For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
"Zealous of good works." Such is the practical fruit of the training of Grace; such its effect upon the outward lives of those who learn in her school. Herein Grace as a teacher returns a triumphant answer to her traducers, who would fain represent her as robbing man of his energies and paralysing his activities by withdrawing the legal motives for action. Who are at this moment foremost in every good work of charity and benevolence throughout our land, but the very persons to whom the doctrines of Grace are dear as their own lives, and who have learnt most assiduously at her school? Nor is it difficult to see how, even on psychical grounds, apart from any reference to the introduction of supernatural power, such results should follow from the acceptance of the gospel revelation. For, first, he who receives the salvation that Grace brings finds himself a new creature, dead to his old life, and cut off from all connection with its baleful associations. He is therefore in a position to make a really new start in life without being paralysed in the future by the fatal influence of the past. Next, he is under the influence of feelings of the liveliest gratitude to Him to whom he owes his present happiness and his hopes for the future; to Him he feels under the deepest obligation; and his appreciation of the heroism that has purchased his redemption awakens within him a genuine and ardent enthusiasm for the person of his Benefactor; his feeling is that it is impossible to do too much for One who has done so much for him. Once again, he is at ease in his mind as to his own personal salvation, and therefore has a mind sufficiently "at leisure from itself" to feel for the miseries of those around him. And further, he has vividly before his mind the contrast between his own byegone misery and his present happiness; and the contrast speaks to all of humanity that there is in his nature, urging him to lay himself out for the salvation of those whose condition is as wretched as his own once was, and may become as blessed as his is now. Undoubtedly the enthusiastic benevolence of the true believer may thus to a great extent be accounted for by the character of the belief he entertains; but whence came that creed that reaches and moves so wondrously the subtle mechanism of our nature? Would any profound philosopher, whether ancient or modern, have thought of framing a scheme that seems at first sight so little likely to produce the desired results? But when we have spoken of these natural effects of the acceptance of Christian truth, we have by no means exhausted our list of the real forces which generate this lofty enthusiasm. The believer feels the mighty energies of a new life throbbing within his soul. He is now in a position to draw from the Divine Storehouse all that he needs to equip him for his life's work. So it is that, in spite of the cavil of unbelief and the a priori conclusions of unfriendly criticism, Grace proves herself the most practical of all teachers; and the greatest benefactors of mankind are to be found amongst her most faithful scholars. She does not allow those who learn of her to think only of their own spiritual advantage, or to be indifferent to everything except their own personal growth in holiness. Our life's work is twofold; it lies without us and within us; and we cannot neglect either branch of our work without injuring both. We cannot hope to grow in grace while we are leading lives of selfish indolence and uselessness; nor can we expect to be really and extensively useful unless we are fully consecrated to the Lord. Grace trains us then to be enthusiasts or, to use St. Paul's word in this passage, to be zealots, and this is evidently quite in accordance with her genius and customary mode of procedure. Such enthusiasm, if we surrender ourselves to it, will almost always lead to self-denial and even self-sacrifice; but these will rather increase than damp its ardour. There are some expansive forces in the natural world that seem to acquire their intensity by opposition; steam, for example, is only a power when it is compressed. Even so the mighty moral force which eighteen centuries ago shook the heathen world becomes all the mightier when obstacles have to be faced, opposition encountered, sacrifices endured. Some this holy enthusiasm will lead to turn their backs on home and country and expose themselves to the hardships and risks of a missionary life. Others the same enthusiasm will lead to find their work at home amidst our perishing thousands. Nor do we need less but rather more enthusiasm if the same inward call summon us to find our field of toil amidst scenes of fashion and luxury, rather than amidst the hovels of the poor. Self-denial preach Christ crucified in a drawing room than in a cellar; where sin is glossed over with a varnish of respectability and refinement, than where it flaunts its naked hideousness before the eyes of all beholders. But for this most difficult of all tasks, which only Christian religion would think of as a possible task at all, and only Christians would dream of undertaking, Grace can supply her disciples with a sufficient motive power in the enthusiasm which she inspires. But while Grace provides us with a sufficient motive power in the form of a holy enthusiasm, she is also careful to train us to spend that zeal in the production of really good works. There seems to be a prevalent notion in our day that so long as a man is in earnest it matters little what form his earnestness takes; but Grace teaches us to be particular about the quality as well as the quantity of our work. Our object is not to do much work, but to do good work — so good that it will not need to be done over again. We fear that this is hardly the character of much of the work that is being done in our own busy day. "I am painting for eternity," exclaimed the illustrious Italian, when asked why he spent such pains over his canvas. How many Christian labourers work with a similar feeling? Are we working for eternity, or only for the passing hour? A work, to be a good work, should certainly be, according to the apostle's phrase, "for necessary uses." We are to work for some definite good purpose, and not merely for the sake of keeping ourselves employed. It is needful, therefore, as far as possible, to avoid unnecessary labour, to use the best, and not necessarily the most laborious, means towards the attainment of the end in view, in order that we may have the more time and strength for that which needs to be done. Again, a work to be good needs to be done thoroughly, not in a superficial perfunctory manner. This will naturally be the besetting sin of all mere legal service. Once again, a work to be good needs to be done in the power of the Holy Ghost. "Apart from Me," our blessed Lord has taught us "ye can do nothing." Once again, a work to be really good needs to be done in the spirit of faith, with the full assurance that the Lord who sends us will use us and work out His own blessed purposes through us. He who does not expect God to use him need express no surprise at not being used; but rather the marvel would be if he were used at all. Yet once again, if our work is to be as good as it should be, it must needs be "a labour of love." This point is amply illustrated by the career of Him whom grace sets before us as our Exemplar. His career was one long exhibition of that hidden love of God which the world was so slow to believe in. If our work is to be really good it must be characterised by the patience of hope. Much work that once promised fairly is marred and spoilt for lack of perseverance. Christians are not steadfast, immovable, and therefore always abounding in the work of the Lord. Good work is not to be produced by a series of extraordinary and spasmodic efforts. We need that patient continuance in well-doing which shows that we seek honour, glory, and immortality. But here again the teaching of Grace comes to our aid. Not only does she set before us an example in One who was no stranger to apparent failure in His own ministry, but she also reminds us of His great forbearance towards us. Such are some of the characteristics of good work in which we are to be zealots, and in which we are to find our outward occupation while God leaves us here. Our day cannot at most be very long; its twelve hours, how rapidly they slip away! and the night cometh when no man can work. Yes, the worker's life is after all the only happy life, even though it may entail toil, hardship, and privation. The true labourer has Christ Himself for his companion in toil, and the smile of His approval for his dearest reward.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,