“And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” —Romans 11:6
What do you desire? To be saved by grace or by works?
That is the question. Shakespeare would say: To be or not to be, that is the question. And it fits here too. To be or not to be in the arms of God unto all eternity. Tremendous question.
There are those that want to be saved by works. Foolish? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Proud? Yes. Offending to God? Yes.
Did any attain unto salvation by the works of the law? No, not one.
Did the Pelagians learn that lesson through the ages? No, they did not. It is an error that is as old as the sinner. Cain is the first Pelagian. He cast a disdainful look at weeping, sobbing Abel, as that righteous man gathered his sticks of wood for the altar, after killing the lamb of God, and went to work: he was going to be saved by his own toil. He brought the sacrifice of the labors of his hand: the fruits of the field. Foolish, stupid, proud, impossible, and an offense to God. But he brought it.
Did he learn the lesson? Even after he killed the correct worshipper? No. Did he learn the lesson after God took him to task and set a sign on the crooked worshipper? No.
Did his corrupt stock learn that lesson? No. They continued the impossible task.
Brethren, that is bad! Very bad.
But it is not the worst you can do.
You do worse when you mix work and grace.
Nebuchadnezzar had the oven made seven times hotter because of the challenging answer of the three children. Why? Because he was very angry. I assure you that God hates the mixer of grace and work much more than the blunt Pelagian.
When you work with all your might to lay hold of salvation, and really hate grace, but when you nevertheless prate about grace [to] no end, you are a double offense to God.
It is either or: grace or work!
Do not mix them. This mixture is a fire that burns and evokes great indignation with God.
Grace or work.
Either the one or the other.
What is salvation by grace?
It is this: God loved you before the world was made. Sovereignly, lovingly, he saw you and willed you and determined you, and said within himself: on you I will look with favor from this eternity to that eternity. I love you now while I am dwelling in eternity. All the dynamo of my being is set on you in sweetest love.
I am going to love you when you stand before me in paradise, where all things around you testify of that love and will help you to love me.
And I am going to love you when you shall have become wicked and when you shall smite me in the face. I will still go on loving you.
I am going to love you when I will come to you and will stand before you in the face of my anointed Son. And I will speak and sing to you of this my everlasting love.
I am going to love you when you shall hate me and despise me and turn your back upon me. I will never cease loving you no matter how wicked you shall have become.
I am going to love you when I shall hear your voice, cursing and swearing and calling upon me in heaven to witness to the fact that you will have none of me. Even then I will still love you.
And then you shall tear at me and beat me and crucify me and kill me, but my love is eternal, and I will still go on loving you.
And then I shall prove my everlasting and beautiful love, because I will actually die for you, the wicked sinner!
But my love is so great and so beautiful and so strong that death shall not be able to hold me in its cruel cords: I shall awake in the garden of Joseph.
And then I shall stand before you, and I will say to you: Do you love me?
And you? There shall be a blush of shame on your cheeks, and you will stammer: Yes, Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee!
And I will say: Of course, you love me! I know it. It was I that placed that love in your breast.
Listen, my dear people, I will save you from yourselves, from sin, from guilt, from death, from the curse, from hell, from damnation, from the devil, from the wicked, from the earth, and I will give you my own virtues: I will make you beautiful and spotless as the angels in heaven, no, more beautiful than they: the greater is served by the lesser. You shall exceed in beauty the holy angels of God.
And I will write my new name on your heart, your forehead. And you shall be called the beautiful!
And I will recreate a new heaven and a new earth so that you may have a new dwelling place forever and ever.
And I will come and dwell among you and be a Father unto you and you shall be my sons and daughters.
And your peace shall flow like a river.
And great shall be the peace of your children.
And all this love I will spread abroad in your hearts, while you are walking in the valley of the shadow of death. And that love shall burn in you and shall quicken you, and you shall begin to sing with breaking voice, and you shall look up to me at times and you shall say, weeping as you go, Abba, beloved Father! I shall continue to spread love in your heart, and faith and hope, and you shall work for the night is coming. You shall notice in your heart, in your inmost heart, that you want to be pleasing unto me, and you will needs work, but you shall weep again, and say with burning eyes, at night, when all is black: O my wonderful God: to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not!
And then I will show you the nature of my everlasting love, and I will say: I forgive you all your good works! Fret no more, and worry no more! Did you not hear me say: It is finished!?
My child, my beloved child: you are saved by grace!
That, my brother, is to be saved by grace!
And what is salvation by works?
I hate to outline it: it’s a foul thing.
It is foul, for it is born of the devil.
It says: I am a sinner, but by Jove, I am going to save myself. I am going to be good. I am going to see to it that God is obliged to me. I am going to sanctify myself, so that I may be able to stand in the temple of God and say: I thank Thee God that I am not as the rest of men are!
Salvation by works is a foul thing.
But fouler still is when you mix the above paragraph where I tried to outline salvation by grace with the paragraph where I outline salvation by works. That breeds a very obnoxious mixture. And of that mixture Paul spoke in my text. It is when you mix grace with works.
You do that when you say: Sure, sure, sure, sure God works salvation by his marvelous grace. But we must also do something. We are responsible creatures, you see. God gave us much, oh so much. And you must get to work, ably assisted (they will insist on that) by the grace of God. The Arminians almost wore out the word grace in their foul productions.
And then you have salvation by a mixture of grace and work.
And Satan smiles.
But God is furious.
If it is grace, then be silent about work unto all eternity.
If it is work, then be silent about grace unto all eternity.
If it is work, then take your chances with God who damns the proud. I will give you a preview: he will cast you into the pool that burns with fire and sulphur.
If it is grace, then sing, sing, now and forever, for you are blessed and shall not come into condemnation. For his salvation by grace is founded on work which shall make heaven musical forever. Oh yes, your salvation by grace is also by works, but they are the works of God which he wrought in the depth of the hell he tasted for you.
But I hear your quest: But must we then not work at all? Oh yes, we must work and we do work. And when we work it is because God wrought in us, and set us on a pathway of works which he foreordained that we should walk in them. But wait: two things in this connection: 1. what kind of proprietor are you with respect to these good works? Imagine: they are ordained before the world was! 2. when you are through working the works of God that he ordained that should go through you, you look behind you when the shadows of the night are upon you, and the night hears your cry: That’s not what I had to do, must do, intended to do: Oh God, forgive my good works!
And he listens, and hears, and paints his cross before your sorrowing eyes.
And that cross whispers, just before you sleep in peace: your warfare is accomplished; your iniquity is pardoned: and I love you still!
Shall we barter that kind of salvation for a foul mixture of grace and work?
We throw it from us as we would a poisonous reptile.
Why? Because I hate it; because I do not want to infuriate the Almighty; because I want to go to heaven!
This meditation was written by Rev. Gerrrit Vos published in the Standard Bearer, Volume 29, Issue 16, dated May 15, 1953.