Grace deals with all men upon one common ground––that of being sinners. It levels their moral condition. Of course, man cannot bear the thought of having any need of grace, and is forever trying to make a difference between himself and others in order to make himself seem more righteous than his neighbour. God, however, looks not at our righteousnesses but our sins. He says “all have sinned” (Rom. 3: 23), and thus, as regards the need of His grace, all are in the same position.
There is a preconception abroad that grace implies God taking a light view of sin. In fact, quite the contrary. The very fact that God acts in grace shows that sin is so evil a thing that nothing but free grace can meet the need of the sinner––he is so utterly ruined and hopeless without it. Grace supposes sin to be so horribly bad a thing that, on the one hand, God cannot tolerate it, and on the other, that man, as a sinner, is unable to cleanse himself of it. Were it in the power of man, after being unrighteous and evil, to mend himself so as to stand before a holy God, then there would be no need of grace. Thus it is not God that takes a light view of sin, but those that scorn His grace!
The triumph of grace is seen in that when man’s enmity had cast out the Lord Jesus from the earth, God’s love brought in salvation by that very act. In the place of the fullest development of man’s sin, faith sees the fullest manifestation of grace. Where does faith see the greatest depth of man’s sin and hatred of God? At the Cross of Calvary. Yet at the same time faith sees there the greatest extent of God’s triumphant love and mercy to man. Thus the spear of the soldier which pierced the side of the Lord Jesus only served to bring out that which spoke of forgiveness (John 19: 34).
Grace takes account of all the sin and the evil that is in us, and is the blessed revelation that through the Lord Jesus all this sin and evil has been put away. A single sin is more horrible to God than all the sins in the world are to us––yet in the fullest consciousness of what we are in all our degradation, God’s attitude towards us is one of love.
I have got away from grace if I have the slightest doubt or hesitation about God’s love. I shall then be saying “I am unhappy because I am not what I should like to be”––but that is not the question! The real question is whether God is what we should like Him to be––whether the Lord is all we could wish. If the consciousness of what we are and what we find in ourselves, whilst rightly humbling, has any other effect than to increase our adoration of what God is, then we are off the ground of pure grace. Faith never makes what is in my heart its object, but God’s revelation of Himself in grace. If we stop halfway and see nothing but God’s law it will reveal to us our condemnation, and prove us to be “without strength” (Rom. 5: 6). If, however, having seen the hopelessness of our true state, we look to God, then that is just where grace meets us. Yes, what an awful sinner I am, but oh what a wonderful Saviour!
Many understand God’s righteousness who do not understand His grace. Thus a man may see sin to be a deadly thing, and he may see that nothing which defiles can enter into the presence of God, but this is not evidence that he knows grace. Certainly it is very good for the conscience to be brought to a true conviction of sin, for I am then tasting that the Lord is righteous, but I must not stop there––sin without grace would put me in a hopeless state. If ignorant of His grace, I shall only be able to say that He ought to cast me, as a sinner, away from His presence. Yet God is not only righteous, but “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5: 10). In revealing His righteousness, He has also revealed His grace. The moment I understand that not only am I a sinful man, but also realise that because the Lord knew the full extent of my sin and its true horror that he came to me, then I understand what grace is. “God commends his love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us” (Rom. 5: 8). As soon as I believe Jesus to be the Son of God, I see that God has come to me because I was a sinner and could not go to Him. That is the wonder of His grace. “God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, (we too being dead in offences,) has quickened us with the Christ, (ye are saved by grace,) and has raised [us] up together, and has made [us] sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, that he might display in the coming ages the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For ye are saved by grace, through faith; and this not of yourselves; it is God’s gift” (Eph. 2: 4–8).
There is sometimes the thought that grace implies that God overlooks sin. Quite the contrary! Grace supposes sin to be so horribly bad a thing that God cannot tolerate it. Were it in the power of man, after being unrighteous and evil, to patch up his ways and mend himself so as to stand before God, there would be no need of grace. The very fact of God being gracious shows sin to be so evil a thing, and consequently sinful man so hopelessly lost that only free grace can meet his need.
Grace deals with men upon one common ground, namely that of being sinners. It levels their moral condition, for in that all have sinned, all need grace. Yet it will only come to those who realise their need of it: “They that are in sound health have not need of a physician, but those that are ill. I am not come to call righteous [persons], but sinful [ones] to repentance” (Luke 5: 31, 32). Grace is only valued when a man is led to realise his true state before God. Grace can effect nothing for those who magnify their own supposed righteousness (see Luke 18: 9).
If we look at the simple fact of what grace is, it has no limit, no bounds. In spite of what we may be, (and we cannot be worse than we are), God is towards us in love! Neither our joy nor our peace is dependant on what we are to God, but on what He is to us. Faith never makes what is in my heart its object, but God’s revelation of Himself in grace. Furthermore, God’s grace is so unlimited, so full, so perfect, that if we get for a moment out of the presence of God we cannot have true consciousness of it. We will have no strength to apprehend it, and if we attempt to learn it out of His presence we shall only turn it to licentiousness.
The triumph of grace is seen in the fact that when man’s enmity had cast the Lord out from the earth, God’s love brought in salvation by that very act. Where does faith see the greatest depth of man’s sin and hatred of God? In the cross of Calvary. Yet at the same place it sees the greatest extent of God’s triumphant love and mercy to man. In the very place where is seen the fullest development of man’s sin, faith sees the fullest manifestation of God’s grace.
Grace does not turn a blind eye to sin but recognises all the sin and evil that is in us, and is the blessed revelation that through Christ all this sin and evil has been put away. A single sin is more horrible to God than all the sins in the world to us, and yet with the fullest realisation of what we are, God is pleased to act towards us in love! At the same time we must remember that the object and necessary effect of grace is to bring our souls into communion with God - to sanctify us by bringing the soul to know God and to love Him. Therefore, the knowledge of grace is the true source of sanctification.
A man may see sin to be a deadly thing, and he may see that nothing which defiles can enter into the presence of God - his conscience may be brought to a true conviction of sin - yet this is not tasting that the Lord is gracious. It is a very good thing to be brought to conviction of sin, for then I am tasting that the Lord is righteous. I must not, however, stop there, for sin without grace would put me in a hopeless state. I cannot say that God ought to be gracious, but I can say, if ignorant of His grace, that He ought to cast me the sinner away from His presence because He is righteous. How marvellous then to learn that God has not only revealed Himself as a righteous God, but as “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5: 10). The moment that I understand that I am a sinful man, and yet that the Lord came to me knowing the full extent of my sin and what its hatefulness was, then I understand what grace is. Faith makes me see that God is greater than my sin, and not that my sin is greater than God. “God commends his love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us” (Rom. 5: 8). As soon as I believe Jesus to be the Son of God, I see that God has come to me because I was a sinner and could not go to Him. This is grace.