SERMON XXIV.--THE LIKENESS OF GOD
EPHESIANS iv. 23, 24.
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new
man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Be renewed, says St. Paul, in the spirit of your mind--in the tone,
character, and habit of your mind. And put on the new man, the new
pattern of man, who was created after God, in righteousness and true
Pay attention, I beg you, to every word here. To understand them
clearly is most important to you. According as you take them rightly
or wrongly, will your religion be healthy or unhealthy, and your
notion of what God requires of you true or false. The new man, the
new pattern of man, says St. Paul, is created after God. That, is
after the pattern of God, in the image of God, in the likeness of
God. You will surely see that that is his meaning. We speak of
making a thing after another thing; meaning, make it exactly like
another thing. So, by making a man after God, St. Paul means making
a man like God.
Now what is this man? None, be sure, save Christ himself, the co-
equal and co-eternal Son of God. Of him alone can it be said,
utterly, that he is after God--the brightness of God's glory, and the
express image of his person. But still, he is a man, and meant as a
pattern to men; the new Adam; the new pattern, type, and ideal for
all mankind. Him, says St. Paul,--that is, his likeness,--we are to
put on, that as he was after the likeness of God, so may we be
But now, in what does this same likeness consist?
St. Paul tells us distinctly, lest we should mistake a matter of such
boundless importance as the question of all questions--What is the
life of God, the Divine and Godlike life?
It is created, founded, says he, in righteousness and true holiness.
That is the character, that is the form of it. Whatever we do not
know, whatever we cannot know, concerning God, and his Divine life,
we know that it consists of righteousness and true holiness.
And what is righteousness? Justice. You must understand--as any
good scholar or divine would assure you--that St. Paul is not
speaking here of the imputed righteousness of Christ. He is speaking
of righteousness in the simple Old Testament meaning of the word, of
justice, whereof our Lord has said, 'Do unto others as ye would they
should do unto you;' justice, which, as wise men of old have said,
consists in this,--to harm no man, and to give each man his own.
That is true righteousness and justice, and that is the Godlike life.
'And true holiness.' That is, truthful holiness, honest holiness.
This is St. Paul's meaning. As any good scholar or divine would tell
you, St. Paul's exact words are 'the holiness of truth.' He does not
mean true holiness as opposed to a false holiness, a legal holiness,
a holiness of empty forms and ceremonies, or a holiness of ascetism
and celibacy; but as opposed to a holiness which does not speak the
truth, to that sly, untruthful, prevaricating holiness which was only
too common in St. Paul's time, and has been but too common since. Be
honest, says St. Paul; for this too is part of the Godlike life, and
the new man is created after God, in justice and honesty.
And that this is what St. Paul actually means is clear from what
immediately follows: 'Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man
truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.'
What does the 'wherefore' mean, if not that, because the life of God
is a life of justice and honesty, therefore you must not lie;
therefore you must not hear spite and malice; therefore you must not
steal, but rather work; therefore you must avoid all foul talk which
may injure your neighbour; but rather teach, refine, educate him?
It would seem at first sight that this would have been a gospel, and
good news to men. But, alas! it has not been such. In all ages, in
all religions, men have turned away from this simple righteousness of
God, which is created in justice and truth, and have sought some
righteousness of their own, founded upon anything and everything save
common morality and honesty. Alas for the spiritual pride of man!
He is not content to be simply just and true! for any one and every
one, he thinks, can be that. He must needs be something, which other
people cannot be. He must needs be able to thank God that he is not
as other men are, and say, 'This people, this wicked world, who
knoweth not our law, is accursed.'
If God had bid men do some great thing to save their souls, would
they not have done it? How much more when he says simply to them, as
to Naaman, 'Wash, and be clean.' 'Wash you,' says the Lord by the
prophet Isaiah, 'make you clean. Put away the evil of your doings
from before my eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well, seek
justice, relieve the oppressed,' and then, 'though your sins be as
scarlet, they shall be white as snow.' But no: any one can do that;
and therefore it is beneath the spiritual pride of man. In our own
days, there are too many who do not hesitate to look down on plain
justice, and plain honesty, as natural virtues, which (so they say)
men can have without the grace of God, and make a distinction between
these natural virtues and the effects of God's Spirit; which is not
only not to be found in Scripture, but is contradicted by Scripture
from beginning to end.
Now there can be no doubt that such notions concerning religion do
harm; that they demoralise thousands,--that is, make them less moral
and good men. For there are thousands, especially in England, who
are persons of good common-sense, uprightness, and truthfulness: but
they have not lively fancies, or quick feelings. They have no
inclination for a life of exclusive devoutness; and if they had, they
have no time for it. They must do their business in the world where
God has put them. And when they are told that God requires of them
certain frames and feelings, and that the Godlike life consists in
them, then they are disheartened, and say, 'There is no use, then, in
my trying to be religious, or moral either. If plain honesty,
justice, sobriety, usefulness in my place will not please God, I
cannot please him at all. Why then should I try, if my way of trying
is of no use? Why should I try to be honest, sober, and useful, if
that is not true religion?--if what God wants of me is not virtue,
but a certain high-flown religiousness which I cannot feel or even
understand?'--and so they grow weary in well-doing, and careless
about the plain duties of morality. They become careless, likewise,
about the plain duties of religion; and so they are demoralised,
because they are told that justice and the holiness of truth are not
the Godlike and eternal life; because they are told that religion has
little or nothing to do with their daily life and business, nothing
to do with those just and truthful instincts of their hearts, which
they feel to be the most sacred things about them; which are their
best, if not their only guide in life. But more: they fall into the
mistake that they can have a righteousness of their own; and into
that Pelagianism, as it is called, which is growing more and more the
creed of modern men of the world.
Too many religious people, on the other hand, are demoralised by the
very same notion.
They too are taught that justice and truth are mere 'morality,' as it
is called, and not the grace of God; that they are not the foundation
of the Divine life, that they are not the essence of true religion.
Therefore they become more and more careless about mere morality,--so
careless of justice, so careless of truth, as to bring often fearful
scandals on religion.
Meanwhile men in general, especially Englishmen, have a very sound
instinct on this whole matter. They have a sound instinct that if
God be good, then goodness is the only true mark of godliness; and
that goodness consists first and foremost in plain justice and plain
honesty; and they ask, not what a man's religious profession is, not
what his religious observances are: but--'What is the man himself?
Is he a just, upright, and fair-dealing man? Is he true? Can we
depend on his word?' If not, his religion counts for nothing with
them: as it ought to count.
Now I hold that St. Paul in this text declares that the plain English
folk who talk thus, and who are too often called mere worldlings, and
men of the world, are right; that justice and honesty are the Divine
life itself, and the very likeness of Christ and of God.
Justice and truth all men can have, and therefore all men are
required to have. About devotional feelings, about religious
observances, however excellent and blessed, we may deceive ourselves;
for we may put them in the place of sanctification, of righteousness
and true holiness. About justice and honesty we cannot deceive
ourselves; for they are sanctification itself, righteousness itself,
true holiness itself, the very likeness of God, and the very grace of
But if so, they come from God; they are God's gift, and not any
natural product of our own hearts: and for that very reason we can
and must keep them alive in us by prayer. As long as we think that
the sentiment of justice and truth is our own, so long shall we be in
danger of forgetting it, paltering with it, playing false to it in
temptation, and by some injustice or meanness grieving (as St. Paul
warns us) the Holy Spirit of God, who has inspired us with that
But if we believe that from God, the fount of justice, comes all our
justice; that from God, the fount of truth, comes all our
truthfulness, then we shall cry earnestly to him, day by day, as we
go about this world's work, to be kept from all injustice, and from
all falsehood. We shall entreat him to cleanse us from our secret
faults, and to give us truth in the inward parts; to pour into our
hearts that love to our neighbour which is justice itself, for it
worketh no ill to its neighbour, and so fulfils the law. We shall
dread all meanness and cruelty, as sins against the very Spirit of
God; and our most earnest and solemn endeavour in life will be, to
keep innocence, and take heed to the thing that is right; for that
will bring us peace at the last.
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