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 Word Teaches the Doctrines of Grace. The Church
The doctrine of gratuitous salvation is prominent
in the teachings of inspired men. It is implied in the whole structure of
revelation. It is expressly taught in many places. Even on Mount Sinai,
amidst all the grandeur and terror of that scene, the Lord passed by and
proclaimed himself, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious,
long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for
thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and that will by no
means clear the guilty." Exod. 34:6, 7. Although in this passage we have a
clear revelation of God's inflexible justice, yet we have also a rich
variety of expression revealing his grace. That great patriot, soldier, and
statesman, renowned for his piety in days of general wickedness, Nehemiah,
having given an account of all his labors, perils and sufferings says:
"Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the
greatness of your mercy." Neh. 13:22.
To this day convinced and penitent sinners find no
language more appropriate to their needs, when pleading for mercy and asking
for grace, than that used by David, by Daniel, and other Old Testament
saints. The needs of sinners as such are in all ages the same. The parable
of the pharisee and the publican, the parable of the prodigal son, the
parable of the two debtors, and many other teachings of Jesus Christ,
clearly show that he led men to hope for salvation as a gift, and in no
other way. One of our Lord's sayings has been very dear to afflicted
consciences ever since it was uttered, and shall be so while the world
stands: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." But
in the Epistles, especially those of Paul, the doctrines of grace are stated
with great clearness and fullness. In particular the fact of our salvation
being a gratuity is unmistakably announced. The following texts are
considered sufficient: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law,
has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This
righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who
believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the
glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption
that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,
through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because
in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he
did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and
the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is
boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law?
No, but on that of faith." Romans 3:21-27. Here we are taught:
1. that the righteousness of God is without the law;
2. that it yet meets the demands of law, for God is just,
when he justifies;
3. that boasting is, by God's method of saving, cut off
in every case;
4. that this is done not by works but by faith. Soon
afterwards Paul speaks thus: "Now to him that works, is the reward not
reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that works not, but believes on
Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
5. Here whatever works mean, faith is just the opposite;
whatever debt is, grace is its opposite. If you owe a man a shilling and pay
it, you do not bestow on him a gift. If you owe him nothing and hand him a
shilling, it is not paying a debt. The same thing cannot be both a gratuity
and the payment of a debt.
Again: "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,
that as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through
righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5:20, 21.
Here we have,
1. the utter ruin of man "sin abounded;"
2. the glory and fullness of God's scheme for saving men
"grace did much more abound;"
3. God saves not by trampling on justice, but "grace
reigns through righteousness;"
4. the salvation of the gospel is not limited by the
temporal blessings it brings—grace reigns "unto eternal life;"
5. no man is the author of his own salvation, but it is
all "by Jesus Christ our Lord."
Again: "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus
Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23. Nor did Paul teach one doctrine to the
Romans, and a different doctrine to other churches. To the Galatians he
says: "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is
not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we,
too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in
Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one
will be justified. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live,
but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the
Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the
grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ
died for nothing!" Gal. 2:15, 16, 20, 21. He could not more clearly teach
that a denial of gratuitous salvation subverts the whole gospel scheme.
Indeed he teaches clearly that "All who rely on observing the law are under
a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do
everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly no one is justified
before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."
Again: "You who are trying to be justified by law have
been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we
eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope."
Galatians 5:4-5. To the Corinthians he says: "By the grace of God I am what
I am." 1 Cor. 15:10. To a fourth church he twice says: "By grace are you
saved." Eph. 2:5, 8. To another he says that God even our Father "has loved
us, and given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace." 2
Thess. 2:16. To Titus he says that "not by works of righteousness which we
have done, but according to his mercy has he saved us." If any want yet
other proofs they can consult Romans 3:24; 5:4, 8, 15, 17, 20, and 21.
Paul takes pains to remind us that grace excludes works,
and works grace. He argues that if salvation be "by grace, then it is no
more by 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." Wages is one thing, a
debt is another thing. The merits of men, if pleaded for righteousness,
exclude the merits of Christ. The merits of Christ, if accepted for
salvation, exclude our own merits.
It is truly refreshing to find the early writers of the
Christian church, after the apostles' days, speaking so clearly as they
often do on this subject. Clement of Rome, a cotemporary and fellow laborer
of Paul, referring to the Old Testament Fathers says: "All were glorified
and exalted, not by themselves, nor by their works, nor by the righteousness
they have wrought out, but by his will. We, therefore, being called by his
will in Christ, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom,
understanding or piety, nor by any works, which we have wrought in the
holiness of our hearts; but we are justified by faith, by which God Almighty
has justified all from the beginning of the world." Polycarp, the disciple
of John and the venerable witness of Christ, says: "Let us incessantly and
steadfastly adhere to Him, who is our hope, and the pledge of our
righteousness, Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in his own body on the tree:
who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, but he suffered all on
our account, that we might live in him." Justin Martyr says that God "gave
his own Son a propitiation for us, the Holy One for transgressors, the
innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the
corrupt, for what else could cover our sins but his righteousness? In whom
was it possible that we, who are guilty and ungodly, could be justified,
except in the Son of God alone? O unsearchable wonder! O unexpected benefit!
that the sins of many should be hid in one—and that the righteousness of one
should justify many transgressors." Macarius says that, "whatever good a man
does by natural strength, can never save him without the grace of Jesus
Christ." Ambrose says, "If so be that justification, which is by grace, were
due unto merits going before, so that it should not be a gift of the giver,
but a reward of the worker—the redemption by the blood of Christ would grow
to be of small account, and the prerogative of man's works would not yield
unto the mercies of God." Again: "They are evidently blessed, whose
iniquities are forgiven, without any labor or work, and whose sins are
covered, no help of repentance being required of them, but only this—that
they believe." Again: "They are justified freely, because that working
nothing, nor requiting anything, by faith alone they are justified, by the
gift of God." Hilary says: "It offended the Scribes, that man should forgive
sin, (for they beheld nothing but man in Jesus Christ) and that he should
forgive that which the law could not release. For faith alone does justify."
Chrysostom says: "Our works, if there be any consequent on God's gratuitous
vocation, are a retribution and a debt; but the gifts of God are grace,
beneficence, and immense liberality." In remarking on these words, "that we
might be made the righteousness of God in him," he exclaims, "What a saying!
what mind can comprehend it? For he made a just person a sinner, that he
might make sinners just! He does not say, he made him a sinner, but sin,
that we might be made righteousness, even the righteousness of God. For it
is of God, since not of works (which would require spotless perfection) but
by grace we are justified, where all sin is blotted out."
And as Paul among inspired men, so Augustine among the
Fathers stands out the great champion of the doctrines of grace. He says:
"Let human merit, which was lost by Adam, here be silent, and let the grace
of God reign through Jesus Christ." "The saints ascribe nothing to their own
merits; they will ascribe all, O God, only to your mercy." "And when a man
sees that whatever good he has, he has it not from himself, but from his
God, he sees that all that is commended in him, proceeds not from his own
merits, but from the divine mercy." "You cannot deliver yourself. You have
need of a Savior. Why do you vaunt yourself?"