RPM, Volume 14, Number 29, July 15 to July 21, 2012

Gleanings from Paul on Prayer


28. Prayer for Persevering Grace: Petition, Design, and Accomplishment

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12


By   A. W. Pink    



There Is More Difference Of Opinion among sermonizers and commentators on this prayer than on any other in the New Testament. It is not easy to make a translation of the Greek into simple and intelligible English, as appears from the additions made in our Authorized Version, for the insertion of the italicized words quite alters the scope and meaning of its clauses. Even where there is substantial concurrence as to the best English rendition, expositors are far from being agreed as to the precise meaning of its several petitions. We have therefore proceeded more slowly in our own attempt to open its contents, taking as our foundation the rendering of Bagster’s Interlinear, which in our judgment is as close and literal an equivalent of the original as can be given: "For which also we pray always for you, that you may count worthy of the calling our God, and may fulfill every good pleasure of goodness and work of faith with power, so that may be glorified the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in you, and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and of [the] Lord Jesus Christ."

First, we have carefully considered the occasion of this prayer or what prompted it, as its opening, "for which also [wherefore also, AV] we pray," requires us to do. We have pointed out that such an investigation takes us back to verse 4 where reference is made to the "persecutions and tribulations" which those saints were enduring. And we reminded the reader that the Thessalonians were being so sorely oppressed by their enemies that Paul had sent Timothy to "comfort and establish" them concerning their faith and to urge them "that no man should be moved by these afflictions" (1 Thess. 3:3). In 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 the apostle had sought to strengthen them by setting forth various considerations for their encouragement. He assured them that he specially remembered them before the throne of grace, earnestly supplicating God on their behalf. The "wherefore [for which cause] also we pray always for you" shows, Second, the importunity of this prayer. He frequently interceded for them, which fact expressed both his deep affection and real concern for them.

Its Petitions

Third, coming to its petitions, we expressed the conviction that the principal blessing for which the apostle here made request was that further supplies of persevering grace should be granted these saints. We conclude this, First, from the very trying situation they were in. Second, they particularly needed that grace in order to conduct themselves suitably to their profession. Third, their allotted task was to "fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power," for which performance divine enablement was absolutely essential. Fourth, thereby they would glorify "the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Fifth, on any other analysis of Paul’s prayer its concluding words would be a redundancy. But if their perseverance was the apostle’s concern, then the phrase "according to the grace of our God" would remove all ground of boasting and place the crown of honor where it rightly belonged. There is a holy balance between the truth of God’s effectual preservation of His people and the imperative necessity of their continuing in faith and holiness.

By regarding this prayer (and each of his others) as an implied exhortation, we obtain a better understanding of the apostle’s scope. For the chief reason why his prayers are recorded is that those for whom he prayed (and we who are informed of his petitions) might seek to realize the blessings he sought for God’s children. In other words, those things for which the apostle made request are what God requires from His people, yet what they are unable to accomplish in their own strength. While there is nothing meritorious in them, yet the exercise of their graces is as necessary as the gospel and the glorifying of their Master. Consequently we see in this prayer, as everywhere in the Word of truth, a striking and blessed union of power and our perseverance and duty leading to attainment of blessedness. Here the exercise of divine sovereignty and the discharge of human responsibility concur. Never let us put asunder what God has joined together.

The Calling of God

"That you may count worthy of the calling of our God" is the first petition in the prayer we are now pondering. Since we have previously devoted several paragraphs to a consideration of its meaning, we must abbreviate our present remarks upon it. The "calling" has reference to that operation of divine grace by which these Christians had been brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light and made the willing subjects of the kingdom of His dear Son, which entailed that henceforth they must make personal holiness their trade or avocation. The petition was that they should be brought to highly esteem such a vocation—notwithstanding the bitter opposition it met with—and be stirred up to meekly discharge their responsibilities in connection with the same. Paul prayed not that they might be delivered from their "persecution and tribulation," but rather that they should be divinely enabled to hold out steadfast under the same and behave as the followers of Christ so that He should not be ashamed to own them as "His brethren." Paul’s yearning was that by their becoming conduct they should clearly evince themselves to be among the effectually called of God.

God’s Good Pleasure

"And fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness" is the second petition. The reference is clearly to one of the divine excellencies, for God is expressly mentioned at the end of the preceding clause. The "good pleasure" of God signifies His free will, his entire independency, that He acts without any restraint, being a law to Himself. His "goodness" is His benignity and kindness. God has absolute power and sovereign right to dispose as He will of all creatures, as to not only their temporal but their eternal concerns (Matthew 20:15). That sovereign will is the sole reason why He passes by some and chooses others (Rom. 9:18). But that absolute will of God is sweetly tempered with goodness or rich favor to His own elect. He has gracious goodwill to them at all times. As the self-inclination which is in God to promote His people’s welfare is free, it is called His "good pleasure," and as it moves Him to bestow benefits on them, it is termed His goodness, or benignity. All that the saints receive from Him proceeds from the goodwill which He bears them, and therefore all the praise for the same belongs alone to Him.

The Twofold Will of God

Note that these words, "fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness," do not form part of a doctrinal statement affirming the certainty of the divine purpose; instead, they describe a duty incumbent upon Christians—a duty for which divine grace needs to be sought. It is therefore requisite that we call the reader’s attention to a simple but necessary distinction. There is a twofold "will" of God referred to in Scripture, namely, His secret and revealed will—the former being the principal from which He works and which is invincible, the latter being the rule by which we are required to walk and which is never perfectly performed by any man (Dan. 4:35; Romans 9:19; cf. John 7:17 and Luke 12:47). And there is a twofold "counsel" of God—the one referring to His eternal decree, and the other to His advice to us (Isa. 46:10; Acts 4:28; cf. Proverbs 1:25; Luke 7:30). There is also the "good pleasure" by which God always acts (Eph. 1:9) and the "pleasure" of God by which we are called to act (Ps. 103:21). It is the latter of which our present verse speaks. The apostle prayed that these saints might be granted hearts framed to entire obedience to the divine statutes.

It is blessedly true that God does fulfill every good pleasure of His goodness in and through His people, yet it is equally true that they ought to aim at and rest content with nothing short of their fulfilling every divine precept which has been given them. The divine statutes are not only clothed with God’s authority, which we disregard at our peril, but they are also expressions of His goodness, which we ignore to our loss. God manifests His "goodness" to us in many ways, not least in His commandments, which are designed for our welfare. "The sabbath was made for man"—because he needed it for his benefit. They who, like Jonah the prophet, follow their own inclinations rather than God’s instructions "forsake their own mercy" (Jon. 2:8). A life of obedience is not only our duty but our comfort. The divine wisdom has so determined that whatever promotes His glory shall also advance the good of His people. Therefore as He has inseparably connected sin and misery, so He has holiness and happiness. "Great peace have they which love thy law" (Psalm 119:165). "He that keepeth the law, happy is he" (Prov. 29:18). "The way of transgressors is hard" (Prov. 13:15), but Wisdom’s ways are "ways of pleasantness" (Prov. 3:17).

God Requires a Holy People

"And may fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness." Again we observe what an exalted standard of conduct the apostle (by necessary implication) here sets before the saints. God requires His people to be "holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Pet. 1:15)—in thought, word, and deed. Nothing less than complete conformity to the rule God has given us must be our aim and earnest endeavor. No dispensation is granted us to pick and choose out of the Scriptures what we like best and pass by the rest. The divine promises must not be esteemed above the precepts. At this very point the emptiness of so many professors stands revealed. They are like backsliding Ephraim who "loveth to tread out the corn" but would not "break his clods" (Hosea 10:11). How many who call themselves "believers" approve the privileges of Christianity but disdain its duties, are all for saving grace, but nothing for the grace which teaches us to deny self. God requires that our obedience should be not only diligent but universal. Said the Psalmist, "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments" (Ps. 119:6). Until we do so, we have cause to hide our faces in confusion.

Divine Wisdom Needed

But like everything else in the Christian’s life, obedience to God is a growth: not in the spirit of it, not in sincere desire, not in determination to please God, for that is common to all the regenerate, but in actual performance. Light as well as love is necessary for this growth. Light comes to the Christian gradually as he is able to bear it—"more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18). Increased wisdom is necessary in order to make right use of the light—to know when to speak and when to be silent, and so on. And that is largely a matter of experience. As babes in Christ are unable to feed upon the food of which the fully grown partake, so there are tasks performed by the latter of which the former are incapable as yet. Mark the discrimination in the apostle’s language: "that you may fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness." He did not employ the verb teleioo which means "to accomplish" but pleroo which signifies "to bring to completion." Paul had reference to a process which is performed gradually or by degrees. The same word occurs again in Acts 12:25; 14:21. The goal was that they "might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10), thus performing all those duties Paul had assigned them.

Increased Grace Essential

The apostle here made supplication for increased grace as well as light and wisdom, essential for a fuller obedience. Once more we call attention to the breadth of his requests. He now besought God for a full supply of enabling grace for His people. Paul was no niggardly petitioner. Eyeing the good will which God bears His children, Paul did not hesitate to open his mouth when seeking favors for them—which far from being presumptuous was honoring to God as he availed himself of his rightful privilege. This feature is a very prominent one in all his prayers. It was as though he called to mind the example of the man after God’s own heart, who asked, "Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word" (Ps. 119:17). That was the very thing the apostle was doing here: beseeching God that He would impart to the Thessalonians a plentiful supply of grace that they might be spiritually alive and vigorous, in order that they should "keep his word," for in a renewed soul’s estimation the best" bounty" is to have the heart furnished for full obedience to God’s "good pleasure."

Let us not be stumbled then by the exalted standard of holiness which God has set before us, but let us rather be encouraged by the apostle’s precedent to seek full supplies of grace from God to fit us for the performing of our duty. If we are believingly occupied with "the goodness" of our God we shall not be afraid to ask and look for bounteous blessings from Him.

As one truly said, "We may be too bold in our manner of approach to God, but we cannot be too bold in our expectations from Him." God is able, God is willing, to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. The straitness is always in ourselves and never in Him: in the narrowness of our faith and not in the breadth of His promises. "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance" (Matthew 25:29). Plead that word before Him. "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8). Ponder well that threefold "all"! What further inducements do we require to approach the throne of grace with large petitions? If your need and longing are great, see to it that your expectation is equally so.

It is neither honoring to God nor good for himself that the Christian should be contented with a little grace. These Thessalonians were not only regenerate persons but they had attained a considerable degree of eminence in faith and holiness. Nevertheless Paul prayed that such further supplies of grace would be vouchsafed to them that they would be enabled to "fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness," i.e., that they would measure up to the whole revealed will of God. Do not be satisfied with the assurance that you have enough grace to take you to heaven, but seek that measure of it which will be not only for your comfort on earth but for the glorifying of your Savior while you are left in this scene. "Covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Cor. 12:31). Pray for enlarged affections and expectations. Beg God to deal with you not according to your deserts but according to the largeness of His liberality, seeking from Him that "good measure" which is "pressed down and running over." Above all, plead the Redeemer’s worthiness. God never denies those who make that their all-prevailing plea, for there is infinitely more merit in Christ’s sacrifice than there is demerit in you and all your sins!

A Notional and Nominal Faith Worthless

"And work of faith with power" is the third petition, or thing which God required from the saints and which the apostle asked for them. A notional and nominal faith, which is without good works, is dead and worthless; but a spiritual faith which produces fruit to God’s glory is living and authentic. The faith which God communicates to His elect is a vital and operative principle, therefore it has an office to discharge, a duty to fulfill. These words "the work of faith" are to be understood in precisely the same way as that little-understood expression "the work of the law" in Romans 2:15. The "work of the law" in that verse is to be regarded not as a principle of righteousness operating within the unregenerate Gentiles (a manifest absurdity) but as the design and function of the law. Its "work" is to prohibit and promise, to threaten or assure, reward. The "work of the law" refers not to the conduct it requires from us but to what the law itself does—accuses or acquits. So "the work of faith" refers to neither God’s quickening of faith nor its fruits through us, but to the task allotted to it. It is not the invigorating of faith by God’s Spirit which is here in view, but that function which God has assigned faith, that office which it is fitted to perform.

In his sermon on these verses, Mr. Philpot said on these words: "By ‘the work of faith’ we may understand two things: 1. the operation of God upon the heart, whereby from time to time faith is raised up and brought into living exercise upon the things of God; and 2. the work which faith has to do when thus raised up and strengthened in the soul." There are two sorts of work required of and ascribed to faith, namely, that which is internal and that which is external. The former consists of the mind’s assent to the truth, the will’s consent to what is there taught, and the heart’s reliance on the promises of God, the whole soul resting on Christ, confiding its eternal interests to Him. The external work of faith consists of an open confession of Christ, boldly owning His ways before the world which despises them, and a ready obedience to the will of God in forsaking sin and walking in the path of His commandments, producing practical holiness. Therefore our obedience is designated "the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:26).

The External Work of Faith

While not altogether excluding the internal work of faith, we think it is obvious, from both what precedes and what follows, that the external work of faith is chiefly in view—the honoring of Christ before men. The products of the work of faith make that faith evident to our fellows, for a holy walk brings more glory to Christ than a lot of frothy talk. Steadfast perseverance in duty in a time of persecution is more pleasing to Him than showy performance in a day of peace. Furthermore, in a time of acute suffering the saint will find it easier to determine his spiritual case by the objective rather than the subjective exercise of his grace. Thomas Manton stated, "The drift of his prayer is that God would enable them to ride out the storm of those troubles which came upon them for the Gospel’s sake. And a Christian, in judging his condition, will discover it better in the external acts of faith than in the internal."

"The work of faith with power," namely, the power of God in enabling faith to fulfill its functions. As the faith here spoken of is of God, so it is dependent upon God. Does faith support the soul under heavy trials? That is because it is sustained by the omnipotent One. Does it perform duties which are contrary to the dictates of carnal wisdom? That is because faith is energized by divine power. Does faith choose a path which is hateful to flesh and blood? It is because faith is strengthened by the might of its Giver. Does faith, in the midst of the most painful and bewildering situations, aver, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him"? This is so because the Almighty is its maintainer. Nevertheless, if our faith is small and feeble, the fault is entirely ours. God has expressly bidden us, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might" (Eph. 6:10); therefore it is both our privilege and duty to ask and expect Him to make good in us that which He requires from us. Surely that is evident from the Lord’s rebuke to His disciples. He would not have reproved them for their fear and unbelief (Matthew 8:26) except that they were responsible to maintain it in healthy vigor.

Now we have, fourth, the design of this prayer; and fifth, its accomplishment. The mind of the apostle centered upon the honoring of Christ by the furthering of the salvation of His people, for in this world the Head of the church is now magnified through and by His members. The grand concern which occupied the heart, formed the thoughts, and motivated the activities of His ambassador was the exalting of his beloved Lord. The whole of Paul’s strenuous and self-effacing Christian life is summed up in that memorable confession of his, "According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:20-21). Accordingly, we find that blessed aim actuated him equally in his prayers and in his preaching, during his ministerial labors or while suffering imprisonment.

Glorifying the Name of the Lord Jesus

In petitioning the throne of grace that these Thessalonians might be divinely enabled to highly esteem and walk worthy of their holy and heavenly calling, by performing every duty which the divine precepts outlined and by fulfilling the work of faith with power, the apostle aimed at the honoring of his Master. The design before him was that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ should be glorified in them and they in Him. In verse 10 he had comforted them with the declaration "He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day." Therefore he had supplicated God fervently to that end, thereby teaching them (and us) the effect which that blessed prospect should have upon our walk. The advent of the Redeemer in glory with the glorification of the church at that time is set before us in Scripture as the grand consummation of the Christian vocation or calling. The hope of the church is a powerful dynamic in the promotion of her present holiness (1 John 3:2-3). Only those who truly delight in and pant after holiness will spiritually long for Christ’s return and cry, "Make haste, my beloved" (Song 8:14).

It is often said that we are saved to serve. We prefer to say that we are saved to please and honor Christ. His redeemed are left for a season in this scene to represent Him, to show forth His praises (1 Pet. 2:9), to reflect (in their measure) His excellencies, to follow the example He left them—which may be summarized as living wholly to the glory of God and doing good to all men, especially those who are of the household of faith. The chief and highest end of the creature is to glorify its Creator; therefore the fundamental principle of godliness is this: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Why did the apostle pray, "So that may be glorified the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" rather than "That God may be glorified"? Generally, because God has made Christ the partner of His glory: "that all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father" (John 5:23); "that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). More specifically, because the "persecutions and tribulations" (2 Thess. 1:4) which the Thessalonians were enduring were for the gospel’s sake, for the uncompromising profession of the Savior’s name.

Concern for the Divine Glory

The acts of the natural man are prompted by self-love and are done to advance his own interests, comforts, and glory: "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built . . . by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" (Dan. 4:30). The natural man does not act from any consideration of or concern for the honor of God. If he refrains from committing gross sins, it is for his own reputation and not from any regard for the divine law. Those who are liberal in contributing to the poor and needy distribute their charity out of pity for the suffering and not with their eyes on the divine precept. Even the unregenerate who claim to be Christians are regulated by what is agreeable to themselves and not by love to Christ and respect for His authority and glory. They are willing to please God just as far as it does not displease them. Others who wish to obtain a reputation for piety are like the Pharisees, who tithed and fasted and made long prayers to satisfy their own ambition—to be seen, heard, and praised by men. But where a miracle of grace is wrought in the soul, self-pleasing is displaced by self-denial, and gratitude and love now move the man to seek the glory of God.

Yet though a new nature is imparted at regeneration, the old nature is not removed or bettered. The principle of "the flesh" still indwells the soul and is continually clamoring for indulgence; thus there is a ceaseless conflict within the believer between carnality and holiness. The believer’s responsibility and lifelong task is to mortify the one and nourish and exercise the other, to deny self and follow Christ. We should frequently test ourselves on this very point, as by this we may most surely ascertain whether we are growing in grace: to what extent we are dying to sin and living to God.

How far is my conduct determined by a concern for the divine glory? Have I formed the habit of challenging my inclinations and determinations with the question "Will this be for the glory of God"? Every plan we form, every act we perform, is either pleasing or displeasing to God, honoring or dishonoring to Him—there is no mean between those alternatives. Every project I entertain will either further the interests of self or serve to magnify Christ. I must pause and consider which of those alternatives my heart is really set upon; otherwise, what difference is there between me and the respectable worldling?

"Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Is a young man giving serious thought to choosing a wife? Then he should first solemnly ponder the question "Do I desire marriage for the glory of God?" If a man is contemplating a change of occupation or residence, or if his thoughts turn to planning a journey, before making the decision it is his Christian duty to ask himself, "Will such a course promote the honor of Christ? Am I making this move for His sake?" This principle must also actuate and regulate the minister of the gospel. It is a horrible profanation of the sacred office to seek the applause of men or covet the fame of being thought a great preacher. This principle must take precedence over seeking the good of souls. If the salvation of sinners and the edifying of saints are my supreme concerns, I am making an idol of the creature, and efforts after success rather than fidelity to my charge will determine my course. But if I labor with an eye single to the glory of God and aim at magnifying Christ, I shall be far more concerned about preaching the truth in its purity than in seeing results.

Motives for Seeking the Glory of God

There are many weighty reasons which should move the Christian to seek the glory of God in all that he does. That which is of the greatest value and consideration should be sought before all else in life. And surely God’s glory has infinite excellence above all things, and therefore must be preferred before all material good. Then too, since God ever has our good in mind we ought ever to keep His glory in view. He never forgets us, nor should we forget Him. How concerned we ought to be to make restitution for our former dishonoring of God! In our unregenerate days we had no regard for Him: never a mercy but what we abused. How zealous then we ought now to be in ordering our conduct to His praise, manifesting the genuineness of our repentance over the past by living wholly for Him in the present! The example of Christ shows us our duty. He "pleased not himself" (Rom. 15:3) but ever cherished God’s honor. Did He say, "Father, save me from this hour"? No, rather, "Father, glorify Thy name." (See John 12:27-28.) By His example Christ taught us to put the honor of God before our own interests and comforts.

Here are some of the ways by which God is glorified. By ascribing glory to Him, which is His due (Ps. 29:1-2). By proclaiming His worth to others (Ps. 34:3). By loving Him and making Him our supreme delight (Ps. 73:25). By implicit confidence in Him: Abraham "was strong in faith [thereby] giving glory to God" (Rom. 4:20). By dedicating our bodies to Him (1 Cor. 6:20). By yielding obedience: "that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). By our repentance (Rev. 16:9b). By confession of sin (Josh. 7:19). By cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8). By adoring God’s excellency: "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Ps. 50:23). By readiness to suffer for Him and patiently bear afflictions (1 Pet. 4:14-16). By disowning any credit to ourselves, attributing to Him all good in and from us (Rom. 3:12b). "That God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 4:11b) is the end we should ever aim at, avoiding whatever is contrary, making all subordinate and subservient.

Making the honor of Christ our supreme concern will preserve us from many snares and follies. All the disastrous bypaths into which we have wandered since we became Christians may be traced back to failure at this very point. Instead of being actuated and regulated by the determination to magnify Christ, we yielded to a spirit of self-love and self-pleasing. In seeking the glory of Christ we, at the same time, are furthering our own salvation, for we then act contrary to the promptings of the flesh and are being more conformed to the image of God’s Son. Thus highly esteeming our calling and walking worthy of it, fulfilling every precept of God’s goodness, and keeping our own faith healthy and in vigorous exercise, we both honor Christ and advance our own spiritual interests. Moreover, what an unspeakable privilege and dignity it is to serve such a Master as ours! Is it not glorious indeed to please—yea, to endure persecution for—such a glorious Savior! "Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). But "if . . . we suffer with him" we shall also "be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:17).

Reference to the Life to Come

"And ye in him" has intimate reference to the next life: the consummation of our salvation, the reward for honoring Christ in this life. We quote from Thomas Manton: "God hath appointed this order, that we should glorify Him before He glorifies us, and there is much wisdom and righteousness in that appointment. It would greatly redound to God’s dishonor if He should glorify those that do not glorify Him, and make no difference between the godly and the wicked, those that break His laws and those that keep them. If both should fare alike, it would eclipse the righteousness of God’s government . . . God hath not only appointed that we should glorify Him before He glorifies us, but that we should glorify Him upon the earth before He glorifies us in heaven. We have Christ for an example: ‘I have glorified thee on the earth . . . And now, O Father, glorify thou me’ (John 17:4-5) . . . Christ takes special notice of those that glorify Him in the world and it is one of His pleas for His disciples: ‘[Father], I am glorified in them’ (John 17:10). He is an Advocate in heaven for those that are factors for His kingdom upon earth . . . This glory is promised: ‘If any man serve me, him will my Father honor’ (John 12:26b)."

"According to the grace of our God and [of] the Lord Jesus Christ" secures the fulfillment of this prayer. The wider reference is to all that precedes. Our acting suitably to God’s holy calling, our fulfilling every good counsel of His goodness and the work of faith by His power, our glorifying His Son, is all from and by divine grace. Our salvation from the love, the guilt, the defilement, the power, and (ultimately) the presence of sin, is wholly by divine grace. Scripture is plain and emphatic on this point, and so also must be the tongue and pen of God’s servants. His sovereign favor chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. And each blessing which follows it is equally of His favor. Therefore we read of "the election of grace" (Rom. 11:5), that our calling is "according to his own purpose and grace" (2 Tim. 1:9), that we have "believed through grace" (Acts 18:27), that we are "justified freely by his grace" (Rom. 3:24). It is the same wondrous grace which bears with our dullness and waywardness, which provides for our every need, which renews us day by day in the inner man, and which brings us safely to heaven.

"According to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" refers more immediately to the preceding clause, "and ye in him," which principally refers to our glorification. For though our glorification be the issue and reward of our perseverance in faith and holiness, yet it is not a reward of debt but of grace, not something we have merited, but something bestowed by God’s free bounty. Hence we read of "the grace that is to be brought unto . . . [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:13). Thus all ground for boasting is removed from us, and the praise and glory are His alone. Nothing but His wondrous grace could overcome our obstinacy and bring us into willing subjection to God. Nothing less is able to maintain and keep us in the paths of righteousness. We can only work out our own salvation with fear and trembling as God works in us "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:11-12). The world, the flesh, and the devil are far too powerful for us to overcome in our own might.

Saved by Grace Through Faith

But if the balance of truth is to be preserved, we must point out that the grace of God is the original cause of our salvation. Yet it does not preclude the worth and work of Christ as its meritorious cause, and neither does it exclude repentance, faith, and obedience as the means: "By grace are ye saved through faith." Though neither faith nor good works have any causal influence in our salvation, though they are not concauses with the grace of God and of Christ, yet God has appointed this method and way of salvation. Principal causes do not exclude necessary means, but comprise them; therefore we must not set grace against grace and say that the elect will be saved whether they believe or no, or that the regenerate will reach heaven no matter how they live. Grace is magnified by us only as we insist that it works "through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21) and as we bring forth its holy fruits. Basically and fundamentally our salvation flows from the sovereign pleasure of God (the goodwill which He bears us), and it is effectually wrought in us by His power. Yet instrumentally salvation issues from the discharge of our responsibility (for God ever treats us as moral agents), from the heeding of His warnings and in using the means He has appointed. "We believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39) and are "kept by the power of God through faith" (1 Pet. 1:5).

It is all-important to insist that "salvation is of the LORD" (Jon. 2:9) so that all the glory is ascribed to Him, and so that we may be encouraged to seek grace from Him. For when we are aware of our undeservingness, only the realization of His abundant favor will keep our hearts from sinking. Yet it is nonetheless necessary to press the Christian’s responsibility in the use of all proper means so that he may be preserved from lapsing into Antinomianism and fatalistic inertia. There is a balance to be preserved here between a sense of our helplessness and our obligation to use the grace which we already have and to seek further and fuller supplies of grace (Heb. 4:16). Our entire dependency upon God and our full accountability to Him are not contradictory but are complementary parts of one whole. It is the grand privilege of faith to make free use of Christ, and it is our duty to live unto Him, yet that is only possible by constantly drawing from Him. Without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), but energized by Him we can do all things (Phil. 4:13). Then let us see to it that we are "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:1).

All Is Through the Grace of God

"According to the grace of our God" is to be regarded then as referring to the whole of His benignant design toward us. It is on that basis all our supplies must be asked for, it is from that fountain all the streams of blessing do flow, and it is to that divine attribute all must be ascribed. It is the grace which sets His power to work on our behalf. Were the operation of His power suspended for a moment, even the "new man" would instantly be paralyzed. He "holdeth our soul in life" (Ps. 66:9), and should He "let loose his hand" we would be at once "cut off" (Job 6:9). For the resisting of any sin or the performing of any duty we are in need of the gracious power of God moment by moment. Nevertheless, we are not mere automatons. "He which hath begun a good work in you will . . . [finish] it" (Phil. 1:6), yet not without our concurrence, as though we were blocks of wood. Finally, we must not so eye "the grace of our God" as to lose sight of "and of the Lord Jesus Christ." In the Greek there is only one article here, and it is in the singular number, which not only exhibits the unity of the divine nature but also reveals the two Persons engaged in a common work.    

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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