For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
I. THE FAIR PICTURE OF WHAT OUR LIVES SHOULD BE.
1. Because we are to a large extent made up of blind desires which take no account of anything except their appropriate food, the commandment comes from the deepest recesses of each nature, as well as from the great throne in the heavens — "Live soberly." The engines will work on all the same, though the bows of the ship be turned to the rocks, and driving straight on the reef. It is the engineers' business to start them and keep them going; it is their business to turn the screw; it is somebody else's business to look after the navigation. We have our "humours under lock and key," in order that we may control them. And if we do not, we shall go all to rack and ruin. So "live soberly" says Paul.
2. The next requirement is "righteously." We stand in certain relations to a whole universe of things and of people, and there does rise before every man, however it may be accounted for, or explained away, or tampered with, or neglected, a standard of right and wrong. And what Paul here means by "live righteously" is, "Do as you know you ought to do," and, in shaping your character, have reference not merely to its constitution, but to its relations to all this universe of outside facts. So far as the word may include our duty to others, I may just remind you that "righteousness" in reference to our fellows demands mercy. The common antithesis which is drawn between a just man, who will give everybody what they deserve, and not one scrap more nor less if he can help it, and a kindly man is erroneous, because every man has a claim upon every other man for lenient judgment and undeserved help. He may not deserve it, being such a man as he is; but he has a right to it, being a man at all.
3. The last of the phases under which the perfect life is represented here takes us up at once into another region. If there were nobody but myself in the world, it must be my duty to live controlling myself, since I stand in relations manifold to creatures manifold, and to the whole order of things, it is my duty to conform to the standard, and to do what is right. And just as plainly as the obligations to sobriety and righteousness press on every man, so plainly is godliness necessary to his perfection. For I am not only bound by ties which knit me to my fellows, or to this visible order, but the closest of all bonds, the most real of all relations, is that which binds us each to God. And if "man's chief end be to glorify God," and then, and thus, "to enjoy Him forever," then that end, in its very nature, must be all-pervasive, and diffuse its sweetness into the other two. For you cannot sliver up the unity of a life into little sections and say, "this deed has to be done soberly, and that one righteously, and this one godly"; but godliness must cover the whole life, and be the power of self-control and of righteousness. "All in all or not at all." Godliness must be uniform and universal.
II. NOTICE WHAT A HARD TASK THE MAN HAS WHO WILL LIVE SO. The apostle, very remarkably, puts first, in my text, a negative clause. The things that he says we are to deny are the exact opposites of the characteristics that he says we are to aim after. Now, says Paul, there is no good to be done in the matter of acquiring these positive graces, without which a life is contemptible and poor unless, side by side with the continual effort at the acquisition of the one, there be the continual and resolute effort at the excision and casting out of the other. Why? Because they are in possession. A man cannot be godly unless he casts out the ungodliness that cleaves to his nature; nor can he rule himself and seek after righteousness unless he ejects the desires that are in possession of his heart. You have to get rid of the bad tenant if you would bring in the good one. You have to turn the current, which is running in the wrong direction. And so it comes to be a very hard, painful thing for a man to acquire these graces of which my text speaks. If it were only advancing in practice, or knowledge, or sentiment, or feeling, that would not be so difficult to do; but you have to reverse the action of the machine; and that is hard. Can it be done? Who is to keep the keepers? It is difficult for the same self to be sacrifice and priest. It is a hard matter for a man to crucify himself, and we may well say, if there can be no progress in goodness without this violent and thorough mutilation and massacre of the evil that is in us, alas! for us all.
III. WHAT GOD GIVES US TO MAKE SUCH LIFE POSSIBLE. Christ and His love; Christ and His life; Christ and His death; Christ and His spirit; in these are new hopes, motives, powers, which avail to do the thing which no man can do. An infant's fingers cannot reverse the motion of some great engine. But the hand that made it can touch some little tap or lever, and the mighty masses of polished iron begin to move the other way. Jesus, who comes to us to mould our hearts into hitherto unfelt love, by reason of His own great love, and who gives to us His own Spirit to be the life of our lives, gives us by these gifts new motives, new powers, new tastes, new affections. He puts the reins into our hands, and enables us to control and master our unruly tempers and inclinations. If you want to clear out a tube of any sort, the way to do it is to insert some solid substance, and push, and that drives out the clogging matter. Christ's love coming into the heart expels the evil, just as the sap rising in the trees pushes off the old leaves that have hung there withered all the winter. As Luther used to say, "You cannot clean out the stable with barrows and shovels. Turn the Elbe into it." Let that great flood of life pour into our hearts, and it will not be hard to "live soberly." He comes to help us to live "righteously." He gives us His own life to dwell in our hearts, in no mere metaphor, but in simple fact. And they that trust in Jesus Christ are righteous by no mere fiction of a righteousness reckoned, but by the blessed reality of a righteousness imparted. He comes to make it possible for us to live "godly." For He, and He alone, has the secret of drawing hearts to God; because He, and He alone, has opened the secret of God's heart to us.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,