The Cushion of Grace
Our Lord has wonderfully designed His kingdom for sinners. Not only does He call us, just as we are, into the kingdom of God, but He has made provision for us to grow out of the dregs of our sin and into His likeness. The efficient cause behind such sanctifying growth is the Holy Spirit, who indwells each believer and fosters the development of the fruit of the Spirit in every member of the body of Christ (Gal. 5:22ff). We also are directed and empowered to help one another grow in the grace, knowledge, holiness, and love of the Lord. One of the ways we do this is by our recognizing and respecting the cushion of grace that our Savior has applied to all relationships in the Church militant.
What I mean by the cushion of grace is that we finite and fallible sinners, who find ourselves in process of being conformed to the image of Christ, cannot relate rightly with each other only upon the basis of truth and justice. Redeemed though we may be from the dominion of sin, we still must contend with its remnants in our lives, as well as in the lives of our brethren. This sin factor clouds our judgment and taints our motives so that we are incapable of perceiving the whole truth in our interpersonal relationships. We shall be ever laboring under such incapacitation throughout our earthly pilgrimage. Thus, our Lord has incorporated into the constitution of His Church a modifying factor designed to offset the faulty judgment and impure motives of His people as they related to one another. We are not, therefore, told to communicate with each other only in truth, but in the truth saturated in love (Eph. 4:15).
Scripture articulates and expounds this cushion of grace in many ways. Jesus speaks, for example, of the need we all have to remove the log from our own eyes before we endeavor to take the speck from the eyes of our brethren (Mt. 7:3ff). Strictly speaking according to the truth, it may be our brother who has more sin – the log – and we who have the speck of the lesser sin. But whether that is true or not, our residual sinfulness would have us to assume in every case that we are more sinned against than sinning, and so our motives easily become inquisitorial and prosecutory, rather than humbly and lovingly appealing. Accordingly, our Lord imposes the cushion of grace between brethren, in which each believer, when dealing with others in the body of Christ, assumes that he himself is the greater sinner. Mutual humility and loving commitment to provoke each other to love and good works then results.
Despite what our Lord says about the log and the speck, many believers still try to relate to others without the cushion of grace. Some point to what Paul writes in his Roman epistle about our calling to have an honest estimation of ourselves (Rom. 12:3), and also to the Ninth Commandment that obliges us to speak the truth (Ex. 20:16) as the basis for their conceit that they are with minimal sin while the saints around them maximize their transgression. However, the more honest and true the estimation in which we hold ourselves is, the more lowly will be our profile. For the truth is that we tend to think not too lowly, but too highly of ourselves, as Rom. 12:3 also makes clear.
Because of this sinful propensity we have to minimize our own sin while magnifying that of others in the body of Christ, our Lord commands us to exercise the judgment of charity, wherein we lovingly are committed to placing the best construction upon the words and deeds of our brethren, not the worst. We are also commanded to prefer our brethren in honor before ourselves (Phil. 2:3).
If we are to err in our judgment – and we all do err – our gracious, loving Lord would have us to err in the direction not of our exacting justice, but in the direction of our gracious, patient, and loving treatment of others. In this, Jesus Himself gives us the example in His treatment of Judas. Our Lord knew from the beginning what a rotter Judas was (Jn. 6:64). Yet, Jesus treated the betrayer as a disciple in good standing, and, even at the consummation of Judas’ betrayal, our Savior appealed to him, calling him friend (Mt. 26:50).
Think how much more peace we would experience if we treated each other less judicially and more graciously. Think how sweet our relationships will be, and how. greatly friction amongst ourselves will diminish when we recognize and respect the fact that our Lord would have us to be zealous not only for the truth, which we can and do twist, but especially for holy, sacrificial love, that is impossible to counterfeit. Let us then, reckon ourselves to be blinded by logs in all of our dealings with our brethren, and then, to our ultimate surprise and delight, we shall come to see the saints more truly and relate to them more lovingly, sweetly, and satisfyingly through the cushion of grace.
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