Dr. A. C. George
John Bunyan, the author of the Christian classic “the Pilgrim’s Progress” wrote other books also, as he was languishing in Bedford jail for preaching the gospel in violation of the State’s ban. One of these books was entitled “Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners”. This book was Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography and it was published in London in 1666 by George Larkin.The title suggests that Bunyan was influenced by certain statements of the Apostle Paul : Romans 5: 20 where he uses the phrase “grace abounding”and 1 Timo. 1:15 where he describes himself as “the chief of sinners”.
“Abounding grace” reflects the language of the King James version of the Bible. Modern versions use other words in its place. Here is a sample for the different shades of meaning for the verse: “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom: 5:20 KJV).
* “favor greatly superabounded” The Emphasized New Testament.
* “ . . . . the gift of grace has overflowed . . .” Conybeare
* “ . . . “the loving kindness of God was lavished the more” NCNT
* “Grace immeasurably exceeded it” NEB
* “grace surpassed it by far...” Moffate
* “Grace increased all the more” NIV
This is to show that the words “abound” and “abounding” contain ideas of sufficiency, riches, abundance etc. The focus of this article is to examine two aspects of the abundant grace of God.
1. Description of abundant grace
The word “grace” - Charis in Greek- is a wonderful word in the classical Greek. It involves a cluster of ideas including favor, thanks, liberality, joy etc. Some of these ideas have filtered into the Koine Greek (New Testament Greek) and shows the different usages in different contexts. When grace is qualified by “abounding” (abundant) which also conveys a set of ideas, we get a beautiful tapestry woven with multiple colors. The examination of the key passages in which “abounding grace” occurs will enable us to see the richness of grace.
Rom.5:17 “. . . by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
In this verse, Paul speaks of the “abundant provision of grace “which came to humanity through Jesus. There is a comparison in this verse between Adam, the first man and Jesus. Sin and death came through Adam, but Jesus brought righteousness and eternal life through the channel of abundant grace.
* Rom.5:20. ‘where sin increased grace increased all the more.’ The apostle Paul realized that this can lead to a syllogism (a faulty reasoning).
Some people propagated wrong teaching that in order to receive more grace one should keep committing sin. This heresy is known as antinomianism. Paul refuted this teaching strongly and argued that the believer is “dead to sin” and therefore cannot continue in sin. Grace does not provide license to do whatever a Christian wants to do. On the contrary, grace should serve as a deterrent to sin.
* 2 Cor. 9:8; St Paul exhorted the Corinthian Church to be generous in their contribution to the needy saints. Giving is like sowing seeds. If they do it willingly and cheerfully, Paul says the abundant grace of God will enable them to reap a bountiful harvest of good works.
2. Dimensions of abundant grace
Human mind cannot fathom the magnitude and depth of grace. It is deeper than the deepest sea. It is more than sufficient for every human need. This can be illustrated from the scriptures.
a. Sufficient to save even the vilest sinner
The apostle Paul makes certain categorical statements to show that God’s grace is unlimited in scope and universal in its application.
* I Tim. 1:15 “.... Christ Jesus came into the World to save sinners - of whom I am the worst”.
* Titis 2:11. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men”
It is gratifying that even the “vilest offender” can receive pardon because of the sufficiency and efficacy of God’s grace. John Newton, the slave trader of the 18th century experienced the transforming power of God’s grace. He described the magnitude of God ’s grace in his popular hymn”Amazing grace“. “Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see”.
Newton experienced the sustaining power of God’s grace throughout his life and ministry and was able to testify.
“Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home”
We too can experience the outworking of God’s marvelous grace to guide us through life’s journey because God’s grace is “marvelous, infinite and matchless” and is “greater than all our sin!”, as Julia Harriette Johnston asserted in a hymn she composed.
b. Sufficient to meet every need of the believer
Every believer in Christ has access to the throne of grace any time (Heb. 4:16). Human needs are many and varied but God who is rich in grace has an answer for every need. When afflicted by testings and trials and suffer with “thorns in the flesh” - Paul (2Cor.12:9) God releases an abundant supply of grace to persevere. “My grace is sufficient for you” is a promise we can hold onto when we are tested in the crucible of suffering. Donald Stamps says: “The greater our weakness and trials for Christ, the more grace God will give to accomplish His will”.
The apostle Peter speaks of the “manifold grace” of God in relation to the gifts God bestows on the believers. Christians are stewards entrusted with “variegated” or many colored grace (1Pet.4:10). B.C.Caffin makes this comment on the “manifold grace : “That grace from which all gifts issue is called manifold because of the diversities of its gifts, the variety of its manifestations”.
As products of God’s grace, we should take time to reflect on the grace of God. The more we reflect the more we marvel at the unsearchable riches of God’s grace. We will also identify with the sentiment expressed in the beautiful song written by Julia Harriette Johnston (1849-1919) and sing:
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
.... grace, grace, God’s grace
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within
Grace, grace, God’s grace
Grace that is greater than all our sin!
Certainly, this is a good tribute to the” abounding grace” of our loving Lord. One of the songs the redeemed of the Lord will sing in eternity-John Bunyan, John Newton, Julia Johnston and thousands of saints - will be on the theme of “abounding grace.” What a glorious chorus that is going to be!