CHAPTER 4 - WHAT GRACE TEACHES - "The Way" by Sir Robert Anderson

 

THE Reformation rescued the great truth of "justification by faith"; "justification by grace" was the characteristic truth of the revival of the nineteenth century. "For by grace are ye saved, through faith," the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians; "and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Salvation is a gift - God’s gift, bestowed on the principle of grace, received on the principle of faith.
By the mission and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the kindness of God and His love towards man were "manifested." And more than this, the revelation of Divine wrath against sin, and of Divine righteousness in forgiving sin, made it possible for God to assume a new attitude toward the world. "For the grace of God has been manifested, salvation-bringing to all men."
Grace is the fundamental truth of Christianity as distinguished from Judaism. And it is impossible to exaggerate this truth. It may be expressed in words that are unworthy or unwise; it may be so divorced from all thoughts of the holiness and majesty of God as to become in a sense untrue; but overstated it cannot be. The Divine sacrifice of Calvary surpasses the power of words to tell it, and no language can do justice to the freeness with which blessings flow to the believing sinner in virtue of the death of Christ. Peace has been made by that death; and God now stoops, even from the throne of His glory, to proclaim the peace which has thus been accomplished. Heaven is thrown open to the lost of earth. There is none too vile to enter there. "Without money and without price," without condition or reserve, the gift of life eternal is bestowed. "The man that doeth the righteousness which is of the law shall live thereby." But in contrast with this, sinners saved by grace can testify that "Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us."
But the question arises, and it is time to press it earnestly and solemnly, how far a sober, righteous, and godly life characterises those who claim to have been thus blessed. The same grace which brings salvation trains us to this end. For grace is not merely, as so many seem to think, a negation of something else - a setting aside of law - but a positive and active principle to mould and govern the Christian life. In writing to Titus, himself a teacher, the Apostle states the doctrine in a few terse and weighty words; in his epistles to Ephesus and Colosse, he unfolds it in its bearing on the duties and relationships of common life.
And the difference between law and grace is not in the commandments given, but in the principle on which they are promulgated and enforced. The life and death of Christ have raised the standard of our relationships with God, and therefore of our obedience to Him. Under the law self-love was the measure of man’s love to man, for no higher love was known to him; but now "We perceive THE LOVE because He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." Such is the precept grace enjoins. Law has a penalty for every transgression; grace has no penalties. Law links a blessing with the commandment, but it is as the reward for obedience; with grace the blessing is freely given, and is itself the motive to obedience.
We need to distinguish between "law" as a principle of obedience, and "the law" as a penal code. In this second aspect of it "the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient." The real people of God were never under it. But until Christ came they were under law as "a schoolmaster." Although they were sons they were treated as children. But the school of grace is for grown-up sons. The training is on a different principle. For the essential difference, I again repeat, is not in the precepts enjoined, though these do differ, but in the principle on which they are enforced. And this leads me to emphasise the much needed truth that sin is not become less heinous because grace is reigning. Nor is the moral distance less immense which separates the sinner from God. This distance indeed is all the greater, just because of the intimacy of the relationship in which the believer stands to Him. If these words should cause surprise to any, no better proof can be afforded of the widespread need there is to enforce the truth they teach. With many it is to be feared that a one-sided apprehension of grace has tended to levity in their dealings with God. The New Testament is read as though it were given to supersede the Old, and the grace and love of God are used to set aside the truth of His holiness and majesty.
I have spoken of separation between the sinner and God. Can sin then avail to separate the believer from Him? The question claims a twofold answer. The union that is bought with the blood which cleanses from all sin, and depends only on the life that is ours in Christ, nothing can disturb. And life, moreover, is the only ground of fellowship with God. But fellowship is possible only in "the light" as the sphere of its enjoyment; and if any one claims it, while walking in darkness, he lies. In a real sense, therefore, sin does separate from God. Not that walking in the light implies a sinless course, nor yet that walking in darkness necessarily implies acts of moral evil. The claim to have attained a sinless walk is proof of darkness, and "the light" is the true sphere in which the believer mourns his sin, and judges it in presence of the blood which was shed to atone for it.
But what we need to remember is that the bonds by which God has bound us to Himself only serve to intensify the heinousness of sin, and therefore to widen the moral distance which separates us from Him when sin marks our course. Wantonly to strike another is an outrage; but if that other be a benefactor, the wrong is far more grievous; and if not only a benefactor but a parent, the act is infamous. The relationship does not lessen - it immensely aggravates - the sin. The lasting wonder of redemption is that sinners can approach a holy God; not persons who have been sinners, but those who are such. But the danger is lest this should become divorced from the remembrance of the provision by which alone it is made possible, and that thus we should come to have light thoughts of God, and to forget His holiness and majesty. We have "boldness" to approach; but boldness is far removed from levity.
And let us mark the ground on which this confidence is based. It depends on the perfectness of our redemption, the power of the blood to sanctify us, the fitness of the "new and living Way" provided, and, above all, the presence of a Priest, and such a Priest, over the house of God. But even this is not all, and the words which follow are precisely those which most need to be enforced: "Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." The reference here to the ritual of the great sin-offering of the nineteenth chapter of Numbers is unmistakable. It is with a heart judged in the presence of the Cross, and a life practically purged from evil (for such was the typical meaning of the bath which followed the sprinkling of the water of purification), that we are bidden to "draw near."
So it has been in every age. The tenth chapter of Hebrews is in this respect but the New Testament version of the twenty-fourth Psalm: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart " - the purged heart representing, as in Hebrews, the attitude of the soul to God; the clean hands, the actions of the outward life. God demands a moral fitness in those who approach Him. "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me" is not the obsolete precept of a bygone dispensation, but an eternal principle based upon the character of God.
How important, then, that we should search His Word to learn the spirit which becomes us as we seek His presence. But let no humble believer be offended by this; nor should the exhortation sadden the hearts of any who are contrite: "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."