God's mercy ... goes before the unwilling to make him willing; it follows the willing
to make his will effectual.
Augustine of Hippo, Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love.
When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a
policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the
officer that he would have to appear in court.
The judge asked, "Guilty, or not guilty?" When Graham pleaded guilty, the
judge replied, "That'll be ten dollars -- a dollar for every mile you went over the
Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. "You have violated the
law," he said. "The fine must be paid--but I am going to pay it for you."
He took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took
Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! "That," said Billy Graham, "is
how God treats repentant sinners!"
Progress Magazine, December 14, 1992.
A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City
during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New
Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation
in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks,
raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and
whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the
Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned
up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the
judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.
Within a few minutes, a tattered
old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told
LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two
grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused
to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told
the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a
lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish
you. The law makes no exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail." But even as he
pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill
and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I
now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for
living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr.
Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the
New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who
had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount
being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty
criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had
just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel,
Multnomah, 1990, pp 91-2.
Watching a trapeze show is breathtaking. We wonder at the dexterity and timing. We gasp
at near-misses. In most cases, there is a net underneath. When they fall, they jump up and
bounce back to the trapeze. In Christ, we live on the trapeze. The whole world should be
able to watch and say, "Look how they live, how they love one another. Look how well
the husbands treat their wives. And aren't they the best workers in the factories and
offices, the best neighbors, the best students?" That is to live on the trapeze,
being a show to the world. What happens when we slip? The net is surely there. The blood
of our Lord, Jesus Christ, has provided forgiveness for ALL our trespasses. Both the net
and the ability to stay on the trapeze are works of God's grace. Of course, we cannot be
continually sleeping on the net., If that is the case, I doubt whether that person is a
Juan Carlos Ortiz.
Years ago, my father coached a team of eight-year-olds. He had a few excellent players,
and some who just couldn't get the hang of the game. Dad's team didn't win once all season.
But in the last inning of the last game, his team was only down by a run. There was one boy
who had never been able to hit the ball--or catch it. With two outs, it was his turn to
bat. He surprised the world and got a single!
The next batter was the team slugger. Finally, Dad's players might win a game. The
slugger connected, and as the boy who hit the single ran to second, he saw the ball coming
toward him. Not so certain of baseball's rules, he caught it. Final out! Dad's team
lost! Quickly, my father told his team to cheer. The boy beamed. It never occurred to him
that he lost the game. All he knew was he had hit the ball and caught it--both for the
first time. His parents later thanked my dad. Their child had never even gotten in a game
before that season.
We never told the boy exactly what happened. We didn't want to ruin it for him. And
till this day, I'm proud of what my father did that afternoon.
Jeffrey Zaslow, "Tell Me All About It," 1990.
English raconteur T. H. White recalls in the Book of Merlyn a boyhood
experience: "My father made me a wooden castle big enough to get into, and he fixed
real pistol barrels beneath its battlements to fire a salute on my birthday, but made me
sit in front the first night . . . to receive the salute, and I, believing I was to be
shot, cried," How many times have we, too, misinterpreted the ambiguity of life and
though ourselves to be "shot" when delight was intended? One translation of
Psalm 94:19 reads, "In the middle of all my troubles, you roll me over with
rollicking delight." The psalmist is right; God's festive gaiety is somehow to be
discerned in the midst of our own troubled fears. God often plays rough before breaking
into laughter, and only a bold and rowdy playfulness can draw the whole of what we are to
such a God. Yet, we're not always able to grasp that truth. Ever expecting to be shot, we
are often dumbfounded by a grace we can't conceive.
T. H. White.
Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century. On
one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon's
orphanage. It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage
itself. Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit. The attack was printed in
the newspapers and became the talk of the town. People flocked to Parker's church the next
Sunday to hear his rebuttal. "I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today,
and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a
love offering here instead." The crowd was delighted. The ushers had to empty the
collection plates 3 times. Later that week there was a knock at Parker's study. It was
Spurgeon. "You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not
what I deserved, you have given me what I needed.
Moody Monthly, December, 1983, p. 81.
A husband and wife didn't really love each other. The man was very demanding, so much
so that he prepared a list of rules and regulations for his wife to follow. He insisted
that she read them over every day and obey them to the letter. Among other things, his
"do's and don'ts" indicated such details as what time she had to get up in the
morning, when his breakfast should be served, and how the housework should be done. After
several long years, the husband died. As time passed, the woman fell in love with another
man, one who dearly loved her. Soon they were married. This husband did everything he
could to make his new wife happy, continually showering her with tokens of his
appreciation. One day as he was cleaning house, she found tucked away in a drawer the list
of commands her first husband had drawn up for her. As she looked it over, it dawned on
her that even though her present husband hadn't given her any kind of list, she was doing
everything her first husband's list required anyway. She realized she was so devoted to
this man that her deepest desire was to please him out of love, not obligation.
Some years ago, I had a little school for young Indian men and women, who came to my
home in Oakland, California, from the various tribes in northern Arizona. One of these was
a Navajo young man of unusually keen intelligence. One Sunday evening, he went with me to
our young people's meeting. They were talking about the epistle to the Galatians, and the
special subject was law and grace. They were not very clear about it, and finally one
turned to the Indian and said, "I wonder whether our Indian friend has anything to
say about this."
He rose to his feet and said, "Well, my friends, I have been listening very
carefully, because I am here to learn all I can in order to take it back to my people. I
do not understand all that you are talking about, and I do not think you do yourselves.
But concerning this law and grace business, let me see if I can make it clear. I think it
is like this. When Mr. Ironside brought me from my home we took the longest railroad
journey I ever took. We got out at Barstow, and there I saw the most beautiful railroad
station and hotel I have ever seen. I walked all around and saw at one end a sign, 'Do not
spit here.' I looked at that sign and then looked down at the ground and saw many had
spitted there, and before I think what I am doing I have spitted myself. Isn't that
strange when the sign say, 'Do not spit here'?
"I come to Oakland and go to the home of the lady who invited me to dinner today
and I am in the nicest home I have been in. Such beautiful furniture and carpets, I hate
to step on them. I sank into a comfortable chair, and the lady said, 'Now, John, you sit
there while I go out and see whether the maid has dinner ready.' I look around at the
beautiful pictures, at the grand piano, and I walk all around those rooms. I am looking
for a sign; and the sign I am looking for is, 'Do not spit here,' but I look around those
two beautiful drawing rooms, and cannot find a sign like this. I think 'What a pity when
this is such a beautiful home to have people spitting all over it -- too bad they don't
put up a sign!' So I look all over that carpet, but cannot find that anybody have spitted
there. What a queer thing! Where the sign says, 'Do not spit,' a lot of people spitted.
Where there was no sign at all, in that beautiful home, nobody spitted. Now I understand!
That sign is law, but inside the home it is grace. They love their beautiful home, and
they want to keep it clean. They do not need a sign to tell them so. I think that explains
the law and grace business."
As he sat down, a murmur of approval went round the room and the leader exclaimed,
"I think that is the best illustration of law and grace I have ever heard."
H.A. Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth, Moody Press,
1945, pp. 40-42.
Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world.
Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning
stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking
her mother's heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young,
attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she
entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth,
closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of
small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero. Maria knew
Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to
give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable.
Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the
reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she
left her picture--taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened
to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn't too
long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary
mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.
It was a few
weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her
brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was
broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade
these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways,
too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face.
She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother.
Christina's eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed
the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. "Whatever you
have done, whatever you have become, it doesn't matter. Please come home." She did.
Max Lucade, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, Multnomah
Press, 1986, pp. 158-9.
The radical gospel of grace as it is found throughout Scripture, has always had its
critics. Jimmy Swaggart told me a few years ago that by trusting in God's justifying and
preserving grace, I would end up living a life of sin before long -- and thus, lose my
salvation and be consigned to hell. Paul anticipated that reaction from the religious
community of his own day after he said, "Where sin abounded, grace abounded much
more" (Romans 5:20, NKJV). So he asked the question he expected us to ask: "Shall
we continue in sin that grace may abound?" (6:1) Should we sin so that we can receive
more grace? In other words, "If people believed what you just said in Romans 5, Paul,
wouldn't they take advantage of the situation and live like the dickens, knowing they were
'safe and secure from all alarm'?" That's a fair question. But it reveals a basic
misunderstanding of the nature of God's saving grace. Paul's response is unmistakable:
"Certainly not? How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans
Someone confronted Martin Luther, upon the Reformer's rediscovery of the biblical
doctrine of justification, with the remark, "If this is true, a person could simply
live as he pleased!" "Indeed!" answered Luther. "Now, what pleases
you?" Augustine was the great preacher of grace during the fourth and fifth
centuries. Although his understanding of the doctrine of justification did not have the
fine-tuned precision of the Reformers, Augustine's response on this point was similar to
Luther's. He said that the doctrine of justification led to the maxim, "Love God and
do as you please." Because we have misunderstood one of the gospel's most basic
themes, Augustine's statement looks to many like a license to indulge one's sinful nature,
but in reality it touches upon the motivation the Christian has for his actions. The
person who has been justified by God's grace has a new, higher, and nobler motivation for
holiness than the shallow, hypocritical self-righteousness or fear that seems to motivate
so may religious people today.
Michael Horton, The Agony of Deceit, Moody Press, 1990,
Although out of pure grace God does not impute our sins to us, He nonetheless did not
want to do this until complete and ample satisfaction of His law and His righteousness had
been made. Since this was impossible for us, God ordained for us, in our place, One who
took upon Himself all the punishment we deserve. He fulfilled the law for us. He averted
the judgment of God from us and appeased God's wrath. Grace, therefore, costs us nothing,
but is cost Another much to get it for us. Grace was purchased with an incalculable,
infinite treasure, the Son of God Himself."
Martin Luther, Daily Walk, May 5, 1992.