Grace is Gratuitous

Nov 18, 2017
Benjamin Warfield

Taken from: “Election”

The third idea conveyed by the word “grace” is the idea of gratuitousness. Grace is gratuitous just because it is love, that is, because it is the “love of benevolence,” as we say, the love that is good will, kindness, favor. It is the very nature of the love that is good will, kindness, favor, that it is gratuitous. We might do something, perhaps, to attract to ourselves, to secure, to deserve the “love of complacency,” that is to say, the kind of love that seeks and finds gratification for itself in its object, rather than is intent only on benefiting its object; that seeks its own pleasure in its object rather than purely seeking to do it good. But that is not the kind of love that grace is. Grace is the love that is good will, kindness, favor, and the love that is good will, kindness, favor is in the nature of the case gratuitous. At all events this is what the Bible speaks of when it speaks of the grace of God. Paul, for instance, is at great pains to make it clear that the grace of God is not earned by us, is not secured by us, is not obtained by us; but is just given to us, comes to us purely gratuitously. What is of grace, he tells us, is by that very fact not of works; if it be in any way, in the slightest measure, earned, by that very fact it ceases to be of grace (Rom. xi. 6). He carries the idea, indeed, to its extreme height. Grace, with him, is not only pure kindness, kindness which has not been earned (had it been earned, it would have ceased to be kindness), but kindness to the undeserving in the positive sense, kindness to the ill-deserving. Grace is very distinctly and very emphatically love to the ill-deserving. This is the third idea which is conveyed by the word “grace” when we are told that it is by grace that we have been saved. Our salvation is a pure gratuity from God. We have not earned it; we have not secured it; we have not obtained it. God has fixed upon us in the riches of his mercy and the greatness of his unconstrained love, pouring out upon us in the exceeding riches of his grace his pure kindness in Christ Jesus.

This is then what Paul means when he tells us with reiterated emphasis that it is by grace, by grace and nothing else than grace, that we have been saved. He means that we have not saved ourselves. It is God who has saved us, God and God alone. If we had saved ourselves, or supplied anything whatever which entered into our salvation as in any measure its procuring cause, it would not have been distinctively by grace that we have been saved; and Paul’s strong emphasis on the assertion that it is “by grace,” that it is by nothing else than grace, that we have been saved would be misplaced. We were in point of fact dead in our trespasses and sins and therefore utterly unable to move hand or foot to seek salvation. We were helplessly and hopelessly “lost.” We owe our salvation wholly to God’s kindness, to his undeserved love, to his “grace.” It is all from him, in its beginning and middle and end: all from him. Just as Lazarus was called out of the grave by the sheer power of the God who raises the dead, we have been called out of our death in trespasses and sins by the sheer grace of God, the grace which is the power of God, working under the direction of his ineffable love, poured out in gratuitous kindness upon ill-deserving sinners. We have not made the first step in knowledge of the salvation of God until we have learned, and made the very center of our thought of it, this great fact: that it is by the pure grace of God, by that and that alone, that we are saved. That, as we have said, is the heart of the heart of the gospel.

Now, of course, no one will imagine that God, who saves us thus by his almighty grace, has saved us by the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, inadvertently, without meaning to do so. Of course he has meant to save us, just as he does save us, by his pure grace; and has meant thus to save us all along. It is this, his meaning to save us by his grace before he actually does so, which we call “election.” Election, we thus see, is but the first moving of God’s grace looking to our salvation; and therefore Paul calls it “the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5), the election, that is, which has its origin in the grace of God toward us, which proceeds from it, comes out of it as its appropriate manifestation. It is the first step of God’s love, as he prepares to save us by his grace, the setting of his love upon us, that in its own good time and way it may work its will on and in us. It is nothing, in other words, but God’s purpose to save us, a purpose which he must, of course, form before he saves us, and a purpose which equally of course he fulfills in saving us. What God purposes he certainly performs, no purpose of his is idle or ineffective. This, his purpose of salvation, therefore becomes the sure beginning and pledge of our actual salvation and draws in its train all else that enters into our salvation.

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