THE GOSPEL OF REIGNING GRACE
(Publisher: Reiner Publications)
The gospel of Reigning Grace, being a doctrine truly divine, has ever been the object of the world’s contempt. It was of old a stumbling-block to the self-righteous Jew, and foolishness to the philosophic Greek. Paul, who was a resolute asserter of the honours of grace, and indefatigable in preaching Christ, found it so by repeated experience; and that not only among the illiterate and profane, but also among the learned and the devout. Nay, he had frequent occasion to observe, that the religious devotees of his age were first in opposing the doctrine he preached, and the most hardened enemies against the truth of God. The polite, the learned, the religious, were all agreed to load both his character and his doctrine to Paul with the foulest reproaches. Nor was this treatment peculiar to Paul, but common to all his contemporaries, who espoused the same glorious cause, and labored in the same beneficent work. The doctrine they preached was charged with licentiousness. Their enemies boldly affirmed that they said; Let us do evil that good may come. Thus were their character and their labours impeached: that, as hateful to God; these, as destructive to man.
But what was the ground of this impious charge? Were they loose in their morals, or scandalous in their lives? No such thing. Had they not as much regard for practical religion and true morality as any of their objectors? More, far more than they all. Did they never mention good works as necessary to answer any valuable end in the Christian life? They often pressed the performance of them, as absolutely necessary to answer various important purposes, both in the sight of God and Man. What then could be the reason of so hateful a charge? Because their doctrine was not in the least adapted to gratify the pride of man. They taught, that without the atonement made on the cross, and the grace revealed in redeeming blood, the state of the best men would have been absolutely desperate—desperate as that of the devils, and of those already damned. And as the apostles were free to declare, that the state of the most respectable part of mankind was evil—dreadfully evil—evil as to those things, for the sake of which they most highly esteemed themselves; so they boldly preached a perfect Saviour, and a finished salvation, to the most worthless and vile.
These primitive teachers and infallible guides were not in the least acquainted with those terms and conditions, prerequisites and qualifications, the performing and attaining of which are, by many, accounted necessary to acceptance with God. They knew but of one way in which a sinner might be accepted of God, and justified before him; and that was entirely of grace, through the perfect work of Christ alone. The way of justification which they taught is absolutely pure and unmixed. In their doctrine, on this important subject, grace does not only appear; it shines, reigns, triumphs: it is the only thing. There is no discernible in it the least tincture of those notions which foster pride, or cherish self-esteem. All those fine distinctions, invented by the proud philosopher, or the self-righteous moralist, which tend in any degree to support the opinion of human worthiness, and to obscure our views of divine grace, are by them entirely set aside, and totally annihilated. The most shining deeds and valuable qualities that can be found among men, though highly useful and truly excellent, when set in their proper places, and referred to suitable ends, are, as to the grand article of justification treated as nonentities. In this respect, the most zealous professor, with all his labored performances, stands on a level with the most profane. The apostolic truth addressing all to whom it comes, as guilty, condemned, and perishing wretches, leaves no room for preference or boasting in any; that so the whole glory of our salvation may be secured to that grace which is infinitely rich and absolutely free.
At this, the devout Pharisee and the decent moralist are highly offended. Such doctrines being advanced, they think it incumbent upon them to stand up in defense of what they call a holy life: and to support the sinking credit of good works, as having a considerable efficacy in procuring our acceptance with God. This many persons frequently do, much more by talking about their necessities, than by performing them. Now they think it their duty to rail at the preacher as an avowed enemy to holiness; nor will they spare to give him the honourable title of, A friend of publicans and sinners. Now innumerable slanders are cast on the doctrine of grace, as being licentious; and on the ministers of it, as opening the flood-gates of all iniquity. For they suppose that everything bad may be justly expected from those who openly disavow all dependence on their own duties; and whose hope of eternal happiness arises, not from services which they perform, but from grace which the gospel reveals—not from the worth which they possess, but from the work which Christ has wrought. Thus they despise the gospel under the fair pretence of a more than common concern for the interests of holiness.
Nor is this the only offence which the gospel gives. For as it is entirely inconsistent with the natural notions of men concerning acceptance with God, and contrary to every scheme of salvation which human reason suggests; as it will admit of no co-partner in relieving a distressed conscience, or in bringing deliverance to a guilty soul, but leaves every one that slights it and seeks for assistance from any other quarter, to perish under an everlasting curse; so the pride of the self-sufficient kindles into resentment against it, as a most uncharitable doctrine and quite unsociable. Nor can the faithful dispensers of sacred truth fail to share in the honour of these reproaches. For while they dare to affirm that this gospel, so hateful to the sons of pride, exhibits the only way of a sinner’s access to his offended Sovereign; and that all who oppose it, and all who embrace its counterfeit, are left in the hands of divine justice without a Mediator; they are sure to be accounted persons of contracted minds, and very far from a liberal way of thinking. They are considered as the dupes of bigotry, and little better than the enemies of mankind. He, indeed, who pretends to be a friend to revealed truth, but is cool and indifferent to its honour and interest; whose extensive charity is such, that he can allow those who widely differ from him in the capital articles of the Christian faith, to be safe in their own way; may enjoy his peculiar sentiments without much fear of disturbance. But though such conduct may be applauded, under a false notion of Christian candor, and of a catholic spirit; though it may be the way to maintain a friendly intercourse among multitudes whose leading sentiments are widely different; yet it will be deemed, by the God of truth, as deserving no better name, than a joint opposition to the spirit and design of his gospel. For such a timid and lukewarm profession of truth is little better than a denial of it—than open hostility against it. To seek for peace at the expense of truth, will be found in the end, none other than a wicked conspiracy against both God and man. Such, however, as love the truth, will boldly declare against all its counterfeits, and every deviation from it: and, whatever may be the consequence, they will say with him of old; Though we, or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.
Thus the genuine gospel will always appear like an insult on the taste of the public. Wherever it comes, if it be not received, it awakens disgust and provokes abhorrence. Nor can it be otherwise. For its principal design is to mortify the pride of man, and to display the glory of grace; to throw all human excellence down to the dust, and to elevate, even to the thrones of glory, the needy and wretched; to show that everything which exalteth itself against the knowledge of Christ, is an abomination in the sight of God; and that He who is despised of men and abhorred by the nations, is Jehovah’s eternal delight. (Isa. 49:7; Matt. 3:17) The ancient gospel is an unceremonious thing. It pays no respect to the academic because of his profound learning; nor to the moralist on account of his upright conduct. It has not the least regard to the courtier, because of his pompous honours; not to the devotee, for the sake of his zeal or his righteousness. No, the potent prince and the abject slave, the wise philosopher and the ignorant rustic, the virtuous lady and the infamous prostitute, stand on the same level in its comprehensive sight. Its business is with the worthless and the miserable, whomsoever they be. If these be relieved, its end is gained. If these be made happy, its Author is glorified, whatever may become of the rest. Towards these it constantly wears the most friendly aspect, and rejoices to do them good. But the self-sufficient of every rank are treated by it with the utmost reserve, and beheld with a steady contempt. The hungry it filleth with good things, but the rich it sendeth empty away.
These considerations may serve to show us the true state of the case, as it stood between Paul and his opponents. The situation of things was much the same between Protestants and Papists, at, and for some time after the Reformation. Nor will the apostolic doctrine ever fail to be attended with strenuous opposition and the foul reproaches, while ignorance of its real nature, and legal pride, and prevail in the hearts of men. Many, indeed, are the methods that have been devised, to render the unpalatable truth more generally acceptable, and to obviate the offence of the cross. But what have been the consequences? The gospel has been corrupted; the consciences of awakened sinners have been left to grope in the dark, for that consolation which nothing but the unadulterated truth could give; and instead of promoting holiness, the reverse has been awfully manifest. It therefore behooves every lover of sacred truth, to let it stand on its own basis, and not to tamper with it. To leave all its credit and all its success in the world, to its own intrinsic worth—to that sovereign Being who ordained it for his own glory.
However, the doctrine of reigning grace may be despised by the self-sufficient, but it will ever be revered by the poor in spirit. For by it they are informed of an honourable way of escape from the wrath to come, which they know they have justly deserved. To the sensible sinner, therefore, it must always be a joyful sound. And though such persons as are ignorant of its nature, tendency, and design, are always ready to imagine that it has an unfriendly aspect upon morality and good works, when preached in its glorious freeness; yet we may boldly affirm, that it is the grand instrument ordained by a holy God, for informing the ignorant, comforting the disconsolate, and rescuing the profligate from that worst of vassalage, the servitude of sin, and subjection to Satan. Such is the benign tendency of the glorious gospel! Such is its friendly and sanctifying influence on the hearts of men!
It will indeed be acknowledged that this doctrine may he held in licentiousness by those that profess it. But then it will be as confidently maintained, that whoever holds it in unrighteousness never received the love of that sacred truth, or experienced the power of it. For, to have a bare conviction of divine truth in the mind, and to experience its power on the heart, are very different things. The former may produce an outward profession; the latter will elevate the affections, turn the corrupt bias of the will, and influence the whole conduct. With the steadiest persuasion, therefore, of the holy nature and tendency of the doctrine of divine grace, as it is in itself, and as it operates on the mind and manners of all those who know it in truth; I proceed to give, not a full display, (that is infinitely too high for mortals,) but some brief hints concerning that grace which reigns; and of the way in which it is manifested, so as to demonstrate its power, glory, and majesty, in the salvation of sinners. This I shall do by endeavoring to illustrate that important and charming passage, recorded in Romans the fifth and twenty-first; EvenSO MIGHT GRACE REIGN, THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS, UNTO ETERNAL LIFE, BY JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD. And while the author, conscious of his own insufficiency, looks up to the Spirit of wisdom for divine illumination, that he may write with all the precision and sanctity of truth, in opening the noble subject of the ensuing treatise; he would entreat the reader to peruse, with candor and impartiality, the contents of the following pages.
CONCERNING THE SIGNIFICATION OF THE TERM GRACE.
That we may proceed with greater clearness and certainty in our following inquiries, it is necessary to consider what is implied in the grace. The primary and principal sense of the word, is free favour; unmerited kindness. In this acceptationit is most frequently used in the inspired volume; and thus it is to be understood in the words of the Holy Ghost under consideration. Grace, in the writings of Paul, stands in direct opposition to works and worthiness—all works and worthiness of every kind, and of every degree. This appears from the following passages. Now to him that worketh the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace. For by grace are ye saved—not of works, lest any man should boast. Who hath saved us—not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace. (Rom. 4:4, 16; Eph. 2 8, 9; 2 Tim. 1:9)
As the word mercy, in its primary signification, has relation to some creature, either actually in a suffering state, or obnoxious to it; so grace, in its proper and strict sense, always presupposes unworthiness in its object. Hence, whenever anything valuable is communicated by the blessed God to any of Adam’s apostate offspring, the communication of it cannot be of grace, any further than the person on whom it is conferred is considered as unworthy. For, so far as any degree of worth appears, the province of grace ceases, and that of equity takes place. Grace and worthiness, therefore, cannot be connected in the same act, and for the same end. The one must necessarily give place to the other, according to that remarkable text: If by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work. (Rom. 11:6) From the apostle’s reasoning it is evident, that whatever is of works, is not of grace at all; and, that whatever is of grace, is not of works in any degree. In the apostle’s view of things, works and grace are essentially opposite, and equally irreconcilable as light and darkness. Besides, when Paul represents the capital blessings of salvation as flowing from divine grace, we are led to consider the persons on whom they are bestowed not only as having no claim to those benefits, but as deserving quite the reverse—as having incurred a tremendous curse, and as justly exposed to eternal ruin.
That grace, therefore, about which we treat, may be thus defined: It is the eternal and absolutely free favour of God, manifested in the vouchsafement of spiritual and eternal blessings to the guilty and the unworthy. What those blessings are, we shall endeavor to show in the subsequent pages. Meanwhile be it observed, that, according to this definition, the grace of God is eternal. Agreeable to the import of those reviving words; Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love. (Jer. 31:3) It is divinely free, and infinitely rich. Entirely detached from every supposition of human worth, and operating independently of all conditions performed by man; it rises superior to human guilt, and super abounds over human unworthiness. Such is the eternal origin, such the glorious basis, of our salvation! Hence it proceeds and is carried on to perfection. Grace shines through the whole. For, as an elegant writer observes, it is “not like a fringe of gold, bordering the garment; not like an embroidery of gold, decorating the robe; but like the mercy-seat of the ancient tabernacle, which was gold—pure gold—all gold throughout.”
Yes, reader, this is the inexhaustible source of all those inestimable blessings which the Lord bestows on his unworthy creatures, in his or in a future world. It is this which, in all that he does, or ever will do for sinners, he intends to render everlastingly glorious in their eyes, and in the eyes of all holy intelligence. The indelible motto inscribed by the hand of Jehovah on all blessings of the unchangeable covenant, is, TO THE PRAISE OF THE GLORY OF HIS GRACE.
Hence we may learn, that if grace in its own nature, and as it is exercised in our salvation, be directly opposite to all works and worthiness; then those persons are awfully deceived, who seek to join them together in the same work and for the same end. However high their pretences may be to holiness, it is plain from the word of God, and may in the some degree appear from the nature of the thing, that they take an effectual way to ruin their souls forever, except that very grace prevent, of which they have such false and corrupt ideas. For divine grace disdains to be assisted in the performance of that work which peculiarly belongs to itself, by the poor, imperfect performances of men. Attempts to complete what grace begins, betray our pride and offend the Lord; but cannot promote our spiritual interest. Let the reader, therefore, carefully remember, that grace is either absolutely free, or it is not at all: and, that he who professes to look for salvation by grace, either believes in his heart to be saved entirely by it, or he acts inconsistently in affairs of the greatest importance.
OF GRACE, AS IT REIGNS IN OUR SALVATION IN GENERAL
Grace, in our text, is compared to a sovereign. Now a sovereign, considered as such is invested with regal power, and the highest authority. Grace, therefore, in her beneficent government, must exert and manifest sovereign power—must supersede the reign, and counteract the mighty and destructive operations of sin; or she cannot bring the sinner to eternal life. For the Holy Spirit has compared sin to a sovereign, whose reign terminates in death.
As sin appears, clothed in horrid deformity, and armed with destructive power, inflicting temporal death, and menacing eternal flames; so Grace appears on the throne, arrayed in the beauties of holiness, and smiling with divine benevolence; touched with feeling of the tenderest compassion, and armed with all the magnificence of invincible power. Fully determined to exert her authority and gratify her compassion, under the conduct of infinite wisdom; to the everlasting honour of inflexible justice, inviolable veracity, and every divine perfection—by rescuing the condemned offender from the jaws of destruction; by speaking peace to the alarmed consciences of damnable delinquents; by restoring to apostate creatures and vile miscreants a supreme love to God and delight in the ways of holiness; and, finally, by bringing them safe to everlasting honour and joy. In a word, the heart of this mighty sovereign is compassion itself: her looks are love; her language is balm to the bleeding soul, and her arm salvation. Such a sovereign is Grace. Those who are delivered by her must enjoy a complete salvation. Those who live under her most benign government must be happy indeed.
Divine grace, as reigning in our salvation, not only appears, but appears with majesty: not only shines, but triumphs: providing all things, freely bestowing all things necessary to our eternal happiness. Grace does not set our salvation on foot, by accommodating its terms and conditions to the enfeebled capacities of lapsed creatures; but begins, carries on, and completes the arduous work. Grace, as a sovereign, does not rescue the sinner from deserved ruin, furnish him with new abilities, and then leave him, by their proper use, to resist the tempter, to mortify his lusts, to attain those holy qualities, and perform those righteous acts, which render him fit for eternal happiness, and give him a title to it. No; for if the province and work of grace were circumscribed in this manner, things of the last importance to the glory of God and the felicity of man, would be left in the most uncertain and perilous situation. And, admitting the possibility of any sinner being saved in such a way, there would be ample scope for the exertions of spiritual pride, and much room for boasting; which would be diametrically contrary to the honour of the Most High, and frustrate the noble designs of grace. This matchless favour, far from being satisfied with laying the foundation, rears the superstructure also: it not only settles the preliminaries, but executes the very business itself. The Pharisee in the parable made his acknowledgments to preventing and assisting grace: for, God, I thank thee, was his language. It is evident, however, that his views of grace were very contracted; and his hopes arising from it very deceitful. Would we then view grace as reigning, we must consider it as the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of our salvation; that the unrivalled honour of that greatest of all works may be given to the God of all grace.
Having taken this general view of reigning grace, I would now ask, What think you, reader, of this wonderful favour? It is worthy of God? It is suitable to your case? Or know you not, that you are by nature under the guilt and dominion if sin? Of sin, that dreadful sovereign; of sin, that worst of tyrants. Sin reigns, says the apostle; and the end of its reign, where the sovereignty of grace does not interpose, is eternal death. Can you sleep away your time, and dream of being finally happy, while under the power of so malignant a sovereign. Shall the toys and trifles of a transitory world amuse, when your soul, your immortal All, is at stake? If so, how lamentable your condition! How dreadful your state! Awake!—arise!—Bow the knee to divine grace, O stubborn rebel while she holds out the golden scepter of pardon and of peace! Acknowledge her supremacy, submit to her government, before justice ascends the throne and vengeance launches her bolts. For then an eternal bar will lie against every application for mercy, though arising from the most pressing want.
Or, if awake in your conscience, do you think it possible to affect your own deliverance? Alas! You are entirely without strength to perform any such thing; and grace was never intended as an auxiliary to help the weak, but well-disposed, to save themselves. The mercy of God and the gospel of Christ, were never designed to assist and reward the righteous; but to relieve the miserable and save the desperate—to deliver those who have no other assistance, nor any hope. Were you acquainted with your abject vassalage, were you convinced by the Spirit of truth, that there is no possible way of escape, but by reigning grace; then would you cry for help, and then the relief that grace affords would be all your salvation, and all your desire.
If, on the other hand, you are burdened with sin and harassed by clamorous fears of being cast into hell; if, sensible of your native depravity, the multiplied iniquities of your life, the many shameful defects attending your best services, and your present absolute unworthiness, you are ready to sink in despondency; O remember, that grace has erected her throne! This forbids despair. For her wonderful throne is erected, not on the ruins of justice, not on the dishonor of the law; but, on the BLOOD OF THE LAMB. The inconceivable perfect obedience, and the infinitely meritorious death of the Son of God, from its mighty basis. Here grace is highly exalted: here grace appears in state, dispensing her favours and showing her glory. To such a benevolent and condescending sovereign, the basest may have free access. By such a powerful sovereign the most various, multiplied, and pressing wants may be relieved with the utmost ease and greatest alacrity. Remember, disconsolate soul, that the name, the nature, the office of GRACE ENTHRONED, loudly attest, that the greatest unworthiness and the most profligate crimes are no bar to the sinner in coming to Christ for salvation; in looking to sovereign favour for all that he wants. Nay, they demonstrate, that the unworthy and sinful are the only persons with whom grace is at all concerned: This is amazing! This is delightful!
Ho! All ye children of want and sons of wretchedness! Hither ye may come with the utmost freedom. Be it known to you, be it never forgotten by you, that JEHOVAH considered your indigent case, and designed your complete relief, when he erected this wonderful throne. Your names are not omitted in the heavenly grant: nay, ye are the only persons that are blessed with a right of access to this mercy-seat. Did sinners more generally know their state, and the glorious nature of grace as exalted in majesty; how would the throne of this mighty sovereign be crowded!—crowded, not by persons adorned with fine accomplishments—but, with the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind. With longing hearts and uplifted hands, big with expectation and sure success, they would throng her courts. Thither they would flee, as a cloud for number, and as doves for speed: for there is provision made to supply all their wants. As persons of all ranks and of every character are equally destitute of any righteous or valid plea for admission into the eternal kingdom; so, feeling their want of spiritual blessings, they have equally free access to this munificent sovereign, and the same ground to expect complete relief. Here, and in this respect, there is no difference between the devout professor, and the abandoned profligate; the chaste virgin, and the infamous prostitute. For, being all criminals, and under the same condemnation, they have not the smallest gleam of hope, except what shines upon them in that compassionate proclamation which is issued from the throne of grace by the eternal Sovereign. Isa. 55:1-3; Matt. 11:37; John 6:37 & John 7:37: Rev. 22:17. But, as that proclamation is expressive of the freest favour and richest grace; including offenders of the worst characters, publishing pardon for sins of the deepest dye, and all ratified by veracity itself; it affords sufficient encouragement to the vilest wretch that lives, who is willing to own his all to divine bounty, without hesitation to receive the heavenly blessing, and with gratitude to rejoice in the royal donation.—“Yes, thine it is, O sovereign GRACE! To raise the poor from the dunghill, and the needy out of the dust. Thine it is, to set them on thrones of glory, and to number them among the princes of heaven.” Remember this, my soul, and be this thy comfort: and may the Lord enable both the author and the reader to see eye to eye the riches of reigning grace!
Having endeavored to show how grace reigns in our salvation in general…., to make it appear that grace reigns more particularly, in our election—calling—justification—adoption—sanctification—and—perseverance in the faith to eternal life. These are so many essential branches of our salvation; and in the vouchsafement of these capital blessings, grace reigns; manifesting an authority and exerting a power truly divine and infinitely glorious.