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

What the martyrs taught. The reformers. Other godly men.

Did you ever hear of a martyr dying in the triumphs of self-righteousness, giving glory to human nature, lauding his own ability, extolling his own works? All those faithful witnesses held one doctrine, namely—that works avail nothing, and grace is everything. Hear blessed old Tyndall: "If you would obtain heaven by the merits and deservings of your own works, you wrong and shame the blood of Christ. Faith alone justifies. In believing we receive the Spirit of God, who is the pledge of eternal life; and we are in eternal life already, and already feel in our heart the sweetness thereof, and are overcome with the kindness of God, and of Christ, and therefore we love the will of God, and of love are ready to work freely." And that ever-honored man, great Patrick Hamilton, burned at St. Andrews in the year 1527, spoke no less decisively. He said: "No man is justified by the deeds of the law, but by the faith of Christ. He was punished for you, and therefore you shall not be punished. I do not say we ought to do no good deeds; but I say we should do no good works to the intent to obtain remission of sins, and the inheritance of heaven, for God says—Your sins are forgiven for my Son's sake, and you shall have the inheritance of heaven for my Son's sake. I condemn not good deeds, but I condemn trust in any works; for all the works, wherein a man puts any confidence, are by his confidence poisoned, and become evil; therefore you must do good works, and beware of doing them with the view to deserve any good for them. In a Christian man's life, and in order of doctrine, there is the law, repentance, hope, charity, and the deeds of charity; yet in the act of justification there is nothing else in man that has part or place but faith alone, apprehending the object, which is Christ crucified, in whom is all the worthiness and fullness of our salvation."

Robert Barnes, an English martyr of great eminence, says: "All the merit and goodness, grace and favor, and all that is in Christ to our salvation—is imputed and reckoned unto us because we hang and believe on him." Cranmer says that when we believe, "God does no more impute unto us our former sins, but he does impute and give unto us the justice and righteousness of his Son Jesus Christ, who suffered for us." The Marquis of Argyle on the scaffold said, "Many look on my condition as a suffering condition; but I bless the Lord, that he who has gone before me, has trod the wine-press of the Father's wrath; by whose sufferings, I hope that my sufferings shall not be eternal. I bless him that has taken away the sting of my sufferings: I may say that my charter was sealed today; for the Lord has said to me, 'Son, be of good cheer, your sins are freely forgiven you!' And so I hope my sufferings shall be very easy." James Guthrie on the scaffold said, "I bless God and die not as a fool; not that I have anything wherein to glory in myself; I acknowledge that I am a sinner, yes, one of the greatest and vilest that has owned a profession of religion, and one of the most unworthy that has preached the gospel; my corruptions have been strong and many, and have made me a sinner in all things, yes, even in following my duty; and therefore, righteousness have I none of mine own; all is vile; but I do believe that 'Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.' Through faith in his righteousness and blood have I obtained mercy; and through him and him alone have I the hope of a blessed conquest and victory over sin, and Satan, and hell, and death."

In Rev. 7:9-17, John gives us the following account of the martyrs in glory, corresponding exactly with the foregoing views of the martyrs on earth. "After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Many other great men, whose praise has long been in the churches speak the same things. In his article of Justification, Luther says: "This is the true gospel, Jesus Christ redeemed us from our sins, and he alone. This most firm and certain truth is the voice of Scripture, though the world and all the devils rage and roar. If Christ alone takes away our sins, we cannot do this with our works; and as it is impossible to embrace Christ but by faith, it is therefore impossible to apprehend him by works. If, then, faith alone must apprehend Christ before works can follow, the conclusion is irrefragable, that faith alone apprehends him, before and without the consideration of works; and this is our justification and deliverance from sin. Then, and not until then, good works follow faith, as its necessary and inseparable fruit."

Calvin in his last will says: "I witness and declare that I intend not to seek any other aid or refuge for salvation, than his free adoption, in which alone salvation rests; and with my whole heart I embrace the mercy which he has used with me for Jesus Christ's sake, recompensing my faults with the merit of his death and passion, that satisfaction might be made by this means for all my sins and crimes, and the remembrance of them be blotted out. I witness also and declare, that I humbly beg of him, that being washed and cleansed in the blood of that highest Redeemer shed for the sins of mankind, I may stand at the judgment-seat under the image of my Redeemer."

Zwingle in his famous Articles issued in 1523, says: "Christ is the only way of salvation to all who ever have lived, are living now, or ever shall live." Again, "Christ is our righteousness. Hence it follows that our works are so far good, as they are of Christ; but as far as they are ours, they are not truly good." Peter Martyr says: "If faith itself be considered as our act, it is impossible we should be justified by it, because faith, in this view of it, is lame and imperfect, and falls short of that completeness which the law requires. We are said to be justified by faith because it is by faith that we lay hold upon, and apply to ourselves the promises of God, and the righteousness and merits of Christ." Leighton says: "Free grace, being rightly apprehended, is that which stays the heart in all estates. What though there be nothing in myself—but matter of sorrow and discomfort; it cannot be otherwise. It is not from myself I look for comfort at any time, but from my God and his free grace. Here is comfort enough for all times! When I am at the best, I ought not, I dare not, rely on myself. When at the worst, I may and should rely upon Christ, and his sufficient grace."

Whitefield says that some "are for doing what they can themselves, and then Jesus Christ is to make up the deficiencies of their righteousness. This is the sum and substance of our modern divinity. And was it possible for me to know the thoughts of most that hear me this day, I believe they would tell me this was the scheme they had laid, and perhaps depended on, for some years, for their eternal salvation. Is it not then high time, my brethren, for you to entertain quite different thoughts concerning justification by Jesus Christ? Salvation is the free gift of God. I know no fitness in man but a fitness to be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone forever! Our righteous deeds in God's sight, are but as filthy rags. He casts our best works away. Our holiness, if we have any, is not the cause, but the effect of our justification in God's sight. 'We love him because he first loved us.' Our salvation is all of God from the beginning to the end; it is not of works lest any man should boast. Man has no hand in it."

Pemble says that our assent to the promise of God must be "of the whole heart, in trust, reliance, dependence, adherence, affiance, or, if there be any other word, expressing that action of the soul, whereby it casts and reposes itself only upon God's promise in Christ for obtaining eternal happiness. The heart, touched with the spirit of grace, throws itself into Christ's arms, grasping him with all its might. Hiding itself in the clefts of this rock from the storms of God's furious indignation, it bespeaks Christ in all the terms of confidence and affiance—my Lord, my God, my hope, my fortress, my rock, my strength."

Beart in his treatise entitled the Eternal Law and Everlasting Gospel says: "The essence of the Gospel is a free promise, free gift, free grace: 'A Savior! A Savior!' is the loud proclamation of the Gospel. Justification, as it is the application of the righteousness of Christ, in the Spirit's working faith, has an unbelieving ungodly man for its object; as it is an acquittance or declaring righteous, so it has a believer for its object, God, who justifies the ungodly, the justifier of him who believes in Jesus. That faith in Christ as a priest is the foundation of all obedience to him as a king, must be inculcated. O here lies God's order—to bring a soul to Christ, and then he is brought to holiness! Man's order is—to bring him to holiness, that he may come to Christ. But this is to try to wash the Ethiopian white."

Toplady says: "Fallen man can never know what it is to speed his way to the kingdom of heaven, and make large advances in sanctification, until his progress is halted by a full submission to the righteousness of God the Son, as the sole procuring cause of eternal blessedness." Among the dying words of John Brown of Haddington were these: "O what a mercy that my admission into eternal life does not in the least depend on my ability for anything; but I, as a poor sinner, will win in leaning on Christ, as the Lord my righteousness; on Christ 'made of God unto me righteousness, sanctification and redemption.' I have nothing to sink my spirits but my sins; and these need not sink me either, since the great God is my Savior." "I have altered my mind about many things; but I am now of the same mind that ever I was, as to grace and salvation through Christ."

One of Nevins's dying sayings was: "I recommend Christ to you; I have nothing else to recommend." And blessed McCheyne said: "Live within sight of Calvary and you will live within sight of glory." Vinet says, "Grace, as it is manifested in the Gospel, is the most splendid homage which the law can receive. The same act proclaims the compassion of God, and the inflexibility of his justice." As Dr. Nettleton drew very near his end, he said—"the great truths of the Gospel appear more precious than ever; and they are the truths which now sustain my soul." Again: "I do not need anybody to tell me that the doctrines of grace are true. I am fully convinced of the truth by my own experience."