In his sermon Glorious Grace, Jonathan Edwards uses a powerful image to show why rejecting saving grace is such a major insult to God. He asks how his listeners would feel if they sought to help a poor and needy man, but instead of being grateful, the man rejects the help. Of course, this would be insulting to the person offering the help. Likewise, when people reject God’s grace, they insult him and defile his glory. Interestingly, Edwards was only nineteen when he preached this message in New York City. This quote has been updated for today’s readers.
“The gospel is by far the most glorious manifestation of God’s glory he has ever made to us, and free grace and mercy are what make the gospel so glorious. So people who reject grace are depriving the gospel of its glory. To refuse grace is actually to stand against it.
In fact, when people depend on something else besides grace to save them, they are actually defiling the glory of God that shines through the gospel. Instead of giving God the praise he deserves for his grace, they steal his praise for themselves. They act as if they are, at least partially, responsible for saving themselves through their own works.
This attitude has to be incredibly provoking to God – a crime on the highest level. Imagine the insult! Here are the miserable sinners, fallen into a pathetic state. Their salvation is completely impossible by any other means except pure grace. And here is God, so gloriously rich in goodness, so kind in offering free grace out of pity for those sinners. How disrespectful and dishonoring it must be to God when these miserable, helpless wretches attribute any part of their salvation to their own power or work.
God doesn’t offer us grace so that we can use it to buy and secure our own salvation. Rather, he offers grace to give us an opportunity to take hold of the salvation he has already bought and secured for us. Furthermore, when we do take hold of it by faith, we don’t do so by our own power. Even our ability to exercise faith is a gift from God.
Some people are hoping to be saved in a different way which was never proposed in the gospel. These want to be so good and do so well that God would count their goodness as a sufficient counterbalance to their sin. In other words, they want to be saved by their own righteousness. But in taking this course, they are acting as through their own goodness is equal in value to the blood of Christ. This kind of conceited thinking is extremely skilled at creeping into a proud heart…
On the level of human relationships, consider how we might help someone who is poor and needy. If this lowly person refuses our offer of help, then we rightly believe him to be tremendously ungrateful. After all, we are not looking to gain anything from helping him. Rather, we simply pity him and want to relieve his hardship. But when he rejects our kindness, we see it as a horrible response to our help.
Imagine seeing a man in extreme distress, who will die unless someone helps him. Out of compassion you decide to lend a hand. So you pour various things into his needy situation, all designed to relieve his agony and save his life. You spend your own money and devote your own labor to this cause.
Read Jonathan Edwards’ best-known sermon,
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God: Updated to Modern English
How would you feel if, after everything you have done for him, he proudly and spitefully refuses your help? Instead of thanking you for it, he mocks the gifts you have brought. Wouldn’t you be offended by such a response? Wouldn’t you think this man very ungrateful and unreasonable?
How then do you think God feels if you refuse the glorious grace he offers you in the gospel? You think of the one who refuses your help as a low and ungrateful person, and you are justified to do so. But God is a thousand times more justified to consider you the same way when you refuse his grace and kindness. Can you think of any reason why that wouldn’t be true?
God took such great pity on mankind, rescuing them from the jaws of destruction by his own blood. He saw mankind in a most needy condition, in extreme distress, and exposed to the fires of hell. He saw that people had no way of delivering themselves from this dreadful condition and that no other means existed to deliver them. In his mercy and through his blood, he brought them out of the horrors of eternal death. How great the ingratitude of those who refuse this kind of amazing grace! How could anyone be any lower and unthankful than this?
In spite of these facts, however, multitudes of people will not accept this free gift from the hands of the King of the world. They are daring and horribly presumptuous to turn their backs to God’s kind offer. They will not take it when offered by Jehovah, the Father, nor when it is offered by his own Son, who is equal with him.
They refuse it even though Christ died a tormenting death for them! His death is sufficient to deliver them from hell and give them eternal life in heaven, but they still say no. They desperately need grace and will forever be miserable without it, and yet they do not want it.
God the Father invites them and seeks to persuade them, but they will have nothing of it. Even when the Son of God himself knocks on their doors and calls out to them, they ignore his pleas. Christ patiently stays and continues to knock. He calls out to them into the night, his hair wet with sweat and rain, pleading with them to accept the gift for their own sakes, but they only turn away.
He speaks through their doors, loudly enough for them to hear. He reminds them again and again of his many glorious promises and all the precious benefits that might be theirs. He seeks to draw them towards true joy and happiness, which can be theirs for eternity and for their remaining years in this life. In spite of all his patience and persistency, these people are obstinate and refuse all of it.
Has there ever been a greater ingratitude than this? Can you even conceive of a greater ingratitude than this?”