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

God's grace is of great antiquity, sovereign and distinguishing

Another property of God's grace is that it bears date from the most remote antiquity, even the past eternity of Jehovah. It is not therefore of recent origin, as all human and even angelic friendships are. The plan of showing grace to lost sinners existed before men were lost. It is as old as the plan of the universe. On this subject the language of inspiration is decisive. Paul says to the Ephesians, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves." Ephesians 1:3-6.

David says: "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him." Psalm 103:17. In Ephesians 3:11, it is said, we are saved according to an "eternal purpose." Our mercies of time, are the fruits of the eternal love of God. In Jeremiah 31:3, the whole work of salvation is ascribed to a divine regard as eternal as the Godhead. "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you." How precious is the truth that in the counsels of inconceivably distant ages, man was not forgotten; but even then Jehovah by his foreknowledge looked upon him in his guilt and vileness and misery; and purposed to raise from the deep and dark abyss of the apostasy a people who would be his church, a people who would ever stand "to the praise of the glory of his grace."

Some indeed say that this doctrine encourages sin. But the Bible teaches a very different doctrine. "We love him because he FIRST loved us." "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain."

Some say that this view represents God as loving the vile and base and guilty. The answer is that the Scriptures clearly teach as much. "God so loved the world" (guilty, lost and ruined as it was,) "that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Indeed they say that this view is not only just and true, but honorable to God. In Romans 5:8, Paul says that "God commends his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Here is one of the brightest glories of the covenant of grace. The stability of the whole plan of redemption is in Scripture said to depend on this great fact: "If while we were enemies we were reconciled by the death of his Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." Romans 5:10.

God's good will to man, his pity for the lost, his grace to sinners are not novelties to the divine mind. They have run parallel with the divine existence in all past duration.

In contemplating this grace, the devout mind finds itself filled with awe and delight, at discovering that God's grace is sovereign and distinguishing. Thus our Savior thought and felt when he said, "I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hid these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight." Matt. 11:25, 26. In this solemn, holy and thankful manner, did our blessed Master view this doctrine. Let us imitate him. Let us not rush into doubtful disputations. Let us adore, and not cavil. Reason is presumptuous when it revises the decisions of God. Our blessed Lord often insisted on this doctrine, although then as now it was very offensive to the carnal mind. "I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian.' All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff." Luke 4:25-29.

What shall we then do? If the doctrine so offends men, shall we give it up? Are we to make peace with human wickedness by observing a profound silence on this topic? Nay, let us rather imitate Christ, who often preached it. The parable of the hired laborers found in Matt. 20:1-16 is spoken for the express purpose of showing that God will do as he pleases with his own, and that for so doing, he may not be complained of. Indeed by Moses God said, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion, on whom I will have compassion; so then, it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy." As God is abundant in goodness and truth, we see ground of hope and confidence. As he is sovereign in the bestowment of his favors, let us fear before him and adore. He, who will not be pleased with the divine character and government until he can see God waiting on the nod and promptly obeying the mandates of the human will, can never be reconciled to God. "The Lord is a great king and a great God above all gods." "The Lord is king forever and ever." "The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice." "The Lord reigns, let the people tremble."

Jesus Christ not only taught this doctrine, but as the Son of God with power he displayed its truth in calling to himself whom he would for his disciples and apostles; in saving one thief and not the other; in bringing Peter to repentance, and in sending Judas to his own place; in calling and saving Saul of Tarsus and letting Nero persist in sin.

The sovereignty of grace is shown principally in three ways; in the race to which mercy is extended, namely, the human and not the angelic. The heavenly multitude, who fell, were passed by and left in utter and irretrievable ruin and hopeless sorrow. Compare Jude 6 and John 3:16. Why this was so we cannot tell. The loadstone passes by gold and silver—and attracts iron. The grace of God passed by angels and came "a little lower," even to man. God also makes known his Gospel and sends his ambassadors to some nations and not to others. Thus at first Judea was distinguished from India. Thus now America and Britain are distinguished from Tartary and Japan. And in the same nation, city and family—one person is taken and another left; one is pardoned, converted, sanctified and received up to glory—while another no worse by nature, dies in his sins.

This sovereignty is exercised solely "according to the good pleasure of his will," and not at all on account of any goodness belonging to us, or foreseen in us. Very explicitly and conclusively does Paul prove this: "Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory." Romans 9:11-23.

Is not such teaching conclusive? Who can resist it, without refusing to believe God? In rebuking some, who persisted in asserting that God dispenses his grace among men, according to his foreknowledge of the good use which they will severally make of it, Augustine says: "Who but must wonder that this most ingenious sense should escape the Apostle? For after proposing what was suited to excite astonishment respecting those children yet unborn, he started to himself by way of objection, the following question—What then, is there unrighteousness with God? It was the place for him to answer, that God foresaw the deserts of each of them, yet he says nothing of this, but resorts to the decrees and mercy of God." Indeed on the day of Pentecost the whole weight of Peter's argument in convincing his hearers of their sin was in connection with this doctrine.

Speaking of Christ, Peter said: "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Acts 2:23. Now, if he had failed to convince them that in putting Christ to death they had fulfilled the eternal purpose, the determinate counsel of God, he would have failed to convince them of Christ's Messiahship. Or if he had failed to convince them that in doing this of envy and unbelief and enmity they were wicked, then his preaching would have been in vain. There is no escaping from these conclusions. To fulfill God's decrees with a wicked heart is wicked, is the height of wickedness.

That the doctrine of election is a ground of encouragement to pious preachers of the Gospel is certain. Thousands have told us so. It was so to Paul. "Then the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, 'Don't be afraid, but keep on speaking and don't be silent. For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.' And he stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them." Acts 18:9-11. The previous context shows that the Jews at Corinth "opposed Paul and became abusive." In fact the work of founding a church there was but just begun. Yet God says, "I have many people in this city." The only fair logical meaning, is that among the crowds of the ungodly in that city, were many of God's elect, whom he purposed by Paul's ministry soon to bring to a saving knowledge of Christ. The doctrine of election, rightly understood, holds out the only ground of encouragement, which we have, for preaching the blessed Gospel. If God has no elect—we preach in vain!