Grace and Faith are subjects that our Lord has elevated above all other considerations in the New Testament writings. Notice, for example, that our Lord said about His mission that He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. That would seem to exclude the Gentiles. But lo and behold, a Centurion approaches from the Roman legions, and asks a favour, and he asks in such a manner that the Lord says, “I have not found such faith in all Israel.” Then again, He speaks with a Syro-Phoenician woman, even using what sounds like offensive language to describe Gentiles, but the woman persists with her errand, admitting that she is like a small puppy dog collecting scraps from under the Master’s table. Her faith is rewarded. These two examples show how the grace of God extends beyond the boundaries normally set by administrative, or chronological conditions of the time.
The Apostle Paul, apprehended by the Lord on the Damascus Road, not only learned that lesson, but gloried in it, and his writings magnify the grace of God in all his letters.
I have been reading a book by F. F. Bruce entitled “Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit.” I should like to quote a couple of paragraphs on this very subject. (Pages 102 – 103)
In Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) the father might very well have adopted other means for the rehabilitation of his younger son than those described (with approval) by Jesus. When the black sheep of the family came home in disgrace, the father, having a father’s heart, might very well have consented to give him a second chance. Listening to his carefully rehearsed speech, he might have said, “That’s all very well, young man; we have heard fine phrases before. If you really mean what you say, you can buckle to and work as you have never worked before, and if you do so, we may let you work your passage. But first you must prove yourself; we can’t let by-gonesbe by-gones as though nothing had happened.” Even that would have been generous; it might have done the young man a world of good, and even the elder brother might have been content to let him be put on probation. But for Jesus, and for Paul, divine grace does not operate like that. God does not put repentant sinners on probation to see how they will turn out; he gives them an unrestrained welcome and invests them as his true-born sons. For Jesus, and for Paul, the initiative always rests with the grace of God. He bestows the reconciliation or redemption; men receive it. “Treat me as one of your hired servants”, says the prodigal to his father; but the father speaks to him as “this my son”. So, says Paul, “through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir”. (Galatians 4:7)
In Matthew’s parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), the last-hired workmen did not bargain with their employer about their pay. If a denarius was the fair rate for a day’s work, those who worked for the last hour might have expected a small fraction of that, but they accepted his undertaking to give them “whatever is right” and in the event they received a denarius like the others who had worked all day. The grace of God is not to be parcelled out and adjusted to the varieties of individual merit. There was, as T. W. Manson pointed out, a coin worth one-twelfth part of a denarius. “It was called a pondion. But there is no such thing as a twelfth part of the love of God.” [T.W.Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, p.220] (End of quote)
Elder brothers, as with those who had worked through the heat of the day, alike began to complain. This is so much like the natural man latent within us all. We begin to query the justice of God’s behaviour, believing that “certain matters need to be attended to first, before a full acceptance can be offered.” But a moment’s reflection might have saved us from making such hasty judgments that expose our pride. Take the case of the prodigal son. Imagine what his reaction might have been to his father’s overwhelming generosity and recognition of his sonship. Would he not have begun to do exactly what Bruce said in his alternative reading? Would he not have shown his tearful gratitude by proving himself as a true son by his subsequent manner of life? Although it was only a parable, one might very well ponder such further events in the fictitious story, and profit thereby.
Then again, the hard-worked labourers, if they had stopped for a moment they might have come up with quite a different comment. The eleventh-hour men had been seeking work all day. They were getting frantic, not knowing how they would be able to sustain their families with bread to eat. The master’s generosity meant that they would be able to meet their needs as fully as the other men. Furthermore, if we are allowed once again to extend the story, what about the attitude of the eleventh-hour men? Would they not be struck by the amazing generosity of the master, and seek further work in his vineyard the following day? Would they not throw themselves into their labours with a responsive love generated by the master’s kindness?
In each of these further considerations, one is reminded of the words of our Lord and Master that “he who has been forgiven much, loves much.” In our Christian lives, the Lord’s grace often allows us to fall, based upon His deeper knowledge of our hidden propensities, to bring us to a further place of repentance and forgiveness, that we might know Him more deeply and love Him the more.
“Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus, Deeper than the mighty rolling sea,
Higher then the mountain, sparkling like a fountain,
All sufficient grace for even me.
Broader than the scope of my transgressions,
Greater far than all my sin and shame,
O magnify the precious name of Jesus, Praise His name!”
(Chorus from the Hymn “Wonderful grace of Jesus” by Haldor Lillenas, 1916)