How I Learned to Love the Doctrines of Grace
Thomas Scott1, the commentator, that holy man of God, in The Force of Truth2 (which is his personal testimony), says
Till the 16th year of my age, I do not remember that I ever was under any serious conviction . . . but about my 16th year I began to see that I was a sinner . . . Being, however, an utter stranger to the depravity and helplessness of fallen nature, I had no doubt that I could amend my life whenever I pleased.3
He adds that after nine years of various experiences (being still ignorant that God had reserved the work of salvation to himself as his own work), he stifled his convictions as well as he could, and put off repentance to a more convenient season. He found a book of Socinian Theology and ‘in this awful state of mind I attempted to obtain admission into holy orders.’4
Such a confession some may find hard to understand, but others of us understand it quite well. In a similar state of ignorance and error I was ‘admitted to the priesthood’ in Lincoln Cathedral on Trinity Sunday, 1898, by the late Bishop Edward King, and as I walked down the Minster aisle I believed myself to be endowed with a sacerdotal gift and power which no layman (however distinguished) could ever possess.
Having an eye for colour and an ear for beautiful and entrancing music, I had fallen readily under the spell of that sensuous and pompous type of church service, which is known in these days as Anglo-Catholic. The mass was everything to me. A Communion Service without crosses and candles and bells and vestments and incense and scarlet-cassocked acolytes was to me cold and unlovely and abhorrent. There was no difference (I believed) between the Anglican and Roman Churches, except in outward matters, and except for belief in the infallibility of the Pope. That I should ever minister as a Protestant, and do so conscientiously from conviction, would then have seemed well nigh an impossibility. But what is impossible with man is more than possible with God.
In 1900 I went out to South Africa (because most of the Churches there were ‘Catholic’!), and there our Lord himself in mercy manifested himself to me. At a time when I was infatuated with Catholicism, in a place where there was no one who could point me to the doctrines of grace, in a way that was as unexpected as it was startling, he found me out and turned me round, and all my life was changed. Readers who know anything about the sovereignty of God in the work of salvation will readily understand this. But it was both perplexing and astonishing to me.
Someone sent me a copy of a book, and it taught me things of which I had been profoundly ignorant. It taught me, among other matters:
1. That outward ceremonies and reliance on a mechanical theory of apostolic succession could never earn for me acceptance with God.
2. That a new birth and the virtue of the precious blood of Christ (with all that that implies) could alone bring me this acceptance.
3. That the veil of the temple was rent in twain at Calvary, and the way was open for any and every penitent, bruised, willing, broken, wounded, stained and hungry sinner to go to the mercy seat, without the intervention of anyone (priest or Bishop or Cardinal) – except that of the one mediator between God and man, the God-Man, Christ Jesus.
It was one verse of Holy Writ which began this awakening in me. You will find it in 1 Samuel 10:26 – ‘And Saul went home to Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched.’ I felt that God had not touched my heart. My ignorance of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity was abysmal. I sought the Saviour in the dark. I believed that I found HIM. Sometime later I knew HE HAD FOUND ME!
There was nothing for it, after that, but to come home to England. Hearing that the Reverend George Hewitt, Vicar of St. Luke’s Prestonville, Brighton, needed a Curate, I applied for the post and obtained it, through God’s mercy. Mr. Hewitt was a pronounced and uncompromising Protestant of the old school and a convinced and deeply taught believer in the doctrines of grace. At the same time he had the kindest of hearts and often warned us of the danger of holding the doctrines of grace without the grace of the doctrines in our hearts.
I knew simply nothing of free grace teaching at that time; but before going to Brighton stayed with a doctor brother at Bexley in Kent. There I heard it preached for the first time. My brother attended Rev. E. C. Lovely’s Church at Bexleyheath, and I went to it with him many times. Afterwards, we talked things over. ‘Mr. Lovely,’ I said, ‘is a splendid preacher, but I simply cannot do with this election teaching.’ ‘Well,’ said my brother, ‘I said the same here at first, but now the doctrines he preaches are life to me. Nothing else can take their place.’ ‘I shall never believe them,’ was my reply, ‘if I live to be a hundred.’
But at Brighton I found myself plunged into controversy again. The very first night, Mr. Hewitt wrote out a hymn for me and, passing it to me, asked me if I could go all the way with that.
Prepare me, gracious God,
To stand before Thy face.
Thy Spirit must the work perform,
For it is all of grace.
In my shallowness I was quite ready to acquiesce even in that little word ALL – without really knowing what I was saying. But I was soon to know, and soon I was up in arms against Mr. Hewitt’s every sermon. He was patient and gentle with me (how gentle!) – and lent me books. One of them was Elisha Coles’ The Sovereignty of God; one was Park’s Five Points of Calvinism; one was John Newton’s Cardiphonia5; one was Samuel Rutherford’s Letters6. But I would have none of them. They made me angry. They humiliated my pride. I fled for refuge to Keswick teaching, and smoothed my ruffled feelings with universal redemption teachings. A deeply-taught gentleman who attended the church used to tell me that, in preaching, I took away with my left hand what I had given with my right! I remember preaching one night from the Jacob and Rachel story in Genesis. ‘Jacob sought Rachel,’ I said, scarcely realising the meaning of my own words. ‘It was not Rachel who first sought Rachel.’ And the analogy was the same between our Lord and his people. ‘You got it right tonight,’ the gentleman said to me afterwards, which caused me to think furiously.
The first of the doctrines I was enabled through grace to receive was the doctrine of the final preservation of the saints. ‘Look it up in the Greek,’ Mr. Hewitt said to me – ‘St. John’s Gospel chapter 10, verses 27 and 28.’ I did so, and my breath was nearly taken away. The emphasis is so strong in the Greek, much more so than in our English translation. The wonder of it all! ‘Never!’ ‘Never perish.’ ‘My Sheep’ – how blessed thus to learn of the Father’s everlasting love to his children.
But I was still hostile to the rest of the doctrines – especially the doctrine of election. ‘It is the election to service,’ I said, ‘and not to salvation’ – and with this I drugged my mind to sleep for some years at least.
In 1911 I was Curate of St. Paul’s, Onslow Square, in Kensington, and one free Tuesday night, on passing Gower Street Old Chapel, something made me go into the service. I do not know to this day who the preacher was, but I came out a different man. The text was 1 Peter 5:10: ‘But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.’
I shall never forget the power with which that word SETTLE fell upon my soul. It was God who was doing the settling. It was God who had done the settling – the Three-One God in the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, purposed and determined these things in the council chambers of eternity, before the world began,
The Gospel bears my spirit up,
A faithful and unchanging God
Lays the foundation of my hope,
In oaths and promises and blood.
This threw new light for me upon the precious and ever-blessed finished work of Christ on Calvary. As Marcus Rainsford reminds us, in commenting on those beautiful words in John 17:4: ‘I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do’:
It was no uncertain work.
It was no light work.
It was no insufficient work.
It was no disappointing work.
Some people seem to think as if its completion depended upon whether they consented or not!
It was redemption work ‘to bring in everlasting righteousness,’ and it brought in a redemption that really redeems.
One cannot go on in too much detail. One by one I fought against these despised old doctrines of grace. One by one, they vanquished me. The climax came when at last I simply had to face the doctrine of election. The test is (I was reminded) – not ‘Do I like this teaching?’ but ‘Is it in the New Testament?’
It was Scott’s Force of Truth that, under God, made things clear to me. Free-grace readers know well the story, and will readily call to mind the God-given wisdom, gentleness, and love with which John Newton dealt with his enquiring friend’s difficulties. Thomas Scott tells us that there came a time in his experience when a new thing began to happen.
After preaching certain sermons, several people were brought under deep concern for their souls. He felt his deficiency in dealing with them, and in his perplexity besought the Lord to teach him what word in season to speak to them. Just at this time he was led to read Witsius’ Economy of the Covenants, and observed what use he (Witsius) there made of the doctrine of election under quite similar circumstances. ‘This convinced me that, if true, the doctrine would afford that ground of encouragement which the people wanted.’7
1. They had been awakened from ignorant formality.
2. They appeared truly penitent.
3. They wanted some security that they should not fall back again.
4. This, if genuine, was the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and, if wrought in consequence of the determinate purpose and foreknowledge of God, it would follow (from the entire and undeserved freeness of this first gift bestowed on them, when neither seeking nor desiring it, but while in a state of enmity and rebellion against God) that,
5. He would assuredly carry on and complete the good work of his grace and keep them by his power, as in a castle, through faith unto salvation.
From this beginning, Mr. Scott tells us, he was led on till the matter became quite clear to him.
Here is a mystery, not yet too curiously to be searched into by man’s natural reason, but humbly received by faith, just as far as it is plainly revealed in God’s unerring Word. Except we receive the kingdom of God – not as disputing philosophers, but as a little child – we shall in no wise enter therein. God’s unconstrained will and pleasure are the only assignable causes of his choosing one rather than another; and the whole work of his own from beginning to end.
‘That I fall,’ says Mr. Scott, ‘so very far short in everything is not the effect of my new doctrines, but of my old depraved nature and deceitful heart.’8 ‘Amen,’ says the writer of this paper to that.
‘Hot and cold’ doctrines are anathema to a man who has been taught something of the plague of his own heart. What a relief to turn to the ‘shalls’ and ‘wills’ of Holy Writ: ‘This people have I formed for myself; THEY SHALL shew forth my praise.’
It is difficult to describe in a few words the difference it makes to have been taught something of the blessedness of these doctrines of grace. They lift religion on to a higher plane. One’s eyes are taken off one’s own soiled, striving, fruitless, agitated, changing frames, feelings and works; and by faith one is given a glimpse of something of the majesty and wonder of God’s eternal purposes. Instead of the baffled, perplexed, anxious uncertainty of Arminian ‘Gospel appeals’ – one learns of the settled faithfulness of the covenant. The Bible becomes a new book. Free grace, in its pages, refreshes thirsty souls. As we follow the ‘shalls’ and ‘wills’ (say) of the prophetical books, or trace spiritual experiences of men of old in the Psalms, our own lives are helped. Free grace shines in the Gospels and leads us to the Epistles.
If grace is not free, we shall never be free.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be:
Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
- See the article ‘Thomas Scott’ by John Westmacott on the Banner of Truth website.
- Thomas Scott, The Force of Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984).
- ibid., pp. 21-22.
- ibid., p. 26.
- The Trust’s Letters of John Newton includes a selection from Cardiphonia.
- Letters of Samuel Rutherford is published by the Trust in hardback. Selections are also available in the Puritan Paperback of the same name, and in The Loveliness of Christ, a gift edition in the Pocket Puritans series.
- The Force of Truth, p. 77.
- ibid., p. 90.
From a Sovereign Grace Union leaflet published in 1931 and reprinted in the Bible League Quarterly, January-March 2008 (Issue 432). Notes added.
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