Grace is a Gift

In the first post in this short series, we began to consider the idea that grace is a person–the Lord Jesus Christ. Before moving on to consider other aspects of grace, it will help us to revisit what we have said and to bolster it by a brief consideration of God’s relationship to His attributes. Jonathan Edwards once explained that “the Holy Ghost is Himself the love and grace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This may sound strange to us since we have a tendency to speak of God’s attributes as something that He “has” rather than what He “is,” in His essence. To be sure, the Holy Spirit is a Person and grace is an attribute; however, as Francis Turretin, the great post-Reformation Reformed scholastic, so helpfully explained:

Attributes are not ascribed to God properly as something superadded (epousiōdes) to his essence (something accidental to the subject), making it perfect and really distinct from himself; but improperly and transumptively inasmuch as they indicate perfections essential to the divine nature conceived by us as properties.1

While it is somewhat hard for us to get our minds around–since we are finite and any attribute that we may have in common with God is not a part of our essence, (but is something communicated to us from Him)–we must rest upon the fact that Augustine was correct when he said of God’s essence and His attributes, “What He has, He is.” In short, it is right for us to speak of the members of the Godhead as the measure of whatever attribute is part of God’s essence.

This is important for us to keep in mind when we consider that the Scriptures speak of “the gift of God’s grace” (Eph. 3:7) as well as of the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit as “the gift” of God (John 4:10; Acts 2:38). In John 4:10, Jesus said to the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God…you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Commenting on the meaning of “the gift of God,” William Jay wrote:

Jesus calls himself the “gift” of God, because He came not according to the course of nature. A body was prepared him. A virgin conceives, and bears a Son; and the holy thing born of her is called, The Son of God…He was a gift infinitely free.2

Since all of the blessings of God’s grace only come to us by way of union with Christ and by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit, it is right to insist that there is no grace apart from Christ and the Holy Spirit. After all, we were chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God’s making us the objects of His grace was “in Christ.” Since no salvation comes to us apart from the atoning work of Christ and the imputation of His righteousness, we must conclude that Christ is the gift of God’s grace.

Having said this, it is also right for us to speak of God’s grace as the gift of His underserved favor bestowed on us objectively and subjectively–either affectively or effectively. In this sense, whether it be the election of grace of the ordinary and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, all is termed “the gift of God’s grace” in Scripture. Turretin explained these two sides of the gift of God’s grace when he wrote:

It is usual to understand [grace] principally in two ways: either affectively (as they say), i.e., with respect to the “internal act” in God; or effectively, with regard to the effects which it produces outwardly in creatures. The former is towards us, and we stand objectively related to it; the latter is in us, and we stand subjectively related to it. In the former sense, it denotes the favor and benevolence of God (or his benignant and disposed will) bestowing all things liberally and gratuitously, not from our merit or desert. Again, this implies either the favor by which he loved and elected us to life from eternity (in which sense election is called “the election of grace” [Rom. 11:5], and we are said to be “predestinated to the praise of the glory of his grace” [Eph. 1:6], i.e., of his glorious grace) or that by which he regards us as graceful and accepted in the Son of his love (in which sense, most especially, the apostle often invokes “grace and peace” upon the believers to whom he writes, i.e., both the favor and benevolence of God and its effects of every kind, which are signified by the word “peace,” according to the Hebrew idiom). In the same sense, mention is made of the grace of God in Rom. 3:24, Lk. 1:30 and Tit. 3:7.

In the latter sense, grace (taken effectively) indicates all the gifts (charismata) of the Holy Spirit gratuitously given to us by God: whether ordinary—of faith, hope and love—for each one’s salvation bestowed upon us in calling, conversion and sanctification (in which sense the word “grace” is used in 1 Cor. 15:10 and Eph. 2:7, 8); or extraordinary and miraculous—for the common edification of the whole church (which are designated by the name of grace in 1 Cor. 12:4, 7, 8 and Eph. 4:7). The Scholastics were accustomed to calling the latter gifts by the name of grace gratuitously given (gratiae gratis datae), but the others by the name of grace making acceptable (gratiae gratum facientis). But this is false both because the ordinary gifts no less than the others are gratuitously given and because they cannot make us acceptable to God (since this is the effect of the sole grace and righteousness of Christ imputed to us). Therefore grace making acceptable with more propriety implies the benevolence of God towards us by which (not from our merit, but by his gratuitous love) he makes us acceptable in Christ. By grace gratuitously given are indicated all the gifts gratuitously conferred on us through the Holy Spirit. And this grace in reference to the variety of its acts is distinguished into operating or preventing (which moves the will to will) and cooperating and subsequent (which effects the performance of the volition). We will treat the latter in the proper place.3

1. Turretin, F. (1992–1997). Institutes of Elenctic Theology. (G. M. Giger, Trans., J. T. Dennison Jr., Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 187). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

2. William Jay Morning Exercises (Baltimore,: Armstrong and Plaskett, 1833) p. 124

3. Turretin, F. (1992–1997). Institutes of Elenctic Theology. (G. M. Giger, Trans., J. T. Dennison Jr., Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 242–243). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

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