This article first appeared in the August 1, 1983 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.59, No.19), part of a special issue devoted to the subject of God's sovereign, irresistible grace.
(The meditation for this special issue is from the pen of the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema, and is reprinted from Volume 18.)
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8.
For! . . . .
Let us not overlook this little but significant word!
For by grace are ye saved! The conjunction presents the truth here expressed as a reason for something else, an explanation of something that has been mentioned in the context.
It informs us of the fact that this statement does not stand alone, that it is not an isolated truth, which one can accept or not accept without much effect for the rest of the contents of his faith; which one can either deny or confess as of little or no practical significance and importance.
For by grace are ye saved!. . . .
It means that salvation by grace, and by grace only, is an indispensable condition for something else, a ground, a foundation, without which that something else cannot stand. Denying it is like destroying the foundation of an edifice: you pull down the whole structure. It is like cutting away at the root of a tree: you kill the tree.
And that for which this statement is the reason may be read in the immediately preceding verse: "That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus"!
God is rich in mercy!
And He saved us! Even when we were dead in sins, He quickened us together with Christ; and raised us up together with Him, and made us sit together in heavenly places. . . .
All this in order that He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace!
Through our salvation the riches of His grace must be displayed.
But how is this possible unless salvation be by grace?
By grace only!
In grace your salvation has its source.
For the eternal fountain-head whence the whole blessed stream of your salvation gushes forth is sovereign election.
Chosen you are unto salvation before the foundation of the world. And the motive of God's election of His people is grace, sovereign, absolutely free grace.
Nothing else determined God in predestinating you unto conformity unto the image of His Son. There are, indeed, those who find the reason and the determining factor of God's election in man. They, too, would emphasize that salvation is all of grace, not of works. It is grace that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, and grace that you may become partaker of the blessings of salvation in Him. Nay more, they, too, speak of election unto faith, and election unto glory. It is only the elect that actually become heirs of eternal salvation. But election itself? Is it, too, according to them, of mere and pure and sovereign grace? Ah, no! It is not of grace, say they, but of works! Yes, indeed, ofworks, though they themselves would use other terms to describe their view of election. Or is it not an election of works, which teaches that God found or foresaw in the elect a willingness to accept Christ and the terms of His salvation, in distinction from others, whom He foreknew as stubborn and unwilling to come to Christ?
And then it is not of grace!
For then it was man, his goodness, the foreseen choice of his will to receive Christ, that determined God's choice. Then it is not grace that makes the elect acceptable to, and beloved by God in His eternal counsel; but it is some element of goodness in man that induced the Most High to prefer him above others. And when God shews forth the riches of His grace in the salvation of the elect, they will always be mixed with this excellency of man. . . .
But God forbid!
For you are saved by grace!
And this implies that your salvation is of God from beginning to end, from its eternal source in the counsel of God to its final manifestation in glory in the day of Christ.
It was grace that ordained you unto salvation. And this signifies, not that God's election is arbitrary, but that it has its reason and motive in God alone. Of Him are all things! God is gracious! Full of grace is He in Himself, apart from any relation or attitude He may sustain to the creature. For He is good, the sole Good, the implication of all infinite perfections. And as the supreme and only and infinitely Good, He is the perfection of all beauty. He is pleasant and altogether lovely, and there are pleasures at His right hand forevermore. And eternally He is attracted by His own beauty. For He is God Triune, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And of the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, God knows Himself, beholds Himself, His grace and beauty, and inclines unto Himself in eternal and infinite divine favor!. . . .
This infinite loveliness and divine pleasure in His own beauty is God's grace.
By grace you are chosen!
By the knowledge of and attraction to the loveliness of His own perfection God was divinely urged to ordain His people!
A people that would be perfect even as He is perfect, lovely as He is lovely. For whom He has foreknown them He also did predestinate to be conformed according to the image of His Son. . . .
A people upon whom He might look with eternal good pleasure, and that might taste that the Lord is good!
A people in whom He might shew forth the infinite riches of His grace!
For by grace are ye saved!
For by grace are you reconciled unto God!
That same grace that motivated the Most High to ordain you unto salvation, according to which it was His purpose to make you altogether lovely, even as He is lovely, explains that and why He reconciled you unto Himself through the death of His Son!
For, mark you well, saved you are by grace!
And that means that you were lifted from the deepest depth of sin and shame, of guilt and condemnation, of corruption and death, to the highest possible bliss of an eternal righteousness and life and glory.
Saved you are. . . .
Created you were with all the elect, in the first man Adam who was made a living soul; who, indeed, had life, but not in himself; who lived without being the lord of life; whose glory was corruptible, whose righteousness was ammissable, whose life was mortal; and who was of the earth earthy. And in him we violated God's covenant, became guilty, liable to death and damnation, subject to corruption, children of wrath. And our condition was, as far as we were concerned, hopeless. For in Adam we could sin, but we could never pay a ransom for our sin; we could die in him, but had no power to regain life in God's favor; we could turn away from the Fount of life, but never could we return to Him. We could only increase the guilt of our sin every day, through every word we spoke, by every deed we performed, with every breath we took. Enemies of God we had become, hating Him and hating one another!. . . .
Saved we are!
Saved by grace, by free and sovereign grace!
For even then, when we were dead in sin, objects of God's righteous wrath, that could never be restored to the favor of God unless we would willingly take our way through the depth of hell, He loved us, and reconciled us unto Himself!
Us He reconciled. Do not express this differently. Do not say that He reconciled Himself to us. For to reconcile is to restore a relation of love and faith and friendship that has been violated and broken, the relation of the covenant. And on His part that relation was never violated. He is the eternal I AM, that changeth not. With an eternal, immutable, sovereign love He loved His own, even when they were rebels in themselves. But us He reconciled. Us He restored to that state in which we were once more the proper objects of His favor and blessing, the state of eternal righteousness!
For such is reconciliation: restoration to favor in the way of perfect justice!
And justice required satisfaction!
And satisfaction of the justice of God with respect to our sin could be accomplished only by a voluntary act of perfect obedience even unto death. No, not merely to suffer the punishment for sin is satisfaction. Even the damned in hell suffer the agonies of death, yet they do not atone for their sin. God demands that we shall love Him. And for the sinner that violated His law and trampled under foot His covenant, this means that he must love Him in His righteous wrath, love Him in death and hell, if ever He is to atone!
And this act of perfect obedience we could never perform.
Reconciled we are by grace!
For when in sovereign grace He chose us, and ordained us to be conformed according to the image of His Son, He chose us in Him. By grace He ordained His Son to be the Head of the church, to become flesh, to assume the burden of our sin and guilt, to enter into our deepest woe, to become sin for us, that we might become righteousness of God in Him!. . . .
And by grace He chose the way of suffering and death, the way through the depth of hell, there to lay upon God's altar the sacrifice that would be sufficient to satisfy the justice of God.
God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself!
That He might shew forth the riches of His grace!
For by grace you are saved!
By grace only!
For by grace is also the power of God by which you are delivered from the dominion of sin and death!
Reconciliation alone is no salvation, nor could it possibly lead to salvation if the operation of grace ceased at the cross. It must be applied, so that from darkness we are translated into life, from sin into righteousness, and with cords of love we are united once more with the heart of God!
And how could this be accomplished?
Shall we say that from the cross onward salvation becomes the work of man: God has done His part, now man must realize what God has accomplished? Or, at least, shall we allow the grace of God and the will of man to mix at this point, harmoniously and sweetly to work together in order that the salvation manifested on the cross of Christ may be perfected? Shall we say that on God's part He is willing now to save all men, that the reconciliation accomplished on the cross is offered with the intention to save by God to all, and that, for the rest, it depends upon the choice of man's will?. . . .
The riches of His grace must be revealed!
By grace are ye saved!
Through faith. Mark you well: through faith it is that we are saved. It is not on condition of faith, a condition which we must fulfill if God is to bestow the blessings of salvation on us: there are no conditions unto salvation at all! It is not because of faith, as if faith is the new work which God requires of us by which salvation may be obtained: there is no work unto salvation, not even faith, nor the work of faith. For by grace are we saved, through faith.
Faith is the means unto salvation.
For it is the spiritual tie that unites us with Christ, the spiritual faculty whereby we may know Him, taste Him, long for Him, trust in Him, rely on Him, appropriate Him, live out of Him as the young tree draws its life-sap out of the ground through its roots. . . .
It is God's means, a means of grace, a power that is wrought in your inmost heart by the mighty grace of God: by grace ye are saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God!
For by grace He unites us with Christ!
By the power of grace He quickens us together with Him, making us new creatures.
By grace He calls us, powerfully, irresistibly, sweetly, out of darkness into the light of the gospel.
By grace He implants the faith in us, whereby we embrace the Christ of God and all His benefits!
It is not of yourselves; it is God's gift.
Salvation is of the Lord!
For ye are saved!
And because it is by pure and sovereign grace that you are saved, you will surely be saved even unto the end of eternal glory.
Always salvation is of the Lord, never does it become of us; always it is by grace, never does it become of works. Even as it is in free, divine, absolutely sovereign grace that He chose us, and ordained us to become conformed according to the image of His Son; and even as it was by that same grace that He reconciled us unto Himself through the death of His Son; and even as it was by pure grace that wrought the faith within us whereby we do lay hold on the Christ of God; even so, it is by grace that we are preserved unto the final salvation that shall be revealed in the last time!
By grace ye are preserved!
And through the power of that gracious preservation yepersevere!
For, on the one hand, even our perseverance is not by works, nor on account of works, nor by virtue of our cooperation with the grace of God: it is of pure grace. Yet, on the other hand, this preserving grace of God is not a power that remains external to us, so that we are passively, unconsciously perhaps, carried into glory: it is a power within us, that causes us to hold on to the God of our salvation. . . .
Grace preserves, and we persevere!
And who shall separate us? . . . .
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer