Secret Service Theologian




THE Bible, on its human side, is an Eastern book, abounding in imagery and figure; and when we are told that grace teaches us, the language, of course, is figurative. Whether we live under law or under grace, God is the teacher. But the passage emphasises the truth that it is on the principle of grace that He trains us, not of law. And these two principles are wholly incompatible. Both are good and right, but they are inconsistent. The essential characteristic of law is the assertion of rights; the essential characteristic of grace is the giving up of rights. "He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us." This is the great manifestation of grace - the self-sacrifice of the Son of God.
And it is on this principle that He deals with us as now redeemed. It is a thorough paradox to a carnal man; but the philosophy of the heart runs deeper than that of the head. An illustration may be useful to mark the contrast between the two principles. "Thou shalt not steal" was the command that pealed forth from Sinai; and a curse followed upon transgression. "Let him that stole steal no more" is the kindred command of grace. And now mark the sequel: "But rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." Law forbids our taking what is another’s; grace goes further, and enjoins our giving up what is our own. And so, through all the practical teaching of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the warnings, even against sins of the grossest kind, are based upon blessings freely given, or upon Divine relationships freely formed.
"The grace of God trains us." In three other passages of the New Testament this same word is used of God’s dealings with His people, and in these it is rightly rendered chasten. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten," is the Lord’s word to Laodicea. And in the solemn warning against unworthily partaking of the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle writes: "We are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." Law would condemn; grace chastens. And the other passage - Hebrews xii.- marks the distinction still more clearly. The fifth verse takes up the very words of the warning to Laodicea: "Despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him."
And mark the ground on which the chastening comes. It is not based upon sin committed, but upon the relationship in which the sinner stands to God. "For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." "What son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?" But the difference does not end here. Punishment, strictly so called, has relation to the past; chastening to the future. Punishment is imposed because of sin committed; chastening is inflicted with a view to the good of him who is the subject of it. He chastens us "for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness."
The spirit of legality that is indigenous to our hearts has no more common or subtle phase than that of regarding chastisement as necessarily a punishment for sin. And the teaching of the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, the Divine antidote for this error, is but little understood. Indeed, our beliefs in this respect are but the old doctrine of Eliphaz the Ternanite: "Who ever perished being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?" That one who lay crushed and desolate beneath so terrible a storm of seemingly unpitying judgments could be "a perfect and upright man that feared God and eschewed evil," was a phenomenon entirely beyond the theology of the Temanite; and so he and his companions only forced Job back upon the assertion of his own integrity, and drove him still further from the God who was seeking thus to make him "partaker of His holiness." And in the end the "comforters" of Job had to seek the prayers of Job to save them from the wrath their words had kindled.’
Grace teaches us. The Christian course is a discipline. And the result is a sober, righteous, and godly life on earth, with heart and eye fixed upon a blessed hope above it and beyond it. "Soberly, righteously, and godly": these words represent the threefold aspect of life - to a man’s own spirit, to his neighbour, and to God. And it is certain that these qualities are not characteristic of the age we live in. Sobriety - where is it to be found in this age of display, and hurry, and greed?
Just as a nation’s commerce may be estimated by its coinage, so its thoughts may be judged by its language; and this word "sober" has so long been run in a special and narrow groove that now it almost refuses to expand to the thought that is here intended. And if the word be wanting, we may be sure the quality it expresses has grown rare. Elsewhere in this epistle this same word is rendered, in our version, "sober," "temperate," and "discreet"; and it embraces all this, and more. Etymologically, it means possessed of a sound mind; and this idea always clings to it. It implies a habit of mind opposed to extremes, and most of all to levity. He who has been trained in the school of grace is marked by soundness of judgment in all things. Sobriety should characterise the Christian, not only in his conduct and circumstances, but in his language and his thoughts. And we must not suppose that spiritual life is unaffected by the world without. Practical Christianity is always leavened by the prevailing influences of the time. Because of the national vices of the Cretans, the flock among whom Titus ministered needed sharp rebuke. They were a mendacious, carnal, avaricious race; hence the weighty precepts of the Epistle. This word "soberly," and its kindred adjectives and verbs and nouns, are used but sixteen times in the New Testament, and six of these are found in this brief letter. And though it may be disputed whether the special Cretan vices mark our own society to-day, no one will question that insobriety is specially characteristic of this much-lauded age of ours. Nor is this true only of "the City." The baneful influences which surround us, the haste and rivalry which mark our commercial life, have invaded social, and even family life. What is said of the wicked seems true of all together now - they are "like the troubled sea when it cannot rest." Life is becoming a scramble. And Christian life is leavened by the evil influence. Many an earnest worker might take up the sad lament, "They made me keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept."
And such may need the discipline of the Father’s house. But this must never be allowed to obscure the truth of the believer’s security in Christ. "Him that cometh unto Me," the Lord declares, "I will in no wise cast out." These words are generally read as a "Gospel message." But such is not their purpose. It is not that He never refuses to receive a repentant sinner, but that He never expels a sinner whom He has thus received. Most true it is that He never shuts the door against any one who comes to Him. But what He tells us here is that no one whom He once has welcomed shall ever be put outside the door again. Even if the words themselves were not so clear, the context would make this plain. For He goes on to say, it is the Father’s will that not one of those who come to Him shall be lost. And He adds, "I will raise him up at the last day."
But this only serves to bring into greater prominence the need of chastening. And "the chastening of the Lord" may explain what sometimes seems capricious and even harsh in His dealings with His people. For are we not perplexed and distressed at times, when the most earnest, and seemingly the most useful, Christians are laid aside or called away? As seen by us," the world to come" stands apart from "this present world." But it is not so with God. And if our view included both worlds, Divine dealings which now seem strange or harsh would appear as proofs of His wisdom and His love.
(Footnote - Hebrews x. 26 - 29, is misused to check "boldness," whereas its purpose, as expressed in verse 35 (cf verse 19), is "Cast not away therefore your boldness." As Alford writes, "It is the sin of apostasy from Christ back to the state which preceded the reception of Christ, viz. Judaism. This is the ground sin of all other sins. . . . It is not of an act, or any number of acts, of sin, that the writer is speaking, which might be repented of and blotted out; but of a state of sin in which a man is found when that day shall come." And Heb. vi. 4-8 is to be explained in the same way, as the rest of that chapter so clearly proves.)
What an example of this we find in the case of one who is perhaps the grandest figure on the stage of Old Testament story. Turning away from the treasures of Egypt, and all the power and pomp of the throne of the Pharaohs, Moses threw in his lot with the despised and suffering people of God. A stiff-necked and rebellious people they were; but he bore with them, interceding for them when they sinned, and guiding and training them day by day, during all their wilderness wanderings, until they reached the land of promise. And yet for one hasty act of unfaithfulness, into which he was betrayed when provoked beyond endurance, he was refused the prize of his whole life’s work. What relentlessness and severity was this! But "judge nothing before the time." The vision of "the holy mount" reveals to us that Moses was singled out for extraordinary privilege and blessedness and glory. And thus we see "the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy."


IT is a common error to read the Old Testament as though the blessings promised to the righteous were now the birthright of the justified. True it is that in the present economy prominence is given to what is spiritual - to the heart as distinguished from the outward life, whereas the converse of this was necessarily characteristic of a dispensation of law. But this only serves to prove more clearly that "the righteous" of the Psalms are those who are practically upright. Grace has not changed the character of God, nor yet the principles of His moral government. "Trust in the Lord, and do good," is not an obsolete precept, inconsistent with grace; it is precisely what grace teaches.
We seem in danger of supposing that "believers" have access to God in spiritual things, and a right to expect blessing in temporal things, without regard to the character of their life. Grace brings life eternal to the drunkard or the thief; but the one does not celebrate the event by a carouse, nor does the other steal the watch of the evangelist who has ministered the Gospel to him. And why not? Their natural instincts would prompt them to it. Yes, but the same grace which brings them life, teaches them. And eternal life is not like a railway-ticket, or a trinket, that a man may lose if he have a bad pocket, or fall in with bad company. If they have been saved, they have repented and have been born again.
It is not that the one has reckoned up the bottles he has drunk, and the other the pockets he has emptied, and that they have mourned and wept at the retrospect. The repentance of the Gospel is far deeper than repentance for sins, which is the lowest type of repentance. Nor is it a change of conduct merely, but a change of mind. It is not that a man’s acts are different, but that he himself is different. The drunkard may sit before his empty bottles, and cry, in bitterness of soul, "Forgive my sins," and yet turn to his drink again before the week is over. The very prayer, moreover, often contains the implied assertion that a man could do better if he tried; and that he will do better if only the past be forgiven. But grace goes deeper far than this. Law bids a man look back upon his life, and plead, "Forgive my sins"; but grace teaches him to look within, and to cry, with a heart laid bare before a holy and righteous God, "Be merciful to ME the sinner." A holy God can have fellowship with such a man; and a righteous God can crown him with blessings. But grace does not suspend the action of the principles on which God governs the world; and the sinner, though thus blessed and saved, may suffer, all his days on earth, the consequences of his sins. It would betray strange ignorance, alike of doctrine and of fact, to quote David’s words, "I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread," and to argue that there can be no Christians in the workhouse, and no children of Christians on the streets.
Not that adversity is proof of sin. It may, as in the case of Job, be proof of special dealing from God, to lead to special blessing. Indeed the thirty-seventh Psalm, above quoted, is pervaded by this thought. But the great public principle of God's dealings with men is that the upright prosper. Rogues may sometimes become millionaires, but it is proverbial that ill- gotten wealth is fleeting. And, moreover, even in this life, a man's balance at the banker's is not the only, nor even the truest, test of prosperity. The rule is that integrity reaps its reward. If a Christian grocer be less righteous in his dealings than his atheist rival next door, God will not turn men's hearts to buy his tea. On the contrary, the man will probably lose his customers and become bankrupt; and his rival will probably prosper. And the result will only prove that the God whom the atheist denies is a righteous God.
But it will be urged, "It is not God who does this; it is merely the ordinary course of things." Here is atheism with a vengeance! "The ordinary course of things" means just the ordinary course of God's moral government of the world, and that is that righteousness prospers. It is not always so, as we have seen; but it is the rule. If a man walks over a precipice, God does not interfere, either to save or to destroy him. But the catastrophe which follows is the result of natural laws which God has ordained. The laws of Nature are so seldom suspended that when the phenomenon occurs we describe it as a miracle. The laws of Providence, on the other hand, have many a disturbance, many an exception. But yet both have been ordained by the same God.
And these principles of God’s moral government display his character. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness." "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness ? " If Christian men of business descend to the common tricks of trade, will God accept them as his servants? Or will their prayers avail? "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much": not a justified man merely, but a righteous man. The servants of Crete were exhorted to "adorn the doctrine of God." And how could such adorn it? Why, by obedience to their masters, and diligence in their work, and, as the Catechism says, by keeping their hands from picking and stealing, and their tongues from evil speaking - "not gainsaying, not purloining, but showing all good fidelity." That their heathen masters, marking their conduct - watching them through the keyhole, perhaps, when alone in the room, with the cupboard open - might find that their lives were not governed by outward restraints, but by a secret principle of good within, and thus learn to praise the doctrine which could produce such results. They thus adorned the doctrine. It was not that the servant was valued because of his profession, but that his creed was valued because of his practice. And praise will not be earned as cheaply in Christian England as it was in heathen Crete. The standard of public morality is higher; and keeping clear of the policeman will not avail to adorn the Gospel. It is not that the clerk does not forge cheques, but that he shows high Christian principle in husbanding the time his employer pays him for. It is not that the shopman does not rob the till, but that no reward or prospect of advancement will induce him to call bad good, or to trick a customer. It is not that the Christian groom does not steal the oats, but that his master’s horses are the best cared for in the parish. It is not that the Christian working-man does not scamp his work, but that he risks persecution and loss by insisting, in violation of trade-union rules, on working, not as a men-pleaser, but "with good will as to the Lord." In a word, one and all, their righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees; for it is only by "showing all good fidelity" in things in which others fail, that the child of grace can be distinguished.
This is not truth for one class only; it is truth for all. It is the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." And how many a humble and dreary lot would be ennobled and gladdened if life were thus lived out to God, and even menial acts were done as to the Lord!
The righteous living which grace enjoins is far more than the absence of dishonesty. "Owe no man anything" is a precept which cannot be fulfilled by a cheque-book or a purse of sovereigns. Grace is as ready to observe the rights of others, as to relinquish its own. It has nothing in common with socialism. But in our day the baneful principles of the Commune, which are leavening society, are perverting even the doctrine of Christ. The Lord of glory calls us "Brethren," "Friends"; the heart that grace has taught responds, "Master," "Lord." And so also in all the relationships of common life. Grace exacts homage from none, but is eager to render it wherever it is due. The peer will claim the peasant as his brother; the peasant will reciprocate by paying all the deference which rank demands, especially when joined with worth and godliness. The same grace which teaches a man to pay money to whom money is due, teaches him, too, to "render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour." Righteous living implies a careful observance of every relationship, and a careful discharge of every obligation. And if Christians do not take heed to these things, when the present wave of blessing begins to ebb, and the world, cold-hearted but clear-headed, comes to take stock of the results, a reaction will set in against the loud profession of the day, and the worthy Name by which we are called will be blasphemed. This is not in keeping with the spirit of the age. But it pertains to "the things which befit wholesome teaching:" teaching which is little known in days when even the sublime precepts of the Sermon on the Mount are perverted to pander to a mawkishly unwholesome socialism, by which even true-hearted Christians are betrayed into conduct that is utterly un-Christian.
(A friend of mine who began his business life in the office of Lord - , asked me once whether I thought he was justified as a Christian in raising his hat when he met his lordship. I answered, of course, that to be a Christian was higher than to be a gentleman, and that he was not even a gentleman if he omitted to do it.)

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