MR. JOHN VAUGHAN,
MINISTER OF TRINITY CHAPEL, HACKNEY,
1. GRACE defined. 2. Its efficient cause. 3. Its subjects. 4. How communicated. 5. A principle and state. 6. It is contrary to nature. 7. Satan's ignorance respecting it. 8. His impotence regarding it. 9. Necessity existing for grace. 10. What it includes. 11. Importance of the adjective used. 12. What stands inseparably associated with grace.
I.-Grace defined. It signifies the free, sovereign, and undeserved favour of God to those who have not merited or deserved it. It is called free grace, because it is the opposite of a commercial transaction. All trading is done with an eye to profit, and a full equivalent is sought in every dealing between man and man. Although the expectation may not be realized, yet prospective advantage is the stimulus to effort and labour. Now grace stands upon a plane far above anything of a self aggrandising character. It is the manifestation of pure unselfishness; yea, more, it necessitates the greatest acts of self-denial that it is possible to exhibit. Not only does the offended God stoop to the offender, but for the offender; provides a Saviour unsought and undesired, while the appointed Saviour, the Father's equal, not only comes in obedience to the Father's purpose to save, but voluntarily yields Himself up for the purpose of being identified with the offenders, in nature suffering with them in their infirmities, and enduring the consequences of their sins and iniquities; yea, more, being willing to be accounted sin, and to die in the stead of those who had sinned; thus He endured all due to their transgression, experiencing and exhausting the penal consequences thereof. This grace is, moreover, sovereign in its manifestation. It is not grace distributed at random, but it is personal and particular in its application. Its efficiency is, and has been, demonstrated in the case of multitudes who have been called from a state of sinful degradation and raised to a higher standing than that occupied by Adam in his primitive purity. His nature was peccable, liable to fall into sin, and thus entail death upon himself and posterity; but wherever this grace is in possession, its possessor lives a life that is hid with Christ in God, and cannot come into condemnation. It is bestowed by One who has no superior, who alone can exercise uncontrollable authority; to whom pertaineth all power, free and absolute volition over all creatures, times, and circumstances. Possessed of supreme Lordship, He ruleth the armies of heaven, and over the inhabitants of the earth ; none can hasten or impede His movements. Thus we have demonstrated how great this grace must be.
II.-Its efficient cause. Grace is but an effect, although so great in itself and glorious in results. We look in vain for it to all created intelligences, however pure their nature, or benevolent their dispositions. The highest angels may be, in a sense, the subjects of grace. Mark the words of Eliphaz: " Behold, He put no trust in His servants; and His angels He charged with folly " (Job iv. 18). Then while they are not the subjects of saving grace, they may be what the old theologians term the subjects of prevenient grace. If so, they may be also of preserving grace. Thus, apart from the great and holy God, we cannot find an adequate cause for this grace. We see in Himself, power, purity, infinite wisdom, and eternity of duration. Our difficulty does not lie in the possibility of being able to perform, but the improbability of His so doing; for consider it is the high and the lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, discovering mercy to the creatures of a moment. Tb- pure and Holy One dealing with the sinful, polluted, and polluting; omnipotence, as it were, subordinating itself to weakness, while to effect this change, accomplish the purpose, and reveal the fact of this grace, necessitates the work of the third Person in the blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit, in the exercise of His Divine prerogatives, and the discharge of His own particular and official functions in the great economy of salvation, gives life unto us of a spiritual nature, by regenerating all who are the subjects of that grace, making known to all such their interest therein, and producing in them holy desires and heavenly aspirations; godly sorrow for sin, seeking the forgiveness thereof, and earnestly desiring to show forth the praises of Him they once despised, and delighting in anticipating the sinless perfection and indescribable bliss awaiting them when time is no more.
III.-Its subjects. When we consider the great and inestimable blessings accruing to, and secured to, its subjects, reasoning after the manner of men, we should be ready to conclude surely they must be the very cream of our common humanity, some few favoured of the species who have acquitted, themselves nobly, achieving deeds of an heroic character, or else have rendered some great benefit to society of a peculiar difficult and laudable nature, or they have been more than ordinary devout worshippers of the Most High thus to attract His favourable notice, to be made the special objects of His regard. Now, whether we study the holy oracles for the purpose of ascertaining the, character of the recipients of this grace recorded in inspired history, or if we turn to our living contemporaries, we discover an entire absence of all these excellencies, and, therefore, find no moving cause or reason whatever in themselves to account for such being made the favourites of Heaven; yea, more, when we examine ourselves, we not only find the absence of these good qualities, but discover the presence of so much that is obnoxious to the Divine purity, as well as repulsive in its character and outcome, so that whether we refer to the subjects of grace in ancient, modern, or present times, we cannot discover either reason or cause for such distinguished favour. This grace is but an effect; the cause is not in nature or creature, however exalted in rank or benevolent in disposition; in vain we seek for an adequate or efficient cause apart from God Himself. Here the grace appears so much the greater-that He whose authority had been disputed, His law violated, His Word despised, promises and threatening alike treated with contempt-yea, His very existence denied, His Son crucified-that He should of His own unmoved and unsought favour be pleased to purpose salvation for a multitude innumerable, not because they were better or more deserving than their fellows; but God, in His infinite mercy, has beep pleased to place on record many illustrious examples raised from the depths of sinful depravity and degradation, as illustrated in the cases of Manasseh, the dying thief, and the persecuting Saul, while each recipient will be constrained to say, none more undeserving than myself. True ; nor should we be able to discover a solution for this problem had it not been graciously supplied by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Himself in Matt. xi. 2.5, 26: " I thank Thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight."
IV.-How communicated. God is above all means and instrumentalities, and if it pleased Him, by His own direct and immediate volition, all His purposes, creative, providential, or gracious, could be at once accomplished. He who said, Let there be light, and light was," apparently without any intermediary, so could He now, but this is not the Divine intention is evident by establishing and appointing means for the accomplishment of His gracious purpose in saving sinners, in effectually calling by the Gospel, directly or indirectly, to a knowledge of their election by the Father, their redemption by Christ Jesus, through the life-giving power of the Holy Ghost, sanctifying, teaching, and guiding by His grace every one so chosen, redeemed, quickened, and sanctified to the realms of everlasting bliss and glory. To make this message known, God has in all ages raised up and qualified men of like infirmities and passions to make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, many of whom have been brought up from the very depths of sin and misery to show the long-suffering, forbearance, and wonderful grace of God, who would condescend to rescue such, and afterwards furnish them with gifts and graces for the edification of the Church of God, to be the honoured instruments of turning many from sin to righteousness. Oftentimes these men have been conspicuous for their wickedness prior to their call by grace, as if to demonstrate in and by such the mighty transforming power of Divine grace, to make of such unpromising material instruments for the effecting of His gracious purpose; as if to silence all questioning on the part of those addressed in shewing by these results that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and that there is not anything too hard for Him. Bunyan and Newton are cases in point, added to which Paul testifies of himself in 1 Tim. i. 13, 16 : " Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting."
V.-Grace a principle and state. It is not only a favourable feeling towards us on the part of the Divine Being, but it also signifies a treasure we have in possession; so that it not only indicates a disposition towards us, but is the exhibition of that affection in us; so that while by grace we are saved, yet it is by the faith given us we are enabled to realise and enjoy the fact of our salvation. Thus, while the Father purposed, and Christ wrought redemption for us, ere we can take any comfort from the one, or know our interest in the other, the necessity is discovered for this principle to be imparted to us. Now this is the special prerogative of the Holy Spirit in the great scheme of salvation to make known these things to us, in which we are so deeply interested. Thus while men by nature are dead in trespasses and sins, the heaven-born soul is the subject of fear and desires. Certain appetites discover themselves, longing to participate in the love of the Father, the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the teaching and sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. They become diligent students of the Word of God, and desire to avail themselves of every means God has placed within their reach. Now these desires when gratified, and an interest in these great and glorious realities assured, so that, by the spirit of sonship they shall cry, " Abba, Father," these will not make them the subjects of grace, but go to prove they are in the covenant of grace already. Thus while these heaven-born affections and aspirations prove the possession of the principle of grace, being made partakers of the Divine nature, it demonstrates and substantiates beyond all question these favoured ones are in a state of grace, as taught by 'our blessed Lord in His sermon on the mount. He did not make the beatitude dependent upon any great attainment or large development, but in the initial steps: " Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled " (Matt. v. 6).
VI.-Grace is contrary to nature. Our blessed Lord declared the utter impossibility of man doing or attaining to anything of a spiritual nature by any native power or disposition inherited or possessed by him, when He declared, " Except a man is born again (or born from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God," neither its nature, qualifications, privileges, or desirability. Moreover, Paul declares, " the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God : for they are foolishness unto him : neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. ii. 14). Now, as we have all been born in sin, and shapen in iniquity, we at once see the necessity existing for this great spiritual change distinguished by the terns regeneration. In no one instance do we discover grace to have been hereditary, or to have descended by transmission from father to son : all that nature could transmit was sin, disease, death, and degredation ; but for holiness, spiritual-mindedness, life, and peace, the direct interference and recreating energy of the Holy Spirit is indispensable to effectuate a change so great and desirable. Man, by nature, is in a state of enmity against God-hateful and hating : the conduct of man unregenerate is hateful as regards his repeated and continuous acts of transgression against God, his contemptuous treatment of His dear Son Jesus Christ, saying by action, if not exactly in word, "I will not have this Man Jesus to reign over me," while the intense selfishness of his disposition, with the sinful depravity of his heart, leads him to hate God and His Christ, to hate His saints, yea, even his fellowsinners, as testified by Jas. iv. 1-4. Now the effects of grace are manifest in the subject thereof : enmity gives place to love ; there is a measure of conformity to the Divine image, an assimilation to a greater or lesser extent of the mind that was in Christ Jesus, a drinking into the one Spirit. Thus we apprehend the meaning of being created anew in Christ Jesus, old things pass away, and behold all things become new.
VII.-Satan's ignorance concerning grace. When we see the choice of God made manifest in the vessels of mercy He is pleased to gather by the effectual calling and efficient teaching of the Holy Spirit, we are struck with the fact that an order of beings superior to ourselves have been passed by, creatures of intelligence, and powers so vastly exceeding our own, that we can form but a very limited judgment concerning their original standing and dignity ; but whatever their capabilities or culpabilities might have been, we find meted out to them justice without mercy, and an entire absence of a gracious provision for their recovery and restoration. Not only do we discover that Satan and his associates in sin are ignorant of grace in themselves, but they are also ignorant of its subjects and communication till the grace is made manifest in them. Even holy angels are unacquainted with the fact until the change is evidenced in the heaven-born soul : they may convey the intelligence of a change they have not assisted in producing or accomplishing. If so, how nonplussed must Satan be when he sees plucked out of his grasp those who appeared for so long a period his willing captives ! How little did he anticipate when he hounded our blessed Lord to the cross, to be crucified between two criminals, that grace should shine forth in all its freeness and sovereignty in plucking one of these criminals as a brand from the burning, and should be held forth to all coming generations as a trophy of Divine power, a demonstrative proof that Christ was able in the seeming helplessness of crucifixion to save even to the uttermost. Could any case appear, according to creature judgment, more hopeless? A red-handed criminal, apparently within Satan's power, about to plunge into the dread abyss, with all his sins upon him, yet here, to the confusion of the adversary and the manifestation of Divine grace, is verified the utterances of Elihu, " Deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom" (Job xxxiii. 24).
VIII.-His impotence regarding it. Satan's ignorance of the Divine purpose puts it completely out of his power to prevent the quickening of the Spirit, and the impartation of this living principle to His favoured subjects : that he is jealous of this gracious interposition he cannot prevent is evident. Peter tells us " he goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." Again, we find he is ever engaged in blinding the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." Moreover, we have recorded the efforts put forth by him to uproot the principle and cast down from his excellency the subject of grace as illustrated in the cases of Job, David, and Peter : in all which he signally failed, sustaining an ignominious defeat. He is unquestionably the strong man armed, and he keeps possession as long as he can ; but when the stronger-even Christ, who is the power of God unto salvation -comes upon him, He overcomes him, and delivers souls from the thralldom and captivity in which he hitherto held them. If his power was equal to his malignity, we might well fear; but he has been constrained to make the mortifying admission that he cannot go beyond the Divine permission, as in the case of Job, when replying to the Divine interrogation, " Hast Thou not made a hedge about him ? " &c. (Job i. 11); and we see the limitations that were set : first, all external to Job was placed in Satan's power, then Job's person, all but his life. Nor was it owing to this wicked spirit's forbearance that Job was not crushed, but that the adversary was impotent to destroy the grace that was in him. We are encouraged from these facts to " resist the devil, and he shall flee " from us, and though ofttimes he adopts the Parthian mode of warfare, yet there is provided for us the shield of faith, by which we ward off the fiery darts of the wicked one-thus falling quenched and pointless at the feet of the believer in Christ.
IX.-Necessity existing for grace. Because all men, without any exception, are undeserving, being utterly without merit. " For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God " (Rom. iii. 23). Moreover, we are told that " without holiness no man can see the Lord " (Heb. xii. 14). Man's incapacity joined with Satan's stratagems would ever prove insurmountable barriers in such a case ; but what man cannot by incapability do for himself, and by perversity of will would not if he could, aided and assisted by Satanic power and hostility, God overcomes, working in the hitherto blind and stubborn child of Adam so effectually, that not only is the enmity slain, but he is made the willing subject of Christ in the day of His power-the Spirit working in him to will and to do His own good pleasure. Thus, man having no merit, if saved and forgiven, it must be by grace, being by nature and by practice unholy. This indispensable change is wrought in him by the impartation of a new nature ; so pure and holy is this nature that it is incapable of sinning. It is with this the regenerated one serves the law of God, while continually grieved that in the flesh (the carnal nature) he serves the law of sin. While the necessity for this grace is beyond all question, yet how surpassingly rich this grace appears to be, provided for, imputed and imparted to such undeserving creatures, unsuggested by angels, unsought by men, but revealed and applied by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is demonstrated not only as qualifying for; but receptive of, the glorious plan of salvation as set forth and accomplished by the Lord Christ on behalf of all His Father gave unto Him ; it is perceptive also, seeing the personal requirements, Divine and human, are met in the person, work, and righteousness of the Mediator of the new and everlasting covenant.
X.-What grace includes. It is the favour of God to the undeserving, producing in its subjects love to that same Almighty and gracious Being they once hated and defied. A sense of Divine forgiveness produces in themselves self-abhorrence and heartfelt contrition, accompanied with hatred for sin. But when by the teaching of the Holy Spirit they are made acquainted with the fact, not only that a full remission is granted of all sin for Christ's sake, but in addition thereto, they are justified by His righteousness so completely as if they had never sinned, and the negative and active righteousness of the Redeemer imputed and accounted to them as if their own by nature and accomplishment, they are then made experimentally to know the blessed meaning of Psalm xxxii. 1, 2 ; yea, it includes more than this, seeing that grace brings us acquainted with our heavenly relationship, that we are the children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, and partakers by virtue of our union to Him of the Divine nature. He having condescended to our nature with its sinless infirmities, by joint participation in His death we share in His glorious resurrection, and though for a season we are actually down here trammelled and exercised with the perishing things of nature and creature, yet virtually now we are made to sit with Him in the heavenlies, so that notwithstanding the many infirmities of the flesh and the temptations of the adversary, we can join with the inspired apostle, " Now thanks be unto God who always causeth us to triumph in Christ" (2 Cor. ii. 14). Here mystery on mystery meets our astonished and admiring view ; our sins, past, present, and to come, laid upon, and imputed to, the immaculate Lamb of God, as if He had been guilty of all the accumulated sin and transgression of His elect, bearing all that was due to their transgression, so effectually expiating their sin and rolling away their reproach. With such a redundancy of righteousness in Himself, that being imputed to their account, they are accounted righteous before and by God. This communicative righteousness being imparted to them by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, that Divine principle in them is as incapable of sinning as its Author ; hence we read, " That which is born of God sinneth not."
XI.-The term used, invincible grace-the importance of this adjective. It implies grace may meet with much opposition on the part of its subjects, arising from the natural perversity of the human will, the obduracy of heart, aided and intensified by the active opposition of Satan. Now this grace cannot be finally or fatally resisted, but must prove- victorious in the issue ; if such were not the case, the creature would prove more than a match for the Creator, and Satan would be able to defeat the Divine purpose. Now God's power none can effectually withstand, for our blessed Lord declared, " With God all things are possible " (Matt. xix. 26), and by the prophet we read, " Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh : is there anything too hard for Me ? " (Jer. xxxii. 27). The objection raised to this doctrine is, it destroys man's free agency, converting him into a mere machine ; but we shall see this objection is groundless. If it were accomplished by some external and coercive power opposed to man's will, there might be some force in this objection, but seeing it is effected by an internal process, not clashing with, and opposing so much existing conditions as supplying new ones by the communication of spiritual principles which did not previously exist ; so that instead of being made to do that to which our will is diametrically opposed, on the contrary our wills now cheerfully concur in a desire to please God, follow Christ in the path of the regeneration, and to honour the Spirit. We do not obey because we fear punishment should we prove refractory and disobedient ; but being drawn by love, it is to us a service of delight. Delivered from the slavery of sin, we find the service of Christ to be perfect freedom, and thus know experimentally " whom the Son makes free, they are free indeed." This grace discovers itself rather by gentle persuasives than peremptory mandates that must be observed, presenting the Divine purpose and intentions in an aspect so enticing, that, instead of tardily approaching or reluctantly yielding, it is done with a full consciousness and delightful concurrence. Thus the subject of grace is not considering how little on his part will meet the Divine requirements, but his daily and increasing desire will be for a growing conformity to the image of Christ ; that with body, soul, and spirit, he might glorify God. Thus acted upon, and drawn by the Holy Spirit, the heaven-born nature, though resisted by the carnal, is enabled to make its stand, and assert its superiority ; the sin in the flesh still afflicts, but it cannot compel; it rages, but it cannot reign ; the love for it being gone, it no longer exercises dominion ; the grace may be tried, but it cannot fail ; the spiritual may be resisted, but cannot be overcome; the lamp of the sanctuary may burn dimly, but cannot be extinguished. "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord " (Rom. v. 21).
XIL-What stands -inseparably associated with grace. Every recipient of grace is the subject of a felt necessity ; not only sees how much is needed, but conscious of his own incapability, feels it must be done for him. This arises from what has been done in him by the Spirit's regenerating power : hence he now prays and seeks for those supplies and that salvation he feels to be indispensable for his soul's peace. Now it is not his praying gives him grace ; but because the grace has already been given, he prays. He finds it is not merely asking at a venture, but he feels that in himself which goes out and embraces a living personal Saviour. Now faith does not save him, but it evidences Christ hath done so : he now chooses the things of God, consorts with His people, delights in His Word, ordinances, and commandments, agreeable to the testimony of the apostle, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Rom. vii. 22). Thus the law is not a preparative for grace, but grace makes the obedience and inward delight the evidence, by the way of the state and standing of the believers ; not grace-producing, but fruit-bearing, to the praise and glory of God, " That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God " (Col. i. 10). This fruit-bearing proves that we are in Christ, that by virtue of the vital union He is the Life-giver and Sustainer, as well as life itself. We, as recipients of that life, and participating in this vital oneness, " bring forth fruit unto God " (Rom. vii. 4), thus demonstrating beyond all question our abiding in Christ by this fruit-bearing ; thus answering the great end of our election and appointment (John xv. 5, 16). In addition to all this, which has reference to time, glory unending in the future stands inseparably associated with grace, so that our everlasting happiness is as much the result of grace as the Father's choice of us in Christ before the foundation of the world, or the Son's redemption of us in time before we had a being, or the Spirit's regeneration when we were dead in sin. Look at it as we may, the Divine purpose, work, and accomplishment is all of grace from first to last : proving the Psalmist had the mind of the Spirit, and the experimental grace of the doctrine in his heart, when he said, " The cord will give grace and glory" (Psa. lxxxiv. 11). Thus grace is the earnest of glory, while glory is the consummation of grace.