For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
Hitherto we have been occupied in considering the negative teaching of Grace, by which her pupils are trained to deny ungodliness and worldly lust. Grace begins by separating us from connection with the old, that she may hasten to introduce us into connection with the new. She does not rest satisfied with inducing merely the denial of ungodliness and worldly lusts. Grace begins by communicating life, and along with it a new life power, which is to manifest its presence in the character and conduct of those who receive it. We must possess the new life before we can live it. It must be received before it can be manifested. You might just as well expect a piece of dead wood to grow into a tree the moment you planted it in the ground, and attached to it by some artificial process a few bunches of leaves, or clusters of fruit. Your own common sense tells you that you may plant your walking stick in your garden, and, with the utmost possible care, you may prune it, and water it, and perform all other possible horticultural operations upon it, but it remains a dead stick at the end of the process, and nothing but a dead stick; and you cannot make it grow into life. Let us desist from conceiving that we can ever grow into a state of spiritual vitality by our efforts to improve ourselves. Not only are we taught that Grace saves us from and separates us from the old, but that it introduces us into the new. Not only is the ransomed soul dead unto sin, but alive unto God. We rise into a state of vitality when first we begin to trust ourselves to Christ for life; then only can we receive the gift of life in Jesus Christ from the hand of God, and begin to be, in the full sense of the word, living souls. Are we trying to live soberly, righteously, and godly, because law claims it of us? or are we living thus because we claim it by faith of God, as the law of our new nature that we should do so? Let us proceed to consider the positive characteristics of our new life, to which the apostle here calls attention. We notice that of the three words that he employs — the first brings before us primarily that which we owe to ourselves; the seconds chiefly that which we owe to our fellow man; and the third, exclusively that which we owe to God. The first suggests to our minds the thought of the relations of the various parts of our complex nature to each other; the second, of our relations to society; and the third, of our relations to God. Let us begin by considering the first of these three words as suggesting an important, we may say an essential, lesson of Grace. It is the privilege of the true child of God to lead a sober life. The ancient Greek moralist, Aristotle, in speaking of this word, suggests an etymological derivation of the term, which, though not perhaps philologically correct, may yet serve to indicate the true character of the idea conveyed by the expression to his own mind and the minds of his contemporaries. He speaks of the word here used as formed of two words, signifying the preservation of the moral sense, and accordingly defines temperance or sobriety to be that which preserves or protects, and maintains in due activity our moral sense. This, at all events, gives us a good idea of what an intelligent Greek-speaking man would understand by the word "sobriety." Let us reflect for a moment upon the idea thus suggested to our minds. It implies, we observe, the possibility of our moral sense being lost, or so interfered with as for the time being to be rendered inoperative. How different things appear when we contemplate them in the abstract and in cold blood, so to speak, from what they do when once they have become causes of actual temptation to us. How readily did the moral sense of David reprobate the pitiless injustice and rapacity of the wealthy despoiler! How often is this blinding influence exercised by passion! Or, again, with respect to worldly lust, which is a common form of moral insobriety, how easy is it for us, in our calmer moments, to deride the world, to look down contemptuously upon it — "Well, after all, what an idle show it is — what a poor painted pageant!" And then we come down from the mount of contemplation, we find ourselves sucked into the stream before we know what is happening; and there we are, just as worldly as other people. What has happened? We have lost our moral sense. We are blinded by the force of the temptations to which we have been exposed, and the influences by which we are surrounded. Now, let us endeavour to get an idea into our minds of some of the various forms which this insobriety may assume (Romans 12:3). A man who thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think, might not at first sight appear to us to be one who is leading a life wanting in sobriety; and yet that is just the description that St. Paul gives of such a person. In 1 Peter 4:7, we have a solemn warning given to us upon this subject: "The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober." Keep your heads clear, the apostle seems to say. You are only down here for a few short days. The end of all things is at hand. Now observe, that where this intoxicating influence prevails, man becomes a prey to inward discords and disorders. The higher elements in his nature are no longer able to master the lower and keep them in their proper place. Now Grace proposes to introduce and maintain moral harmony within our nature; so that, instead of element being arrayed against element, and part against part, the whole may live, and continue to live, under the perfect law of liberty. Grace undertakes so to train us that passion shall not be able to tyrannise over the understanding, or desire ride roughshod over conscience; but that those elements in our nature which are necessarily highest shall occupy their own proper position, and those elements which are necessarily lower shall be subordinated to the superior and commanding faculties which God has set over them. Such in general terms is the character of the sober life. But how are we to establish this inward harmony? How is this most anarchical world one day to be set in perfect order? When and how will the true cosmos be realised? We, basing our hope upon a most sure word of prophecy, look forward to that glorious period of the future, of which I read, "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall execute judgment in the earth," There is a time coming when Messiah's sceptre shall sway the hearts of men, and "the kingdoms of this world shalt become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." Meanwhile, until that glorious day come, it is possible for us, each one of us, in our own souls to realise a millennium, where "the wolf and the lamb shall lie down together, and the hen shall eat straw like the ox." The millennium begins within each human heart when Jesus Christ is King. We have all read of the horrors of the first French Revolution. We recall with a shudder the ghastly tale of that reign of terror, when the guillotine was the prominent object in Parisian history, and the noblest and the best blood of France was flowing in the gutters. Yes, it was a terrible time; but in what occurred then you have a picture of what occurs in every human heart where insobriety is rampant. What is to be done to remedy this terrible moral disorder? How is sobriety to be established? Thus we see that this virtue of sobriety is something more than a mere negation. It consists not merely in escaping from the tyranny of lust, but in possessing such a sound judgment, such a calm recollectedness, such an administrative capacity, so to speak, as shall enable us to hold the reins of government under Divine authority in the commonwealth of our being, as "a king against whom there is no rising up" (Proverbs 30:31) — our renewed will becoming God's own vicegerent within our redeemed and consecrated nature. Sobriety regulates, but does not exterminate — modifies, but does not ignore — our natural propensities, which in themselves become only good or bad as they are kept in their proper place, or allowed to depart from it. Nor, again, is sobriety to be confused with phlegmatic dulness and insensibility; on the contrary, it is perfectly compatible with the loftiest euthusiasm, and is often the guide and supporter of burning zeal. Nor, once more, must we fail to distinguish between sobriety and moroseness. There is nothing gloomy, nothing misanthropic, nothing affected or unnatural, though much that is supernatural, in the sober life. The sober Christian sees things, not so much by the "dry light" of the ancient philosopher as in the warm light of Divine love that pervades everything. Are we living a sober life? Do we know what it is thus in God's name and by God's power to possess our souls? How common a thing, for example, is it to meet with Christian people who are the victims, not the masters, of an evil and irritable temper, which is ready to be excited on even the slenderest provocation, and to suggest the stormy word, the bitter thought, the hasty and unjustifiable action! Such a habit of soul is simply one form of that moral insobriety, that incapacity of self-control, which erases from our minds, so to speak, for the moment, the sober conclusions of reason, silences our moral sentiment, or so bewilders and confuses it, that it is no longer able to form a just estimate of conduct, to condemn the wrong and maintain the right. But are you living by Grace? Can Christ in you exhibit a bad temper? The truth is, we come down from the level of Grace and "walk as men," and then we need scarcely wonder that the old tree brings forth the old evil fruit. Or, to take another illustration, how many professing Christians are hampered and marred by some form of worldliness, by vanity, love of money, or by the ambitious dreams of youth? This is but another form of insobriety; our spiritual apprehension has been confused by the insurrection of lower desires unworthy of our Christian character. How many Christians have to complain of their bondage to their own sensual propensities? Let me point out that as Grace provides us with the power, so in the very first great lesson that she gives us she teaches how the power is to be applied. It is through faith that we receive the first great blessing that Divine Grace communicates; it is through faith that we receive all others. Our will has indeed to be exercised, but it has to be exercised rather in admitting its own inability, and in surrendering to Another the task for which it feels incompetent, than in endeavouring to perform the task itself.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,