Frustrating the Grace of God
By J. M. Pendleton
The Christian Repository
IT is rather humiliating to know of the disagreement between Paul and Peter at Antioch; but we should be thankful that that disagreement called forth some of the most important truths found in the Bible. Peter was inconsistent and acted a cowardly part; Paul candidly told him so. Before certain brethren went from James, that is, from Jerusalem to Antioch, Peter did not hesitate to eat with Gentiles, but afterward he changed his course. He did this through fear of the Jews who were determined to make circumcision a boundary not to be passed. Others dissembled with Peter and even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation. Paul asked Peter an unanswerable question. It was this, "If then, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" We may be sure that when he heard this question Peter was speechless, not that he lost the power of speech, but because he had nothing to say.
Paul knew that the principle, or rather the policy, on which Peter had acted would, if carried to its legitimate extent, lead to an abandonment of Christianity and a return to Judaism. He therefore felt that this was an occasion for an earnest vindication of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law. He showed that in his own case this doctrine implied that he had died to the law, to all hope of salvation by its deeds, that he might live to God; that he had been crucified with Christ, but was still living, yet not he, but Christ was living in him, and his life in the flesh was by faith in
the Son of God. Considering all these things as involved in justification by grace through faith, he said of himself, and, no doubt, said it with supreme satisfaction, "I do not frustrate the grace of God." As if he had said, the tendency of Peter's course, though he may not so regard it, is to frustrate the grace of God by rendering the death of Christ a gratuitous thing. "For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead [literally died] in vain." Whatever else is frustrated by us we should see that, the grace of God is not frustrated. As this is a matter of the most solemn importance, I make the subject of this article,
Frustrating the Grace of God
To give my thoughts methodical order, I
1. Define the Grace of God. The best way to do this will be to refer to a few other passages of Scripture containing the phrase "grace of God," In Acts 20:24, we have the expression, "To testify the Gospel of the grace of God;" in 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul says, "But by the grace of God I am what I am"; from Titus 2:11, we learn that "the grace of God which bringeth salvation has appeared to all men"; in Hebrews 2:9, we are told that Jesus "by the grace of God tasted death for every man"; and in 1 Peter 4:10, we are reminded of "the manifold grace of God." The first of these passages teaches that the Gospel has its origin in the grace of God; the second, that grace made Paul what he was; the third, that grace brings salvation; the fourth, that by the grace of God Christ died for men; and fifth, that the grace of God is manifold, that is, bestows a blessing in rich diversity.
It is plain therefore that the grace of God is another name for His favor, kindness, or love. This favor is seen in providential mercies, but it shines forth most luminously in the Gospel. The system of salvation which the Gospel reveals; is with an emphasis both marked and sacred called "the grace of God." This system could have originated in nothing but grace. The reasons are obvious; God who bestows grace is under no obligation to do so, and men who receive it are unworthy of it. The very term grace implies these two things. If God was under obligation to men the idea of debt would exclude the idea of grace; for strict justice would require the payment of the debt. Then, too, if men were worthy, their worthiness would create a claim on God and they might demand as a matter of right that the claim be satisfied. But it is needless to
indulge suppositions, for there are two inexorable facts that confront us: The first is God's perfect exemption from obligation to man; the second is man's utter unworthiness of any blessing from God. These facts do not of themselves give assurance of salvation, rather the contrary, but they make it certain that if there is salvation for the lost it must be of grace. There is no other conceivable method in which God, free from obligation to do so, can save man who does not deserve to be saved. Here is the theatre on which the grace of God may display itself to the surprise and admiration of all holy beings. This grace reigns "through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Obrist our Lord." What but grace can pardon the guilty, justify the condemned, sanctify the unholy, and make the children of wrath heirs of glory? How cordially should the grace of God, as revealed in the Gospel, be welcomed and cherished by the lost sons of men who so urgently need it, and must perish without it! Alas, multitudes do not appreciate it, do not receive it, or, if they do, receive it "in vain," and even "frustrate" it.
This suggests a second point:
II. How the Grace of God is Frustrated.—To frustrate is to render of no effect, to make vain and useless. It is a startling and distressing fact that the grace of God can be frustrated. Paul did not frustrate it, but his language intimates that it could be done. How is it done? Among the Jews in Paul's day it was done.
1. By reliance on works of law. It is amazing with what tenacity and persistency the Jews clung to Judaism. The sacrifices of the law were shadows and types. The substance and the antitype were found in Christ. "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17.) The only proper use to be made of the shadow was to trace it to the substance. The only province of the type was to fix attention on the antitype. The Jews strangely ignored the substance and the antitype, and were engrossed with the shadow and the type. Instead of relying on the grace of God as seen in Christ, they frustrated that grace by rejecting Christ and depending on the works of the law. What they did, we see in Romans 10:3: "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." The attempt to establish their own righteousness led them to reject the righteousness of God, and in so doing they frustrated His grace. They
made it of no effect because their persistent unbelief kept them outside of the saving operation of this grace. The words "have not submitted themselves," are very significant. They suggest that in the matter of salvation there must be submission. God has fixed unalterably the terms of salvation. These terms must be accepted, submitted to. There can be no other terms while the world stands. The unbelief of the Jews in apostolic times, in raising an insuperable barrier to their salvation, frustrated the grace of God. So far as they were concerned, it rendered the death of Christ of no effect. "If righteousness come by the Jaw, Christ died in vain," and all trust in works of law for acceptance with God is a frustration of His grace.
If it is asked how the grace of God is frustrated now, the answer is,
2. By trusting for salvation in anything that keeps a sinner from Christ.
Yes, I say in anything. No matter what it is that keeps a sinner from trusting in Jesus, that thing frustrates the grace of God. It is better to be more specific: some depend on their morality. They say they do not lie, do not steal, do not get drunk, do not take the name of God in vain, etc. If they did these things they admit they might well fear. But as the matter stands, they are self-complacent in thinking that they are honest with their fellowmen, not supposing that they are dishonest with God. They rob Him of the love of their heart, and the obedience of their lives, and flatter themselves with the belief that their negative goodness will answer all the purposes of salvation. They have no place for Christ, for their reliance on morality so-called, excludes Him. They, in effect, say that He died in vain, and thus by relying on their morality they frustrate the grace of God. Some say they do not feel their need of salvation. They therefore give themselves no concern about it. This is just what is meant by neglecting the "great salvation." (Hebrews 2:3.) It is to care nothing about it, and he who cares nothing about it will never accept it. The grace of God, as we have seen, provides the salvation, and to neglect it is to frustrate the grace that provides it. All careless sinners are guilty of this great sin.
Others trust to their purpose to repent at some future time. It would startle them to think of abandoning their purpose. They fully intend to repent, and they look upon their intention as a kind of atonement for their present impenitence. Whatever their purpose is as to repentance, it is certain they will
never be saved unless they repent. They will never trust in Christ for salvation without that sense of sin involved in repentance. It is evident therefore that while they continue impenitent they frustrate the grace of God.
Others still trust in what they call the general mercy of God. They say God is merciful and, though they are sinners, they hope to be saved. If by general mercy is meant, and this is meant, mercy exercised irrespectively of Christ, then I say there is no such mercy. God out of Christ has no merciful dealings with men. Mercy reaches sinners for one reason only, namely, that God set forth His Son as "a propitiation through faith in His blood." The mercy that saves is mercy through Christ. Not to trust in this mercy, but in what is vainly called general mercy, is a lamentable frustration of the grace of God.
III. Consequences of frustrating the grace of God. I refer to a few of these consequences. To those who frustrate this grace,
1. There is no forgiveness of sins. Grace reigns in the pardon of sin through Jesus Christ. Hence Paul said, "Be it known unto you, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things." The same method of pardon is indicated in the words of the same apostle to the Ephesians—"As God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." There is no other way of pardon. Those therefore who frustrate the grace of God shut the door of pardoning mercy against themselves. For them there is no forgiveness.
2. There is no adoption into the family of God. Paul teaches that adoption is to the praise of the glory of God's grace. Grace prompts the act of adoption and there is a glory in this grace which may well call forth praise—"to the praise of the glory of His grace." This glory shining forth from grace will fill heaven with rapturous songs. If grace reigns in adoption how manifest it is that frustration of the grace of God precludes adoption into His family!
3. There is no eternal life. We are told that "grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life." This is the culminating and consummating act of its reign—the bestowal of eternal life. All that grace does before is preparatory to the conferring of this great boon—everlasting well-being. But what of those who frustrate the grace of God? For them there is no eternal life.
BOWLING GREEN, KY.
[From S. H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository March, 1888, pp. 161-165; via Google on-line document. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on J. M. Pendleton
Baptist History Homepage