STUDIES ON MANIFOLD GRACE
By Davis W. Huckabee
Author of “Studies On Church Truth,” (2 Volumes),
“Studies On Strong Doctrine,” and other works.
THE DEFINITION OF GRACE
In the generality of thinking when grace is mentioned it is thought of in a much too restricted sense. That is, we tend to limit it to the realm of salvation, as in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” But this is too restricted a view of the subject, and does not harmonize with the Bible view of it. For if we rightly understand the nature of God—that He is ultimate holiness—the nature of man—that he is utterly sinful by nature—and the nature of grace—that it is absolutely free and unmerited—we must conclude that grace is necessary in every realm of God’s dealings with man except one. The one area in which God does not deal in grace with man is in the area of the final judgment. Here God deals in the strictest justice and grace has no part. In judgment man gets just exactly what he deserves down to the uttermost mite of what is due to him, as is set forth in Luke 12:57-59. For this reason no one but the worst of fools would ever think, “I only want what I deserve” for eternal perdition is what is deserved by every human being.
Scripture makes reference in 1 Peter 4:10 to “the manifold grace of God,” which every good steward is to rightly administer through the gifts that God has graciously given to him. Here “manifold” renders the Greek word poikilos that means many colored, many sided, variegated or diverse. It is translated “divers” more commonly (eight times as compared to “manifold” two times). Its usage here suggests the many-sidedness of God’s grace. With this in mind we would do well to heed the following.
When we read our Bible, we should assume the grace of God. If we do, everything we read will look different. I remember a time in my life when I first began to see the teaching of Scripture in this new light. Everything was transformed. I still believed the old fundamentals. They were still what I had always believed. But now they looked totally different. One doctrine in Scripture after another sprang to vibrant life and meaning. They became exciting to me in a way they had never been before. Grace had enter the picture, and nothing would ever be the same again. [Joseph R. Cooke, Free For The Taking, The Life-Changing Power Of Grace, pp. 183-184.]
This has been the writer’s experience also, for through the writings of the abovementioned author, as well as others, he has been led to see the diversity and extensiveness of God’s grace. Some of these others were men such as J. B. Moody (Exceeding Riches of the Manifold Grace Of God), J. F. Strombeck (Disciplined By Grace, So Great Salvation, Shall Never Perish), Abraham Booth (The Reign of Grace), and others. Not until he had begun to read the writings of these men did he realize that the grace of God is found in every aspect and avenue of the believer’s life. This being so, it becomes us to make sure that we recognize and honor this grace with the glory that is due to it, else we will fail of our primary purpose for being on earth—to glorify the God of that grace. But we cannot so recognize and honor the grace of God except as we realize the true meaning of the word and the biblical ways in which it is used. False religionists often speak of the God’s grace, yet they do not use it properly, but use it in ways that are opposite to its true meaning and its biblical usage.
Paul was moved by the inspiring Spirit to speak of believers being blessed with “all spiritual blessings in Christ,” (Eph. 1:3-5). And he then shows that the purpose of this is, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted (or literally, he hath graced us) in the beloved,” (v. 6). It is with the thought in mind of this duty of recognizing and honoring God for all His grace that He bestows upon His people that we launch upon this study.
Two things enter into the proper understanding of anything and both of them must be taken into account. First, the meaning of that word. But because this may sometimes be used in such a way as will modify the meaning somewhat, we must, in the second place consider the usage of the word.
If God intended to give a revelation of Himself to mankind, it is to be expected that He would give it in words that man could understand easily, and not veil the meaning in mysterious or unknown terms. God’s Word is called a “revelation” (Greek apokalupse) because it reveals His will and way to man… This [The Law of Common Usage as contrasted with The Law of Common Meaning] relates to the foregoing, yet it is not the same thing, for we may learn more about the meaning of a word by observing how it is commonly used. Often by observing all of the appearances of a given word in the New Testament, we find both negatively and positively what it deals with and the fullness of its meaning. [Davis W. Huckabee, Bible Hermeneutics, Biblical Laws of Bible Interpretation, pp. 13, 18—Unpublished Manuscript.]
A case in point is the way the religious world uses the word now under our consideration. To the religious world, grace is the gift of God that is, in some way earned or merited by man’s actions, and so, it is not a gift at all, but an earned thing. Thus, the human usage is made to totally conflict with its true meaning.
The biblical usage of a word never conflicts with its original meaning. Conversely, the biblical usage of a word may so modify that word as to make it even more limited in its meaning than it was in its secular usage. An illustration of this is seen in the word rendered “baptism.” The Greek word means “immerse” as any English dictionary in the world will tell you, but the religious world uses it of any application of water no matter how slight. But in the Bible the word is so limited that though “all baptism is immersion, yet all immersion is not baptism.” That is, it is not baptism in the Christian sense, for the Jews believed in immersing pots and pans, hands, beds, etc, yet this was not what we know of as Christian baptism. Theirs was only a legalistic ceremonial act.
The Bible presents grace as being from God either directly or derivatively. Because man is a sinner in his conception, his conduct and by his choice, he cannot be gracious apart from the inward working of God’s grace. Grace must be instilled before it can flow out to others. And let it be hastily added that it is possible for unsaved people to sometimes appear to act graciously toward others. But when they do, it is generally because they have ulterior motives, or because they have been unconsciously influenced in this direction by the true grace of God. That is, godly parents or other Christians have graciously influenced them in the past, and they are but acting out the results that influence. The fact that a person may seem to act graciously does not necessarily prove that he is really a child of God. Judas Iscariot apparently was accepted by the other eleven apostles as a man of grace, yet he was the son of perdition and he soon manifested his true character by his actions.
Part of a proper definition of God’s grace will involve considering its origin, seeing how it operates, observing to whom it is directed, and what its primary purpose is, and these things will all occupy our study in this initial chapter. Let us therefore observe that—
I. GRACE HAS ITS SOURCE IN GOD.
Many definitions have been given for God’s grace and most of these, though being true to a degree, yet are too restricted in that they often only deal with one aspect of that grace, or else do not fully explain it.
Grace is “all that God the Father is and does, all that God the Son is and does, and all that God the Holy Spirit is and does in the saving of lost souls from sin and unto kingdom service. [W. Lee Rector, Grace From Eternity to Eternity, p. 4.]
This is a true definition as far as it goes, but it does not detail all else that grace does, which is infinitely more than salvation and service, nor does it detail the basis of God’s gracious workings. This is mainly a definition of saving grace only. So that this definition might be open to some of the common misinterpretations of grace.
The very first mention of grace in the Bible is found in Genesis 6:8, where, after declaring the universal sinfulness of the entire race, there is shown that God had graciously reserved one from the common corruption. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Notice that he did not produce this grace, nor did he pray for it, or prepare for it. It was a Divine gift that he “found.” The first mention of anything in the Bible is often the most definitive, and so it is here. Grace has been defined as the unmerited favor of God, but this does not exhaust the meaning of the word. Grace is actually the counterpart of mercy, for as grace is receiving the good that one does not deserve, so mercy is not receiving the evil that one does deserve. There is thus a two sidedness to God’s dealings with sinners, and this involves both a negative and a positive aspect, and we must understand this else we will err concerning God.
As the word mercy, in its primary signification, has relation to some creature, either actually in a suffering state, or obnoxious to it; so grace, in its proper and strict sense, always presupposes unworthiness in its object. Hence, whenever anything valuable is communicated by the blessed God to any of Adam’s apostate offspring, the communication of it cannot be of grace, any further than the person on whom it is conferred is considered as unworthy. For, so far as any degree of worth appears, the province of grace ceases, and that of equity takes place… That grace, therefore, about which we treat, may be thus defined: It is the eternal and absolutely free favor of God, manifested in the vouchsafement of spiritual and eternal blessing to the guilty and the unworthy. (Abraham Booth, The Reign Of Grace, pp. 46-47).
The word favor is the nearest Biblical synonym for the word grace. In this connection it may be observed that the one thought which is almost exclusively expressed by the New Testament by the word grace, is, in the Old Testament, almost exclusively expressed by the word favor. Grace is favor, and favor is grace. Thus, in considering the Bible teaching on this great theme, equal attention should be given to all passages wherein either the word grace is used or favor is found. Grace means pure unrecompensed kindness and favor. What is done in grace is done graciously. From this exact meaning there can be no departure; otherwise grace ceases to be grace. [Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace, p. 4.]
This latter definition, especially in the last three sentences, is justified by Romans 11:6: “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.” There can be no mixing of human works and Divine grace. Each is such a distinct thing, that the two cannot be mixed, for they are mutually exclusive. And the person that seeks to mix human merit with Divine grace, whether in salvation, or Christian living, or in any other area, shows that he understands neither Divine grace, nor human depravity as the Bible presents them.
Some that wish to hold on to some small degree of humanism in salvation object that though grace is indeed God’s free favor, yet man must, by his own faith make it effectual to himself, and they refer to Ephesians 2:8. “For by grace are ye saved through faith.” But such often try to ignore the rest of the verse. Even faith is not man’s own production, for it too is the product of God’s grace, for the rest of this verse declares in no uncertain terms “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Scripture often declares this truth. “Forasmuch as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus; what was I that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted (= given—Greek didomi, the same word as in verse 17) repentance unto life,” (Acts 11:17-18). “…Which had believed by grace,” (Acts 18:27f). Nor is this teaching uncommon in the New Testament, for many texts teach that both repentance and faith are Divine gifts to undeserving sinners.
The main problem with those that do not have a proper view of God’s grace is that they do not have a proper view of human depravity. They refuse to believe that man is as sinful and as totally ruined by the fall as he is. Though most would vehemently deny it, yet most still believe that all men have a “spark of divinity” in them that enables them to at least exercise their will in the right direction, though they may not express it in these very words. But such is a denial of the principle of grace. Man’s exercise of faith is not a denial of the grace principle: it is a manifestation of that principle. “It is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed,” (Rom. 4:16). Observe carefully the wording. It is not said to be “of grace that it might be by faith,” for faith is not the moving principle. Grace is the moving principle, and faith is the fruit of it. God’s foreordination of His elect to salvation through grace is the motivating principle, and faith is but the Divinely ordained and Divinely provided means to that end. See Acts 13:48 and note the biblical order of the foreordination and the faith. No one believes in Jesus by natural ability, but all that do so, believe because of a Divine enablement, (Acts 18:27f).
There is always a tendency upon the part of each one of us to try to interject some pride-inflating legalism into God’s grace. Legalism is dependence upon human doings in order to obtain some favor—often eternal life itself—from God. This is one of the most common heresies in the religious world, and is very widespread. Yet this is to deny grace, for part of the definition of grace is that it is the opposite of legalism.
Still another way to explain the meaning of grace is to say that it is the opposite of legalism. Legalism says, in effect, that you get only what you deserve. It tells you to do certain things, or keep certain rules and you’ll be all right. In any case, love, kindness, favor must be earned. Grace, on the other hand, gives you what you have not deserved. It pours out love, kindness, favor, unconditionally. You don’t have to earn it. Earned favor versus unearned: That’s the difference. [Joseph R. Cooke, Free For The Taking, The Life-Changing Power of Grace, p. 25.]
But God’s grace is not a stagnant pool of His goodness, sitting idle and unused in heaven’s treasuries. No! Grace is a downward flowing source of eternal blessings that He directs to man’s good. Hence—
II. GRACE HAS IT SUBJECT IN MAN.
The grace of God may be thought of as an acrostic, which reads like this:
G - God’s
R - Redemptive
A – Acts
C - Commended
E - Earthward
But this is too restrictive. It might better be thought of as:
G - God’s
R - Riches
A - At
C - Christ’s
E - Expense
Grace always flows downward to man on earth. It never flows upward from man to God, for God is worthy of all that may be rendered to Him, as is evidenced by every doxology that appears in Scripture. “Thou art worthy” is the key idea. We are to endeavor to constantly send glory up to God because of His constantly sending grace downward to us. This is suggested by Ephesians 1:6. The very nature of the two—God and man—makes necessary this direction of the flow of grace and of glory. God alone is the source of all grace, (1 Pet. 5:10), and, as a consequence, all good flows from Him, (Jam. 1:17), and man is unworthy of those good things, and is unable to merit them. Faith is an acknowledgement of this fact.
If there were the slightest merit in faith, it could not be a channel through which grace could work. It would be a counter agent to grace which, as has been seen, by its very nature excludes merit on the part of man. Faith does not only exclude the thought of merit, it actually includes the idea of helplessness and hopelessness. In faith one depends upon another to do that which one is unable to do for himself. [J. F. Strombeck, So Great Salvation, p. 97.]
God’s grace is such that it cannot be earned, nor demanded, nor in any way drawn out from God by man, which is why it is often said to be “found,” (Gen. 6:8; 19:19; Ex. 33:13; Jer. 31:2). Any attempt on man’s part to obligate God to impart His grace has the opposite effect. It renders grace impossible, and makes judgment certain. Several times the statement is made that God gives grace to the lowly, (Prov. 3:34; Matthew 23:12; Jam. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). Man is not even able to produce this necessary lowliness, for meekness is one of the fruits of the Spirit, (Gal. 5:22-23) —the product of God’s grace.
Because of the very nature of grace, man cannot hope for it because of anything found in him, for grace presumes unworthiness and ill-desert on his part. Man’s attitude must ever be that he is unworthy of the least of God’s blessings, but that he may by faith receive them of God’s richly gracious bounty. Man must ever recognize that he is the principle subject of grace, for God’s grace is directed primarily to man and for man. The fact that the material and brute creation come in for blessing as a result of grace is only because it came under the curse as a result of man’s sin, (Rom. 8:20-22). Were it not for man’s sin there would have been no exercise of Divine grace, for though Satan and his angels first sinned and fell, (2 Pet. 2:4; Rev. 12:3-9), there is no Scriptural evidence that there exists grace for any of them.
Behold then the abounding grace of God that man alone should be made the subject of Divine favor, and that this favor should be irrespective of any merit or demerit in the recipient of it. Yea, rather it thrives only in the face of all demerit.
The mercy of God and the gospel of Christ, were never designed to assist and reward the righteous; but to relieve the miserable and save the desperate—to deliver those who have no other assistance, nor any other hope… Remember, disconsolate soul, that the name, the nature, the office of grace enthroned, loudly attest, that the greatest unworthiness and the most profligate crimes are no bar to the sinner in coming to Christ for salvation; in looking to sovereign favor for all that he wants. Nay, they demonstrate, that the unworthy and sinful are the only persons with whom grace is at all concerned: This is amazing! This is delightful! [Abraham Booth, The Reign Of Grace, pp. 50, 51.]
Though grace has its subject in man, it is not subject to man, nor to the power of human depravity. On the contrary, grace rules over man and his sin else there would be no hope for man. The idea that Divine grace is subject to the caprice and whim of sin is an outright denial of grace, for it suggests that Divine grace is not sufficient for some forms or degrees of sin, and that the human will, perverted by sin, is sometimes too strong for grace. Romans 5:20-21 destroys such a view when it says, “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Greek word rendered “did abound” is a compound word that literally means “to superabound.” But it is modified by the word rendered “much more” which shows that there was even more grace above the superabounding grace. And since the object of this grace is sin, it teaches that grace will always be more than adequate for any and all sin to which it is applied. Thus, no matter how much sin or how great a sin is contemplated, this text forever stands as a witness that God’s grace, if it is applied to it, reigns over it as an irresistible king, conquering it and bringing it into total subjection. This has to do with that “fullness of grace” that Jesus brought by His incarnation, (John 1:14), and the superabounding aspect of it is suggested in John 1:16. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth… And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.” This last phrase suggests the idea of grace superceding grace, or grace replacing grace, so that there are constantly fresh supplies of grace as it is used. It is never possible to exhaust all of the superabundance of God’s grace, so that we need never fear that we are going to bankrupt God’s treasure of grace by our faith.
But if grace “reigns” then it must be sovereign grace for the word means to act the part of a king. The sovereignty of Divine grace is as much a part of its nature as anything is, for grace is also by its nature free—i.e. under the restraints of no other ruler, and hence, must be sovereign. But right at this point some moderns would seek to obviate this by protesting that many kings today are not absolute sovereigns, but they are mere figureheads. That is true, but this only shows the folly of the common practice of today of trying to interpret the Bible in the light of modern views and practices. According to 1 Peter 2:13 in Bible times a king was the supreme ruler in a nation, and so, was subject to no one.
The denial of the sovereignty of Divine grace must always be traced back to the introduction of a human condition that rules over grace, and which therefore denies it the ability to reign. But this not only eliminates the sovereign aspect of grace, but it also denies the very nature of grace, and makes it nothing more than a mere legalistic trade-out: i.e., “I’ll do thus and so in exchange for your saving grace.” This is dishonoring to God who proclaims Himself to be gracious in that He offers free pardon to all that will admit their crimes against Him and submit themselves to Him for salvation.
This is seen in Romans 3:23-27 where God’s grace is so designed that it humbles the enormous pride of the sinner, but it glorifies the Lord for His free forgiveness of all repentant and believing sinners. Thus we further observe that—
III. GRACE HAS ITS OBJECT IN GOD’S GLORY.
This is the teaching of Ephesians 2:8-10. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Observe the phrase “and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” This is grammatically not applicable to either “grace” or “faith” alone, but it refers to the whole aspect of salvation, and so, it involves all things necessary to that end. Thus, we find that every aspect of salvation when it is individually treated of is declared to be God’s working, (2 Pet. 1:3-4). The reason for this is, that no man should boast in himself, (2 Pet. 1:9; Rom. 3:27). The glory is all the Lord’s, and he that would take the glory of this unto himself is as much a thief and a usurper of the kingly crown of God, as Satan (Lucifer) was when he sought to become like the Most High. His proud boast was that, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High,” (Isa. 14:13-14). And sadly, many sinners are just as proud and arrogant was he is.
By the very definition of grace the glory of it is all the Lord’s, and no man or angel has the right to the least crumb of it. Every good gift in every area of life comes from the Lord, (Acts 17:24-25; Jam. 1:17), and He must have the glory for it. This is as true in salvation as in any other area. Man supplies nothing but the sin: God, by His grace supplies all other things in salvation.
Divine grace, as reigning in our salvation, not only appears, but appears with majesty: not only shines, but triumphs: providing all things, freely bestowing all things necessary to our eternal happiness. Grace does not set our salvation on foot, by accommodating its terms and conditions to the enfeebled capacities of lapsed creatures; but begins, carries on, and completes the arduous work. [Abraham Booth, The Reign of Grace, p. 49.]
If all is of God, and the Scriptures bear abundant witness to this fact, then all the glory must be His. We have already referred to Ephesians 1:6 where praise is decreed for God’s eternal workings of grace in the preparations for man’s spiritual blessedness. But the verses that follow delineate God’s workings in time to bring to pass man’s salvation, and these too are made the cause of praise to God. Ephesians 1:11-12 declares, “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”
Here again we see that God’s grace is sovereign, working out all the details of the purpose of God. Yet so far from this being seen as a shameful and disgraceful doctrine to be shunned with the utmost horror, as some would characterize sovereign grace, the Scripture sets it forth as a God-honoring and God-glorifying truth. Why then do good men sometimes hate the doctrine of the sovereignty of God’s grace? Is it not because of its tendency to humble the proud heart of man and to reveal him to be a totally depraved creature, wholly alienated from God and without hope of salvation apart from Divine grace? And yet, what are the advantages of resting solely and wholly upon Divine grace? Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Observe that it is not simply a confidence that in the end things will work out mostly for the good of the saints, nor that most things will work out to this end, but is the full knowledge that all things will so work out. How can this be unless the sovereign God who controls all things, (Eph. 1:11), by His sovereign grace working so as to overcome all sin, (Rom. 5:20-21), turns all events to the fulfillment of His purpose of good for His saints?
The verses that follow Romans 8:28 reveal how God makes all things work together for good to those that are His called ones. “For” (or “because” as it may be rendered) shows the how of this. It is by a golden chain of Divine grace. Note carefully the link-age here in the words “whom…them.” This thought appears four times, and these links are forged by Divine grace so that there is no room for addition or loss of individuals between the links. The same ones that are foreknown and predestinated will ultimately be glorified, for they will occupy heaven, not because of human works, but solely on the basis of Divine mercy and grace.
The few glimpses that we are permitted into the hereafter shows us that the occupation of the saints in glory will be in singing praises unto the glorious grace of God, (Rev. 1:5-6; 4:8-11; 5:8-14). No where is any glory given to human works.
The Scriptures solemnly warn against endeavoring to frustrate the grace of God, (Gal. 2:21), doing despite unto the Spirit of grace, (Heb. 10:29), failing of the grace of God, (Heb. 12:15), and receiving the grace of God in vain, (2 Cor. 6:1). All of this simply has to do with having light views of God’s matchless grace that brings salvation, and then sanctifies the believer. Have you received the grace of God? If so, it will be abundantly manifest in the life that you live.
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