In the series “Primitive Methodist Watchwords” by Rev Arthur Wood
GRACE has ever been one of the most glorious of our watchwords. That we may enter more fully into the fine significance of this time-honoured term I wish to cut straightway to the question:
What is grace? Most people I know would say grace is love. It is that, but something more. Do you think now that we realise what the love of God is? Is it a weak, passive sentiment, an idle feeling? Or is it an energy? Is it favour merely or is it a force as real as any of the other great forces which operate around us? I believe the love of God is a mighty energy. It is not a quiet lake, it is a strong, shining, advancing river. Now the grace of God is the love of God as a force. It is the love of God at work. It is love in action. Love labours. The “labour of love;” it is even something more than that. It is the love of God at work for those far beneath itself. Love at work in the interests of loveless children.
Love at work! You say, I have seen many an illustration of that. Love in my mother, you say, was no mere idle feeling. It did not sit in the easy chair with its feet on the fender all day long. It was active. It worked. It strove. It sacrificed. It was more than a sentiment. It was a conquering energy.
What instances of love at work we have heard of! See, sitting over the dying embers in that home is a father and mother. They are getting now far advanced on life’s pilgrimage. What are they waiting for? Why, there is one son out. The hands of the clock are almost at eleven. It used to be that this son had to be in by nine-thirty, and then that became impossible, and love at work said, we will give him till ten. Then he could not get in by ten, and now the father says if he is not in by eleven the door must be locked against him. And now they sit there listening for the footfall of the wandering boy, wondering whether he will get in by eleven. The hands are slowly getting near to the hour. Now they are both at eleven. And what says the mother now? Listen! “That clock is fast, I think. It must be a little fast.” That is what she says. And the father is not far behind, for see he is taking out the old time-keeper, and as he does so he says, “‘I think it wants a few minutes to the hour.” One picture among thousands of love at work for the undeserving.
Lift that on to the Divine plane and you will get a glimpse of what God’s grace is. It is love at work for the loveless and the lost. That grace appeared in the life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord.
What does grace do? We had better consult the man who of all men has most to say about it in the New Testament. Paul speaks of it as a force capable of mighty accomplishments. “By the grace of God I am what I am,” said he. When he wrote the words he had attained to a fine height of character and influence. He was a loyal follower of Jesus, a saint, a reformer, a herald of the Gospel, a Christian pioneer, and a little way ahead he became a martyr. Yet as he turned and looked at all he was he would tell you it was all the result of the work of grace. To grace he was a debtor. Grace made him what he was. His history will show us how grace goes to work. How did grace act on Saul of Tarsus? To begin with, it
Individualised him. He will tell you that grace called him. Later on he said, He “loved me and gave Himself for me.” It was grace which made it impossible for him to lose himself in generalities. Grace particularised him. It named him on the Damascus road, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”
Grace followed him as Christ said the shepherd followed the one lost, straying sheep. While in the old life of sin and error it made him feel that all Christ had done had been done for him. That was the beginning of the saint-making process. He cried, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” “I obtained mercy,” says he.
Then grace energised Paul. There was one mighty force in the world which Paul knew to a nicety, the energy of sin. He knew it to be a ruthless power intent on the destruction of all good things. Paul spoke of it as dwelling in him, enslaving him, killing him. Yet Paul found an energy mightier than sin—he called it grace. This love-energy of God he found was in the world checking and over-mastering sin wherever it was received. It was grace which energised him, made him impervious and unconquerable. However mighty sin was, this man was invulnerable when full of God’s grace.
Sin abounds to-day. As a mighty force, carrying men into degradation and misery, it is still in human life. How weak we are before it! Have we forgotten, I wonder, that the love-energy of the Eternal Father is here as well? The tides of grace have neither been withdrawn nor have they slackened. The exceeding riches of grace abound toward us. The apostle was energised against sin at every turn. So may we be. It made him masculine. It gave him moral muscle. It will do the same for us.
Grace utilised Paul. He will tell you, “I laboured, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Of the way in which grace utilised the powers of Paul you have an illustration in the way the wire and lamp are utilised by the electricity. If that wire and lamp could speak it would say, “I laboured, yet not I, but the electricity which utilised me.” Grace turned the powers of this man to profitable account. Sin seals a man’s best powers down. Grace proclaims deliverance to a man’s captive gifts. It comes along and unseals the potentialities of his nature. Every fine talent is liberated and utilised by grace for the glory of God and the welfare of the race.
Where does this grace flow? In what direction is this mighty tide of energy turned? Has it any application to ourselves? To whom will God give this mighty grace? “He giveth grace to the lowly.” The lowly, and who are they? What is this all-important qualification? The lowly, why they are those with a great sense of need. They feel their weakness, their unworthiness. They are those who are quite prepared to receive power, for they have none of their own They are the open-minded. The gates of their minds and hearts are wide open for the incoming might of God. There is no partiality here. The qualification is one all may attain. The clouds do not pick out their favourites. The sunshine does not reserve its brightest rays for cliques and coteries. No more does grace. Wherever the life is open to its coming it will advance into it like a welcome springtime.
May we achieve this the only qualification. May the Holy Spirit take away our pride and self-satisfaction. May He teach us the art of lowliness.
“Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound,
Make and keep me pure within.”
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1909/71