For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
Two things, it will be observed, exist in every physical organism — a mysterious inward energy or life power, and an inherent law of being, or condition of existence. Between these there can be no kind of contrariety or antagonism. We do not see life exerting its energies in defiance of the subjective laws of the organisms that it inhabits, nor do we see those laws fulfilled save by the inward energies of life. Even so the new creature in Christ Jesus has a certain law of being or condition of existence which properly belongs to him, and it is this that the Holy Spirit proceeds to fulfil, working out and forming in us a new nature in the image of Jesus Christ Himself. On the Cross our new life is purchased; but not the less on the Cross our old man is crucified. In the very act of extending mercy grace teaches her first great lesson. We are saved because we have died and risen again with Christ; but if so, we have already denied ungodliness and worldly lust. Let us observe, then, that this first lesson taught by grace is a negative lesson. Before teaching us what to do, she teaches us what we are to have done with; before introducing us into the positive blessedness of the new life, she first of all separates our connection with the old. This negation of the old must always come before the possession of the new; and unless our experience follow this order, we shall find that what we mistake for the new is not God's new at all, but simply Satan's travesty of God's new creation. Let us not fail to observe that the apostle here speaks of our "denying ungodliness." He does not speak of our combating ungodliness, or of our gradually progressing from a state of ungodliness into a state of godliness. "If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is" a new creature: old things are, passed away, and all things are become new. And all things are of God. It is a strong word, this word denial. Now it is upon this primary fact that grace bases her teaching. She may save, but does not undertake to train, the graceless. The only improvement of the old man that grace recognises is his legal execution; but this she teaches us has already taken place in the case of those who are in Christ Jesus. Let us ask ourselves, Are we in the habit of denying, or only of opposing? But before pursuing our consideration of the mode of denial, let us pause to contemplate the objects here spoken of as being denied, and we shall then be in a position to return to this point of denial and treat of it more fully. The first thing we are represented as denying is ungodliness. This sounds a very strong word, and I dare say at first most people would be disposed to affirm that they cannot be charged with this, whatever else they may be guilty of. They may not have been as good as they might, but ungodly they certainly have not been. We must endeavour to find out what ungodliness is. This is certainly important, because unless we understand what it is, it is impossible to deny it. Let me then begin by saying that ungodliness is the cardinal and root sin of the world. It was the first sin committed in the history of the world; and it was the parent of all other sins, and it is usually the first sin in the life of each individual, and equally the parent of all the sins that follow. In the happy early days of human history when man, created in God's own image, was living in fellowship with his Creator, the characteristic of that pristine experience was doubtless godliness. But there came a change, a blight, a cloud, a darkness, a horror. What was it? The entrance of ungodliness. Here was man's first temptation; and here came man's first sin. It consisted in ungodliness or impiety, exhibited in a determination to put self in the place of God. So was it with the first sin, and so it has been with all its successors. Ungodliness, in one form or another, has been at the root of them all, and the deadly growth from this evil root has cast its baleful shadow over universal history. Now we are in a position to form some idea of what ungodliness really means.
1. Ungodliness consists, first of all, in the repudiation of God as the final cause of our being; that is to say, the end for which we live. A man is ungodly when he lives not for God. I do not care what outward complexion it wears. It may be the life of a zealous ritualist devoted to his party, or of an earnest churchman, or of a staunch protestant, or of a decided evangelical, or of a stout nonconformist; it makes no difference. Whatever complexion our outward life may wear, the man that is not consciously living for the glory of God is leading an ungodly life. He has fallen from the original position which belongs to man in relation to God.
2. The second characteristic of ungodliness will be exhibited in an indisposition on man's part to take God as the efficient cause of all that he is or wishes to be. Ungodliness begins when we decline to live for God; ungodliness is developed in an incapacity or an indisposition to live by God. The apostle was describing a godly experience when he said, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." "Man shall not live by bread alone." He needs that. "As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that He have mercy upon us." Is that the kind of life of dependence that we are leading, drawing all our strength for action from Him, receiving all our guidance in action through Him? Happy they who live thus.
3. The next characteristic of the life of ungodliness is that as, in the first place, man does not live for God; and as, in the second place, he does not live by God, so, in the third place, he does not live with God. He knows not what it is to enjoy the Divine society. The man that knows what it is to be godly — to "live godly in Christ Jesus" — finds that he cannot do without God at home any more than he can do without God at church; he cannot do without God in the place of business any more than he can do without God in his closet. He needs God. God has become a kind of necessity to him. Jesus always near, always dear, is more than life to those of us who really know Him. The godly live with God.
4. Once more, the ungodly life will not only be a life which is not lived for God, and not only a life which is not lived with God; but it will also be a life which is not lived in God, and a life in which God lives not in us. There is something more blessed even than living in the company of Jesus; and that is to know by faith that we live in Him, and to realise in our inmost experience the still more wonderful fact that He lives in us. But how does grace provide for this complete separation between us and this root sin, which seems to have become hereditary in the family of man? how does the denial of ungodliness take place? We seek an answer by referring to two remarkable expressions which fell from our blessed Master's lips, shortly before His own passion. On that memorable occasion on which a supernatural voice responded to His prayer, "Father, glorify Thy name," He proceeds to state, "Now is the judgment of this world; now is the prince of this world cast out," Elsewhere He supplements these words by another similar statement. "When the Holy Ghost is come," He says, "He will convict the world concerning judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." Most mysterious though these utterances may seem they will be found to throw a good deal of light upon this particular subject. How is ungodliness to be denied? It is to be denied by recognising God's judgment against it. The prince of this world is the very representative, as he is the author, of the world's ungodliness. Satan succeeds in obtaining the worship of humanity in a thousand different forms. But, however we may serve him, he is judged. If we ask how and when, only one reply seems possible. Strange and paradoxical though it may seem, he is judged and condemned on Calvary, in the Person of Him who exhibited more than any other filial piety and true godliness. The ungodliness of the world, the revolt of human independence against Divine authority, is represented by the world victim upon the cross of Calvary, and meets in Christ with its proper doom. Against that world sin, against that ungodliness which is the root and source of every kind of iniquity, all the wrath of God has been already revealed. I discover it as I witness the dying agonies of Emmanuel. A godless world will not have God; by and by it shall not have Him. It turns its back upon God; God must needs turn His back upon it. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Surely this is the true explanation of that bitter cry that was wrung from the breaking heart of Emmanuel. There we see the judgment of the world passed upon the representative of the world's sin, and it is because that judgment has expended itself on Him that there is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Him. But, observe, it is only as our faith sees our ungodliness crucified there that we are in a position to enjoy this immunity from condemnation. We thus judge that He died for all, that we who live should not henceforth live to ourselves, but to Him who died for us and rose again.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,