And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace…
I. MAN IS THE OBJECT OF GRACE.
1. The present dispensation is only the perfection of many, and grace is the characteristic of all. But the gospel is emphatically "the gospel of the grace of God." The Father is "the God of all grace." "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." The Spirit is the "Spirit of grace." This grace is uniformly stated as the cause of the electing purpose — the reason of our personal justification — the germ of the renovating process — the potent motive to all piety, as it is the prolific source of all favour.
2. The atonement is the effect of Divine grace. Jehovah is not merciful because Christ has died, but Christ has died because Jehovah was merciful.
3. "The grace which bringeth salvation," is, in no sense, impaired by any arrangements which had a reference to ourselves. Antecedent questions of justice and satisfaction could not injure the display of that love which was equally in the Father and the Son; which was equally evinced in inflicting and enduring death.
4. The death of the Cross is only a means to the most benevolent end. A benefaction is not commonly reduced in its value by its cost, nor a deliverance by its peril. Is the grace of God the greater, or the less, when encountering no difficulty, or when encountering it to overcome it? Is the grace of God more brightly, or more faintly glorious, when associated with moral principles, or when disregarding them?
5. The gospel, while it upholds the claims of the Divine law, has an exclusive bearing upon us as sinners. Let the awful negotiations between the Father and the Son — who are one — be whatever they were — the sinner has no righteousness or claim. Salvation is a question not of justice but of grace.
6. No blessing of the gospel is in any legitimate sense the subject of purchase. Christians are "the purchased possession"; they are "bought with a price." But the "sure mercies" of the covenant are free gifts. God was ready to forgive, but there was an impediment. The atonement removed that impediment and "the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ," now flows without check or restriction. "By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men."
II. THE GRACE, WHICH IS SO PRE-EMINENT, CANNOT BE CONFOUNDED WITH ANY INFERIOR OR INCONGRUOUS PRINCIPLE. Let us define —
1. Grace is free favour; it can be related to no right, and contained in no law. Whenever bestowed, it depends upon the mere will of him who exercises it. If there is any necessity for it, it "is no more grace."
2. Work is individual action or conduct, and implies those particular qualities which provoke praise or condemnation. This course of accountable behaviour is properly —
(1) Personal. We all feel possessed of a something which we cannot transfer. Whatever we have taken part in still attaches to us. We reap what we have sown.
(2) Work must be voluntary to be accountable. If I am compelled to do what I disapprove, the hand is mine, but that hand is only a mechanical instrument of another's will.
(3) Work, therefore, goes to form the general character of the moral agent. A succession of works forms, a habit, a variety of habits mould a character. Such has merit or demerit.
3. But if this be the just delineation of work, it cannot be employed indiscriminately with grace. Grace is opposed to work as it —
(1) Is extrinsic of the person. It reaches us from another source. Personal qualities it may inspire — but its origin is supernal and Divine.
(2) Is independent of the volition, Man had no desire to be saved in this manner; it is the "kindness of God our Saviour," "who doeth as it pleaseth Him."(3) Most jealously and tenaciously challenges that merit and honour which virtuous and sinless obedience claims, and the Divine code awards. "To him that worketh, the reward is reckoned not of grace but of debt."
III. GRACE AND WORK ARE OFTEN VIOLENTLY TORTURED INTO AN UNNATURAL ALLIANCE. That system cannot reconcile itself to the idea of grace, which —
1. Proceeds upon the merits of human ronduct. Merit is a relation of justice, and not of favour.
2. Rests human acceptance on a foreknowledge of some attractive qualities of character. For whence do these originate? Foreknowledge is not potential. Who has smitten the rock, and melted it into streams of grief? Who has turned the "wilderness into the fruitful field"?
3. Reckons on the self-determining power of the human will. How is it, in conversion, that the will, which is but the bias of our tainted nature, elects the part of good, but by the grace of Him from whom all good proceeds?
4. Accounts the gospel as a provision of simple facility to man to save himself. By this view we are never to invoke Christ's righteousness and expiation, but when, after our most strenuous self-justifying efforts, we feel that a little more may be required to give our case its perfect recommendation.
5. Varies the universal freeness of the gospel by moral differences in man. Without distorting or forcing into one another the things which differ, Christianity surveys all men in their equal need of salvation, and in their ruin without it.
6. Founds our duty upon a bestowment of grace.
IV. THE EFFECTS OF THESE OPPOSING PRINCIPLES.
1. How differently they explain Christianity! If work predominate over grace, the gospel is the republished law, and if the unabated law, is a message of despair; or if the extenuated law changes that glory into whatever is short-sighted and inconsistent; and in the prostration of that law, sinks the standard of our good, falls the pattern of our dignity. But let grace have the pre-eminence. What a change comes over the "great salvation"! It is pardon to the guilty, restoration to the undone. It never pauses until it has found out "our low estate," and never relaxes its effort until it has lifted us from it.
2. How oppositely they affect the mission of Christ! We honour grace in the degree to which we honour the mediation of Christ. But "if it be of works," at once the Saviour's mediation is degraded. For what did He "pour out His soul unto death"? According to this unworthy calculation — to follow in the train of the sinner who strives to save himself, ready to lend His aid, should occasion require it.
3. How inversely they influence the human mind.
(1) Which of these two principles is the better fitted to inspire that humility of dependence which every relation of the creature, and much more every adjunct of the sinner, dictate? There is all the difference of claim and suppliance. "God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are"! "God be merciful to me a sinner"! The gospel repeats "By grace ye are saved"; it adds the reason, "blot of works, lest any man should boast."(2) But the spirit of grace, in contradistinction to work, is also the spirit of obedience.
(R. W. Hamilton, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.