The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness

William S. Plumer, 1853

"We believe it is through the grace of our
 Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11


The Synod of Dort says that "God owes no man grace. For how can God become debtor to him, who has nothing to give first, that it might be recompensed to him again? Nay, what can God owe him, who has nothing of his own but sin and untruth? Whoever therefore is made partaker of this kind of grace, ever owes and ever gives thanks to God only." The term, grace, often occurs in Scripture. Sometimes it means beauty, as in Proverbs 1:9 and 4:9. But this is never the meaning of the word in the New Testament. There the generic idea of the term is favor, unmerited kindness, undeserved love, unbought pity, gift, gratuity.

This grace is variously manifested. The gospel is itself called grace because it is the fruit and evidence of God's unmerited goodness. The privilege of preaching the gospel is for the same reason called grace. And indeed it is a great favor to be allowed to publish the glad tidings of great joy. No man deserves such honor. Pardon of sin and acceptance with God, are both often said to be by grace—by undeserved mercy. The work of purifying the hearts of his people and fitting them for glory is effected by the grace of God. God does it purely out of pity and love, and not at all out of regard to any merit of ours. Renewal and sanctification are rich fruits of mercy. Without God's grace, salvation is absolutely impossible.

A salvation, which failed to root out sin, and set up the reign of grace, would no doubt be pleasing to the carnal mind, and would delight a hypocrite; but could never satisfy the longings of a real child of God. Sin in its reigning power, no less than in its fearful guilt, must be destroyed, or it will destroy us. He who fails to gain the victory over his lusts—fails of heaven. If they be not put down, we labor in vain and spend our strength for nothing.

Hardly anything is more striking than the obstinate attachment of men to their own works, and their consequent aversion to the grace of God. The great mass of unrenewed men, even in Christian assemblies, have really no idea of ever being saved otherwise than by becoming good, and that in their own strength. They generally suspect that they are not now what they ought to be, but they intend to do better hereafter. They seem very ignorant of the extent, spirituality and holiness of the law; and thus while conscience does not flame out against them, they rest in the delusion that they are not very bad, and may easily improve. The very last thing which a sinner under conviction does, is to give up his self-confidence. He cleaves to it as if salvation depended upon his good opinion of himself. Indeed until God's Spirit enlightens his mind, he will not see that salvation can never be compassed by his own power or merit. So that the very process, by which a sinner is led to the Savior, is usually one of extreme sadness. He has less and less, in his own esteem, worthy of honorable mention before God, until at last he finds out that he is nothing but a guilty, vile, lost, helpless, perishing sinner.

To a Christian, who knows what is going on in the sinner's mind, these new views awaken lively hopes that a work of grace is begun in his heart. But often the sinner himself is almost in despair. He supposes that his convictions are forerunners of condemnation and rejection, not of conversion. And when he is led to Christ, and hope springs up in his mind, none is more surprised at the change in his views than himself. He did not expect deliverance in that way. He had not yet become good in his own eyes. He now learns that it is God's plan to save sinners who simply believe. To him the Gospel is a revelation of mercy. He is charmed with the method of grace. He gives all honor to the Redeemer, and is willing to be counted the chief of sinners. He no longer goes about to establish his own righteousness, which is of the law. His own merits he counts as nothing. He simply wishes to be found in Christ. His song is of free unmerited grace. He is no longer wedded to the law, as a means of justification, but he is married to Christ, who is now all his salvation. He works, indeed, but it is from love to the Savior. He says, "What I am, I am by the grace of God." He casts his crown at the Savior's feet. He expects all from the grace of Christ.

A clergyman once represented the conduct of awakened sinners towards God's offers of gratuitous salvation thus: A benevolent and rich man had a very poor neighbor, to whom he sent this message; "I wish to make you the gift of a farm." The poor man was pleased with the idea of having a farm, but was too proud at once to receive it as a gift. So he thought of the matter much and anxiously. His desire to have a home of his own was daily growing stronger, but his pride was great. At length he determined to visit him who had made the offer. But a strange delusion about this time seized him, for he imagined that he had a bag of gold. So he came with his bag, and said to the rich man, "I have received your message, and have come to see you. I wish to own the farm, but I wish to pay for it. I will give you a bag of gold for it." "Let us see your gold," said the owner of the farm. The poor man opened his bag and looked, and his countenance was changed, and he said, "Sir, I thought it was gold, but I am sorry to say it is but silver. I will give you my bag of silver for your farm." "Look again; I do not think it is even silver," was the solemn but kind reply. The poor man looked, and as he beheld, his eyes were further opened, and he said, "How I have been deceived. It is not silver but only copper. Will you sell me your farm for my bag of copper? You may have it all." "Look again," was the only reply. The poor man looked, tears stood in his eyes, his delusion seemed to be gone, and he said, "Alas, I am undone. It is not even copper. It is but ashes! How poor I am! I wish to own that farm, but I have nothing to pay. Will you give me the farm?" The rich man replied, "Yes, that was my first and only offer. Will you accept it on such terms?" With humility but with eagerness the poor man said, "Yes, and a thousand blessings on you for your kindness." The fable is easily applied.

Mather has well expressed the difference between grace and merit in few words; "God was a God to Adam before he fell, but to be a God to sinners, this is grace. He was a God to Adam in innocency by virtue of the covenant of works; but he is not a God to any sinner but in the way of free grace. Now that was the covenant, 'I will be a God to you and your seed.' Gen. 17:7. Abraham was a sinner and a child of wrath by nature as well as others; yet God was his God truly. For God to be a God to those who never sinned, there may be merit; but for God to be a God to those that have sinned, this is grace indeed. They, that do not think this is grace, need not argument, but pity and prayer."

The pious John Newton in few words states with great clearness what grace is: "To bestow gifts upon the miserable is bounty; but to bestow them upon rebels is grace. The greatness of the gifts contrasted with the characters of those who receive them, displays the exceeding riches of the Redeemer's grace. He came to save not the unhappy only, but the ungodly. He gives pardon, peace, and eternal life to his enemies; whose minds are so entirely alienated from him that, until he makes them willing, in the day of his power, their minds are determined against accepting any favor from him."