THE GRACE OF GOD
“Exhort servants to be in subjection to their own masters and to be well-pleasing to them in all things not gainsaying: not purloining but showing all good fidelity: that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. For the grace of God hath appeared bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:9-11).
“The word of the truth of the gospel which is come unto you even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day we heard and knew the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:5-6).
“He hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
“MY grace is sufficient for thee.” For the Apostle that solved a very great problem in his life, and met a need in such a remarkable way that he was still in the good of it fourteen years afterwards. You notice that he does not say so. He is speaking as if the Lord were continually saying this word to him, as if it were a present experience. In a sense he does not speak of it in the past, as something finished and over and written in history, but it is that past experience which still comes right up to the present moment and stands good today. “He hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Now the grace of God, I believe, is, so far as we are concerned, one of the biggest and most vital truths of Divine reality, and the real burden of what I wish to say to you in the Lord’s Name is something after this fashion. The grace of God — yes it does express that loving, kind, considerate, thoughtful sympathy of the Lord for us. For the sinner it means that, though God might be angry with him, He is not; that, though He has every reason for hating him, hurling him into the abyss, and feeling an implacable resentment toward him, He does not. His feelings toward the sinner are those of kindness, of desire, of sympathy, of compassion. If you are tempted to wonder whether you have ever known the Lord or not, or if you are tempted to feel that God is against you, those temptations are of the devil, though he may be masquerading as an angel of light. There is a sphere, a realm, into which, in God’s infinite mercy, we have been brought, and that means that His attitude toward us is one of grace. In the general sense that may even be said of those who do not know God, for, today being the day of grace, God is not, in the first place, angry with men except as they harden their hearts and refuse His grace.
So, as we touch every realm of human need in our lives as Christians, we are again touching a realm where the grace of God becomes such a precious thing, and in the hour of trial and of deep tribulation, of testing or of perplexity, of loneliness, or whatever be the peculiar trouble and difficulty of any one child of God, it is still true that the Lord has that attitude and sympathy and comes near with His own blessed presence as a balm and a comfort. In that sense (and it is in that sense that [29/30] these words are usually applied), “My grace is sufficient for thee”.
GRACE MORE THAN COMFORT
I have said all that because it is very true and very precious, but there is something more that I feel we need to know, for the grace of God is much more than that kindly, comforting, sympathetic love. It is the mighty power of God for the fulfilment of His will in our lives. I believe it is a need that may be found in many of us to know the Lord saying — not just: ‘I will comfort you, I will cheer you up; I will pity you, I will assure you of My love!’, but: ‘There is no need for the experience through which you are passing! There is no need for your failure, nor for those experiences of which you are ashamed and for which you are sorry, and which you feel need to be covered and hidden! All that sad story of failure is not necessary!’ ‘Well,’ you begin to say, ‘look at the circumstances in which I am! Look at those people with whom I have to do! Look at my upbringing and my handicap, my circumstances, myself!’ The Lord knows them far better than you do! Nevertheless, He does not accept that any one of them, nor all of them together, are the real explanation of your failure, of your wandering, of your place of difficulty, or of your experience of defeat. None of these things is the true reason why you do not know the will of God being fulfilled in your life. What, then, is the reason? It is that you do not know the grace of God. You may object to that, but I say it again. You do not know the grace of God, and that is your difficulty.
The Apostle Paul, under the peculiarly acute trial which came upon him, was also in danger of failing and fainting, and to his cries to the Lord he received an answer, which was: “My grace is sufficient for thee!” The Lord did not mean: ‘It is all right, Paul! You have this trial and this suffering, and it is all very bitter and very hard, but I will just comfort you and give you the grace to bear it quietly!’ The Lord did not only mean that. He was saying: ‘Paul, in spite of this thing, you will reach the goal. The heavenly vision will be realized. My grace is sufficient, not just to comfort you, but to get you through. Paul was feeling: ‘This thing is like a great stake that holds me to the ground. It is driven in by the devil, and here I am down here when I would be up there. Now, if the Lord, in His sovereign power, would rebuke the devil and remove the stake, then I could get busy climbing up there!’ But the Lord said: ‘No, you do not get there that way. Let the devil drive in his stake that cripples you, handicaps you, and makes you, as you have never been before, aware of your own utter helplessness, but My answer is not to remove the handicap. My answer is that there is a spiritual power which I call My grace that will, in spite of everything, in spite of your own more conscious weakness, disability, inability, yet bring you to that heavenly goal. My grace is sufficient!’ That was the Lord’s word to the Apostle, and it is His word to us.
GRACE FOR SERVICE
Is My grace sufficient for ministry? When the Apostle had that vision, it was not of himself with the Lord in glory. That is some people’s idea of heaven, but it is not the Lord’s idea, for it would not be very glorious to Him, and does not represent His purpose one little bit. No, the vision was of a great Company of redeemed souls brought right through to glory in spite of their own hopelessness, of the tremendous pull of the world, of the power of sin, of the antagonism of the devil, and of sin and shame on their side. Paul saw that vision and his heart was moved with a great desire to serve the Lord in that. He longed to pour out all that he had and all that he ever could be in order that that might be realized, not just in him, but that he might serve the Lord in bringing others there, and then, doubtless just when he was most full of hope as to the glory and blessedness of this ministry, and he left all for the Lord to do that, he was smitten down. Some of us know something of what that means: the bitter disappointment of not being able to fulfil our ministry. And that is how it came to Paul. From a human point of view he was out of the ministry and it was Satan’s work. That was a very bitter thought to Paul, but the Lord came to him after his third appeal, when he was really desperate, and assured him that, far from being out of the ministry, he was now coming into it, and that this experience was a part of it. ‘Paul, you shall fulfil a ministry with this suffering, this disability, such as you could never have fulfilled by any other way, but it will not be you. My grace is sufficient for you!’
I have said this in order that we may catch something of the thought of God’s grace being a tremendous power, and a practical power, in the life.
GRACE FOR CHARACTER AND CONDUCT
When we turn to Titus, that is just exactly what Paul says. The Apostle, in writing to this younger brother, had gone to some length to set out the kind of life that the Lord’s people should live, summing up the whole matter of our duty and life here in the [30/31] world in one beautiful phrase in which he speaks of our “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things”. Then immediately he comes to the practical power that produces practical holiness, and what is it? “For the grace of God hath appeared.” There is the secret of Christian conduct. We do not want to be neglectful of or indifferent to the whole matter of living here on earth lives that are a credit to the Lord and having nothing to be ashamed of before Him and before men, but what is the secret of that? It is the grace of God, and you will notice how the Apostle passes into one or two spheres in which the grace of God becomes a working, effective power.
First of all, “the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men”, and I take it that this thought of salvation refers in the first instance to the inward life. The grace of God is sufficient for our inward life. It comes in the power of salvation for deliverance, and the sphere in which we need deliverance is inside, and not outside. Let us be quite sure about that. You would never dispute it in relation to anyone, man or woman, who does not know the Saviour. You know that, when you begin to speak to them of the Christian life, they will always say that in their circumstances, just where they are, it is not possible to live a Christian life. And the attitude of the natural man is always that it is the outward realm that needs changing, but we all know that it is not there. What we need is deliverance inwardly, and if we are free there, then we will be all right wherever we are.
Now, it is the grace of God which, appearing, brings salvation to all men. The Authorized Version says: “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men”, but that cannot be the meaning, for it is not true. Of course, the problem arises: Does the grace of God bring salvation to all men? Surely this is what it means: the grace of God has appeared and it is a grace which is capable of saving all men, of bringing salvation to every kind of man. There is none so weak or so handicapped that the grace of God is not sufficient for them, nor is there anyone so strong or so good that the grace of God is not their only sufficiency. It is for all men, and it does not matter where the word of the Lord finds you. There is only one solution to your problem, and that is the grace of God. There are so many realms in which we may need deliverance, but the grace of God comes bringing salvation. “The grace of God hath appeared”, has been made manifest. The whole effort of the Spirit of God is to make us believe that this is something that God has in hand — and that is so true of the whole Christian life. Your problem may be (and perhaps in this very thing you do not know the grace of God) that you have not yet realized how utterly and completely the whole matter of the Christian life is God’s concern. It is His responsibility, and it is from His side. How do you know the grace of God? Well, God appears to you with it. You cannot say more than that!