The holy writer in James quotes the words of our God as they are recorded in Psalm 138. In that Psalm we read in verse 5, "Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord: for great is the glory of the Lord." And then in verse 6, "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off." Now the Spirit, as He gives us the Word of God in James, in turning His attention to Psalm 138, gives us interpretation of that Psalm when He says "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." It is to that truth that we now turn our attention.
As we consider this truth, it is our intention, beloved congregation of the Lord, to take a look at the truth of Scripture concerning grace. We will consider the doctrine of grace and we will attempt to point out the rich blessing that the church has as she understands what this grace is that God sends to His people. And we will do this, also, by noting antithetically what grace is not.
To study what Scripture teaches concerning the doctrine of grace is valuable for several reasons. It was over the doctrine of grace, as you know, that our churches came into being. This doctrine of grace has made distinction between our churches and many that maintain that they too instruct and teach the Reformed doctrine. Our forefathers believed that a departure from the scriptural teaching on grace would lead the church in the paths of apostasy. Therefore, because of a departure on the doctrine of grace in the former denomination, our forefathers, holding fast to the doctrine of sovereign and particular grace, were forced out of the church of which they were members. And thus the Protestant Reformed Churches came into existence. It is well, therefore, that we never lose sight of the precious doctrine that was so important that it became the ground and the reason for the existence of our denomination.
But beside that historical fact and truth there is an increasing number of inquiries about the distinctive view of grace in our churches over against the view of common grace that is so prevalent in the whole of the church world today. Our young people have inquired and asked of the distinctiveness, and why the distinction and, too, desire to grow in the understanding of it. But we have also had older members that desire to know more about this distinction. We have had those that have come to us from other denominations and who have not been raised with this distinction, and they too desire to be better founded in the distinction so that they understand it and can truly embrace it and be one with us.
And thus it is that we shall consider the teaching of the Scripture on the doctrine of grace. As we undertake this study, we desire to see the rich and positive and wondrous blessing that the church of Jesus has as she comes into contact with and as she comes under the proclamation of this blessed doctrine. And, as we do that, we shall see that God is distinctive as the God of salvation and distinctive in all of His works. That distinctiveness is evident in the antithetical nature of His truth, and this is a blessing for the church. It is also the cursing of the wicked. But it is the blessing of the church to have and to know a God that so loves His people, which He has determined from eternity to save, that He will bestow upon them grace, and by that grace will deliver them from sin and will bring them into his own fellowship and communion forever.
This sermon serves then as an introductory sermon on the doctrine
of grace. We consider the text we read from James under the theme:
We notice in the first place The Concept of Grace.
In the second place we will notice that our text teaches us that Grace is Particular.
And thirdly we will notice Its Tremendous Blessing.
The term grace as used in our daily life and as used in Scripture contains a two-fold meaning. Now this is something you have heard quite often from the pulpit and in catechism. But the reason that you have heard it is because there may not be any doubts as to the meaning of the term. The term grace may be defined as undeserved favor, or unmerited favor, that is shown to someone. However, the term also means more than this, more that just unmerited favor. It means also beauty, because the word has that two-fold meaning - the idea of unmerited favor and the idea of beauty. So, whether you look in a secular dictionary, or in a Bible concordance, or in a Bible dictionary, or study the word in the context of the Scripture itself, you'll always find these two ideas present in any definition of grace that is faithful to the language. We may see scriptural examples of this two-fold use by looking to various passages of the Word of God.
In Genesis 6:7-8 we find, over against all the ungodliness and ugliness of man in the days of the flood, the words: "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Now, it is obvious from this passage in Genesis 6 that it records the sacred history that leads up to the flood. And that history that took place then is a type of the history that is taking place today as it leads up to the final coming of Christ and the destruction of this world by fire. The days before the flood were typical of the days in which we live, which days will increasingly become more and more filled with ungodliness, and corruption, and apostasy until anti-Christ himself takes his place and God sends judgment and then makes a new heaven and a new earth.
We read in the immediate context in Genesis 6, beginning with verse 5, "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them." And then we read verse 8, "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." In the midst of all of the terrible sinfulness of the world, in the midst of all the apostasy, in the midst of all the compromise, in the midst of all the intermixture in the marriages, where the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair and married them, and in the midst of all the corruption of that day we read that, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Sin had abounded. The total depravity of man's nature was seen in all of its corruption. The cup of iniquity was filled in the days before the flood. It seemed right that God said that He would destroy man from off the face of the earth. "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord."
God saw Noah as beautiful. In a world of ugliness, Noah found favor before God. In this sense he was beautiful. He was found righteous and he was found holy over against all the corruption and depravity that surrounded him. Now this is not because Noah was in himself worthy. It is because of the very fact that he himself was the object of the favor of God. He was the object of God's grace already, so that we must understand that the two ideas of unmerited favor and beauty go together. We know that Noah was no different, and that we are no different, from anybody else in the world - that of ourselves we are sinners, and Noah of himself was a sinner. And Noah gave evidence of that. Even after the deliverance of the flood he walked yet in sin. He still had the old man. And all that was of the old man made him worthy only of God's judgment.
But there is a distinguishing factor. He found grace in the eyes of God. And he found grace in the eyes of God because God had looked down upon him and, though Noah himself was not worthy, God made him worthy. God bestowed upon Noah His unmerited favor, whereby Noah had that newness of life planted in his heart and he began principally to seek God. And he faithfully served God in that grace. And he faithfully sought God as God had strengthened him to seek Him. And therefore as God looks down upon the sin-cursed world he sees Noah. He sees Jesus Christ because Noah was united to Christ by the grace of God. And Noah then appears beautiful before God - holy before God - righteous.
What makes us beautiful before God? We must answer with the Scripture, the unmerited favor of God alone. God saves us, and thus makes us beautiful as He is beautiful. The well known text in Ephesians 2:8-10 makes this plain. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship...." God makes us. We are his workmanship. We are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." God foreordained from eternity - He foreordained our very walk of faith. He foreordained the works of sanctification, the works of thankfulness, in the life of His children. And by grace He has saved His church - not of works lest we would boast. He has made us to be His own. We are His workmanship, for He has created us in Christ Jesus unto those works of thanksgiving and sanctification. Here it is plainly set forth that by grace we are saved and that not of ourselves. And earlier in the chapter the apostle rightly says, "We were dead in trespasses and sins." It is not because of our merit that we are become beautiful. It is not because of our merit that we are saved. But grace is the unmerited favor - not of works, remember! It is unmerited favor of God that saves us and makes us beautiful. Then we find grace in God's eyes. Then we are found beautiful in His eyes.
From what we have said already, we must further say that God is sovereign. And therefore the grace of God is sovereign and saving. It is impossible - and please hear this very clearly - it is impossible to find the term grace used in Scripture, when used of God's grace toward men, in any other way than as grace that is saving. One of the failings of holding to a common grace is that the very idea of a common or general grace means there is such a thing as a non-saving grace. But that idea is absolutely foreign to the Scripture. In each of the 159 references to the term grace in the Bible, you will always find, when that term is used of God's grace toward men, that it is saving. You will never find the Scripture using the term grace in any other way.
Now, the Scripture does speak of a grace that we might have in the eyes of another man. For instance it speaks of one having found favor in the eyes of the king. Joseph found grace in the eyes of Pharaoh. And what that meant was that Pharaoh saw him as pleasing and would therefore favor Joseph. And he did. And that meant that Joseph was given a special place in the kingdom of Pharaoh. But that is not the same as the idea of God's grace. This was the grace of one man as he saw another man. Now the same meaning is somewhat there of course. The meaning was that Joseph in himself was not worthy of the care of Pharaoh. He was a Hebrew, a lowly Hebrew in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh saw Joseph, and favored Joseph, and gave Joseph a special place. Now Pharaoh did all this for evil reasons. God's sovereign government was over Pharaoh. And Pharaoh wanted to prosper and he wanted his land to prosper, so he favored Joseph.
But anywhere in the Scripture that you find the term grace used of God, it always refers to God saving His church. When God is gracious to man He saves man without exception. That's the teaching of Scripture. And that's what is so precious about the doctrine of sovereign grace. As soon as we say, "God is gracious to you," we're saying, "God favors you and saves you." And that's what the Scripture says to God's people. This truth is stated very clearly for us in Acts 15:11. "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." The apostle there points out that, through the grace of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are saved.
The whole passage of Ephesians 1, as it refers to the work of salvation, uses the term grace to explain that the reason for the salvation of God's children is that God is gracious toward His people. It begins that way already in the second verse. "Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." Now what's the result of that grace being toward you? The result of that grace being toward you is that the child of God lifts his voice in doxology, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According - it is of grace - according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." That's of grace too. "That we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, (again) according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace." God is glorified by His grace because His grace saves His people.
The fact that grace is the saving work of God also teaches us that grace is the sovereign work of God. Grace is, in no manner, dependent upon me. In no manner is it dependent upon man. Again, we see that repeatedly taught in Scripture, but we draw your attention to Romans 4:4, 5. We read there the words of Paul, "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." In this passage we are taught that if righteousness were by works then it could not be reckoned of grace but of debt. The idea of a meritorious work of man stands opposed violently to the whole idea of salvation by grace alone.
That's why the Reformed faith stands out distinctive from all other faiths. The Reformed faith from the days of John Calvin until the present day - and of course, John Calvin's faith was the faith of the apostles and the Scriptures - but that Reformed faith from John Calvin's day had always maintained that salvation is the work of God's grace only. And that means that it is a sovereign work of God. There's nothing of man in it. When Arminius and his followers would teach a certain love of God for all men, then that Reformed faith says, "No, because that contradicts the idea that God is gracious, and that God is the God of sovereign gracious salvation." And so they brought the Word of God to bear upon this heresy and set forth that Word of God in a blessed way in the Canons of Dordt. Thereby the Reformed condemned as heresy the idea of God's love for all men. And it was called heresy by all of the Reformed faith. And that it is heresy is confessed by the Reformed Faith in the Canons of Dordt.
What we must understand is that God receives glory when we speak
of grace and of salvation that is by grace alone.
II. Now in the second place, that grace - since it is the sovereign work of God, the sovereign gift of God - that grace is particular in its giving. Our text comes to the foreground here. Our text very clearly speaks in a way that is very pointed. Not only does the Scripture never speak of grace to all men - for it never does, it never speaks of a grace that is common to all men - but more than once it directly speaks against the idea of a common grace. And our text is one classic example. Very clearly our text teaches us that God resists the proud. He does not favor them, but, on the contrary, He resists the wicked. Now understand what that term resist means. To resist is to stand opposed to. To resist is to arrange oneself against. It is to set oneself over against another. And it means, as our text very clearly teaches, that God stands against the wicked. We are told here that God hates the wicked. And we want to point that out. When we present the blessedness of grace that is sovereign and particular, we must see, on the other hand, that God is a God of hatred to the wicked. God maintains His own glory in His favor to His church and in His hatred to the wicked. And certainly our text teaches this. That God resists the proud means that they - the proud - shall be the objects of God's wrath. They are judged and found wanting. They shall be cast forever into the lake of outer darkness - the lake of fire. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. No common blessing here, but only a common wrath towards the wicked.
Proverbs 3:34 says much the same thing, and it almost makes up a companion passage to ours. In Proverbs 3:34 we read, "Surely he scorneth the scorners." That's the language of the Scripture. "He scorneth the scorners, but" - now the reverse of that is stated - "but He gives grace unto the lowly." And in our text we read, "He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." There's the contrast of Scripture. The proud in our text is, of course, the natural man. In that sense we are all proud. Natural man is proud. Man became proud when he listened to Satan in the garden of Paradise. He lifted himself up against God, and he said, "We will determine what is good and what is evil. We will not listen to what God determines to be good and evil." And in that proud rebellion man died. In his foolishness, in his pride, he died. Thus the natural man can bring forth no good. He is dead. He is depraved. And God does not give to depraved and dead man a common grace. But God declares over dead and fallen man, "The wages of sin is death." He declares of fallen man that He shall be a God of everlasting judgment against us - against fallen man.
There is only one way that that judgement of God ever changes. And He teaches us, "By grace are ye saved, through faith, that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God." The only thing that will deliver us from that certain judgment that is over all of wicked man, the only way that we shall ever be looked upon as being beautiful, the only way that we shall ever have the favor of God and enter into His fellowship and communion is that He is gracious to us, that He pours out His grace upon us so that we do not continue to walk in proud rebellion. The text says, "He gives grace to the humble."
Our text points out that God does this abundantly. The word "more grace" is used in our text. "But he giveth more grace." There's a reason for that "more grace" as it is set forth in our text. First of all we must understand that the humble is the exact opposite of the proud. It means to be humiliated. It means to be base, cast down, of low degree.
Beloved, that's a picture of the church. That's what we must be seen as. We must not be seen as being proud. Sometimes we can be falsely accused of being proud, as we hold to the truth. Other times we can be rightly accused of being proud because we are. That ought not to characterize this congregation. There is not one in the congregation that ought to feel himself to be any better than anyone else in this congregation. There is not one in our congregation that ought to exalt himself above any in the community or any in this world for that matter. We must maintain the truth of the Word of God. We're commanded to do that by God Himself. But we must never look at ourselves as though we are worthy of any special blessing. We're not. Rather the child of God is humbled. The child of God sees that he has nothing in himself. He is base. He is cast down. His sin has brought him to the dust. That's true as we are found in Adam. We are dead in sin and trespasses - all of us. None of us has any right to salvation and all of us are utterly void of any good. There is no hope to be found in our strength, so that the child of God as he stands before the righteous and holy God can only see himself, and ought to see himself, as a creature of the dust - an unworthy one to stand ever in the presence of God. He is cast down by his sin.
But in the second place, the lowly to whom grace is given are those that know themselves to be lowly. That's the idea in our text. For it comes as an admonition to us. "But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud but giveth grace unto the humble." And then he says "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord."
To be lowly, and that over against being proud, means that we have to be made lowly. We don't become lowly in our own strength. All we are by nature is proud as we've said before. The proud will never humble themselves. The proud will never draw nigh unto God. The proud will never resist the devil. The proud will stand only in enmity to God. Natural man can be nothing but a scorner - a mocker of God and of His Word.
According to another companion text,
I Peter 5:5,
and its context,
we come to understand how it is that we become humble. In
we read, "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves under
the elder." That's an exhortation for the congregation. The
younger are to submit themselves to the elder. "Yea, all
of you be subject to one another." That's another admonition
to the congregation, that we all submit ourselves to one another,
that we humble ourselves before one another, that we exalt our
neighbor above ourselves. "And be clothed with humility:
for" - Peter says - "For God resisteth the proud, and
giveth grace to the humble." The same phrase as used in our
Always that same thing is spoken of in the Scripture. God resisteth the proud. He gives grace to the humble. The two are antithetical - grace and wickedness, grace and unbelief, grace and vanity, grace and proudness. They're opposites, ever opposites, in the Scripture. And God only has resistance to the proud. And resistance is not merely pushing against the proud, it is casting them everlastingly into the lake of fire. That's the resistance. In another passage God says "His soul hateth the wicked." But He gives grace to the humble.
How do we become humble? If you look at the context you see it is because God calls us. In I Peter 5:10 we read, "But the God of all grace . . ." Notice that. "The God of all grace." What does the God of all grace do? The God of all grace calls His church. This call is the call of God, first of all, from eternity in His eternal decree of election, when He called us in Christ to be saved by grace through Him.
Secondly, that call is His efficacious call by the preaching of His Word, which is likewise the means of grace, whereby He is pleased to bless His people in Christ by calling us to repentance and faith. And it is His work. That preaching is also His work - is also the work of His grace. Preaching is a means that God has been pleased to use in His church to gather His people, to call them to repentance and unto faith and trust in Christ alone. That call is such that it works in our hearts humility, so that we fall down on our knees and confess that our salvation is alone of God.
Thirdly, that call is applied to our heart by His Spirit. He graciously
causes that we see our sin, to be humbled by it.
III. There are tremendous blessings for the church when God is gracious to His people.
More grace. That's what our text says - more grace. Our text makes it plain that God gives grace for grace. That is already the work of grace - it is already the work of grace that we be humble before Him, that we see our sin, and confess it. It is only grace that leads us to see that sin. Only as we are quickened, who were dead, is it possible for us to see the horror of that sin and to confess it and to hate our own sin. The apostle Paul explains that since we are dead in sin, it is only if we be quickened by the Spirit that we are made alive. And then he says in Ephesians 2, (you can look it up) "By grace are ye saved." That's the conclusion, when he talks about the quickening of those that are dead - "By grace are ye saved." It is alone the unmerited favor of God toward us in Christ that enables us to walk in humility as His people.
Now our text points out that God gives grace for grace. To those that He has quickened, to them He gives grace. As they have been made humble, He gives grace. They are made low. By His Word He lifts them up to serve Him and to worship Him aright. There's a divine influence upon the heart of the child of God that leads the child of God to humble himself before God, and to give alone all of his praise to the name of God.
This also leads His children to humble themselves before one another, beloved. When grace is effective, when grace is poured out, when God is gracious to this congregation, then we shall be humble before one another. There shall not be strife in our families. There shall not be strife between brother and sister. There shall not be strife between children and parents. Well, that strife is always selfish. And that strife is always proud. And that strife is not the walk of faith. Never is strife that fruit of faith - not when you stand against one another.
That's what James is pointing out in this whole chapter. "You war." Beloved congregation, for the large part, I do not believe that we war one with another. But we do have wars in our homes that ought not be there. And we do have wars in the congregation that ought not be there. When grace is bestowed upon His people, His people are humbled and they see themselves sinners - helplessly lost sinners, of themselves. They turn to God for mercy. And turning to Him for mercy, they exalt Him and they praise His name. They seek the blessing of God upon their loved ones, because they see the terrible consequence of sin in their own life. Where grace abounds, love for one another abounds - the desire to care for and to sustain one another in the service of the living God. As we receive grace, beloved, we shall resist the devil. We shall fight the battles of faith and Satan will flee from us. And God shall draw near, ever closer to us. And we shall have peace. That's the fruit of grace. The fruit of grace is always peace - peace with God, and fellowship in the name of Christ, and salvation.
Last modified: 01-Aug-2001