The Perspectives of Our Editors and Essayists Over the Years
Since 1866, Christian Standard has been “devoted to the restoration of New Testament Christianity, its doctrine, its ordinances, and its fruits.” One of the New Testament’s core doctrines, of course, is grace. It’s an attribute of Jesus, and it is Jesus’ fingerprint on his church. Our editorial team searched through over 155 years of our archives to see what has been written about this important topic. We excerpted from articles by six editors and essayists that explore the various viewpoints on grace over the years.
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Isaac Errett, 1869 & 1887: The Sinner’s Participation in God’s Grace
One of the earliest substantial references to grace came from founding editor Isaac Errett in the June 19, 1869, issue. He was responding to a reader’s letter about grace and law. Errett summarized the difference between the letter writer’s view and Christian Standard’s position (as stated by its editor): “[The letter writer] makes salvation an absolute, unconditional gift, in the acceptance of which the sinner is entirely passive, while we teach that salvation is conditional—the conditions being conditions of grace and not the law—and that in accepting it the sinner is active and not passive.” Later in the article, Errett continued,
“HERE THEN is ‘active participation’ on the part of the sinner. Does this destroy the grace of God? If a man, standing on the bank of a river, were to throw a rope to a drowning man, would the fact of the drowning man’s seizing it and holding on to it impair or destroy the work of grace performed by his saviour? If a man rushes through a burning building to save a fellow-being from destruction in the flames, does the fact that the perishing man grasps his hand that he may drag him out of his peril destroy the grace offered by his deliverer? Does the perishing man earn or merit salvation by this co-operation with his saviour? . . .
“We have such profound convictions of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and of man’s inevitable ruin if left to himself, that with us the mission of Jesus and His death for sin was a necessity. We could not be saved without it. All our hope of acceptance with God rests on it. Faith has no merit; repentance has no merit; obedience has no merit; they are simply channels through which the unmerited grace of God flows to us. The death of Jesus as a sin-offering makes it possible to vindicate the justice of God in the exercise of mercy to the guilty; and He can constitute them righteous, in Christ Jesus, in view of their faith in Him and acceptance of His sacrifice. But we do not believe that the death of Christ absolutely saves any except the irresponsible, such as infants, idiots, etc. It brings salvation within our reach. It makes it accessible. Now we must hear, and believe, and obey, or perish forever. As the sun shines in vain to him who shuts his eyes or burrows in the ground, so Christ has died in vain as to those who will not accept His offered mercy and obey His voice.”
Over the following two decades, Errett wrote occasionally about grace, usually defending the position set forth in his 1869 editorial and responding to letters from readers.
In the February 26, 1887, edition, Errett responded to a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon on Ephesians 2:8-9. Errett said that much of what Spurgeon was teaching was true and important, but he forcefully disagreed with Spurgeon’s contention in his sermon that, “The man believes, but that belief is only one result among many of the implantation of divine life within the man’s soul by God himself.” Errett’s response was filled with obvious sarcasm:
“THERE IT IS—a special miracle of grace implanting divine life in the soul before the sinner believes the gospel!—that he may believe it! Begotten to a new life first by God himself, that he may be begotten afterward to a new life by the gospel! Such a conception has no place in nature or grace. . . . The doctrine of renewal apart from the reception of the life-giving word of truth has no place in the sacred record; and it is high time that it was laid aside and forgotten forever.”
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James Alexander Lord, 1908: The Challenge of Grace
James Alexander Lord was editor from 1892 to 1909. In his editorial of December 26, 1908, he dealt with what he called “The Challenge of Grace.” He said,
“THE NOTION that the grace of God in Christ indicates some sort of indulgence for sin was not confined to the apostolic day when certain [people] held that they might continue in sin that grace might abound, but has descended to the present time. The obscurities of the modern revival theology, or rather soteriology, and the deception of self-indulgence in men, conspire to create a doctrine of grace which has no support in the word of God. . . .
“The favor of God demands that we shall control ourselves, do right toward our fellow men, and serve God in all things. Peter says, ‘According as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.’ Grace is not merely a gift: it is a holy stewardship. We are told to stand fast in the grace of God, and are admonished not to receive the grace of God in vain. . . .
“When men deliberately trade on the goodness of God and sin with the thought that some day they will dispose of all their iniquity by drawing on the divine indulgence, they are trifling with holy things and imperiling their souls’ eternal salvation. ln all sacred history there is no blessing for any man who tampers with the grace of God. The rich young man who refused the test of Jesus went away sorrowing, and the ‘convenient season’ of the terrified Felix never came. The soul is lost that trifles with the grace of God. . . .
“What Is needed first of all to correct the prevailing and fatal error about the significance of the grace of God is the preaching of the full gospel, so that when men come to confess Christ and are baptized, they will not forget, in the joy of forgiveness of past sins, that they are committed to the holy calling of obtaining eternal life. If the consequences of backsliding and apostasy were brought to the attention of the people, some who now respond to the gospel invitation might hesitate, but those who did accept Christ would be more certain to hold out faithful until the end. . . .
“It is the solemn duty of the preacher and elders to see that [the people are] rightly taught.”
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James Van Buren, 1948: The Fruit of God’s Grace in Our Lives
James G. Van Buren began writing for Christian Standard in 1945 and was still writing when I worked for Standard Publishing in the early 1990s. His final “Epistle from Thistle” was published in the Christian Standard issue that announced his death in 1997. His article, simply titled “Grace,” appeared January 10, 1948:
“THERE IS no truth more prominent in the New Testament than that God is a God of grace. The words grace or graciousness are used about 129 times in that volume. The word karis, translated ‘grace,’ means loving favor, kindness, or compassion. . . .
“The coming of Jesus into the world as the Saviour of men was the supreme demonstration of the grace of God. God showed his compassionate love for us in that He gave His Son as our Redeemer. No longer do we think of the rigorous austerity of a stern taskmaster when we think of God—we think instead of a love warm with winsomeness, and red with sacrificial devotion. Thus, through our response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and our incorporation of His attitude and strategy into our own personalities, we become ‘saved by grace,’ and through grace have ‘everlasting consolation and good hope.’
“Our redemption from perversity of heart and pride of life comes through God’s infinite kindness toward us in the giving of His Son. We know of His love and understand His compassion, because of the tremendous drama of redemption which sweeps from the miraculously filled manger of Bethlehem to the miraculously emptied tomb in Jerusalem. ‘For by grace are we saved through faith.’
“Now this grace of God which is given us in the gift of Christ finds its natural fruition in the development of an attitude of grace and mercy on our part. When God has shown such kindness to us, who are we to be harsh, stern, and oppressive in our relations with our fellows? How are we, then, to develop in our lives a greater degree of grace and compassion in our relation to others? How can the sense of God’s grace become such a reality to us that it finds an echo throughout all the varied melody of our lives?
“The New Testament does not leave us in ignorance as to the means by which the grace of God becomes effectively articulated in our lives.”
Van Buren concluded with three strategies, which I’ll summarize here:
1. We develop grace as we love Jesus sincerely. (See Ephesians 6:24.) “One can not be like Jesus,” said Van Buren, “and not show grace and kindness to others.”
2. We develop grace through believing prayer. (See Hebrews 4:16.)
3. We develop grace through humility. (See James 4:6.)
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Gene Rogers, 1966: What’s Man’s Part in God’s Grace?
A question many of our writers have considered over the years is this: What is man’s part in salvation by grace? In our October 29, 1966, issue, Gene Rogers, who ministered to the Normandie Avenue Christian Church in Gardena, California, answered that question—agreeing in large part with Isaac Errett nearly a century earlier—in “The Gospel of Grace”:
“THE HUMAN element is never included beyond the essential adjustment of man to the work of God. Human responsibility is always expressed in terms which suggest that man is the recipient of the benefits of the work of God.
“His is to ‘receive,’ to ‘believe,’ to ‘have faith,’ to ‘be reconciled to God,’ to ‘turn to God.’ His is to receive the free gift (Romans 6:23). “We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Savior and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law” (Romans 3:28; Phillips).
“Man’s repentance or confession or baptism or any other such act is but a faith response to God’s grace. And without that grace any one of these responses would be meaningless. Without grace there would be nothing to believe, nothing to turn to, no one to confess, and no one to be baptized into.”
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Sam E. Stone, 1980: A Grace That Will Lead Me Home
Sam Stone served as editor from 1978 to 2003. He not only had a firm understanding of biblical grace, but he also lived with grace throughout his life. He was a model of grace for many, including myself. In our February 24, 1980, issue, he wrote the following:
“WHEN I WAS YOUNGER, grace was just a word to me. ‘The unmerited favor of God,’ someone had defined it. Now I realize that it is so much more. Today ‘Amazing Grace’ is one of my favorite songs.
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
“Grace appeared when Jesus came (John 1:14, 16, 17). Through Him, God expressed His loving concern to an undeserving world. While we were sinners—hopeless, lost, nowhere to turn—our Lord made salvation possible. ‘The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,’ explained Paul (Titus 2:11).
“God’s love demands a proper response from all who will accept it. His grace teaches us that ‘denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world’ (Titus 2:12).
“We would not even have known our sinful state had grace not revealed it. Certainly we could not have atoned for our wrongs. Only the Lord’s provision of an acceptable sacrifice made possible our hope for Heaven.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
“Just to know that, even though I am a sinner, I need not be lost. What a thrill! What joy! This is ‘that blessed hope’ (Titus 1:13) that is assured by Christ’s triumph over death.
“‘Grace’ isn’t just a theological term. It means that I can make it to Heaven. Because of grace, my sins are forgiven. Jesus is my Savior. Though I had no hope of doing enough good deeds to purchase a ticket into glory, my Lord offered himself as a sacrifice for me. Now I don’t have to pay the price I owe for my sins—eternal separation from God. Jesus died for me.
“I accepted His offer of salvation through faith. I obeyed the divine command to ‘repent, and be baptized.’ On Christ’s authority I know that I then received ‘the remission of sins, and . . . the gift of the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 2:38). My salvation is the gift of God. It came by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Moreover, His grace sustains me each day.
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath bro’t me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
“No earthly confidence is like that. I may falter. I may fall. But God doesn’t desert me. He watches over me like a shepherd; He cares for me like a father. When I can’t do it on my own strength, I have only to lean on His everlasting arms. He will never fail.
“Do you see why I am thrilled that “Amazing Grace” has been chosen as the theme for the 1980 North American Christian Convention? What better word to summarize the good news of the New Testament than ‘grace’? If, as our critics say, in the restoration movement we have not emphasized this Biblical doctrine sufficiently, the 1980 NACC will give opportunity for us to correct that oversight. We cannot help praising the God of all grace when we sing,
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
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Ben Merold, 1987: No Focus on Grace . . . No Revival
Ben Merold, a beloved minister in Christian churches and churches of Christ for almost three-quarters of a century as well as a regular Christian Standard writer, died November 16, 2022. In a tribute to Ben in this issue, Doyle Roth said, “He believed God’s grace was for every person, no matter their past. He believed that God’s grace transforms people and gives second chances. He lived it and preached it everywhere he went. He was not afraid of the messiness of people’s lives. . . . Ben was a person of grace.” More than 35 years ago, Merold wrote a Reflections column in Christian Standard titled “Reflecting on Grace”:
“AS I REFLECT back over my years as a gospel preacher, I find myself thinking more and more about the doctrine of grace. I can’t remember hearing many sermons on the subject and, as I recall, only one or two teachers in my Bible college days really emphasized this great Biblical teaching. I’m sure that all my teachers believed in salvation by grace, but other doctrines seemed to come first. As a result, I preached very little about the grace of God in my early days as a minister. I believe in grace, but I was guilty of preaching as if salvation is by works. In my opinion, there is still a lot of that kind of preaching going around.
“I am certain we can never have revival in our brotherhood until we focus on God’s grace in our preaching and teaching. Furthermore, I believe it is almost impossible to convict people of sin apart from an awareness of grace. The combination of conviction and grace leads to repentance.
“Let me hasten to say that I realize that the subject of grace has often been perverted. It has been preached apart from repentance and obedience until the gospel has become a sort of ‘do nothing’ idea in the minds of some. However, this becomes an even stronger reason for preaching grace. We must put the doctrine in its proper perspective.
“Grace and salvation—If there were some ways of looking into the minds of our church members, I believe we would find that most of them view God as a big bookkeeper. They have the idea that when they do something good, God marks it down in a ‘credit’ column and if they do something bad, He puts that in the ‘debit’ column. Then at the judgment, God adds up the two columns and subtracts the smaller number from the larger.
“If there is something left over on the side of ‘credit’ we go to Heaven—if the larger number comes out on the side of ‘debit’ we will be condemned to Hell. Now we know this is not the Biblical view of salvation, but it is the view so many people have. This view is held by many church members as well as by so many in the world.
“Where does grace fit into the whole idea of salvation? We often say that the word ‘grace’ means ‘unmerited favor.’ It is something God offers to us that we do not deserve. The Bible reveals that we are all sinners. We have varying degrees of sin, but we have all sinned. As a result of sin, we have the same need. That need is grace, and grace is offered to the world through Jesus Christ our Savior. He came to redeem us and when we receive Him as Savior, we receive God’s grace. We are therefore redeemed by accepting what God offers us.
“This is one of the reasons why salvation is such a humbling experience. We come to the place where we realize that we cannot earn right standing with God and that this right standing can be received only as a gift. This destroys the pride that comes as a result of self-righteousness. We realize that we have become God’s children through His unmerited favor. It is by grace we are saved (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
“Grace and the plan of salvation—I believe in the so-called plan of salvation. I believe that God’s basic plan is that salvation is found in a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior. But I also believe the New Testament shows a simple pattern for accepting this Savior. I believe we can show that those who claimed salvation through the death and the resurrection of Christ became believers in Christ, repented of their old way of life by turning to Christ, confessed their faith, and were baptized into Christ. I believe this plan is made evident in the book of Acts. . . .
“We must always remind people that salvation is by grace through faith. . . .
“This is why I say that the preaching of grace is necessary for conviction and repentance. There will be no complete dependence on Christ as Savior and no change of lifestyle until people understand their lost condition before God. I do not see how people can realize this and respond in faith without an understanding of grace. So the doctrine of grace shows people that they are lost and how God provides for their salvation. In other words, why would people turn to Christ in complete faith for salvation if they did not have the conviction that they were lost? It is grace that makes them see both their need and God’s plan to meet that need.
“So we must be careful to preach and teach the basic plan of salvation, which is grace through faith. This must be followed with Scriptural teaching that leads the convicted person to respond with that faith in Christ.
“Grace comes first! We have to understand the doctrine of grace before we can make a faith response.
“Grace and the assurance of salvation—I maintain that a large percentage of the members of our restoration movement churches are lacking the assurance of salvation. They have what many refer to as ‘hope-so salvation.’ They are not sure their citizenship is in Heaven. They have doubts concerning the new birth. They may say their faith is in Jesus and His cross and they may defend the pattern of the New Testament conversion, but they still do not have assurance that they are a child of God.
“As long as this condition exists in the lives of Christians, they will find it almost impossible to have a testimony that will win others to Christ. They will be lacking in the experience of real stewardship and will probably become frustrated with attempts to live a surrendered life.
“I firmly believe this condition will continue to be the norm in the lives of many church members until they understand the Bible doctrine of grace. It is only with this understanding that the soul will be able to comprehend that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. In other words, an understanding of grace teaches us that the grace of God that saves us is also the same grace that sustains us.
“Many are in a twilight understanding of grace. They may see that they are saved by grace, but they do not apply the doctrine beyond the initial act of receiving Christ. As a result, they claim salvation by grace and then try to live by law. In this respect we may not be too far behind the Galatians of the New Testament.
“Here is a person who has honestly believed in Jesus as the Christ and who has turned away from sin to follow the Word of God in confession of faith and Christian baptism. Yet when I approach this person and ask him if he is a child of God, he will often answer something like this: ‘I hope so—I’m doing the best I can.’
“Such a person seems to be unaware of the grace of God that sustains us in Christ. Often when we explain this, the person will respond by saying, ‘I see it now. When I believed and repented and made my confession of faith and was baptized, I entered into grace.’
“How true! And with the discovery of this simple truth comes the blessedness of assurance.
“So the theologians can argue about eternal security and apostasy, but all of the arguments become rather meaningless to those of us who have assurance because of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.
“Let us proclaim the message of grace. Let us preach this good news in every pulpit and teach it in every Bible class. Let us thank God for this wonderful plan of salvation and let us urge people to accept God’s best—to be in Christ. For to be in Christ is to be in grace.”