The glory of His grace. — (Ephesians 1:6.)
GRACE! It is the subject of the Bible all through. You will tell me that the Bible speaks of the Fall of Man. Yes, and it does so that it may put a black foil for the bright jewel of grace. You will remind me that the Scripture speaks of the depravity of the human heart and of the corruptions of the various portions of our race, Most true again. I would say it treats of the disease that it might employ the remedy. Sin and depravity are brought to light in order that we may see what grace it is that forgives sin and overcomes the depravity of our nature.
This whole Book is a volume upon grace. You cannot find a single part of it that does not more or less bear upon that subject. It is true that it treats of the law, but the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to the school of grace, and while the commandment is exceeding broad and strict it only shows how great is the grace of God which forgives so many sins, and which, at the same time, works in us to will and to do according to God’s good pleasure. Yes, the subject of the Bible is grace. Up in Heaven they sing of His grace, and here below on earth we have no sweeter song than that which tells us of the glory of the grace of God. I have a subject which cheers my own heart to speak upon; if there should be no eloquence and even little fluency, the subject is itself eloquent, and he that feels it in his heart will be sure to know how sweetly living waters flow from it.
Now let us speak of the glory of God’s grace, first noticing the qualities of that grace in which its glory may be seen. We will dwell on that first. There are certain qualities in divine grace which are its glory. And surely the first is its freeness. We are accustomed to say “free grace,” and I have heard some quarrel with it because it is a redundancy. If it is grace it must be free, That is very true; but there are certain gentlemen that have a kind of grace that is not free. Therefore I go in for the redundancy, and I venture to say” free grace,” that there may be no mistake about it. We sometimes, in common language, speak of a thing as” free, gratis, and for nothing.”
Well, I will even take the triplet and say that of the grace of God — -that it is free, gratis, and for nothing, and that is the glory of it — the freeness of the grace of God. Why, see how free it is. It comes to men that never sought it. It came to any of us, who received it, long before we sought it or could seek it, for it came to us before we were born. Christ Jesus died for sinners before they lived on earth, many of them. We were certainly redeemed by the precious blood before we had actually fallen into sin, so that grace had the start of our existence — much more of our seeking it.
But indeed, brethren, when we sought the Lord, though we did not know it, the Lord had sought us long before. There had been a work of His Spirit upon our hearts when we did not know it. We thought that we said, “I will arise and go unto my Father.” So we did; but there was another parable, if you remember, before the one that speaks of the return of the prodigal son, and that tells us of a piece of money that was lost, which could not find itself, and the house had to be swept and the candle to be lit that it might be found; we are told of a sheep that never thought of coming back, as sheep seldom do, but the shepherd had to go after it and find it and lay it upon his shoulder. Yes, in all cases when we come to God it is because God first came to us.
And the freeness of this grace is manifested from the fact that it comes to very unlikely persons. That verse was most truthful — It is Thy boast, Into unlikeliest hearts to come, The glory, of Thy light to find In darkest spots a home.
Why, the grace of God has come to persons who have been abandoned in character, and it has reclaimed them. It has come to those who have been blasphemous and profane, and yet it has renewed their hearts. It has come to persecutors, to those desperately set on mischief and arrested them in their madness, sobered and renewed them and made them to be servants of the very Master whom once they opposed. It is free indeed when it comes to such as these. And I count it very free indeed that it should have come to me, for though, perhaps, I might put myself, as many of you would, among those whose outward lives could not have been considered to be so desperately wicked, yet, what with the pride of our hearts, the selfrighteousness of our natures, and the stubbornness of our wills and the reluctancy of our souls to close in with Christ, having sinned against so much light and so much knowledge, the wonder is that God did not leave us to choose our own delusion. It was a marvel of grace that we should have become the subjects of it! And I think I speak the mind of my brethren and sisters in Christ if I say that if there were no other instance on record of the sovereignty of divine grace, each one of us would claim to be a record in the matter. It was sovereign grace that chose us and looked upon us.
I. Now I am so glad to have this to say, because I do not see why the grace of God should not look on some here to-night — some of the most unlikely people. Did you come here to get something to laugh at? The grace of God may send you away weeping for your sins. I pray it may. Did you come in here after having misspent the rest of the day and many previous Sabbaths too, and do you think you are never likely to be converted? Come, Thou eternal Spirit, come. As the lightning’s flash strikes the loftiest oak, come Thou and split the heart in twain with irresistible force! O God of love, Thou hast but to stretch out Thy scepter and the most rebellious heart must yield to Thee. Let it be so, and glory shall be given to Thy grace. The first point, then, is its freeness.
But the next is its omnipotence, for, wherever the grace of God comes it is omnipotent grace. I do not say it is always put forth omnipotently, for the Spirit of God sometimes works without putting forth all His strength and then men resist Him, ay, and successfully resist Him too. “Ye do always resist the Holy Spirit, as did also your fathers,” said Stephen of old. There is such a thing as striving against Him; and He will not always strive with men. But when the Spirit of God comes forth with the power of divine grace, then there is no longer any resistance. It is not that the man could not still resist if he would, but it is that he would not if he could, for when grace comes it changes the nature and transforms the heart. I suppose it operates somewhat in this way: the man is prejudiced, but when grace comes if takes away his prejudice. His understanding is darkened: he thinks that bitter is sweet and sweet bitter; grace comes and he sees clearly, knows the bitter to be bitter and the sweet to be sweet. Then at once, his understanding being enlightened, his will becomes affected, for a man does not naturally will towards that which he feels will be to himself evil; but now, knowing that such a thing would be evil he wills to leave it, and knowing now that such a thing is good, being taught by the Spirit, he wills to seek that which he knows to be good to himself. The will thus becomes tutored and trained. The bit is put into the mouth of the will — the most stubborn of all things. No sword can come at some men’s wills. They are like Leviathans: they laugh at the spear: the sword comes not at them, but when the Eternal lays to His mighty sword, how he drives through Leviathan’s scales and brings down his pride and glory. We have seen some great sinners that never trembled before shake like aspen leaves when the wind of the Eternal Spirit has blown upon them. There is nothing that the power of eternal grace cannot overcome. And when the will is subdued the affections go in a different channel.
If some traveler were to come home some day and tell us that while looking at the waters of Niagara he had suddenly seen the waters leap upward, instead of down, and the whole of the rivers began to flow towards the lakes, we should not credit it. But if it were true, it would not be so great a miracle as when a man’s entire nature that has been rushing down to the sea of destruction with great leaps, with cataracts of evil, is suddenly turned the other way and made to seek God, the God from whom he so impetuously fled. Yes, the grace of God can do that, and that is one of the glories of grace. If a man be so bad that only the devil himself is worse, yet the grace of God can renew him. If his heart be as cold as an iceberg and as hard as an adamant stone, yet can the grace of God thaw him and break him; and though his nature be as a dreary Sahara with its burning sand, if Death has marched over it and destroyed whatever of life may once have been in it, yet God’s Spirit may come and make the desert to blossom like Sharon, ay, like the garden of the Lord. This is, then, another part of the glory of that grace: it is free: it is omnipotent.
Another part of its glory lies in this, that it is always consistent with the other attributes of God. The grace of God never interferes with any other of the great characteristics of the Most High. You have heard some blunderers say that if God does not pardon sin without an atonement there is no grace in it. Poor fools\ It is grace the more transcendently displayed, because, in the wisdom of God, grace full-orbed is not permitted to eclipse any other attribute of Deity. Observe, God is just, God might be merciful at the expense of justice, but I question whether it would be mercy, for it is not mercy to a community to let off a criminal. I am not sure that our lives are any safer because certain murderers of late, for whom I could not see any reason for mercy, have been exempted from the rights of justice. I am not sure your houses would be more safe at night or our brethren in the street if the judges were to suffer the burglars and garroters to go free without punishment. It would be a mercy to them, perhaps, but not to us.
Now, God’s mercy is mercy and truly so, and does not interfere with justice, for God is as just in the case of every forgiven sinner as He would have been if that sinner had been cast into hell. The vengeance on that sinner has been borne by Jesus Christ. The Son of God has paid the debt, and therefore the sinner is discharged. It was grace that gave the sinner such a Savior; but it is the very glory of grace that it is perfectly consistent with the sternest justice.
So is the grace of God consistent with divine truth. If God had to take back a word He had ever spoken in order to save men, it would be a great misfortune; for God cannot be suspected of falsehood or of suffering His word to fall to the ground. If He were, the foundations of society would be loosened, and the world would be greatly the loser by it, however much the mercy might be praised up by some. But there is no threatening of God’s justice violated; there is no single word which has gone forth out of His mouth but which has been met by its fulfillment. The laws, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, have never been altered, but a new law has come in over the rest of which God, without interfering with the former, has certainly been true.
And certainly it is consistent with holiness, If you meet with a man who says, “I have the grace of God, and therefore live in such and such a sin,” the man speaks falsely. The grace of God never was the father of any sin, ay, and never will be! The apostle says of some who declared that they lived in sin that grace might abound that their damnation was just — as if he meant to say, “Everybody knows, and everybody can see with half an eye that their damnation is strict justice.” No, the grace of God has never in this world caused a man to do wrong to his fellow-men, nor to do wrong towards his God. It has a holy influence wherever it comes, and when it has full-play it sanctifies the heart that comes under its power and makes it perfect — taking it away to Heaven.
And let me say that the grace of God is always consistent with divine goodness. I mean this, that though the grace of God does not come alike to all men, that there are some men who receive it and are saved by it while others perish in their sins — yet the grace of God never has done an injustice to any man. There will be no man at God’s bar at last that will be able to charge Him with partialities. It is very easy to fling that word about now, but it shall not be so then. There shall be no sinner with a valid excuse. There shall be no sinner that can lay his sin on God’s back or his ruin at the feet of the Most High. Every soul saved shall glorify the grace of God, but there will not be in the salvation of that soul a single infringement upon the benevolence of God or His strict justice towards the sons of men. He knows how that may be done. We may not be able to justify His ways to men: we are content to give Paul’s answer, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God ?”
II. Now, another point. It is a part, as I believe, of the glory of divine grace that it is immutable.. Certain brethren think that God’s grace comes to men and then leaves them. We have not so learned Christ. Where the grace of God begins — effectually begins and the heart of the man is really changed, the work which has been begun will be completed. There will be much opposition to that completion from the flesh and from temptations from without and from Satan; but he that began to build is not a vain builder who cannot finish. He that goeth out to this war is not one whose forces are too weak to encounter the gigantic enemy. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Thou hast to deal with an immutable Jehovah ! “! am God ! I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” The grace that can be lost is a grace well lost. The only grace worth having is the grace which, when it takes hold of us, never lets us go, but lands us safely in glory, according to that ancient promise, “The Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”
One other feature of this grace is its all-sufficiency. It is the glory of grace that it meets every want of the sinner. If the sinner is dead, it gives him life; if he be filthy, it gives him washing; if he be naked, it gives him clothing. Is the sinner hungry? It feeds him. Is he thirsty? It gives him drink, Do the sinner’s wants grow even larger after he becomes a saint, or has he a deeper apprehension of them? Then the supplies are just as deep as his necessity. Bottomless mines are the treasures of divine grace : — - Deep as our helpless miseries are, And boundless as our sins.
You will never get to a point where grace will fail you — never come to an extremity where you will have to say, “Here, at last, the arm of grace is palsied, and I must look elsewhere for succor.” Oh, no, from this spot to the brink of Jordan and through the Jordan and up to the great white throne of judgment, and through the judgment, and until body and soul, remarried in a splendid marriage for eternity, shall sit down at the wedding feast above — till then there shall be no failures in grace, nor shall we ever have to think of it as otherwise than all-sufficient.
Thus we have briefly run over a few of the characteristics which are the glory of divine grace. Who would not have such grace as this ?
And now, secondly, only a few minutes, we want to talk a little about where the glory of God’s grace may be best seen. I think there are two or three places I could take you to. One is in the new convert. Just look at him. You see how joyous he is, full of gladness, and that gladness runs down his cheeks in glistening floods of tears. Do you know that man? A little while ago that man was wretched and unhappy. A little farther back than that he was happy, but it was a happiness like the crackling of a burning thorn: it blazes and it is gone. He used to enjoy the company of those who talked lasciviously. Possibly he was licentious himself. He loved the settle in the ale-house; he would be found amongst those who broke the Sabbath and profaned God’s name. Look at him now! He tells you he is pardoned; he has looked to Christ, and his soul has been lightened, and you can see by the very look of the man that a very strange change has come over him. He is a new creature in Christ Jesus. I recollect when such a change came over me. Do not many of you remember that time? And oh ! what the glory of God’s grace was to you ! You had been on the brink of hell, and you were saved; you had felt a sentence of condemnation in your own conscience, and there you were absolved. Every sin was gone; you were clean as the driven snow; you were accepted in the Beloved as much as if you had been a saint all our days, instead of a sinner, and you were perfectly saved by the simple act of faith — faith in the bleeding Savior.
Oh, there was glory in God’s grace that day !
And now I will take you to another spot. The glory of God’s grace may often be seen in believers. I have seen it in believers in their poverty — when they have had to bear much hardship, but they have not repined but thanked God for what they had. I have seen it in Christians in their temptations, when, like Joseph, they have said, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God ?” I have seen it in believers when under very heavy trials. Their children have died; perhaps the wife or the husband has died also, and the one left behind has said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,” and, though it choked them almost to say it, they have added, “blessed be the name of the Lord.” “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,” Now, that was the glory of God’s grace, and I have seen this often, and I trust you have and felt it too. And how that glory has been seen in the hour of death! Many and many a time one has stood by the dying bed and envied the departing saint — envied him, because, though the bones were ready to start through the skin, he certainly had a happier portion than we had who were in health and strength. His mind was more resting upon Christ and more in peace, and he seemed more full of ecstasy and joy. I have heard things from the lips of dying saints which I never heard from living ones — I mean never anything so choice. Poets have never been able to rival the mysterious utterances of departing believers when Heaven has shone right in upon their faces, and they have begun to hear the singing of the everlasting choirs. Oh yes, grace has been glorious there! And you read, in the Book of Martyrs, and in other works, how the saints of God have died — have died on the rack, have died in the dungeon, or have died at the stake, and yet with all that have gloried in the God of their salvation. Are not these things written in the Book of the wars of the Lord ! There can ye see what He hath done, making them strong and for the timid in making them brave. Recollect the name of Anne Askew, sitting down on cold damp slabs, when they had racked her till there was not a single bone in her frame but was full of pain. I am not she that list My anchor to let fall For every drizzling mist; My ship’s substantial.
She felt that God was in her heart. She called the rack and all its mockeries but a drizzling mist, not storm enough; she felt such scorn for the cruelties they were able to put upon her. Yes, there is glory in God’s grace in such a case as that.
But now I wish I had the power of a Dante or a Milton, and could bear you into the air away into the region where the Prince of Darkness holds his court. I would take you away at least to the brink of that drear pit, that awful prison-house of souls condemned by the justice of the Most High. If you could stand, and but for a moment see the smoke of their torment and hear the cries and moans of spirits for ever withered by the breath of justice, I should then say to you, “That would have been my fate and yours if it had not been for the grace of God.” And as we started back from that dread abyss and dare not look upon it, and closed our ears to those terrific sounds, we should feel, “O God! how boundless is Thy grace that has kept us from those dark abodes of woe !” And then, if some seraph could bear us up to the seventh heaven, and place us there upon the sea of glass cornmingled with fire, and we could stand awhile upon that placid but lustrous deep and hear the harpers harping with their harps, and receive our own harp and have our own crown put upon our head, as surely we shall if the grace of God has looked upon us — if we could bow amongst them there and chant Emmanuel’s praise, then too would this thought come into our souls, “Oh, the glory of this grace that lifts up spirits that might have been damned to become glorified, and makes immortals that might have been immortal in their agony to become immortal in their bliss. O glorious grace ! Where are the words with which we can speak of thee! We want our harps, our golden harps, to sing thy praise; we want the freedom of a spirit that is perfected and gloried in order to be able to express thy majesty.”
III. And now we must close by just a few practical words, in the last place, as to how we can manifest the glory of this grace. And I would say to every believer here, the first thing is, let us take care to ascribe our salvation always to the grace of God. I am always glad when God’s people can speak plainly; there are some of them that can’t. I know they are my brethren and sisters, and I love them for all that, but I don’t like to hear them go stammering and stuttering about the house as some of them do.
For there are some people that cannot say “Grace,” but somehow or other there is a sound of “Law” gets in it. They cannot say “Grace” outright; they mix up the Old Covenant along with the New. Some seem to know Christ after Moses, and mistake Moses’s rod for Christ’s cross. It is a very different thing. I believe in studying theology; the great necessity for a student is to know the difference between Sinai and Zion, between Sarah and Hagar, between Jerusalem and Arabia. I want to know what grace is and what works may be; but you cannot mix them. They are like oil and water; they won’t mix together. If it is of works, it is all works, if it is of grace, it is all grace. If I am to get to Heaven by my own merit, I must get there purely and simply by my own merit: I cannot get there partly by merit and partly by grace. And if grace, it is all grace. A man may trust partly in works and partly in grace, but he has, as it were, one foot on land and one on sea, and he will go down certainly. He is between two stools and must go to the ground. It is grace to begin, grace to go on with and grace to end with, or else you must not try grace at all, but must try your own works and try to work your way to Heaven, which you will never do. It will be a grievous failure. Try to ascribe everything to your God. There are some of God’s people who never will do that till they go to the college where Jonah went to study. A strange college it was in a lonely region in the depths of the sea. He was in a whale’s belly; and there it was that he became a Calvinist, for he said, “Salvation is of the Lord.” If we could send some of our friends to the same academy, it would be a great mercy to them. Do try to ascribe salvation — every-thing — to grace.
Next, let us glory in the grace of God before other people. Don’t be ashamed to tell what God has done for you. Don’t be ashamed to own that you know what grace is, and to tell it out plainly by your lives as well as by your talk; and if you want to bring glory to the grace of God, live in the energy of it. ! am afraid we are all getting into a sleepy state again. We did have a more lively time. Some little while ago revivals were pretty common. They were not all of them good for much, but some of them were, and the Church did seem to pray and be awake. But now there is a spirit of slumber almost everywhere. There are happy exceptions, but I am afraid they are few. If we want to glorify God’s grace, we must glorify it in action. We must pray mightily that He will bring in thousands and tens of thousands into the Christian Church; for Infidelity is opening its mouth very wide. So, also, Ritualism is doing its very best, and what is wanted as an answer to both Rationalism and Ritualism is that the grace of God might be displayed in its mighty power. Oh, that the Lord would save some big sinner, some great member of Parliament, some priest, some man who has preached false doctrine! Would God that He would save some big sinner — I repeat the word — some thief, some drunkard and bring in some whose conversion would astound the sons of man and make them say, “This is the finger of God.” The Lord send it, and He shall have the praise.
But may we all live to the praise of the glory of His grace.
One thing more, and that is, if we would see the glory of God’s grace, let us believe the truth, let us trust ourselves to it, let us cast our souls upon it.
Sinner, if you will come to Christ, He will not reject you. If you were to come to God pleading your own works, you must be driven from-His presence, but if you will come and appeal to His mercy and rely upon His grace, He cannot and will not reject you. He delighteth in mercy. God is more glad to give it than you will be to have it. It is His heart’s joy to bless the sons of men. Seek mercy to-night through Jesus Christ, and you shall have it. Go to your chamber and cry mightily. Yea, on the spot may God incline you to put your trust in Jesus, and you shall find that grace most rich and free will come to you. Even at this moment perfect pardon for a life of sin is to be had for one look at the crucified Savior.
God give us that look, that we may give that look to Christ. Amen and amen !