The Method of Grace
J. R. Miller, 1902
There is a phrase in one of the Gospels, referring to Christ, which is very suggestive. The whole verse reads: "Of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace." The words "grace for grace" are very suggestive. They describe the manner in which the Divine fullness is given out. The meaning is: grace instead of grace, one grace coming in the place of another when the first has done its work.
One suggestion is that even grace has its day, and dies. The blessing of one grace is exhausted, and has to be replaced by the blessing of another. The days are full of transient graces, tender, beautiful, enriching—but passing with the day. We cannot keep them to give us cheer, comfort, or help, on other days. You cannot feed today on yesterday's bread; it was consumed in imparting its nutriment. Yesterday's fire will not warm your house today; its warmth was exhausted in giving out the heat which then made so much comfort for you. The light from your lamp which filled your room with cheer last night—will not give you brightness again tonight.
In spiritual things, too, it is not otherwise. You kneel in your morning prayer, and as you commune with God—there flow into your soul rich blessings of strength and peace. You come from your closet with a holy light on your face and a new secret of gladness in your heart. All the day the strength of that communing will be with you. But you cannot go another day on that same strength. It did its work, and passed away.
The lesson of "grace for grace," however, is that one grace is given instead of another. We cannot live today on the strength of yesterday's food—each day has a portion of its own. Yesterday's sunshine will not light the earth today—but there is other sunshine ready each new morning. When you were in sorrow a while ago, God came to you and comforted you in wonderful ways—through His promises, or through a human friend who brought you blessing, or through a book whose words were like a heavenly lamp pouring its light upon your darkness. When a new sorrow comes, that old comfort cannot be used again; but you will have other comfort for your new sorrow, comfort in place of the comfort which is past. No grace received from God is ever the last. The time will never come to any child of God when a grace will fade out, and no other one is ready to take its place.
It is not the same grace that is given always, regardless of the person's need—the same to the little child and to the old man; the same to the mother nursing her baby, and the mother sitting beside her baby's coffin. "As your days—so shall your strength be," runs the old promise—not the same degree of strength for the day of gladness and the day of sadness—but strength suited to the particular day's experience. The boy in school needs grace to help him to be true, brave and manly; but he does not need the same grace that he will need when, a little later, as a man, he stands amid life's battles, facing grave responsibilities and carrying heavy burdens. The young girl in the summer of her joy needs grace that she may live beautifully and sweetly, keeping herself unspotted from the world, making wise choices, and growing into whatever things are lovely, whatever things are pure. But she does not need just the same grace that she will require years hence, when her hands are full of hard tasks, when her thoughts are occupied with serious questions, or when her heart is breaking with sorrow.
It is the law of grace—that it is given according to the hour's need. It is not always the same, not the same to all people, not the same to any two, not the same to any one person two days in succession. It is given always according to the need of the moment. Grace is given to each person with wise discrimination, what is best for each at the time.
Life has hard points for everyone. There are struggles which must be made. Not all battlefields are marked on the world's maps; there are sore battles in human hearts. There are sorrows too; no life escapes them. There are sicknesses which call us aside from active duty, and bid us to rest awhile. For each of these changing experiences there is grace ready. The same grace in every instance would not do. The grace that will help you when you are strong and busy in life's active duties—would not meet your need when you are shut up in a sick room. Then it is the grace of patience you require—instead of the grace of energy; and this God will give you.
This also must be noted—that grace need not be expected out of season. One cause of much anxiety in good people is the fear that they will not be able to meet certain experiences which they foresee, or imagine they foresee. You, in the enjoyment of health, see a friend in sickness, who is wondrously patient, suffering quietly, even joyfully, with a heart full of song. You say, "I could not meet sickness as my friend does. I could not bear pain so patiently and sweetly. I could not sing if I were suffering so."
Of course you do not today have the particular grace your friend has. With the grace you are now receiving, you might not be able to endure sickness patiently. Your present grace is grace for earnest, active life, for living sweetly amid trial and care, for doing well life's common duties. It would be a waste of Divine grace—for God to give you now strength to meet anguish or sorrow, when you have neither anguish nor sorrow to endure! If by and by God shall lead you into a chamber of suffering, then you may expect grace to meet the new experiences.
A mother reads the story of some other mother whose little child has died. This mother in her great sorrow did not rebel—but laid her darling in Christ's arms just as sweetly as if she were only bringing it to Him for His blessing. "I could not do that," says this mother of the happy, living child. "I have not grace enough to give up my child, as my friend gave up hers."
But why should she have this grace today, when her child is in health? Her duty for it now is not laying it in Christ's arms in death, and then going on, bereft and lonely—yet rejoicing; but rather training it for Christ; and for this duty of Christian motherhood she will receive the needed grace if she seeks it. Then if, some painful day, God asks her to let her child be taken away in death, she will receive grace to give it up to Him, and to walk on in sweet faith without its companionship.
There can be no blessing in such foreboding anxiety. Nothing good can come of it. It will not prepare the heart for suffering, if it comes, to go forward now in fear and dread. No grace is promised either for imaginary or anticipated troubles. Our duty is to accept each day the actual experiences of the day, and for these we shall always receive strength. Then if tomorrow brings new needs—it will bring with them new grace.
Many people distress themselves because they do not have the consciousness of victory over death long before they meet death. They say they could not die in peace—as this or that saint died. This perplexes them. They think they ought to be able to say the dying believer's words of confidence now, just as if they were entering the valley. But it is not in this way that God gives grace. He gives what we need—for the present hour. While we are well and strong, we require, not dying grace—but grace to live well—thoughtful love to make us gentle and kindly in life's relations, strength to be faithful in duty and struggle—and this grace we shall receive, if we seek it.
We have no promise of dying grace, while we are in the midst of healthful, active life. Of what use would such grace be to us then? It would not fit us for the work we have to do, and the battles we have to fight. Not submission, laying down our tasks, folding our arms, saying farewell to our friends—not these are our duties now—but courage, energy, loyal friendship, diligence in business, and faithfulness in witnessing. By and by, when our work is done, and our time to fall asleep has come, we shall receive dying grace in place of grace for living—and shall meet death without fear.
There is a word which warns us against receiving the grace of God in vain. We receive it in vain—when we make nothing of it; when we allow it to die in our heart—and yield no strength; when we take God's comfort—and are not comforted by it; when we hear God's calls—and do not obey them; when we feel the strivings of the Spirit—and do not submit to them; when the still small voice whispers its Divine inspirations in our soul—and we pay no heed. We receive grace properly—when it sinks into our heart, like the dew into the bosom of the thirsty rose, and revives our life; when we accept the divine consolations, and are comforted; when we take the strength of God into our life—and grow strong!