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The online magazine of the Christian Military Fellowship.


Grace: Salvation by Grace

Grace:  Salvation by Grace

SCRIPTURE discloses the fact that the power and resources of God are more taxed by all that enters into the salvation of the soul than His power and resources were taxed in the creation of the material universe. In salvation God has wrought to the extreme limit of His might. He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all. He could do no more.

Four aspects of His saving grace are now to be examined: (1) Three divine motives in grace, (2) Three principles which cannot co-exist with grace, (3) The gracious work of God for man, and (4) Saving grace is sovereign grace.

I. THREE DIVINE MOTIVES IN GRACE

In the Bible, three motives are assigned to God for the salvation of sinners. These motives are to be considered in what seems to be the order of their importance; beginning with that which seems to be the least and moving on to that which seems to be the greatest.

First. Men are Said to be Saved that “Good Works” may Result

A statement of this truth is found in Eph. 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Few portions of the Scriptures present more of the essentials of salvation than this passage. It should be considered in its various revelations:

“We are his workmanship.”

Whatever enters into the transformation of the individual at the time he is saved is wholly a work of God for man. It is in no wise related to any work which man might do for God. According to the Scriptures, God alone can save, and God alone can keep. All that will have been done when God’s saving work is completed, will be seen to be “his workmanship.”

“Created in Christ Jesus.”

The divine work in behalf of a saved person is nothing less than a new creation. He has passed through the creative hand of God a second time and has become a new creature. The result is a new birth,—a regeneration by the Spirit. This new creation is organically related to Christ as a branch is in the vine, and as a member is in the human body. So the believer is in Christ. He is “created in Christ Jesus.”

“Unto good works.”

Never is the sinner created in Christ Jesus by good works. The divine purpose is here revealed. Good works are possible only to those who are “created in Christ Jesus.” This truth is twice stated in the Epistle to Titus: “Who gave himself for us, that he, might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works”; “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men” (2:14; 3:8). So, also, this is the order of truth in the great doctrinal Epistles. The work of God for man is first stated. After this, and growing out of this, is a new obligation which is the appeal for the faithful work of man for God. It is the reasonable demand for a life corresponding to the transformation which God hath already wrought in the believer through His saving grace.

“Which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

This phrase limits and qualifies the exact scope of the “good works” which form the new obligation of the one who is “created in Christ Jesus.” These works are particular and definite. They are none other than those good works which have been before ordained for each believer. Such “good works” can be discovered and realized only as the life is wholly yielded to the will of God.

Three revelations concerning the place and value of human works in relation to salvation should be distinguished:

1. Works as required under the Law

In all this body of Truth, human works are set forth as being meritorious. It was because of human works that divine blessings were bestowed. This was an essential characteristic of law-relationships to God, and it is the exact opposite of grace-relationships. Under grace, it is because of divine blessings that human works are wrought. The law was exactly and appropriately applied by Christ to the lawyer when He said: “This do and thou shalt live” (Lk. 10:28. Cf Mt. 22:34–40; Mk. 12:28–34. See, also Mt. 19:16–26; Mk. 10:17–30; Lk. 18:18–30).

2. Works as the proper test of saving faith

This aspect of truth is taught by James (2:14–26). In this Scripture it is declared that true salvation will be manifested outwardly by good works. This should be expected when salvation is said to be “unto good works.” Such good works will serve to justify the saved one in the eyes of the world. This is but the counterpart of the more fundamental doctrine that justification before God is by faith alone (Rom. 5:1). An important exception to all this is the fact that a saint may, for a time, be walking “in darkness.” At such a time there will be abnormal results in his life before God and before the world.

3. Works as indicative of the attitude of heart toward the grace of God

Works which are impelled by the consciousness of a right relation to God through His grace, are treated as works of obedience and unto life eternal; while works of any character which are wrought apart from saving faith are treated as works of disobedience unto indignation and wrath (Rom. 2:1–16). One manner of life represents the obedience of faith; the other manner of life represents the disobedience of unbelief.

The first purpose of God in saving men to be mentioned, and which seems to be least, is, then, the good works which are made possible only through the salvation that is wrought by His power and grace. If this revelation concerning our salvation “unto good works” stood alone,—which, alas, it too often is supposed to do,—the work of God for man would be greatly limited and misrepresented. Under a solitary emphasis on this aspect of the divine purpose in the salvation of men, God is made to appear as a heartless taskmaster directing infinite undertakings and interested in humanity only to the extent of the service that He can derive from man. And, should their productiveness cease through age or weakness, they inevitably must be thrown into the refuse. Happily this divine motive in the salvation of men does not stand alone.

Second. Men are Said to be Saved Because of the Benefits which Accrue to Them

This motive is stated in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” By this Scripture, God is said to be moved in man’s salvation because of two priceless blessings which will thus be bestowed on the one who believes: (1) That he “should not perish” and (2) that he should “have everlasting life.”

This divine motive would seem all-sufficient, and it is, again, and too often, the only motive which is considered by many. Individual salvation with its personal benefits is now challenged by some writers and teachers as being selfish and narrow. This challenge is both unwarranted and wicked. Salvation must be individual by its very nature, and the eternal benefits to the individual who receives the gift and grace of God are beyond comprehension. These personal benefits are the expression of the very essence of the love and favor of God. To challenge them is no less a sin than to discredit the wisdom and goodness of God. The Scriptural safeguard against an over-emphasis on the human advantage and benefit in salvation does not consist in discrediting the tremendous revelations regarding individual salvation; it consists rather, in the exposition of the just balance of truth which is gained from the added revelation concerning the third and far greater motive in the salvation of men, to wit:

Third. Men are Said to be Saved for the Manifestation of Divine Grace

The final and supreme motive of God in the salvation of men is declared in Eph. 2:7: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”

Accompanying this declaration of the supreme purpose of God, a statement is made concerning the saving work of God for the individual. By this saving work, men are “made alive” who were “dead in trespasses and sins,” and are “raised” and made to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” who were “without Christ … having no hope, and without God in the world.” By these two revelations regarding the present estate of the saved, two essential aspects of the divine undertaking in man’s salvation are disclosed: (1) That which is wrought in man,—represented by the gift of eternal life, and (2) that which is wrought for man, even the eternal positions in Christ,—represented by the fact that an individual being saved, is now seated in the heavenly in Christ Jesus.

What, then, is the supreme motive in the salvation of men? The answer is clear: “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [by means of] his kindness [that gracious, saving thing he does] toward us through Christ Jesus.” God’s supreme motive is nothing less than His purpose to demonstrate before all intelligences,—principalities and powers, celestial beings, and terrestrial beings,—the exceeding riches of His grace. This God will do by means of that gracious thing which He does through Christ Jesus. All intelligences will know the depth of sin and the hopeless estate of the lost. They will, in turn, behold men redeemed and saved from that estate appearing in the highest glory,—like Christ. This transformation will measure and demonstrate the “exceeding riches of his grace.”

The supreme purpose of God is to be realized through the salvation of men by grace alone. So fully does that supreme purpose now dominate the divine undertakings in the universe that everything in heaven and in the earth is contributing solely to the one end. To gain the realization of this supreme purpose, this age, which continues from the death of Christ to His coming again, was ushered in. These long centuries of human struggle were decreed for this one purpose. No vision which is less than this will prove sufficient. Men with blinded eyes do not see afar off. To such the world is moving on by mere chance, or to the supposed consummation of some human glory in the earth. Eyes thus blinded see naught of the glory of heaven; minds thus darkened understand nothing of the supreme purpose of God in the demonstration of the exceeding riches of His grace. But, when this age is consummated it will be clearly seen by all beings in heaven and in the earth that these centuries of the on-moving universe have been designed for no other reason than the realization of the supreme purpose of God in the salvation of men by grace alone. The out-calling of the “church which is his body” from both Jews and Gentiles is the out-working of God’s purpose to gather into one heavenly company all the redeemed of this age. The supreme purpose is realized in their salvation and this design was the “mystery,” or sacred secret, which was hid in other ages, but which is now revealed to “holy apostles and prophets” of this dispensation. The ministry entrusted to the Apostle Paul was, “To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:9–11). Israel must remain blinded until this purpose is realized (Rom. 11:25), and the mystery of iniquity must work until this heavenly company is saved and taken away with the removal of the restraining Spirit of God (2 Thes. 2:7).

It may be added, as well, that the other divine motives in the salvation of men, already mentioned, only contribute to the realization of the one supreme motive. The “good works” of those who are saved are the “effectual working” of every part of the body making “increase of the body” (Eph. 4:16), and the results of that saving grace which is exercised toward the sinner—that he should not perish but have everlasting life—are only to the end that all of the saved ones together may demonstrate in the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace.

And, again, the purpose of God, which is to shew the exceeding riches of His grace, reaches beyond the boundaries of this age and is the supreme divine purpose in the whole creation, preservation, and consummation of the universe. Christ is declared to be the cause, center, purpose and benefactor of all creation. “All things are created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all thing consist” (Col. 1:16, 17), but the important aspect of all salvation centers in the fact that “through the blood of his cross” He is to reconcile all things unto Himself. “And you, that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death” (Col. 1:21, 22). Of all the aspects of His eternal Person, the emphasis falls on the fact that, He was a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Even those who are redeemed by His precious blood and who are the outshining manifestation of the grace of God, were chosen in Him “before the foundation of the world”; moreover, the “good works” of those who are saved, which are unto the proclamation of the Gospel of His saving grace, were “before ordained” that they should walk in them. So, likewise, sweeping on into the ages to come, we are told that of all the glories that will belong to the Lord of Glory, that glory which was given unto Him because of His redeeming love will be all-surpassing: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:6–11). It is declared of Him that He is “appointed heir of all things”; by Him the ages were programmed; He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express Image of His Person; and he upholdeth all things by the word of His power. But to what purpose is this marvelous unfolding of His eternal Being if it is not to relate His Deity to His present saving grace; to accomplish which, it is stated, He, having “by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:2, 3)? Thus absolutely does the whole universe throughout the program of the ages center about the sacrificial death of the Son of God, by whom that heavenly company are to be redeemed, purified, transformed, and translated into the eternal manifestation of the riches of grace.

The complete manifestation of divine grace which is to be revealed in the glory will be by means of all that combines in Christ—the Glorious Head, together with His redeemed Body, every member of which will have been transformed into His very image. What a spectacle for angels and archangels, principalities and powers, mankind and demons! Yea, what a spectacle for God Himself; for He will then gaze on that surpassing manifestation of His grace to His own “exceeding joy” (Jude 24)!

Divine grace could have had no place in this universe until sin had entered. Through creation, the wisdom and power of God had been disclosed; but there had been no unveiling of God’s love for the undeserving, since there had been no occasion for its manifestation. This statement does not imply that we are to sin that grace may abound. There is a wide difference between the fact that God permitted sin to enter the world, and the thought that thereby God licenses man to sin. Whether there have been greater motives which have actuated God in permitting sin to enter the world than He has revealed, none can say. It is certain, however, that the greatest motive that He has been pleased to reveal is to be inferred from the fact that grace cannot be exercised where there is no demerit, and that He designs above all else that His saving grace shall have an actual and adequate demonstration in all the ages to come. How could it be otherwise? What poverty of experience would reign in a universe that had never dreamed of true heart-compassion, the incomparable joy of forgiving and being forgiven, or that never would have heard the victory song of the redeemed! A universe which otherwise would have been, with all its magnificence of celestial glory, as cold, unyielding, and unapproachable as the law of infinite righteousness itself, has been colored and warmed by the penitent’s tears, and by the unveiling of the unfathomable grace of God toward the sinful. Highest of all revealed glories,—and who can measure its relative import?—, the boundless grace of God is being manifested through the salvation of sinners. Such is the spectacle concerning which angelic hosts and human throngs will marvel, and about which they will sing throughout the ages of the ages to come.

Returning to Eph. 3:8–11 we read that the Apostle Paul was sent to preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” Such riches could be brought to light only by means of the fact of sin and its cure through the cross of Christ. The Apostle was also sent “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery [sacred secret], which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” This sacred secret is, according to the preceding context, the calling out and saving in this age of a company from both Jews and Gentiles, which company is the true “church which is his body.” By the salvation of these, He purposes to unveil before all heavenly hosts His greatest display of wisdom as it is seen in the manifestation of His bosom of love through the coming of Christ into the world to redeem the lost. For we read: “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
At no point can tolerance be given to the theory that the Innocent Man in the Garden of Eden was God’s first and highest ideal, that sin entered in spite of God, and that redemption is an after-thought—the best available remedy in view of the wreckage of sin. It is a redeemed sinner who takes the highest place in glory. This redemption was in view before all creation. The finite mind is soon overwhelmed in the contemplation of the eternal facts and purposes of God; but there is much that we may understand when we read, first, concerning the coming of Christ into the world to redeem by His precious blood: “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Pet. 1:20); “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8); and, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). And, second, when we read concerning the eternal purpose of God in the saved: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:2), and, again, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29, 30).

It is evident, therefore, that the supreme motive of God in the creation, preservation, and consummation of the universe, in the permission of evil to enter the world, and in the mighty undertakings of salvation as it is now offered to sinful men through the death and resurrection of Christ, is that His “riches of grace” may be disclosed to all intelligences within the whole scope of creation.

If the supreme motive of God is to reveal His grace, then salvation must be by grace alone, or the eternal purpose of God must fail. Hence we read: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10); “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:4, 5); “And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:6); “But we believe that that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (Acts 15:11). On no other basis can grace be manifested than by salvation which is wholly unrelated to human merit or works.

II. THREE PRINCIPLES WHICH CANNOT CO-EXIST WITH GRACE

It has been shown that the three essential principles which antagonize and if permitted would frustrate the principle of pure grace are set aside in this age for the sole purpose that grace may prevail uncomplicated and uncompromised. The divine annulling of every opposing principle to pure grace is not only natural, but necessary, if the supreme divine purpose of this age is the manifestation of grace and that purpose is to be realized. The three essential principles already mentioned and which can never co-exist with pure grace are:

First. Any Recognition of Human Guilt

God must be free to exercise grace without the slightest limitation because of human demerit and sin; for grace would no longer be grace if its benefits are withheld from the sinner in the least degree because of sin. Grace can only be exercised where every question of unworthiness has been banished forever. This God has accomplished in the cross, and for the purpose that His supreme manifestation of grace may be realized unto infinite perfection. The Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. By these and many other Scriptures it is revealed that the grace-opposing principle of sin and demerit has been removed from before the eyes of God for all men. Thus, and only thus, could divine grace be exercised toward all men. But since God through the death of Christ has, in the absolute sense, dealt with the sin of the whole world, He is now free by the exercise of grace, in the absolute sense, to lavish its riches upon the chief of sinners without reservation or diminution. Divine grace thus awaits on divine justice; for only as the last demand of infinite righteousness against sin has been paid can divine grace be exercised. There can be no admixture of these principles wherein divine justice is partly satisfied and to such an extent God is partly free to act in grace. Every vestige of demerit must be removed before God can exercise grace. This vital truth about grace cannot be too strongly emphasized. The operations of divine grace can never overlap or share in any aspect of the operations of divine justice; but when divine justice has finished its work and abandoned the field forever, divine grace is free to occupy the field alone in the full blaze of its infinite glory.

Thus grace now “reigns through righteousness”; but it is grace alone that reigns. A righteous throne of awful justice, wrath, and blasting judgments has become “a throne of grace.” Such is the marvel of God’s infinite favor. Such is the good news which is to be proclaimed to a ruined world; for it is grace alone that is now offered to hell-deserving sinners. Only by the absolute removal of the condemnation of all sin could the way be made clear for the absolute manifestation of the grace of God.

Second. Any Recognition of Human Obligation

No more can grace remain grace, if by its benefits there is created and imposed the slightest obligation for payment or remuneration. Grace is unrecompensed favor. Its riches must be bestowed and received only on the ground that it is an uncomplicated gift. “I give unto them eternal life,” and “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (John 10:28; Rom. 6:23).
In order that the field might be absolutely clear for the manifestation of uncomplicated divine grace, God has perfectly eliminated every work of man—past, present, and future—from the terms of salvation by grace: “not of works, lest any man should boast”; and, “if by grace, it is no more works”; “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted [reckoned] for righteousness”; “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” Man must take salvation as a gift. He need only believe in order to be saved. The complete setting aside of human obligation as payment for divine blessings is the only ground upon which God can be free to act in unlimited divine grace toward sinners; but every human work and obligation is now set aside, and pure grace is offered to all men in the Gospel of the grace of God.

Third. Any Recognition of Human Merit

This third opposing principle to divine grace has been disannulled by the fact that humanity is now stripped of every conceivable merit before God. As has been stated, revelation concerning the present relation of fallen man to God goes far beyond a disclosure of the fact that man is a sinner both by nature and by practice. This of itself would be a sufficient cause for condemnation; but, beyond all this, God has now pronounced an all-inclusive, judicial, condemning sentence on the whole race, both Jew and Gentile. By this universal sentence every individual has been reduced to the lowest level, so far as human merit before God is concerned. In the affairs of men, there is a legitimate field in which they may compare themselves one with another as to relative moral character and action; but such comparison is now completely eliminated from all divine estimations of unregenerate men. This important fact is one of the characterizing features of this age and forms an essential factor in the present supreme purpose of God in which He purposes to manifest His grace. Apart from this judicial sentence against all men, the grace of God could never be manifested. The following Scriptures disclose this present universal decree of divine judgment against all men, and in considering them it is important to note that this universal judgment is not a mere estimation of the various degrees of human guilt; it is an arbitrary leveling of every human being to a basis which is absolutely without merit or standing before God.

“For we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9); “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:22); “For God hath concluded them all [Jew and Gentile] in unbelief [disobedience,] that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32); “That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). It is true that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” which indicates that man is a sinner by practice; but it is a far deeper revelation that all, by judicial sentence, are under “sin” and “unbelief” and are all now equally “guilty” before God.
In exact agreement with the present universal leveling of all humanity to the place of supreme and unconditioned condemnation is the equally important revelation that, through the substitutionary death of Christ for all men as Sin-Bearer (John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:14, 19), the ground of universal divine condemnation is no longer the sins which men have committed and which Christ has borne; but rather the condemnation is now because of the personal rejection of the Savior who bore the sin.1 This is set forth in His Word: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18); “But he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). In confirmation of the fact that men are now condemned because of unbelief, it should be noted that when the Spirit of God approaches the unsaved to convince them of sin, He does not shame them, or blame them, concerning the sins they have committed; He rather convicts them of one sin only: “Of sin, because they believe not on me” (John 16:9). So, also, Christians are said to be free from all condemnation of the sole ground that they have believed on the Savior: “He that believeth on him is not condemned” (John 3:18. Cf 5:24; Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 5:19).

The conclusion to be derived from this investigation into the present standing of man before God is that he is universally “condemned,” “under sin,” and reckoned to be in “unbelief.” This divine decree permits of no variations or gradations. It represents the very lowest level of standing before God to which it is possible for any human being to descend, and all unregenerate men are now placed on that level.

At this point God offers but one remedy. That remedy is GRACE. By the complete removal of all consideration of human merit, God is now unconditionally free to act in grace in behalf of man. On no other ground could grace be exercised. Hence all preaching of law-observance, or moral reform, to unregenerate men is unwarranted, misleading, and is contrary to the essential fact of divine grace; for no moral appeal, or appeal to human works, can be made apart from the assumption that, should unregenerate people comply with such appeals, they would not be discredited to the same extent before God as they would otherwise be.

In this dispensation there is no middle ground for half-good people. Men are either utterly condemned under the universal decree of the Judge of all the earth, or they are perfectly saved and safe in the grace of God as it is in Jesus Christ.

It is either Christ or Hell.

The divine objective in reducing humanity to the lowest level of all conceivable grades of human standing before God is not merely to give adequate expression to His hatred of evil: it is the expression of His infinite goodness and love; for only thus could the riches of His grace be extended to them. He has reckoned them to be in unbelief “that he might have mercy [grace] upon all”; and “The scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” Only when human merit has thus been removed forever, can divine grace undertake its saving work.

The grace of God which is offered so freely to the sinner is not a variable quantity which might be adapted to the different degrees of human sinfulness; it is an unchangeable whole. It is standardized and cannot be increased or diminished. It is all that God can ever do for the sinner in time or eternity. It is as infinite as He is infinite. Such measureless grace is now freely offered to the sinner. He has but to receive Christ in whom all fulness dwells. Men are either “under sin,” or “under grace.” They are, in the most unequivocal sense, either lost or saved.
In order that grace might be measured in all its limitless riches and glory, the objects of that grace are lifted from the lowest level of human standing before God to the highest pinnacle of heavenly glory. Everything has been divinely arranged so that this transition may be a measurement of divine grace. To this end the widest extremes that are possible for God to decree in human positions have been determined. Such is the present low estate of the lost under the universal divine decree, and such will be the exalted estate of the saved in the highest glory when grace shall have completed its work. Of no archangel has the Lord prayed as He has prayed for the objects of His grace: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me” (John 17:24). These two extremes, represented by the present estate of the lost, on the one hand, and the coming heavenly glory of the saved when finally transformed into the very image of Christ, on the other hand, are the boundaries which measure the infinite grace of God. The positional transference of man from the lowest level that divine judgment can decree to the highest altitude of heaven, the change from a death-doomed, hell-deserving sinner to a son of God and a partaker of the eternal glory, are demonstrations of the measurement of His own grace which God has decreed and with which He is to be forever satisfied.

Since God’s grace is to be manifested in glory, it is required that every aspect of the saving transformation shall be wrought in grace alone. All human merit is of necessity excluded.

So, also, since the ultimate estate of the saved in glory is to be such that they will then be “like Christ” and “conformed to the image” of God’s Son, and “faultless before the presence of his glory,” it is equally demanded that this divine transformation shall be free from every human touch. Such measureless results can be secured and guaranteed only as the work of God is uncombined with any human work. The best human work could but mar and spoil the divine ideal. Therefore it is by grace that ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8, 9).
Having in the most absolute sense disposed of the three grace-opposing principles—human sin, human obligation, and human merit,—God, in the same absolute sense, is now free to lavish His undiminished grace upon whomsoever He will. He purposes thus to manifest His grace: not merely as a selfish gratification of display on His part; but rather as a satisfaction of His love which knows no bounds.

Only as grace is seen to be the realization of the supreme purpose of God, can the expressions used in the Scriptures concerning the outflow of that grace be understood. The resources of language have been exhausted in the attempt to indicate the infinite grace of God in terms of human speech. Probably these resources of language have been more exhausted at this point than concerning any other theme of the Word of God. How could it be otherwise? God through grace purposes the realization of the greatest undertaking and accomplishment in all the universe. The following Scriptures unfold the limitless character of His grace:
“And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for [added to, or heaped upon] grace” (John 1:16); “Abundance [superabundance] of grace” (Rom. 5:17); “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (superabound. Rom. 5:20); “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (superabound. Rom. 6:1); “And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding [above measure] grace of God in you” (2 Cor. 9:14); “The abundant [more than enough] grace” (2 Cor. 4:15).
Grace heaped upon grace, superabounding, and without measure, is the description given of the limitless outflow of divine favor. The grace of God belongs to the realm of the infinite. His measureless love and goodness are released from every restraint. They are unshackled and free. The supreme divine objective is then, that infinite love may manifest itself in superabounding grace. His love is knowledge-surpassing, infinite, and eternal. So, also, is His grace.

III. THE GRACIOUS WORK OF GOD FOR MAN

The uncomplicated work of God for man, which is to measure His grace, is presented in the Word of God in seven major aspects:

First. The Finished Work of Christ

This is no less than the combined values of His redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation, as these aspects of His cross are related to the whole world lost in sin (1 Tim. 2:6; 2 Cor. 5:19, 20; 1 John 2:1, 2). This aspect of the divine work is forever “finished” for every soul, and its glorious achievement is the good news of the Gospel of saving grace.

Second. The Convicting Work of the Spirit

By this work of God the Gospel of His saving grace is revealed to the mind and heart of the unsaved by the Spirit of God. He convinces of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:7–11). Only by this illuminating work of the Spirit can the Satan-blinded mind of the unsaved (2 Cor. 4:3, 4) understand the way of life in Christ Jesus.

Third. The Saving Work of God

This divine undertaking includes every aspect of the work of God that is accomplished at the instant when the sinner believes on Christ. It is no less than many transforming miracles which are wrought instantaneously and simultaneously in the saving power of God.

Fourth. The Keeping Work of God

The clear Biblical testimony is to the effect that the believer is kept always and only through the grace and power of God. Because of the work of Christ on the cross, God is presented as not only being free to save meritless sinners; but He is presented as being free to keep those whom He has saved. Under legal relationships men endured in order that they might be saved (Mt. 24:13). Under grace relationships men endure because they are saved (John 10:28). God alone is “able” to keep.

Fifth. The Delivering Work of God

The Christian who is perfectly saved from the guilt and penalty of sin needs also to be saved from the reigning power of sin. God alone can save in any case, and therefore deliverance from sin, weakness and failure is provided, not by human effort, but by the power of the indwelling Spirit; and is secured, not on the principle of works, but on the principle of faith. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Deliverance, too, is always and only a work of God.

Sixth. The Work of God in Christian Growth

Too often Christian growth is confused with spirituality, or deliverance from the power of sin. A very immature believer, as to growth, may be delivered and be in the full blessing of the Spirit. He has yet much to learn from experience and from the Word of God; but this need not limit his immediate blessing of heart and life. In fact only spiritual Christians grow. Carnality in life means perpetual babyhood in spirituality. “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18); “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Seventh. The Final Presenting Work of God

It is the final and consummating work of God to present the believer faultless before the presence of His glory to His own exceeding joy. It is promised that when we see Him we shall be “like him.” We shall then be conformed to the image of the Son of God.
No one will persuade himself that he will assist in this final transformation and translation. No more can any believer assist in any of these aspects of the work of God. Salvation is the work of God alone. It is from Him, by Him, and unto Him. In every stage of the development it is the work of God alone which can avail, and that work is now provided and offered in marvelous grace. Particular emphasis is needed at this point. Salvation is of God; and man’s responsibility is only that of being a recipient of it. Man is called upon to make only such personal adjustment to God as will place him in the normal position to receive the divine blessing. The undertaking is of such a character that man can contribute in no wise to its accomplishment. It aims to reproduce the very perfection of Christ Himself, which perfection would be ruined could man touch it. And it is all to the demonstration of the grace of God in the ages to come and hence, as certainly, precludes the thought of any complication with human merit, else the greatest motive of God which has been working from before the foundation of the world would be defeated,—a contingency impossible in the light of revelation.

According to the Scriptures, the human element is never included beyond the essential adjustment of man to the work of God. This human responsibility is always expressed in terms which suggest that man is the recipient of the benefits of the work of God. Some of these Bible terms are: “Believe,” “Receive,” “Faith,” “By me if any man enter in,” “Come unto me,” “Whosoever will may come,” “Whosoever calleth,” “Turned to God,” being “Reconciled to God.” Thus it is seen that man is saved from the guilt and penalty of sin, not by expiating his own sins, but by believing in the One who has suffered in his stead. After he is thus saved, he is delivered from the power of sin in his daily life, not by anxious striving, but by yielding and by relying on the all-sufficient, indwelling Spirit. He will be saved from the presence of sin into the coming glory and likeness of Christ, not by any effort or human device, but by the power which wrought in Christ to raise Him from the dead, and by which he will be translated instantly from the earth to heaven. In every instance the divine responsibility is seen to be within the sphere of the actual accomplishment of the mighty undertaking; but man’s responsibility is in the sphere of the reception of that work. The whole transaction is free from every consideration of remuneration, barter, or trade. It is the love of God expressing itself in His gracious work for those who, within themselves, will ever be hopelessly undeserving and therefore eternally debtors to infinite grace.

Salvation is the imputed righteousness of God; it is the work of man for God.

Salvation is the bestowal and actual impartation of eternal life; it is not the beauties and artificial imitations of ethical living.
Salvation is the imputed righteousness of God; it is not the imperfect righteousness of man.
Salvation is according to the faithful calling of God; it is not according to the fitful carefulness of man.
Salvation is a divine reconciliation; it is not a human regulation.
Salvation is the canceling of all sin; it is not the cessation from some sin.
Salvation is being delivered from, and dead to, the law; it is not delighting in, or doing, the law.
Salvation is divine regeneration; it is not human reformation.
Salvation is being acceptable to God; it is not becoming exceptionally good.
Salvation is completeness in Christ; it is not competency in character.
Salvation is possessing every spiritual blessing; it is not professing any special betterment.
Salvation is always and only of God. It is never of man. It is the unsearchable riches of Christ. It is unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

IV. THE GRACE OF GOD IS SOVEREIGN

Not every member of the human family will be included in the glorious, grace-revealing company of the redeemed in heaven. Nothing is more clearly taught in the Scriptures than this; but the salvation of those who are being gathered into that company, it is revealed, will be according to the sovereign purpose of God, and not according to any merit in the individual. There are two fields of divine undertaking wherein the work of God stands alone: (1) The creation of the universe and (2) the redemption of sinners. Certain aspects of work, however, are entrusted to men. They are appointed to preach the Gospel to the lost, to edify the saints by teaching, and to co-operate in the gathering and care of the assemblies of believers. Yet even this human service is impotent apart from the enabling power of the Spirit of God.

So, also, while God is sovereign in the salvation of men, He has allowed sufficient latitude within the larger circles of His unalterable purpose for the exercise of the human will. “Whosoever will may come.” This is the invitation to the unsaved. Likewise He addresses the believer concerning the possible blessings of a Spirit-filled life by such words of human responsibility as “yield,” “reckon,” and “confess.” It is equally revealed in the Scriptures that such action of the human will is never apart from the divine enablement. God must move the heart of the unsaved: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). He must move the heart of the saved as well: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

There is no Biblical ground for the theory that even the minutest detail of the eternal purpose of God will ever be uncertain because of a supposed unanticipated action of the human will. God cannot be disappointed, defeated, or surprised. The glorious company of the redeemed will, therefore, be gathered according to an “election of grace.”
Two out-standing facts are disclosed in the Scriptures in regard to the attitude of God toward this world: (1) Back of the secondary question of the human choice for which man is held responsible, is the more important fact that God has permitted men to be born and live who He as certainly knows will reject His grace with all the woe that their choice entails. Thus there is no escape from the fundamental fact of the sovereignty of God by emphasizing the superficial issues of a human choice. And (2) God is under the compelling force of His own boundless love to be the Savior of all men. He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus, if divine love for a lost world can form any incentive in the heart of God, according to the Scriptures, there is formed an equal incentive toward all. These statements are seemingly contradictory one to the other, and the solution of the problem they present is never found in seeking to minimize the one in the hope of preserving the other. Theological systems have been developed, made their appeal, and failed at this very point. The solution of the problem is never found in the range of human reason; it is perfectly solved in the range of divine righteousness. Being unable to penetrate the infinite issues involved, man may rest on the absolute righteousness of God. The glorified saint, looking back over the steps of the divine accomplishment, will then see that all God did was right. Here faith alone can minister rest to the soul. The consummation of the age will be seen to be according to infinite wisdom, love, and power. It will be to the eternal satisfaction of God whose tender heartedness is boundless and whose justice can never be diminished. It will be all-satisfying to His saints; for it is declared that they will be “satisfied” when they awake in His likeness. The Gospel of the grace of God is to be preached to all men with an appeal to their will. The result will be a selection and election according to sovereign grace. It will be in absolute accord with infinite goodness, and the result will be to His own exceeding joy.

Every form of evangelism which tends to force the decision of the will beyond the sovereign movements of the Spirit on the hearts of men is fraught with infinite perils.
No emphasis on the importance of preaching the Gospel of grace in its purity can be too strong. Biblical preaching must present saving grace with no admixtures of limitations because of human sin, human obligation, or human merit. Only thus can there be the fullest co-operation of the Spirit of God, and only thus can the messenger be saved from the unrevoked anathema which is pronounced (Gal. 1:8, 9) on all those who pervert the Gospel of the grace of God.

Chafer, L. S. (1922). Grace (pp. 23–54). Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company. (Public Domain)

Grace: The Theme

Grace:  The Theme

THE exact and discriminate meaning of the word grace should be crystal clear to every child of God. With such insight only can he feed his own soul on the inexhaustible riches which it unfolds, and with such understanding only can he be enabled clearly to pass on to others its marvelous, transforming theme. Here is a striking illustration of the fact that very much may be represented by one word. When used in the Bible to set forth the grace of God in the salvation of sinners, the word grace discloses not only the boundless goodness and kindness of God toward man, but reaches far beyond and indicates the supreme motive which actuated God in the creation, preservation and consummation of the universe. What greater fact could be expressed by one word?

The meaning of the word grace, as used in the New Testament, is not unlike its meaning as employed in common speech,—but for one important exception, namely, in the Bible the word often represents that which is limitless, since it represents realities which are infinite and eternal. It is nothing less than the unlimited love of God expressing itself in measureless grace.

The word favor is the nearest Biblical synonym for the word grace. In this connection it may be observed that the one thought which is almost exclusively expressed in the New Testament by the word grace, is, in the Old Testament, almost exclusively expressed by the word favor. Grace is favor, and favor is grace. Thus, in considering the Bible teaching on this great theme, equal attention should be given to all passages wherein either the word grace is used or favor is found. Grace means pure un-recompensed kindness and favor. What is done in grace is done graciously. From this exact meaning there can be no departure; otherwise grace ceases to be grace. To arrive at the scope and force of the Bible doctrine of salvation by grace alone we need to follow consistently the path indicated by the exact meaning of the word.

SEVEN FUNDAMENTAL FACTS ABOUT GRACE

First. Grace is not Withheld Because of Demerit

This fact about grace is more evident, perhaps, than any other. It is the sense of demerit more than anything else which impels a soul to cry out for the kindness and benefits of grace. So, also, grace finds its greatest triumph and glory in the sphere of human helplessness. Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human failure and sin. In fact, grace cannot be exercised where there is the slightest degree of human merit to be recognized. On the other hand the issue of human sin must be disposed of forever. Christ the Lamb of God, having taken away the sin of the world, has by His cross forever disposed of the condemnation of sin. He has by the cross created an entirely new relation between God and man. Consequently, men are now either accepting or rejecting Christ who has borne their sins. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). There is no middle ground. All questions of demerit have been banished. Thus God is righteously free to exercise grace in every case. Salvation is by grace alone.

Second. Grace Cannot be Lessened Because of Demerit

God cannot propose to do less in grace for one who is sinful than He would have done had that one been less sinful. Grace is never exercised by Him in making up what may be lacking in the life and character of a sinner. In such a case, much sinfulness would call for much grace, and little sinfulness would call for little grace. The sin question has been set aside forever, and equal exercise of grace is extended to all who believe. It never falls short of being the measureless saving grace of God. Thus grace could not be increased; for it is the expression of His infinite love: it could not be diminished; for every limitation that human sin might impose on the action of a righteous God has, through the propitiation of the cross, been dismissed forever.

God does not ignore or slight the fact of human guilt and sin; for He has met these issues perfectly and finally for all men in the death of His Son. There remains no demerit, nor degrees of demerit, to be considered or recognized. By grace there is now offered alike to all men all the infinite resources of the saving power of God. The grace of God is, therefore, exercised in perfect independence of human sin, or any degree of human sin.

Third. Grace Cannot Incur a Debt

An act is in no sense gracious if under any conditions a debt is incurred. Grace, being unrecompensed favor, is necessarily unrecompensed as to obligations which are past, unrecompensed as to obligations which are present, and unrecompensed as to obligations which are future. Grace must always remain unadulterated in its generosity and benefit. How emphatically this is true of the grace of God towards sinners! Yet how often this aspect of divine salvation is perverted! Infinite and eternal transformations are wrought by the power of God when He exercises His grace. He is thereby glorified and sinners are saved. Such far-reaching results cannot fail to satisfy and delight Him eternally; but He remains unrecompensed for His salvation through grace. What He does He bestows as a gift. Rightfully a benefit cannot be called a gift if it is paid for before, at the time, or after. This is a fundamental truth of the Word of God, and it is imperative that it be kept free from all confusing complications.

When a recompense for the gift of God is proposed, every element of salvation is obscured, and the true motive for Christian service is sacrificed as well. The Scriptures everywhere guard these two truths from such perversion; for, in the Bible, salvation is always presented as a gift, an unrecompensed favor, a pure benefit from God (John 10:28; Rom. 6:23). And, in like manner, no service is to be wrought, and no offering is to be given, with a view to repaying God for His gift. Any attempt to compensate God for His gift is an act so utterly out of harmony with the revealed Truth, and exhibits such a lack of appreciation of His loving bounty, that it cannot be other than distressing to the Giver. All attempts to repay His gift, be they ever so sincere, serve only to frustrate His grace and to lower the marvelous kindness of God to the sordid level of barter and trade. How faithfully we should serve Him, but never to repay Him! Service is the Christian’s means of expressing his love and devotion to God, as God has expressed His love to those whom He saves by the gracious thing He has done. Christian service for God should be equally gracious.

It therefore becomes those who have received His gifts in grace to be jealous for the purity of their motives in service for Him. Unwittingly the grace of God is too often denied by well-meaning attempts to compensate God for His benefits. No semblance of the most vital facts about divine grace can be retained unless salvation is, in its every aspect, treated as a gift from God, and Christian service and faithfulness is deemed to be only the expression of love and gratitude to God.

According to the Scriptures, salvation is never conditioned on human faithfulness, or on the promise of human faithfulness. There is no payment required, past, present, or future. God saves un-meriting sinners in unrelated, unrecompensed, unconditioned, sovereign grace. Good works should follow; but with no thought of compensation. Christians are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:10); they are to be a “peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14); and “they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” (Tit. 3:8). Thus, and only thus, are “good works” related to the gracious salvation from God through Christ Jesus. Grace is out of question when recompense is in question.

Fourth. Grace is not Exercised in the Just Payment of a Debt

The fact is self-evident that the payment of an honest debt could never be an act of grace. In no circumstances, however, is the recognition of this truth more important than when grace is declared to be the present divine plan for the salvation of sinners. If God should discover the least degree of merit in the sinner, this, in strict righteousness, He must recognize and duly acknowledge. By such a recognition of human merit, He would be discharging an obligation toward the sinner and the discharge of that obligation toward the sinner would be the payment, or recognition, of a debt. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Rom. 4:4).

It is therefore imperative that every vestige of human merit shall be set aside completely if an opportunity is provided whereby pure grace may be exercised in the salvation of men. For the sole purpose that pure grace might be exercised toward men, the human family has been placed under the divine judicial sentence of sin. It is obviously true that all men are sinners both by nature and by practice; but the present divine decree goes far beyond this evident state of sinfulness wherein one man might be deemed to be more, or less, sinful than another; for God, in this dispensation, which began with the cross, has pronounced an equal and absolute sentence of judgment against all, both Jew and Gentile. Men are now “already condemned” (John 3:18); they are “children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2); not on the ground of their own sinfulness, but on the ground of their federal headship in fallen Adam. Men are now judicially reckoned to be “in unbelief” (Rom. 11:32); they are “under sin” (Rom. 3:9; Gal. 3:22); and they are “guilty” (Rom. 3:19). Thus all human merit has been disposed of absolutely and forever, and there is no longer the slightest possibility that, because of personal merit, a divine obligation may now exist toward any individual. The sole divine object in thus universally and judicially disposing of all human merit is clearly revealed: “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). Also, “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:22).

That God now saves sinners by grace alone and apart from every human merit is the teaching of His Word: “For by grace are ye saved though faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10).

In this passage the only order which can exist between divine grace and human merit is made clear. Man is permitted to do nothing until God has done all that His grace designs. “Good works” grow out of, and are made possible by, the gracious work of God. To this exact order all revelation concerning divine grace is in agreement.

A striking emphasis is given to the fact that God now saves by grace alone when the Biblical doctrines of salvation by grace and the believer’s rewards for service are contrasted. Salvation, being always and only a work of God for man, is always and only by grace alone; while rewards, being always and only that which is merited by the faithful service of the Christian, are always and only based on works. Human merit is always in view in the divine bestowment of rewards; and the grace of God is never mentioned in connection with His bestowment of rewards (1 Cor. 3:9–15; 9:18–27; 2 Cor. 5:10). So, also, human works are never included as forming any part of the divine plan of salvation by grace.

An act ceases to be gracious, therefore, when it is a recognition of merit, or the payment of a just debt. “Being justified freely [without cause] by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Fifth. Grace is Never the Over-payment of a Debt

Grace is no longer grace if it is complicated in the slightest degree with the payment of a just debt. It can never be that which is added to, or a part of, a righteous transaction. A bounty may be added to the payment of a debt,—an extra amount above the full measure due; but in no case should this extra amount be considered a matter of pure grace. The character of the bounty thus added would, of necessity, be qualified to some extent by the relation of the bounty to the debt. The bounty will be either more, or less, than it would have been had it stood alone. Inevitably it will be affected to some degree by the righteous transaction with which it is combined. In the Word of God, as in common usage, the word grace, in its exact meaning, precludes any complications with other acts or issues however righteous and just. Grace speaks of a gift, not of barter or trade however unequal. It is pure kindness, not the fulfilling of an obligation. An act in order to be gracious must stand disassociated and alone. Divine salvation is, therefore, the kindness of God toward sinners. It is not less than it would be had they sinned less. It is not more than it would be had they sinned more. It is wholly unrelated to every question of human merit. Grace is neither treating a person as he deserves, nor treating a person better than he deserves. It is treating a person graciously without the slightest reference to his deserts. Grace is infinite love expressing itself in infinite goodness.

Through the death of Christ by which He took away the sin of the world, and through the divine decree which has constituted all to be “under sin,” grace is free to save in every case, and only grace can save in any case. Divine grace is never decreased or increased. It offers a standardized, unvarying blessing to every individual alike. The blessing is measureless since it represents in every case no less than all that God, being actuated by infinite love, can do.

Sixth. Grace does not Appear in the Immediate Divine Dealings with the Sins of the Unsaved

It is probable that no point in the Gospel of God’s saving grace is so misunderstood, and, consequently, so misstated as the revealed truth concerning the immediate divine dealings with the sins of the unsaved. It seems most difficult for the mind to grasp the fact that, as revealed in God’s Word, God does not deal with any sin in mercy, or leniency. The sinner is never forgiven because God is big-hearted enough to remit the penalty, or to waive the righteous judgments. Any presentation of divine forgiveness which represents God as directly exercising clemency toward a sinner is a fatal detraction from the meaning of the cross of Christ, and is a disastrous misrepresentation of the truth contained in the Gospel of His saving grace. Those who dare to preach the Gospel should give to the cross its true place of vital importance as given to it in the Word of God. How can God utter a more alarming warning on this point than is disclosed in the revelation of the unrevoked anathema upon all who pervert the Gospel of grace? “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8, 9).

Turning from human speculation to the Scriptures of Truth, we discover one basic fact: The Lamb of God has already “taken away” the sin of the world (John 1:29). The fact that Christ, as Substitute, has already borne the undiminished righteous judgments of God against sin, is the sole ground upon which divine forgiveness is now exercised. The forgiveness of God toward sinners, therefore, is not an immediate act of grace; it is rather a judicial pardon of a debtor in view of the fact that his debt has been fully paid by Another. We could not know how much He paid; yet, though unable to measure redemption, we may rejoice in the fact that all, even to the measure of the righteous reckoning of God, is absolutely and eternally paid by Christ. It is not a question of the relative benefits which might possibly accrue to the sinner under one form of forgiveness or another,—were he forgiven graciously, or in strict justice; it is a question of the basis upon which any divine forgiveness can be extended righteously. This righteous basis has been provided in the cross. By Gospel preaching, sinners are to be told that they may now stand forever pardoned before God: not because God is gracious enough to excuse their sins; but because there is plentiful redemption through the blood that has been shed (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7). Being free to forgive at all, God is free to forgive perfectly. On no other ground can the marvelous statement,—“having, forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13), be understood. This Scripture is addressed to Christians and it exactly defines the scope of divine forgiveness which is theirs. It likewise indicates the measure of forgiveness which is offered to the unsaved.

When God thus forgives, absolutely and eternally, through the cross of Christ He is acting as Judge. By this judicial decree, He sets aside forever all condemnation. Such judicial forgiveness, which guarantees an unchangeable standing and position in sonship, should not be confused with the Father’s forgiveness toward His sinning child, which is wholly within the family relationship, and which restores lost fellowship and joy to the child of God.

Every unsaved person is under the three-fold sentence of sin. He is a sinner by practice, a sinner by nature, and a sinner by divine decree. God deals with this three-fold aspect of sin by a three-fold achievement in grace. There is forgiveness for man in view of the fact that he is a sinner by practice; there is imputed righteousness for man in view of the fact that he is a sinner by nature; and there is the divine decree of justification for man in view of the fact that he is a sinner who, by divine decree, is “under sin.”

Judicial forgiveness itself is not an act of grace, nor is judicial forgiveness a mere act of divine clemency for some particular sins of present moment to the sinner: judicial forgiveness covers all sin, and by it the sinner is, as to possible condemnation, pardoned forever. This pardon covers all sins past, present, or future. God the Righteous Father will, in infinite faithfulness, correct and chasten His sinning child, and the sinning child will need to confess his sin in order to be restored into fellowship with his Father; but the Father will never condemn His child (John 3:18; 5:24; Rom. 8:1 R. V.; 1 Cor. 11:31, 32). The forgiveness of God toward the sinner is, then, made possible only through the cross and is never an act of immediate grace, and, when it is free to be extended at all, it is boundless. It contemplates and includes all sin. It forever absolves and acquits the sinner.

Though divine forgiveness results in a position for the sinner wherein there is no condemnation, this fact should in no wise be confused with the deeper aspect of God’s saving grace wherein He justifies the sinner. Forgiveness cancels every debt before God, but justification declares the sinner to be forever judicially righteous in the eyes of God. One is subtraction, the other is addition; and both are righteously made possible through the cross.

Of the various divine undertakings in the salvation of a sinner, some are acts of divine justice, and some are acts of the immediate, super-abounding grace of God. Those acts which deal with human unworthiness and sin are acts of justice. These include forgiveness, justification, death to the law, freedom from the law, and the whole new creation. All this is made possible through the cross of Christ and, therefore, is not accomplished by an act of immediate grace. On the other hand, those aspects of salvation wherein God is revealed as imparting and bestowing His benefits are said to be immediate acts of grace. These include the gift of eternal life, the imputed righteousness of God, and every spiritual blessing. Limitless grace is seen in the love of God which provided the cross; but when that cross is provided, every saving act that is based upon it becomes an act of justice, rather than an act of immediate grace. “That he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

Seventh. Grace does not Appear in the Immediate Divine Dealings with the Sins of the Saved

The divine dealings with the sins of the saved are similar to the divine dealings with the sins of the unsaved in one particular, namely, what God does in either case is done on the ground of the cross of Christ. By that cross all sin, whether it be that of saint or sinner, has been righteously judged, and the ransom price, which satisfies every demand of infinite holiness, has been paid. By His death, Christ provided the sufficient ground for both the salvation of the unsaved, and the restoration of the saved. It is because of what has already been accomplished in the cross concerning the sin of the world, that the unregenerate are freely forgiven and justified. This is a part of God’s saving grace, and is wrought on the sole condition that they believe; while the regenerate are forgiven and cleansed on the sole condition that they confess. These two requirements indicated by these two words, it will be noted, are wholly different. The human obligation as represented by each word is exactly adapted in each case to the precise relationships which, on the one hand, exist between God and the unsaved, and, on the other hand, exist between God and the saved. The salvation of the sinner is unto union with God: the restoration of the saint is unto communion with God. Believing and confessing are two widely differing human conditions, or obligations, and should never be confused or interchanged. The lost are never saved by confessing, and the saved are never restored by believing.

That there is no greater demand imposed upon the unsaved than that he believe, and no greater demand imposed upon the saved than that he confess, is due to that which Christ accomplished on the cross. He wrought in behalf of sinner and saint in bearing the sin of the world, and every requirement of infinite justice is met for all in the finished work of Christ. In the one case, there is nothing left to be done but to believe; while in the other case, there is nothing left to be done but to confess.

The revealed attitude of God toward all men is that of grace alone. Therefore He does not need to be coaxed or persuaded. With His hand outstretched to bestow all that His grace can offer, it is highly inconsistent to plead with Him to be gracious, or to coax Him to be good. By the unvarying teaching of God’s Word, and by the inexorable logic of the accomplished value of the cross, the forgiveness and blessing of God to the unsaved is conditioned upon believing, and to the saved it is conditioned upon confessing.

1 John 1:1 to 2:2 is the central passage in the Bible wherein the divine method of dealing with the sins of Christians is stated. A portion of this most important passage is as follows: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.… My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not [be not sinning]. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

According to this Scripture, four vital elements enter into that divine forgiving and cleansing which constitutes the restoration of a sinning saint: (1) Confession is the one and only condition on the human side; (2) Absolute forgiveness and cleansing is promised on the divine side; (3) The Christian, while sinning, has been safe as to divine condemnation, because of his Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and (4) Divine forgiveness and cleansing is exercised toward the believer in unchallenged faithfulness and justice because Christ is “the propitiation for our sins.”

In this transaction, as it is thus disclosed, the believer makes no disposition of his own sin; that has been made for him. So, also, the Advocate makes no excuses for the sinning Christian, nor does He plead for the clemency of the Father in behalf of the believer who has sinned. The Advocate presents the sufficiency of His own blood to meet the condemnation of every sin. The Father does not act in gracious kindness when forgiving and cleansing the believer: He acts in strict faithfulness to His covenant and promise of eternal keeping, and in strict justice because of the shed-blood. Such is the unchanging value of the propitiation which Christ made in His blood.

It should also be noted that, according to this revelation, the sinning saint is never before any tribunal other than that of his own Father. The eternal relationship between the Father and His child can never be set aside. The Father may correct and chasten His erring child (1 Cor. 11:31, 32; Heb. 12:3–15), and through confession the child may be restored to the place of fellowship; but all of this is wholly within the inner circle of the family and household of God. Condemnation, which would expel the child from the place of a son, is forever past. Nor does the sinning Christian draw on the mercy and favor of God when he is restored to fellowship in the household of God. How easily mercy and favor might be exhausted and overdrawn! On the contrary, the Christian, sheltered under the blood of propitiation, and standing in the merit of his Advocate, is on a basis where no past offences have accumulated against him; for he is cleansed and forgiven under the legal justice of the Father. The justice of God is made possible and is righteously demanded in view of the shed-blood of His own Son.

Let it not be supposed that this divine plan of restoration of the child of God to the Father’s fellowship will react in an attitude of carelessness on the part of the Christian. The sufficient answer to this challenge is three-fold: (1) True confession is the expression of a very real repentance, or change of mind, which turns from the sin. This is the exact opposite of becoming accustomed to the sin, or becoming careless with regard to it. (2) This very revelation is given, we are told, not to encourage, or license us to sin; but rather that “ye sin not” (be not sinning). According to the Scriptures and according to human experience, the believer’s safety in the faithfulness and justice of the Father and the advocacy and propitiation of the Son, is the greatest incentive for a holy life. It is clearly revealed that God has, by other and sufficient means, guarded against all careless sinning on the part of those whom He has eternally saved through the merit of His Son. And (3) God can righteously deal with sin in no other way than through the absolute value of the blood of His Son; but when sin has been laid on the Substitute, it can never be laid back on the sinner, or on any other. In the cross of Christ, the question of a possible condemnation because of sin is adjusted forever. Mercy and grace can never be co-mingled with divine justice. Boundless grace is disclosed in the provision of a perfect propitiation for the sins of the believer; but the application of the propitiation is never gracious; it is none other than the faithfulness and justice of the Father. Therefore grace does not appear in the forgiving and cleansing of the Christian’s sins.

RESTATEMENT

It may be concluded that the word grace, as used in the Bible in relation to divine salvation, represents the uncompromised, unrestricted, unrecompensed, loving favor of God toward sinners. It is an unearned blessing. It is a gratuity. God is absolutely untrammeled and unshackled in expressing His infinite love by His infinite grace (1) through the death of His Lamb by whom every limitation which human sin could impose has been dispelled, (2) through the provision which offers salvation as a gift by which human obligation has been forever dismissed, and (3) through the divine decree by which human merit has been forever deposed. Grace is the limitless, unrestrained love of God for the lost, acting in full compliance with the exact and unchangeable demands of His own righteousness through the sacrificial death of Christ. Grace is more than love; it is love set absolutely free and made to be a triumphant victor over the righteous judgment of God against the sinner.

Having examined into the meaning of the word grace, the three-fold divine ministry and undertaking in grace should be considered. It will be observed that:

I. God saves sinners by grace,
II. God keeps through grace those who are saved, and,
III. God teaches in grace those who are saved and kept how they should live, and how they may live, to His eternal glory.

Chafer, L. S. (1922). Grace (pp. 3–22). Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company. (Public Domain)

Grace: Preface

Grace:  Preface

THROUGH false emphasis by many religious leaders, Christianity has become in the estimation of a large part of the public no more than an ethical system. The revealed fact, however, is that the supreme feature of the Christian faith is that supernatural, saving, transforming work of God, which is made possible through the infinite sacrifice of Christ and which, in sovereign grace, is freely bestowed on all who believe. God has given instruction to those who are saved, it is true, as to the manner of life which is consistent with their new heavenly calling and standing in Christ; but in its spiritual blindness, the world, led by its blind leaders, sees in Christianity only the rule of life which is secondary. The blindness of the world at this point, with the consequent neglect of all that is vital in the Christian faith, is both anticipated and explained in the Word of God.

The two foundation truths which determine all spiritual perception are that, by divine arrangement, (1) the Spirit is given only to those who are saved, and (2) spiritual understanding is made to depend exclusively on the presence of the Spirit of God in the heart.

The precise body of truth which may be understood only through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit is described as, “things” related to the Father, “things” related to the Son, “things” related to the Spirit, “things” to come, and “the kingdom of God”. We read:

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually [by the Spirit] discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

“Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him” (John 14:17).

“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ … should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3, 4).

“The world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor. 1:21).

“He that is spiritual judgeth [discerneth] all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (1 Cor. 2:15).

“Now we have received … the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12).

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:13–15).

“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1 John 2:27).

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:9, 10).

“Through faith we understand” (Heb. 11:3).

Spiritual understanding is not, therefore, dependent upon human sagacity or learning; it depends only on the teaching of the indwelling Spirit. Possessing this Biblical testimony, misunderstanding at this point is without excuse.

Likewise, the terms upon which men may now be saved and thus receive the Spirit are as clearly defined in the Scripture. Salvation is by grace through faith. It is the result of the transforming work of God for man, and not the result of the work of man for God. It is that which God does for the one who trusts the Saviorhood of Christ. By that trust, Christ is personally received as the divine Redeemer who shed His blood as a sufficient ransom for the guilt and penalty of sin, as the One who reconciles by having taken away the sin of the world, and as the divine Propitiation who, as Substitute, met every indictment brought against the sinner under the holy government of God.

Since the Spirit is given only to those who are saved through faith in Christ, they alone are able to receive the particular body of truth which the Spirit teaches. Neglect of this fundamental, unalterable fact is the key-error of all modernism.

It is assumed by the modernist that any person whose education has qualified him to be an authority in matters of human learning, regardless of the new birth and the indwelling Spirit, is also qualified, because of that learning, to speak with authority concerning the things of God.

That the leaders of modernism are unregenerate men and therefore themselves spiritually blind is self-revealed by their attitude toward that truth which forms the only basis upon which, according to the Scriptures, a soul may be saved. When men avowedly disbelieve that the death of Christ was vicarious and substitutionary, they have rejected the only grounds upon which, according to the Word of God, the saving work of God righteously can be wrought for the sinner. Rejecting the saving truth of the Gospel, these men could not be saved upon any promise or provision of God. Though educated, religious, and sympathetic to the ethical ideals of the Bible, such men, being unregenerate, are of necessity totally blind to all that body of truth which is said to be imparted by the indwelling Spirit. Preaching and teaching under these limitations, Christianity is represented by these men as a system of ethics only.

The first step in spiritual understanding is the knowledge of God as Father. “Neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Mt. 11:27). “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

Until God becomes real to the heart by the direct ministry of Christ as Savior, all His ways and works are unreal. Not knowing God, the unregenerate mind is not satisfied with the explanation of the origin of things which declares that God directly created things as they are. To such a mind, it is actually easier to believe in a supposed natural development from nothing to something, and to hide all attending problems resulting from this theory behind the mists of a measureless past. If God is not real, there could be no inerrant Book; the Bible must be fallible as man; nor could God be manifest in the flesh; the Son of God must be of illegitimate birth, and though the greatest of all teachers, to them, He is really no more divine than ordinary mortals. These blind guides are forced to give some explanation to the meaning of the death of Christ. They therefore contend that He died as an heroic martyr, a loyal patriot, as a wonderful moral example of fortitude, or to show the wickedness of sin. They utterly reject the only reason given in the Word of God for the death of Christ—He died that others might not die. They brand this saving truth as “immoral,” and “unworthy of the goodness of God.” They understand little of the resurrection of Christ, His present ministry in heaven, and nothing of the revelation that He is coming again. To these religious leaders, there is no supernatural; for God is not real. There could be no immediate salvation through the Spirit. The salvation in which they believe is assumed to be the result of a self-created character, and the life to be lived is represented only as an heroic struggle of the flesh. If unregenerate men could understand anything better than this, the Word of God would be proven untrue.

It is equally true, that, those who are spiritually blind are unconscious of their blindness until they are saved by the grace and power of God through Christ. Coming thus into the light, they testify, as all who have ever been saved have testified: “Whereas I was blind, now I see.” They, like all the unsaved, could be aware of their blindness if they would receive the testimony of God concerning their own limitations; but this is precisely what they will not do. Therefore, a notable neglect of the most vital truths of Scripture and the denial of the essential glories of divine grace is to be expected from these religious leaders who reject the only grounds of salvation through the substitutionary death of Christ.

Modernists content themselves with borrowing some ideals from the Bible while reserving the right to reject whatever is not desired. Those portions which are acceptable to the unregenerate mind are received and taught as being authoritative on the basis of the fact that these ideals are in the Bible. Here, indeed, is strange inconsistency on the part of men who pride themselves on their scientific reasonings.

The unsaved preacher or teacher, being able to comprehend only the ethical teachings of the Scriptures, is a living proof of the truthfulness of the divine Testimony. He cannot see the kingdom of God. He sees nothing of the glories of divine grace—the things of the Father, the things of Christ, the things of the Spirit, and things to come. He blindly ignores every dispensational division of the Word of God and is, therefore, free within himself to draw material from the kingdom teachings of Christ and from the law of Moses while constructing his world-improvement, sociological theories which he imposes on a Christ-rejecting world.

Men of this character are sufficiently numerous in this day of apostacy to be responsible for the present-day impression that the sole objective of Christianity is the improvement of human conduct. Being blind to the real principles and purposes of saving grace, they teach that it makes little difference what is believed, it is the life that counts. Against this is the overwhelming testimony of the Word of God that every aspect of salvation and every blessing of divine grace in time and eternity is conditioned only on what is believed.
Influenced by these misunderstandings concerning the Truth, few serious-minded young men will choose to enter the ministerial profession; for it would mean the assumption of the role of a mere moralist. Common modesty generally precludes such an assumption. On the other hand, when the essential message of Christianity is seen to be the measureless, transforming grace of God with all of its eternal glories in the new creation in Christ, it is a challenge to the deepest impulses of the heart, and offers a ministry for which one may well sacrifice all.

Christians are ambassadors for Christ and are commissioned to preach the Gospel to every creature. This ministry does not consist in either the education or the moral improvement of lost men while they are on their way to hell; it is the proclamation of the mighty, redeeming, transforming grace of God which offers eternal life and eternal glory to all who will believe.
If it shall please God to use this exposition in any measure to the unfolding of the riches of His grace, the labor expended in its preparation will not have been in vain. This very inadequate treatment concerning the grace of God is committed to Him that He may in some way use its message to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Chafer, L. S. (1922). Grace (pp. vii–xiv). Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times Company. (Public Domain)

His Last Sermon John 1.13 John Bunyan.jpg

John Bunyan's Last Sermon

John Bunyan's Last Sermon

‘Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’—John 1:13

The words have a dependence on what goes before, and therefore I must direct you to them for the right understanding of it. You have it thus: ‘He came unto his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh—but of God.’

In the words before, you have two things. First, Some of his own rejecting him, when he offered himself to them. Second, Others of his own receiving him, and making him welcome; those that reject him, he also passes by; but those that receive him, he gives them power to become the sons of God.
Now, lest any one should look upon it as good luck or fortune, says he, they ‘were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ They that did not receive him, they were only born of flesh and blood; but those that receive him, they have God to their Father; they receive the doctrine of Christ with a vehement desire.

[TO EXPLAIN THE TEXT]

FIRST, I will show you what he means by blood. They that believe are born to it, as an heir is to an inheritance—they are born of God, not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God; not of blood, that is, not by generation, not born to the kingdom of heaven by the flesh, not because I am the son of a godly man or woman—that is meant by blood (Acts 17:26); He ‘hath made of one blood all nations.’ But when he says here, ‘not of blood,’ he rejects all carnal privileges they did boast of: they boasted they were Abraham’s seed; no, no says he, it is not of blood; think not to say you have Abraham to your father; you must be born of God, if you go to the kingdom of heaven.

SECOND, ‘Nor of the will of the flesh.’ What must we understand by that?

It is taken for those vehement inclinations that are in man, to all manner of looseness, fulfilling the desires of the flesh: that must not be understood here; men are not made the children of God by fulfilling their lustful desires. It must be understood here in the best sense: there is not only in carnal men a will to be vile, but there is in them a will to be saved also; a will to go to heaven also. But this it will not do; it will not privilege a man in the things of the kingdom of God: natural desires after the things of another world, they are not an argument to prove a man shall go to heaven whenever he dies. I am not a free-willer, I do abhor it; yet there is not the wickedest man but he desires, some time or other, to be saved; he will read some time or other, or, it may be, pray, but this will not do: ‘It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’ There is willing and running, and yet to no purpose (Rom 9:16). Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, have not obtained it (v 30). Here, I do not understand, as if the apostle had denied a virtuous course of life to be the way to heaven; but that a man without grace, though he have natural gifts, yet he shall not obtain privilege to go to heaven, and be the son of God. Though a man without grace may have a will to be saved, yet he cannot have that will God’s way. Nature, it cannot know any thing but the things of nature—the things of God knows no man but by the Spirit of God; unless the Spirit of God be in you, it will leave you on this side the gates of heaven. ‘Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ It may be, some may have a will, a desire that Ishmael may be saved; know this, it will not save thy child. If it was our will, I would have you all go to heaven. How many are there in the world that pray for their children, and cry for them, and are ready to die [for them]? and this will not do. God’s will is the rule of all; it is only through Jesus Christ: ‘which were born, not of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’

Now I come to the doctrine.

Men that believe in Jesus Christ, to the effectual receiving of Jesus Christ, they are born to it. He does not say they shall be born to it, but they are born to it—born of God unto God and the things of God, before he receives God to eternal salvation. ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Now, unless he be born of God, he cannot see it: suppose the kingdom of God be what it will, he cannot see it before he be begotten of God. Suppose it be the gospel, he cannot see it before he be brought into a state of regeneration. Believing is the consequence of the new birth; ‘not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God.’

First, I will give you a clear description of it under one similitude or two. A child, before it be born into the world, is in the dark dungeon of its mother’s womb: so a child of God, before he be born again, is in the dark dungeon of sin, sees nothing of the kingdom of God; therefore it is called a new birth: the same soul has love one way in its carnal condition, another way when it is born again.

Second, As it is compared to a birth, resembling a child in his mother’s womb, so it is compared to a man being raised out of the grave; and to be born again, is to be raised out of the grave of sin; ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.’ To be raised from the grave of sin is to be begotten and born (Rev 1:5); there is a famous instance of Christ; He is ‘the first begotten of the dead’; he is the first-born from the dead, unto which our regeneration alludeth; that is, if you be born again by seeking those things that are above, then there is a similitude betwixt Christ’s resurrection and the new birth; which was born, which was restored out of this dark world, and translated out of the kingdom of this dark world, into the kingdom of his dear Son, and made us live a new life—this is to be born again: and he that is delivered from the mother’s womb, it is the help of the mother; so he that is born of God, it is by the Spirit of God. I must give you a few consequences of a new birth.

(1.) First of all, A child, you know, is incident to cry as soon as it comes into the world; for if there be no noise, they say it is dead. You that are born of God, and Christians, if you be not criers, there is no spiritual life in you—if you be born of God, you are crying ones; as soon as he has raised you out of the dark dungeon of sin, you cannot but cry to God, What must I do to be saved? As soon as ever God had touched the jailer, he cries out, ‘Men and brethren, what must I do to be saved?’ Oh! how many prayerless professors is there in London that never pray! Coffee-houses will not let you pray, trades will not let you pray, looking-glasses will not let you pray; but if you was born of God, you would.

(2.) It is not only natural for a child to cry, but it must crave the breast; it cannot live without the breast—therefore Peter makes it the true trial of a new-born babe: the new-born babe desires the sincere milk of the Word, that he may grow thereby: if you be born of God, make it manifest by desiring the breast of God. Do you long for the milk of the promises? A man lives one way when he is in the world, another way when he is brought unto Jesus Christ (Isa 66). They shall suck and be satisfied; if you be born again, there is no satisfaction till you get the milk of God’s Word into your souls (Isa 66:11). To ‘suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolation.’ Oh! what is a promise to a carnal man? A whore-house, it may be, is more sweet to him; but if you be born again, you cannot live without the milk of God’s Word. What is a woman’s breast to a horse? But what is it to a child? there is its comfort night and day, there is its succor night and day. O how loath are they it should be taken from them: minding heavenly things, says a carnal man, is but vanity; but to a child of God, there is his comfort.

(3.) A child that is newly born, if it have not other comforts to keep it warm than it had in its mother’s womb, it dies; it must have something got for its succor: so Christ had swaddling clothes prepared for him; so those that are born again, they must have some promise of Christ to keep them alive; those that are in a carnal state, they warm themselves with other things; but those that are born again, they cannot live without some promise of Christ to keep them alive; as he did to the poor infant in Ezekiel 16:8: I covered thee with embroidered gold: and when women are with child, what fine things will they prepare for their child! Oh, but what fine things has Christ prepared to wrap all in that are born again! Oh what wrappings of gold has Christ prepared for all that are born again! Women will dress their children, that every one may see them how fine they are; so he in Ezekiel 16:11: ‘I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thine hands, and a chain on thy neck; and I put a jewel on thy forehead, and ear-rings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head.’ And, says he in verse 13, ‘Thou didst prosper into a kingdom.’ This is to set out nothing in the world but the righteousness of Christ and the graces of the Spirit, without which a new-born babe cannot live, unless they have the golden righteousness of Christ.

(4.) A child, when it is in its mother’s lap, the mother takes great delight to have that which will be for its comfort; so it is with God’s children, they shall be kept on his knee (Isa 66:11): ‘They shall suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations’; verse 13: ‘As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.’ There is a similitude in these things that nobody knows of, but those that are born again.

(5.) There is usually some similitude betwixt the father and the child. It may be the child looks like its father; so those that are born again, they have a new similitude—they have the image of Jesus Christ (Gal 4). Every one that is born of God has something of the features of heaven upon him. Men love those children that are likest them most usually; so does God his children, therefore they are called the children of God; but others do not look like him, therefore they are called Sodomites. Christ describes children of the devil by their features—the children of the devil, his works they will do; all works of unrighteousness, they are the devil’s works: if you are earthly, you have borne the image of the earthly; if heavenly, you have borne the image of the heavenly.

(6.) When a man has a child, he trains him up to his own liking—they have learned the custom of their father’s house; so are those that are born of God—they have learned the custom of the true church of God; there they learn to cry ‘My Father’ and ‘My God’; they are brought up in God’s house, they learn the method and form of God’s house, for regulating their lives in this world.

(7.) Children, it is natural for them to depend upon their father for what they want; if they want a pair of shoes, they go and tell him; if they want bread, they go and tell him; so should the children of God do. Do you want spiritual bread? go tell God of it. Do you want strength of grace? ask it of God. Do you want strength against Satan’s temptations? go and tell God of it. When the devil tempts you, run home and tell your heavenly Father—go, pour out your complaints to God; this is natural to children; if any wrong them, they go and tell their father; so do those that are born of God, when they meet with temptations, go and tell God of them.

[THE APPLICATION]

The first use is this, To make a strict inquiry whether you be born of God or not; examine by those things I laid down before, of a child of nature and a child of grace. Are you brought out of the dark dungeon of this world into Christ? Have you learned to cry, ‘My Father?’ (Jer 3:4). ‘And I said, Thou shalt call me, My Father.’ All God’s children are criers—cannot you be quiet without you have a bellyful of the milk of God’s Word? cannot you be satisfied without you have peace with God? Pray you, consider it, and be serious with yourselves; if you have not these marks, you will fall short of the kingdom of God—you shall never have an interest there; ‘there’ is no intruding. They will say, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us; and he will say, I know you not.’ No child of God, no heavenly inheritance. We sometimes give something to those that are not our children, but [we do] not [give them] our lands. O do not flatter yourselves with a portion among the sons, unless you live like sons. When we see a king’s son play with a beggar, this is unbecoming; so if you be the king’s children, live like the king’s children; if you be risen with Christ, set your affections on things above, and not on things below; when you come together, talk of what your Father promised you; you should all love your Father’s will, and be content and pleased with the exercises you meet with in the world. If you are the children of God, live together lovingly; if the world quarrel with you, it is no matter; but it is sad if you quarrel together; if this be amongst you, it is a sign of ill-breeding; it is not according to the rules you have in the Word of God. Dost thou see a soul that has the image of God in him? Love him, love him; say, This man and I must go to heaven one day; serve one another, do good for one another; and if any wrong you, pray to God to right you, and love the brotherhood.

Lastly, If you be the children of God, learn that lesson—Gird up the loins of your mind, as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to your former conversation; but be ye holy in all manner of conversation. Consider that the holy God is your Father, and let this oblige you to live like the children of God, that you may look your Father in the face, with comfort, another day.

Bunyan, J. (2006). Bunyan’s Last Sermon (Vol. 2, pp. 755–758). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software. (Public Domain)

Galatians 3.28 Universality of the Gospel Alford.jpg

The Universality of the Gospel

The Universality of the Gospel

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

 

WE have advanced thus far in our statements of Christian doctrine. Our race is universally tainted with the disease of sin, and guilty in God’s sight. But it has pleased Him, of His infinite mercy, to provide a remedy as wide and universal as the disease. The eternal Son of God has taken our nature upon him, and in it wrought out on our behalf a perfect obedience, even up to the point of suffering the penalty of the sin of mankind. On this His work, anticipated as complete in the divine counsels, we asserted that the very existence of this our world depended, and that He does at the present moment, and ever, uphold all things in the sight of the Father by virtue of the eternal redemption which He has wrought for man.
Now our subject to-day, naturally suggested by the Epiphany, or Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, is a very simple, but a very instructive and edifying one: the fact that, in the offer made to us of the acceptance for ourselves of this redemption and all its manifold blessings, there is absolutely no difference between one man and another, but all have a right to it alike, all are alike invited to share it, all have common capacity for receiving it.

Who, you may say to me, does not know this? Why preach us a sermon about so plain and acknowledged a fact? I answer, because it was one of the most wonderful revelations of God to man when it was first made, however plain it may seem now: and also, because, however plain it may seem now, thousands of those who think it so plain, do not understand it, do not feel it, do not act upon it.

First, it was a most wonderful thing, when God revealed it to mankind. All the ages which had passed since the Creation had been putting wider and wider difference between man and man,—between nation and nation, between men’s bodies, and between men’s souls. One nation was God’s people, worshipping they knew what, in communion with the Father of Spirits, walking in the light of conscience and of revelation: another was building altars to the unknown God, bowing down to images graven by art and man’s device, but at the same time acute and trained and instructed to the highest power of the human intellect: a third had almost cast off all religion, but had taken for its acts the governing of the world and the humbling the haughty, and ruled far and wide with its laws and its arms. Then again, one man was much more different from another than we know any thing of under the more equalizing influences of modern times; the conqueror and the vanquished, the master and the slave, the learned and the unlearned,—there was a far wider gap between these than there ever can be under the power of enlightened Christian public opinion, by which all have rights, all have instruction,—and injustice, and cruelty, and grossness, can hardly abound among us. But that a remedy for the evil of the world should be proposed which would suit equally all and each of these,—which could be taken alike, and taken in the same form, by the despot and his bondsman, by the master and his slave, by the learned and ignorant, by the Jew and Gentile,—this was the wonderful thing which had never been revealed to man before; and much trouble and time it cost, before man could receive it.

First came the difficulty about Jew and Gentile. The conflict about it raged long even in the apostolic church itself. It required a heart as fervid, and a spiritual sight as keen and single as that of St. Paul, to see the truth at once, and unflinchingly to maintain it, even against Apostles, when they wavered and dissimulated. How difficult must it have been for one born and bred a Jew, ever to take in the truth that he was to have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, with a man that was born and bred and remained a Gentile! How almost impossible to make such an one ever to bring himself to allow, that the Gentile, without fulfilling any one requirement of the law, was yet to be an heir of God’s covenant promises in their highest sense, just as much and as completely as he himself, a circumcised Jew, an Hebrew by descent inheriting from Abraham! We can little imagine the widening of the view, and enlarging of the heart, and breaking down of prejudices, necessary before such a truth could be taught to a man. We cannot even devise an example in modern times which should teach us this. Every thing about us tends to widen our view, to open our hearts, to diminish our prejudices: but every thing around them tended to shut up their hearts, to narrow their view, and to fortify them in every adverse feeling. One week, they saw the Gentile taking part in his abominable idol rites; the next they might be called on to pass to him the kiss of peace as a Christian brother. It was the first great trouble in the infant church: a trouble which divided even holy Apostles asunder, and which some think was ultimately the cause of the persecution to death even of St. Paul himself.

And the difficulty, though it began here, did not by any means end here. It is natural to us to build up barriers of division between bodies of men and between individuals. The selfish heart is ever insulating itself, and its set, from other persons and other societies. If there were no more proof than this that Christianity came from God, the very fact of such an announcement being made as that in my text, would shew that some influence was at work in it which was not from man alone; some Spirit which was wider than man’s thoughts, deeper than man’s sympathies; which over-leapt all distinctions raised by time and place and descent and circumstance, and referred men’s practice for its rule to the primal truth, that God had made of one blood all nations on the earth.

And let me notice before I come to, and in coming to, the treatment of this great truth for our own times, what a fundamental and all-important principle it has ever furnished for the working and influence of the Church of Christ in all ages. What has been the one thing which has ever made the Christian Church the benefactor of mankind,—the advocate of justice and of mercy,—the enemy of the oppressor, the friend of light and the upholder of freedom? Why is it, that wherever she has not been this, she has decayed and corrupted;—wherever she has taken up the part and done its work, she has energized and prospered? Is it not simply for this reason, that the sacred doctrine, that all mankind are one in Christ Jesus, lies at the very corner of the foundation of her fabric wherever she is built up? that without it her message of mercy falls powerless, her proclamation of truth is a delusion, the God whom she preaches is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Her errand can only prosper in the broad sunshine:—she requires for her healthy breathing the whole wide atmosphere of the world:—limit her, and she becomes paralyzed: set bounds to her, and her voice sinks to a whisper: confine her to a privileged set, to a national form, to the habits of one or another age of men, and she ceases to be the Spouse of Him who is the Head and Husband of our entire humanity: put Roman before Catholic, put Eastern before Catholic, put Anglican before Catholic, and you contradict your own words as you speak, and nullify your own deeds as you act. The Church of Christ is catholic, is universal: over all, in all, belonging to all, fitted for all: all things to all men, as was he who wrote of her in our text: taking into herself, hallowing by her influence, transforming for good, all men’s temperaments, all men’s sympathies, all men’s energies: not too narrow for the mightiest of human powers to work in, not too vast and stately for the meanest to find place and honor: limiting none, despising none, degrading none, excluding none. Round her course, through the ages, have sprung up all the blessings of civilization: her path has ever been marked by the soft verdure of the kindnesses of home, the fresh shade of the courtesies of society, the fair trophies of science, the bright blossoms of art. When she has awoke to the purity and holiness of her mission, with her have awoke the exploring eye of discovery, the searching effort of invention: when she has made an onward step, with her have advanced the powers of mind over matter, and love over hatred, of peace over contention: it was she who knit up at first, it is she who has healed when threatened with severance, the bonds of intercourse among nations; and all because of this, that she is the fulness of Him that filleth all:—because she is founded on Him in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: but all are one in Christ Jesus, the Head and Savior of all.

But though all this is so, and though we thank God for it, and many of us live in the strength and hope of it, how little it has been understood in ages past—how little is it understood even now! What a record of the forgetfulness of this great principle has ever been the history of Christ’s Church! How its blessed effects have broken forth and spread, not because of, but in spite of, that which men purposed and intended!

Let man set up a principle, and work according to a rule of his own making, and the great tide of God’s providence rolls on, and the barriers which are thought so strong are swept down and carried away before it: but let God set up a principle of His, and let men counter-work it as they will, it shall prevail; working under the surface, till the surface heaves with it, and it comes uppermost, and asserts itself in spite of us all.

And so it has ever been in the history of Christ’s Church. Men have attempted to change its character—to profess conformity to it without acknowledging its principles—to get gain out of it while it should lie dormant and be merely a decent outside; to crush down the truths they daily confessed in their creeds, and hinder the efforts which they prayed for in their prayers; but blessed be God, notwithstanding their efforts, and by the very means of their efforts, the holy cause went on and the Truth prevailed: the sowers sowed evil seed, but God transformed it to good; and while they thought they were doing their work of effective repression, He was doing His work of surer and safer advance.

And how stand we now, my brethren, with regard to this foundation principle of the Gospel and Church of Christ? Have we thoroughly made it our own? Is it one of those things which we take most completely for granted in our thoughts of ourselves and others—of our Christian state and work in the world? Are we satisfied, after all these centuries, and all these conflicts, and all these proofs which God has given, that there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female: but that all are one in Christ Jesus?
Alas, would that we were! Let us try the matter by some of its plainest consequences, and judge of ourselves accordingly.

First, if the Gospel is wide enough for all humanity, and embraces it all indiscriminately, then does it not at once seem to follow, that it should take up into itself, and hallow, the whole, and not a mere part of the being of each of us? Now in connection with such a result as this, what think we of Christ and His salvation? Is it not notorious, that most of us, that Christians in general, regard their religious life and their ordinary life as two distinct things—say in fact in an impossible sense the saying, “Give to the world the things that are the world’s, and (not therefore but separately) to God the things that are God’s”—as if all things were not God’s—as if our whole lives, our whole being, body, soul, and spirit, were not bought with the blood of Christ, and His of right by that purchase? The error runs through the thoughts and actions of modern Christians to an extent which we hardly suspect. Our lives are divided into two inconsistent and incompatible portions: we try to be two persons—religious on our Sundays, at our times of devotion, on our sick beds,—and worldly all the rest of the week, and of the day, and of our ordinary time. Many and many a man, who would be offended not to be thought a good Christian, never dreams of acting, in his common resolves and determinations, from simply Christian motives,—because Christ has commanded, or has forbidden, this or that.

Now He who came to fill our whole nature with Himself and His grace, will not submit to be thus limited to a small share of it. He must have it all or none. “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” It is as much a sin against the universal spirit and power of the Gospel, to limit it to one part of our own lives, and exclude the remainder, as it is to limit it to one part of mankind and shut out the rest. We know nothing of its transforming power, or of its efficacy to supply all the wants of humanity, until our own lives with their energies and interests are carried on in that power, and draw, according to their daily need, out of that efficacy.

But again: all are one in Christ Jesus. The most ignorant, the most degraded, the most remote from the abodes of that grace which the Gospel gives, are just as capable of receiving and growing by it, as we who have been born and brought up under its outpouring. Where then is the hindrance to their doing so? Why have they not long ago heard of this universal Savior and been informed of their privilege and claim to be His? Who is in fault? Not God’s Providence, which has cast our lot on days of such wonderful discovery and facility of intercourse with distant nations, that a messenger may go to the ends of the earth now in less time and with less risk than we once could visit the distant parts of our native land: not God’s loving-kindness, which so wonderfully preserves to us the blessings of peace, that His work may not be hindered; which from year to year showers His bounties on us, filling our hearts with food and gladness. No, neither of these,—but our own worldliness, and want of zeal and self-denial; our fear of the scorn of the idle and foolish world about us, which laughs at Missionary enterprise, and questions Missionary success, and so tries to keep the Gospel of Christ from asserting and carrying out its universal kingdom among men. If we really believed this universality, this oneness in Christ, as we profess to do, we should not be content, as we now are, with a list of religious Societies for home and foreign missions, every one of them struggling for existence from year to year; the poorer among us would not be content to let the wealthier do all the work of the Church, but would cheerfully claim their share of it: the wealthy would not let a few do the work of the whole body, but would eagerly vie with one another in hastening on the glad result. We do not, my brethren, present to God or to the world the aspect of a nation which believes in this universality of Christ’s church and kingdom. Compare any one of our great public commercial enterprises with the whole of our puny efforts for Christian missions, and we painfully gather what I much fear is the truth in general, that this people is thoroughly convinced of the nature of the things of this world, but has no such conviction of the reality of its faith. On the one side we see enthusiastic eagerness, active competition, thousands and millions poured along almost any proposed channel, with or without prospect of large remuneration: on the other all is dead as winter, silent as the grave; interest barely kept up by meetings too often without any life in them, leaving for the most part on the heart a painful sense of unreality and hypocrisy: parades of names in subscription-lists, all cramped with the dreary uniformity of the conventional pound or guinea; in too many cases names of persons without heart for the enterprise, without interest, without love, without expectation of result. We serve the world by stirring personal energy, by unbounded hope, by endless contrivance: we excuse ourselves from serving Christ’s Kingdom by delegating our blessed part in it to a lifeless mechanism, from which our persons and our sympathies are alike absent. O beloved, these things would not be so, did we know each for himself, did we know, as a church and nation, the fulness of the power of that Salvation which the Savior of all men brought into the world for all men.

But one more lesson springs from the truth in my text—and that is a lesson of kindliness, of charitable feeling, of allowance for one another. If Christ’s Gospel is this wide and universal remedy for our sins and miseries, it is so not by crushing all men’s characters into one prescribed form, but by adapting itself to, and taking into itself, every variety of human character, with its defects, its weaknesses, its points which are unwelcome to society, and contemptible in the sight of man. It has been said, and not untruly, that the most accomplished man of the world is he who has best learned to hate and to despise. Directly opposite to this is the character of the accomplished disciple of Christ. He is the man who has best unlearned how to hate and despise his fellow-man. And I know of no consideration so effectual to this end, as those which spring from this great doctrine of the universal sufficiency of Christ’s Gospel. Only let it present itself in this light to us. The weakness which you see in your neighbor’s character, which makes you estimate him so cheaply, and regard him as so worthless in the world, is perhaps the very holding-ground for the anchor of a faith which keeps him firm in the truth, and which you yourself do not possess. And again, the very eagerness to seize on faults and to take the unpleasant view of things, which makes your neighbor so disagreeable to you, may be but the rough outer shell of a precious center and heart of a character which loves righteousness and hates iniquity. The surface may be ruffled and irregular, but it may be only a broken and imperfect representation of the great ground-swell of truth and holiness, stirring the depths of the character. O who that knows himself, will not rather rejoice that others are not as he is? It is, my brethren, because we do not know how wide and large and all-embracing Christ’s Spirit is, that we are always tying it down to rules and frameworks, and one or another form of human character, when we ought to be thankful for its manifold operations, glad that it lays hold of and fills and sanctifies every anxiety, every want, every special tendency of our common humanity. We need a large infusion of this Spirit of Christ which wrought in His holy Apostle, before we can properly teach, properly hear, properly feel, on such a subject as this of our text to-day. We need it in our Church life, we need it in our social life, we need it in our individual life: for unless a man be penetrated through and through by it, he has it not worthily at all.

Finally—if this Gospel be thus adapted for all, offered to all, sufficient for all, then is that person inexcusable who, when it is offered, has not accepted it in its power. My brother—my sister—you are sinful, guilty, perishing. You have that in you and about you which will ruin you for this life and for eternity: you have not that in you, or within your grasp, which will rescue you from this ruin. But here is a remedy. Here is a divine and all-sufficing Savior;—yours, thank God, by right of your humanity which He took upon him, and in which He has satisfied God for you;—nay more, yours by the profession of your baptism, and your membership of His Church. If you will not believe in Him with heart and practice;—if you will not have Him to reign over you;—if you will not come to Him that you may have life, O where can the blame lie but with yourselves? God has done His part: the Father sent the Son; the Son obeyed, and died, and pleads in heaven for you; the Holy Spirit is ever striving with you in your consciences, and in the ordinances of the Church, and by my voice here: the Church has done her part; she brought you near to Christ, and washed you in the font of the new birth; she taught you all that a Christian ought to believe and know for his soul’s health; she offers you the rich Feast of her Lord’s Body and Blood, and holy ordinances without number. All has been done, all is ever being done, except your own part.
O delay no longer: but accept in the depths of your heart, and in the fountains of your life, this universal and all-sufficing Savior: take up and fulfil the holy challenge of the Apostle in our Epistle this day, chosen by the Church as a fit conclusion from the rich blessings of the Christmas season—from God’s loving-kindness in having spared us yet another year:—
“I conjure you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine (pp. 68–81). London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

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Folly and Weakness Triumphant

Folly and Weakness Triumphant

The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  1 Corinthians 1:25.

Great S. Mary’s Church, 20th Sunday after Trinity, 1876.

The Apostle here represents the character and progress of the Gospel as a paradox. It is weakness superior to strength; it is folly triumphant over wisdom. It is an illustration—a unique and signal illustration—of God’s mysterious working, whereby He chooses the base things of the world, yes, even the things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are.

This mode of working is not confined to revelation alone. History teems with examples of this paradox. For the most part the great crises in the progress of our race have been surprises of this kind. They have come from an unexpected quarter, or at an unexpected time. Their prime agents have not been the wise or mighty or noble in the estimation of the world. The reformer, or the avenger, has started up, as it were, suddenly from the earth beneath. It was an obscure Saxon monk, who broke up the empire of Papal ascendency, and created a new era in the history of intellectual and religious thought. It was an unknown Corsican adventurer, who dictated terms to a whole continent, made and unmade peoples and dynasties, and introduced as mighty a revolution in the world of politics as the other had done in the world of thought. There is perhaps a scarcely audible muttering of some social grievance; it is unheeded and unredressed; men go on their way, suspecting nothing; when suddenly the volcano bursts out under their very feet, and in a few short hours society is buried in fire and ashes. There is a silent stealthy idea, which insinuates itself into the crevices of human thought; it is hardly perceived, or, if perceived, it seems too insignificant to deserve attention; but it creeps and spreads, filling all the interstices, till the fabric, which has defied the storms of ages, cracked and loosened in every part, falls in ruins overhead. And then it is seen that God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.

But all illustrations of this Divine irony are faint and shadowy compared with the progress of the Gospel. Sacred history is an intensification of secular history. The triumph of the Cross is the paradox of all paradoxes.

No language is too strong for the expression of this fact in S. Paul’s mind. These opening chapters of the Epistle are a very Morias Encomion, a Praise of folly and of fools. Does this account of his language seem extravagant? See how he describes the Gospel itself. His words are so strong, that we tacitly mistranslate or misinterpret them, in order to dilute their force. He speaks of the folly, the fatuity, of the thing preached, the Gospel message in itself (τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος). We render it ‘the foolishness of preaching,’ as if he were stigmatizing the weakness of the human, fallible advocate. He says that ‘the foolishness,’ or rather ‘the foolish thing’, ‘of God is wiser than men.’ We half unconsciously regard it as an a fortiori argument; as though he were maintaining that, if God’s foolishness, God’s lowest purposes, can so far transcend man’s counsels, much more must God’s wisdom, God’s highest dispensations. But in fact he styles this very Gospel—this message of Christ crucified—a ‘foolish thing’ in itself. By what other name could he call it? It had been offered to the Greeks, the most cultivated, most intellectual, most keenly critical race of mankind, to the Greeks, who were the schoolmasters of the whole civilised world, and the Greeks had pronounced it unreservedly folly.

And not only is the message folly, but the messengers also are fools. So the Apostle describes himself afterwards. He is even proud of this strange distinction. ‘We are fools,’ he writes, ‘fools for Christ’s sake.’ And again in the second Epistle, in a strain of lofty irony, he intreats his Corinthian converts, as they had always shewn a forbearing sympathy with men of feeble minds and senseless lives—notwithstanding the lofty intellectual eminence on which they themselves were placed—so now not to deny him this condescension which they had freely extended to others; ‘As a fool receive me.’ ‘For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.’

And once more; if the messengers are fools, the recipients of the message must become fools also. It is necessary that the disciple should be in harmony with the teacher and with the lesson. He must sink all those pretensions which are his greatest pride. He must resign absolutely all claims to intellectual superiority or prudent discernment. ‘Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool—that he may be wise.’ Yes, none but a fool can appreciate this message of folly.

But this is not all. Folly itself may possess a certain brute force. The fool may be a giant in strength. What the brain lacks, the muscles and sinews may compensate. Does the Gospel possess any such advantage, as this figure implies? If it shews no wisdom, as the world counts wisdom, may it not possess some strength, as the world estimates strength? Nay, it is the weak thing of God, as well as the foolish thing—weak in itself, and weak in all its personal relations. Christ Himself, its theme, ‘was crucified through weakness.’ They, the preachers, are weak in Him. He, Paul, ‘glories in infirmities;’ ‘takes pleasure in infirmities.’ He declares himself ‘glad,’ yes, glad, that he is weak. Here again there is the same emphatic reiteration, as before. The Gospel is the very alliance of infirmity with folly. Its body is weakness; and its soul is foolishness.

Strange words these to address to a Corinthian audience. Corinth was a Roman colony on a Greek soil. As Greeks, his hearers set an excessive value on wisdom; and he recommends his message to them, because it is folly. As Romans, they worshipped power with an idolatrous worship; and he offers the Gospel for their allegiance, because it is weakness.

But stranger still than this encomium of folly, this panegyric of weakness, is the confidence with which he predicts its victory. The Apostle is quite sure that the folly of fools like himself will triumph over the wisdom of the wise. He does not shrink from declaring that the weakness of weaklings such as he is will dictate terms to the strength of the strong. ‘God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.’

Could anything well have appeared more unreasonable, more reckless, more futile, than this confidence? Look at the two antagonists. Can you doubt for a moment to which side the victory must incline? At no other epoch in the history of the world would the Gospel have been confronted with a foe more formidable than at the actual crisis of its appearing. It found leagued against it all the wisdom of Greece and all the strength of Rome—a wisdom wiser, and a strength stronger, than mankind has ever seen before or after.

The human race has grown older in experience since then. Vast accumulations of thought and knowledge have been amassed. The collision of races and nations has from time to time struck out sparks, which have kindled the flame of the human intellect in some fresh quarter. But still the literature of Greece—its philosophy, its poetry, its oratory—enjoys a unique preeminence. It still supplies models for the imitation of a remote posterity. It is still fresh with the vigour of a perennial youth—a deathless power in the world of intellect and imagination. And yet these are only shattered fragments saved from the wreck of time, which we possess. What must it not have been then, when it was entire? What must it not have been then, when its language was still a living tongue—the medium of communication between all civilised peoples; when it was still upheld and interpreted by the religion, customs, institutions, daily life, of a race which had ramified and spread over every part of the known world?

And, as in the world of thought, so also in the world of action. In the whole life of the human race no power has arisen like the power of the Romans. There have been, and there are, empires which cover a larger superficial area. But for concentration, for unity, for available force, it has never had an equal. The greatest modern empires are rivals: each neutralises the power of the other. The domination of Rome owned no peer and no second. The voice of Rome was the law of the world. It was the Roman’s mission, said their great poet, ‘to rule over the peoples, to spare the submissive, but to crush the proud and defiant.’

Confronted by this league of powerful allies, what was there in the story of Christ crucified that it should lead captive a reluctant world? We cannot, even with a conscious effort, realise all the repulsive associations which the Cross suggested to S. Paul’s contemporaries. Substitute for the word some modern equivalent, as the gallows or the gibbet, and you approach more nearly to the idea conveyed. We shudder at such a substitution; we shrink from it as a profanation; our very reluctance shows how great a change has come upon mankind. Not in vain have eighteen Christian centuries passed over our heads. Not in vain has S. Paul’s startling resolve—startling and repulsive when it was uttered, but obvious, self-evident, admirable now—to glory in nothing but the cross of Christ, been proclaimed from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday, and repeated day after day in thousands of Christian homes. Not in vain have saints been schooled to live, and martyrs nerved to die, in the strength of those words. The Cross is now the symbol of power, of heroism, of saintly patience, of triumphant love. But only reflect in what light it would be regarded by the Romans then? We ourselves, if we dwell on the repulsive aspects of the Cross, dwell chiefly, or solely, on the torture. But to the Roman the pain was only a small part of the horror. It was the ignominy of the punishment, from which he would turn away with disgust. No Roman citizen—however deep his crime—ran any risk of crucifixion. The law exempted him from this extreme degradation. It was the punishment of slaves, of the lowest and vilest of their kind. And they—these Romans, the masters of the world, with their proud bearing, with their innate respect for law, with their strong sense of political privilege—were invited by this Paul to fall down before a gibbet, and to admire a criminal condemned by a Roman magistrate to this most ignominious of all deaths. Weakness? It was far worse than weakness. It was vile, it was shameful—an outrage on all their most cherished feelings.

And, while thus repulsive to the Romans, this message of the Cross would be still less attractive to the Greek. With his gay spirit and his keen appreciation of the bright side of life, he could have nothing to say to this horrible tale of suffering. With his strong sense of beauty, he would avert his eyes with a shudder from this unlovely scene on Calvary. With his speculative cast of mind, with his eager craving after intellectual subtleties, how could he possibly find in this plain, this forbidding, this worse than common-place Jewish tale of an obscure convict, the answer to his philosophic questioning? It was folly, folly in its most foolish mood—this story of the Cross—to the Greek.

And, if it was such in itself, it would certainly gain nothing from the character of its advocate. S. Paul’s opponents did not suffer him to indulge any feelings of self-complacency on this point. Their taunts served only to remind him that in his own person he illustrated the divine paradox. As was the Gospel, so was its preacher. Was he not weak? This was the very reproach which they hurled at him. They pointed to his insignificant stature; they glanced at his spare frame, worn out with toil and bowed down with sickness. He was a despicable object to these Corinthians, accustomed to the perfection of physical strength and grace in the athletes of their Isthmian games. They could not away with one who ‘in bodily presence’ was ‘weak.’ Was he not foolish also? Here again his enemies held up the mirror to him, and forced him to see his defects. This itinerant Jew, speaking with a foreign accent, breaking loose from all the approved forms of logic, defying all the established laws of rhetoric in his halting, tumultuous, solœcistic utterances—how could he hope to recommend his message to the fine ear and the fastidious taste of the Greek? Foolishness was not a strong enough word to express their estimate. He was ‘in speech contemptible.’

Yes, he was weak, he was foolish. He could not gainsay the charge. Looking at his own heart, he condemned himself of foolishness far greater than that with which his enemies charged him. Reviewing his own life, he saw everywhere signs of weakness, which even their contempt had failed to detect. What were an insignificant presence and a faulty rhetoric after all, compared with the foolishness of a heart struggling against self, and the weakness of a life oppressed by the fears within and baffled by the fightings without? He was weak; he was foolish. Who knew this so well as himself? But what then? Strength was made perfect in weakness; wisdom started up full armed from the head of folly. Aye, there was a divine purpose in all this. He had this treasure, this priceless treasure in cheap, vulgar, fragile vessels of earthenware, ‘that the excellency of the power might be of God, and not of himself.’

And so the cry of despair becomes the pæan of thanksgiving. The taunt of his enemies is the boast of the Apostle. He was not strong, but God’s weakness was strong through him. He was not wise, but God’s foolishness was wise in him. And this weakness, this folly, crushing all opposition, would press forward on its march from victory to victory.

A strange confidence to entertain. And yet this Paul was right after all. The centuries rolled on, and the prediction was fulfilled. The monstrous paradox, so contradictory to reason and so defiant of experience, proved true. All human calculation was baffled. The foolish things confounded the wise, and the weak things confounded the mighty. Neither the power and the polity of Rome, nor the philosophy and the arts of Greece, could check the triumphant progress of the Cross.

And do we ask how this triumph can be explained? S. Paul has answered the question by anticipation. ‘The world by wisdom knew not God.’ There is little danger that in this place you should underrate the intellectual and social triumphs of Greece and of Rome. Even as preparations for the Gospel, they hold a foremost place. What was the wisdom of Greece, but an elementary schooling for the higher spiritual lessons of Christianity? What was the power and organization of Rome, but the roadway of the Gospel of Christ and the scaffolding of the Church of God? But the arts of Greece and the polity of Rome had left a deep craving in mankind unappeased. Like the hart panting after the water-brooks, the soul of humanity was thirsting after a living God. It might not be altogether conscious of the object of its thirst; but the thirst itself was a terrible reality nevertheless. Men were feeling after God, but they had not grasped Him. He was near to every one of them, and they had not found Him. Wisdom had failed, and now it was the turn for foolishness.

Could he for a moment entertain any misgivings of its triumph? He knew what the Cross of Christ had been to himself. It had guided his zeal, it had purified his passions, it had widened his sympathies, it had opened his heart. It had filled him with new aspirations, new resolves, new hopes. That was no rhetorical figure, but a sober expression of fact, when he said that to be in Christ was to be a new creature, a new creation. In the light of this glory, all the lessons of the past had started up into new life: just as with the sunrise the landscape, which has appeared before a dark, indistinguishable mass, emerges in all the infinite beauties of form and colour. And, if it had been all this to him, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, what might it not be to these Gentiles tossed to and fro between the extremes of idolatry and scepticism? It was the touch of God, which mankind needed to heal the sores, to purge the corruption, to arrest the decay. And he knew that this touch had thrilled through his inmost being in the revelation of Christ crucified.

‘Man cannot live by bread alone.’ This is the lesson which the triumph of the Cross teaches; a palimpsest traced in letters of fire on the erased page of an ancient civilisation; a voice emphasized by the thunder-crash of a fallen world. ‘Man cannot live by bread alone’—whether the bread of social organization, of material appliances, of legislation, of polity (Rome had given enough and to spare of this); or the bread of intellectual culture, of æsthetic taste, of philosophy, of poetry, of art (Greece had dealt with these with a lavish hand). Fed to surfeiting with these, ancient society, nevertheless, had fallen from bad to worse, had become day by day more corrupt, more impotent, more helpless, till at length it lay seething in its own decay. And then the magnificent irony of God’s purpose was seen. Foolishness triumphed over wisdom, and weakness set her foot on the neck of strength. And that which has been will be again, if ever the conditions should be repeated. If ever—I will not say science, but scientific speculation, should hold out promises which from its very nature it cannot perform; if ever, dazzled by its unparalleled triumphs, it should invade provinces which belong to another rule; if ever, consciously, or unconsciously, its representatives should attempt to eliminate from the Universe everything which renders possible either the guiding providence of God or the moral responsibility of man; if ever a materialistic philosophy should gain the ascendant, which offers no strength to the life struggling in the meshes of temptation, holds out no hand to the conscience staggering under the burden of sin, speaks no words of comfort to the soul torn with suffering or aching with bereavement; then, assuredly, soon or late the heart of humanity, finding itself deluded and betrayed, will rise in the name of conscience and faith, and turn upon its betrayer. Then again, as of old, the foolish things of the world will confound the wise. But then again, also, much that is useful, much that is beautiful, much that is true, may be buried in the ruin. The less must be sacrificed to the greater. Baffled, disappointed, starved in its highest moral and spiritual needs, humanity has no heart and no leisure for nice discrimination.

For this Cross of Christ—this strange, repulsive, foolish thing—did give to a hungry world just that food which alone could allay its pangs. Only reflect for a moment before we part, what ideas, what sanctions, what safeguards, what hopes, it has made the common property of mankind.

First of all: it went right home to the human soul. It demanded no scientific training: it required no natural gifts. It addressed itself, not to the Greek as Greek, or to the Roman as Roman, but to the man as man. It took him, just as he was, stripped of all adventitious ornaments and advantages, and it spoke to his heart, spoke to his conscience, spoke from God to the godlike within him, but spoke nevertheless as a man speaketh with his friend.

And, so taking him, it set before him in the story of Christ’s doings and sufferings an ideal of human life, absolutely pure, unselfish, beneficent, righteous, perfect, such as the world had never seen—an ideal, which once beheld could not be forgotten, but must haunt the memory of men for evermore, fascinating by its beauty, purifying, ennobling, transforming into its own bright image by the wonderful magic of its abiding presence.

And then again, it gave aid, where aid was most needed. It illumined the dark places of human existence. It dignified sorrow; it canonized suffering. The Cross of Calvary threw a glory over all the most harrowing and repulsive trials of life. Toil, sickness, pain, want, bereavement, neglect, obloquy, persecution, death—these were invested with a new meaning by the foolishness of the preaching. It was an honourable distinction now to share with Him—the head of the race—the prerogative of suffering. It was a comparatively light thing now to bear a little, where He had borne so much. Pain did not cease to be pain—whatever the Stoic might say; but pain had become endurable, for pain had been glorified.

And then again; it proclaimed in language, which could not be misunderstood, the universal brotherhood of man. The triumphs won on the Cross had obliterated, as in the sight of God, all distinction of race, of caste, of class. He the Crucified, He the Triumphant, was a poor artisan of a despised village of a despised nation—henceforth the accepted King of men, the Pattern of His race—the admired, honoured, worshipped of His brethren.

But above all, this Cross of Christ was the atonement, the reconciliation, of man to God. It united heaven and earth in an indissoluble union. It threw an unwonted and glorious light on the Fatherly mercy of God. It brought a new and unforeseen promise of pardon and peace, extended freely to all. Who shall despair now? Who shall dare to put limits to our Father’s forgiveness? Who will refuse to Him the tribute of filial obedience? Who will not strive day and night to win His pardon, to win His favour, strong in the faith of this one perfect sacrifice—the supreme manifestation of Divine goodness and love?

These lessons, and others such as these, cluster round the Cross of Christ. And they can never fade or lose their freshness. What wonder then, if mankind preferred the folly of God to the wisdom of men? Here, and here only—in this old, foolish message of Christ crucified—is the promise and the potency of life, the one true and abiding life, the life that is now, and that shall be hereafter, eternal in the heavens.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

The Heart of the Gospel

The Heart of the Gospel:  Sin And Repentance


SGM Dan Cartwright, USA (Ret)
Chairman, Board of Directors

Te Apostle Paul had some harsh words to the church in Galatia for those who would turn away from the Gospel of grace and return to trusting in human works for salvation:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9 ESV)

Paul clearly defined the message of the gospel to the church in Corinth with these words:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV)

Long before Paul was converted and began to preach the gospel and establish churches, John the Baptist laid the groundwork for the coming of Christ:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2 ESV)

Jesus began his earthly ministry with these words:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

When Jesus appeared to His disciples after the resurrection, he commissioned them with these words:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:45-47 ESV)

Well, so what?

Here's “what”:

Who am I, who are we, who name the Name of Christ, to change the message, or omit what Scripture tells us is the core and heart of the gospel message? How dare we presume that a “changed life” is the Gospel?

How dare we presume that making Jesus “attractive,” as the one who merely solves all of life's little problems, is spreading the gospel that saves a person from Hell?

How dare we presume that love, love, love, without including the issue of sin and repentance, IS even love at all?

Who am I if I presume any of the above?  Who am I if I don't hold as paramount, and address as of “first importance,” that Jesus died for our SIN, and if I don't speak of the need to REPENT from SIN?

I'll tell you who I am — I am a spiritual coward, a disgrace to evangelism, and a traitor to the One who saved me!

And at the end of the day, I am still a sinner — a sinner saved by the amazing grace of a sovereign God!


Christian Military Fellowship

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