Grace: the kindness of God

What is ‘grace’ in the particular context of the christian faith? It means something very different from what we call ‘grace’ in a worldly context. There it refers to a quality of character or style that someone possesses, and does not have any reference to God. One of the best illustrations in the bible as to the nature of christian grace is found in 2 Samuel 9, and the story of King David, having succeeded to the throne of Israel, not by inheritance, but by popular demand. David had no connection with the line of king Saul. The story is too long to go into the details of it here. We will simply deal with the ‘bones’ of the matter in order to grasp the very important illustration that is here.

In those days when there was a change in dynasty, as here, the first thing the new king would do would be to kill all the remaining relatives of the old king, as they would be considered a threat. In this case, that did not happen, but rather the very opposite. In many ways David was a type, or pattern, of Christ, and he asked those around him if there was anyone alive of the house of king Saul, “that I may show the kindness of God to him”. There was only one, Mephibosheth. He was actually a son of Jonathan, who was a son of Saul. Jonathan, strangely, had become a friend of David while Saul was still on the throne. Both Saul and Jonathan had died in battle on the same day. Mephibosheth was a poor soul who was lame on both his feet as a result of a childhood accident. David immediately sent for him. When the summons came to Mephibosheth, his heart would have sank, thinking that his end had come. However, he had no choice, but to obey the summons.

When he arrived before the king, he threw himself down in reverence, in the forlorn hope that he would be shown mercy. How relieved he was to hear the words that came from the king’s mouth: “Mephibosheth, fear not, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and I will restore you all the land of Saul your (grand)father, and you will eat bread at my table continually.”

Christ said that He was come to seek and to save that which was lost. He finds the sinner in a state of hopelessness, and trembling in fear of the judgement of God. What relief when he or she reads the promises of God in the bible, and is enabled to lay hold of them: promises of grace extended to him or her, ‘fear not, I will show you the kindness of God (grace), and you will eat at my table continually’, in other words, ‘from now on you will enjoy all the blessings that I pour out on my people’. What joy for the sinner, who could not see anything for himself or herself but condemnation. There is nothing like the relief of knowing that we are RightWithGod, that God has showed His kindness to us, that His banner over us is now love, and that there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; and it is all of Grace, God’s kindness to us in providing such a great salvation for us by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and coming to seek us and bless us so super-abundantly.

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“A name which is above every name”

Our title come from Philippians Chapter 2, verse 9. The previous verses describe the amazing humiliation of the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity from the  exalted position which He had from all eternity as the eternal Son of God, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It reads like a step by step descent to the nadir of “the death of the cross” (verse 8) as the God/man Jesus Christ. Then in verse 9 begins His wonderful exaltation. Before we look at this exaltation we have to notice two very important and precious things.

Firstly we see that in the step by step humiliation, every step was taken actively, voluntarily and willingly by Christ Himself. There was no coercion. There was nothing driving Him,  other than His love for sinners. Christ went to the accursed cross willingly and gladly, suffering and dying there, the just for the unjust, the sinless One for sinners. However when it comes to the exaltation, beginning with the resurrection, we see that God the Father is the active One. He highly exalted Him, He gave Him a name above every name, and so on.

Secondly we must give due force to the word “wherefore”. It makes a clear connection between the humiliation and the exaltation. The word is sometimes translated, ‘therefore’, which has the same effect. It tells us that the exaltation took place because of the humiliation. This is clarified for us by the words in v8, “He became obedient unto death”. As He Himself said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me” (John 6:38). His exaltation was the Father’s reward to Him for His perfect obedience.

When we come to the exaltation itself, surely our hearts leap with joy at what we read, but only provided we keep before us the fact that when He took to Himself a human nature,  that that union was forever irreversible. So, when He was exalted, it was not for Him and the Father who received Him, a case of going back to heaven to the same situation as it was when He left, but to a whole new scenario. He was raised and exalted as the God/man, the Lord Jesus Christ. There was now something new in heaven. He, the God/man, who loved us and gave Himself for us, was highly exalted. The phrase ‘highly exalted’ is just one word in the original language. It is as if we would say that God had ‘hyper-exalted’ Him. The main thing in this ‘hyper-exaltation’ is that God the Father gave Him a “name which is above every name”. It is difficult for us to appreciate the full force of this, because a name to us is just a label by which we can recognise people and things. It was not so in bible times. Then the word ‘name’ had a far wider and deeper meaning. It indicated the person’s character and worth.

Then we are given a measure of the greatness of this name above every name. It is that, at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. It is totally right that it should happen, and it will. O happy day for those who have Him in sure possession. Woeful day for those who do not.

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The Day of Trouble

Few christians go through the whole of their christian lives without experiencing a time of trouble. Some, like our beloved brethren in foreign countries where it is forbidden to practice christianity,  have never known a time of peace  and freedom from danger.  Some who have enjoyed years of blessing under the hand of God are suddenly hit by a time of trouble. So it was with Job who lost all his wealth and family in one day; then was struck down with a most unpleasant and painful disease. The day of trouble came to him ‘out of blue’. Some christians are persecuted just for being what they are. The Lord Himself made the matter clear, “Offences must come” (Matthew 18:7). The reference is to the hurt and injury that comes to the christian, from the unbelieving world, simply because he or she is a christian, . The world resents the christian simply because they dare to be different from themselves. The great Samuel Rutherford who experienced much persecution in Covenanting times, writes to comfort a friend who was finding  the persecution difficult to cope with, and he tells her how unfriendly dogs often bark at strangers, but not at those they know. In the same way the world barks at those they see as ‘strangers’ in their midst. We should not be surprised when the world is offended even by our presence.

Why does the Lord allow christians to suffer for their faith? When the Lord says, ‘offences must come’,  why does He use the word, ‘must’? Does He really mean that trials and afflictions are a ‘must’ in the christian life? Yes, that is exactly what He means. Why is this so? It is that even after a person  is saved, and has experienced the great changes that accompany being saved, such as changes in inclinations, enjoyments, tastes, company, entertainments, and  so on, God has further work to do on and in the christian, before they leave this world to enjoy the pleasures of heaven with Christ forevermore. This work is what we call ‘sanctification’. It is best described to us in the words of scripture:  “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom [be] glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Heb 13:20-21). The important words  to notice and to learn by heart if possible are the words, “working in you what is well pleasing in His sight”. Notice particularly the phrase, “in His sight”. Let me explain.

We all have our own dreams of what kind of people we want to be, but God will almost certainly  have different plans for us as christians. This is not an easy thing to accept. We are proud creatures by nature, and God’s plan for is will always involve a process of being humbled, and that is, being made more like Christ, who, “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”. Satan will come to you with his wicked whispers: ‘Don’t spoil you life, you can be a christian and still enjoy all the things of this world’. That is a lie that will never give you happiness. Far better to believe Christ, who says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” ( John 16:33). My dear friend, be of good cheer, and surrender to God’s plan for your life, especially in your day of trouble.

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The Rich Mercy of God

The word, “mercy” is not so common in the christian’s vocabulary as it once was. This is a great loss, and undermines the christian’s appreciation of his or her salvation. Loss of appreciation leads to reduced thankfulness, and that leads to reduced gladness of heart, because the mercy of God lies close to the root of our salvation. In Ephesians 2: 4,5 we read, “But God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.”  This tells us that the very root of our salvation is the special Love of God for those He saves; but that love, however amazing it is, would not by itself save. That love had to be put into effect. It had to reach out to us in the exercise of His rich mercy toward us. It had to be mercy because of the sorry state into which sin had brought us.

We were by nature, as we came into the world, in an extremely sad state: we were ‘dead in sins’. We were not just disabled, or stunned, or retarded; we were dead as far as any  spiritual life or inclination towards God or His salvation was concerned. Worst of all we were in this sorry state without any awareness of it whatsoever. If God had just ignored us, our destiny would undoubtedly be  in Hell. We were in a sad, sorry and pitiable state, and we did not know it.

The wonderful thing is that God did not ignore us, He reached out towards us in the richness of His mercy, even when we were dead in sins. He first of all provided for us a great salvation. He sent His beloved Son into this world in our nature to suffer on the cross the penalty for all the sins of all His people. On that cross He made the greatest provision that has ever been made for human beings: a way for them to enter into a relationship of love and friendship with God.

But, of course, there was a problem, we were not interested because we were spiritually dead. Left to ourselves, we would have continued dead in sins. However, the great mercy of God reached out to us ‘even when we were dead in sins’. He ‘quickened us together with Christ’. He worked a miracle of resurrection in us. He raised us from the state of spiritual deadness to make us spiritually alive. What He did for us was only possible because Christ our Substitute was raised from the dead. This made it possible for sinners such as we are to be ‘quickened’ to spiritual life. The result of this was that we wanted Christ as our substitute, to cover our sins. Indeed we ran to Him; we fled into His arms; we embraced Him. So we continued, happy to have Him as our sure possession, thankful to God for His great mercy towards us.

Being a conscious recipient of mercy is a humbling thing for the proud, self-sufficient creatures that we are by nature, but it builds true christian character, the kind of character that adorns the faith that we profess, and the Saviour that we serve; who “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2: 8).

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