God's love and mercy pour down on us, but are we...

Taking God's Grace for Granted

"The grace He showed me did not go for nothing." - 1 Cor. 15:10.

A. B. Scott: One of our poets has said that "many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air" [Thomas Gray, Elegy written in a Country Churchyard]. We have all felt that. We invade remote hills and moorland places that are seldom visited by man, to find them lavishly adorned with beauty - beauty of flower, of rock and stream and airy sunshine; and we feel that it is a prolific waste, an abundance of loveliness that "goes for nothing."

We are wrong, partly through conceit; because, although it may be as Dean [William R.] Inge [1860-1954] has said, that "the Beauty of the world is the strongest evidence we have of the goodness and benevolence of the Creator," it is merely conceit on our part to imagine that these high gardens are infertile of purpose unless hedged by our attention.

Again, we are wrong through ignorance, as a little insight and reflection will always make plain. We shall readily learn that every speck of life in all that wilderness - and every speck of everything there is a speck of life - is responding to all the grace of a bountiful God, that teems and flourishes there. I prefer Robert Louis Stevenson [1850-1894] to the elegiac Gray, as an interpreter of the perfect vivacity of all that breathes "the desert air."

"Where braid the briery muirs expand,
A waefu' an' a weary land,
The bumble-bees, a gowden band,
Are blithely hingin';
An' there the canty wanderer fand
The laverock singin'."

Fishes and birds and flies, and all the creatures of air and hill and stream, are living out their being in all its fullness. What we call the silence of the moorland is in reality so high a chorus of vitality and gratitude that it escapes our dull and prepossessed attention.

If you would find any place wherein the bountiful beauty and love, the Grace of God, goes for nothing, do not think to find it anywhere in the fields, anywhere on the hills, anywhere on the unvisited moors, anywhere in the depths of the sea, or among the farthest stars!

There is only one place wherein the Grace of God goes for nothing, and that is in the hearts of men and women. Everywhere else, every living thing goes forth in the full measure of its being, in the uttermost capacity of its life, to the bountiful Grace of God. Only in the heart of man is that grace sometimes found, nay, frequently found, to go for nothing. I would ask you to reflect with me upon this tragic circumstance; and towards this end I would submit to you certain illustrations, from the lives of men and women like ourselves, of the sterility that befalls the lavish Grace of God towards them.

I. The first of my illustrations has to do with illness and our recovery from it. Those of us who have undergone a severe illness, or even a minor malady that laid us aside for a time, will recognize the reality of what I am about to say. We know the alarm, or, at least, the uncertainty with which the experience affected us. We can recall the unbounded gratitude which filled us when danger passed and new health like a new dawn came over us, body and spirit. We can recall the simplification of our life which we envisaged, as we waited and waxed strong, the pure vows and the holy resolves we made. Verily, we tasted then in our souls a grace of restoration and revival throughout us in which we saw God.

Then we passed back to the world. But when we thus pass back to the world again, does it never happen that the visions we saw and the vows we made in that cloister of our sickness, falter and fade and sometimes die altogether? Here, I think, we may truly say that the Grace of God has gone for very little; in the end, it is possible, for nothing.... Benjamin Jowett [1817-1893], who was Master of Balliol, has said that "the memory of some illnesses has been, in the mind of the sufferer, the best recollection of their lives, the image of Christ crucified brought home to them, to which they have turned again and again in times of sorrow and temptation."

That is a very lofty view to take of it. But something like that should go on with us for ever in our life, from the remembrance of God's grace in illness. [John Greenleaf] Whittier [1807-1892], during one of his serious illnesses, wrote these words: "I think sickness has a wonderful effect in fanning into life the half-extinguished conscience." You will agree that this is true.

But our conscience, thus fanned into white-hot fire at such a time, should be a light thereafter for ever in our life. Some of us will bear in our bodies the scars of some serious illness to our dying day. We should also bear in our souls, to our dying day, the unforgotten and living signs and stigmata of the Grace of God.

II. Take now a second illustration from the life of men and women like ourselves, of the sterility we let come on the Grace of God.

Many men and women in their youthful days have committed some stupid, wayward or sinful folly, of which it is said on all hands that retribution and disability inevitably pursue it. But they escaped! Their escape amazed them. It seemed to them like a miracle. It was a miracle. It was due to the wonderful, forgiving, revitalizing patience, mercy and grace of God. That is the meaning of it. Clearly or dimly they themselves recognize that. Some of them never forget it: the grace is permitted to work its full work from that day onwards.

But others? there are others who say secretly to themselves, "Ah! all that the preachers and other alarmists amongst the elder people said of the danger and destructiveness of these things is wildly exaggerated. I took no harm. Here and there I may return to do as I did!" And, behold, the grace now deserts them; the judgment falls; the sin comes home! The reason of the calamity is simply this: Grace, that has been allowed to go for nothing, becomes sterile, and afterwards fails.

III. There are several other instances with which I might engage you, of the bountiful Grace of God that many allow to go for nothing.

That holy book the Bible is such an instance. The Bible is at our hand every day of our life, the veritable treasury of the incarnate Grace of God. This is the book of which the most daring and untrammelled thinker [?] of a hundred years ago said, "He that has lost God can find Him again in this book, and toward him who has never known Him it wafts the breath of the Divine Word."

This is the book which, when it was first put into their hands, brought our Scottish fathers to their knees, whom nothing else in all the earth could bring to their knees, their tongue loosed in a paean of praise, their faces streaming with tears of gratitude. And yet, O men and women, how many let all this grace go simply for nothing!

So, too, I might speak of the living presence of the Spirit of Christ. Christ by us, Christ waiting at the very door of our heart, longing to fill our loneliness with Himself, our weakness with His own strength, our tempted lives with the power of a divine resistance; and yet how many let all this grace go for nothing, for want of a single gesture and breath of prayer!

So, too, I might speak of the tangible provision of grace that is provided for us in the Blessed Sacrament. Here do we feed upon the bread of God, and drink the royal wine of heaven, laying aside each earthly load, tasting afresh the calm of sin forgiven. And yet, how many are negligent of this ineffable grace, and let it go for nothing!

IV. I would speak at length of these, but time will not permit. Let me, however, offer you a final and homely instance of the sterility of God's good grace. This is the wonderful grace God lavishes upon us in our family life. Homes such as ours are almost supernatural channels of the love and sweetness of God's grace. I am making no idealized image of them in my mind. I am thinking of the average Scottish home, with all its defects of temper and disposition, all its transient bickerings and glooms, "when tempers are short in the morning," or at any other time.

Let it be that such homes have been baptized into the religion of our fathers: we have only to set them in the perspective which a survey of the homes of man in times past and still in pagan quarters affords, to realize indeed, that they are well-nigh supernatural channels of the love and sweetness of God, by which the inmates of them can be enriched with heavenly communions.

And yet are there no instances of such a home being taken so carelessly for granted, so forgetfully, so negligently, that this Grace of God which wells and flows in them goes for next to nothing? Are there no sons and daughters who so regard and treat their home, not realizing that in such a bield [shelter] they are nearer the peace of heaven than they shall ever be in this life again, not realizing too, that a day may come when, looking back to a hearth and a family circle that are no more, they shall be visited by a great and even tearful regret, a gnawing sense of a sweet grace of God in life which so foolishly they allowed to run to waste?

Are there no husbands and wives in such homes who, as the years pass by, come to treat the bountiful Grace of God which their home enshrines as a forgotten thing? In their early married life their home thrilled with a joy in which they saw the good Grace of God face to face. Their home can be like that to the very end (although it is not always so), matured indeed, and mellowed as in an afternoon sunshine. The sunshine of afternoon is the loveliest light of all; and the afternoon years of two lives, that were wedded in the morning by God's grace, can be - nay, I say, should be, at their fullest then, with a love that is chivalrous, thoughtful, kind, uttered and fulfilled. So in the afternoon and so to the evening time of wedded love.

I can tell you in what fashion such love comes to its eventide, if only the Grace of God, which it is indeed, is remembered through the years. I can tell you in the words of the sweetest song that ever was written of love that goes down the brae, remembering! -

John Anderson, my jo John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither
 
Now we maun totter doun, John,
But hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo."
  Robert Burns

Brethren, I leave to you, for your own further meditation, these illustrations of the Grace of God, which so often men and women allow to go for nothing. Examine yourselves and see if this ingratitude in any way marks you. And if it be so, seek in humility to remember and cherish the Grace of God; for truly, as St. James saith, "God gives grace more and more.... To the humble He gives grace" (James 4:6).

Sermon by A. Boyd Scott, Glasgow, Scotland, 1920


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