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

Without Divine Grace, Men Do Nothing but Sin

"Man, who is vile and corrupt, who drinks up evil like water!" Job 15:16

"The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Romans 8:7

The unconverted live in sin--they sin all the time. It is their trade--they work hard at it. They love it, and are greedy of iniquity. They "love death." They "dig up evil." They "fill up their sin ALWAYS." They "ALWAYS resist the Holy Spirit." Never for an hour do they love God supremely. They sin without cessation.

Two things are required to make an action right. One is that it be lawful in itself. The other is that it be done with a right motive. If the thing done is itself wrong, no motives can make it right. To steal, or curse, or murder, or despise the poor, or hate the just--can never under any circumstances be right. To do evil that good may come, is the doctrine of none but devils, and the worst of men. On the other hand, the thing done may be right in itself, but the motive, which governs us, may be wrong, and so the act may be sinful because the motive is sinful. Bad motives in good actions are like dead flies in sweet ointments. They corrupt the whole. The motive of the heart is everything! Most unbelievers do many things which are very proper, but not from love to God. No man, who has not been born again, ever does anything with holy motives. His life is better than his heart. Indeed his heart is the worst part of him. It is all wrong. It is hard, and proud, and selfish, and unbelieving, and without any love to God. So far from pleasing God, all the unregenerate are continually offending him. Their very best works are but "splendid sins."

There are reasons found in human nature, which render it certain that unrenewed men will do nothing but sin. They are blind and see no beauty in holiness. They have no spiritual discernment. "They have eyes but they see not." "They know not what they do." If they do not see the beauty of holiness, how can they love it? No being can love that which does not seem to him good or lovely. The man who is without the grace of God--never fully approves the law of God, as holy, just and good, nor adopts it as the rule of his life. He does some things which it requires, and abstains from some things which it forbids, not because he loves God or his law, but because it promotes his health, or wealth, or honor, or quiet, to do so. God is not in all his thoughts. He would live very much as he does if the law of God were not known to him. Ask him, and he will tell you that he does not aim with a single eye to honor God in everything. He does not frame his doings to that end at all. All the lines of his conduct meet and end in himself. He is without God in the world. He serves the creature more than the Creator.

Nor is his heart without objects of love. He loves the world and the things of the world. When he prospers in worldly things--he counts himself happy. He is greatly pleased with gold and silver, and objects of sense, and works of art. These are his gods, because he sets his heart on them. He thinks of them ten times as much and a thousand times as eagerly--as he thinks of God. What makes his case worse is that he is commonly much at ease. He is well pleased with himself. He is not sighing over and lamenting his sins. He thinks he is good enough.

Rivers of water never run down his eyes for his own sins or the sins of others. He seldom cries, "God, be merciful to me a sinner," and when he does, it is rather a mere form, than a hearty prayer. His real belief is that God could not righteously and forever condemn him! At least he says, "If I am lost, I know not what will become of many others." Would it not be strange that one, who cares not to serve God, should do it? that he, who tries to please himself and wicked men, should as by accident please God? that he, who seeks the honor which comes from man, should find the honor which comes from God only?

Surely there is no such confusion where God reigns. He does not put darkness for light, bitter for sweet, sin for holiness, and vice for virtue. Nor should men be offended at this doctrine. It is not new. It is not of human invention. It is not the doctrine held by a few only. It is not a mere theory. It is very practical, very important. No truth concerns any man more than this. It is the very doctrine of the Bible in many places. Paul says, "Those who are after the flesh [who are unrenewed by God's Spirit] do mind the things of the flesh. To be carnally-minded is death. The carnal [or unregenerate] mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." Romans 8:5-8. Could words be plainer or stronger?

Until God shall be pleased with a heart that is enmity against him, and with a mind that "cannot be subject" to his law, until he shall cease to be a holy God, he cannot be pleased with anything done by a man who has not the Spirit of God, and whose heart has not been mightily changed. Ploughing is itself a lawful act. If there is no ploughing,

there can be no bread. Yet God says: "The ploughing of the wicked is sin!" Yes, he puts it down with other sins which greatly offend him. The whole verse reads thus: "A high look, and a proud heart, and the ploughing of the wicked--is sin." Proverbs 21:4. If God had intended to teach that everything done by wicked men--even the most common and necessary thing--was sinful, could he have chosen more fit words?

Here is a passage which shows that all the religious services of the unconverted are defiled with sin. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight."

There are but two classes of men known in the Bible. They are called saints and sinners, the just and the unjust, the righteous and the wicked, men of the way and men of the world. Their final end will be different, because their characters are different. From the earliest ages of the Christian church, this has been the uniform doctrine, held and insisted on by God's people. Basil says expressly, that it is not possible, nor a thing pleasing and acceptable to God, for one who is the servant of sin to perform righteousness, according to the rule of the saints' piety. In proof he urges these words of our Savior: "Let us first make the tree good, and then the fruit will be good--and first make clean the inside of the cup and platter," and then the outside will be wholly clean. He also refers to 2 Cor. 7:1. Jerome says: "Let us pronounce our sentence against those that do not believe in Christ, and yet think themselves valiant, and wise, and temperate, and just; that they may know that none can live without Christ, without whom all human virtue is vice." Augustine says: "Be it far from us to think that true virtue should be in any one, unless he is a Christian man. And let it be as far from us to think that any one is truly righteous, unless he lives by faith." "All the life of unbelievers is sin, and there is nothing good without the chief good: for where the knowledge of the eternal and unchangeable truth is lacking, there is but false virtue in the best manners." Again: "The man is first to be changed, that his works may be changed; for if a man remains in his sinful state, he cannot have good works."

Gregory says: "If faith is not first begotten in our hearts, all the other things cannot be good, though they may seem good." The Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America do both say of works done before the grace of Christ and the work of his Spirit, that "they are not done as God has willed and commanded them to be done, so they must have the nature of sin." The 5th article of the Church of Ireland contains the same words without alteration. It holds also this language: "We have no power to do good works, pleasing and acceptable unto God, without the grace of God going before us, working with us." It also incorporates these words from the Lambeth Articles: "The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn, and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God."

The Reformed Churches generally fully agree with the above testimonies. The Synod of Dort says: "There is indeed remaining in man, since the fall, some light of nature, by the help of which, he retains certain notions concerning God and natural things; concerning the difference bf things honorable and shameful, and manifests some desire after virtue and external discipline: but so far from his being able, by this light of nature, to attain to the saving knowledge of God, or to turn himself to God, he does not use it rightly in natural and civil things. Nay, indeed, whatever thing it may at length be, he contaminates it all in various ways, and holds it in unrighteousness, which when he does, he is rendered inexcusable before God." The French Confession says: "Although man can somewhat discern between good and evil, yet we affirm, that whatever light he has, it straightway becomes darkness, when the question is of seeking God, so that by his understanding and reason he can never come to God. Also, although he is endued with will, whereby he is moved to this or that, yet in as much as it is altogether captivated under sin, it has no liberty at all to desire good, but such as it has received by grace and of the gift of God."

The Augsburg Confession, which is the standard of the Lutheran churches in Germany and America, says: "We condemn the Pelagians and all such as they are--who teach that by the only powers of nature, without the Holy Spirit, we may love God above all, and fulfill the law of God, as touching the substance of our actions. We necessarily disapprove these dreams; for they obscure the benefits of Christ. For therefore is Christ the Mediator set forth, and mercy promised in the gospel, because that the law cannot be satisfied by man's nature, as Paul witnesses when he says, 'The wisdom of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.' For albeit that man's nature by itself can after some sort perform external works (for it can restrain the hands from theft and murder) yet can it not make those inward motions, as godly fear, true faith, patience, and chastity, unless the Holy Spirit governs and helps our hearts. And yet in this place also do we teach, that it is also the commandment of God, that the carnal motions should be restrained by the industry of reason and by civil discipline, as Paul says, 'The law is given to the unjust.'" And again: "Albeit that men by their own strength are able to do outward honest deeds in some sort, and must also perform this civil obedience; yet so long as men are void of faith, they are in the power of the devil, who drives them to shameful sins, occupies their minds with wicked and blasphemous opinions, for that is the kingdom and tyranny of the devil. Moreover, nature is weak, and cannot without God's help strengthen itself to any spiritual works."

The Moravian Confession says: "And since through faith the Holy Spirit is given, thus also the heart is made fit to do good works. For before that, as long as it is without the Holy Spirit, it is too weak; and besides it is in the power of the devil, who impels the poor human nature to many sins. Without faith and without Christ, human nature and ability is far too weak to do good works; as to call upon God, to show patience in suffering, to love one's neighbor, diligently to discharge offices entrusted to us, to be obedient, to avoid evil lusts. Such noble and truly good works cannot be done without the help of Christ, as he himself speaks, 'Without me you can do nothing.'"

The Westminster Confession says: "Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man fit to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God." This article is found without alteration in the Confessions of all the Presbyterian bodies of Scotland, Ireland, and Canada, and of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. It was incorporated entire into the Savoy Confession, into the Saybrook Platform, into the London Baptist Confession, into the Philadelphia Baptist Confession, as well as into the Confession of numerous smaller bodies in this and other countries.

The eighth article of the Methodist Episcopal Church, of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and of the Protestant Methodist Church in the United States, is in these words: "The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and works to faith, and calling upon God: therefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ going before us, that we may have that good will, and working with us, when we have that good will." The Confession of Sueveland says: "Good works (which are good indeed) do proceed from a lively faith, by the Holy Spirit, and are done of the faithful according to the will or rule of God's word." The Confession of Basle says: "The Lord himself says, 'Without me you can do nothing;' that is, nothing that may please God and be for your salvation. Faith and love are the fountain and square of all virtues and good works, according to the testimony of the Apostle: 'The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.' 1 Tim. 1:5. And again: 'Without faith it is impossible to please God.' Heb. 11:6." The Confession of Belgia says: "We are justified by faith in Christ, yes, even before such time as we could bring forth any good work: for our works before faith can no more be good, than the fruit of a tree can be good, before the tree itself be good." The Confession of Saxony says: "External discipline, even where it is most honest, is not a fulfilling of the law. But all this discipline is an external government, such as it is; like unto the leaf of the fig-tree, wherewith our first parents, after their fall, did cover their nakedness: neither does it any more take away sin, and the corruption of nature, and death, than those fig-leaves did." The Confession of Wirtemberg says: "We confess and believe that to do and practice such righteousness as is acceptable to God, these virtues be necessary--faith, hope, and love; and that man cannot of himself conceive these virtues, but does receive them by the grace of God."

These extracts from the standards of different bodies of Christians might have been much more extended. They are, however, sufficient to show that the doctrine here set forth is not novel--it is not the doctrine of a few extreme writers, but is the common doctrine of the purest and most zealous churches. The fair arguments used and the texts quoted in these Confessions do mightily strengthen the arguments and proofs before quoted. It is not too much to say that it has been fairly and scripturally proven--that unregenerate men sin always--they do nothing but sin against God. Is not the misery of an unregenerate state indescribable and unfathomable? No wonder that pious Ezra, having some just sense of the evil of sin, and the vileness of men, "ate no bread, nor drank water because of the transgression of those who had been carried away." No wonder that Jeremiah said of the wicked of his day: "If you will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places." Even Daniel "was astonished for one hour and his thoughts troubled him," when he foresaw the ruin which the king of Babylon was about to bring on himself by his royal crimes.

All the unregenerate do nothing but sin. If for a while they seem to reform, they soon return to their wickedness, as the dog to his vomit, or the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. All their goodness is as the morning cloud; as the early dew it passes away. They sometimes return from outward acts of sin; but they return not unto the Lord. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man and returns again, "the last state of that man is worse than the first." Matt. 12:45. Neither mercies, nor judgments, nor promises, nor threatenings, nor hopes, nor fears--without the grace of Christ--will or can ever cure the love of sin, or arrest the practice of sin!