For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
The word "righteousness" sometimes signifies, or at any rate includes, what is here spoken of as temperance or sobriety, and sometimes what is here spoken of as "godliness." But inasmuch as it here stands side by side with these two other terms, we believe it to be used in a narrower sense, and to have special reference to our relations with our fellow man. The true meaning of the word "righteousness" is suggested to us by a reference to the root word "right," from which it is derived, just as analogously in the Greek language the word δικαιοσύνη draws its essential import from its connection with its root word δίκη. The idea of righteousness springs from the recognition of right. There are certain rights which have their origin in the nature of our relations with others, which they are justified in claiming that we should respect, and from which we cannot escape, and the recognition of these rights and the fulfilment of these claims is that which we understand by "righteousness." We are under certain obligations in the first instance to God, and God has certain rights in us which He cannot for a moment ignore or decline to assert and enforce. In recognising these rights, and in responding to these claims, we fulfil the law of righteousness, so far as God is concerned. Further, there are certain rights which our fellow men have in us, which we are not less bound to respect; and inasmuch as we are at present using the term righteousness in the somewhat restricted sense that I have indicated, it will be desirable to give this second class of rights our special consideration. Yes, our fellow men have certain rights in us from which we cannot free ourselves. We owe to society a great debt. Perhaps we do not sufficiently let our minds dwell upon the thought of our debt to society, yet everything around might well remind us of it. The very food that we eat is the product of social labour. We are dependent upon society, and hence are constantly indebted to it. The very money which we offer in return for these benefits is but the symbol of the accumulated labour of mankind; and those who are born in the possession of most of it are therefore the greatest debtors of all. It is true that some of us endeavour to contribute to the wealth of society by our labour, thus making some return for what we have received; but if we reflect how very different our condition is from what it would have been had we been cut off from society from our early years we shall be able to see how much our debt exceeds our capacities of repayment. The Christian feels that he owes an even heavier debt than this to his fellow man. He cannot forget that it was through the devotion of human messengers, who jeoparded their lives in the task, that the glad tidings of the gospel ever became so widely known as to reach his ear. He cannot forget his debt to the Church of Christ all through the ages, nor his obligations to those who have represented her beneficent influences towards him. Who shall say how much we may have been influenced for God and for good, by comparatively trivial circumstances, which have not even left their impress upon our memory, or perhaps of which we have never known at all? "All souls are Mine," says the great Father of spirits; and because they are His, therefore they possess a certain definite claim upon our consideration, indifference to which must needs argue indifference to Him. There are certain things which society has a right to claim that we should not do, and there are others which society has a right to claim that we should do. Now, as a rule, human laws only recognise the negative claims of right. They provide means for checking men from performing unlawful deeds. When we turn from laws, Divine and human, to conventional morality, here also we find ourselves mainly dealing with the negative side of moral obligation. The idea of righteousness most generally entertained by society is negative rather than positive. Men flatter themselves that if they have done no very definite harm to any one they have pretty well fulfilled the law of righteousness. How often are we told by those whom we seek to convict of sin, and of their need of a Saviour, that they have always endeavoured to do their duty by God and man; and when we come to examine what their idea of duty is, we discover that they simply mean that they are not criminals or open offenders against public decency! But let us observe, in spite of the common sentiment, that the positive claims of the law of righteousness are just as strong and just as incapable of being defeated as are its negative claims. In plain language, we are just as much bound to live for the good of our fellow men as to abstain from injuring them; and even if we can satisfy ourselves that we have abstained from injuring our fellow men, unless we can also show that, according to the measure of our opportunity, we have actually benefited them, we are not in a position to claim that we have even made an attempt to fulfil the law of righteousness. But have men as a rule as much right as they think they have, to conclude that they have fulfilled even the negative claims of the Divine law? We may wrong our neighbour without any overt action, and perhaps more grievously than if we had injured his body with our hand. The scandalous story, even the uncharitable thought, which may be the parent of so many cruel actions, who shall say how much of base injustice there may be in these, and yet the world thinks lightly of them. How much of selfish grasping and pushing may strain the relations of man with man, and yet no such act of dishonesty or violence be committed as could be taken cognisance of by law. All this may pass for justice amongst men, but does it appear so in the eyes of God? So what does it matter how little we pay our commercial clerks, or our half-starved sempstresses; or what does it matter if we deny a Sabbath to our cab and omnibus drivers, and keep them slaving, some fourteen hours a day, all the year round. Justice, after all, is not such a very common virtue amongst mankind. But it is possible for us to injure our neighbour in other ways than these, and thus equally to offend against the negative demands of the law of righteousness. How many are ready enough to affirm "that they have never done any harm to anybody," who have never even reflected upon the injury that may have been caused even to their nearest friends by the unholy effect of their influence or example. How many a once pure minded and innocent girl is wrecked and ruined for life, by learning only too well the lessons of vanity and levity taught by companions and acquaintances, who never seemed to themselves to be vicious. But even when it can be shown that we are blameless in this respect, we have yet to face its positive claims. The same authority that claims that we should do justly tells us also that God requires that we should love mercy. This is as much a matter of obligation, arising out of our relations with our fellow man, as is the other; and the man that does not love mercy, although he may flatter himself that he does justly, has not fulfilled the law of righteousness. But while under the Old Dispensation the legal obligation was distinctly recognised, we shall see here also how much better and more effectually grace teaches than law. Grace is not content with laying down the positive precept; she presses this lesson upon our mind more forcibly than any commandment could, by setting before us this as the most prominent and striking characteristic of the life of Him whom she has already taught us to trust and love. His was no cold negative morality, no mere abstinence from sin in every form; His morality was the fulfilment of the law, because it was the continuous exhibition of love to the sons of men. His career is thus epitomised by one who was an eyewitness of it. "He went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him." More than this; Grace not only exhibits to us this perfect ideal, and sets before us a personal example of pure unselfish benevolence in His life and history, but she offers to us all her best benefits as the result of His having possessed and exercised towards us those qualities which she desires us to imitate. "The love of Christ constraineth us," exclaims the apostle; that is to say, not our love for Christ, but the consciousness of His love to us "because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then all died: and that He died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again." Who that has been a recipient of Divine favour can be insensible to such an argument as that? How can we avail ourselves of the self-sacrificing love of Christ for our own salvation, and yet be unmindful of the obligation under which this lays us? We owe our salvation, our immunity from condemnation, and our justification before God, to the fact that, as representing our unrighteousness, Christ died, while, representing the righteousness that God expects of us, He lived. But if this be so, how can we claim the benefits of His life and death without repudiating that which in Him was crucified, and accepting that which in Him won the smile of the Divine Father's approval? To sum up then, Grace teaches us to live righteously, first by showing in a human life what righteousness, both negative and positive, is, next by loading us with all the spiritual benefits that we enjoy in virtue of the righteousness of this our Great Exemplar; so that gratitude to Him binds us to a life of righteousness, and further by the illustration of God's judgment against all unrighteousness and sin, and by the fulfilment of that judgment upon the person of the sinner's Representative on the Cross of Calvary, and as the necessary sequel to this legal condemnation by the introduction of the Divine Spirit as a power of righteousness into our hearts. Surely there is no lack of means towards the end in the school of grace. She is well supplied, not only with lessons, but with all that is needed to bring the lessons home. But further, our idea of righteousness must ever be relative to our subjective condition. That which does not offend my sense of righteousness today, I may distinctly condemn and repudiate a twelvemonth hence. We can speak with assurance of extreme forms, either of evil on the one hand, or of good on the other; but our judgment begins to waver and assurance to forsake us as we approach the border line, and it is only as we become through Grace possessed more and more of God, and more and more taken possession of by God, that our vision becomes clear enough to enable us to discern the dividing line, or even anything that closely approaches to it. But the learners in the school of Grace have one great advantage. They are not students of ethics, but children of God; and therefore it is less their habit to inquire whether a thing is right or wrong, than to endeavour to discover whether or not it be in accordance with the mind of God concerning them. They have no desire to discover the minimum of obligation, but a great ambition to reach the maximum of devotion. As the knowledge of the Divine will opens more and more clearly upon their apprehension, they yield their members more and more fully servants of righteousness unto holiness; for this is how Grace teaches us to live righteously. The just or righteous man lives by his faith. He is not only quickened by it at first, but lives by it when he is quickened, and herein lies his power for righteousness. But such an one cannot be satisfied with mere negative morality; for love glows within his heart, kindled by the breath of God; and love is the fulfilling of the law. He owes it to his God, he owes it to his new life, he owes it to society, to live not for himself.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,