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Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Date Posted:

Proclaiming Our Protestant Faith! Part 1 -- Salvation By Grace

The following sermon was preached at Edinburgh at the Opening of the Protestant and Calvinistic Congress there on Thursday 7th July 1938 by Rev Alexander Ross B.D., Professor of N. Testament Exegesis Free Church College, Edinburgh
Rev Alexander Ross B.D.

“Back to Christ” used to be a favourite watchword with New Testament scholars: perhaps it still makes an appeal in some quarters. It has often been used in a mischievous fashion with the implication: “Back to Christ, ignoring Paul, who grievously misunderstood Jesus, obscured His simple religious and ethical message, and led the whole Christian world off on a false scent.” The true standpoint is: “Back to Christ through Paul, who, inspired by the Spirit of truth, gave to the world an inexhaustible exposition of the deepest meaning of the Christian revelation.”

St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians has been called “the Switzerland of the New Testament.” If there are depths in it that baffle the profoundest searchings of our finite minds, there are also spiritual Everests in it that men find hard to scale. Consider, for example, this great pronouncement: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. ii.8). Let us gaze at some of the wonders in the far‑reaching vista of spiritual truth which is spread out before us here.

1. Think of the Ultimate Source of Salvation

This is a text with which Calvinists must feel thoroughly at home, for it traces the salvation of sinful man to the sovereign grace of God alone. “By grace are ye saved . . . not of works.” Dr. G. G. Findlay said very truly: “The opposition of gift and debt, of gratuitous salvation though faith, to salvation earned by works of law, belongs to the marrow of St. Paul's divinity,” and we might add that it belongs to the marrow of Calvinism, which is just a fresh publication and exposition of Paulinism. All the glory of man's salvation must be given to God. Solagratia. “Salvation is of the Lord”; it does not “leave up nor down one spot for the creature to stand in.” Salvation is not of works, but unto works. The good works of the child of God are the result of salvation, not the efficient cause of it. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” and there can be no good works in man apart from His justifying, regenerating, sanctifying grace.


“Grace” is a great New Testament word which is not so frequently heard on the lips of preachers as once it was. The grace of God means His love, looked at from one specific standpoint. It means His love as lavished on the utterly unlovely, the love of the King of heaven for the beggar on the dung‑hill and the hopelessly lost in the pit of corruption, the love of the altogether Holy One as it goes out to the totally depraved, the unutterably vile. Really to appreciate such love, we need such a vision of ourselves, in the merciless searchlight of the Word of God, as will force us to acknowledge that “love so amazing, so divine” is so utterly unexpected, so startling, that it will require eternity even to begin to understand it.

Elsewhere Paul writes: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be made rich” (2 Cor. viii. 9). That verse suggests four ways in which we can endeavour to think of the grace of God in Christ. We may try to measure it by thinking of the height from which the Lord of glory looked down on us in our sin and misery. “He was rich,” rich in the possession of all divine attributes, rich in glory and in power, “dwelling in the light that no man can approach unto,” “the King all‑glorious above, pavilioned in splendour and girded with praise.” So rich was He in His essential being that He thought into existence whatever is. That is the New Testament doctrine of Christ, and no other Christ will ever meet man's desperate need. That He should think of people like us with such love, with that “great love with which He loved us,” is the mystery of mysteries.


Again, we may try to measure the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ by thinking of the depths of guilt and degradation in which He saw us lying. What He did, says St. Paul, was done “for your sakes,” for the sake of men and women who, as he reminds them elsewhere (1 Cor. vi. 9, 10), had been adulterers, thieves, drunkards, extortioners. That God should love the holy angels is not so wonderful, perhaps, but He loved a world of sinners lost and ruined in the Fall, even men and women like those to whom Paul wrote, who were the objects of divine love when they were dead in trespasses and sins, when they were by nature the children of wrath even as others. That God should love men and women like that proves that His love is gracious love. “He did not wait till I loved Him, but loved me at my worst.”


Again, we my try to measure this grace b y thinking of the sacrifice which He made. “He became poor.” The purely humanitarian view of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ completely fails to do justice to a statement like that: when that view dominates the mind, our interpretation of a statement like that must needs be hopelessly shallow. We must trace the mystery of our Lord's Person back beyond Golgotha and Nazareth and Bethlehem, to the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. For us, being born means enrichment, for it means coming out of nothingness into conscious existence, but for Him being born meant impoverish­ ment. So the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that the first step in the humiliation of Christ was His “being born.” The full statement runs thus: “The humiliation of Christ consisted in His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross, in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.”


When Paul wrote that one pregnant word, “He became poor,” he meant all that. He who is the eternal Son of the Father, the Son of His bosom, who is clothed with honour and majesty, who covers Himself with light as with a garment, became a baby in a woman's arms, and she “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.” He who is the Creator of the ends of the earth, who fainteth not, and is never weary, sat weary with His journey by Sychar's well, and slept in tired exhaustion through the howling of the hurricane on the Galilean lake. He who opens rivers on the bare heights and fountains in the midst of the valleys, is heard asking for a drink of water from a Samaritan woman, and on the Cross cries: “I thirst,” so that, as Archbishop Alexander said in a striking line “The fountain wails, ‘I thirst,’” He who is the eternal object of the Father's love endured the hiding of the Father's face, when God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us,” when He was made a curse for us, when the Lord made to meet upon Him the iniquity of us all, when, suffering the uttermost penalty due to sin, He cried: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The grace that brought our sin-bearer there is the grace by which we are saved.


Once more, we may try to measure the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ by thinking of the height to which He raises us. Through His poverty we become rich, rich in possession of all

spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Eph. i. 3), rich in possession of redemption, which we have in His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. i. 7); rich through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. i. 13); rich because Christ has made His home in our hearts through faith (Eph. iii. 17); rich in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father, to whom we have access through the Son, in one Spirit (Eph. ii. 18); rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to them that love Him (James ii. 5).

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