By the title of this little blog, you should be aware that I'm pretty keen on the idea of all things being by grace alone. Every now and then I think we all need to be reminded that everything we have, we have by grace. So many want to argue that they somehow had a hand in their own salvation, and continue to have a hand in everything, but that does nothing but glorify man when all glory should be reserved for God alone. God’s grace is for His glory alone, and we need the humility of being reminded of that. Here is part of a message from Charles Spurgeon based on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10, which “bookend” this quote:
“By the grace of God I am what I am.” And that statement may be read, first, as meaning this, that Paul ascribed his own salvation to the free favor of God. He believed himself to be a regenerate man, a forgiven man, a saved man, and he believed that condition of his was the result of the unmerited favor of God. He did not imagine that he was saved because he deserved salvation, or that he had been forgiven because his repentance had made an atonement for his sin. He did not reckon that his prayers had merited salvation, or that his abundant labors and many sufferings had earned that boon for him at God’s hands. No, he does not for a moment speak of merit, it is a word which Paul’s mouth could not pronounce in such a connection as that; but his declaration is, “It is by God’s free favor that I, Saul of Tarsus, have been converted, and made into Paul the apostle, the servant of Jesus Christ. I attribute this great change entirely to the good-will, the sovereign benignity, the undeserved favor of the ever-blessed God.”
Now, my dear hearers, let me put this truth very plainly, so that you may not mistake it. If you are saved, you do not owe your salvation to anything that you have done; nor, if you ever are to be saved, will it be the result of any goodness of your own. You may spin, but if you are ever saved, the first thing God will do will be to unravel that which you have spun. You may clothe yourself in the gaudy garments of a self-made righteousness, but God’s first act of grace will be to strip you of them, and to make you feel that all such garments are nothing but filthy rags, fit only for the fire. You must deny your own merits, or you cannot have the merits of Christ. Your church-goings, your chapel-going, your baptism, your so-called sacraments, your confirmation, your private prayers, your family prayers, your Bible readings, your good thoughts, your alms deeds, all these put together have no merit in them that could help you to go an inch towards salvation. Salvation is not of works, but of grace alone; and they who do not obtain salvation in this way will as surely perish as the blasphemer and the drunkard. There is but one way of salvation, the way of free favor. That was the way in which Paul went, and that is the way in which we must go if we would enter into eternal life.
The word grace, in Scripture, also means something else besides free favor; it very of then means operative power. When the Spirit of God works savingly upon the heart, the influence which he exorts is called his grace; so the apostle means here, “By the grace of God I am what I am;” that is, “Whatever I am that is right, God made me that. If I am regenerate, I must have been born again from above by the power of God. If I have repented, my repentance was the gift of God. If I have believed, my faith was the work of God. If I have perseverance in faith, that perseverance has been the effect of the work of God in my soul. If I have ever prayed an acceptable prayer, it was God’s grace that enabled me to do it. If I have ever sung God’s praise so as to please him, that praise was first written in my heart by the Holy Spirit.” “What hast thou which thou has not received?” is a question to which the answer from every true heart is, “I have nothing which I have not received, except it be my sin; but all I have that is good must have come from God.” If any of you are to be saved, God must save you. Sinner, you are lost, and lost beyond recovery by any hand but that which is divine and omnipotent. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” Let that text roll like thunder over the heads of those who think that they can save themselves. The Lord must do it from first to last. His is the first act of grace when he quickeneth the spiritually dead, and his must be the last act of grace when we lay down our vile bodies, and our spirit enters into the joy of our Lord.
Now, these two things being true, and being surely believed among us, that salvation is by the free favor of God, and that it is by the power of divine grace, I think I may say that, if Paul had been here, he would have pushed this matter a little further. There are some of our dear brethren, and true brethren, too, who do not see the doctrines of grace quite clearly. They see men as trees walking, for they seem to attribute the fact of their salvation in part to themselves. I do not say as to merit, for I believe they abhor that idea; and I do not say as to power, for I believe they hold as earnestly as we do that the sinner is dead in sin, and that the power to act comes from the Holy Ghost. But, somehow or other, they make a great deal more of man’s will than I think they should; just as, on the other hand, some speak too little of the will of man, and treat men as if they had not any wills, but were so many logs of wood. There is truth on both sides of the question; and, as some of my brethren preach the other view of the truth, I will preach that view of it which my text gives me.
If I am a saved man, how came I to be saved? Somebody asks, “But why are you saved, and not other men?” My dear friend, there are two questions there, so I must take them one at a time. Will you kindly let me take the first one, only altering it thus, — Why are you saved? If you are saved, there is a great difference between you and others who are not saved. You were once a lover of pleasure and of the world, and you are now a lover of God. Now, somebody made that difference, and whoever did it did a good action, so let his head be crowned. Here is the crown. Now, sirs, upon whose head shall I put it? Have you made yourself to differ from what you used to be, and from what others still are? Are you prepared to wear the crown? You bow your head, and say, “Oh, no! Let the Lord have the glory of it.”
Well, then, it is quite evident that God has made a difference between you and others, and that it was a commendable thing for him to do so; and as it was commendable for God to do it, it must have been so for God to purpose to do it; and if it was commendable for him to purpose to do it the day he did it, it was commendable for him to purpose to do it from all eternity; and thus we get back to the old and glorious decrees and covenant of divine grace of which some are so afraid, though, as surely as this Book is written of God, it stands there that he hath “from the beginning” chosen his people unto salvation. “By the grace of God I am what.”
Soli Deo Gloria!