Theme: Citizens of the Kingdom
This week’s lessons show how the abounding grace of God triumphs over the sin of anyone who comes to Jesus Christ for salvation.
Scripture: Romans 5:20, 21
Yesterday we concluded by looking at the first two stages of the kingdom of grace. Now we need to see the last two.
The launching of God’s kingdom. Since the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for sin is the launching of the kingdom we are not surprised to find Paul thinking of it as he unfolds his illustration. Grace reigns “through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
His words remind us that grace does not mean setting aside God’s law or the waving of justice, as if God were merely to have said, “Well, you have been bad, but it does not matter. I forgive you.” Sin does matter. It leads to death, death in this life and death in the age to come. God does not overlook sin. He deals with sin. Christ died for it. Do you want to see the nature of God’s kingdom? There is no place you will see it better than at the cross. There grace and righteousness come together. Each is satisfied. It is by Jesus’ death that eternal life is given to many.
Citizens of the kingdom. It takes more than territory to make a kingdom. A kingdom requires subjects. Therefore, God is in the business of providing subjects for this kingdom. How? Theologians speak of it as the ordo salutis or the “order of salvation.” It refers to the steps God takes to bring individuals into the kingdom of his Son. The Bible describes these steps as: foreknowledge, predestination or election, effectual calling, regeneration, repentance and faith, justification, sanctification, and, finally, glorification.
No more glorious unfolding of the kingdom of grace toward individuals can be imagined. It is the power of God, providing for and then actually saving those who apart from it would certainly be lost. If grace were only a handout or an offer to help, we would perish. The only reason any of us is saved is because grace provides the way of salvation and then actually reaches out to turn us from sin and draw us to Christ.
In the first of these studies I alluded to John Newton because of his well-known hymn “Amazing Grace,” but I did not tell his story. I want to do that now, because, as he described himself in his autobiography, he was for a time a “slave of slaves” and he was miraculously delivered by God. His deliverance is a great illustration of the power of God’s abounding grace.
Newton lived from 1725 to 1807. He was raised in a Christian home in which he was taught verses of the Bible. But his mother died when he was only six years old, and he was sent to live with a relative who hated the Bible and mocked Christianity. One day, at an early age, Newton went to sea as an apprenticed seaman. He was wild and dissolute in those years, as John Bunyan had been. He had a reputation for being able to swear for two hours without repeating himself. At one point he was pressed into the British navy. But he deserted, was captured, and then beaten publicly as a punishment. Eventually he was released into the merchant marine and went to Africa. Why Africa? In his memoirs he wrote that he went to Africa for one reason only and that was: “that I might sin my fill.”
In Africa Newton fell in with a Portuguese slave trader in whose home he was cruelly treated. This man often went away on slaving expeditions, and when he was gone his power passed to his African wife, the chief woman of his harem. She hated all white men and took out her hatred on Newton. He tells us that for months he was forced to grovel in the dirt, eating his food from the ground like a dog. He was beaten unmercifully if he touched it. In time, thin and emaciated, Newton made his way to the sea where he was picked up by a British ship making its way up the coast to England.
When the captain of the ship learned that the young man knew something about navigation as a result of being in the British Navy, he made him a ship’s mate. But even then Newton fell into trouble. One day, when the captain was ashore, Newton broke out the ship’s supply of rum and got the crew drunk. He was so drunk himself that when the captain returned and struck him on the head, Newton fell overboard and would have drowned if one of the sailors had not hauled him back on deck just in time.
Near the end of a voyage, as they were approaching Scotland, the ship ran into bad weather and was blown off course. Water poured in, and she began to sink. The young profligate was sent down into the hold to pump water. The storm lasted for days, and Newton was terrified. He was sure the ship would sink and he would drown. But there in the hold of the ship, as he pumped desperately for his life, the God of grace, whom he had tried to forget but who had never forgotten him, brought to his mind Bible verses he had learned in his home as a child. The way of salvation opened up to him. He was born again and transformed. Later, when the storm had passed and he was again in England, Newton began to study theology and eventually became a great preacher, first in a little town called Olney and later in London.
Of this storm William Cowper, the British poet who became a personal friend of Newton and lived with him for several years, wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way,His wonders to perform;He plants his footsteps in the seaAnd rides upon the storm.
Newton was a great preacher of grace, for he had learned that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. He is proof that the grace of God is sufficiently powerful to save anybody.
What is it that launches the kingdom of God? What does that reveal about the true nature of God’s grace?
What is the theological term that explains how sinners are made subjects of God’s kingdom? What doctrines are included, and how would you define each one?
Application: Before you became a Christian, did your life to any extent mirror the depth of depravity of John Newton’s life before his conversion? Praise the Lord for delivering you out of it. And if before you were saved your life did not look anything like Newton’s, praise the Lord for keeping you from going that far.