at large. Mercy, swift-winged mercy, was the first celestial messenger that reached a sin-stricken world; and in former dispensations it was with mercy that men had most to do. But if former dispensations were dispensations of mercy, the present is preeminently the dispensation of grace, in which it is our privilege not only to receive mercy, but to apprehend the attitude of God towards us from which the mercy flows. But let us remember that though specially revealed to us now, the grace of God towards humanity has existed from the very first. The Lamb was slain in the Divine foreknowledge before the foundation of the world. But the grace of God has in it a further and higher object than the mere provision of a remedy for human sin — than what is merely remedial. God has purposed in His own free favour towards mankind to raise man to a position of moral exaltation and glory, the very highest, so far as we know, that can be occupied or aspired to by a created intelligence. Such is the destiny of humanity. This is the singular favour which God designs for the sons of men. God's favour flows forth to other intelligences also, but not to the same degree, and it is not manifested after the same fashion. This eternal purpose of God, however, which has run through the long ages, was not fully revealed to the sons of men until the fulness of time arrived. It was revealed only in parts and in fragments, so to speak. From Adam to John the Baptist every man that ever went to heaven went there by the grace of God. The grace of God has constantly been in operation, but it was operating in a concealed fashion. Even those who were the subjects of Divine grace seem scarcely to have known how it reached them, or in what manner they were to be affected by any provision that it might make to meet their human sins. Before the full favour of God could be revealed to mankind it would seem to have been necessary first of all that man should be put under a disciplinary training, which should induce within him a conviction of the necessity for the intervention of that favour, and dispose him to value it when it came. Grace, we have already said, is the child of love and the parent of mercy. We discover now that the love of God is not a passive, inert possibility, but a living power that takes to itself definite form, and hastens to meet and overcome the forces of evil to which we owe our ruin.
II. But further, the apostle not only calls our attention to Divine grace, but he proceeds to state with great emphasis THAT IT HAS APPEARED OR BEEN MADE MANIFEST. We are no longer left in doubt as to its existence, or permitted to enjoy its benefits without knowing whence they flow. In order to be manifested, the grace of God needed not only to be affirmed, but to be illustrated, I may say demonstrated, and then only was man called upon to believe in it. It might have been written large enough for all the world to see, that God was love. It might have been blazoned upon the starry heavens so that every eye might have read the wondrous sentence, and yet I apprehend we should have been slow to grasp the truth which the words contain, had they not been brought within reach of our finite apprehension in concrete form in the personal history, in the life, in the action, in the sorrow, in the death of God's own Son. When I turn my gaze towards the person of Christ I am at liberty to doubt God's favour towards me no longer. I read it in every action, I discover it in every word. Here is the first thought that brings rest to the heart of man. It has been demonstrated by the Incarnation and by the Atonement, that God's attitude on His side towards us is already one of free favour — favour toward all, however far we may have fallen, and however undeserving we may be in ourselves. You often hear people talking about making their peace with God. Well, the phrase may be used to indicate what is perfectly correct, but the expression in itself is most incorrect, for peace with God is already made. God's attitude towards us is already an assured thing. We have no occasion to go about to ask ourselves, "How shall we win God's favour?" It is possible for a person to be full of friendly intentions to me, and yet for me to retain an attitude of animosity and enmity towards him. That does not alter his character towards me, or his attitude towards me; but it does prevent me from reaping any benefit from that attitude. And so, I repeat, the only point of uncertainty lies in our attitude towards God, not in His attitude towards us.
III. Thus the apostle affirms that THIS GRACE OF GOD ''BRINGETH SALVATION TO EVERY MAN." 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. All are not saved. But why not? Not because the grace of God does not bring salvation to every man, but because all men do not receive the gift which the grace of God has brought to them. There are necessarily two parties to such a transaction. Before any benefit can accrue from a gift there must be a willingness on the one side to give, and a willingness on the other side to receive, and unless there be both of these conditions realised no satisfactory result can ensue. Here then is a question for us all: What has the grace of God, which is designed to have a saving effect upon all men, done for us? Has it saved us, or only enhanced our condemnation? Now we maintain that the enjoyment of the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins is needed before our experience can assume a definitely Christian form. The first thing that grace does is to bring salvation to me; and until I accept this I am not in a position to accept her other gifts. Grace cannot teach until I am in a position to learn, and I am not in a position to learn until I am relieved from anxiety and fear as to my spiritual condition. 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. Is it likely that a God who has shown His favour towards us by the gift of His own Son should desire to keep us in uncertainty as to the effects of that grace upon our own case? Does not the very fact, that it is grace that has brought salvation to us, render it certain that it must be in the mind of God that we should have the full enjoyment of it? Let us rather ask, how can we obtain this knowledge of salvation, this inward conviction that all is well? The answer is a very simple one. Grace brings salvation within our reach as something designed for us. Not to tantalize us by exciting desires destined never to be realised, but in order that we may have the full benefit of it — the free favour of God has brought salvation within our reach to the very doors of our hearts. Surely we dishonour God when we for a moment suppose that He does not intend us to enjoy the blessing which His grace brings to us. All the deep and precious lessons that grace has to teach are, we may say, simply so many deductions from the first great object lesson — Calvary. It is through the Cross of Christ that the grace of God hath reached a sinful world; it is on the Cross that grace is revealed and by that Cross that its reality is demonstrated. But we may also add that it is in the Cross that grace lies hidden. Yes, it is all there; but faith has to search the storehouse and examine the hidden treasure, and find out more and more of the completeness of that great salvation which the grace of God has brought within our reach; nor shall we ever know fully all that has thus been brought within our reach until we find ourselves saved at last with an everlasting salvation — saved from all approach of evil or danger into that kingdom of glory which grace has opened to all believers.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,