Philip Yancey, the award-winning American Christian author, wrote a fascinating and challenging book entitled ‘ What’s so amazing about grace?’, probably with John Newton’s hymn of that name in mind. So what is so amazing about grace and what in fact is it? Without doubt, grace is one of the most distinctive words in our Christian vocabulary and yet probably one of the least understood. Some words of course defy concise definitions and grace is one of them, simply because the wealth of the entire revelation of God in Christ is enshrined in it. Many attempts have been made to define grace but perhaps we could say that grace is the spontaneous love and boundless mercy of God freely expressed toward those who are entirely undeserving of it. It is love for the unlovely, love at its most generous.
Although the word grace is found frequently in the New Testament, especially in Paul’s letters, Jesus, who was full of grace, himself never analysed or defined grace and almost never used the word. Instead, he communicated and demonstrated its power through stories we know as parables, most notably that of the Prodigal Son. I rather think that the real prodigal in that story was the father, who was as prodigal with his love and forgiveness as the wayward son was in the misuse of his money, honour and self-respect. Either way, the parable is a wonderful commentary on the amazing grace of God.
Let me share a story which illustrates powerfully what grace means. A father tells how, once, in the middle of the night he found his broken-hearted wife kneeling beside their son’s bed, stroking his hair. The lad lay there fully clothed, having once again come home in a drunken stupor. “What on earth are you doing?”, the father asked. Looking up, his wife said, through her tears “He won’t let me do this when he is awake.” Though her son constantly spurned her loving actions, she kept on loving him. That surely is grace in action.
The supreme example of God’s grace of course is in the salvation of sinners. According to the scriptures, man’s only hope of salvation is in the grace of God which He offers to needy sinners as a gift. The world can do many things but it cannot offer grace. This is the Church’s privilege however, to offer the gospel of God’s saving grace to a world that thirsts for grace in ways it does not even recognise. John Newton wrote eloquently of such a grace that saved a wretch like him. No wonder his great hymn “Amazing Grace” found its way into the Top Ten charts two hundred years after its composition and is still being sung with gratitude by so many all over a world in which there is so much un-grace.
A composer sometimes adds ‘grace notes’ to his composition, and a singer to his song. Though not essential to the melody, they add a flourish whose presence would be missed. Similarly, the grace of God in our hearts can add a sweetness and loveliness to our faith and witness which will make them attractive to the world and point them to Christ, the fountain of all true grace. May He enable us, by His Amazing Grace, so to do.
Rev Donald John Morrison