Tasting the sweetness of grace.
The sweetness of grace is that we who don’t deserve it are the first to receive it.
I believe one of the unsung wonders of God’s creation is the tongue. That organ in your mouth that has a role in eating and speaking — the two most basic of human activities. It is a “small member” (James 3:5) of your body, and yet it harnesses tremendous power. But, I don’t wish to address, at the moment, the danger of your tongue, but rather, to give you a portrait for how we might “taste” grace.
I’ve written much about grace and the gospel and what that means for us as Christ-followers on a functional level, “everyday grace” you might say. And, too, I’ve read much about grace and the gospel, for I desire and long to have a clearer vision of and become more tightly captured by the gospel of grace. Furthermore, I don’t boast in trying to say something “new” or revelatory, but the truth is that we, as finite human beings, can never plumb the depths of an Infinite God. We will never reach the basin of God’s grace nor even near the limits of his love. Just as he is infinite and limitless, so, too, is his grace, his mercy, his love, and his favor for all mankind.
This, then, is the sweetness of grace, that despite how wretched and vile and wicked we are, God still desires us, he longs for us to long for him. He wants to be wanted. “God’s purpose is to make more of himself known to you, a sinner, than was made known to Adam in his sinlessness,” writes Horatius Bonar (49). God’s mission is one of self-disclosure. Always, at all times, God is revealing and manifesting more of himself in our lives. Whether through tragedy or triumph, we must always see him, see his “story of grace [which is] the story of God’s doings in grace with this world of ours . . . [for] it is this story of grace that has brought back something like sunshine into this world of ours” (Bonar, vii, ix).
The sweetness of grace is that the Giver loves us unconditionally as we are. There’s no measure of movement from us that’s required in grace, it comes down to us, rather, he comes down to us. Grace sees us, in despair, in despondency, in dire need of deliverance, and fulfills all our deepest longings. His love “meets [all] the cravings of the human spirit” (Bonar, 18). In our unholiness, our filth, our desolate state of living putrefaction, grace comes. Wasn’t this his mission? Wasn’t the purpose of Christ “to proclaim good news to the poor . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”? (Luke 4:18–19). It is our wretchedness is the platform upon which grace shines. “The dark backdrop of man’s sin and inability provides a wondrous setting to display the glory of God’s grace” (Anderson, 34). How else might we know the wonder of his love if not for experiencing the depth of our despair? How else might we taste the sweetness of grace without first recognizing the deep vulgarity of ourselves?
He could not be seen as the Healer till some were sick. He could not be known as the Helper till there were some to succour. He could not be known as the Renewer of the world unless it were seen how far that world could go into decay . . . A world unfallen reveals but half of God. The deep recesses of his character only come out in connexion with a world fallen. The heights and depths of his infinite nature were not manifested till that which is opposed to them occurred to bring them forth. To learn what holiness is, and how holy God is, we need not merely to see his feelings towards the holy but towards the unholy. (Bonar, 39, 47–48)
Understand, that it’s not because of your fallenness that God is gracious, but that your fallenness more wonderfully and beautifully displays his graciousness. Grace, like God himself, has no beginning, it’s everlasting. The very nature and character of God is one of infinite, free grace. Our desperate state of sinfulness merely allows the bright light of the gospel of grace to shine on us. The sweetness of God’s holy grace is that its very objects are those who are unholy. “The lost, the wretched, the guilty, the worthless, are its sole objects” (Bonar, 51). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Those who feel as though they’re unfit for grace are precisely those for whom grace has come. You who feel despondent and desperate must realize that you are the objects of God’s grace, his unmerited favor and unconditional acceptance and unfailing one-way love. Those who think that they must improve before grace can meet them will never be “fit” for it. If you falsely believe that you must move in some fashion before the gospel meets you, you are, in fact, rejecting grace.
Grace can only be understood when taken in connexion with the “exceeding sinfulness of sin,” and the entire unworthiness of the sinner. If sin be not altogether evil, and if the sinner be not altogether worthless, then grace becomes a word without a meaning. Hence it is that self-righteousness and grace are totally incompatible with each other; so that the moment we begin to palliate our sin, in order to obtain forgiveness, we are falling from grace. As soon as we begin to look for some good feeling or deed in us, in order to make us less unfit to apply to God for pardon, we are rejecting grace. (Bonar, 85–86)
Grace says to us, “I see you are guilty, wretched, worthless, with nothing in you or about you of what is good; but these are just the very things that I fix upon: they unfit you for everything else, but they do not unfit you for [Me]” (Bonar, 51–52). The sweetness of grace is that we who don’t deserve it are the first to receive it. That our worthlessness makes us the prime targets of it. That despite all our failings and flaws, it covers us. That we who are imperfect, unrighteous, and unholy are seen by God as though we are perfect and righteous and holy because of it. Grace unmeasured, full, and free, you are a wonder to me!
Unequivocally, grace, writes Bonar, is “that feeling which is called forth, not by the worth, but by the worthlessness of the object, which awakens at the sight of want, and misery, and guilt” (52–53). This is the sweetness of grace, the grand glory of God’s gospel, that we who are his enemies are made his friends — no, even better — his children (Rom. 5:6, 8; John 1:12; Gal. 3:26). And now, all that we hope for and long for and strive for and live for is found in him. Bonar concludes:
This, then, is the marvel, that man’s sin, instead of shutting up the heart of God, and sealing it against the sinner, should be the very thing which unlocks new chambers of its love, and draws forth new stores of its undiscovered and unimagined fulness . . . Thus grace meets [us] on the very spot where [we stand as sinners]; it takes [us] just as it finds [us] . . . It comes up to [us] as [we] stand; it does not wait, but hastens to meet [us]; it does not proclaim itself afar off, but places itself at [our] very side; it does not require [us] to come so much of the way to meet it; it goes the whole way to meet [us]. It does not call upon [us] to move one step till it has first taken hold of [us]; it does not insist upon [our] obtaining some qualification, some fitness, by throwing off as much of [our] guilt as [we] can. It asks for no qualification; it offers to take the whole mass of [our] guilt at once into its own hand, and to dispose of it in its own way. Such [is] the fullness, such the absolute freeness, of that grace . . . Grace [which] does not stand upon the distant mountain-top and call on the sinner to climb up the steep heights, that he may obtain its treasures; it comes down into the valley in quest of him — nay, it stretches down its hand into the very lowest depths of the horrible pit, to pluck him thence out of the miry clay. It does not offer to pay the ninety and nine talents, if he will pay the remaining one; it provides payment for the whole, whatever the sum may be. It does not offer to complete the work, if he will only begin it by doing what he can. It takes the whole work in hand, from first to last, presupposing his total helplessness. It does not bargain with the sinner, that if he will throw off a few sins, and put forth some efforts after better things, it will step in and relieve him of the rest by forgiving and cleansing him. It comes up to him at once, with nothing short of complete forgiveness as the starting-point of all his efforts to be holy . . . It is absolutely and unconditionally free; it comes up to us where we stand; it finds us “in a desert land, and in a waste, howling wilderness.” And there it does its work with us. (54, 60–63, 65)
This is the grandeur of the gospel, the sweetness of grace. Have you tasted of it?
Brian Anderson, Overwhelmed by Grace: A Biblical Study of the Grace of God in Salvation (Xulon Press, 2008).
Horatius Bonar, The Story of Grace (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1857).