I would place together two verses of Scripture, each of which is representative of a great line of truth, and which, in order that the mind may be correctly balanced on the facts of the perfect security of the believer on the one hand, and of the moral fitness of the disciple on the other, must be clearly contrasted. The contrast does not involve any contradiction.
1. “Giving thanks unto the Father, which has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12).
2. “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
The first statement, viz, meetness for the inheritance, is absolute and unconditional; the second, viz, fitness for the kingdom, is strictly conditional. To look back from the plough demonstrates unfitness. The first is the fruit of God’s pure and boundless grace. We render thanks to the Father for this stupendous blessing. The second, being wholly in the line of responsibility—holding the plough of service—is contingent on faithfulness on our part.
We must distinguish most carefully, therefore, between grace and responsibility, between relationship and service, between that which the Father has accomplished for us and that which we, in our place as servants, whatever the service be, should render to the Lord. Unless souls are established in grace, they cannot rightly appreciate the matter of response to the will of God. There must be confusion of thought. There is nothing so poorly apprehended as grace. We may possibly speak and sing very much about it, and may, sincerely enough, own that, but for the grace of God, our case were hopeless; yet to admit that grace is the sole and only ground of our faith and hope is, when fully tested, seldom the experience. There generally lurks in the heart a feeling that grace must be complemented by the fulfilment of responsibility. But this feeling discloses that very misapprehension of grace to which we refer, and indicates that the soul is not really delivered from law. It is unwittingly, perhaps, forming a kind of amalgamation between two irreconcilable principles. Fire and water agree as readily as grace and law! They refuse all coalition, and must be maintained as essentially separate. The principle of law is, that I make myself fit for God’s holy presence; that of grace, that He does it for me. The first is an impossibility, no matter under what system tried; the second is of God and actual.
But it may be said, no one supposes that we are justified by the deeds of the law! Well, that is doubtless true enough in theory, for we very properly boast of justification by faith; but the principle of law is part of our very nature, and is well-nigh ineradicable. It is natural to us to do something, or feel something, or be something different from what we are, in order that we should please God. Quite natural, and most common all the world over, and witnessed to by every system of religion that was ever invented, but it is foreign to Christianity.
If there is one truth more insisted on than another in the New Testament, it is the absolutely and irretrievably lost condition of man; that he is not only guilty, but sinful, having no strength, nor indeed, the will, to turn to God.
Hence the new birth is the sine qua non, the grand necessity of entering the kingdom of God. Why a new birth—a new start—a something wholly fresh and de novo, if by any means the old could be made somehow to suffice?
Ponder this foundation fact.
Further, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). He is “created anew in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10), facts which set aside for ever the idea of improvement in the man of the first creation. And why new creation, if renovation of the old would do? New birth (not re-birth, as sometimes stated) and new creation place the seal of final condemnation on the creation that has preceded.
God begins anew. His purpose and grace in Christ Jesus are the origin of our calling and salvation, and this is expressly stated to be not according to our works (2 Tim. 1:9).
Hence everything is certain. Salvation is wholly of God, we having but committed the vile sins that gave it its occasion. “Vile sins?” Yes, and as sin is known in its exceeding sinfulness it is abhorred and repented of, so that the redemption that is in Christ Jesus and the grace of God become infinitely precious.
Grace, then, makes the believer meet for the inheritance, and grace alone. There can be no question of failure on God’s part, nor need there be any fear on ours. It is not that “I shall reach heaven if I hold fast”; the word “if,” meaning a condition to fulfil certain responsibilities, has no place in this line.
The inheritance is on the ground of grace. It is according to His purpose and grace in Christ Jesus, whilst fitness for the kingdom is the moral condition which takes its character from the relation in which grace has already set the true believer.
Are there, then, no responsibilities? Most assuredly there are, but they apply to the Christian as viewed on the ground of his profession, whether as a servant or a pilgrim.
It will thus be seen that grace and glory on the one hand and responsibility and reward on the other go together. They are co-relative. The commands, warnings, and exhortations of the word attach to the line of responsibility, And how valuable they are! Who that knows himself but feels the need of every direction, instruction, or warning that Scripture gives? He knows that he runs a race; he is consciously weak and easily turned aside, prone to look back and spoil his furrow, and possibly lose the prize on the coming day. This is all deeply serious, but he has no question as to the inheritance. That is settled. It is founded on grace. Saved today, he has no fear of being lost tomorrow; but, if saved now, he owns that the calling is holy, and he therefore seeks grace so that he should be as fit for the kingdom as he is made meet for the inheritance.
Thank God for His infinite grace.