I — What Grace Is
Mysterious as it may have seemed, the Grace of God, like all mysteries, is no mystery at all when it is understood.
Grace is the illimitable love of God in action.
It is the triumph of the love of God for man over man’s shortcomings.
It is completeness. In expression, it is the full, immediate answer to the heart’s sincere desire or prayer. It gathers up the dangling ends of a demonstration and finishes the work quickly so that the beauty of the accomplished design may be seen.
Grace is above all toiling effort, all condemnation and self-condemnation. It does not know “sin” nor punishment for sin. It shines steadily on, the glory of the love of God manifest. It eases all struggle, comforts all sorrow, wipes away all tears. In itself, it knows nothing of such things, and erases them from minds and hearts open to its distilled loveliness.
Many years ago I first saw a moonflower unfold. Blooming only in the night-time, its delicate white exquisiteness was superbly beautiful. There seemed something especially priceless and valuable about it—perhaps because of the exclusiveness of its flowering time, but also because it was so lovely.
The Grace of God has this quality of unique beauty. But to compare it to the pale moonflower, exquisite though that blossom be, is that enough? Grace is a sparkling thing, compounded of the very essence of moonlight, and sunshine and starshine too. Its power of pure mercy and love shines like the blue-white fire of a diamond; as easily as the diamond it outshines lesser gems of God’s goodness. In its radiance all other lights are dimmed, not by any struggling effort on its part, but because of the white brightness that it is. It blazes salvation beside the puny strivings of men to know blessedness by keeping hard laws, by worshipping a hard God. “Lo,” it lilts, “all that you want and try to be, I am. And you may receive me into yourselves and be the triumph you desire.”
“But,” you may question, “do you mean that man can achieve painlessly, without hard experience? Is it not true that man must consciously come to know and then use his inner God-power to deliver himself from ‘sin, sickness and death?’ And does this not often entail great personal effort and struggle?” Yes, it is true that man must acquaint himself with Him indwelling, but not in personal endeavor and painful striving. “Struggle,” says Frederick Keeler, “is the only ‘Son of Perdition.’ ”
Moreover, down through the ages, man was taking such a long time to find his true self. The love that God is was too great, too merciful, to let either the way be so hard or the time so long. While man, in apparent inability to realize much of the divine in him, was yet slowly plodding, making a tiny inch of progress each century, God-love burst forth as a new reveal-ment to make it easy and speedy for him to live freedom and joy. It shone forth as actualized Grace, the salvation from weary effort and suffering to all mankind. It is so shining now.
This Grace shines for all. That only some people have touched it and been healed by it, and that they have done it only once or occasionally is that, at such times, they have entered unwittingly into the state of soul necessary for reception of its healing balm. When Grace is understood, as a Divine Fact, its power of perfect adjustment need not be an unforeseeable activity.
When we accept this Fact, it is and does all that the most roseate dreams of it vision. It guides, ennobles, heals, empowers, divinely prospers and blesses speedily, in perfect ways. Not only can Grace be explained logically; it works.
This key of Divine Favor is within everyone, and many of us have had intimations of it. We have reached, if gropingly, for it; have wished at some time, “If only I could solve this problem through God’s Grace!” At the same time, we have been in doubt as to what, exactly, His Grace is, or how to draw its blessed solution into visibility.
Perhaps we have had a hazy picture of it in our minds as a mysterious dispensation of Deity that lifts some people out of a dilemma and puts everything right for them “in the twinkling of an eye.” But why it appears, apparently as a special favor from God, to certain people, or why it delivers them from one particular problem yet does not always succor them, may have remained—a mystery.
If we should look up Grace in the dictionary here are two definitions we would find: “Grace: graciousness shown by God to man, especially divine favor unmerited by man . . . the mercy of God as distinguished from His justice ...” (Webster’s New International Unabridged Dictionary)
But do these convey much to us? Do they not rather strengthen our belief in the unpredictability of the working of Divine Grace?
The Scripture tells us that God is no respecter of persons; yet from the above definitions it might seem that God’s Grace is something that He bestows arbitrarily, unexpectedly, often upon the most unlikely and morally undeserving persons; that, in effect, as far as His Grace is concerned, God is a respecter of persons.
This is not so; and the insistence arises in the intelligent soul that it is not. Grace cannot be something that, without merit of some kind, “hits” a person like a bolt of lightning and suddenly, miraculously, frees him from trouble. If this boon of God’s Favor can be received by one person, it must be a gift that all can receive. If, sometimes, as a burst of divine effulgence, it disintegrates completely the negative, the unsatisfactory, conditions for some people, and for them integrates unseen elements into soul-satisfying, blissful manifestations, then it must be available all the time to all persons desiring it.
If we accept another Webster dictionary definition of Grace, (The Protestant Religions’ conception of it) we find some reason for our intuition about it: Grace “is the operation of divine love, especially as manifested in God’s taking the initiative towards reconciliation with man, and in His forgiveness of the repentant sinner.”
The Father God takes this initiative, in our moments of voluntary or involuntary receptivity to Him, through inner Holy Spirit revelation of the truth of Himself in us as our peace, wisdom, love, strength, power.
He also comes to meet us and uplift us, by the manifestation of His majesty and beauty in nature, perhaps through the song of a bird, as William Alexander Percy has written:
“I heard a bird at break of day
Sing from the autumn trees
A song so mystical and calm,
So full of certainties,
No man, I think, could listen long
Except upon his knees;
Yet this was but a simple bird
Alone among dead leaves.”
In the inspiring works of other people, and in their love freely given us when we do not deserve it, the Father pours out to us His strength and His mercy.
Although perhaps we can call to mind times when people seem to have exacted two or three teeth for the one that morally we owe them, we all know of instances where others have not taken “a tooth for a tooth” from us. This is God’s Grace factualized to us through our fellows. Whenever our friends do not “treat us as we deserve,” we are experiencing actualized Grace. As one person summed it up after he had had this manifestation of God’s love explained to him, “I see. If I slap you and you don’t slap me back, that’s Grace.”
All forms of active charity, such as soup-kitchens, food to l he hungry, material aid to those in need, even though these receivers of bounty are in their present unhappy situation because of sloth, or weakness of character, or on account of previous failure on their part to express love and generosity-all such “unmerited” help is evidence of the Father’s Grace. God, working through man’s “brothers,” does not wait for man to repent, re-think, himself out of his imperfections. By such acts of love and mercy through other men, He takes the initiative towards “reconciling” man with Himself. He draws the “sinner,” the “misser of the mark” of perfection of blessed, joyous living, to understanding of Himself as infinite love.
More helpful yet to “down and outers,” a still finer manifestation of Grace to fellow men, is a man’s prayer of realization of the spiritual truth of others. This expressed love of God quickens the Holy Spirit within the souls of downcast and defeated “brothers,” lifts them to consciousness of their Comforter power and enables them to stand on their own feet.
This is the Grace that St. Peter expressed to the lame man “at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful.” (Acts 3). Expecting to receive material alms, as had been his wont, the lame beggar was given instead the spiritual alms of the apostle’s realization of wholeness of body for the afflicted one. This is the Grace that one person can manifest to another when first he himself has been imbued with the divine consciousness from the One from whom the apostle received it:
“Silver and gold have I none; but what I have that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.
We understand the power behind this command which out-pictures the fullness of Grace when we consider still another definition of God’s Favor, given by Webster, and interpret it metaphysically. Then there dawns upon us the full majesty and tenderness of the illimitable love of God expressed; and also the great reason for us intuitively to feel that we can be blessed now, beyond our former hopes and dreams, in perfect ways, under Grace, even as was the lame beggar:
“Grace is a supernatural gift bestowed on man for his salvation, through the merits of Jesus Christ (Jesus the Christ manifest) as sacramental (soul purifying) graces cooperating with Grace.” (The Roman Catholic Church conception — See publishers’ foreword.)
Here we have full justification for the hope that is in us: a supernatural (above the working of natural law) gift bestowed on man (all men) . . . through the merits of Jesus.
Can we accept this? Can Jesus’ merits save us, from all kinds of trial and tribulation? Has He transcended for us all distress and delay; all operation of the natural laws of seedtime and harvest later; all experience of separation from our blessings by time and distance? Is He not only the Way Shower but the Way Maker? Has He not only travelled the way to the kingdom before us and left guide-posts, His teaching and example, to help us, but has He not also blazed the trail, made the path through the wilderness for us to walk in easily, without labor and struggle?
Surely He has! Yet how many of us actually have perceived it?
How often people have felt, when faced with a cross of trouble, “Jesus was crucified, why should I not be?” That is, figuratively speaking: “Why should I not be nailed to some cross of suffering?”
It is because He rose victorious over His crucifixion—that crucifixion to end all “crucifixions”—and ascended to the Father, that we may eliminate the cross—any cross—from our experience; triumph “in His Name,” through His merits.
The initiative of the Father God in reconciling men to Himself was carried out completely through Jesus who so often and so affectionately has been referred to by His followers as “our Elder Brother.” Jesus atoned for our sins, our missing of the mark of realizing and proving God as our ever present Good. Because He has done it we do not have to atone or make our at-one-ment with the Father by our “lone selves.” This is Grace.
... we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus . . . (Acts 15:11)
Nor is it difficult to accept this “hope of glory” when we understand that the process of “vicarious atonement” or making our at-one-ment with our good, our blessedness in life through another’s attainment is simply a matter of communication of consciousness.
© 1947, Crichton Russ Boatwright