Whoever is truly born of God, has obtained another nature, a new life: he has become a new creature in Christ Jesus; he sees sin in its most frightful form, and abhors it as the greatest evil; he hates it as an act of enmity towards God—as the murderer of his Savior, his own life, his salvation. Nothing is so horrible, so odious to him, as sin; he bears in his heart a deep and sincere desire, and an earnest prayer renewed daily and hourly, to be delivered from the bondage of this tyrant, and to serve the Lord in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The Savior has enlightened him from pure mercy, so that he has recognized his wretched condition through sin; He has atoned for his sins by the death struggle on the cross; He has forgiven his transgressions, and purified him in His own blood, and made him blessed and holy, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. This astonishing grace, this unspeakable mercy has eternally estranged him from sin; sin has become detestable to him, it is a crying abomination, a most unnatural ingratitude, and therefore he hates, avoids, flies, and curses sin; and prays, strives, sighs, and uses his utmost endeavors to root it from his heart.
We ought to try and examine ourselves, sincerely as before the sight of God, whether we know this new life by experience. Many deceive themselves, many pretend to have the seed of God in them, many imagine themselves in a state of grace when it is not so; and the consequence of this will be, that they will turn the grace of God into licentiousness, and still continue to go on in sin. Where grace has really been experienced, it breathes death against the pleasures of sin. We will now consider this so frequent an abuse—not of grace, but of the doctrine of grace.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Romans 6:1,2.
Men talk about free grace without having the slightest acquaintance with it from personal experience; instead of living in the element of grace, they have nothing but a mere head knowledge, or a superficial perception of it in their hearts; a complete break with the world, the flesh, and the devil, has not yet taken place; the conscience sleeps the sleep of death, and Christ is regarded as a mere substitute, whom the sinner thinks will make up the deficiency of his own fancied merit. Thus the abuse of this doctrine becomes very easy. When the whole head, the whole heart is filled with false premises, how can we be surprised that they should lead to the most false—no, infamous conclusions? What wonder is it that such a man, who chatters about grace without having become acquainted with it from heartfelt experience, with the tears of repentance, should appropriate the kindness of this Redeemer to himself, in such a manner as to leave his heart and life unchanged.
Only imagine to yourself a man who has yet to learn his deeply sinful condition in the sight of God. He hears how Christ has atoned for all; how He has offered a perfect sacrifice for the salvation of sinners, that His blood washes out all sin; that nothing further remains to be completed; that man must be saved by free grace, without the merit of works; he hears, that all which serves to advance a godly life and walk, must be bestowed by the Savior; and that we can do literally nothing without Him. The sinner’s own inability is to him welcome intelligence; it is like an agreeable pillow to repose on. “This,” thinks he, “may be turned to some account.” “You have sinned,” says he to himself, “consequently the Savior belongs to you, He has blotted out your sins; His merits, His righteousness, are yours.”
He now places Christ before him, and firmly persuades himself that he belongs to the elect of God, and that none can have anything against him. He troubles not himself as to whether he daily experiences the workings of grace in his heart, whether he is become a new creature, and sin is destroyed within him; he thinks that in his own perception of the doctrine of grace, and in the humble acknowledgments which he makes of his necessity of it, he possesses the fullest security that he belongs to the people of God; and considers—truly in a manner which excites horror when closely viewed—that this and every other declaration of the Bible may be brought forward to justify his apparent Christianity. Yes, he may perhaps be a zealous advocate for free grace; while he himself is still lying under the wrath of God, and has no spark of grace in his heart.
Perhaps you think that this abuse of the doctrine of grace is of infrequent occurrence? by no means. Most men are sick with the same disease. Why is it, that you are so quiet, so careless, so happy, so confident, so gay, so merry, while you belong to the children of this world? With which do you comfort yourself? You must die; you are traveling towards eternity! You must appear before the judgment seat of God; you have broken the law of God, and deserved the wrath of the Almighty.
“God is gracious,” you say; and with this you try to cover your sins, and to still the goadings of your conscience, as well as you can. But, in God’s name how can you believe in the grace of that God whom you despise; whose Word and commandment you reject; and whom you daily and hourly offend by your sins against Him? But you answer, notwithstanding, “God is merciful”; and thus you continue in your sins, in your impenitence, in your enmity against God; you lie and deceive, revel and rage, hate and covet, curse and swear; and spend your day in vain tittle tattle. Is not this abusing the grace of God? Do we not continually abuse His patience more and more, while we walk along the broad way of destruction as unconverted men?
But what shall we say of those who have really an insight into the grace of God, in the Gospel, and yet knowingly and willingly continue in their sins, or even only in one single sin? Have these hypocrites disappeared, or can we speak of such people as monsters, who are not to be met with in our country? Would to God it were so, but sad experience teaches us to the contrary. Even here, among ourselves in this country, where the knowledge of Christianity has the pre-eminence; where it is less subject to reproach than elsewhere; where the name of the Lord Jesus is acknowledged, even in our neighborhood, it is beyond all things necessary to warm you against the abuse of the doctrine of grace.
Even here there is a very large number of such, who have certainly the appearance of leading a godly life, while they deny the power of it, and declare by their actions, that though they can talk fluently about free grace they have always resisted its chastisement, which would have subdued their ungodly dispositions. Alas! There are but few who earnestly engage in a determined warfare against sin. Most people content themselves with mere knowledge, thoughts, feelings, acknowledgments, and speeches; while they, more or less, willfully turn the comforting truths of the Gospel into a pillow for their sins to rest upon. Thus the free grace of God is extolled by many who openly continue in their sins; and publicly mark themselves, by their pride or indolence; by their judging arrogance and uncharitable speeches; by their fraud and reveling; by their falsehood, avarice, and other vices, as men who know not the true life in grace.
We meet with many people who are zealous defenders of the truth, while in the observance of their domestic and civil duties they come far behind the great mass of the carnally minded and careless children of the world. They are always extolling the Savior, His merits, His free mercy, while they daily make Him the servant of sin. Men are anxious, truly, to be preserved from the curse, from the final punishment of sin; but they submit to the dominion of this or that sin, without any serious combat. And if men are urgently called to combat sin, they call it all legality, while they make the Gospel, in a carnal manner, favor their indolence and impurity, and run the doctrine of grace into an intoxicating draught, against the voice of the law and of their conscience.
Alas! The number of those who are true believers, and who in all points grow up to the full measure of the stature of Christ, living in the element of free grace, with the greatest purity, is very small; many, many hearts are filled with the leaven of the Pharisees; and the dangerous disease of the abuse of the doctrine of grace is an epidemic which snatches away numberless victims.
What are these sins which you commit? Are they not, as it were so many blows from your hand, directed against the infinite love of God? Are they not like the traitor kiss of Judas, worthy of the deepest abhorrence?
You say, “God has chosen me, saved me, regenerated me; He has snatched me as a brand from the burning; He has forgiven me my sins; He has received me among the number of His elect, and has embraced me with His free grace.”
Talk not of your awakening, talk not of the grace of God; you have as yet never known the hellish nature of sin, nor have you experienced the true meaning of pardon. If the Lord has chosen, saved, favored, and blessed you, should you not in deep humility bow yourself to the dust? Your heartfelt love for the God who has thus loved you, should daily incite you to gratitude: “For to this end has God chosen us,” says Paul, “that we should be holy and unblameable before Him in love.” If you can so far abuse the Gospel of the grace of God, as to bear to continue even in one single sin, without contrition, striving, and fighting against it, and without the most earnest wish to subdue it; you are a dreadful hypocrite, and your sins are by far more hateful and abominable than the sins of those who do not possess your knowledge.
If, however, the abuse of the doctrine of grace is such a horrible and crying sin, such an unnatural wickedness, its punishment will likewise be fearful. We see a proof of this in Judas Iscariot, the traitor. This ungodly wretch imagined that he was in the favor of Jesus, and belonged to the number of His elect; but he deceived himself, it was not so. He was in secret alliance with sin. He was devoted to avarice; and he coveted, and stole, under the very eyes of Him whose disciple he pretended to be. He even journeyed about with the other Apostles; preached the name of Jesus; and who knows (if) that he was not more conversant with the doctrines of the Gospel than the rest of the Apostles put together?
But what did it avail him? Discord gnawed at his vitals; an evil conscience tormented him as often as he came under his Master’s eye; a warning from the lips of his Lord sounded in his ear, as the thunder of the judgment; until at last the flames of despair; which consumed his vitals, burst forth—until he, finally, in the grasp of this despair, put an end to himself with horror and dread.
Yes, if you apprehend the doctrine of grace, only carnally; if you leave it as a useless treasure of knowledge, to dwell only in the head, instead of within the heart; if you lend but a finger to Satan, while you pretend to be giving your whole hand to Jesus, and are knowingly and willfully under the dominion of the least appearance of sin; then you are on the direct road which Judas took to eternal damnation. The abuse of this doctrine is the most dreadful ingratitude, the most fearful mockery of the living God, which men can commit—the most hateful insult which we can show to the Lord. What wonder is it that the Lord, who will not be mocked, threatens it with the most dreadful punishments?
Yes! Our compassionate God guards and warns us, that we may not in future receive our portion with the hypocrites. He assists us in His mercy, that we may be secured from the abuse of His grace, and may attain to the right and proper use of it. How does this appear? How are we to attain to it? If you have attentively and considerately followed what has been hitherto said, you will have remarked, that we spoke not so much of the abuse of grace itself, as of the abuse of the doctrine of grace. There is a wide difference between the two.
The doctrine of grace may be viewed in a false, sinful light, and looked at only on one side, so as to have no influence—at least, no deep, essential influence—upon the reason and actions of the man. But is this possible with grace itself? “God forbid,” says Paul, “that we which are dead to sin should live any longer therein!” True grace contains a death blow to all sin, and a powerful incitement to all goodness. Whoever has truly found grace in the eyes of the Lord, has seen sin in all its most hateful forms, and knows its curse, its deserving of condemnation, and has engaged in warm combat against it; bearing a bitter hatred towards it in his heart, and not even having any inward desire in his soul but this, to consecrate his whole heart, his whole life to the Lord, who has in so unmerited a manner saved him, and drawn him to Himself.
But whoever can grieve this Eternal Comforter, by even one single sin; whoever can reconcile his heart to take pleasure in any sinful deed or desire, has placed a phantom, an airy conception of his brain, in the stead of real grace; and does not belong to those who have experienced the grace of God, and are become partakers of it. If you wish then to be freed from the abuse of grace, and to attain to the right use of it, behold I can give you no other advice than this In grace alone, where it is in truth experienced, lies all saving power. Learn to see what you are in the sight of God; what you deserve according to His law; learn to know, how it is only through His free mercy that your salvation can be effected; and that He has effected it. You must descend from the proud height of your imagined righteousness, until you know yourself, as Paul did, to be the chief of sinners, who has deserved everlasting wrath, curse, damnation, and hell; but who is not worthy of the least benefit from God.
When you have learned this in deep humility, then the grace of God will become great and precious to you; then you will perceive what a hateful hellish monster all sin, and every sin, is; then it will be your chief desire daily and hourly to destroy all and each sin; yes, then will your heart lay hold of the free grace of God, so that in the deepest heartfelt humility, love, and thankfulness, you will offer yourself as a living sacrifice for the great love with which the Lord has loved you, and will ever love you.
If the Spirit of God has kindled a longing after God in you, then you will faithfully employ the Word of God, prayer… and avoid all occasions of sin, and frivolous, vain, worldly society; and strive with all your efforts, and all the powers at your command, to attain the goal—the everlasting blessedness of your soul.
Thus we return anew to begging and entreating you, and admonishing you in Christ’s stead: “be reconciled to God.”