St. John i. 16, 17. "Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
I wish you to mind particularly this word GRACE. You meet it very often in the Bible. You hear often said, The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Now, what does this word grace mean? It is really worth your while to know; for if a man or a woman has not grace, they will be very unhappy people, and very disagreeable people also; a torment to themselves, and a torment to their neighbours also; and if they live without grace, they will live but a poor life; if they die without grace, they will come to a very bad end indeed. What, then, does this word mean? Some of you will answer that grace means God's Holy Spirit, or that it means what God gives to our souls by His Spirit. But what does that mean? What does God's Spirit give us? What is the grace of Jesus Christ like, and how is it the same as the grace of God's Spirit?
Now, to know what grace means, we must know what St John and St Paul meant by it, and what the word meant in their time, and what the Ephesians, and Corinthians, and Romans, to whom they wrote, would have understood by this word grace.
Now these heathens, to whom the apostles preached, before they heard the gospel, knew that word grace very well indeed, often used it; and saw it written up in their heathen temples all about them. And they meant by it just what we mean, when we talk of a graceful person, or a graceful tree or flower; and what we mean, too, when we say that any one is gracious; that they do things gracefully, and have a great deal of grace in their way of speaking and behaving. We mean by that that they are handsome, agreeable, amiable, pleasant to look at, and talk to, and deal with. And so these heathens meant, before they were Christians. The Romans used to talk about some one called a Grace. The Greeks called her CHARIS; which is exactly the word which St John and St Paul use, and from it come our words charity and charitable. But more; they used to talk of three Graces: they fancied that they were goddesses--spirits of some kind in the shape of beautiful, and amiable, and innocent maidens, who took delight in going about the world and making people happy and amiable like themselves; and they used to make images of these graces, and pray to them to make them lovely, and happy, and agreeable. And painters and statuaries, too, used to pray to these graces, and ask them to put beautiful fancies into their minds, that they might be able to paint beautiful pictures, and carve beautiful statues. So when St Paul or St John talked to these heathens about grace, or Charis (as the Testament calls it), they knew quite well what the apostles meant.
Did the apostles, then, believe in these three goddesses? Heaven forbid. They came to teach these heathens to turn from those very vanities, and worship the living-God. And so they told them,--You are quite right in thinking that grace comes from heaven, and is God's gift; that it is God who makes people amiable, cheerful, lovely, and honourable; that it is God who gives happiness and all the joys of life: but which god? Not those three maidens; they are but a dream and fancy. All that is lovely and pleasant in men and women--and our life here, and our everlasting life after death, in this world and in all worlds to come--all comes from Jesus Christ and from Him alone. God has gathered together all things in Him, whether things in heaven or things on earth; and He bestows blessings and graces on all who will ask Him, to each as much as is good for him. He is full of grace--more full of it than all the human beings in the world put together. All the goodness and sweetness, and all the graciousness which you ever saw in all the men and women whom you ever met; all the goodness and sweetness which you ever fancied for yourselves, all put together is not to be compared to Him. For He is the perfect brightness of God's glory, and the express image of God's person; and in Him is gathered together all grace, all goodness, all which makes men or angels good, and lovely, and loving. All is in Him, and He gives it freely to all, said the apostles; we know that He speaks truth, we have seen Him; our eyes saw Him, our hands touched Him, and there was a glory about Him such as there never could be about any other person. A glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. A person whom we could not help loving; could not help admiring; could not help trusting; could not help giving ourselves up to--to live for Him, and if need be, die for Him.
And, said the apostles, there was a grace of truth in another of your heathen fancies. You thought that these goddesses, because they were amiable and innocent themselves, liked to make every one amiable, innocent, and happy also. Your conscience, your reason were right there. That is the very nature of grace, not to keep itself to itself, but to spend itself on every one round it, and try to make every one like itself. If a man be good, he will long to make others good; if tender, he will long to make others tender; if gentle, he will long to make others gentle; if cheerful, he will long to make others cheerful; if forgiving, he will long to make others forgiving; if happy, he will long to make others happy. Then said the apostles, only believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, just because He is full of grace, wishes to fill you with grace, ten thousand times better grace than you ever fancied those false goddesses could give you--of His fulness you may all receive, and grace for grace. All the grace of this world comes from Him--health, and youth, and happiness, and all the innocent pleasures of life, and He delights in giving you them. But, over and above that, comes a deeper and nobler grace--spiritual grace, the grace of the immortal soul, which will last on, and make you loving and loveable, pure and true, gracious and generous, honourable and worthy of respect, when the grace of the body is gone, and the eye is grown dim, and the hair is grey, and the limbs, feeble; a grace which will make you gracious in old age, gracious in death, gracious for ever and ever, after the body has crumbled again to its dust. Whatsoever things are honourable, lovely, and of good report; whatsoever tempers of mind make you a comfort to yourselves and all around you; Christ has them all, and He can give you them all, one after the other, till Christ be formed in you, till you come to be perfect men and women, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. Come, then, boldly to His throne of grace, to find mercy, and grace to help you in the time of need.
This was what the apostles taught the heathen, and their words were true. You may see them come true round you every day. For, my friends, just as far as people pray for Christ's grace, and give themselves up to be led by God's Spirit, they become full of grace themselves, courteous and civil, loving and amiable, true and honourable--a pleasure to themselves and to all round them. While, on the other hand; all rudeness, all ill- temper, all selfishness, all greediness are just so many sins against the grace of Christ, which grieve the Spirit of God, at the same time that they grieve our neighbours for whom Christ died, and cut us off, as long as we give way to them, from the communion of saints.
Well would it be for married people, if they would but remember this. Well for them, for their own sake and for their children's. "Heirs together," St Peter says they are, "of the grace of life." Think of those words; for in them lies the true secret of happiness. Not in the mere grace of youth, which pleases the fancy at first; that must soon fade; and then comes, too often, coldness between man and wife; neglect, rudeness, ill-temper, because the grace of life is not there--the grace of the inner life, of the immortal soul, which alone makes life pleasant, even tolerable, to two people who are bound together for better or for worse. But yet, unless St Peter be mistaken, the fault in such sad case is on the man's side. Yes, we must face that truth, we men; and face it like men. If we are unhappy in our marriage it is our own fault. It is the woman who is the weaker, says St Peter, and selfish men are apt to say, "Then it is the woman's fault, if we are not happy." St Peter says exactly the opposite. He says,--Because she is the weaker you are the stronger; and therefore it is your fault if she is not what she should be; for you are able to help her, and lead her; you took her to your heart for that very purpose, you swore to cherish her. Because she is the weaker, you can teach her, help her, improve her character, if you will. You have more knowledge of life and the world than she has. Dwell with her according to knowledge, says St Peter; use your experience to set her right if she be wrong; and use your experience and your strength, too, to keep down your own temper and your own selfishness toward her, to bear and forbear, to give and forgive, live and let live. Remember that you are heirs TOGETHER of the grace of life; and if the grace of life is not in you, you cannot expect it to be in her. And what is the grace of life? It must be the grace of Christ. St John says that Christ IS the Life. And what is the grace of Christ? Christ's grace, Christ's gracefulness, Christ's beautiful and noble and loving character--the grace of Christ is Christ's likeness. Do you ask what will Christ give me? He will give you Himself. He will make you like Himself, partaker of His grace; and what is that? It is this--to be loving, gentle, temperate, courteous, condescending, self-sacrificing. Giving honour to those who are weaker than yourself, just because they are weaker; ready and willing, ay, and counting it an honour to take trouble for other people, to be of use to other people, to give way to other people; and, above all, to the woman who has given herself to you, body and soul. That is the grace of Christ; that is the grace of life; that is what makes life worth having: ay, makes it a foretaste of heaven upon earth; when man and wife are heirs together of the grace of life, of all those tempers which make life graceful and pleasant, giving way to each other in everything which is not wrong; studying each other's comfort, taking each other's advice, shutting their eyes to each other's little failings, and correcting each other's great failings, not by harsh words, but silently and kindly, by example. And if the man will do that, there is little fear but that the woman will do it also. And so, their prayers are not hindered.
Married people cannot pray, they have no heart to pray, while they are discontented with each other. They feel themselves wrong, and because they are parted from each other, they feel parted from God too; and their selfishness or anger rises as a black wall, not merely between them, but between each of them and God. And so the grace of life is indeed gone away from them, and the whole world looks dark and ugly to them, because it is not bright and cheerful in the light of Christ's grace, which makes all the world full of sunshine and joy. But it need not be so, friends. It would not be so, if married people would take the advice which the Prayer Book gives them, and come to Holy communion. Would to God, my friends, that all married people would understand what that Holy communion says to them; and come together Sunday after Sunday to that throne of grace, there to receive of Christ's fulness, and grace upon grace. For that Table says to you: You are heirs together of the grace of life; you are not meant merely to feed together for a few short years, at the same table, on the bread which perishes, but to feed for ever together on the bread which comes down from heaven, even on Christ Himself, the life of the world; to receive life from His life, that you may live together such a life as He lived, and lives still; to receive grace from the fulness of His grace, that you may be full of grace as He is. That Table tells you that because you both must live by the same life of Christ, you must live the same life as each other, and grow more and more like each other year by year; that as you both receive the same grace of Christ, you will become more and more gracious to each other year by year, and both grow together, nearer and dearer to each other, more worthy of each other's respect, more worthy of each other's trust, more worthy of each other's love. And then "till death us do part" may mean what it will. Let death part what of them he can part, the perishing mortal body; he has no power over the soul, or over the body which shall rise to life eternal. Let death do his worst. They belong to Christ who conquered death, and they live by His everlasting life, and their life is hid with Christ in God, where death cannot reach it or find it; and therefore their life and their love, and the grace of it, will last as long as Christ's life and Christ's love, and Christ's grace last- -and that will be for ever and ever.