For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
There are two appearances spoken of in this context — the appearance of "the grace of God that bringeth salvation"; and parallel with that, though at the same time contrasted with it, as being in very important senses, one in nature and principle, though diverse in purpose and diverse in manner, is what the apostle here calls "the glorious appearing of the great God."
I. THE APPEARANCE OF THE GRACE LEADS TO THE APPEARANCE OF THE GLORY. The identity of the form of expression in the two clauses is intended to suggest the likeness of and the connection between the two appearances. In both there is a visible manifestation of God, and the latter rests upon the former, and completes and crowns it. But the difference between the two is as strongly marked as the analogy; and it is not difficult to grasp distinctly the difference which the apostle intends. While both are manifestations of the Divine character in exercise, the specific phase (so to speak) of that character which appears is in one case "grace," and in the other "glory." If one might venture on any illustration in regard to such a subject, it is as when the pure white light is sent through glass of different colours, and at one moment beams mild through refreshing green, and at the next flames in fiery red that warns of danger. The grace has appeared when Divine love is incarnate among us. The long-suffering gentleness we have seen. And in it we have seen, in a very real sense, the glory, for "we beheld His glory — full of grace." But beyond that lies ready to be revealed in the last time the glory, the lustrous light, the majestic splendour, the flaming fire of manifest Divinity. Again, the two verses thus bracketed together, and brought into sharp contrast, also suggest how like, as well as how unlike, these manifestations are to be. In both cases there is an appearance, in the strictest sense of the word, that is to say, a thing visible to men's senses. Can we see the grace of God? We can see the love in exercise, cannot we? How? "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?" The appearance of Christ was the making visible in human form of the love of God. My brother! The appearance of the glory will be the same — the making visible in human form of the light of throned and sovereign Deity. What we look for is an actual bodily manifestation in a human form, on the solid earth, of the glory of God! And then I would notice how emphatically this idea of the glory being all sphered and embodied in the living person of Jesus Christ proclaims His Divine nature. It is "the appearance of the glory" — then mark the next words — "of the great God, and our Saviour." The human possesses the Divine glory in such reality and fulness as it would be insanity if it were not blasphemy, and blasphemy if it were not absurdity, to predicate of any simple man. The words coincide with His own saying, "The Son of Man shall come in His glory and of the Father," and point us necessarily and inevitably to the wonderful thought that the glory of God is capable of being fully imparted to, possessed by, and revealed through Jesus Christ; that the glory of God is Christ's glory, and the glory of Christ is God's. And then I must touch very briefly another remarkable and plain contrast indicated in our text between these two "appearings." They are not only unlike in the subject (so to speak) or substance of the manifestation, but also in the purpose. The grace comes, patient, gentle, sedulous, labouring for our training and discipline. The glory comes — there is no word of training there! What does the glory come for? The one rises upon a benighted world — lambent and lustrous and gentle, like the slow, silent, climbing of the silvery moon through the darkling sky. But the other blazes out with a leap upon a stormy heaven, "as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west," writing its fierce message across all the black page of the sky in one instant, "so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be."
II. THE APPEARING OF THE GLORY IS A BLESSED HOPE. The hope is blessed; or the word "happy" may, perhaps, be substituted with advantage. Because it will be full of blessedness when it is a reality, therefore it is full of joy while it is but a hope. The characteristics of that future manifestation of glory are not such that its coming is wholly and universally a joy. There is something terrible in the beauty, something menacing in the brightness. But it is worth noticing that, notwithstanding all that gathers about it of terror, all that gathers about it of awful splendour, all that is solemn and heart shaking in the thought of judgment and retribution for the past, the irreversible and irrevocable pest, yet to Paul it was the very crown of all his expectations of, and the very shining summit of all his desires for, the future — that Christ should appear. The hope is a happy one. If we know "the grace" we shall not be afraid of "the glory." If the grace has disciplined in any measure we may be sure that we shall partake in its perfection. They that have seen the face of Christ looking down, as it were, upon them from the midst of the great darkness of the cross, and beneath the crown of thorns, need not be afraid to see the same face looking down upon them from amidst all the blaze of the light, and from beneath the many crowns of the kingdoms of the world, and the royalties of the heavens. Whosoever hath learnt to love and believe in the manifestation of the grace, he, and he only, can believe and hope for the manifestation of the glory.
III. THE GRACE DISCIPLINES US TO HOPE FOR THE GLORY. The very idea of discipline involves the notion that it is a preparatory stage, a transient process for a permanent result. It carries with it the idea of immaturity, of apprenticeship, so to speak. If it is discipline, it is discipline for some condition which is not yet reached. And so, if the grace of God comes "disciplining," then there must be something beyond the epoch and era within which the disciple is confined. Here is a perfect instrument for making men perfect, and what does it do? It makes men so good and leaves them so bad that unless they are to be made still better and perfected, God's work on the soul is at once an unparalleled success and a confounding failure — a puzzle, in that having done so much it does not do more; in that having done so little it has done so much. The achievements of Christianity upon single souls, and its failures upon those for whom it has done most, when measured against, and compared with, its manifest adaptation to a loftier issue than it has ever reached here on earth, all coincide to say — the grace — because its purpose is discipline, and because its purpose is but partially achieved here on earth — demands a glory, when they whose darkness has been partially made "light in the Lord," by the discipline of grace, shall "blaze forth as the sun" in the Heavenly Father's kingdom of glory. Yield to the discipline, and the hope will be strengthened. You will never entertain in any vigour and operative power upon your lives the expectation of that coming of the glory unless you live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. That discipline submitted to is, if I may so say, like that great apparatus which you find by the side of an astronomer's biggest telescope, to wheel it upon its centre and to point its tube to the star on which he would look. So our anticipation and desire, the faculty of expectation which we have, is wont to be directed along the low level of earth, and it needs the pinions and levers of that gracious discipline, making us sober, righteous, godly, in order to heave it upwards, full front against the sky, that the stars may shine into it. The speculum, the object glass, must be polished and cut by many a stroke and much friction ere it will reflect "the image of the heavenly"; so, grace disciplines us, patiently, slowly, by repeated strokes, by much rubbing, by much pain — disciplines us to live in self-restraint, in righteousness and godliness, and then the cleared eye beholds the heavens, and the purged heart grows towards "the coming" as its hope and its life.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,