CHAPTER 6 - THE RIGHTEOUS LIFE - "The Way" by Sir Robert Anderson


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.)