Grace Conferred (2): The Grace Which God Confers
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The following is Part Two in the series "Grace Conferred by Means of Admonitions" by Martyn McGeown. Read Part One here.
The truth that “grace is conferred by means of admonitions” (Canons 3-4.17) is often misunderstood. How can grace, we wonder, be conferred? And how can it be conferred by means of admonitions? Is grace not the unmerited favor of God by which we are saved? And do we not all agree that “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” (Eph. 2:8-9)?
In answer, I reply that grace is often, if not usually, a reference to the favorable disposition that God has towards us, his undeserving people. However, there is more to grace in the Bible than that. In other passages, grace is a power by which God works in his people by the Holy Spirit to conform them to the image of Jesus Christ.
Think of the power of grace in your life and remember that the power—or the “supernatural operation of God”—is on the foreground in Canons 3-4.17. What hath grace wrought! By grace you see your sin; by grace you sorrow over your sin; and by grace you repent of your sin and turn from it. What else except grace can explain that one who once loved sin and wallowed in it now hates it and flees from it? Indeed, the whole of Canons 3-4 testifies to that truth, and defends it against the error of Arminianism.
God “confers upon [us] faith and repentance” (Canons 3-4.10). God “opens [our] closed and softens [our] hardened heart” and “actuates and strengthens [our will],” rendering it “good, obedient, and pliable,” so that it (our will) “may bring forth the fruit of good actions” (Canons 3-4.11). The word actuate means to act upon an object so that it becomes active. God actuates our wills. God performs this miracle of regeneration, says Canons 3-4.12 “without our aid,” with the result that we, who were once dead, are “certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated and do actually believe” (Canons 3-4.12). Indeed, our will “becomes itself active,” so that “[we are ourselves] rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received” (Canons 3-4.12), that is, we “by this grace of God… are enabled to believe—a better translation is “we believe” rather than enabled to believe—with the heart” (Canons 3-4.13). Faith, then, is not our work (not a condition we fulfill, not a contribution we make), but God, who “confers, breathes, and infuses” faith into our hearts, “produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also” (Canons 3-4.14), so that we believe by virtue of the effectual, irresistible grace of God.
God’s grace, however, “does not treat men as (Latin: non agit in hominibus tanquam; “does not act in men as”) senseless stocks and blocks” (Canons 3-4.16). God does not “take away [our] will” or “its properties,” so that we become unwilling, irrational creatures, or mere puppets on a string. God does not do “violence [to our will]” so that he forces or compels us to be regenerated and converted, so that every good work that we perform we do against our will, every prayer we utter we speak under duress, so that we are not willing servants of God, but miserable, unwilling, reluctant slaves. For sure, “carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed,” but now—by virtue of God’s grace operating on our will—“a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign” (Canons 3-4.16). What is that but a dethroning of sin and the enthroning of grace in our hearts and wills? And that, the Canons dare to call it, is “the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will” (Canons 3-4.16). What a wonder of grace! A will in bondage to sin, so that we cannot even will the good, is set free, so that we not only will the 2 good, but so that the good begins to reign in our wills, so that we begin to obey from the heart! Perhaps we object to the terminology “freewill” because of its theological baggage, but the term “freed will” or “liberated will” is perfectly Reformed.
By grace, writes the apostle in Titus 2, we are taught to deny ungodliness and live a new, godly life. Verses 11-12 say, “The grace of God… [teaches] us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” God’s grace is a power to teach and to turn us.
Grace is also a power to uphold us in trials. How often do we not testify to the grace of God in sickness, in bereavement, in soul-crushing grief? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” That grace is God’s “strength” (“my strength,” says God in response to Paul’s prayer) and that grace is “the power of Christ: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
This grace, a power in our hearts and lives, is conferred by means of admonitions (Canons 3-4.17). Which admonitions, and how does God confer his grace by means of them? To that we turn next time, DV.
Click here or the image below to read more from Martyn McGeown on grace.
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