By J.R. Miller
The Christian is to learn Christ. He is to go to school, where the pupils are Christ's followers. The textbook is Christ Himself. What a wonderful Book it is we have to study! How can we study it? We can study the life of Christ as we have it portrayed in the gospel. We can see how He lived, what kind of boy He was, how He treated His mother, how He treated His heavenly Father; what kind of man He was--His character, His disposition. His treatment of all sorts of people; how He endured personal injustice and wrong. It is a wonderful book--just the story of Christ's life. Then, we have also His teachings, which make another book.
In every Christian--there are two men. Several times Paul speaks of them. When a preacher was preaching before a king, and spoke of the struggle that goes on between the old man and the new man, the king unconsciously broke out, saying, "I know those two men!" We all know them, if we are trying to live right. The problem of Christian living is to have the new man triumph over the old man, more and more completely, until the old man is in perfect subjection to the new. Here Paul is speaking of the outer life, and urges all Christians to put away whatever in the old manner of living is not right. When we give ourselves to Christ we ought to put away firmly and forever, whatever is not in accordance with the commandments of our new Master.
The old man cannot be patched up; there must be a new man. Nor will a new outer life do. The evil within will continually work through and soil all without. A whitewashed outer wall will never make a beautiful home while the house within is full of foulness. The only true cleansing is that which begins within and makes the heart right. Hence we are told that we must be "renewed." Not only so--but we must be renewed in the spirit of our mind; that is, at the heart of us. This is just what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "You must be born anew." The new life from above must enter into your heart. When the heart is right--the words, the conduct, the disposition, the whole character will soon be right.
"Put on the new man, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." The new man is the Christian man. We see at once, however, that more than reformation is required to make the new man. He is "created," and only God can create. We cannot change our own heart so that we shall have only holy feelings, desires, affections. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. We have a part in it, of course. God does not work on us as a sculptor works on the marble, hewing it into any shape he desires without any consciousness or acquiescence or will in the stone. We are not blocks of marble; we are immortal beings, and as such all work on us is wrought through our own wills, affections, desires. We are exhorted here to "put on the new man," as if it were altogether our own work. We are to listen to God's voice and seek to obey Him; then as we obey--His Spirit will work in us and produce the change which we could never of ourselves produce. We have here also the pattern after which we are to fashion our new life--"after God." God Himself is the pattern for every Christian life.
The new man will put away falsehood, and will speak truth with his neighbor. There is a story that a distinguished Englishman complained bitterly to Mr. Gladstone of some parish preacher, who in his sermon insisted upon the application of religion to a man's everyday life. This distinguished Englishman thought this was an outrageous proceeding on the clergyman's part. He thought religion should deal only with doctrine and celestial truths. But the Bible insists upon the application of religion to all our words and acts. Lying is a terribly common vice. A writer tells us that the Persians are great liars. Very likely--but they are too far away. No good can possibly come to us--from our berating the Persians. But we want to let this teaching come into our own life, and cut close as it will.
"Putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor." How is it in our speech? Is it always true? Do we never lie? Do we never try to leave a wrong impression on another? Do we never deceive? Lying is very hateful to God, for He is absolute truth, and whatever is less than truth--His soul abhors. People talk about "little white lies." Every lie is black! A lie is a rotten stone built in the wall of life; some day it will crumble and then the foundation will sink away. Anything built on a lie--is built on the sand. We ought to train ourselves to absolute truthfulness. People are continually discussing the question whether it can ever be right to tell a lie, whether a falsehood ever can be admissible. Some people say it can, that it may be right to tell lies, for example, to save your life. What do you think about it?
But suppose it is another person's life you could save by lying; would it be right then to lie? We have an illustration in a recent trial, when a sister could not tell a lie on the witness stand, though a lie in one short word would have saved her sister's life. She said she could not do it. She would give her life's blood to save her sister--but she could not tell a lie even to save her.
"In your anger do not sin." But how can one be angry--and not sin? Is not all anger sinful? No, God is angry with the wicked. We read, too, that Jesus was sometimes angry. There is, therefore, a sinless anger--anger against sin. For example, if you see a great, strong, brutal man beating a weak, helpless woman--there must rise up in your soul a burning indignation against the act. That is sinless. But if as a result you lose your temper and fly into a passion and speak unadvisedly, you have sinned. The counsel here is that our righteous indignation against baseness, injustice, cruelty, or wrong of any kind--shall not be permitted to pass into personal bitterness, resentment, or ungoverned temper.
Here it was that Moses failed. He could not but feel a righteous indignation at the people's unbelief and rebellion--but he sinned when he made it personal, and lost his patience and spoke the angry words.
"Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." The second counsel in this verse is very interesting. We are almost sure, sometime in the pressure of life's contacts, to grow angry. If we do, we are exhorted to get the bitterness out of our heart before the sun goes down. Several reasons for this may be suggested. Anger allowed to smoulder overnight, may break out in uncontrollable passion in the morning.
Then, at the close of every day, we ought to be ready to die, as we may never see another morning. We ought not to sleep, therefore, before getting out of our heart, everything that is not right. This word was interpreted literally in the ancient times, and the Christians who had had any differences would hasten before the setting of the sun to confess and settle their quarrels. The using of the Lord 's Prayer in the evening would seem to compel forgiveness, as we must pray, "Forgive us our debts--as we forgive our debtors."
"He who has been stealing must steal no longer--but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need." The new man will not steal. There are a great many ways of stealing, besides rifling a cash drawer, or picking a pocket. There have been a great many defalcations and embezzlements in recent days--but all of these were but the riper fruit of dishonesty in little ways, running on probably through years. He who steals a pin, steals--and is a thief. The boy who picks up a marble that is not his, or a penny, or takes an apple from a tree, or purloins anything--has stolen--and is a thief. He who takes off an envelope a stamp used--but not canceled, and uses it again, is a thief. He who keeps the one cent too much the grocer gives in mistake in making change--is a thief. He who, when the conductor does not take up his fare or ticket, goes out of the car and says nothing--has stolen. There is no other word for it. We must study the matter out for ourselves.
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths--but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." The new man will let no corrupt speech proceed out of his mouth--but only that which is good. There is very much corrupt speech falling every day from human lips. It is a good rule for boys and men never to tell a story or to say anything in a company of their own, which they would not tell or say if their mothers and sisters were present. That was General Grant's rule, and he would not permit any officer or companion to repeat any story in his presence, which the person would not say if there were ladies present.
The kind of words a Christian may speak, is well defined here. They must be good words, that is, pure, kindly, loving, worthy; and they must be words that will edify those who hear--words that will benefit or help others, giving comfort, encouragement, incitement, instruction. Only think what havoc this rule would play with much of the talk that goes on everywhere among Christians! What edifying words did you speak last evening to your friend in that two-hours' talk you had with him? This is a large lesson.
The new man will not "grieve the Holy Spirit of God." It scarcely seems possible to us at first, that we could give pain to God. Yet the apostles warned the Ephesians against this very thing. Boys know what kind of things in their life grieve their mothers. The Holy Spirit is nearer to all of us than any mother can be, and has a more tender heart. Let us watch our words, our acts, our wishes and feelings, and all the motives of our life, lest we grieve the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the new man in Christ Jesus will "be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." If all these rules and exhortations about kindness and gentleness were followed out in our lives--how the world's happiness would be increased! How loving would our homes be! How delightful would Christian fellowship of all kinds be!
The reason urged for forgiving each other--is that God has forgiven us. Not only the reason--but also the measure of our forgiveness is indicated in this way; we are to forgive, even as God forgives us. Our Lord taught this lesson in the prayer which He gave to His disciples. Every time we ask Him to forgive us, we say, "As we forgive." But suppose we keep bitterness in our heart against someone; what is it we ask God to do, and how do we ask Him to forgive? There certainly is a wonderful field for quiet thought in these few verses which we have been studying.