Alexander Maclaren

pdf Printable Version of This Page

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." Titus 2:11-12

To appreciate the full force of these words, we must observe that they are the Apostle's statement of the ultimate design of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and of all the wonderful powers and gifts which Christ brought with Him. In our text, the end for which that grace has appeared and exercises its corrective discipline is defined. It comes 'in order that, denying ungodliness, and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly.'

Now, remember that Paul thought that the life and the death of Jesus Christ were the most stupendous of miracles, nothing less than the entrance of divinity in a human form into the limitations of our lives and His participation in the darkness of our deaths. Remember that he believed that Jesus Christ's coming had led to a continual gift of an actual divine life to men who trusted Him. Then you will see the grandeur and significance of the words of my text. What has this divine miracle of mercy been for? Nothing but this--to help men here today to live good lives. [Even] if there were no future at all, says Paul, the expenditure of the divine love is amply vindicated. The sun does not disdain to shine in order to ripen the vegetables in the humble cottage garden; and the love of God did not conceive that it had too small an object to warrant all that lavish gift which is in Christ, in helping us to live as becomes us. How dear we must be to God, and how infinitely important in His eyes must conduct and character be if such an abundance and variety of divine influences were set in motion to produce such an effect!

Now, the first thing that strikes me about these words is the fair picture that they draw of what every life should be; and next, the hard conditions which they impose upon men who would live so; and then, what God has given us to make such lives possible. So I ask you to look at these three points.

1. The fair picture of what our lives should be.

Paul is saying nothing more than what conscience, reason, the instincts of men everywhere endorse. His requirements in the rough divisions of virtues which he adopts, not for scientific accuracy but for practical force, are really said 'Amen!' to by every honest conscience. 'Soberly, righteously, godly'--that is what everybody, if he will be fair with himself, feels to be the sort of life he ought to live. Let me just touch upon these three things very briefly. They may be said, roughly though not very accurately perhaps, to cover the ground of a man's duties to himself, to his neighbors, and to God.

'Soberly'--that is what you owe to your own nature. 'Righteously'--that is what you owe to people round you. 'Godly'--that is what you owe to Him. I need not explain, I suppose, that the word 'soberly' has by no means the narrow signification which the besetting vice of England has given to it now--viz., abstinence from, or a very restrained use of, intoxicating liquors, nor even the wider one of a curbing of the desires of sense. But the meaning may be better represented by self-control than by any other rendering. Now if there were no man in the world but myself, and if I had no thought or knowledge of God, and if there were no other standard to which I ought to conform, I should have in my own nature--with its crowd of desires, tastes, inclinations, and faculties--plain indication that self-government was essential. For human nature is not constituted on the plan of a democracy or an ochlocracy--a mob rule--but there is a clear hierarchy and order of predominance in it; and, as plainly as a ship is made to need a rudder, so plainly on your make is there stamped the necessity for rigid self-control.

For we all carry with us desires, inclinations, appetites--some of them directly connected with our physical frame and some of them a little more refined--which are mere blind inclinations to a given specific good, and will be stirred up apart altogether from the question of whether it is expedient or right to gratify them. To a hungry man the odor of food is equally enticing whether the food belongs to himself or his neighbor; and if he had to steal for it, it would still tempt him. Because, then, 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 engineer's business to start them and keep them going; it is their [the engines] business to turn the screw; it is somebody else's business to look after the navigation. We have our 'humors 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.

The next requirement is, 'righteously.' Now, I said that that might, perhaps, be roughly explained as referring mainly to our duties to one another. But that is not by any means an exhaustive--and perhaps a scarcely approximate--description. For the attitude expressed in 'righteously' does not so much point to other people as to the existence of a certain standard, external to ourselves, to which it is our business and wisdom to conform. I said that if there were nothing in the world except a man and his own nature, the duty of sober self-government would necessarily arise. But the supposed isolation does not exist. 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. And no man is righteous who is not merciful. We do not fulfill the prophet's exhortation, 'do justice,' unless we fulfill his other, 'love mercy.' For mercy is the right of all men.

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 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. Lacking their supreme beauty are the lives of all who endeavor to keep these other two departments of duty and forget this third. There are many men--I have no doubt there are some of them among us--punctiliously trying to control their natures and to live righteously; but all their thoughts run along the low levels, and they are absolutely blind and deaf to voices and sights from heaven. They are like some of those truncated pyramids, broad-based upon the solid earth and springing with firm lines to a certain height, and then coming to a dead stop and so being but stumps, which leave a sense of incompleteness because all the firm lines have not gathered themselves up into the sky-piercing point which aspires still higher than it has reached. 'Soberly,' that is much; 'righteously,' that is more; 'godly,' that is not most but all.

2. Secondly, 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. 'Denying ungodliness'--that is clearly the opposite of 'godly'; and 'worldly lusts,' though perhaps not so obviously, yet certainly is the antithesis of 'soberly' and righteously.' I need not remind you, I suppose, that the word 'lusts' here has not the carnal associations cleaving to it which have gradually accrued to it in the changes of language since our translation was made; but that it implies simply 'desires,' longings, of however refined and incorporeal a sort, which attach themselves to the fleeting things of this life. Pride, ambition, and all the more refined and less sensual desires are as much included as the grossest animalism in which any swine of a man can wallow. Worldly lusts are desires which say to earth and to what earth can give, in any of its forms, 'Thou art my god, and having thee I am satisfied.'

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. People talk as if what we needed was the cultivation of what we have. Aye! that is needed; but there is something else than that needed. You have to turn out a great deal of bad in order to make room for the good. Not that the evil can be expelled without the entrance of the good, as I shall have to say in a moment. But still the two things must go on side-by-side.

And so it is hard work for a man to grow better. If we had only to advance 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 [therefore] 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!'

I am sure, as sure as I stand here, that there are plenty of young men and women among my hearers now who have tried once and again to 'live soberly, righteously, and godly'; but they have failed once and again, because the evil that is in them has been too strong for them.

3. I come, lastly, on the strength of that grand first word of my text, 'in order that,' to remind you of what God gives us to make such life possible.

'The grace of God, that brings salvation to all men, has appeared disciplining us,' for this purpose, that the things which are impossible with men may be possible with God. 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 that no man can do. An infant's finger 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. And so God, and God only, can make it possible for us to deny ourselves ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to 'live soberly, righteously, godly, in this present world.' That Jesus, who comes to us to mold 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 tree 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 who 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. As long as we think of that Father in the heavens as demanding and commanding, we shall not love Him, nor serve Him, nor live 'godly.' 'I knew thee, that thou wast an austere man . . . therefore I was afraid, and hid my talent in the earth.' But when we learn that 'God' and 'Love' spell with the same letters, and that He gives us in Christ the power to be what He commands us to become, then our spirits are stirred into thankful obedience.

So, dear friends, you that have been, as I am sure many of you have been, trying over and over again to mend yourselves and have failed, listen to this gospel. You that have been sitting at the foot of the mountain, and seeing the shining towers of the fair palace-temple on its summit, and have made two or three feeble and foiled efforts to reach it, and then have fallen back again--do not despair or fancy that the heights are inaccessible. Trust yourselves to Christ and let His life come into your spirits, and He will 'make your feet as hind's feet, to tread upon the high places.' He will be the path, and will show the path, and will give His angels charge concerning you, to bear you up in their hands, and to carry you at last wherever He desires to bring you.

Return to Alexander Maclaren Page

© Copyright 2019 Rediscovering the Bible. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us | Email Webmaster