CHAPTER 5 - THE SOBER LIFE - "The Way" by Sir Robert Anderson


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."