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

The Doctrine of Free Grace Is Safe and Reforms Sinners

If any doctrine can turn a serpent into a dove, or a lion into a lamb—it is the glorious doctrine of salvation by the grace of Christ. The reason why Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel, was not because it was full of eloquence, or tragical scenes, or a pleasing philosophy—but because it was "the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes." That system of truth, which reforms the wicked, puts the profane to praying, makes God-fearing men out of drunkards, subdues the passionate, establishes the law of kindness, binds together the discordant elements of society by the golden chain of love, and brings to those, who receive it, all the blessings of salvation—must have its original from heaven! So Paul thought. Hence his zeal for the precious truth. "God forbid that I should boast—except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." "Whatever things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yes doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." "We preach Christ crucified." "Other foundation can no man lay than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ." "We are fools for Christ! We are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." 1 Corinthians 4:10-13

Men, who would joyfully bear such things, prove the power of the truth in their daily triumphs. Long before Paul's day, David celebrated the power of the truth: "'The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." One entire New Testament church consisted of those who had once been "darkness." Eph. 5:8. Another consisted in part of those, who had been sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. But when the Gospel reached them in power, soon they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor. 6:9-11.

The transforming power of the Gospel has always been celebrated by its friends. Lactantius says: "Give me a man of a passionate, abusive, headstrong disposition—and with a few only of the words of the Gospel, I will make him gentle as a lamb. Give me a greedy, avaricious, stubborn wretch, and I will teach him to distribute his riches with a liberal and unsparing hand. Give me a cruel and blood-thirsty monster; and all his rage shall be changed into true benignity. Give me a man addicted to injustice, full of ignorance, and immersed in wickedness; he shall soon become just, prudent and innocent." Many writers, both ancient and modern, bear a similar testimony.

When the missionaries first went to Greenland, for a long time, the savages mocked them, mimicked their reading, singing and praying, attempted to drown all devotion by hideous howlings, and the beating of drums, ridiculed them with the keenest sarcasms, upbraided them with their ignorance because they had to learn the language of their country, pelted them with stones, climbed on their shoulders, seized many of their goods and shattered them to pieces, and even attempted to destroy the little boat, which was essential to the procuring of their subsistence. In short they even attempted to murder them. They said: "Show us the God you describe, then will we believe in him and serve him." "We have prayed to him when we were sick, or had nothing to eat, but he heard us not." "We need nothing but a sound body and enough to eat." "Your heaven and your spiritual pleasures may be good enough for you, but they would be tiresome to us." Having for five years endured all traducement, peril, suffering and derision—these humble missionaries were at length able to preach to the people and translate portions of Scripture for their use. At length one of them spoke of the redemption of sinners by Jesus Christ. "He was enabled to describe the sufferings and death of the Redeemer with more than ordinary force and energy; and he, at the same time, read to them from the New Testament the history of his agony and of his bloody sweat in the garden. Upon this one of their number, named Kaiarnak, stepped up to the table, and in an earnest affecting manner exclaimed. 'How was that? Tell me it once more; for I also would gladly be saved."' These words aroused the missionary to new life and energy and thus began that wonderful change, which has made Greenland so famous in the annals of Christianity. The history of Kaiarnak in subsequent life was not unlike that of the fierce, bloody Africaner after his conversion.

David Brainerd also tells us that the doctrines of grace were above all others blessed to the reformation of his poor Indians. "It is worthy of remark that numbers of these people are brought to a strict compliance with the rules of morality and sobriety, and to a conscientious performance of the external duties of Christianity by the internal power and influence of divine truths—the peculiar doctrines of grace—upon their minds; without their having these moral duties frequently repeated and inculcated upon them, and the contrary vices particularly exposed and spoken against." And he states quite at length how the truth operated upon them, curing their strongest evil propensities, and completely reforming their lives. The strong man armed may long keep his goods in peace, but when a stronger than he comes, he takes away his goods. It must be so. It is God's eternal plan and unchangeable purpose that Christ should destroy the works of the devil. How could it be otherwise?

Davenant well says that "by the death of Christ we are greatly stirred up, both to a caution against, and a detestation of sin: for that must needs be deadly, which could be healed in no other way than by the death of Christ." And Glascock says that "the sufferings and obedience of Christ afford the highest motives to dissuade from sin and press to holiness, and lay a man under an infinite obligation in point of gratitude to live unto God. That very grace, which enables him to believe in Christ, equally inclines him to love God." It always must be so. "If God's people at any time fall into sin," says Miller, "it is not while they are eyeing the perfection of Christ's righteousness, but when they lose sight of it." A heart moved by the love of Christ, will love to make sacrifices of all it has for his glory. Augustine beautifully says: "How sweet it is to deny all sinful sweets! how pleasant it is to forego these sinful pleasures for the sake of Christ!" Berridge says: "Morality can never thrive unless grounded wholly upon grace. The heathen, for lack of this foundation could do nothing; they spoke some noble truths, but spoke to men with withered limbs and loathing appetites; they were like way-posts, which show a road, but cannot help a cripple forwards." "God has shown us in his word how little human wit and strength can do, to accomplish reformation. Reason has explored the moral path, planted it with roses, and fenced it round with motives, but all in vain. Nature still recoils; no motives drawn from Plato's works will of themselves suffice; no cords will bind the heart to God and duty, but the cords of grace."

The prophet Zechariah well describes the process of turning to God through Jesus Christ: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." "On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more, declares the Lord Almighty. I will remove both the [false] prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land." Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1-2. Here we are informed:

1. That God's Spirit is necessary to bring men to true repentance.

2. That the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to men for their salvation.

3. That Gospel truth when rightly understood affects all classes alike.

4. That true repentance inclines people to go alone and weep.

5. That such weeping will lead the soul to the blood of Christ.

6. That idolatry and error, sin and heresy will be driven from among the people.

Such weeping for sin will weep away all love of iniquity. One believing view of Christ does more to mortify sin, than all the terrors of the Lord.

Matthews of New Albany said: "In my opinion the sun is not more evidently intended, nor better calculated to warm, and enlighten the earth; the eye is not more evidently fitted for the purposes of vision, than are these doctrines to enlighten and purify the mind, to make us, and keep us sincere, humble, devout, intelligent and useful Christians." Such testimonies ought to have weight.

The powerlessness of mere principles of morality—contrasted with the mighty energy of Gospel truths—are strikingly illustrated in the ministry of Chalmers at Kilmany. When about to leave that parish in 1815, he delivered an address to the inhabitants, in which he said: "I cannot but record the effect of an actual, though undesigned experiment, which I prosecuted for upward of twelve years among you. For the greater part of that time I could expatiate on the baseness of dishonesty, on the villainy of falsehood, on the despicable arts of calumny; in a word upon all those deformities of character, which awaken the natural indignation of the human heart against the pests and disturbers of human society. Now, could I, upon the strength of these warm expostulations, have got the thief to give up his stealing, and the evil speaker his censoriousness, and the liar his deviations from truth—I should have felt all the repose of one who had gotten his ultimate object. It never occurred to me that all this might have been done, and yet the soul of every hearer have remained in full alienation from God: and that even could I have established in the bosom of one, who stole, such a principle of abhorrence at the baseness of dishonesty, that he was prevailed upon to steal no more, he might still have retained a heart as completely unturned to God, as totally unpossessed of a principle of love to him as before. In a word, though I might have made him a more upright and honorable man, I might have left him as destitute of pious principle as ever. But the interesting fact is that during the whole of that period, I never once heard of any such reformation having been effected among them! I am not sensible that all the vehemence with which I urged the virtues and the proprieties of social life, had the weight of a feather on the moral habits of my parishioners. And it was not until I got impressed by the utter alienation of the heart in all its desires and affections from God; it was not until gospel reconciliation to him became the distinct and prominent object of my ministerial exertions; it was not until I took the scriptural way of laying the method of reconciliation before them; it was not until the free offer of forgiveness through the blood of Christ was urged upon their acceptance, was set before them as the unceasing object of their dependence and their prayers; that I ever heard of any of those subordinate reformations, which I aforetime made the earnest and the zealous, the ultimate object of my earlier ministrations. You servants, whose scrupulous fidelity has now attracted the notice, and drawn forth in my hearing a delightful testimony from your masters, what mischief you would have done, had your zeal for doctrines and sacraments been accompanied by the sloth and remissness, and what, in the prevailing tone of relaxation, is accounted the allowable purloining of your earlier days! But a sense of your Heavenly Master's eye has brought another influence to bear upon you; and while you are thus striving to adorn the doctrine of God your Savior in all things, you may, poor as you are, reclaim the great ones of the land to the acknowledgment of the faith. You have at least taught me—that to preach Christ is the only effective way of preaching morality in all its branches."