Part 3: What Is Grace?
by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam
To the guilty far and wide God is offering “the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).
What a wonderful message to proclaim! What a privilege to be able to tell sinners that “God was in Christ [at Calvary], reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:19). How glorious to whisper into the ears of the condemned that they may be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus!” (Rom. 3:24).
Do you believe these facts and rejoice in them?
This message was fully proclaimed by Paul, the apostle of grace, but was practically lost again for many centuries. Legalism, ritualism and superstition almost wholly obscured the wonderful message of salvation by grace, through faith alone. Thank God, it is being recovered again today. As the days grow darker the light of His Word shines brighter and men of God all over the world are rising to proclaim once more the mystery revealed to Paul—God’s purpose of grace for a lost, ruined world. Once again this blessed truth is commanding widespread attention.
Those who proclaim the gospel of the grace of God in its fulness may, of course, expect to have dealings with Satan, for Satan hates grace. He is bitterly opposed to the recovery of the mystery. See how relentlessly he opposed and persecuted the one to whom God first revealed it! But if Paul could “suffer trouble as an evil doer, even unto bonds” (II Tim. 2:9)—if he could willingly lay down his very life for the proclamation of this glorious message, surely we too should be willing to partake of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God (II Tim. 1:8).
It must not be supposed, however, that Satan always opposes the truth in the same way. If he cannot succeed as a roaring lion he will appear as an angel of light. He will suggest that surely a God of love would not condemn even Christ rejectors forever. Indeed, he will contend that sinners are not entirely responsible, for does not Ephesians 1:11 tell us that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will?” Therefore, it is argued, He will save them all.
A humble but balanced believer once said to me, “If Satan can’t keep you from accepting the message of grace, he’ll try to push you clear through!”
This is exactly what he is doing today. As the grace movement grows all over the world, Satan would supplant God’s gracious offer of reconciliation (II Cor. 5:20), with the unscriptural teaching of universal reconciliation—the delusion that all, without exception, will be saved. “This,” he says, “is grace—wonderful grace.”
But universal reconciliation would most assuredly NOT be grace. Indeed, it is Satan’s attempt to overthrow the whole doctrine of salvation by grace. This is done, not by denying the Scriptures, but by perverting them.
THE NATURE OF GRACE
There are two significant phrases in Ephesians 2 which shed clear light upon the character, the nature, of grace. They are found in Verses 2 and 3, which speak of the unsaved as “children of disobedience” and “children of wrath.”
Meditate for a moment on these phrases: “children of DISOBEDIENCE”—”children of WRATH.”
It is against this dark, black background that we read further,
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us,
“Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved),
“And hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).
According to these plain Scriptures grace is God’s mercy and kindness to the undeserving.
THE SIN QUESTION
We can hardly appreciate the meaning of grace unless we recognize the guilt of man and the wrath of God upon sin.
Because Ephesians 1:11 states that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” it is supposed by some that there may be some excuse of the sinner. This verse and others like it are frequently used to relieve man of his responsibility before God.
The Universal Reconciliationists use this as a basis for their arguments that all will be saved. They argue that man is simply manipulated by God, though they are careful to avoid stating it so plainly. The free will of man is called a “phantom” since everything, even sin, is the outworking of God’s will. Sin, they say, was brought in by God so that we might know the joy of salvation. And, it is argued, since sin had its origin with God it is only just that He should save all men from it.
But if this is true, then—God is the only sinner in the universe! Then all the vile, horrible sins that blot the pages of history and the more monstrous ones which even base historians could not record for very shame—all these outrages have been acts of God, who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.
Furthermore, why should He charge me with sin when all the cruelty and injustice, all the adultery and unfaithfulness, all the envy and murder came not from my heart, but from His? How unjust to condemn me when all these things are the products of His will and I have no will in the matter!
Such conclusions are most shocking to the spiritual mind. Who could trust in such a God?—a God who actually conceives and produces the vilest sins in His creatures so that they may learn to praise Him for delivering them from them!
We are well aware that Universalist literature does not state the matter so plainly but let no Universalist deny that this is the inevitable conclusion, if not the obvious interpretation of their teachings.
Thank God, not all who accept Universal Reconciliation do so intelligently, but we warn sincere believers lest they fall for this perversion of the Scriptures and so dishonor God. It is an old heresy which Satan has revived in an attempt to shift the blame of sin from the creature to the Creator. It is Modernism in another cloak. It is called grace, but it is surely not the grace of God as taught in the Bible, for grace is God’s mercy and kindness to the guilty—the blameworthy.
Who would have thought that a wonderful teaching that everyone will be saved could make God the only sinner in the universe? Yet that is the inescapable conclusion at which a sincere Universalist must arrive. Such heresies come from trying to subject divine revelation to human reason.
It is argued that if God works all things after the counsel of His own will it must necessarily follow that man does not have a free will of His own. But that is placing reason above revelation. They forget that, as someone has said, “The opposite of one truth is not necessarily an untruth. It may be another truth.”
To the contention that the term “free will of man” is not found in the Bible, we reply that neither is the term “sovereign will of God” found in the Bible, but both doctrines are clearly taught there, and it is the part of faith to bow before that blessed Book. Reason with men out of the Scriptures as Paul did (Acts 17:2), but do not try to reduce the Scriptures to human reason or you will rob your message of all its vitality.
How can we reconcile, in our little minds, the humanity of Christ with His deity, or the human and divine in the Bible, or the fact that God is three Persons yet indivisibly One, or the constant change in creation with its fixed changelessness? We cannot explain or perhaps even understand these paradoxes, yet they are facts, and strangely, these opposites are like the negative and positive currents in electricity. They make the Book throb with life and power. But try to explain one or the other of these opposites away and the Book is no longer the living and powerful Word of God.
Of course we believe Ephesians 1:11. God is working all things after the counsel of His own will. But to use this verse to deny the free will of man would be as unscriptural as to use Mark 3:35 to deny the sovereign will of God. There the Lord Himself said, “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”
If man is not free to exercise his will, obviously he cannot be charged with disobedience, for even in his sin he is obeying God’s will. If the maker of a machine presses a button and sets it in operation, that machine, having no will of its own, obeys its maker’s will. The shuttles which fly backward obey him as well as the shuttles which fly forward. If the machine fails him that is his fault. It cannot disobey him for it has no will of its own.
If this is man’s position, what does God mean by “children of disobedience,” and what reason would He have to be angry with man? Why should the unsaved be called “children of wrath?”
But man has a free will. He is responsible. He has been disobedient. Lest any should deny this God gave the law “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19).
Ephesians 1:11 should be read in connection with Psalms 76:10, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” Man’s will is free but God’s will is sovereign. In the final analysis His will is done. Even a wise employer will use the blunders and wrongs of his employees to advantage. Will not God?
CHILDREN OF DISOBEDIENCE AND CHILDREN OF WRATH
There is an important fact here which has generally been overlooked. The word children implies parents. Even when it is not used concerning blood relatives it still implies parents.
Those who speak of God bringing sin and death into the world should remember that Romans 5:12 says that “by ONE MAN sin entered into the world and death by sin.” Now, Paul prays that believers might have the spiritual perception to appreciate and appropriate their oneness with Christ. That fact, though blessedly true, is not easy for us in our present condition to grasp. But there is one truth which should be very easy for us to grasp—our oneness, as human beings, with Adam. As a human being I am as much a part of Adam as my finger is of my body. I am branch of Adam. I came from him. I was in him. When he sinned I sinned. When he fell, I fell. I have not just sinned in the last few years. I have not just recently become guilty. I sinned in Adam. I am part of Adam. I was born guilty (not unfortunate, but guilty). My sinful nature is not an accident, something that recently came into being—it is the nature of Adam.
Thank God, it is a wonderful fact that “I am crucified with Christ.” I have been baptized into His death and resurrection. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature” (II Cor. 5:17). But “the flesh” is part of Adam and has the sentence of death upon it.
Some years ago, speaking of a poor drunkard, a friend said to me, “But how can you blame him? Just look at his parents,” “Yes,” I said, “But you should have known their parents!” Of course, I was merely trying to point out the fact that it all goes back to one man. But that does not relieve man of his responsibility and guilt; it establishes and emphasizes it. If in Christ I am a new creation, a member of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30), then it is even more apparent that in myself I am a member of Adam, of his flesh and of his bones. My sin and guilt dates back to Adam.
BABES AND GROWN-UPS
But there is another remarkable fact which we ought to notice—a fact which does not appear on the surface of these verses in Ephesians 2. The word for children in Verse 2 is different from that used in Verse 3. The word for children in Verse 3 is “teknon” which means simply “born one.” We have no word for it in the English, but the Scotch have a word—it is “bairn.” Now God says in Verse 3 that we were by nature the “bairns of wrath.” But the word in Verse 2 is “huios” which means a “grown son.” This immediately suggests understanding and responsibility. Note that this word is used in reference to man’s disobedience. Where human disobedience is concerned men are called “grown sons.” God will leave us no excuse. He says “You knew what you were doing.” “You were disobedient.” “You are responsible.”
Have you ever noticed the construction of Romans 5:12? “By one man sin entered into the world and death by sin and so,”—So what? We would expect it to go on “And so death passed upon all men by one man’s sin.” But it ends quite differently: “And so death passed upon all men for that [because] all have sinned.” After telling us that by one man sin entered into the world, he places the guilt directly upon the children as well as the parent because all have sinned! Do you see it? They all sinned in him. They all sinned out of him. Collectively and individually all are sinners. There is no escape! We regret that some Universal Reconciliationists have tampered with this verse to make it fit their theories.
Is it not a fact that when it comes to disobedience, we are grown sons? We knew what we were doing. God emphasizes this fact, for we must see our guilt before He can reveal His grace.
Romans 5:12 reminds us that in all essential particulars the fall of Adam has been re-enacted in every human life. We show that we are from Adam because we are all individual Adams. Just as in Adam’s case there was the violation of the known will of God. This violation wrought to separate us from God. Then came the vain attempt at self-justification! This is why Ephesians 2:2 calls unbelievers “grown sons of disobedience.”