I am working my way through Jonathan Edwards sermons one by one over the next several years. In previous posts, I gave a brief summary of his sermon entitled, “Christian Happiness,” “The Value of Salvation,” and “Wicked Men’s Slavery to Sin.” It sometimes helps me process what he’s saying better if I try to paraphrase it and so I thought I might offer a short summary paraphrase of the doctrinal portion of his fourth message here, “Glorious Grace.”
God is amazing.
He made a universe with a word. That is amazing. He always does what is right. That is amazing. He has never allowed a single sin to go unpunished. And that is amazing.
But out of all the different things you can be amazed by when you look at God, there is absolutely nothing more amazing than His grace.
As sinners, we stand in desperate need of the grace of God, and in the gospel, we see that God has been happy to pour out His grace exactly as we needed Him to.
It was grace that God had any desire to rescue us after we sinned against him in the first place. God did not need to create us, but He did. He did not need to make the world perfect for us to live in, but He did. He did not need to plan for our happiness, but He did. He did not need to reveal Himself to us, but He did. And yet, even though God had been so kind as to give us everything we needed, to place man in this garden of delights, Adam still wasn’t content with what God had done, and rebelled against God, wanting as it were to be a god himself.
“Now who,” Jonathan Edwards asks, “but God of boundless grace, would not have been provoked, after this, to leave him as he was, in the miserable state into which he had brought himself by his disobedience; resolving to help him no more, leaving him to himself and to the punishment he had deserved, leaving him into the devil’s hands where he had thrown himself, not being contented in the arms of His creator; who, but one of boundless grace, would ever have entertained any thoughts of finding a way out for his recovery.”
It’s not like God was up in heaven saying, oh, my, I just have to this little person love me if I am going to be happy. He was already perfectly happy in and of himself. If He needed more worship, He had all kinds of angels who were ready to shout His praises. If He wanted he could have created more. And besides that, He could have glorified Himself simply by crushing man. After all, that would have demonstrated his justice. But He didn’t.
In His grace, He planned to give His only Son for our restoration. Sin did such damage to us as humans and even to the universe in which we live, that while there is a sense in which of course all things are easy to an all-Powerful God, still, at least when it comes to His holiness and justice, God could not rescue us without a great cost, even in fact, you might say, an infinite cost.
Because God is just, and we are glad He is!, His justice had to be satisfied. That meant, either we had to die eternally, or the Son of God had to spill His blood in our place, either we or the Son of God had to suffer God’s wrath. Think about it! Here is a created being who has spat in the face of his maker, a child of dust really, a moment, and here is the eternal Son of God, the one who holds the universe in the palm of his hands, perfectly pure, the angels are stunned when they look at him, one of these two must bear the punishment for sin, the fall of man brought it to this.
If we saw ourselves for who we really are and saw the Son of God for who He really is, there is not one of us who in our right minds, given the choice, who would decide that it was the Son of God who should suffer, not someone this glorious, this perfect, this beautiful. If you had decide between an ant suffering and your own son, that’s not a choice, and the distance between an ant and a human is much less than the distance between us and the pre-Incarnate glorious Son of God. And yet, “by the strangely free and boundless grace of God” it was determined “that His own Son should die that the offending worms might be freed, and set at liberty from their punishment, and that justice might make them happy. Here is grace indeed; well may we shout, ‘Grace, grace!’ at this.”
In certain cultures, people used to think that the sacrifice of an only son was the greatest gift one could give to the gods. But we have a stranger thing than that declared to us in the gospel. It is not that men sacrificed their sons to God, but that God gave His only as sacrifice for man. This in itself is a wonder, but to make it even more shocking, we need to remember that He did not do this for his friends, but for those who hated him, not for people who were grateful and thankful, but for those who were discontent, not for those who could help him in some way, but for those who were so weak, that not only could they not help God, they couldn’t even help themselves.
“God has given even fallen man such a gift that He has left nothing for man to do that he may be happy, but only to receive what is given him. Though he has sinned, yet God requires no amends to be made by him; He requires of him no restoration; if they will receive His Son of Him, He requires neither money nor price; he is to do no penance in order to be forgiven. What God offers, He offers freely…God offers to save him for nothing, if only he will receive salvation as it is offered; that is freely through Christ, by faith in Him.”
With such a stunning demonstration of love, you might think that all men would grab hold of it with both hands. But they don’t. None of us would, apart from God’s grace. The fact that we actually believe the gospel and accept this offer is a result of the Holy Spirit in us, and that too is grace. There’s nothing for us to do besides accept the gospel and yet, in and of ourselves, we wouldn’t even do that, unless God is gracious to us and enables us to lay hold of His promises of mercy found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Believing grace is grace!
Everywhere we look in the gospel we see the undeserved kindness of God. If we think about God the Father, and consider how great He is, how holy, how powerful, how just, if we think about carefully about this person who stoops down to care for people like us, it truly is awe-inspire. If we think about ourselves, if we take a good look and think about what we actually deserve, God’s grace becomes even more of a shock. If we think about Jesus, God the Son, remembering what He actually deserved and contrasting that with what He experienced, it magnifies the grace we experience. If we think about what we have, now that we are saved, what we have been given, salvation, glory, eternal life, adoption, union with Christ, communion with God, the Holy Spirit, heavenly happiness, the pleasure of eternal paradise, a resurrected body, and an everlasting reign with Christ in the height and glory, our hearts have to cry out, amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
Because it’s grace, and grace alone that did this. Nothing else.
If after a billion years in God’s presence, experiencing all these eternal joys, being perfected, glorified, I mean our minds cannot even conceive, we were somehow to stand next to someone who had spent that same time in hell, full of sin, the difference between the two of us, would be so great, you might wonder if we were even of the same race, and yet, yet, in reality, the actual difference is not found in the man himself, but instead that one experienced grace, and the other justice.