The Language of Grace

by William Mealand

How expressively rich is the language of grace! It is like a freely flowing river set in a landscape bordered only by God's horizon. One is lost in the spaciousness and beauty of it. Its words enshrine a wisdom and an understanding unrevealed until Christ, from the glory, unfolds them to the Apostle Paul. Indeed, a divine revelation was needed for the complete outflow of pure grace.

Paul, as herald and teacher to the nations, was chosen and called for this supreme unfolding. To him, as a vessel for honour, was committed that peerless expression of the mind of God, known as "the evangel of the untraceable riches of Christ." In its language there lies vital meaning, ready at all times for infusion into that life which is life indeed.

Would that more people could see this, and the spiritual asset it can be! What a great step forward would be theirs as they listened to the distinctive language of grace! It is certainly the expression of a new order of living, for it outlines and fills that more "Transcendent" way to which the Apostle refers. It is not that grace is unmentioned apart from Paul's epistles, but it does not rise to the great heights which Paul's pen reaches. And these did not come within his vision until the defection of Israel, and God's consequent turning to the nations. Then, the language of grace shines out with ever increasing splendour.

Grace Reveals Itself in its Own Vocabulary

Note its rare qualities. First of all, it is celestial in character. Hence, its spirit and wisdom, lifting us far above worldly levels. How strongly marked is the contrast! Paul's admonitions show this, for there is an idealism about them which is not of this world. How finely the language of grace fashions them! How understandingly they are presented! Not as a cold code of formulas and rules, but with the warmth of God's impelling grace. The keynote is "being" rather than "doing".

The Spiritual Mind

"Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for you to be testing what is the will of God, good and well pleasing and mature" (Rom. 12:2). "Be rendering to no one evil for evil. Be making ideal provision before all mankind, if possible" (Rom. 12:17,18). See how Paul qualifies this injunction—"if possible." This understanding permeates his language again and again. Note where he says "As we have occasion, we are working for the good of all, yet specially for the family of faith" (Gal. 6:10). We see here how he moves from the general to the particular, always a sound procedure. Again, in his words to Timothy: "We rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of those who believe" (1 Tim. 4:10).

The use of the qualifying clause brings out a distinction, and is the answer to those who have said, "If God is the Saviour of all, where lies the difference between believers and unbelievers?" It is here, in these arresting words. For, in a very special sense, God is the Saviour of those who believe. He is proved to be a Saviour by those who, daily and hourly, rely on Him, and find Him to be the living God. Such blessedness constitutes a present vital difference.

Flesh and Spirit Contrasted

In the language of grace the quality of words matters. This is very noticeable in the striking list which Paul makes in Gal. 5:19-21, of the works of the flesh, as contrasted with the fruit of the spirit. The descriptive terms for sins far outnumber those for graces. The works of the flesh are enumerated as seventeen, the fruits of the spirit being only nine.

Again, writing to Timothy, Paul pens another long list of works of the flesh. These are eighteen in number. They mark the perilous periods which will be present in the last days (2 Tim. 3:2-5). There is yet another dark list of twenty-two sinful attitudes of mind which Paul portrays in Romans (1:29-31). All these are sadly unbefitting the grace, kindness, and patience of God. It is indeed a tragic statement.

How refreshing to turn from such a catalogue to the health-giving words in Gal. 5:22-23 which describe the fruit of the spirit. "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control. Against such things there is no law." Of course not! They are the full expression of a spirit-led life. Note the beauty of their gradation. Love, joy and peace provide the motive power of patience, kindness and goodness. These sustain the manifestation of fidelity, meekness, and self--control.

Man's Words.

Language is truly an index of human thoughts and emotions. It is the limit and restraint of thought, as also that which feeds and unfolds thought. It is not surprising, then, that among certain tribes, nobler words have disappeared. Sinning against light and conscience, they ceased to glorify God and to thank Him as God, and in time the very word to express the notion of "Him that is above" vanished. Thus, many terms have been wanting in the dialect of the savage, whereby one might impart to him divine truths. Many years ago there were tribes in Brazil who did not possess any word corresponding to our "thanks." When the feeling of gratitude goes, how easily the verbal expression of it may disappear! Yet these people kept alive a number of words to describe deeds of cruelty.

In the world of today, even in civilised centres, there are far more words to portray unlovely, than lovely things. Better far, however, that our words be few and simple, if always they express our true feeling before God.

God's Words

On three occasions, Paul makes fine use of the expression, 'thanks be to God!' "Thanks be to God, Who is giving us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:57). "Thanks be to God, Who always gives us a triumph in Christ, and is manifesting the odour of His knowledge through us in every place, seeing that we are a fragrance of Christ to God, in those who are being saved and in those who are being lost" ( 2 Cor. 2:14-15). Finally, that splendid expression — "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gratuity!" (2 Cor. 9:15).

How lovely an injunction is this one of Paul's: "Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, dealing graciously among yourselves, according as God also, in Christ, deals graciously with you" (Eph. 4:32). Remembering that God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked, how kind should we be! There is much meaning in the word 'kind' too. We speak of man-kind, and the two words are closely connected, A kind person is a 'kinned' person, one of kin, acknowledging kinship with others. So then, mankind is 'mankinned'. Lovlier still do kind and kindness appear, when we apprehend the root out of which they grow and the truth they embody. The kindness of God, therefore, is a wonderful thing. It evokes in us gratitude to Him.

This language of grace, which so permeates Paul's letters, reaches a pinnacle in the Prison Epistles. Especially in Ephesians do we note this. Look at the all-embracing form of address to them in the opening verse. How different to the parochialism of today, each section with its imposing organization and barriers of rite and rule. But here, in this letter, the inscription is far flung, —"To all the saints who are also believers in Christ Jesus." How inclusive! There is no mistaking the address on such an envelope. The opening words, too, coincide with the heart's desire,— "Grace to you, and peace, from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."

We are now well in tune for what follows. But, to take it all in, we need to return to such language again and again, for it expresses in such a rare way the uniqueness of our place and position in Christ. As never before God's grace stands revealed- "The glory of His grace which graces us in the Beloved." What a standing is ours! As much for the babe in Christ, as for the mature believer. How much it can mean to us if we take it all to heart! What a call there is to realize such a privilege! What honour, too, is granted to us! We are called, not only to live in its power ourselves, but to display that power to others. And how fitting, in the Word of His grace, is the injunction we have already alluded to - "Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, dealing graciously among yourselves, according as God also, in Christ, deals graciously with you." What an incentive!

How exquisite are the admonitions of grace! The language is not that of the schoolmaster, nor even of the "church." There is no authoritative command. It is, "be this, or that," or as it is so expressively put in Philippians —"Let this disposition be in you, which is in Christ Jesus also." "Let your lenience be known to all men; the Lord is near. Let nothing be worrying you...let your requests be made known to God with thanksgiving." (Phil. 4:5,6).

Then, in Colossians: "Let the peace of Christ be arbitrating in your hearts,....Let the word of Christ make its home in you richly. Let all be in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God, the Father, through Him." Indeed, there are many admonitions of like order. And they all set forth a quality of behaviour and state of mind we do well to show and cultivate. At all times, and in all things, we should "have the mind of Christ."

The language of grace is God-like, and we are admonished to "become imitators of God, as beloved children." So shall we walk "as children of light," with true culture and spiritual understanding. Language is God's gift. He teaches us by words. But not as one teaches a parrot, from without. God gave man a capacity to understand, and then evoked that capacity. We remember how God brought the creatures to Adam, "to see what he would call them, and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof." (Gen.2:19).


Thus we see that language is both divine and human. What growth and development there has been, we also know. How much, through His servants, and especially Paul, God has given us the noble language of grace, we do well to appreciate. It is the true language of the spirit, speaking to the heart and mind of all the saints of God!

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