by Arthur Pink, 1940
It is impossible for the creature to do anything which merits anything at the hands of God—for even if he should fully perform his duty he is still an "unprofitable servant" (Luke 17:10). Doubly so is this the case with a sinful creature, for his entire record is one of demerit. He is an undischarged bankrupt, and has nothing with which to pay his just debts. Clemency from his Creditor is his only hope. It is at this very point that Divine grace meets his deep need, for GRACE is favor shown to the undeserving and ill-deserving. The grace of God abounds even unto the holy angels—but it superabounds toward the depraved descendants of Adam. It lay not within the power of the original inhabitants of Heaven to do anything which entitled them to such high honors: it was grace pure and simple that made them the attendants of the King of kings. But to take to heaven—those who have groveled in the miry clay of earth—is favor shown to those who have earned the wages of eternal death.
When Divine grace bestows salvation upon the ill-deserving, it makes them conscious of the infinite favor that has been shown them. Fallen man is naturally proud, self-complacent, and self-righteous. He credits to himself good marks to which he is not entitled, and those against him he denies or seeks to explain away. He prates of his religious performances (Luke 18), and considers himself entitled to even more than that which he receives from God (Matthew 20:10, 11). But wherever the miracle of regenerating grace is wrought, all this is reversed. Its subject is stripped of his peacock feathers, made poor in spirit, and humbled into the dust before God. He is made painfully aware of the loathsome plague of his heart, given a sight of his vileness in the light of God's holiness, and brought to realize that he is a spiritual pauper, dependent upon Divine charity. He now readily acknowledges that he is a Hell-deserving sinner.
"I am not worthy of the least of all Your mercies and unfailing love You have shown to me, Your servant" (Genesis 32:10). This is something more than the language of a particular individual who lived in the remote past—it is the confession made by all who are the recipients of the saving grace of God. Jacob was, in the leading features of his history, a representative character. Before he had done any good or evil, while yet in his mother's womb, it was revealed that he was the elect and beloved of God (Romans 9:10-13). Yet the course followed by him in early life made it apparent that he was, "by nature a child of wrath even as others." The distinguishing favor of God was shown to him at Bethel, where a fugitive from justice, alone, asleep on the bare ground, the Lord appeared to him. Severe trials then followed—but it was not until he was "greatly afraid and distressed" (Gen. 32:7) that he took his proper place before the Lord. How blessed it is to be assured that "the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Psalm 46:7). The "God of Jacob" is the God of all who feel and acknowledge their utter unworthiness and their complete dependency on sovereign grace.
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He who comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry" (Matthew 3:11). If Jacob is to be regarded as a representative believer (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob portraying the three sides of his character), then John the Baptist is surely to be looked upon as the prototype of the officers in Christ's kingdom. One of the outstanding and identifying marks which distinguish His true under-shepherds from the false—is their deep and genuine humility. The public representatives of Him who is "meek and lowly in heart" are themselves characterized by humility and modesty. They marvel at the honor bestowed upon them and own their utter undeservedness and unfitness for such a high calling. Thus it was with the man whom Divine grace called to be our Lord's forerunner. So far from being puffed up by the dignified position he held, he did not feel fit to carry his Master's shoes. Though the greatest of them born of women (Matthew 11:11), his motto was, "He must increase—but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
"The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof" (Matthew 8:8). Here again we perceive the same leading effect which is produced in all of its subjects by the miracle of saving grace: pride is subdued, self is effaced, a sense of ill-desert takes possession of the heart. In this instance we behold one who belonged to that hard and haughty race, the Romans. He was a man of rank, an officer in Caesar's army, accustomed to issuing orders to those under his authority. Beautiful is it to see the lion transformed into a lamb. He had appealed to the great Physician on behalf of a servant lying sick of the palsy. The blessed Savior at once declared, "I will come and heal him. Whereupon he replied, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed" (v. 8). The sequel is instructive, "When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to them that followed, Truly I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (v. 10): one of the elements of great faith is deep humility.
"For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not worthy (Greek) to be called an Apostle" (1 Cor. 15:9). "Least" not in the sight of God nor as venerated by the Church—but "least" in his own estimation; as he wrote in another place, "less than the least of all saints" (Eph. 3:8). It was not that he was lacking in qualifications or gifts—but that he had such a sense of his pre-conversion sins. How meanly he thought of himself! He felt that he was unfit to fight under the banner of Christ, still less to be His chief lieutenant. What complete self-abasement! "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10): the position he held, the authority he possessed, the success which attended his labors—were all freely ascribed to Divine favor. Here is proof of what we said in our opening paragraph: where the saving grace of God operates, it produces a sense of ill-desert.
"Worthy is the LAMB" (Rev. 5:12). This brief article would be incomplete did we fail to bring out the grand design of the Divine favor. The operations of God's grace are intended not only to abase its subjects—but to exalt the Savior. If those blessed workings produce in us a deep sense of our utter unworthiness, they also result in a profound conviction of the immeasurable worthiness of Christ. Beautifully is this portrayed in Revelation 5. Attention is focused upon the fact that none in Heaven or earth was worthy to open "the sealed book". This provides the background for the central figure: "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book" (v. 5). Infinite merits are possessed by Him, and all the inhabitants of Heaven, angelic and human, unite in ascribing worthiness to the Lamb. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us—but unto Your name give glory, for Your mercy and for Your truth's sake!" (Psalm 115:1)