For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
This passage is an admirable example of the manner of the apostle in mingling exhortation to present duties with the recognition and enforcement of that Divine power from which true obedience springs. In other words, we find blended here morality and spirituality. Both the one and the other are made to cohere, and to be in consistency with each other; and both of them spring from considerations of manhood in ourselves, and of gratitude and allegiance to God. It is difficult to give — nor is it necessary that we should give — a definition of morality. It is a phrase in every man's mouth. It does not mean the same with all, however. Men take their ideas of morality, not only from the communities in which they live, but from the circles in which they associate in any one community; and what would be considered as morality in a certain sort of neighbourhood in this city, would not be considered as continental morality. Morality in a neighbourhood may not be morality in a family of refinement and culture. There is something higher than morality in a cultured household. But yet men are regarded as moral who act in accordance with the laws of the land and with the customs of the community, and who avoid any outbreaking sins which shock the average conscience. It may be said, in the first place, that morality possesses the benefit of the most important negatives. A truly moral man, in the judgment of all, should be a man who does not get drunk, and does not steal, and does not commit burglary, and does not bear false witness. In other words, he is one who is rid of outbreaking vices and outrageous crimes. Well, that is creditable. You ought not to be guilty of such things. And if you have had a strong bias in your nature in any of these directions, and have arrested it, and that under circumstances where influences from without threatened to carry you away, it is no small thing. It is a great thing that you have avoided those pitfalls in which so many have been destroyed. Still, that is not the sum of all excellence. It is not enough for you to congratulate yourself upon, as I think we shall see. I not only recognise the import and excellence of morality in such sterling virtues as these, but I exhort men to them; and I say: "If you cannot go any further, go as far as that. It is a great deal better to go so far than not to reach that point. It may be only a beginning, but it is a beginning." Secondly: Morality includes those simple virtues which are indispensable to a wholesome life in society. A man can scarcely be called moral who is destitute of worldly honour. Honour is a sort of secular and partial conscience. It is functional; but within its limits it serves a most important end, and keeps alive those fragmentary elements of a higher life, of a higher moral sense, to which all men should be brought. Truth is one of those elements which is regarded as indispensable to morality — that is to say, such ordinary truth as passes current in life. Therefore morality includes honour, and truth, and fidelity, as well as honesty and fairness. And men say, "I am a moral man," meaning by that that they are possessed of these social and business-like virtues. The experiences of civil life and commercial life have found out many things which are very necessary for the easy conduct of affairs. For the regulation of society, for the living together of great masses of men, various things are inculcated, as essential to morality. Public sentiment demands certain things which are necessary to morality. The law prescribes certain things which are indespensable to morality. The customs prescribe certain negatives which enter into the popular idea of morality. And all of these are designed to take away the friction from the machinery of life, and to raise men above animal violence and above deceit, and put them upon a certain plane of moral sentiment. All that I complain of in reference to them is, that they are so low, that they are such uneducated and undeveloped forms of excellence, that they tend to dampen men's ambition, and to render them satisfied with the germs of things, instead of leading them to aspire after higher excellences of which these are but the basilar leaves. For — first; Morality in this grand sense founded upon external convenience, and not upon the requirements of things relating to man's whole nature. So it is a mere fragmentary thing; and it is a fragmentary thing in its lowest stages of development. Secondly: It restrains the outplay of evil; but it does not attempt to purify and to cure the sources of evil. Thirdly: It permits heinous faults which impoverish character, and waste the heart of man. Thus, a man may be a moral man who is peevish, morose, fretful. Fourthly: Morality aims to build up a man outwardly in his condition, but not inwardly in his character. It does not seek to develop one single spiritual grace. Lastly: It leaves out, wholly, the world to come, and all the obligations which we owe to God, and all the relations which are established between the soul and the Saviour Jesus Christ. It leaves out religion. That is to say, it leaves out the highest forms of aspiration and of duty, and all that which faith brings within the circuit of our knowledge and makes imperative. Here, then, are the deficiencies of morality. I have said that in conduct, in its lowest form, it has its value; but I think you will now perceive that it cannot be a substitute for religion. And yet, men who have only morality, say, "What lack I yet?" Now, if an Indian, with a fragmentary dress, should present himself as a full-dressed man before you, would you deride the idea that he was properly clad? Would you have him throw away the little he had before he got more? Complete dress is what one wants; but is nothing short of that of any value? I do not say to the young, "These moralities are of no value to you." They are of great value to you. Truth speaking, fidelity, industry, cleanliness, punctuality, frugality, enterprise — these are real excellencies. Have these at least. Have these anyhow. But will you be content with these? Is there not something in every human soul which has the touch of inspiration in it, and which leads it to aspire to something more than these qualities, which belong to the undeveloped mass of mankind? Morality is not in any sense, then, a substitute for spiritual religion, any more than industry and frugality are substitutes for patriotism. Every man ought to be frugal and industrious; but many are frugal and industrious who have no patriotism. "Well, then," you will say, "what about those qualities when a man dies? A man has been industrious, and frugal, and honest, and moderately truth speaking all his life long; and when he dies, and goes to judgment, what is to be done with these qualities which you say are good?" Well, they are of benefit to you now; they are of benefit to you in a thousand ways in this world; but they do not constitute that character which is to fit you for the world to come. They do not go to make the golden key which unlocks those mysteries of love which you. have need of. These minor qualities are not a substitute for it. You go forth an ungrown spirit; you go forth with lower leaves without the bloom and the fruit; and the lower is no substitute for the higher. Moreover, out of every one of these lower states, if we did but know it, may be developed, by the Divine grace, that which shall bring forth the true spiritual life. If you know enough to take one step, take a second. If you know enough to recognise law and obligation, and that low sense of character which is required by society, you have that foundation on which moral government itself rests, and you know enough to go on from step to step, and from strength to strength, and develop out of your lower knowledges higher attainments. Spirituality is only the normal and legitimate development of men in their higher forms, Divinely inspired, Divinely led, and Divinely blessed. It is God that works in those who work out their own salvation. It is the Divine cooperation and guiding influence that works upon your mind; and out of this joint working come all the grace, all the hope, all the faith, all the sweet fruition of love, the sense of immortality, and the longing for it, which we experience. And whatever is just, and true, and pure, and sweet, and of good report, upon earth, and in the heavenly circle — all this comes, to be sure, by the grace of God; but it comes by the grace of God through the development of your own faculties, and through your own striving.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,