It is very striking to notice the connections in which the summary of divine truth, contained in these verses, is introduced. The chapter is occupied with teaching what sort of conduct Christianity demands from those who profess it, according to the relative position in life in which they may be found. It teaches what is becoming in aged men and in aged women. It tells us, also, how young women should behave; and what should be characteristic of young men. It then takes up the common every-day conduct which is due from servants to their masters; and (while teaching them to be obedient, and to seek to please them in everything - guarding against insolence and dishonesty - "that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things") it adds, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
Now there is a reason for the introduction of this passage here; which is simply this: that while men are satisfied - and must be satisfied, for they can go no farther - with the expression of the mere outward behaviour, the word of God occupies itself with the correction of the motives and springs from whence all conduct flows. More than this - no conduct can ever be acceptable in the sight of God that does not flow from a heart subjected to His grace, which brings salvation; and that is not swayed by its daily powers. Rules of conduct are not given, cannot be given, to those whose hearts have not been subjected to "the obedience of faith."
But even here, amongst Christians, there is a very frequent mistake. While the world values Christianity merely for its collateral results, such as the reformation of manners and its conservative effect on society, etc., Christians too often are occupied with the working and effect of God's grace, in the subjects of it - whether themselves or others - to the exclusion of the contemplation of that grace in its divine and absolute character, and in its first and grand effect. I mean this: ordinarily the Christian's mind is more occupied, as expressed in the passage before us, with what the grace of God teaches, than with what it brings. It teaches us to deny ungodliness, etc.; but before it teaches, it brings salvation. How many may be found most anxious to discover, what men now call the subjective power of this grace, who at the same time are utterly at sea as to what is meant, in corresponding phrase, by its objective power! Surely it is well, and necessary, in its place, to see to it that we yield ourselves to the teaching of God's grace, when its lesson is, "that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." But it is not well to overlook, or underestimate, the absolute power of that grace in what it brings. The grace of God brings salvation, or is salvation-bringing, to the lost and ruined, before it teaches in those whom it saves.
330 "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared," is but the succinct description of God's intervention in infinite love, by the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the accomplishment of redemption.
Apart from all the effects and fruits of grace in those who are the subjects of it, there is God's intervention in perfect absolute goodness, in the scene of ruin and death, which sin has introduced, for the perfect and entire deliverance out of it. The grace of God brings salvation into this world, where sin and death and Satan's power mark the condition of man's existence; and that apart from all effects of that grace, in peace of conscience, or holiness and happiness, on the part of those that believe. There is the grace itself, as well as the blessed fruits which it produces. The salvation which it brings has its own proper character, as the intervention of God in divine love and power, as well as its own blessed results in the position Godward, to which it brings its objects.
The two termini of a Christian's course are here marked as the results of this interposition of God in grace, namely, salvation and glory. The Christian's path, I repeat it, is here shewn to lie between the starting-point, which is salvation, and the goal, which is glory. Grace and glory are inseparable. Conduct, exercise of heart, trial, conflict, service, lie between these two points, and in God's estimate take their character from them; but the salvation was accomplished alone by Christ's appearing in grace - for "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." And the glory will be accomplished, alone, by Christ's appearing in glory. This is what the passage states. "The grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." It then adds, "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Intermediately it tells us that the grace, which brings salvation, teaches us, "that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world"; while in verse 14, we have the constraining motive to holiness in the end for which Christ gave Himself for us. "Who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
331 This is plainly practical as the end, in us in this world, of Christ's infinite love.
Let us look, then, first, at the character of the deliverance, or salvation, which this wondrous intervention of God in grace brings. This cannot be learnt by going over the points of systematic divinity [i.e. the creeds of religious systems], but by a reference to the character of man's condition through sin, as unfolded in the word of God, and manifested by the suffering and death of Christ. Whatever there is of moral distance from God, through sin, this salvation, which "the grace of God" brings, meets, and sets aside. "For Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." Sin in its very nature separates from God; for light cannot have fellowship with darkness; but then it is said, "Ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." Sin, and death, and Satan's power, and the judgment of God - all marked man's condition of ruin, and all must be met before salvation, full and adequate, can be proclaimed. It is not enough to raise man from his degradation and moral pollution, if such a thing could be, and set him on his pathway to happiness. The conscience must be set at rest on the ground of every claim of God in His righteous holiness having been met, and every possible consequence of sin set aside. And this is the salvation which the grace of God brings. It brings eternal life into this region of death; for "God hath given to us eternal life: and this life is in his Son." It brings in divine righteousness into the midst of condemnation. For "he who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." It brings deliverance from Satan's power; for "through death [Christ] destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." Nay more, the salvation which the grace of God brings puts us in the very place, and position, and acceptance before God, and makes us partakers of the very life and glory of Him by whom the salvation has been wrought. It has no other measure, and has no lower character. Was ever love like this!
332 There is, indeed, the teaching of this grace, which is all-important in its place; but what the heart must know first (as it is its first action, on the part of a God of goodness) is its salvation-bringing power; for without the knowledge of the salvation, its teaching will be misapprehended and in vain.
The grace of God, then, first brings a perfect absolute deliverance of the soul from the whole consequences of sin, and brings into God's presence in acceptance, according to the acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the salvation lies in His obedience and sufferings for sin, in the acceptableness of His sacrifice, and in the power of His resurrection; and "as he is, so are we in this world." This is all absolute; it is God's part in the grace which brings salvation.
And as it is absolute in its character, so is it universal in its aspect and bearing. "The grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." It is unrestricted in its character; as the sun shines for all, though some hide themselves even from its light. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish but have everlasting life." "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
But the grace received becomes teaching in those who are the subjects of the salvation which it brings. It teaches us "that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." And here, I observe, it is "the grace" that teaches, and not something else. It is not man's wisdom, or man's morality, mixing itself with that which is divine in his salvation, and, I may add, divine in the nature which it imparts. It is the grace which brought the salvation still acting - but acting now in the subjects of it, and on the divine nature which it imparts. They are not human motives, which form and fashion and produce the morality of a Christian, any more than it is human power that accomplishes his salvation. It is "the grace of God" that teaches him as well as saves him.
This is very remarkably shewn in a passage in Timothy (1 Tim. 3:16), the force of which is very frequently overlooked. The apostle would teach Timothy how he ought to behave himself "in the house of God"; and he then presents the formative power of all true godliness in the words, "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
333 This is often quoted and interpreted as if it spoke of the mystery of the Godhead, or the mystery of Christ's Person. But it is the mystery of godliness, or the secret by which all real godliness is produced - the divine spring of all that can be called piety in man. "God manifest in the flesh," is the example and the power of godliness, its measure and its spring. Godliness is not now produced, as under the law, by divine enactments; nor is it the result in the spirit of bondage in those (however godly) who only know God as worshipped behind a veil. Godliness now springs from the knowledge of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. It takes its spring and character from the knowledge of His Person as "God manifest in the flesh"; the perfectness of His obedience, "as justified in the Spirit"; the object of angelic contemplation, and the subject of testimony and faith in the world; and His present position as "received up into glory."
This is how God is known; and from abiding in this flows godliness. And as in the passage before us, between the salvation, which is the result of the appearing of the grace and the crowning of "that blessed hope" which the believer looks for in the appearing of the glory, is the teaching of the grace that has brought salvation. It teaches the denial of ungodliness and worldly desires, as at war with the ends of redemption, and contrary to the character and position in which salvation places us as "delivered from this present evil world." Certainly the cross and the glory alike forbid the allowance of ungodliness and the pursuit of worldly desires. It was the world that crucified Christ; and in the appearing of the glory worldly desires can have no place. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lusts thereof." It will be all withered by the appearing of the glory. But sobriety, righteousness, and godliness are due from the believer towards the world as a witness; and due towards God as a witness of the conforming power of His most precious grace.
334 Already I have noticed that this passage presents the believer's path as lying between the salvation, which was accomplished by Christ's appearing in grace, and the glory, which will be accomplished by Christ's appearing in glory. "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing [or epiphany of the glory; as there was the epiphany of grace] of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ." The salvation which the grace of God brings settles every question between God and the soul as to sin and condemnation; and the appearing of the glory will bring those who are Christ's into the enjoyment of the presence of God and Christ, into the perfected victory of Christ, and into the possession of all that can fit us for His presence in glory. "Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself," Phil. 3:20-21. "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation," Heb. 9:28. "We are saved by hope"; and nothing so moulds the affections for heaven as "waiting for God's Son from heaven, … even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come." In possession, and in the enjoyment, as to the soul, of this divine and perfected salvation, the believer has that which is far brighter in hope. He who, in sorrow and suffering and in infinite love, wrought the salvation, is coming to receive us unto Himself; that where He is, there we may be also. We shall see Him as He is, and then we shall be made like Him.
All is divine and precious, infinite in love and goodness, in the way our God takes to act upon the soul. How touching is the motive to holiness which is presented in the closing verse of our passage! "Who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works," v. 14. Here we have the end of redemption in the practical walk of the believer in this world. But what can equal the motive that is presented in the declaration, "Who gave himself for us"?
May our hearts more fully answer to its constraining power!