Online Text Sermon - The Saviour of All Men, 1 Timothy ch.4 v.10
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Saviour of All Men (Date not known)|
|Text||1 Timothy ch.4 v.10 |
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You will see there that God is said to be the Saviour of two groups of persons. First of all, He is said to "be the Saviour of all men", but then secondly in an especial sense God is the Saviour "of those that believe" (text).
Now this text immediately informs us that God has a two-fold relationship with the human race. And we need to understand what this two-fold relationship is. God is the Saviour of those who believe in an especial sense. That's the word he uses: 'specially' or "especially of those that believe" (text). Now we are very familiar with this sense of the Saviour-hood of God. By this expression, clearly he means that God is the One who is preparing believers for their everlasting glory in heaven. He is their Saviour in the sense that He has forgiven all their sins, Christ being their Redeemer. So that is the Gospel sense of the expression, that God is the Saviour of all who believe; we're very, very familiar with it.
But then, we have to come to this other expression that: God is "the Saviour of all men" (text). And I think you would agree that that is more perplexing. In what sense, we say, is God the Saviour of those who are not believers? Clearly, the Bible does not teach that all men are to be saved, or that they are already saved, or being saved. So there is a sense in which God is a Saviour to the unbeliever, but we must pay careful attention so that we do not misunderstand what the apostle means and that brings me immediately to my subject and to my theme.
God is the Saviour of believers, in that He has bestowed upon them the greatest gift of all and that is saving grace. But God is the Saviour of the non-Christian world in this respect, that He has bestowed upon them in this life, common grace and that is the distinction. God in this present life is the Saviour of the godless, the irreligious, the non-Christian, the heathen, the wicked in that He has given them in this life common grace and does give them common grace. But to believers He gives special grace. That is the point the apostle is making and we must obviously, as we see, come now to confront the question: what is the difference between common grace and saving grace, or special grace - we can give it either term - saving grace or special grace on the one hand, common grace on the other. What's the difference?
Well let me explain it like this: saving grace brings a man or woman to the point in which their life is changed radically and completely. They turn their back on sin and in future they live for God and for Christ. Saving grace renews the image of God within the soul of a man or woman. That image, or spiritual image, was lost through the fall of Adam, but it is immediately renewed. A person who has been converted is like an old, faded, water colour painting, the colour is now faint and indistinct, but along comes a great artist and he touches up the painting with the old colours, the beauty is restored; 'fine art restored' is the name you would give to such an one. Now that is what God does to the soul of a man or woman at their conversion, or new birth. He bestows upon them this saving grace which brings all the colour of His own image within the soul. And you can see it at once: their eye is set upon heavenly things; their appetite is for God; they cannot live any more for the world. Now that is what saving grace does. And I may give one more distinction which I think is, in a way perhaps the most helpful of all: we say that saving grace moves the will of the sinner to Gospel obedience; so that those who receive this wonderful gift of saving grace have their will power renewed to obey the Gospel - believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And, as it were, God lays hold upon their will power and He inwardly and powerfully moves it to obedience. He grants what He commands. He gives what He requires. And that is the nature of saving grace.
Now common grace does many things, as I'm about to show you in a moment. But, it does none of those things: it does not cause a person to hate sin; it does not renew their will; nor restore the lost image of God. So we concentrate this evening on the subject of common grace.
How does common grace work? In various ways: let me give you some general statements and then come down to some particulars. Common grace first of all works like this: that in the world, in this present world, God restrains sin in all men. No man in this life goes so far in sin as he would. God puts a brake on, so that the natural tendency of sin within the human heart, which would rise up and flare up and result in continual crimes committed all the time, that brutality and violence within our hearts is restrained by God, not only in Christians, but in non-Christians, in both. But we're now talking about the non-Christian. God controls the sins of men. Now I hope you understand, my beloved friends that this is a great blessing, it doesn't take anyone to heaven, but it does keep this world from becoming a very 'hell on earth', to use a common expression. You see, if God were to remove His common grace out of this world, what would happen is that you and I would not get home safely tonight. Those who are in the streets who are not Christians, their lust would so blaze forth that they would kill one another and kill us, especially those who are the Lord's people. But God restrains that temptation and tendency to violence by His common grace.
I give you one passage. I won't turn to it, I'll give you the reference. It's to be found at your leisure in Genesis 20 where we have the account of Abraham and Abimelech, the king of the Philistines. Abraham was sojourning in his country for a while and Abraham had his wife with him, but he didn't say 'this is my wife', he said 'this is my sister' which was only half the truth. She was his half-sister, but at the same time, she was also his wife. That was tolerated in the days before Moses; you could marry within the degrees of consanguinity and affinity, but you couldn't do that in Moses day; so Abraham's wife was his half-sister. And when it seemed convenient to him, on more than one occasion he referred to her not as 'my wife', but as 'my sister'.
Now you remember this gave rise to a great danger. Because Abimelech, who was polygamous, took her into his harem, his squad of women, and in the night, you remember, God appeared in a dream to Abimelech and said to him that he must restore that woman to her rightful husband next day; otherwise he will be a dead man and Abimelech in his dream said to God: but Lord, I didn't know it was his wife, she was his sister according to what he said to me himself. And this is what God said: Yes, said God, you did not commit that sin, (in other words in taking her to be his wife in the full sense), because I kept thee from it. The Lord there tells us, Abimelech is not a believer, not a godly man - God says, "I also withheld thee from sinning against me" (Genesis 20,6). Now that is exactly the subject before us, or part of the subject - the restraining power of God within the life and heart of the unbeliever. That's part of it, this restraint.
Now another part of common grace is what we call God's promotion of civil righteousness, civil righteousness. I must explain the phrase: civil righteousness is the phrase we give to righteousness between man and man in this world, which is of value in society. You understand it is impossible for godless and wicked men to perform any spiritual righteousness; he has not ability to do that. Because he cannot aim at the glory of God, nor does he act out of faith. So spiritual righteousness is completely impossible to a godless person. They cannot do anything whatever to please God, even their every-day actions like tying a shoelace is wicked in the sight of God; or combing their hair; or taking a bath; or everything the wicked man does is wicked, because his heart is wicked. Even in eating his breakfast or supper is all wickedness in the sight of God: "the plowing of the wicked, is sin" (Proverbs 21,4). The sinner can do nothing spiritually acceptable to God, but he can perform what we call civil righteousness, that is to say he can benefit his neighbour in various ways: he can be a good neighbour; he can be a decent, law abiding citizen; he can be profitable to his fellow men by being a decent husband; and he might even engage in a certain amount of charitable activity and so on. Now all of those things are classed as civil righteousness and how does a wicked man do these things? Well, not because of himself; he does them because God operates in his mind and heart and prompts him to these acts of civil righteousness; even these things come from the mercy and kindness of God.
Now we must understand, dear friends, that once a wicked man enters hell and leaves this life all common grace is removed. There is no common grace in hell whatsoever. The devils in hell are as wicked as they could ever possibly be and so are all the sinners down there. They hate one another with a total hatred. And to be in hell is to be in a place where everybody hates everybody else with a perfect hatred. Now the world would be like that, but it's not, for this common grace. And it is no small blessing and something we should be profoundly grateful for to God. And I say it acts in restraining sin; it acts in promoting civil righteousness; let me add one more and it is this: it is also to be seen in the way in which God encourages cultural activity.
Now that again needs to be explained. Such things I mean as beautiful art; beautiful music; beautiful architecture; everything which is beautiful has its origin in the common grace of God. You know that verse in Philippians 4,8 it goes something like this: "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4,8).
Now what the apostle is talking about in Philippians 4,8 is things which are the fruit of God's common grace. There are some things in this world we are not to think about. We are not to think about lewd stories, foul pictures, drugs, sensuality, carnality, these things are no fit subject for the Christian to think about, or for anybody else for that matter, but certainly not for the Lord's people. We mustn't allow ourselves to think of these things, but there are things which are specifically religious which it is lawful and proper to think about. It is no sin to look at a beautiful painting and admire it. It is no sin to enjoy a beautiful garden; it's no sin to admire a fine piece of architecture; it is no sin to listen to beautiful music, what we normally call classical music. Now all of these things, cultural things, are the fruit of common grace in this life. They stop as soon as people leave this world, there is no such thing as beauty in hell, not so much as a spark of it, or an atom of it. Everything there is in a state of discord and so on. But now in this life, as long as people are here, God bestows gifts upon even people who are quite irreligious. He bestows gifts upon them which can beautify the world: beautiful paintings; beautiful music; beautiful gardens, and such like things. Well, you have that point then.
So there are three principal ways in which common grace benefits us all, Christians and non-Christians in this life. I mention them again as restraining sin, promoting civil righteousness, and giving cultural gifts to men and women.
Let me now just illustrate how these things tend to rise or fall with the Gospel. So when special grace goes up in society, common grace goes up with it because the Gospel raises the tone of society wherever it goes. So that where the Gospel is strong and the church is strong and the influences of Christian principles are strong in society, even the wicked enjoy many great benefits which are the by-products of the Gospel. I have a rather good illustration which I like, it's not from me, it's somebody else's, but I'm copying it and giving it to you, because I like it and I think it illustrates the point very clearly: they say that in England, and surely it was even more true in Scotland, but in England in the 1930s, when the Gospel was a great deal stronger; at that time in this country, a football crowd would queue up to enter the ground and they were as orderly as though they were going into a Sunday school, or a church.
Now why was that? The answer is because of common grace. The country had been so affected by the Gospel, so permeated with principles at that time of decency and respect and courtesy and affability and friendliness, neighbourliness and so on, that people just queued up. Indeed, it's still a miracle that is admired by many other countries. You know when they come to this country they see that immediately what happens is that people form a queue. They don't do that in other countries where the Gospel has not been powerful; they all scramble to the front and knock one another out of the way. But in our country we queue up; what the Americans call making a 'line', that's their word. And that's the fruit of common grace. And I say, where the Gospel is stronger, common grace goes up. That is why you and I have lived in our short life time, those of us with a few grey hairs, anyway, we have lived to see common grace go down. Because special grace in this country has gone down. And many of you have lived, especially those of you who come from the Western Isles, you have come from a background where there was tremendous Gospel influence and tremendous Christian living and bright examples of godliness. Now all of that had the effect in society of restraining sin, promoting kindness, decency and all these other things. But now we have sadly witnessed churches and the influence of the Gospel go down, and common grace has gone down with it.
And I put it that way because you see we need to understand what is happening in society. It is part of the way and the manner in which God punishes society. That when they turn away from the church and when they turn away from the Gospel; God removes common grace. That's only fair isn't it, that's only reasonable? You must know verses at the beginning of the book Isaiah 3, let me quote them to you, not exactly, but this is the sentiment of it; God was talking to a nation that had had great blessing, great privileges, but they were turning their backs upon Him. And how was God going to punish them? Well, He says like this, God says: I will take away from you the eloquent orators and the cunning craftsmen and the captain of the army, and the excellent politician, I'm going to take them all away and children shall rule over you and they and babes will be your leaders and women will be your examples and so on.
Now what does God mean by this? Well, He means, just as the people of that society had turned their backs on God, so now God was going to punish them by taking away gifted leaders. They wouldn't have any great Churchills or Lloyd Georges or great leaders in society any more. They wouldn't be there and people of a far lesser stature would be their leaders. There wouldn't be very many great fathers, and great mothers and great families any more. No more great examples of how to do things; babes would be their leaders and the proud would boast against his neighbour and children would be disobedient to their parents and all of this is what we call God's removal of common grace.
The one passage in the Bible where this is more emphatically pronounced and declared than anywhere else is what I read in the reading in Romans 1 at the end, and this shows that because the early nations of the world like Babylon and Greece, Rome and Egypt and so on, because they turned away from the true God, whom they knew originally, to idols and made themselves gods of gold and gods of silver in the images of men, and the images of lions, and the images of birds, and the images of crocodiles and so on, because they made these false gods rather than worshipping the true God and denied the glory of the true God; God gave them up, God gave them over, God cast them off. And how did He do that? Well, very easily, God simply took away common grace. And society became as it was described in Romans 1. It's well worth looking again at the end of that chapter, "full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful" (Romans 1,29-30) and so on and so on. A great long catalogue of words, isn't it? - descriptive of a society where common grace has gone, or almost gone, not totally gone, thank God, but largely gone.
Now I say these things, my dearly beloved friends, because you and I are called on as Christians to live in just such a society and we are called upon to be unmoved by what we see. It is a very vexatious thing to a Christian to live in a society where common grace is being steadily withdrawn. That is what you are called on to do as long as you live, and I. And we mustn't be discouraged, and we mustn't give up hope and we mustn't despair.
What must we do? Well, we are to cherish more than ever the Word of God. Listen to the text at verse 10: "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach" why? "because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" (text). That is to say, in this society where common grace has been so much withdrawn we are none-the-less to labour, to do everything we can to spread the Gospel, because the Gospel is the greatest blessing possible to give to men - you couldn't do a better thing than to live out the Gospel before men's eyes: that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (1 Peter 2,12).
More than that, we are to suffer, you see verse 10, "both labour and suffer reproach" (text); they say that we are mad; they say that we belong to the dinosaur age, nobody reads old-fashioned Bibles anymore, nobody sings Psalms anymore; let's jazz up the worship, let's add something spicy to all that we do; let's bring in guitars and instruments and a flock of young people will come rushing in! No, no, we must suffer that reproach, it's very hard, you know it and I know it. But we daren't change the worship of God to suit the tastes of carnal men. It's a cardinal mistake, it never works. The church, as I close, and I must close, the church is never so effective for God as when so different from the world. My friend, God is our Saviour in a far, far higher way than He is the Saviour of other men. Blessed be His name.
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