“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
Here is a deliberate contrast made between grace and works.
The two, grace and works, are mutually exclusive. Either it is grace or it is works; it can never be both, grace and works. If you say it is all of grace, you must of necessity say there is nothing of work. And if you say it is of works in any sense of the word, then you should never speak of grace again.
And this contrast is emphasized in the last part of the text. Yes, we are aware of the fact that the Authorized Revised Version omits this last part; but, as we see it, not with good reason. But even if it is omitted, the contrast between grace and works would remain. On the other hand, if the last part is retained, the contrast becomes all the more emphatic. Then the first part would stress the truth that it is all of grace; while the last part would stress the truth with the added notion that he who says it is of works in any sense of the word should never speak of grace in any sense of that term.
More important, however, is the question: Why did the apostle insert this verse in this particular context?
There are those who insist that the text has no meaning or significance here. They see no connection with the foregoing, nor do they see any connection with what follows the text. This, we believe, is a serious error.
It should be quite apparent that there is a definite connection with what follows the text. There the apostle shows that Israel sought for a righteousness before God; however, Israel sought that righteousness not by grace, but by the works of the law. And the apostle makes it very clear that what was not obtainable by the works of the law, was obtained merely by grace.
Moreover, as we hope to make plain, there is also very definitely a connection between our text and that of which the apostle had been speaking in the preceding.
Still more important is the question: What does the apostle refer to when he says, “it is all of grace”?
The answer to this question must be sought in the preceding context. There we notice that he speaks of election by grace. (verse 5) He also speaks of the remnant that is saved. (verse 5) And still farther back, in verse 4, he speaks of those who are reserved, or preserved, namely, those who had not bowed the knee to Baal. So it is evident that when the apostle says in our text: “And if by grace,” he is referring to these three truths: to our election, to our salvation, and to our preservation. It is all of grace!
Election by grace!
Election, that eternal and sovereign decree of God whereby He chose certain persons in Christ Jesus to share with Him in the glory of His eternal covenant and kingdom—that is by grace!
Election is eternal, from everlasting, before the world and time began. Election is not in time, or affected by time. It resides in the eternal mind and will of God, and is irresistible, unchangeable, and unconditional as God is Himself. It is therefore a sovereign decree. In our election, God was not affected by, nor did He choose us because of what we were, or because He saw beforehand what we would become. Rather He chose us in order that we might become the heirs of His glory, that we might be holy and without blame before Him.
Election is personal. We must have nothing of the philosophy that election pertains to nations. Though it is true that historically God realized the election of grace in the old dispensation in the nation of Israel, it was never true that the nation of Israel per se wasGod’s chosen people. The apostle Paul in another portion of this epistle (Rom. 9:6) writes: “for they are not all Israel, which are called Israel.” This was true in the old dispensation as it is in the new. If this means anything at all, it certainly means that Israel as a nation was not the chosen people of God. The truth is that the line of election ran through this nation. God’s people in the old dispensation were found almost exclusively, not entirely, in this nation. Rather, Scripture teaches that God has chosen very definite persons. Scripture implies this when it informs us that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Christ knows His sheep, and calls them all by name. (John 10:2, 14)
We hasten to add, however, that though election is personal, it is also organic. By this we mean that when God chose His people He did not determine merely upon so many individuals, loose and apart from each other. Rather, He chose them in Christ Jesus. Christ is the elect, and Head of all His people. And all whom the Father gave to Him in election are as members of His body. In one word, God chose the church, of which Christ is the Head, and all the elect constitute the members of His body. Such is the Scriptural view of election as set forth by the apostle in Ephesians and Colossians.
Election is by grace! Not by works!
You ask: Is there anyone who believes and says election is by works? The answer is: Indeed, there are!
This was precisely the doctrine of the Pharisees in particular and of Judaism in general. They believed not only in work righteousness, that they were justified by performing the works of the law; but they believed also that God had chosen them because of their works. They believed that, because of their long prayers, because of their tithes and offerings, and because they did the works prescribed in the law, God had chosen them in distinction from others who did not the works.
This doctrine of the Pharisees has projected itself in the doctrine of Arminianism as we know it today. O, indeed, the Arminian believes in election. He even goes so far as to say that election is of grace. But here is his deception—he says, God chose those whom He saw beforehand would believe. To them faith is not the fruit of election, but the ground; or it is the condition man fulfills, on the basis of which God elects him. It is election by works, or, at best, by grace and works, not by grace alone. The apostle denies this when he says: “If it be of works, then is it no more grace.” It is all by grace!
Moreover, the apostle also speaks of the remnant that is saved. “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
We need not delineate the Scriptural idea of the remnant, which we have done in another Meditation quite recently, except to say that the remnant does not refer to some kind of a left-over which God gets after the devil has had his first choice. Rather, always in Scripture the remnant is looked upon as God’s prime choice, His very special possession. And that is surely the idea here. It is the remnant according to the election of grace.
It is this remnant that God saves.
This salvation of the remnant may be viewed both objectively and subjectively. Objectively He does everything to save this remnant. He sends His Only Begotten Son into the world, Who in His incarnation becomes partaker of their nature. His Name is called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. He bears their sins in His own body on the tree of the cross, under the vials of God’s holy wrath. In perfect obedience He lays down His life for His sheep, the remnant. He justifies them in His blood, and is raised from the dead as the testimony of their justification. He is exalted in their nature to God’s right hand, where in their behalf He serves as their Paraclete. Here He receives of the Father the Holy Spirit without measure, whereby He is enabled to complete the work of their salvation.
Subjectively He works that salvation in the remnant by the Spirit of the exalted Redeemer. He applies to all the remnant all the blessings of salvation He merited for them. He regenerates, justifies, calls, sanctifies, and at last also brings into eternal glory all the elect remnant.
This salvation, from beginning to end, is all of grace. Of grace alone!
But you ask: Is there anyone who would deny this? And again, the answer is: Indeed, there is!
Always there are those who deny the vicarious atonement upon which the salvation of the remnant rests. They repudiate what they call Blood Theology, and in its place substitute an atonement which is accomplished by the repentance and faith through which the saved are supposed to redeem themselves. To them the cross was not God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, but merely a demonstration of God could do to every man that is a sinner, but which He will not do if they will only repent. To still others the Christ of the cross was merely an example of how we must also be willing to die, if necessary, for our principles. It was not so that Christ on the cross died for our sins.
Arminianism, also in respect to the matter of the salvation of the remnant, remains consistent; it insists that the saved are those who accept the proffered offer of salvation which God has prepared for all men, head for head. To the Arminian, faith is the ground of salvation, or the condition which man fulfills in order to be saved. He will not accept the truth that we believe because we are saved. In one word, Arminianism, while it prates that salvation is all of grace, denies this truth by adding grace and work, the work of faith man performs. He cannot and will not accept the truth that salvation is all by grace.
Finally, the text, in the light of the context, also insists that the remnant is preserved by grace.
The apostle, in the context, reflects on the days of Elijah, when all appeared so dark to him in respect to the state of Israel. Elijah laments that Israel, in spite of all that the prophets had preached, went a whoring, after every strange god, and killed all the true prophets sent to them, and that Elijah, so it seemed to him, was the only one of the true people of God left. But God came to him with the startling revelation: “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.”
These seven thousand constituted the remnant that is preserved by Jehovah.
God preserves the Church, which is the remnant according to the election of grace. While the forces of evil may assail the remnant, and while it may appear, as it undoubtedly did to Elijah, that the cause of Jehovah God is hopeless in the world, though it may look as if apostasy destroys the Church of God in the world—God, nevertheless, reserves, and preserves His precious possession. So, as Jesus expressed it, the very gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. That Church which God preserves also therefore perseveres unto the very end, and the latter is the fruit of the former.
This preservation is also all of grace!
You ask: Is there anyone who will deny this? end again, the answer is: Indeed, there is!
Those who deny that election and salvation is all of grace, also insist that God helps those who help themselves. They teach that you may be saved today, but if you are not careful you may be lost tomorrow. They put it all in reverse, and say: If you persevere, God will preserve you. Not, do they say, you persevere because God preserves you.
The text says: It is all of grace, also your preservation!
Not of works, in any sense of the word!
Does that mean then that God elects and saves the remnant in such a way that they are put to sleep, and ride, as it were, in a Pullman sleeper to heaven? Not at all!
God, Who is the Thesis, and makes His people to be of the thesis, also creates the antithesis, and calls His people to oppose the darkness, to fight against sin and evil. He even promises a crown of life to those who are faithful unto death, so that there is no crown without battle.
But let it be abundantly clear, the good work He begins in us, He also finishes, and His preserving grace also causes us to persevere in the battle until we obtain the crown.
Indeed, from beginning to end, God alone brings His people to everlasting glory, so that His also alone may be all the praise.
Your election is all of grace. Your salvation is all of grace. And your preservation is all of grace. Can you think of anything that must be added? That’s everything, isn’t it?
It is all by grace!