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

No Salvation but by a Redeemer, and no Redeemer but Christ

The Lord is a holy God. He hates all sin, yes, he abhors it. His aversion to it is infinite. Moreover, he is a Lawgiver and Governor. In this respect his character must be maintained. God cannot deny himself. He cannot deny his right to rule. He cannot permit transgression in his dominions to go unpunished. He cannot but justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. When man sinned he fell under the wrath of God, the indignation of the King Eternal. His ruin was entire. What was to be done in his case? The following are the only courses, which can be conceived of.

1. God had power and authority, if he had seen fit, to annihilate the human race. But to this course the objections are numerous and insurmountable. Dreadful as is annihilation, it has never been shown to be an adequate punishment for sin. So far as we know, God never has annihilated, and never will annihilate anything, which he has made. Even the fires of the last day will but change and not destroy the elements on which they will kindle. Had God extinguished our race, he would have left this lower world without an intelligent head. In that case no reasonable service, no song of thanksgiving could ever have been rendered to the Maker of heaven and earth by any inhabitant of our globe. Besides, who is the Lord, that he should repent? Having begun to build he was able to finish, and he determined to prove that he was neither disappointed nor baffled.

2. A second course, conceivable in our case was that Jehovah should without delay and without mercy consign the entire human family to hopeless, endless misery. This would have been just, gloriously just and right. Our elder brethren, the sinning angels, had received this doom, and all heaven had pronounced their sentence righteous. But had this been done in the case of man, not an individual of our entire race of intelligent beings would have remained a worshiper of the God who made us; nor would earth have ever resounded with a single hosanna. Like hell our globe would have sent up only wailings, howlings, blasphemies, and the smoke of its torment forever and ever. Men would have been solemn monuments of inexorable justice; but none of them would have ever illustrated God's long-suffering, or his loving-kindness. Yet the justice of such a doom being absolute, sentence of eternal banishment pronounced against the entire race would have wronged no one, and, being what had before fallen. on rebel angels, could hardly have surprised anyone.

3. The third conceivable course for God to pursue was entirely to overlook man's sin and rebellion, and take him into the divine embrace, though steeped in guilt and reeking in pollution. This is conceivable, but not admissible. For then the universe would have seen the divine government trampled on, and that with impunity, the eternal law broken, and the Lawgiver consenting to such rebellion. This course must have not only shaken but destroyed all confidence in the rectitude of the divine character. In that case the government of the universe must have been dissolved, and war and anarchy and rebellion have reigned and rioted forever. Seriously to suppose that God should ever consent to let sin pass unnoticed is to conceive blasphemy.

4. The last conceivable course to be pursued in man's case, was to adopt some method, by which to satisfy the demands of law, and yet save the sinner; maintain the glory of divine justice, and yet rescue the criminal offender. What that method of deliverance should be, no creature could tell. Sin had wrought such mischief, and was in its nature so deadly and malignant, that God himself is in Scripture represented as wondering that none could provide a remedy. Our case is well described by Jehovah: "When I passed by you, and looked upon you, behold your time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness; yes, I swore unto you, and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God." A ransom, a Mediator were spoken of, but where a sufficient Savior could be found, no man, no angel could tell. Who could pay a full, an adequate redemption price? The law violated and dishonored by transgression, the law to be satisfied and magnified in man's recovery was glorious in holiness, absolutely incapable of amendment, and infinitely perfect. It was suited and intended to be universal, binding every rational creature to all eternity. The only perfectly happy society that ever existed was a community wholly conformed to its precepts. The only absolutely miserable and intolerable state of personal or social existence ever known was where all the precepts of this law were constantly broken. How could reparation be made to such a government violated? How could a ransom be provided for such transgressors?

Suppose man should offer to God all the products of the earth, all its grain and all its mines, all its fruits and all its cattle. At the very best, man could offer but some of these, for he must use a part in order to subsist. The residue he might indeed offer. But if men come with any decent regard to truth in making such offerings they would say as David of old: "Who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of you, and of your own have we given you." 1 Chron. 29:14. A company of beggars in going to ask alms of a rich man might drive up his flocks and his herds to stand before him, or might bring the fruits of his fields and lay them at his feet, but these were all his before they brought them before him, and so could not purchase anything from him. So God says, "the earth is mine and the cattle upon a thousand hills." The gifts we can bring from the store-house of nature all belong to God already, and so can make no atonement, can be no price which he will accept as from us.

A citizen of a free and sovereign State lawfully gets into his possession five million dollars of her funds, and then not only embezzles the whole amount, but also commits treason and is arrested and brought to trial. He proposes to stop all legal proceedings by delivering up all the money except one thousand dollars, which sum he has spent, and has nothing besides. Can the government accede to his proposal? It may be in great straits for funds, it may see no way of escaping bankruptcy unless it can recover the sum lost or near that amount; it may see that without the consent of the guilty man it can recover nothing. Under these circumstances it may accept his offer, but when it does, it clearly admits its own weakness and imperfection. It declares that there are cases of atrocious crime and novel difficulty, where it cannot bring the law to bear, except by sustaining a loss too great for its own resources.

But the divine government could never accede to such a compounding of crime. It would tarnish all its glory. It can bring every offender to justice. It holds all the wicked in the grasp of its omnipotence. It knows all their secrets, all their accomplices, all their hiding-places. It is never in straits. To allow men to redeem themselves by silver and gold or the fruits of the earth would have been a mockery of all justice.

Nor could bloody sacrifices of animals have been a ransom. As property the animals slain belonged to God already: and as sacrifices they never did nor could have any efficacy in setting aside the penalty of the moral law. They never were at all acceptable to God—except as appointed by himself to be the types of the sacrifice of his Son. Viewed in any other light, "When such people sacrifice an ox, it is no more acceptable than a human sacrifice. When they sacrifice a lamb or bring an offering of grain, it is as bad as putting a dog or the blood of a pig on the altar! When they burn incense, it is as if they had blessed an idol." Isaiah 66:3. So that it was impossible to make satisfaction in this way.

Nor could man by voluntary suffering, self-inflicted, work out his own redemption. He cannot do this when he has offended a merely human government, The murderer found guilty and sentenced to death is never permitted by total or partial fasting, by sighing and groaning, by beating himself with rods, or tearing himself with pincers to set aside the penalty of the law. The reason is that all these sufferings do not satisfy the law. They are not the penalty provided. So under the government of God voluntary beating of the body, though in the eyes of the simple they have a show of wisdom, can never redeem a soul, can never satisfy God's law.

Nor can present or future reformation atone for past sins. The very best obedience, which can possibly be rendered, is due, always was due, always will be due to God. He, who owes a thousand dollars, cannot discharge that debt by being careful to contract no new debts. A man may have lived a blameless life for half a century. He may then commit murder; but he cannot plead his former good conduct, nor give the amplest security for future good behavior, in order to set aside the penalty incurred by murder. Under God's government all our obedience is God's right, and to give him his right at one time cannot redeem us from the guilt of transgression at another.

Nor can one man redeem another. All men are guilty and have forfeited their lives by their own sins. When two pirates are condemned to death, one of them cannot die for the other, for the reason that he has to die for himself. Two manslayers are sentenced for life to close prison. One cannot take the place of the other, and so let him go free.

Redemption, therefore, by any human means or merits was absolutely out of the question.

Nor could angels atone for men. Of course the sufferings of fallen angels, though they are the pains of hell, being due for their own transgressions, could be no ransom for us. Nor could holy angels make atonement or bring in righteousness for others. All the obedience they can render is due for themselves. They can have no surplus of merit beyond their own needs. Nor could they by suffering ever exhaust the penalty due for man's sins. An angel is finite. The law violated and the justice offended are infinite. Sin is therefore an infinite evil. In an angel an eternity of suffering would be necessary to redeem one man from hell. The sin of even one man would, if imputed to an angel, send him to prison forever. Had his mediation been admitted, where would have been the gain in the happiness of the universe? Then too a sinner pardoned would have been bound forever to ascribe his redemption not only to a mere creature, but to that creature ever suffering in hell the penalty due to the ransomed spirit, whose substitute he had become. In this way no end would ever be made of transgression. The suffering substitute could never rise triumphant and say, "It is finished." And the redeemed would have praised in the highest notes and with the deepest sense of obligation their deliverer, and that deliverer would have still been enduring the penalty. Such would have been the confusion, disorder, and idolatry of admitting an angel or angels to undertake the work of redemption.

Besides, any holy angel must have been forever unfit for the work of mediation, as he is not able as a days-man to lay his hand upon both God and man. The highest created angel is infinitely inferior to God. For him to claim equality with God would have been robbery indeed. He never could have appeared before God with authority, asserting a right to dominion over any part of his works. He never could have been admitted into the counsels of eternity. He would have been looked upon with a righteous jealousy by God himself as a rival in his kingdom and for his throne. His intercessions must therefore have failed. He never could have said, "Father, I WILL," without great presumption.

Nor could any holy angel ever have sympathized with man, either as a sufferer or as a sinner, to such an extent as would have fitted him to be a Redeemer. Angels know not what suffering is. In their natures they are quite ignorant of what are the real feelings of men. They know nothing by experience of the natural affections of men. They understand not the hard pressure of poverty, or shame. Being holy and yet finite in their compassions, no one of them could endure the recital of our offences without utter dislike to our persons. Before he had learned half of the details and aggravating circumstances of any one's crimes, he would have turned away with unspeakable loathing from the shocking tale of human guilt. He would have said, "Such a sinner ought to perish—must perish—I can have no sympathy with him."

It is indeed well for us that our salvation does not depend on the mercies of an angel. If it did, our doom would soon be sealed. The reason is that our case requires a height, a depth, a length and a breadth of compassion and grace to be found in but one being in the universe. "It is of the Lord's mercies," yes, "it is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed." Nor upon any admissible supposition could one angel have redeemed many souls. Had one of them become a mediator, he could not have saved any considerable number of the human family. So that still nearly all the inhabitants of earth must have perished, or there must have been millions of redeemers, and consequently as many different objects, to whom loud praises and eternal thanks should have been rendered. And as redemption is a greater blessing than creation, each person thus saved would forever have felt himself more indebted to a creature than to the Creator, inasmuch as the deliverer of each one would in the case supposed have been a creature.

Such are some of the monstrous results, to which the admission of a finite mediator would have led. So that we are shut up to the admission that no finite being could ever fitly or successfully have undertaken our cause. None of these difficulties lie in the way of Christ's mediation. Nor could there be any objection to his undertaking our cause, unless it were one of the following, namely:

1. That God was unwilling to admit any interposition in our behalf. Such unwillingness would have been no injustice to us. Our mouths must have been forever stopped, if he had treated us as he treated rebel angels. But God, ever blessed be his name, pitied us, and was willing to save us. He rejoiced to send his Son. He delivered him up freely. He so loved the world that he gave him not grudgingly, nor reluctantly, but freely and graciously. God, therefore, as the offended Lawgiver, made no objection to Christ's mediation.

2. Or it would have been a valid objection to Christ's mediation, if he himself had been unwilling to become our surety. For eternal justice to have seized upon any innocent victim and led him forth a reluctant sufferer in the room and stead of others, would have been a procedure, which we could never justify. The Spirit of God, knowing how this point would come up before our minds, has mercifully and completely relieved all our apprehensions on the subject. By the Psaulmist he declares in the name of Christ, "Lo, I come, I delight to do your will, O my God." And in the Gospel we are informed by Christ himself that his sufferings were voluntary. His words are: "I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." John 10:17, 18. If in any sense Christ was constrained to suffer for us, it was only by his amazing love and mercy to the lost.

3. Or if the satisfaction rendered, or to be rendered, had fallen short of what might justly have been required by the law of God, or by the good of his dominions, this would have been an objection to Christ's mediation. If Christ's interposition was in any way to diminish the due force of law, or the just power of government in any province of God's empire; if, in short, it could be fairly construed as a relaxation of moral obligation, a concession to iniquity, then indeed there would have been a valid objection to Christ's undertaking. But the Son of God gave for man's redemption as heavy a ransom as justice, law, the conscience of man, the judgment of angels, or the infinite holiness of God demanded. He paid the full price. He drank the cup of bitterness even to the dregs thereof. He magnified the law and made it honorable. God's abhorrence of sin is more clearly expressed in the cross of Christ, than in the flames of hell. Even the most tender and enlightened conscience of the most guilty man says of Christ's satisfaction, whenever it is divinely revealed, "This is enough—I ask no more—I end my quest of atonement here."