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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 15

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 15

An Overwhelming Appreciation of Grace

The second thing that came out of this shattering was an overwhelming appreciation of grace. The Lord Jesus, on one occasion which you will recall, enunciated a great spiritual truth and law, when referring to one who was pouring out devotion at His feet. He said: 'Where much has been forgiven, there is much love. She loved much because she was forgiven much' (Luke 7:47).

Now Peter came into the meaning of that spiritual principle - or it came into Peter. What an appreciation of grace! Look at the first letter that goes by his name. In that quite brief document, which you can read through from beginning to end in ten or fifteen minutes, Peter speaks of grace no fewer than ten times, and in every case the context of that word is tremendous.

Here, for instance, he speaks of "the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10). Grace is really the theme of this letter. It governs everything - every department of the Christian life. Yes, Peter knew what he was talking about: he was speaking out of experience. It was this tremendous appreciation of grace that made him the servant that he became. But he had to be baptized into that: that is, he had to be baptized into the agony of suffering, of self-discovery - of the discovery of his own unworthiness, weakness, failure. The waves of despair had to go over his head, in order to bring him to this place where grace was his theme, grace accounted for everything, grace became the great motive of his ministry.

A man cannot go through an experience of that kind, he cannot go through a spiritual history like that, he cannot go through such depths, without being caused to reflect deeply. It is not just our imagination, or reading something into the story, to say that, when Peter was recovered, restored, brought back into all the blessings of fellowship with his Lord, and given his commission, he must have thought something like this: 'Just imagine it - that such a one as I am, and have proved to be; such a one as I, who have done what I have done - could any man sink to deeper depths of shame, disgrace, dishonor? - that such a one as I should be called by the Lord at all, when He knew all about me beforehand! That day when He came along by the seashore, when I was engaged in my business, and He called me - that day He knew everything that there was to know about me!' Peter could indeed say with Paul: 'He called me by His grace' (Gal. 1:15). That is consolation, that is comfort, that is help; that makes service possible for anybody.

The Training of Grace

Anyone other than Jesus would probably have washed their hands of Peter and said, 'I shall never make anything of this man - I can do nothing with him: he is incorrigible.' The Holy Spirit has caused to be written in fiery letters, for all to see, all this blundering and blurting of Simon, all his rebuking of the Lord, correcting the Lord, telling the Lord, 'Thou shalt never...' All this - and then the Lord's infinite patience with that man. When John writes "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13:1), there is an immense amount behind that statement in relation to this man alone, to say nothing of the rest of them. That is no small thing; it is wonderful. Think of all the training, all the infinite patience and care and kindness, and the going on - just going on. This was the training of grace do you not think Peter remembered that? I am sure he thought back over those three-and-a-half years, and how they culminated in his denial. 'Oh, what patience He showed with me! To think that I am here today at all, and having a place of honor in His service! What doest it not say for His patience, His forbearance, His longsuffering, His love!'

The Endowments of Grace

But then, as though that were not enough, grace brought endowments. First of all, the mighty, inclusive gift of the anointing Holy Spirit, and all that that implied! We have so often said that the anointing of the Holy Spirit implies that God commits Himself. It is as though He would say: 'I am going to join Myself with that man or that woman, and I am going on with them, for My Son's sake.' That is the basic meaning of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But grace brought all those other things, all those new capacities, which come by the Spirit in the new creation. Are they not marvelous in Peter? Remember, he was a fisherman. Although that does not necessarily mean that he was an uneducated man, they did say about Peter and John that they were "unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13). At any rate, certain people, who considered themselves to be otherwise, said that of him in Jerusalem. Have you ever studied that discourse of Peter's on the day of Pentecost? Many years ago I made a list of all the subjects mentioned in it, and I was amazed what a catalog I had. Almost every sentence or part sentence touches on something which, being gathered into the whole, adds up to a most comprehensive statement. There is great understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, wonderful insight into the Word of God and the things of God. We have already referred to that critical day in Jerusalem, when Peter's counsel, supported by James with citation of the Old Testament prophets, marked a turning point in the history of the Church.

And if that is not enough, read Peter's letters. I do not know how, apart from Divine revelation, Peter knew about the atomic age! Long, long centuries before the splitting of the atom, he talked, in language which we all understand now, about 'the heavens being on fire,' 'the elements melting with fervent heat,' 'all these things being dissolved.' (2 Peter 3:10-12). That is very up to date, is it not? Where did he get it? There are endowments by the Holy Spirit of understanding, intelligence and knowledge. And there are endowments of endurance. Here is a man who breaks down at the taunt of a serving maid, and vehemently denies his Lord. But look at him here - "when they saw the boldness!..." And there are many other endowments which we cannot now stay to tabulate. All this is the work of grace. Yes, Peter came into a large appreciation of grace.

The Dynamic of Service

This leads us to our sub-title: "The Dynamic of Service.' What is that? Surely it is the response of the heart to a love like that! That is what made Peter the servant of Jesus Christ. It may        be that he was fearful about trusting his love, and so dared not rise to the great word that the Master was using; but he meant it. He was trying to go as far as he could, and in the event he went further - he went beyond his own language. His response turned out better than he perhaps feared it would be. It was a mighty response to love - and that is the dynamic of service.

Now the grace that lies behind our being called by Jesus Christ into fellowship with Himself, the grace that lies behind His training of us, His dealing with us in longsuffering and forbearance, the grace that lies behind His gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, and all that goes with that gift, represents endowment for us all! This is not exclusive to Peter or his class, he is but representative. All these things are for the Church, and we, as organic parts of the Church, inherit the endowments, as we inherit the calling of grace. These things are true for us all. Because of the grace of God, every one of us can be a servant of God.

To be called at all, did we but know it, is the most marvelous thing that could ever have happened to us. And He calls us, knowing us through and through. I do not know how much you know about yourself, but if you knew yourself as He knows you, you would go out and weep bitterly, you would fall into the depths of despair. And if He should then come to you, in that day of self-discovery, in your despair and brokenness, and should mention your name, showing that you were still in His thought and love, would that not be a great step of grace? - and would it not qualify you to be a witness? Should He, moreover, with all His knowledge of you, and all your despair of yourself, give to you the great gift of His Holy Spirit, with all the wonderful capacities that come with that, would it not be a glorious thing? That is how witnesses are made, how servants are made. How poor our service must be, if there is not an answering love begotten in us by this over-whelming consciousness of the grace of God!

That is the dynamic of service. The Lord may take us through a hard school; but "wisdom is justified of all her children" (Luke 7:35), and in the end you will say 'He was right; He knew what He was doing - He did the right thing!'

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)

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