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

How the pious regard sin in themselves and in others

"I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes!" "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to you!" "Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me." These are but specimens of the deep humiliation, self-loathing, bitterness of soul, and painful apprehension which the righteous of every age feel for their own sins. There is a sense, in which every godly man regards himself as the chief of sinners. That is, everyone who really knows his own heart, and has seen the sad work which sin has made in his moral character, is able as before God, to see more evil in himself than of any other being. The souls of such are filled with a godly sorrow, which works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of. Nor is this sorrow a solitary sentiment. What carefulness it works in all the regenerate, yes, what clearing of themselves, yes, what indignation, yes, what fear, yes, what vehement desire, yes, what zeal, yes, what revenge! In fine, it is certain that no sentiment is more powerfill in its effects on men's hearts, than this self-abasement for personal vileness in the sight of God.

Sin in the heart of the believer, is to him exceedingly odious. Some may say that Christians are chiefly distressed at their own sins, because they fear that they will prove their ruin at last. Those, who bring this charge, should know that the righteous seldom endure greate anguish of mind than that produced by the sins of others. This grief is not confined to any one class of good men. The young convert, the strong man in Christ, and the aged servant of the Lord alike, show their sadness when others are known to offend against God. It is therefore illogical and unfair to impute this distress to weakness of mind, to nervous debility, or to personal apprehension of coming wrath. It is a part of genuine Christian feeling. He, who cares not that others offend God, has never wept aright over his own sins. So certainly as the heart is savingly changed, will men hate and be made sad by all sin, even though it be in a stranger. Was not the soul of righteous Lot vexed from day to day by the wickedness of his neighbors? Did not David cry, "I beheld the transgressors and was grieved, because they kept not your word?" Again he says: "Horror has taken hold of me because of the wicked that forsake your law;" and "rivers of water run down my eyes, because they keep not your law." Jeremiah felt just so: "Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people." Ezekiel tells us how God, by an angel of mercy, "set a mark upon the foreheads of the men, that did sigh and cry for all the abominations" done in the land. Jesus himself was often grieved at the wickedness of men. He wept over the very city, which was about to shed his blood.

There must be something very heinous in the nature of sin thus to awaken grief and abhorrence in every virtuous mind, To be indifferent to the moral character of those around us, if such a state of mind is possible, is proof of a sad benumbing of all virtuous sensibilities. To take pleasure in those, who make a trade of sin, and do abominable wickedness--is full proof of one's loving iniquity for its own sake. But why does the Christian weep for the sins of others? He may do it as a man. Some sins bring shame, and poverty, and punishment on those who commit them; and all, who are connected with them, are to some extent involved in suffering. In this way the pious and the ungodly members of a family often weep together over the intemperance, or other ruinous and disgraceful vice of one of their number. But the good man stops not here. He weeps as a Christian. He is greatly grieved that God is dishonored. This is the main cause of all his grief. And as he is benevolent, he is sorry that men will expose themselves to Jehovah's curse. It makes him tremble to see men pulling down wrath on themselves. He is also grieved at the probable ill effects of a bad example, in seducing others from the right way. He is specially afflicted at the blindness and wantonness of sinners, in despising mercy, rejecting Christ and vexing the Holy Spirit. Self-love commonly steps not in to shut the eyes of a Christian to the hatefulness of sin, when he sees it in others. When others sin, godly men see what they themselves were before conversion, or what they would have been, but for the restraints of God's grace. Bradford, an eminent servant of Christ, seeing a criminal led to execution said, "There goes John Bradford--but for the grace of God!"

Can any man thus see himself mirrored forth in the life of another, and not be humbled and grieved? Should he, who thus transgresses, be a professor of Christ's religion, and eminent in gifts or station, the anguish felt is the more keen, because God is thus greatly dishonored, Christ is wounded in the house of his friends, the enemy takes occasion to utter new and bitter reproaches against religion, and the wicked are greatly emboldened in wrong-doing. Such a lapse commonly shakes all those secure thoughts, which men have of their own spiritual state, and awakens jealousies over one's self, which are like coals of juniper. If David fell, much more may a weak believer. If the tempest tears up cedars by the roots, what shall become of the tender plants? If a giant may be overcome, how much more a child? So that the open sins of professors, in proportion to their eminence, lead God's people to great heart-searchings and strong fears lest hidden iniquity should at last be their ruin. Let it be so; for "if the sins of others be not our fear, they may be our practice. What the best have done, the weakest may imitate. There is scarcely any notorious sin, into which self-confidence may not plunge us. There is hardly any sin, from which a holy and watchful fear may not happily preserve us." O that men would remember that, "Blessed is he who fears always." Preservation from sin is better than recovery from its snares. A man may escape death by a malignant pestilence, but it will probably leave him weak and liable to other diseases.

How surely will a wise man profit by the errors of others! "In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird." When the land is full of enemies, no wise man says, "There is no danger." Of all unamiable and unchristian tempers none is more dangerous to its possessor than harshness to a fallen brother, founded on confidence in our own strength. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual restore such an one, in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted." We cannot pity erring men too much, but in the abhorrence of sin there is no danger of excess, nor can we pray too fervently, nor watch too closely against falling into the evil practices, which we lament in others.

Sin is the worst of evils. So greatly do godly men hate it, that they have long preferred anything else rather than its defilement. Joseph said: "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" and cheerfully went to prison rather than yield to temptation. Moses also chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto. the recompense of the reward." Anselm said: "If sin were on one side, and hell on the other, I would sooner leap into hell--than willingly sin against my God." Good old David Rice, the missionary of Kentucky, alluding to the irreligion of his day, said: "As I see the evil in it, so I feel an inclination to go mourning to my grave."

How base and cruel it is in unconverted people by their wickedness to afflict all their pious friends, and then upbraid them for not being happy! How can one be joyful, when he sees those, whom he loves most, rejecting God, and "digging into hell?" Esther said, "How can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?" And Paul said: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." What anguish wrings the heart of a pious wife, or child, who lives for years with the growing conviction that he, for whom they have so long wept and prayed, will yet pretty certainly die without hope! And who can describe the fearful tumult, or crushing sorrow, when the eyes of such a one are closed in death, and pious survivors have no reason to believe that the separation which then takes place, is other than eternal!