For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
We proceed now to consider the crowning characteristic of the new life and grandest lesson that Grace essays to teach. All her other lessons, however important in themselves, are designed to lead up to godliness; and unless this lesson is learnt, all others must remain incomplete; for this word brings before us the true end of man. The true end of man is to be attained in his own personality; it is in the proper development and education of the highest and most spiritual faculties of his nature, and in the concentration of these upon their proper object, that man rises to his true destiny and fulfils the great purpose of his being. That object is God; and in the development of those faculties which have God for their proper object, and in their concentration upon Him, consists the state or habit of godliness, while the education and training of these faculties is the work of grace, as she teaches us to lead a godly life. Christianity is a religion, not a mere ethical system, and designed to produce spirituality rather than morality — to teach man to realise and take advantage of his proper relations with God, not to show him how he can improve himself independently of any such relations. God is the centre around which all the moral teaching of the New Testament revolves, or from which it radiates. In the Christian system the revelation of the attributes of God in the person of His Son is the standard of moral truth, and relation of our conduct to God's will thus revealed the criterion of its moral character. The word "conversion," with which modern evangelising preaching has made us all familiar, and more particularly the word in the original Greek which we thus translate, is very well chosen as being suggestive of the only possible commencement of the life of godliness. It signifies not only a turning, but a turning towards God. When first His Divine influences begin to move us, He finds us with our hearts averted from Him, and our lives setting in an opposite direction. Then comes the first great change: the godless heart is brought by the influences of the Holy Spirit to feel its need of God, and in yielding to this sense of need, and in the endeavour to satisfy it, the godly life finds its commencement. "Jesus Christ died for our sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God." When that great change has taken place, which we usually call conversion, its most salient feature is always the complete alteration and, we may say, reversal of all our previous relations with God. Instead of flying from Him, we have now boldness to approach Him; instead of looking upon His service as a yoke of bondage, we find it the only freedom. It is doubtless with a view to this end that faith has been Divinely appointed as the subjective condition of justification. He has appointed simple faith in Himself; for this reason, amongst others, that faith brings us into the closest and most personal relations with God Himself. No man who accepts the Christian revelation at all can fail to recognise the justice of the Divine claims. Created at God's pleasure, and for His glory; redeemed by the life of His Son, and consecrated by the gift of the Divine Spirit; the believer must, as a matter of theory at any rate, admit that he is under an obligation to his God, from the force of which it is impossible to escape. Two thoughts, however, about these rights of God in His creature we may call attention to in passing. The first is, that these claims of God upon us are not arbitrary in their character, or despotic in their operation; they are perfectly consistent with, and indeed they are the expression of, Divine love towards man, and therefore they are most strictly in accordance with our true interests. The apparent opposition that sometimes seems to exist between man's interest and God's will arises from the fact that man does not clearly apprehend his own interests, and confuses between his real good and his temporary gratification; while, on the other hand, he misunderstands the nature of the Divine will. If we could only obtain a firm and practical grasp of this great truth, that our interests and God's will must coincide, what different lives we should lead! The second thought to which I desire to refer flows from this, an ever-necessary sequel. Since God's claims cannot be opposed to our truest well-being, therefore they can never be withdrawn or even modified. Were God to ask less than He does He would be doing us an injury, not a benefit; for He would be teaching us to be satisfied with something less than our highest good. These claims of God upon us are like the claims of the law of righteousness, both negative and positive. From certain forms of conduct the law of godliness demands that we should abstain; while, on the other hand, there are certain things which it enjoins. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." This first negative claim of God upon His creature man is represented in the Decalogue as being attributable to a certain attribute of the Divine character, which is denoted by the word "jealousy." Such being the nature of the first claim of the law of godliness, and such the attribute to which it is due, let us proceed to consider the second, and then to observe how Grace teaches us to comply with these claims. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deuteronomy 6:5). This claim includes all others; for here also "Love is the fulfilling of the law." But how shall we respond to these claims? The Law might say to the Israelites, "Thou shalt have none other gods but Jehovah." But none the less Israel proceeded to copy the idolatries of Egypt and Canaan. And the law may repeat its solemn prohibition to men in our own day, but will that keep them from worshipping at the shrine of Mammon, or Pleasure, or Fashion? The Law might tell the Israelites to love the Lord their God with all their heart; but that did not prevent them from turning their backs upon Him altogether. "My people have forgotten Me days without number." Grace presents to us the claims of God in the light of privileges, ever pointing to the Cross for an argument to move our wills, and appealing to the true character of the Divine purpose for a justification of her claims. Here is a specimen of the way in which she urges God's claims, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and perfect, and acceptable, will of God." So long as our hearts resent or even demur to the claims of God upon us we cannot enjoy the fellowship of God. We are not agreed. But as soon as we have joyfully accepted these claims, even though we may have only begun very inadequately to fulfil them, the cause of disagreement is removed, and there is nothing to prevent the soul from enjoying the life of fellowship with God. It is not difficult to see the connection between this habit of fellowship with God and the next feature of the life of godliness to which we will refer, and the development of which constitutes frequently the next forward step in Christian experience. Reconciliation is necessary to fellowship, fellowship is necessary to personal love. This affection is the result of personal knowledge, and increases with it. They must perforce love Him most who know Him best, and they must know Him best who are most in His society, who live in the secret of His presence. Nor is this love of the soul for God a mere enthusiasm of admiration, though admiration must ever be one of its most prominent elements. Nor is this love of the soul for God a mere sentiment, a sickly enthusiasm. Men have been prompt to turn their backs upon the dearest earthly affection, the tenderest ties, because the love of God led them on. But the love of God must needs produce very definite subjective effects upon him who knows its blessedness. Even amongst us men, where persons are bound together by close and mutual affection, it has often been observed that a certain assimilation takes place between them, even though they may have originally been very unlike each other — an assimilation that affects not only character, but outward manners and habits, sometimes even extending to the expression of the countenances and the tones of the voice. It is not surprising, then, that they who walk with God, and thus come completely under the influence of the love of God; should be conformed unto the Divine image. "Beholding His glory, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord," The characteristics of the godly life are of the most practical kind, for true godliness influences everything, elevating and purifying all, and he who lives it will offer such a contrast in his life and conversation to those who live it not, that men shall still be constrained to marvel at such, and to take knowledge of them that they have been and still are with Jesus. Are we living godly in Christ Jesus? It often happens that present salvation, in virtue of the atoning work of Christ, has been accepted without any very definite apprehension of what I may describe as the moral and actual benefits ensured to us by that work, and of the claims that God makes upon us in consequence of it. Where this has been the case, a change so marked and definite that it is sometimes described as a second conversion often takes place, when first the eyes are fully opened to see what the fulness of God's provision actually is. My next word of counsel would be, that the soul that wishes to grow in godliness should cultivate a habit of delicate sensibility to the Divine influences. This is chiefly to be done by making prompt and unquestioning response to the Divine motions. Yield to those heavenly desires, those Godward aspirations, which suddenly interrupt the ordinary occupations of the mind. Next I would say, Be very jealous of idols. The object may be in itself an innocent one; it becomes most guilty when it takes in any degree the place of God. And lastly, do not be satisfied with anything that seems to be beneficial until you find God in it. The Bible will be a "well of salvation," just in so far as God speaks to us from its pages through the Incarnate Word, and by the Divine Spirit.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,