By Grace Alone
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
In a brief but brilliant biography of a famous English preacher, one of the greatest preachers that ever preached in America or England, it is told that he had some very strange habits.
One of these habits was to carry in his pocket a handful of precious stones such as a diamond, a sapphire, a ruby, an emerald, and so forth.
He would walk into a park and take one of those precious stones and hold it up to the light of the sun, moving it around, seeking different shades or different illuminations from it as the sunlight hit it. As the people would go past, particularly the children, they would all shake their heads indicating that they thought this fellow was just a little bit strange.
The preacher that I am referring to is Jonathan Edwards. In July, 1741 he preached one of the greatest sermons ever preached in America, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
The Holy Spirit descended upon the congregation in Northampton to whom Edwards was speaking. The people fell off their seats and clung to the pillars that were holding the gallery up while crying out in despair. There was a reason for power of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Edwards that day. Before Edwards preached he had prayed over, and over, and over again, “Oh God, stamp eternity on my eyes.” If God “should” stamp eternity or even judgment upon our eyes, I am quite convinced we would be a very different nation of people. Thoughts of eternity sober the soul.
Someone once asked a former great statesman named Daniel Webster a question. “You have a colossal mind. What is the greatest thought that you have ever had?” He replied, “I’ve thought about many things, but the most awesome, the most terrifying, the most shattering thought I’ve ever had, is my personal accountability to God one day.”
I suggest, like Jonathan Edward, we select a special word out of God’s “golden casket”, the Bible. Let us select the word, “grace.” Let us hold it up to the light of eternity. Before the message is over today, I trust you will know what it means to be the object of God’s redeeming grace.
When Jesus cried out on Calvary, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), He was stating the greatest fact in all of human history, for this was a divine pronouncement that the work of redemption was now accomplished. Christ had come into the world to redeem souls unto Himself, and now that act of purchasing them from the power, pollution, and presence of sin was a spiritual reality.
That the sons of Adam need redemption should be obvious for there is much sin in the soul. Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication’s, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:” (Mark 7:21-22).
The worldly wisdom that teaches man is innately good finds no confirmation in either the Word of God or human experience. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Man has earned death. He deserves to die, not only a physical death, but an eternal death as well for his transgression is great.
So heinous is the sin of a soul that only the Sovereign of the universe can help. The plight of man is desperate. But who will be man’s advocate? Who will defend his case before the bar of divine justice and plead for mercy and grace? It is obvious that man is guilty as charged for the Moral Law of God has been violated as set forth in Exodus 20:1-20. The Law says:
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.”
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
“Thou shalt not kill.”
“Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
“Thou shalt not steal.”
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbors’.”
Before the Just Judge of the Universe the Accused is brought. You are the Accused, and so am I. If we are both honest, we shall say that Isaiah the prophet is right. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;” (Isaiah 53:6).
Now the heavenly verdict is rendered.
“Guilty as charged!”
The sentence is passed. “Prisoner at the bar. You are sentenced to eternal separation from the face of God. The Prisoner is to be taken away.”
But wait. There is a word to be said from the Defense Attorney even Jesus Christ the Righteous One. If the Court pleases, a proposition is to be made. “Will the Divine Lawgiver of the Universe allow the sentence imposed on the guilty prisoner to be executed or carried out in a Substitute?”
The answer is yes. The Court of Heaven will allow someone to take the place of the condemned and pay the penalty the justice of the Court demands. And so is that Jesus Christ went to Calvary as a Substitute for sinners. Jesus died in your place and mine. At Calvary, the wrath of the Father was poured out on Him.
See Him now suspended between heaven and earth, suffering the fury of Divine wrath against sin in the act of crucifixion. Shall I tell you about a crucifixion? Crucifixion was a form of Roman torture, reserved for slaves and rebels, combining the height of disgrace with the extremity of suffering. The agonies were so excruciating that men died in blasphemy and despair.
Seneca, the Roman Stoic, says that men cursed heaven and earth, all mankind, the hour of their birth, their judges and executioners, and that they spat in fury at those who looked on. Sometimes the screaming horror was so great the victims had their tongues cut out, or their mouths gagged, to silence the desperate torment of their cries. On these occasions there were always those who, sadistically inclined, gathered to see the fun. They maliciously taunted and tormented the helpless victims, exacerbating and aggravating their pain.
Certainly the religious rulers of Israel were of this nature. The Scribe, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians were not content with having engineered the crucifixion of Jesus. They came to watch the end the Man from Galilee who had spoken against them. “He saved other,” they sneered, “let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God” (Luke 23:35).
The hardened soldiers, brutalized and callous, took up the cry, “If thou be the king of the Jews, save they self” (Luke 23:37). The malefactors who had been crucified with Jesus began to rail on Him casting the same in His teeth: “If thou be Christ,” they cried derisively, “save thyself and us” (Matthew 27:44; Luke 23:39).
The irony is that what the unbelieving people uttered in jest was actually taking place. Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Jesus was doing what was proposed. He was saving Himself, and He was saving others through gospel obedience to the known will of God the Father.
In the strange and mysterious economy of God, the Cross is not simply the symbol but the instrument of our salvation. It is the means by which we are reconciled to God. The Cross is the place of justification whereby souls are declared righteous by faith, and it all on the basis grace, or underserved favor.
We return once more to the courtroom for the Adversary of men’s souls has leveled a renewed charge. The Accused stands. The Holy and Just Judge asks, “How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?” This time the entry is made, “Not guilty!”
How can that be? The answer is this. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, does cleanse those who have cast themselves upon Him from all sin (1 John 1:7). “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). The Cross is the means by which we are reconciled to God. The Cross is God’s beacon of grace calling people home.
There is a famous book written by a well-known author, Charles Dickens (1812-187). In David Copperfield, Ham and Mrs. Gummidge put a lighted candle every night in the little window of the boat turned house. Emily has run away, and Mr. Peggotty is going out through the entire world to seek her. But he says, “Every night as regular as the night comes, the candle must be stood in its old pane of glass, that if ever she should see it, it may seem to say, ‘Come back, my child, come back.”
God calls the wayward and the lost, not by a candle, but by a Cross. God calls across the centuries to individuals who have turned to their own devises and He says “Come back, my child, come back. Don’t walk on in wasted years.”
“Wasted years, wasted years,
Oh how foolish.
As you walk on in darkness and fear.
Turn around, turn around.
God is calling.
He’s calling you
from a life of wasted years.”
It is at Calvary that our burdens are lifted, and our sins are forgiven. “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18 RSV).
Who are those being saved? The answer is you, and me, if we embrace Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. Who are those being saved? The most helpless and the vilest of society.
Perhaps someone says, “But you do not know what I have done.” That is true. But I know what God has said He will do. And I know the Bible says, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear:” (Isaiah 59:1).
William Cowper celebrated this saving truth when he wrote:
“There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.”
The guilty stains are lost because “It is finished”, the great work of redemption has been accomplished and can now be applied to all those who cast themselves upon Jesus Christ and say,
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Saviour, or I die.”
Come now, and receive God’s grace. Saul of Tarsus, who because Paul, never ceased to marvel that he was the object of redeeming grace. “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
By way of application, and in conclusion, answer this question.
“Do you know the grace of God personally and experientially?”
“Can you sing with John Newton about God’s amazing grace?”
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
Embrace this amazing grace for by grace alone are we saved through faith in Christ.
I commend to you, sola gratia.