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


Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Barbarians, bond and free--are sinners. If they are not, they need not mercy--but mere justice. Yet inspired men never preached the doctrine of human 'innocence'. They all knew and taught just the reverse. In the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, Paul clearly proves that the Gentiles are sinners: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." Romans 1:18-32.

Could reasoning be more sound and conclusive? There is no way of escaping its force. Beyond a question the Gentiles are sinners. In the third chapter of the same epistle Paul shows that all men, not excepting the Jews, are sinners: "What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3:9-18

More direct or cogent reasoning is no where found. It covers all cases. As a fair inference from it, the apostle says, every mouth must be stopped, and all the world stand guilty before God, and that by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight. No man will deny that our views of human guilt or innocence; human merit or demerit--will materially modify all our views in religion. This doctrine of the sinfulness of man is therefore, if true, very important, and so it may be well to look further at the arguments by which it is maintained. If men are enemies of God, it is high time they should know it. What then is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in other parts of Scripture? It is peculiarly clear: "There is no man who does not sin." 1 Kings 8:46. "If (God) will contend with (man), he cannot answer one of a thousand." Job 9:3. "Enter not into judgment with your servant, for in your sight shall no mani living be justified." Psalm 143:2. "There is not a just man upon earth that does good and sins not." Ecc. 7:20. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." 1 John 1:8, 10.

In all the range of sober writings on serious matters, where can you find more pointed and explicit declarations? Who dare take up the challenge of the wise man, when he says: "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" Proverbs 20:9. "The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live; and after that they go to the dead." Ecc. 9:3. "The whole world lies in wickedness." 1 John 5:19. "In many things we all offend." James 3:2. The Scriptures speak a language no less distinct respecting our sins of omission. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. In Christ's account of the final judgment in Matt. 25:42-46, the only sins charged upon the wicked are sins of omission. "I was hungry, and you gave me no food; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink," etc.

In that solemn scene on the last night of Belshazzar's life, when Daniel was called in as it were, to pronounce sentence on the royal offender, one of his charges, and one that has a fearful significance was, "You have not humbled yourself." Another still more comprehensive was, "The God in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways, have you not glorified." Dan. 5:22, 23. If in reviewing the guilt of such a monster of depravity as Belshazzar, such prominence was due to the neglect of duty, it is easy to see what must be the vast amount of sin of omission among men generally. The law is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." This law is infinitely holy, just and good. Where is the living man who ever met these righteous demands even for an hour? Men must all be sinners, or they could not be so deficient in obedience to this fundamental law of God's empire. Never was a complaint more just, or a rebuke more timely than when God says: "If I be a father, where is my honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear?" Mal. 1:6.

"Man, if his heart were not depraved, might have had a disposition to gratitude to God for his goodness, in proportion to his disposition to anger towards men for their injuries." Who will say that any such proportion is observed? Such was the corruption of the entire race of man, that the Judge of all the earth destroyed the world, one family alone excepted, with a deluge. The reason assigned by God himself for this terrific judgment was the wickedness of men: "My Spirit shall not always strive with men." "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." "And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way on the earth." Gen. 6:3, 5, 6, 12.

If man naturally loved holiness and goodness, one would have said that the length of life in the ante-diluvian ages would have been very favorable to the establishment of individuals and communities in all virtues and moral excellencies. Instead of this, "the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence." Gen. 6:11. Longevity wrought misery to man, and dishonor to God. The destruction of the old world was either just or unjust. If any say it was unjust, they blasphemously impeach God's character. If they admit that it was just, then they say it was deserved, and so admit that human wickedness is dreadful. There is no candid reader of the Scriptures, who will deny that one of the duties urged in God's word upon all men, is that of repentance. But can that duty be incumbent on the pure and holy? Is it not worse than mere folly to call on those to repent, who have nothing to repent of, to require men to be sorry for having committed no sin, to change their mind and behavior concerning their unfaltering obedience to God? To ask a holy being to repent is to call on him to apostatize from God.

In like manner the Scriptures call on men to confess their sins and to forsake them, promising mercy to such. But have sinless angels ever been called to such work? Is it not absurd to require such things of the innocent? For a man to confess a fault which he never committed is a falsehood, an insult to God. So also in prayer we are taught to say, "Forgive us our sins." How idle to plead for mercy, when we need nothing but sheer justice; to beg for forgiveness, when we are chargeable with no offence! Jesus Christ and his apostles often speak of men as condemned, as under wrath, as liable to death. How can this be so, unless men deserve these things? But if they deserve them, they are sinners. In short, no such book of contradictions and extravagancies can be found as the Bible--unless man is a sinner. Bloody sacrifices are wholly unfit to be offered for the sinless. If men are all innocent, Jesus Christ redeemed no one by his blood, for the reason that no one needed redemption. If men are not sinners, the Holy Spirit never could convict them of sin, nor convert them from sin; and so the entire gospel would be glad tidings to no one. If men are not sinners, the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost, of Paul on Mars Hill, and of all others, who have held forth the truths of the Gospel was a cruel aggravation of human miseries, which nothing could justify. If men are innocent, all urgency, yes all concern about salvation is fanaticism.

But it should not be forgotten that whenever men's interests clash, when controversies arise, when litigations commence, they always regard each other as sinful. Nor is this all. Every good man, whom the world has ever seen, has pronounced on his own case that he was not innocent. David said, "I have sinned against the Lord." Isaiah said, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips." Job said, "Behold I am vile." Peter said, "I am a sinful man." Paul said, "I am the chief of sinners." Surely if converted and inspired men so judged of their case, in a word, if the best men the world ever saw were sinners, all men must be alienated from God.

One reason for admitting this doctrine is that it is true. This is the grand reason for admitting any doctrine, and should end all controversy about it. But we may well remember that whatever humbles us, and causes us to take our place in the dust before God is good for us and is probably true. The right place for sinners is one of deep self-abasement. It is also important to us never to forget that in denying our lost and miserable condition we do thereby refuse Christ and all his mercies. "Until our necessities be understood, redemption cannot be well understood." "That is the reason we are no better, because our disease is not perfectly known. That is the reason we are no better, because we know not how bad we are." If there is no sin, there can be no salvation. If we are not great sinners, Christ is not a great Savior!