The following extended excerpt comes your way via R. W. Dale’s series of lectures on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I was introduced to this excerpt through my interaction with John Henry Jowett’s commentary on Peter’s letters, in which he quotes a single sentence from Dale’s work.1 This small inkling of Dale’s engagement with the vast ramifications of God’s grace stirred me to press further into his declaration of the same. It is always my hope and aim that in the sharing of extracted passages such as this that your own views on the grace of God in Christ Jesus are thereby configured more and more to Scripture. It can be asserted that there is an unfathomable wealth of riches to be mined in the Bible, not the least of which is the Bible-doctrine of grace. It’s another thing, though, to earnestly believe that that is so. We are accustomed — and I’m speaking for myself, too — to glossing over familiarities, as though we’ve graduated from lesser truths and our concern now rests solely on “weightier” matters. Such thinking is gross presumption, especially as it relates to God’s grace, which is something from which we will never graduate. And why that is so, is, I think, delineated clearly in this passage where R. W. Dale writes:
Grace transcends love. Love may be nothing more than the fulfilment of the law. We love God, who deserves our love. We are required to love our neighbour, and we cannot refuse to love him without guilt. But grace is love which passes beyond all claims to love. It is love which, after fulfilling the obligations imposed by law, has an unexhausted wealth of kindness.2
Grace transcends mercy. Mercy forgives sin, and rescues the sinner from eternal darkness and death. But grace floods with affection the sinner who has deserved anger and resentment, trusts penitent treachery with a confidence which could not have been merited by ages of incorruptible fidelity, confers on a race which had been in revolt honours which no loyalty could have purchased, on the sinful joy beyond the deserts of saintliness.
The eternal righteousness of God is that which constitutes His dignity and majesty, makes Him venerable and august; but His grace adds to His dignity an infinite loveliness, to His majesty an ineffable charm, blends with the awe and devout fear with which we worship Him a happy confidence, and with our veneration a passionate affection.
Our salvation, — this is the central thought of the Epistle to the Ephesians, — is the achievement of God’s grace. God’s free, spontaneous love for us, resolved that we who sprang from the dust, and might have passed away and perished like the falling leaves after a frail and brief existence, should share through a glorious immortality the sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ. God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love; He blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. This was the wonderful idea of human greatness and destiny which was formed by the grace of God. According to the Divine purpose, which it lies with us to accept or reject, the very righteousness of the Son of God is to be ours, His access to the Father, the eternal peace and blessedness of His own eternal life. The race declined from the lofty path designed for it by the Divine goodness. But as by the grace of God Christ was to be the root of our righteousness and blessedness, as the ground and reason of our ethical and spiritual greatness were in Him, so in Christ God has revealed the root, the ground, the reason of our redemption. We have our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of God’s grace. There is nothing abnormal in the forgiveness of our sin being the result of Christ’s death; all our possible righteousness was to be the fruit of the perfection and energy of His eternal life.
The original idea of the Divine grace, according to which we were to find all things in Christ and Christ was to be the root of a perfection and glory surpassing all hope and all thought, was tragically asserted in the death of Christ for human salvation. Our fortunes — shall I say it? — were identified with the fortunes of Christ; in the Divine thought and purpose we were inseparable from Him. Had we been true and loyal to the Divine idea, the energy of Christ’s righteousness would have drawn us upwards to height after height of goodness and joy, until we ascended from this earthly life to the larger powers and loftier services and richer delights of other and diviner worlds; and still, through one golden age of intellectual and ethical and spiritual growth after another, we should have continued to rise towards Christ’s transcendent and infinite perfection. But we sinned; and as the union between Christ and us could not be broken without the final and irrevocable defeat of the Divine purpose, as separation from Christ meant for us eternal death, Christ was drawn down from the serene heavens to the shame and sorrow of the confused and troubled life of our race, to pain, to temptation, to anguish, to the cross and to the grave, and so the mystery of His atonement for our sin was consummated. In His sufferings and death, through the infinite grace of God, we find forgiveness, as in the power of His righteousness and as in His great glory we find the possibilities of all perfection.3
In Christ alone we “live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) We are what we are because of grace alone (sola gratia). (1 Cor 15:9–10) There isn’t another solid hope for the believing soul than this.
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
See John Henry Jowett, The Epistles of St. Peter (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1906), 337.
By the way, this is the sentence which is cited by Jowett.
R. W. Dale, The Epistle to the Ephesians: Its Doctrine and Ethics (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1896), 178–80.