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 holiness.

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 likewise.

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 God.

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 priceless treasure.

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.


{243} Wordsworth's 'Ode on Tintern Abbey.'

sermon xxiii the kingdom of christ
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