Home > Systematic Theology > Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Pardon- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 1

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Pardon- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 1

Book Seventh

CHAPTER III.

BLESSINGS OF GRACE.

THE SALVATION OF MEN IS ENTIRELY OF DIVINE GRACE.[1]

Grace is unmerited favor. Paul distinguishes, in Rom. iv. 4, between the reward of grace and the reward of debt. When good is conferred because it is due, it is not of grace. Whatever may be claimed on the score of justice, cannot be regarded as unmerited favor. Justice gives to every man according to his works; and if salvation were of works, it could not be of grace. Paul has made this matter very plain: “To him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. If by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”[2]

For the same reason that salvation is not of works, it is not of the law. The law is the rule of justice, and takes cognisance of the men’s works. If it gave life to men, it could be only on the ground of their obedience to its requirements; for its language is, “the man that doeth these things shall live by them.”[3] Salvation by the law is declared to be impossible: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.[4] The Scriptures represent grace and law as opposed to each other: “The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”[5] “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”[6] “It is of faith, that it might be by grace.”[7] Sometimes the term law is used in an extended sense; as when the law of faith is opposed to the law of works;[8] and the law of the spirit of life, to the law of sin and death.[9] Hence we read of “the perfect law of liberty,”[10] which cannot be the rule of justice: that says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”[11] When the term law is used in this extended sense, it denotes the method of salvation by grace through faith, and is carefully distinguished from “the law of works.”

The doctrine that salvation is of grace, is taught in the sacred Scriptures with great clearness. In the second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, the declaration is twice made, “By grace ye are saved.” Paul ascribes his own salvation to grace: “By the grace of God, I am what I am.”[12] He traces the blessing of salvation to “the grace given in Christ Jesus, before the world began:”[13]–to “the riches of his grace:”[14]–to “the exceeding riches of his grace.”[15]

Salvation is entirely of grace. The passages already quoted show that salvation is not partly of grace and partly of works. Grace and works are so opposed to each other, that, when it is affirmed to be of grace, it is denied to be of works: “Not of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.” “Not according to our works; but according to his own purpose and grace.”[16] The exclusion of all boasting,[17] was, that the blessing bestowed is entirely of grace: “Not of works, lest any man should boast.”[18] Our works are wholly excluded; because they are all sinful, and can deserve nothing but the wrath of God. Faith renounces all reliance on our own works, all expectation of favor on their account; and asks and receives every blessing as the gift of divine grace through Jesus Christ. When salvation is so received, all boasting is effectually excluded.

That salvation is entirely of divine grace, may be argued from the condition in which the Gospel finds mankind. We are justly condemned, totally depraved, and, in ourselves, perfectly helpless. All this has been fully proved in a former chapter; is verified in the experience of every one who is awakened to a just view of his lost state; and precisely accords with the language of God to his ancient people: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help.”[19] The second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians describes the condition of men by nature: “Children of wrath,” “dead in trespasses and sins,” “without hope and without God;” and it attributes their deliverance from this wretched and hopeless condition, to the grace of God, who is rich in mercy: “But God, in his great love, wherewith he loved us even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together; and hath made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” In the eagerness of his desire to impress the minds of the Ephesian Christians with a sense of their obligation to divine grace, before he reaches the conclusion of his argument, as if impatient to express the thought with which his own mind was so deeply impressed, he introduced it parenthetically, by anticipation, “By grace ye are saved.” Afterwards, when his argument is completed, he repeats the declaration, and expands it to the utmost fulness of meaning, when he adds that faith itself is the gift of God. If the blessing bestowed is of faith, that it might be by grace, and if faith itself is the gift of God, it must be emphatically true that salvation is of grace.

The blessings which are bestowed in salvation, demonstrate that it is entirely of grace. We shall proceed to a particular consideration of these, in the sections which follow: but we may here, in a general view, comprehend them under two gifts, namely, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of Christ, to die for us, and to become to us the author of eternal salvation, is entirely of grace: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”[20] “God commendeth his love toward us.”[21] “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all; how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”[22] Without the death of Christ, our salvation was impossible: and we had no claim on God to draw forth from him the gift of his well-beloved. He was freely given, of God’s great love, wherewith he loved us: and as he was freely given, so all the blessings which flow through him are freely given also. If any man feels that Christ was under obligation to die for him, or that God was bound to give his Son to make the needed sacrifice for sin, he totally mistakes, on a point of vital importance to the salvation of his soul. The doctrine that salvation is of grace, is not a useless speculation; but it enters into the very heart of Christian experience; and the faith which does not recognise it, does not receive Christ as he is presented in the Gospel. It is, therefore, a matter of unspeakable importance, that our view of this truth should be clear, and that it should be cordially embraced by every power of our minds.

As the Son of God was freely given to effect our salvation by his death; so the Holy Spirit is freely given, to apply the salvation which the Son has wrought out: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”[23] We receive the Holy Spirit as a gift of the Father’s love, who bestows it, as earthly parents give good things to their children.[24] And this gift is not bestowed because of merit in the recipient. Paul asks, “Received ye the Spirit, by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”[25] From this inquiry we learn that this gift also is of faith, that it might be by grace.[26] The Spirit is given in answer to the prayer of Christ: and being thus bestowed through Christ, it is one of the good things freely given together with Christ. We are encouraged to pray that God would give us his Holy Spirit: but our prayer cannot be acceptable, and will not be heard, if we ask the blessing as one which is justly due, and which we may demand as a right. When our humbled hearts plead that God would, in the exceeding riches of his grace, grant us his Holy Spirit, to renew and sanctify us, and fit us for his service, our petitions rise with acceptance to the ear of the Lord of hosts.

An objection to the views which have been presented, may arise from the fact, that, in the last day, men will be judged according to their works.[27] But the good works of the saints are the fruit of grace bestowed; and, although the sentence in the great day will be according to their works, the reward will nevertheless be of grace, and not of debt. Their works will be an evidence of their faith; and Christ, the Judge, will refer to them, as proof of love to him. The kingdom which he will bestow, will be, not a reward for the merit of their works, but an inheritance prepared for them before the foundation of the world.[28] It will be as true on that day, as it is now, and it will be felt to be true by all the saints, that eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.[29]

SECTION I.–PARDON.

ALL WHO REPENT OF SIN OBTAIN FORGIVENESS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.[30]

Forgiveness implies deliverance from the penalty due to sin. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness: and when men become sensible to the danger to which they are exposed, deliverance from the impending wrath becomes an object of intense solicitude. Hence arises an anxious desire to obtain forgiveness. To persons in this state of mind, the doctrine that there is forgiveness with God, is most welcome.

All forgiveness is bestowed through Jesus Christ. It is he who delivers from the wrath to come.[31] In him “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”[32] He had power on earth to forgive sins;[33] and he is now exalted a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.[34] That we might be delivered from the penalty due to our sins, it was necessary that Christ should bear it for us. Hence it is true, that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission;[35] and hence, in the teachings of Scripture, the forgiveness of sins stands connected with redemption by the blood of Christ. With this agrees the language of the redeemed: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins, in his own blood.”[36]

The blessing of forgiveness is bestowed on all who truly repent of their sins. This is taught in various passages of Scripture. “Repent ye, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”[37] “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”[38] Repentance and remission of sins[39] were preached in the name of Christ, and are associated blessings, bestowed by “the exalted Prince and Saviour.”[40] When Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,”[41] it was implied that, if they repented, they would escape. God, in the gospel, commands all men everywhere to repent, in view of the approaching judgment.[42] The hope of escape in that great day, is clearly held out to those who obey the command, and sincerely repent of their sins.

Forgiveness is sometimes represented in the Scriptures, as received by faith in Christ: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sin.”[43] Repentance and faith are twin graces, proceeding from the same Holy Spirit, and wrought in the same heart; and, although they may be contemplated separately, they exist together, and the promise of forgiveness belongs to either of them.

In the New Testament, a connection appears, between the remission of sins and the ordinance of baptism. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;[44] and Ananias commanded Saul, “Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”[45] In the Old Testament, a similar connection appears, between remission and the sacrifices of that dispensation. “Almost all things were by the law purged with blood, and without the shedding of blood is no remission.”[46] Yet Paul has taught us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin;[47] that these offerings were only figures of things to come; and that the only effectual removal of sin is by the blood of Christ. Baptism under the gospel, is as truly a figure, as the sacrifices were under the law. In the ceremonies instituted by Moses, the death of Christ was prefigured by the death of the slaughtered victims; and in the gospel ceremony, the burial and resurrection of Christ are figured forth in the ordinance of baptism: and in both cases, the remission connected with the ceremony is merely figurative. Our sins are washed away in baptism, in the same sense in which we eat the body and brink the blood of Christ, in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper.[48] Baptism and the Lord’s supper are duties to be performed under the gospel dispensation; as the various ceremonies instituted by Moses, were duties under the former dispensation; but the figures ought not, in either case, to be confounded with the things which they represent. In a figure, baptism washes away sin: in reality, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.” We must be careful not to rely on the figure, instead of the reality which it represents.

To escape the wrath to come, is the first desire of the awakened sinner; and mercy, mercy, forgive, forgive, are the first words uttered in his earnest prayers. Forgiveness is bestowed on repentance, and repentance is the first duty enjoined in the gospel. It is fit that the first blessing of grace which the sinner anxiously seeks, should be connected with the first duty required of him. It shows, on the one hand, the holiness of God, who will not pardon sin, except on the condition of the sinner’s return to obedience; and, on the other, God’s readiness to forgive, inasmuch as his wrath is averted at the first step of the sinner’s return. He might have required that the sinner should undergo a long discipline of painful penance, and a long course of laborious service, as a condition of release from the indignation and wrath so long provoked. But God’s readiness to forgive, is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son, by the conduct of the father, who, while his son was yet a great way off, ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him,[49] with free and full assurance of pardon and acceptance. Such is the love which God manifests to the returning sinner. It hastens to receive him on the first indication of true penitence. Nor is it a partial forgiveness which is then bestowed. The storm of divine wrath, which had been gathering over the sinner’s head, during all his life of impenitence, is at once dispelled, and his sins, as a thick cloud, are at once blotted out.[50] To show the completeness of his pardon, his iniquities are represented as buried in the depths of the sea;[51] not in some shallow place, where an ebbing tide might leave them uncovered; but in the depths of the ocean, where, if they should be sought for, they could never be found. Such is God’s forgiveness. Why are sinners so averse to seek it?

Although, on the first movement of a sinner in his return to God, the first blessing of divine grace is bestowed on him, so full, so freely, so gloriously; it does not follow, that he may safely stop short in his progress. The doctrine of the saints’ final perseverance, which we shall hereafter consider, is misunderstood and misapplied; if men take encouragement from it, to relax in their efforts to advance in the way of holiness. The blessing of forgiveness, and the exercise of repentance, are connected with each other, at the beginning of the divine life; and their connection remains throughout its progress. We have occasion to pray for forgiveness, as often as we pray for our daily bread,[52] and the prayer cannot be presented with a well grounded hope that it will be heard and answered, unless it proceed from a penitent heart. Penitence is as necessary to pardon, in the saint who is just finishing his warfare, and taking his departure for the other world, as it was in the first moment of his drawing near to God. Christ was exalted “to give repentance and remission of sins:” and if these do not accompany each other, they do not come from Christ. He who believes that all his sins, past and future, were forgiven at his first conversion, in such a sense that he may dispense with all subsequent penitence, and rest satisfied with his first forgiveness, has need to learn again the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.

[1] Eph. ii. 5, 7, 8; 2 Tim. i. 9; Rom. iii. 24; viii. 23; xi. 5, 6; ix. 15, 16.

[2] Rom. xi. 6.

[3] Rom. x. 5.

[4] Gal. iii. 21.

[5] John i. 17.

[6] Gal. iii. 2.

[7] Rom. iv. 16.

[8] Rom. iii. 27.

[9] Rom. viii. 2.

[10] James i. 25.

[11] Gal. iii. 10.

[12] 1 Cor. xv. 10.

[13] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[14] Eph. i. 7.

[15] Eph. ii. 7.

[16] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[17] Rom. iii. 27.

[18] Eph. ii. 9.

[19] Hosea xiii. 9.

[20] John iii. 16.

[21] Rom. v. 8.

[22] Rom. viii. 32.

[23] Rom. v. 5.

[24] Luke xi. 13.

[25] Gal. iii. 2.

[26] Rom. iv. 16.

[27] Rev. xx. 12.

[28] Matt. xxv. 34.

[29] Rom. vi. 23.

[30] Isaiah lv. 7; Jer. iii. 12, 22; Luke xxiv. 46, 47; Acts ii. 38; iii. 19; v. 31.

[31] 1 Thess. i. 10.

[32] Eph. i. 7.

[33] Matt. ix. 6.

[34] Acts v. 31.

[35] Heb. ix. 22.

[36] Rev. i. 5.

[37] Acts iii. 19.

[38] 1 John i. 9.

[39] Luke xxiv. 47.

[40] Acts v. 31.

[41] Luke xiii. 3.

[42] Acts xvii. 30.

[43] Acts x. 43.

[44] Mark i. 4.

[45] Acts xxii. 16.

[46] Heb. ix. 22.

[47] Heb. ix. 13.

[48] 1 Cor. x. 16.

[49] Luke xv. 20.

[50] Isaiah xliv. 22.

[51] Mic. vii. 19.

[52] Matt. vi. 11, 12.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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