One of the most remarkable statements in the Bible is found in Isaiah 62:5, ‘as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you’. The prophet Zephaniah takes the thought a step further, and deeper: ‘The Lord your God is with you . . . he will rejoice over you with singing’ (Zeph. 3:17). It is quite breathtaking to imagine the everlasting and ever-blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, rejoicing over weak, poor, inconstant, shallow, doubting, believing sinners – and he does, astonishingly.
The greatness of what Isaiah and Zephaniah wrote does not lie however in the wholly undeserving objects of God’s rejoicing, but in the astounding grace that gave birth to his rejoicing.
I fear, if you are anything like me, that grace is such a commonplace in the evangelical Christian’s vocabulary, that the thought of it rarely if ever moves and thrills you, far less overwhelms you. It is a biblical truism that we are saved by grace, that salvation in all its parts is ‘from him, and through him, and to him . . . To him be the glory for ever! Amen’ (Rom. 11:36). We know that grace truly is ‘amazing’. We understand that grace is undeserved, saving kindness to judgment-deserving sinners. We know this. We confess this. We sing this. Some of us preach this. But when were we last humbled and overwhelmed by the heart-stopping wonder of grace?
Thomas Goodwin, the great English Puritan, wrote insightfully about God’s grace:
Grace is more than mercy and love, it super-adds to them. It denotes not simply love, but the love of a sovereign, transcendent superior, one that may do what he will, that may wholly choose whether he will love or no . . . Now God, who is an infinite Sovereign, who might have chosen whether ever He would love us or no, for Him to love us, this is grace.
Goodwin has surely captured the heart and glory of grace, ‘For him to love us, this is grace.’ Him! It has always helped me when thinking about the grace of God to change the word order to ‘the God of grace’. Grace is not a ‘spiritual substance’ that God parcels out to us from a heavenly treasury. Grace is God giving himself to us. In essence, Jesus is the grace of God (read John 1:14, 17). He is God’s gift of love to the world. In him, and in him alone, God gifts to us his love, his kindness, his mercy. Grace is deeply personal.
The implications of this are profound. It means above all else that we are to glory in the God of grace and not in the grace of God. I hope I am not making an artificial distinction. Of course Christians will love and cherish the doctrines of grace. Of course we will celebrate the inexplicable sovereignty of that grace. But there is always the danger that we isolate the blessings of the gospel from the Person of the Saviour. If Jesus Christ himself is the grace of God in its revealed fulness (John 1:14, 17), then our lives will be marked first by love and adoration to him, the essence and epitome of God’s grace. What Peter wrote about the exiles of the dispersion should be true of all Christians, ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him’ (1 Pet. 1:8).
When our Lord Jesus asked Peter three times, ‘Do you love me?’, he was surely not only speaking to Peter. Was he not asking every one of us, as he asked Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ It is not love to Christ that saves us – but nor is it faith in Christ that saves us! It is Christ who saves us through faith – this is grace. Again, this is not trying to be clever with words. Rather it is what God’s holy Word again and again impresses on us. Our boast as believers is not that we have faith, but that the Lord Jesus is our heavenly Bridegroom and that he, yes he, rejoices over us with singing.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.
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