It was slightly embarrassing to be describing to former colleagues this week the location of our new church premises as the name GRACE has not yet been fixed to the front of the building! It blends in well with the street-scape and whilst we might not wish for prominence some distinguishing marks would be useful.
It did lead however to some consideration of the word ‘grace’. The dictionary quotes 11 different meanings but the one that applies to the church is ‘God’s unmerited favour’.
There is an incident in Victor Hugo’s play Les Miserables which illustrates it well. At the start of the play we meet Jean Valjean who is an embittered convict who cannot seem to relinquish his life as a thief. He is on the run and is given shelter in a cathedral. In the morning he has gone and so has the silver! The police catch him and bring him and the silver back to the Bishop. The latter rebukes Jean for leaving so soon and for leaving behind the two majestic candlesticks which the Bishop puts into the bag containing the silver.
He bids Jean farewell in front of the bewildered police and Jean gladly takes his leave!
This act of grace when the recipient deserved the reverse illustrated the Biblical use of the word. In addition, you cannot come to a place where God says “No more grace for you”. This is shown by the Bishop’s generosity in handing over the remaining articles of value, the two candlesticks. God’s grace is far deeper than the depth we may sink to.
The fact is that all God’s blessings come to us by His grace. There are none of us that merit any of them. As the Psalmist says in chapter 14 Verses 2 and 3 –
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
Our best acts come from mixed motives. Sin is endemic in the human race from its beginning. The universality of sin is an empirical fact and which is easy to demonstrate! (G K Chesterton).
The question is “Has God grace to match the situation?” St Paul gives the answer (2 Timothy Chapter 1 verses 8 to 10) …God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”
The only part we can contribute towards our salvation is our sins. When we turn from them and look to Jesus who took them on his body on the cross paying the price we should have paid, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (St Mark Chapter 10 verse 45).
Those who trust in the work of Jesus on the cross on their behalf experience the forgiveness
which deals with guilt and brings freedom to live a new life (Romans Chapter 6 verse 4).
Hugo has the grace shown to Valjean change him completely till at the end he makes restitution returning the candlesticks to the now dying Bishop. The reality for the sinner who comes to Jesus is much better!