The Throne of Grace – a Blessing
In September 1791 Mary Forbes married Thomas Winslow, a Captain in the army; she was just 17. Shortly afterwards she attended a ball, where she was the centre of attention as the young bride. But later that evening, as she lay sleepless in bed, her thoughts went back to the excitement and the pleasure of the evening. She sighed and whispered to herself: ‘Is this all?’ She knew that her soul needed far more than the happiness she had just experienced. Years passed without finding the answer to her question. ‘I endeavoured to walk so as to please God,’ she recalled, ‘but again and again my best resolutions were broken.’ A religion of works could not satisfy her soul. Nor could a thoughtful husband or her young children.
In an attempt to cheer her up, her husband, now out of the army, rented a house where she would be less lonely, in Pentonville, in North London. Mary went to the local Anglican church, but she found that ‘there was nothing to satisfy my soul’. However, a new minister, Thomas Sheppard, came to the church; ‘a real shepherd’, she called him. From him she heard,
for the first time in my life, the precious gospel of peace. This was what I had wanted to know for many years, that Jesus Christ had come into the world to save poor sinners. I was a sinner, and wanted to be saved. O how eagerly I listened and drank in every word! I had been in vain trying to work out my salvation, but my work always fell short and left me as poor and miserable as ever. Now was held out to me the hope that I might be saved by the work of another – the work of Jesus Christ.
In due course, under this scriptural preaching, Mary did find salvation. ‘Christ was mine,’ she wrote,
heaven was mine. All care and sorrow had vanished, and I was as happy as I could be in the body. . . I had been in search of real happiness for years, and in one night I found it all in Jesus. God’s richest treasury had been thrown open to my view, and in Him I found all I wanted for time and eternity.”1
But even after being blessed with new life in her soul, she could not experience continuous happiness. ‘In the world’, the Saviour warned, ‘ye shall have tribulation’ (John 16:33). Indeed Mary was to experience considerable sadness, including the loss of four children as infants. The death of the fourth occurred shortly after crossing to New York with her 10 surviving children; then, even before the funeral had taken place, she received a message from Britain that her husband also had died. She described this as the heaviest affliction she had ever met with. She wrote, ‘I trust the Lord will yet enable me to say, Thy will, O God, not mine, be done’.2
Mary Winslow suffered considerable ill health. On one occasion she wrote, ‘I am myself just now tired, feeble in body’. But she could add, ‘O what a transcendent blessing is a throne of grace in a time of trouble!’3 Many have expressed themselves similarly, at least in their own minds, when experiencing difficult circumstances – whether illness, for example, or bereavement, poverty, depression or temptation. Even in such situations, they have known the blessedness of being able to cast themselves and their deepest needs, of body and soul and circumstances, on ‘him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Eph. 3:20). They have experienced the Lord’s power to deliver them and to sustain them, at times when it was clearly beyond their power, and beyond all human power, to deliver them or even, so to speak, to keep their head above water.
How could Peter keep himself from sinking further when his attempt to walk on the water was no longer succeeding? Certainly he could not bring himself back to the boat; he was perhaps too far away from the boat for the other disciples to help him; but ‘Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him’ (Matt. 14:31). This incident should teach us how dependent we should feel on the Lord Jesus Christ in every situation, particularly in time of great trouble. In other words, it should teach us to come ‘to the throne of grace’ (Heb. 4:16). Let us notice here three particular points:
(1.) The reference to a throne points us to the King who sits on the throne: the Lord Jesus, who, when He had finished the whole work of redemption in this world, ascended to heaven and ‘sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Heb. 1:3). From his throne of majesty, he has everything that happens in this world under his control, and he is especially ordering it all for the benefit of those whom he has redeemed. So when they pray in the name of Christ, we can expect them to be heard on the basis of what he has done for them. Through his work on earth, he has obtained an abundance of gifts which he is sovereignly dispensing to those who come to him as he sits on his throne of majesty.
(2.) It is a throne of grace. So we may not come to it as if we were asserting our rights, or as if we could purchase blessings through our own good works – perhaps by the merit of our prayers. We are sinners; we have no merits; we deserve nothing except to suffer eternally for our sins. But the One who sits on the throne is full of grace; he will cast out no one who comes to him – who, in other words, trusts in him. We are to come to him, first of all, that our sins may be forgiven and that all our spiritual needs may be supplied, on the basis of his great work of redemption, when he suffered and died in the place of guilty sinners. And that work of salvation is entirely gracious; we can never begin to deserve it. Likewise the supply of all our other needs, spiritual and temporal, is entirely of grace; we can never deserve any of his gifts.
(3.) We are told to come boldly – that is, with confidence. For one thing, we are assured that Christ is ‘not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’. Although he could not experience what it is to sin, yet he has experienced all other kinds of infirmities; so he will not turn away the prayers of those who come trusting in the sincerity of the call to the throne of grace. Further, we must be confident of the truth of all the statements of Scripture: in particular, the truth of Christ’s invitation: ‘Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest’. We may most often think of this as an invitation to sinners to come to Christ for salvation; but having so come, they are to come in faith, again and again, for the supply of all their further needs – as God, in his wisdom sees is best for them. They are to come conscious of the reliability of the Scripture assurances that Christ, on the throne of grace, will never reject anyone who looks to him.
All this is true, whatever needs we may meet with. But it is a great blessing to feel invited to the throne of grace, where the Saviour is ruling, in a time of particular trouble, such as Mary Winslow was experiencing when she wrote her letter. Not least among the gifts that he bestows is dying grace. On her deathbed, Mary Winslow remarked, ‘This is the hour to test the reality of the gospel’. But no one who has ever come trustingly to the throne of grace as a sinner, in the light of the good news about Jesus Christ as a glorious and perfect Saviour, will find that gospel fail on the verge of eternity. Accordingly she added, ‘It is a reality, a most blessed reality’.4 But with death, judgment and eternity before us all, what need for us to ‘give diligence to make [our] calling and election sure’ (2 Pet. 1:10).
- Octavius Winslow, Life in Jesus: A Memoir of Mrs Mary Winslow (London, nd), pp. 13-17. The author was one of three of the Winslow children who entered the Christian ministry. He wrote many books, some of which are in print today; they include The Work of the Holy Spirit.
- Life in Jesus, p 47.
- Octavius Winslow (ed), Heaven Opened: The Correspondence of Mary Winslow (Reformation Heritage Books reprint, 2001), p. 271. RHB has also reprinted Life in Jesus.
- Life in Jesus, p. 330.
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the March 2014 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.
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