Category Archives: Grace

At All Cost, Get This

Romans 5:20–21:

…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Assurance (Banner of Truth, 1971), pages 299–300:

What grace has done is not merely to counteract exactly what sin has done. If grace had done that, and that alone, it would still be something wonderful. If the effect of grace had merely been to wipe out, and to cancel, all that had happened on the other side, we should have had a theme for praising God sufficient to last us through all eternity.

But, says the Apostle, it is not an exact counterbalance; what I have on the right side does not exactly tally with that I have on the left. In fact there is no comparison; it is a superfluity, an abounding, and engulfing, it is an overflowing on the side of grace. We must hold on to this truth at all costs and get it clear in our minds. The point is that grace does not merely exactly balance, it does not just undo what sin has done; it does much more.

Get This Clear In Your Mind

Romans 5:20-21:

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Assurance (Banner of Truth, 1971), 299–300:

What grace has done is not merely to counteract exactly what sin has done. If grace had done just that, and that alone, it would still be something wonderful. If the effect of grace had merely been to wipe out, and to cancel, all that had happened on the other side, we should have had a theme for praising God sufficient to last us through all eternity.

But, says the Apostle, it is not an exact counterbalance; what I have on the right side does not exactly tally with what I have on the left. In fact there is no comparison; it is a superfluity, an abounding, and engulfing, it is an overflowing on the side of grace.

We must hold on to this truth at all costs and get it clear in our minds.

God Is For Me

I treasure the for me/for us phrases in Psalm 56:9/Romans 8:31. It is a majestic thought that the holy God of the universe can be for me/for us. It is a divine reality so startling that we can only explain this favor as a gift of grace. It should drive from us all vain thoughts of spiritual superiority.

In my reading over the years I’ve gathered a small collection of quotes to help me meditate on this amazing truth. Here are three examples:

John Piper, sermon, “God Did Not Spare His Own Son,” August 18, 2002:

O how precious are those two words, “for us” [Rom. 8:31]. There are no more fearful words in the universe than the words, “God is against us.” … We live forever with God against us or with God for us. And all who are in Christ may say with almost unspeakable joy, “God is for us.” He is on our side.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/2 728:

What can and should and must be done by the man to whom the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth has stopped down from his eternal and inaccessible majesty in inconceivable goodness and overflowing majesty to take man to Himself by taking his place and bearing his curse and burden? What can and should and must be done by the man to whom it is given in the quickening power of the Holy Spirit to accept the fact that God is for him in this way? What remains for the Christian to do? What is his part? Or rather, what is he allowed and commissioned and commanded to do? Since this is the case, and he knows it, in what consists his Christian freedom? There can obviously be only one answer to this question. This is the simple and unequivocal answer that he must accept and receive the One who comes to him and that which is given in and by Him; that he must be content in unconditional and childlike confidence to hold to the fact that God is for him; that he must acknowledge and recognize and confess this; that he must place himself on this ground and walk on it without hesitation or vacillation; that he must be satisfied and rejoice and constantly return to the fact that he may be undeservedly but quite indisputably be the child of God.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, evening of July 13:

It is impossible for any human speech to express the full meaning of this delightful phrase, “God is for me” [Ps 56:9]. He was “for us” before the worlds were made; he was “for us,” or he would not have given his well-beloved son; he was “for us” when he smote the Only-begotten, and laid the full weight of his wrath upon him—he was “for us,” though he was against him; he was “for us,” when we were ruined in the fall—he loved us notwithstanding all; he was “for us,” when we were rebels against him, and with a high hand were bidding him defiance; he was “for us,” or he would not have brought us humbly to seek his face. He has been “for us” in many struggles; we have been summoned to encounter hosts of dangers; we have been assailed by temptations from without and within—how could we have remained unharmed to this hour if he had not been “for us”?

He is “for us,” with all the infinity of his being; with all the omnipotence of his love; with all the infallibility of his wisdom; arrayed in all his divine attributes, he is “for us,”—eternally and immutably “for us”; “for us” when yon blue skies shall be rolled up like a worn out vesture; “for us” throughout eternity. And because he is “for us,” the voice of prayer will always ensure his help. “When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies be turned back.” This is no uncertain hope, but a well grounded assurance—“this I know.” I will direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up for the answer, assured that it will come, and that mine enemies shall be defeated, “for God is for me.” O believer, how happy art thou with the King of kings on thy side! How safe with such a Protector! How sure thy cause pleaded by such an Advocate! If God be for thee, who can be against thee?

By the grace of God I am what I am

As quoted in Christian Witness and Church Members Magazine (1858), page 459:

Two or three years before the death of that eminent servant of Christ, John Newton of London, when his sight was become so dim, that he was no longer able to read, an aged friend and brother in the ministry called on him to breakfast. Family prayer followed, and the portion of Scripture for the day was read to him. In it occurred the verse, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’ [1 Cor 15:10]. It was the pious man’s custom on these occasions to make a short familiar exposition on the passage read. After the reading of this text he paused for some moments, and then uttered this affecting soliloquy:

I am not what I ought to be. Ah, how imperfect and deficient!

I am not what I wish to be. I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good!

I am not what I hope to be. Soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection.

Yet, though I am not what I ought to be,
nor what I wish to be,
nor what I hope to be,
I can truly say, I am not what I once was;
a slave to sin and Satan;
and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge,
‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’

The Methods of Grace

John Newton is most famous for his hymns (e.g. Amazing Grace) and for his campaign to abolish the slave trade, but he was also a skilled author of personal letters. Many of those letters survive and have been published over the centuries. It doesn’t take long for the reader to notice his pastoral wisdom. In one letter to a pastor/friend on Nov. 6, 1778, he addressed the dangers that appeared in the writings of “New England divines” by which he means Solomon Stoddard and perhaps Stoddard’s grandson, Jonathan Edwards. The NEDs were not particularly sensitive to the work of God in the life of the sinner and tended to be formulaic, undermining assurance and encouraging doubt in genuine believers, said Newton. Newton saw this tragedy and raised the flag of concern in a letter. Here’s what he wrote in one letter [published in Wise Counsel (BoT, 2009), pages 120–121]:

Most of the New England divines I have met with have in my judgment one common fault: they abound with distinctions and refinements in experimental matters [ie evaluating grace in the life of a person], which are suited to cast down those whom the Lord would have comforted. And in their long account of what they call a preparatory work, they include and thereby depreciate some real and abiding effects of true grace. They require such an absolute submission to the righteousness and sovereignty of God, before they will allow a person to be a believer, as I apprehend is seldom the attainment of a babe in Christ.

I think if Mr Stoddard had been at Philippi, and the jailer had sprung trembling in to him (instead of Paul and Silas) with the same question he would have afforded him but cold comfort, and would have made him wait a few weeks or months to see how the preparatory work went on before he would have encouraged him to believe in Jesus. …

It would be well if both preachers and people would keep more closely to what the scripture teaches of the nature, marks and growth of a work of grace instead of following each other in a track (like sheep) confining the Holy Spirit to a system; imposing at first the experience and sentiments of others as a rule to themselves, and afterward dogmatically laying down the path in which they themselves have been led, as absolutely necessary to be trodden by others. There is a vast variety of the methods by which the Lord brings home souls to himself, in which he considers (though system-preachers do not) the different circumstances, situations, temperament, etc. of different persons. To lay down rules precisely to which all must conform, and to treat all enquiring souls in the same way, is as wrong as it would be in a physician to attempt to cure all his patients who may have the same general disorder (a fever for instance) with one and the same prescription. A skilful man would probably find so many differences in their cases, that he would not treat any two of them exactly alike.

The words of a skilled soul-physician.

Accustomed grace, how stale the sound

From Sinclair Ferguson’s latest By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me (Reformation Trust, 2010), page xiv:

“A chief reason for the weakness of the Christian church in the West, for the poverty of our witness and any lack of vitality in our worship, probably lies here: we sing about ‘amazing grace’ and speak of ‘amazing grace,’ but far too often it has ceased to amaze us. Sadly, we might more truthfully sing of ‘accustomed grace.’ We have lost the joy and energy that are experienced when grace seems truly amazing.”

No such ‘thing’ as grace

Sinclair Ferguson has a new book coming out soon, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. Can’t wait to read it. Whenever I think of grace I am reminded of his message on John 15 from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference in Grantham, PA. Sitting in a sweltering chapel listening to him preach for the first time in person my understanding of grace was shaped and I came to discover the depth and riches of our union with Christ. I’ll never forget when Ferguson said this:

“The union with Christ we have is not that we somehow share His grace. Because–follow me carefully–there actually is no ‘thing’ as grace. That actually is a Medieval Roman Catholic teaching, that there is a ‘thing’ called grace that can be separated from the person of Jesus Christ, something Jesus Christ won on the Cross, something He can bestow on you, and there are at least seven ways it can be bestowed on you and they all, as it happens, turn out to be in the hands of the church. And you can have this kind of grace, and this kind of grace, and this kind of grace …

There is no such ‘thing’ as grace! Grace is not some appendage to His being. Nor is it some substance that flows from us: ‘Let me give you grace.’ All there is is the Lord Jesus Himself. And so when Jesus speaks about us abiding in Him and He abiding in us–however mysterious it may be, mystical in that sense–it is a personal union. Do not let us fail to understand that, at the end of the day, actually Christianity is Christ because there isn’t anything else; there is no atonement that somehow can be detached from who the Lord Jesus is; there is no grace that can be attached to you transferred from Him. All there is is Christ and your soul.”

Dust

Last night I lay awake in bed unable to fall asleep as my active mind protested my tired body. So my mind wandered and wondered, eventually arriving at Psalm 103:13–14, two verses I have focused my attention upon these past two days. The following words came to my mind. I played them over in my head until sleep arrived—

Dust

I am collected dust
bound together for a time
into this mud
formed by liquid soul.

How often I forget this frame
and attempt to live as gold
or diamond
or granite.
Anything, everything, but collected dust.

But He never forgets.
He never forgets.
His tenderness speaks it so.

Tozer on the Gentleness of God

tss-pop-can-large.jpgA.W. Tozer writing on Psalm 18:35 (“your gentleness made me great”):

“God is easy to live with. Satan’s first attack upon the human race was his sly effort to destroy Eve’s confidence in the kindness of God. Unfortunately for her and for us he succeeded too well. From that day, men have had a false conception of God, and it is exactly this that has cut out from under them the ground of righteousness and driven them to reckless and destructive living.

Nothing twists and deforms the soul more than a low or unworthy conception of God. Certain sects, such as the Pharisees, while they held that God was stern and austere, yet managed to maintain a fairly high level of external morality; but their righteousness was only outward.

Instinctively we try to be like our God, and if He is conceived to be stern and exacting, so will we ourselves be. The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service one of unspeakable pleasure.

The fellowship of God is delightful beyond all telling. He communes with His redeemed ones in an easy, uninhibited fellowship that is restful and healing to the soul.

He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.”

– A.W. Tozer in The Root of the Righteous, pp. 13-16. As quoted in the newest Banner of Truth Magazine (issue 531; Dec. 2007).

Critical but gracious

tsslogo.jpgAdrian Warnock has an excellent post modeling how Mark Driscoll publicly pointed out theological error and the gracious and humble manner in which he did it. Very helpful.

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Related: Grace and the Adventure of Leadership message by C.J. Mahaney. Correction must be done in deep humility and thankfulness. The book of 1 Corinthians — where Paul is about to correct the great errors of the Corinthians — begins with these (almost unbelievable) words: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). “Paul was more aware of evidences of grace than areas in need of growth.” One of Mahaney’s most important messages and a must-listen for pastors.

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