Grace of God in Salvation
William Burnett, Oakville, Ontario, Canada [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The boundless grace of God is one of the great themes that permeate scripture. When we speak about ‘grace’ in this context, we refer to the lavish, unlimited, unmerited favour that God has been pleased to bestow upon sinful man. This is something that will never cease to fill us with wonder and worship whilst here in this world, and it is the theme that will be our song for all of eternity. As is found in the well-known hymn ‘Amazing grace’ of the onetime slave-trader John Newton,
When we’ve been there
ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days
to sing His praise,
Than when we first begun.
In our day, I feel that we are in grave danger of losing sight of the grace of God in relation to salvation. Perhaps this is due to an over-emphasis on the sovereign purposes of God, to the exclusion of the grace of God in the matter of a truly universal offer or opportunity. This has created a deep divide among the Lord’s people, where the issue is seen to be one of sovereignty versus grace. This is unfortunate, because each has its place in the matter of salvation. I have no desire to exacerbate the divide that exists, but feel compelled to emphasize the involvement of the grace of God in relation to salvation to protect the integrity of the gospel.
The source of grace
The grace of God in relation to the salvation of man finds its source in the eternal counsels of God. Scripture gives us to understand that even before the universe had been created, God, anticipating the fall, conceived the plan of salvation for ruined man through the giving of His only begotten Son to the cross of Calvary. Not only so, but ever since the first man sinned, it is God, in His grace, who has reached out to man with a view to restoring fellowship with Him. Man, in his unregenerate condition, has no thought of God, nor does he seek after Him. It is God who takes the initiative to reach out to man in salvation. The hymn writer John Kent put it well when he wrote,
A monument of grace,
A sinner saved by blood,
The streams of love I trace,
Back to the fountain God,
And in His sovereign counsels see,
Eternal thoughts of love to me.
The scope of grace
Such is the love of God for His benighted creature man, that He has placed the possibility of accepting His grace within the reach of all, without exception. Scripture abounds with insights into the will of God in relation to man’s salvation. We read, ‘The Lord . . . is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’.1 Again, ‘[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’.2 Again, ‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men’.3 Perhaps one of the most eloquent statements regarding the grace of God in salvation is contained in the statement of the Lord Jesus when He said, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’.4 In this latter verse, two words emphasize the limitlessness of the grace of God. We learn that it embraces the ‘world’, and that the offer is made to the ‘whosoever believeth’. These few statements regarding the grace of God must dispel any idea that any human being on the face of the earth is excluded from receiving God’s grace in salvation. Sir Robert Anderson has written, ‘There is no shuffling of the cards; there is no deception in it; if forgiveness is preached to all, it is because all may share it’. And, again, he writes, ‘He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son’ – and he adds, not as a cold formula which the initiated know to be overshadowed by the doctrine of election – ‘that WHOSOEVER believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’.5
The receiving of grace
We have already shown that the will of God is that all men should be saved, and we have shown the work that God has done in order that the ‘whosoever’ can have eternal life through believing in Him.
In other words, such is the grace of God, that He has done all that He can do to bring men salvation, and now man is responsible to believe, to accept, and to receive, the terms of the gospel. The New Testament abounds with exhortations to men to do so. Indeed, the exhortation to ‘believe’ is predominant in the Gospel of John. From this we learn that while it is the will of God that all should be saved, man must now bend his will to the will of God in order to be saved. Unfortunately, man can, and does, resist the will of God. The same freedom given to Adam to cede to, or resist, the will of God in the garden of Eden, is still in evidence today. Men, like Adam, have been given freedom of choice, and have the ability to accept or reject the grace of God in salvation.
A word must be said about the role of the Holy Spirit in the matter of salvation. Scripture makes it clear that no one can be saved apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit leading to conversion, and those of us who have been saved can testify to this fact. However, we must avoid the notion that the Spirit of God is selective in His dealings with men, thus giving opportunity to some, whilst denying it to others. This would be a reprehensible thing. One can testify, from personal experience in evangelizing, that we have seen some come under the conviction of the Spirit, yielding to it, and being saved. We have also seen others come under the deep conviction of the Spirit, and then, sadly, turn away from it, and to be lost.
Prayer and the receiving of grace
One of the important factors in relation to the salvation of the lost is to engage in prayer for them. In doing so we are in harmony with the will of God, who desires that all men should be saved, and our prayers must be offered with this in mind. The apostle Paul could say, ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved’.6 Writing to Timothy he says ’I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men . . . God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time’.7 We remember the story about the paralytic whom the Lord Jesus healed. His friends made valiant efforts to bring him before the Lord, to the extent of letting him down through the roof. We then read, ‘And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee’.8 So we also must make valiant efforts to bring the lost before the Lord, and to do so with the confidence the Lord will respond. One recollects hearing the late Harry Bell of Jarrow, UK, telling the story at a conference, how that he prayed for his sister’s salvation for over forty years. Upon receiving news that she was dying he hastened to her bedside, only to be told that she had passed away just minutes before he arrived. His heart sank upon hearing this. However, those present told him, that just before she died she made a clear confession of Christ as Saviour. Prayer had been answered. Harry Bell told this story as an encouragement to the saints to continue in prayer for the lost.
In conclusion, the mysteries relating to the interaction between sovereignty and grace may only be fully understood when we have the capacity to do so upon reaching heaven. But, in the meantime, we must never limit the scope of the gospel, nor flag in our efforts in both preaching and prayer, on the understanding that both of these are an essential part of our responsibility before God, and to the lost around us, and to do so with the understanding that ‘whosoever’ may come.
That grand word, whosoever,
Is ringing through my soul,
Whosoever will may come.
- 2 Peter 3. 9 [my emphasis].
- 1 Tim. 2. 4 [my emphasis].
- Titus 2. 11 [my emphasis].
- John 3. 16 [my emphasis].
- Sir Robert Anderson, The Gospel and its Ministry, Nisbet and Company, pg. 86.
- Rom. 10. 1.
- 1 Tim. 2. 1-6 [my emphasis].
- Luke 5. 20 [my emphasis].
AUTHOR PROFILE: W.BURNETT is an engineer, now retired from the oil industry. He left Scotland for Canada in 1972 and is active in both written and oral ministry. He is a board member for Counsel magazine. He and his wife Beth are in fellowship in the assembly at Oakvill.