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


It is an error of some that they make our entire justification to consist in the pardon of sin. It is not here denied that by a well-known figure of speech, that remission, pardon and forgiveness, are each sometimes put for the whole of justification; just as fear, love and faith are each put for the whole of religion; and just as the cross of Christ is spoken of to signify the whole system of truths essentially connected with the cross. But precious as is the gift of pardon, and certainly as it is accompanied by acceptance in the Beloved--yet it is not itself such acceptance. Our case demands more than mere remission. Bare pardon would save us from hell. It could give us no title to heaven. It would bar the gates of death--but it would not open the gates of life. It breaks off our chains and opens our prison doors, but it does not beauteously array us, and send us forth in the garments of salvation. It destroys the fear and takes away the pains of hell, but gives not the hope of glory, nor secures the rewards of grace. Pardon turns the rebel loose, but it does not authorize him to sit at the table of the king. It secures to us remission; we need admission to the divine favor. Pardon brings us out of Egypt. Acceptance brings us into Canaan. Pardon causes us to cease to be heirs of hell. Acceptance makes us heirs of heaven.

It is also freely granted that forgiveness and acceptance, remission and a title to eternal glory--are never separated, though they are distinct and different; just as faith, hope and love are never separated, yet no man will contend that they are the same Christian virtues. As many as God pardons, he accepts in Christ, regenerates, sanctifies and glorifies. A separate link of this blessed chain is never found, yet each link is distinct. As this distinction is highly important, and the opposition to it sometimes violent and scornful, it may be well to give the views of those, whose names are of weight with nearly all good men. It is strange that such hatred of the precious truth of God should ever be indulged, but the friends of sound doctrine cannot abandon the defense of that, which is so precious. It is their life.

Calvin says: "We simply explain justification to be an acceptances by which God receives us into his favor, and esteems us as righteous people; and we say it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ." Owen says: "Had we not been sinners, we would have had no need of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to render us righteous before God. Being so, the first end for which it is imputed is the pardon of sin; without which we could not be righteous by the imputation of the most perfect righteousness. These things therefore are consistent, namely that the satisfaction of Christ should be imputed unto us for the pardon of sin, and the obedience of Christ be imputed unto us to render us righteous before God. And they are not only consistent, but neither of them singly were sufficient unto our justification."

How precious such doctrine is, how faith lays hold of it as with both hands! Hopkins says: "It is not therefore, O my soul, a mere negative mercy that God gives you in the pardon of your sins: it is not merely the removing of the curse and wrath, which your sins have deserved, though that alone can never be sufficiently admired. But the same hand which plucks you out of hell by pardoning grace and mercy, lifts you up to heaven by what it gives you together with your pardon, even a right and title to the glorious inheritance of saints above."

The bitterness, with which the present defenders of orthodox views in this matter are assailed, must justify the making of an extract from Thomas Scott: "The justification of a sinner must imply something distinct from a total and final remission of the deserved punishment; namely a renewed title to the reward of righteousness, as complete and effective as he would have had if he had never sinned, but had perfectly performed, during the term of his probation, all the demands of the divine law. The remission of sins would indeed place him in such a state, that no charge would lie against him; but then he would have no title to the reward of righteousness, until he had obtained it by performing, for the appointed time, the whole obedience required of him; for he would merely be re-admitted to a state of probation, and his justification or condemnation could not be decided until that were terminated. But the justification of the pardoned sinner gives him a present title to the reward of righteousness, independent of his future conduct, as well as without respect to his past actions. This is evidently the scriptural idea of justification: it is uniformly represented as immediate and complete, when the sinner believes in the Lord Jesus Christ; and not as a contingent advantage to be waited for until death or judgment: and the arguments, which some learned men have adduced, to prove that justification means nothing else than forgiveness of sins, only show that the two distinct blessings are never separately conferred. David, for instance, says, 'Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes not iniquity;' and Paul observes that in that passage, 'David describes the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputes righteousness without works.' This does not prove, that 'not imputing sin,' and 'imputing righteousness' are synonymous terms: but merely, that where God does not impute sin, he does impute righteousness' and that he confers the title to eternal life, on all those whom he rescues from eternal death. Indeed exemption from eternal punishment, and a right to an actual and vast reward, are such distinct things, that one cannot but wonder they should be so generally confounded as they are in theological discussions."

These extracts have been purposely given at length, because they fairly and cogently argue the question, because these writers are remarkable for sound and clear discrimination, because they were eminently earnest and deeply experienced Christians, because above most they were Bible theologians, and because they justly have great weight with good and sober people in settling the opinions of the wavering. It would be easy to swell the testimonies to this precious truth to a great number. Take the following as the only additional witness now offered. The Confession of Helvetia says: "To justify, in the apostle's disputation concerning justification, does signify to remit sins, to absolve from the fault and punishment thereof, to receive into favor, to pronounce a man just."

Still our dependence is on God's precious word for all our doctrinal principles. There we find the remission and the reward both stated. Jesus Christ says, "Verily I say unto you, he who hears my word, and believes on him who sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but has passed from death unto life." John 5:24. Here life and death, everlasting life and condemnation are opposite, and justification by faith is described, not merely as escape from death and condemnation, but as a passage already made from death unto life. In Acts 13:38, 39 are these words also: "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." So Christ sent Paul to preach to the gentiles, "that they might receive forgiveness of sins, AND inheritance among those who are sanctified." Acts 26:18. Here both the blessings are distinctly stated as flowing from Christ. So in Romans 5:1-2, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Surely, the second verse here is not mere tautology. By the pardon of sin "there is no condemnation" to the believer; by his acceptance in the Beloved, "he is made an heir according to the hope of eternal life." Romans 8:1; Titus 3:7.

If the distinction has not been made clear, and also well established, perhaps it is hardly necessary to spend more time upon it. Its importance may be seen by asking--what is the true state of believers? Are they merely a company of pardoned wretches? or are they a glorious family of adopted children? Are they merely turned out of prison to wander at large? or are they through Christ entitled to eternal glory? Do they stand before God's tribunal as a reprieved felon stands before his king? or have they "a right to the tree of life?" But we are already trenching upon the subject of the next chapter, namely, the imputed righteousness of Christ. May this and that be a blessing to many a child of God. O that God's people knew their privileges and rejoiced in them continually. And "while we carry a sense of grace in our conscience to comfort us--let us carry a sense of sin in our memory to humble us."