CHAPTER IV. RIGHTEOUS GRACE
We have spoken of God's character as "the God of
all grace." We have seen that it is in "tasting
that the Lord is gracious" that the sinner has peace.
But let us keep in mind that this grace is the grace
of a righteous God; it is the grace of one who is Judge as well as Father. Unless
we see this we shall mistake the gospel, and fail in appreciating both the pardon
we are seeking, and the great sacrifice through which it comes to us. No vague
forgiveness, arising out of mere paternal love, will do. We need to know what
kind of pardon it is; and whether it proceeds from the full recognition of our
absolute guiltiness by him who is to "judge the world in righteousness." The right
kind of pardon comes not from love alone, but from law; not from good nature,
but from righteousness; not from indifference to sin, but from holiness.
The inquirer who is only half in earnest overlooks
this. His feelings are moved, but his conscience is not roused. Hence he is content
with very vague ideas of God's mere compassion for the sinner's unhappiness. To
him human guilt seems but human misfortune, and God's acquittal of the sinner
little more than the overlooking of his sin. He does not trouble himself with
asking how the forgiveness comes, or what is the real nature of the love which
he professes to have received. He is easily soothed to sleep, because he has never
been fully awake. He is, at the best, a stony-ground hearer; soon losing the poor
measure of joy that he may have got; becoming a formalist; or perhaps a trifler
with sin; or it may be, a religious sentimentalist.
But he whose conscience has been pierced, is not
so easily satisfied. He sees that the God, whose favor he is seeking, is holy
as well as loving; and that he has to do with righteousness as well as grace.
Hence the first inquiry that he makes is as to the righteousness of the pardon
which the grace of God holds out. He must be satisfied on this point, and see
that the grace is righteous grace, ere he can enjoy it all. The more alive he
is to his own unrighteousness, the more does he feel the need of ascertaining
the righteousness of the grace which we make known to him.
It does not satisfy him to say, that, since it comes
from a righteous God, it must be righteous grace. His conscience wants to see
the righteousness of the way by which it comes. Without this it cannot be pacified
or "purged;" and the man is not made "perfect as pertaining to the conscience;"
but must always have an uneasy feeling that all is not right; that his sins may
one day rise up against him.
That which soothes the heart will not always pacify
the conscience. The sight of the grace will do the former; but only the sight
of the righteousness of the grace will do the latter. Till the later is done,
there cannot be real peace. The hurt is healed slightly, and peace is spoken where
there is no peace. The healing of the hurt
can only be brought about by speaking peace where there is peace.
Here the work of Christ comes in; and the cross
of the Sin-bearer answers the question which conscience has raised, - "Is it righteous
grace?" It is this great work of propitiation that exhibits God as "the just God,
yet the Saviour;" not only righteous in spite
of his justifying the ungodly, but righteous in doing so. It shows salvation as
an act of righteousness; nay, one of the highest acts of righteousness that a
righteous God can do. It shows pardon not only as the deed of a righteous God,
but as the thing which shows how righteous he is, and how he hates and condemns
the very sin that he is pardoning.
Hear the word of the Lord concerning this "finished"
work. "Christ died for our sins." "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was
bruised for our iniquities." "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many."
"He gave himself for us." "He was delivered for our offences." "He gave himself
for our sins." "Christ died for the ungodly." "He hath appeared to put away sin
by the sacrifice of himself." "Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh." "Christ
hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust." "His own self bare our
sins in his own body on the tree."
These expressions speak of something more than love.
Love is in each of them; the deep, true, real love of God; but also justice and
holiness; inflexible and inexorable adherence to law. They have no meaning apart
from law; law as the foundation, pillar, keystone of the universe.
But their connection with law is also their connection
with love. For as it was law, in its unchangeable perfection, that constituted
the necessity for the Surety's death, so it was this necessity that drew out the
Surety's love, and gave also glorious proof of the love of him who made him to
be sin for us. For if a man were to die for another, when there was no necessity
for his doing so, we should hardly call his death a proof of love. At best, such
would be foolish love, or, at least, a fond and idle way of showing it. But to
die for one, when there is really need of dying, is the true test of genuine love.
To die for a friend when nothing less will save him; this is the proof of love!
When either he or we must die; and when he, to save us from dying, dies himself,
this is love. There was need of a death, if we were to be saved from dying. Righteousness
made the necessity. And, to meet this terrible necessity, the Son of God took
flesh and died! He died, because it was written, "The soul that sinneth it shall
die." Love led him down to the cradle; love led him up to the
cross! He died as the sinner's substitute. He died to make it a righteous thing
in God to cancel the sinner's guilt and annul the penalty of his everlasting death.
Had it not been for this dying, grace and guilt
could not have looked each other in the face; God and the sinner could not have
come nigh; righteousness would have forbidden reconciliation; and righteousness,
we know, is as divine and real a thing as love. Without this exception, it would
not have been right for God to receive the sinner nor safe for the sinner to come.
But now, mercy and truth have met together; now
grace is righteousness, and righteousness is grace. This satisfies the sinner's
conscience, by showing him righteous love for the unrighteous and unlovable. It
tells him, too, that the reconciliation brought about in this way shall never
be disturbed, either in this life or that which is to come. It is righteous reconciliation,
and will stand every test, as well as last throughout eternity. The peace of conscience
thus secured will be trial-proof, sickness-proof, deathbed-proof, judgment-proof.
Realizing this, the chief of sinners can say, "Who is he that condemneth?"
What peace for the stricken conscience is there
in the truth that Christ died for the ungodly; and that it is of the ungodly that
the righteous God is the Justifier! The righteous grace thus coming to us through
the sin-bearing work of the "Word made flesh," tells the soul, at once and forever,
that there can be no condemnation for any sinner upon earth, who will only consent
to be indebted to this free love of God, which, like a fountain of living water,
is bursting freely forth from the foot of the Cross.
Just, yet the Justifier of the ungodly! What glad
tidings are here! Here is grace; God's free love to the sinner; divine bounty
and goodwill, altogether irrespective of human worth or merit. For this is the
scriptural meaning of that often misunderstood word "grace."
This righteous free love has its origin in the bosom
of the Father, where the only begotten has his dwelling. It is not produced by
anything out of God himself. It was man's evil, not his good, that called it forth.
It was not the drawing to the like, but to the unlike; it was light attracted
by darkness, and life by death. It does not wait for our seeking, it comes unasked
as well as undeserved. It is not our faith that creates it or calls it up; our
faith realizes it as already existing in its divine and manifold fullness. Whether
we believe it or not, this righteous grace exists, and exists for us. Unbelief
refuses it; but faith takes it, rejoices in it, and lives upon it. Yes, faith
takes this righteous grace of God, and, with it, a righteous pardon, a righteous
salvation, and a righteous heirship of the everlasting glory.
1 Pet. v.10
1 Pet. ii.3
Heb. ix. 9-14
Jer. vi. 14
Is. xiv. 21