The Ancient Faith
THE TRUE GRACE OF GOD
The gospel, or glad tidings of the benignity of God to mankind, is emphatically called the grace of God. Grace is a term of frequent occurrence in the New Testament, and always signifies the favor of God towards sinners. This is nowhere so fully exhibited as in the gift of his Son. Hence the full, free favor of God came by Jesus Christ; and this is termed the grace, or the grace of God. The Spirit of God, by whose agency this grace is exhibited, is therefore called the Spirit of Grace. Those who have apostatized from the faith of the gospel, are said to have done despite, or to have offered an indignity to the Spirit of Grace, because they have treated with contempt that record which he inspired, and have contemned those splendid attestations which he vouchsafed in proof of its authenticity.
RELIGIOUS CONFUSION REGARDING GOD’S GRACE
A great many enthusiastic and extravagant things are said about the grace of God — by those, too, who profess to teach the Christian religion. Hence we often hear grace spoken of as a sort of fluid, resembling the electric, which bursts from the clouds that pass over our fields. Free grace, sovereign grace, and grace in the heart are terms long consecrated and hackneyed in sermon books, until many suppose that they are bible terms and phrases. Hence, the grace of some religious sectaries is free, and of others not free —is sovereign, and not sovereign— is in the heart, or not in it. There is a grace, too, which is called special, and a grace that is irresistible and efficacious. With some the day of grace is sinned away; with others it never comes, or never passes away. From all this confusion in the modern Babel, let us turn to the style of the New Testament.
THE GOSPEL IS CALLED THE GRACE OF GOD
There we find that every bounty expressive of the favor of God towards man, is called a grace; that the bounty which one Christian exhibits to another, is called a grace; that the written or spoken gospel is called the grace of God; and when this gospel is announced, the grace of God is said to appear, or to shine forth. Those who hold or stand to the gospel, as delivered by the apostles are said to stand in the true grace of God, contradistinguished from those who blended the law and the gospel. Those who did not correspond in temper and deportment to the gospel, “received the grace of God in vain” (2 Co.6:1), and those who did so correspond are exhorted “to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43).
TO RECEIVE THE GOSPEL IS TO RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE
Those, then, who believe the gospel, receive the grace of God; for, in receiving the gospel, they, in other words, receive the grace of God. When the gospel is exhibited to any people, “the grace of God has appeared” or “shone forth” to them (Titus 2:11; 2 Co.4:6). When they believe it in their hearts or receive it sincerely, then, and not till then, they have the grace of God in their hearts. This is all the countenance the scriptures give to the popular phrase, “the grace of God in the heart.” When men have believed the gospel, they are under the reign of grace; they are under the favor of Jesus Christ, and all the benefits they enjoy are so many multiplications of his favor.
So that when the apostle prayed that grace might be multiplied to (2 Peter 1:2), or that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ might be with the saints (Col.1:2), he, in other words, desires that the favor or benefits of his reign might be with them. While Christians keep the commandments of the Savior, they grow in his favor, or grow in grace, which is exhibited in the increase of all those dispositions and tempers of mind which are compatible with their state, as standing in the true grace of God.
IMPOSSIBLE TO BE UNAWARE OF HAVING RECEIVED GOD’S GRACE
This grace of God works in the hearts of the recipients. By it the peace of God rules, and the love of God is diffused in the hearts of men. A heart ruled by the peace of God and warmed by his love is as conscious or as sensible of it, as of any of its own emotions. Every person knows or is conscious that he loves, or fears, or dislikes any person, or thing. When two individuals are at enmity against each other, they are conscious of it, and of the cause. When they are sincerely reconciled to each other they are just as conscious of it, and of the means or cause of their reconciliation. And shall it be, when men are reconciled to God through his Son Jesus Christ, that they are, in this instance only, unconscious of it! Were this the case, with what propriety or truth could the apostle say to the Christians of his time concerning the Savior, “Whom, having not seen, you love; on whom, not now looking, but believing, you greatly rejoice in him with joy unspeakable and full of glory!” (1 Pet 1:8).
That a person could believe on, or trust in another, that he could love him, and rejoice in him, without being conscious of it, is altogether inadmissible. A persuasion that God is so benign, that he is so philanthropic, as to account faith for righteousness to him that believes the record given of his Son, as necessarily produces peace with God, as the appearance of the sun dissipates darkness. “Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom, by this belief, we have obtained access to his favor in which we stand, and rejoice in a hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1,2). Indeed a transition from darkness to light, from enmity to friendship, from hatred to love, from distrust to confidence, from despondency to hope, from sorrow to joy in those of adult age, is marked with so many sensible attributes, as to render the unconsciousness of it morally impossible.
Those, however, who are from infancy brought up in the education and discipline of the Lord; on whose infant minds the sun of righteousness has shone, are not capable of contrasting their present views and feelings with their former. From the earliest recollection they have believed in Jesus, and have, in some measure, enjoyed the benefits of a hope of acceptance with God. As their capacities of understanding have expanded, as their faith and confidence have increased, their enjoyments of the grace of God have also enlarged.
But, perhaps, in no case amongst those born in a land where Christian revelation is so generally diffused, can the contrast be so sensible and so obvious as in the first age of Christianity. For thousands of men and women who yesterday were perfect Pagans, today rejoice in the hope of eternal life. Once they were darkness, but now they are light. Their renovation was as sensible, as obvious, and as striking to themselves, as the emancipation of an adult slave, as the liberation of a captive, or as the opening of the eyes of a blind man is to himself. Not adverting to the extreme disparity in our circumstances in these instances, from those of the first converts, has given rise to a perplexity, and sometimes, to a perturbation of mind, extremely prejudicial to the happiness of many disciples. To this the popular harangues have contributed in no small degree.
A JOY AND HOPE THAT DOES NOT SPRING FROM GOD’S GRACE
It is, perhaps, chiefly owing to the religious theories imbibed in early life from creeds, catechisms, and priests, that so few comparatively enjoy the grace of God which brings salvation. The grace of God, exhibited in the record concerning Jesus of Nazareth, affords no consolation. The hopes and joys of many spring from a good conceit of themselves. If this good conceit vanishes, which sometimes happens, despondency and distress are the consequences.–While they can, as they conceit, thank God that they are not like other men, they are very happy; but when this fancied excellency disappears, the glad tidings afford no consolation: anguish and distress have come upon them. This, with some of the spiritual doctors, is a good symptom too: for, say they, “if you do not doubt for you.” When they have worked them into despondency, they minister a few opiates, and assure them that they are now in a safe and happy state. Now they are to rejoice, because they are sorrowful; now they are to feel very good, because they feel so very bad. This is the orthodox “Christian experience.” This is the genuine work of the Holy Spirit! [So they say, but who can believe it? – P.M]
TRUE ENJOYMENT OF GOD’S GRACE IS CONTINGENT UPON OBEDIENCE
Now in the primitive church the disciples derived all their strength, confidence, peace, hope, and joy, from the grace of God appearing in Jesus Christ. In this grace they saw their sins forgiven, themselves accepted, and, on the promise and oath of him that cannot lie, they looked for eternal life. They continued in this joy while they continued keeping the commandments of their Lord, and thereby continued in his love. By this grace of God appearing in Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God comforted their hearts: through it the spirit of adoption was received, and by it they cried Abba, Father (Romans 8:15). Their life and their joys sprang from him in whom they confided, and not from a high opinion of themselves. The foundation of their hope made them humble; the foundation of the hope of many moderns makes them proud.
THE EVIDENCE OF HAVING RECEIVED GOD’S GRACE – “THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT”
The fruits of the Spirit which they received were love to Him that loved them, and to the saints for his names sake; joy, springing from their acceptance with God and hope of eternal life; peace with God through the sacrifice of his Son; forbearance towards all, springing from the Divine forbearance which they were every day conscious of; goodness exhibited to friends and enemies, in overt acts of kindness; faithfulness to God and man; meekness in their temper; and temperance in restraining all their appetites, springing from the example of their glorious Chief.
The fruits of the Spirit of the fashionable Christians, are love to themselves, and to those who unite with them in subscribing the same creed, and in paying the same priest; joy, springing from a high conceit of their moral worth; peace with God, through their having made a covenant of peace on conditions of their own stipulating; forbearance towards the rich or honorable transgressors of their laws, or those of God; goodness to them that love them; faithfulness to men, so long as their interests are consulted thereby; meekness in their temper to those who flatter them that they are every way excellent; and temperance wherein appetite makes no farther demands.
In others the fruits of the spirit of orthodoxy are various: doubts, which spring from their want of certain good symptoms; fears, which arise from a conscience not purged from dead works; and alternate joys and sorrows arising from a good or bad opinion of themselves; censoriousness towards them who cannot say shibboleth as articulately as themselves, and pride originating from a notion that they are exclusively the elect of God. We hope that amongst the popular establishments there are many whom the picture will not suit; but it is with sincere regret that we declare, it is drawn to the life and deportment of very many who stand very high in the religious world, who are pillars, too, in the temples in our favored land.
But to conclude, we commenced this essay with the intention of exhibiting the import of the grace of God, in the fixed style of the New Testament, regardless of the spurious dialect, or new nomenclature of modern divinity. The prominent ideas intended to be exhibited are, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is emphatically the grace of God; that this gospel received is the grace of God received; that this grace of God when received, works in the hearts of them that believe, that the Spirit of grace therein dwells in the hearts of men, and teaches them to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts; to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world (Titus 2:12); that they have “received the grace of God in vain” who do not exhibit its fruit; that “Christians continue in the grace of God” while they abound in these fruits; and that while men hold fast the gospel as delivered by the apostles, they “stand in the true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12).
Thus we see that the whole work of the Spirit of God in the salvation of men, as the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of power, and the spirit of grace or goodness, is inseparably connected with, and altogether subservient to the gospel or glad tidings of great joy to all people, of the love of God exhibited in the humiliation to death of his only begotten Son. Detached from this we know nothing of it, because nothing more is revealed. And to indulge in metaphysical speculations, or to form abstract theories of our own, is not only the climax of religious folly; but has ever proved the bane of Christianity.
[This was taken from the April 4, 1825 issue of The Christian Baptist (1889) from an article the editor entitled “Essays on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Salvation of Men.–No. IX. Title and subtitles were added for reading ease].