Grace

church-history-graphicThis is chapter 2 from The Gospel and its Ministry by Sir Robert Anderson.  This is a beautiful chapter extolling the greatness of God’s grace against the backdrop of man’s great wickedness.  I sat down and read this again.  Then I sat down and read it again and decided that it is certainly worth sharing.  I hope all of you enjoy it, and if you would like the book, it can be downloaded by clicking on the title in red at the beginning of this paragraph, or you can purchase a paper copy here.

“The Gospel of the glory of the blessed God!”¹

“Show me Thy glory, I beseech Thee,” was the prayer of Moses; and God answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee, and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:18, 19). God’s highest glory displays itself in sovereign grace, therefore it is that the gospel of His grace is the gospel of His glory.

Let us take heed then that we preach grace. He who preaches a mixed gospel robs God of His glory, and the sinner of his hope. They for whom these pages are intended, need not be told that salvation is only by the blood; but many there are who preach the death of Christ, without ever rising to the truth of grace. “Dispensational truth,” as it is commonly called, is deliberately rejected by not a few; and yet without understanding the change which the death of Christ has made in God’s relationships with men, grace cannot be apprehended.

It is not that God can ever change, or that the righteous ground of blessing can ever alter, but that the standard of man’s responsibility depends on the measure and character of the revelation God has given of Himself. God’s judgments are according to pure equity. They must have strange thoughts of Him who think it could be otherwise. In the Epistle to the Romans we have the great principle of His dealings with mankind. “He will render to every man according to his deeds; to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life”; but to the rest, indignation and wrath; tribulation and anguish upon evil-doers, but upon well-doers, glory, honor, and peace; and this for all without distinction, whether Jews or Gentiles, under law or without law, for God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:6–11; see also John 5:29).

But is the standard of well-doing the same for all? Shall the same fruit be looked for from the wild olive as from the cultured tree; from the mountain side in its native barrenness, as from the vineyard on the fruitful hill? Far from it. The first two chapters of the Epistle to the Romans are unmistakable in this respect. The Gentile will be judged according to the light of nature, and of conscience neglected and resisted; the Jew, by the revelation God entrusted to him. Paul’s sermon at Athens is no less clear as regards the condition of the heathen. As he said at Lystra (Acts 14:8–18), they were not left without a witness, in that God did good, and gave rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. By such things, he declares again in another place (Romans 1:20), God’s eternal power and Godhead are clearly seen, so that they are without excuse. And so here (Acts 17:22–31), God left the heathen to themselves, not that they should forget Him, but that they should seek Him, even though it were in utter darkness, so that they should need to grope for Him — “to feel after Him, and find Him.” And, though there was ignorance of God, He could wink at the ignorance and give blessing notwithstanding, for “He is a rewarder of diligent seekers” (Hebrews 11:6). Moreover, this is still the case with all whom the witness of the Holy Ghost has not yet reached. If it be asked whether any have, in fact, been saved thus, I turn from the question, though I have no doubt as to the answer (See Acts 10:34, 35). There is no profit in speculations about the fate of the heathen; their judgment is with God. But there is profit and blessing untold in searching into His ways and thoughts toward men, that we may be brought in adoration to exclaim, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”

But to resume: “The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:30, 31). And the change depends on this, that God has now revealed Himself in Christ, and therefore ignorance of Him is a sin that shuts men up to judgment. See the Lord’s sad utterance in John 15:4, as a kindred truth. Indeed, the whole Gospel of John is a commentary on it. Darkness had reigned, but God did not hold men accountable for darkness; it was their misfortune, not their fault. But He did hold them accountable to value and obey the little light they had, “the candle set up within them,” and the stars above their head — those gleams of heavenly light, which, though they failed to illumine the way, might at least suffice to direct their course. But now, a new era dawned upon the world, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Light had entered in; the darkness was past. the true Light was shining. To turn now to conscience or to law was like men who, with the sun in the zenith, nurse their scanty rushlight, with shutters barred and curtains drawn; like men who cast their anchor because the daylight has eclipsed the stars. The principle of God’s dealings was the same, but the measure of man’s conduct was entirely changed. It was no longer a question of conscience or of law, but of the Only-begotten in their midst.

It was in words of solemn, earnest truth that the blessed Lord replied to the inquiry, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” “This (said He) is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom He has sent” (John 6:28,29). The question was a right one, and the answer enforced the unchanging principle, that the light they had was the measure of their responsibility. The same great truth is no less plainly stated in the Nicodemus sermon. This was the condemnation, not that men’s deeds were evil, though for these too there shall be wrath in the day of wrath, but that, because their deeds were evil, they had brought upon themselves a still direr doom; light had come into the world, but they had turned from it and loved the darkness (John 3:19).

But this is not all; even yet the reign of grace had not begun. Grace was there truly, for “grace came by Jesus Christ”; but, like Himself, it was in humiliation; it had yet to be enthroned. Grace was there. No adverse principle came in to influence His ways and words; but though pure and unmixed, as it must ever be, it was restrained. He had a baptism to be baptized with, and how was He straightened till it was accomplished! While there was a single claim outstanding, a single tie unbroken, grace was hindered, though it could not be alloyed.

But now was about to come the world’s great crisis — the most stupendous event in the history of man, the only event in the history of God! He had laid aside His glory, and came down into the scene. At His own doors² He had stood and knocked, but only to find it shut in His face. Turning thence, He had wandered an outcast into the world which His power had made, but He wandered there unknown. “His own received Him not”: “the world knew Him not.” As He had laid aside His glory, He now restrained His power, and yielded Himself to their guilty will. In return for pity He earned but scorn. Sowing kindnesses and benefits with a lavish hand He reaped but cruelty and outrage. Manifesting grace He was given up to impious law without show of mercy or pretense of justice. Unfolding the boundless love of the mighty heart of God He gained no response but bitterest hate from the hearts of men.

THE SON OF GOD HAS DIED AT THE HANDS OF MEN! This astounding fact is the moral center of all things. A bygone eternity knew no other future (1 Peter 1:20; Revelations 13:8).  An eternity to come shall know no other past. That death was this world’s crisis³. For long ages, despite conscience outraged, the light of nature quenched, law broken, promises despised, and prophets cast out and slain, the world had been on terms with God. But now a mighty change ensued. Once for all the world had taken sides. In the midst stood that cross in its lonely majesty. God on one side, with averted face; on the other, Satan, exulting in his triumph. The world took sides with Satan; His darling was in the power of the dog (Psalm 22:20), and there was none to help, none to pity.

There, we see every claim which the creature had on God forever forfeited, every tie forever broken. Promises there had been, and covenants; but Christ was to be the One who would fulfill them all. If a single blessing now descend on the ancient people of His choice, it must come to them in grace4. Life, and breath, and fruitful seasons freely given, had testified of the great Giver’s hand, and declared His goodness; but if “seedtime, and harvest, and the changing year, come on in sweet succession” still, in a world blood-stained by the murder of the Son, it is no longer now to creation claims we owe it, nor yet to Noah’s covenant (Genesis 9:11–17), but wholly to the grace of God in Christ.

In proof of this I might cite prophecies and parables, and appeal to the great principles of God that are the basis of gospel doctrine, as above both parable and prophecy. Nay, I might leave it to men themselves, as Christ did, to decide between themselves and God (Matthew 21:40). But I rather turn again to that solemn utterance of the Lord, in view of His lifting up upon the tree: “Now is the judgment of this world.”

“These things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12). And if angels were our judges, what would be our doom! For ages they had both witnessed and ministered the goodness of God to men. But yesterday the heavens had rung with their songs of praise, as they heralded the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem: “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Goodwill! and this was what had come of it! Peace! and this was what men turned it to! What thoughts were theirs as, terror-struck, they beheld that scene on Calvary! Crucified amid heartless jeers, and cruel taunts, and shouts of mingled hate and triumph! Buried in silence and by stealth; buried in sorrow, but in silence. He who hears in secret, heard the stifled cry from the broken hearts of Mary and the rest, and the smothered sobs that tore the breasts of strong men bowed with grief — the last sad tribute of love from the little flock now scattered. But as for the world, no man’s lamentation, no woman’s wail was heard! They had cried, “Away with Him, away with Him!” and now they had made good their cry: the world was rid of Him, and that was all they wanted.

Angels were witnesses to these things. They pondered the awful mystery of those hours when death held fast the Prince of Life. The forty days wherein He lingered in the scenes of His rejection and His death — was it not to make provision for the little company that owned His name, to gather them into some ark of refuge from the judgment fire, so soon to engulf this ruined world? And now, the gates lift up their heads, the everlasting doors are lifted up, and with all the majesty of God the King of Glory enters in (Psalm 24:7–10). The Crucified of Calvary has come to fill the vacant throne, the Nazarene has been proclaimed the Lord of Hosts!

But, mystery on mystery! the greatest mystery of all is now — the mystery of grace. That throne is vacant still. Those gates and doors that lifted up their heads for Him are standing open wide. Judgment waits. The sea of fire which one day shall close in upon this world to wipe out its memory forever, is tided back by the word of Him who sits upon the Father’s throne in grace. When the Son of Man returns for judgment, “then shall He sit upon His glorious throne5.” And how unutterably terrible will be that judgment! Half measures are impossible in view of the cross of Christ. The day is past when God could plead with men about their sins6. The controversy now is not about a broken law, but about a rejected Christ. If judgment, therefore, be the sinner’s portion, it must be measured by God’s estimate of the murder of His Son; a cup of vengeance, brimful, unmixed, from the treading of the “winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Revelation 19:15).

But if grace be on the throne, what limits can be set to it? If that sin committed upon Calvary has not shut the door of mercy, all other sins together shall not avail to close it. If God can bless in spite of the death of Christ, who may not be blest? Innocence lost, conscience disobeyed and stifled, covenants and promises despised and forfeited, law trampled under foot, prophets persecuted, and last and unutterably terrible, the Only-begotten slain. And yet there is mercy still! What a gospel that would be!

But “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” is something infinitely higher still. It is not that Calvary has failed to quench the love of God to men, but that it is the proof and measure of that love. Not that the death of Christ has failed to shut heaven against the sinner, but that heaven is open to the sinner by virtue of that death. The everlasting doors that lifted up their heads for Him are open for the guiltiest of men, and the blood by which the Lord of glory entered there is their title to approach. The way to heaven is as free as the way to hell. In hell there is an accuser, but in heaven there is no one to condemn. The only being in the universe of God who has a right to judge the sinner is now exalted to be a Saviour7. Amid the wonders and terrors of that throne, He is a Savior, and He is sitting there in grace.

The Saviour shall yet become the Judge; but judgment waits on grace. Sin has reigned, and death can boast its victories’ shall grace not have its triumphs too? As surely as the sin of man brought death, the grace of God shall bring eternal life to every sinner who believe. One sin brought death, but grace masters all sin. If sin abounded, grace abounds far more. Grace is conqueror. GRACE REIGNS. Not at the expense of righteousness, but in virtue of it. Not that righteousness requires the sinner’s death, and yet grace has intervened to give him life. Righteousness itself has set grace upon the throne in order that the sinner may have life: “That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord8.” Such is the triumph of the cross. It has made it possible for God to bless us in perfect harmony with everything He is, and everything He has ever declared Himself to be, and in spite of all that we are, and of all that He has ever said we ought to be.

I have already referred to Paul’s allusion to the ancient military triumphs, when writing to the Corinthians. The word there used occurs again in his Epistle to the Colossians (Colossians 2:15): “Having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, leading them in triumph in Him.” In the hour of His weakness, our enemies became His own, and fastened upon Him to drag Him down to death; but, leading captivity captive, He chained them to the chariot-wheels of His triumph, and made a public show of them. Just as Israel stood on the wilderness side of the sea, and saw Pharaoh and his hosts in death upon the shore, it is ours to gaze upon the triumphs of the cross. God there has mastered sin, abolished death, and destroyed him who had the power of death.

God has become our Saviour. Our trust is not in His mercy, but in Himself. Not in divine attributes, but in the living God. “GOD is for us”; the Father is for us; the Son is for us; the Holy Ghost is for us. It is God who justifies; it is Christ that died; and the Holy Ghost has come down to be a witness to us of the work of Christ, and of the place that work has given us as sons in the Father’s house.

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.”

THE NIGHT OF THE BETRAYAL

Hell has gone forth in power.
And ye should wake and weep:
Could ye not watch one little hour!
This night is not for sleep.

Earth trembles in the scale,
Yet knows not of the fight,
And if her fearful foe prevail,
It will be always night.

Unpitying as the grave,
Fierce as the winter breeze,
And mightier than the mountain wave
That sweeps o’er midnight seas,

The Prince of Darkness came:
Woe to the hated race!
What man can meet that brow of flame,
Or live before his face!

No seraph’s sword of light,
Reddened in righteous wrath,
Flashed downward from the crystal height
To bar his onward path,

No trumpet’s warning cry
Rose through the silent air,
No battle shout went forth on high
From guarding squadrons there.

Above, the holy light
Slept on the mountain’s breast;
Beneath, the tender breath of night
Hushed moaning woods to rest.

Yet ne’er shall blackest night
Such deepened horror know,
While stars look down on Olives height,
Or Kedron’s waters flow.

For who shall tell His woes,
Whose grief out-gloomed the night,
When His strong love, bright star! Arose
O’erfilling heaven with light?

The gentlest heart on earth
Must taste her sharpest woe;
The tender plant of heavenly birth
Hell’s fiercest blast must know.

King! of the wounded breast,
King! of the uncrowned brow,
What faithful heart shall bring Thee rest!
What arm shall aid Thee now!

Lo, sheathed in shining light,
Heaven’s wondering warriors stand,
With pinions closed for downward flight
Waiting their Lord’s command.

But never comes that word
That night knows yet no dawn,
And still must each impatient sword.
Sleep on each thigh, undrawn.

Not Angels’ deathless feet
May dare the darkening path,
Arched by the thunder clouds that meet,
Heavy with coming wrath.

Alone His steadfast eye
Can cleave the rolling gloom,
Where that dread sentence flames on high,
The sinner’s death of doom.

Oh! all ye Stars of light
Veil all your glowing spheres;
Weep out your radiance; drown the night
In dew of heaven’s tears.

Poor Earth! Go mourn beneath
Thy withered roses now;
Thy thorns alone may twine the wreath
To crown the Victor’s brow.

Firmer than Carrnel’s might,
When the long-leaping tide
Shivers its thousand shafts of light
Far up his patient side,

His will unshaken stands
Though that wild sea of wrath,
Upsurging to its outmost bands,
Break foaming on His path.

Soft breezes of the West
That, sighing as ye go,
Bear ever on, with kindly breast,
Each whispered human woe,

Here droop your wings and die
Low murmuring at His feet,
Then rise and bear His victor cry
Up the long golden street!

High Heralds of His birth9,
Make His new honors known!
Tell how the Blood, despised on earth,
Sparkles before the throne!

Lo! struck from Star to Star,
The gracious echoes fall
To this poor world that rolls afar,
Lowest and last of all;

Soft, as from weeping skies
Drops the sweet summer rain,
Yet clear through all earth’s Babel cries.
Hear them ye sons of men;

Nor thrust His mercy back,
Who claims your hearts today:
Oh! kiss His feet. Their wounded track
Hath crimsoned all the way.


Footnotes

  1. 1 Timothy 1:11; not “the glorious gospel.”
  2. John 1:11. εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν can scarcely be expressed in English. The French idiom is more apt: “Il est venu chez soi, et les siens ne l’ont point recu.”
  3. νῦν κρίσις ἐστὶν τοῦ κόσμου τούτου. John 12:31.
  4. Romans 11 leaves no room to question whether Israel will in fact be blessed hereafter; but even their national blessings they will owe to grace.
  5. Matthew 25:31; compare Revelations 3:21.
  6. For the believer, the question of sin was settled at the cross; for the unbeliever, it is postponed to the day of judgment. “Who His own self bear our sins on His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “The Lord knoweth how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Peter 2:9).

The distinction between judgment and punishment is important. The criminal is judged before he leaves the courthouse for the prison, but his punishment has yet to come — it is a consequence of judgment, not a part of it. All unbelievers are precisely on a level as regards judgment. “He that believeth on Him is not judged [the word is κρίνω], but he that believeth not is judged already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Here the moral and the immoral, the religious and the profane, stand together, and share the same doom. But when judgment, in the sense of punishment, is in question, there can be no equality; every sentence shall be apportioned to the guilt of each by the righteous and omniscient Judge.  See Revelation 20:13; Matthew 12:36; Luke 12:47, 48; Jude 15; and 2 Peter 2:9, already quoted.

  1. “The Father Judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” “I judge no man,” the Lord says again in another place. “If any man hear My words and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world but to save the world” (John 5:22, 8:15, 12:47). The day of grace must end before the day of judgment can begin. “The acceptable year of the Lord” must run its course before the advent of “the day of vengeance.” Compare Isaiah 61:1,2 with Luke 4:16-21, and notice the precise point at which the Lord “closed the book.”
  2. Romans 5:21. I have thus sought to epitomize the argument of the passage, beginning at verse 12.
  3. Luke 2:13

Anderson, Robert. “Grace.” The Gospel and Its Ministry, Kregel Publications, 1978, p. 9–23.

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