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 Fathers.

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." Romans 4:4.

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." Galatians 3:10-11.

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?"