Oh my goodness gracious!
The Character of God: Graciousness
Old Testament, Hebrew chanan
Other Aspects of God's Character
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Numbers 6:23-27 (3/28/2011)
John Wesley is primarily known as the founder (by accident) of the Methodist churches and their relatives.
In the United States alone, there are United Methodists, African Methodists, African Methodist Episcopals,
African Methodist Episcopal Zions, Christian Methodist Episcopals, Wesleyans, Free Methodists, Nazarenes, and
West Africa African Methodists, not to mention the Salvation Army. According to the
World Methodist Council
, there are
about 75 million members worldwide in the Methodist and other Wesleyan denominations. Wesley is also
well known as a great evangelist who preached in the open air to crowds numbering in the thousands.
Wesley is less well known, even among Methodists, as one of the great theologians. Wesleyan theology is
grace theology: free grace, prevenient grace, accepting grace, sustaining grace. This week and next
week, as we examine God’s graciousness, we’re also going to take a look at grace theology.
The root idea of chanan
“be gracious” is to bend or stoop to be kind to an inferior.
“Grace” is a kindness or favor. So the first thing to know about God’s graciousness is that it is
something that is shown by a superior (God) to an inferior (you or me). Grace is not an exchange
Numbers 6:24-26 (my modernization of the King James Version)
Nehemiah 9:1-31 (3/29/2011)
24 The LORD bless you, and keep you;
25 The LORD make His face to shine upon you, and chanan be gracious unto you;
26 The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Read verses 16-26 especially carefully. Not only is grace a favor or kindness granted to an inferior, but it is typically an undeserved favor or kindness. God is kind to us even when we have been presumptuous, stiff-necked, disobedient, ungrateful, and blasphemous. Why? Because God is gracious (vs. 31).
John Wesley’s primary idea about grace is what he called “free grace.” Free grace is “FREE IN ALL, and FREE
FOR ALL” (caps original). Wesley explains “free in all” in
It is free in all to whom it is given. It does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part. It does not in anywise depend either on the good works or righteousness of the receiver; not on anything he has done, or anything he is. It does not depend on his endeavors. It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God; they are the streams only, not the fountain. They are the fruits of free grace, and not the root. They are not the cause, but the effects of it. Whatsoever good is in man, or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it. Thus is his grace free in all; that is, no way depending on any power or merit in man, but on God alone, who freely gave us his own Son, and "with him freely giveth us all things.
So we don’t earn grace and can’t earn grace. That’s fine, because God’s supply of grace never runs out, it only runs into us and through us, issuing forth in good works.
Neh. 9:16-17, 31-32 (English Standard Version)
Psalm 41:1-13 (3/30/2011)
16-17 "But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a channun gracious and merciful God.
32 "Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day.
King David’s depressed because people are gossiping and saying hurtful things about him and to him – even his so-called friends. David turns to God, who he knows will chanan be gracious to him. This psalm teaches us two lessons. You can always turn to God, no matter how bad things are in your life. And don’t gossip or say hurtful things about people.
John Wesley’s second point about free grace is that it is free for all. In Sermon 128, Wesley
devotes most of the text to refuting the concept of predestination, which holds that God’s grace is for
some people (the elect), but not for others. Consequently his description of grace that is free
for all is not as succinct as we saw yesterday in his description of grace that is free in
all. Clearer by far, just not as succinct. In brief, Wesley’s position is that God’s grace has been,
is, and will be available to every single person who ever has lived, who is alive now, or who ever will
live. No one is excluded from God’s grace: not the unsaved, not the apostate, not (naturally enough)
the saved. God has not chosen, or elected, some to be saved and others not to be saved. Grace is
“FREE FOR ALL.” Wesley felt very strongly that God’s grace is freely available to you and
to me and to everyone else.
Psalm 41 (King James Version)
Psalm 145:1-21 (3/31/2011)
1a To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
4 I said, LORD, chanan be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.
5 Mine enemies speak evil of me, When shall he die, and his name perish?
6 And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity: his heart gathereth iniquity to itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it.
10 But thou, O LORD, chanan be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them.
David praises God for being chanan gracious, as well as holy, slow to anger, glorious, and merciful. Vss. 14-16 highlight God’s grace in giving his creatures all they need.
In Sermon 43
, which takes as its text Ephesians 2:8, John Wesley lays out the idea of “preventing” or “prevenient” grace:
- The very words of the text itself put this beyond all question: "Ye are saved." It is not something at a distance: it is a present thing; a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of. Nay, the words may be rendered, and that with equal propriety, "Ye have been saved": so that the salvation which is here spoken of might be extended to the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul, till it is consummated in glory. … If we take this in its utmost extent, it will include all that is wrought in the soul by what is frequently termed "natural conscience," but more properly, "preventing grace"; --all the drawings of the Father; the desires after God, which, if we yield to them, increase more and more; --all that light wherewith the Son of God "enlighteneth every one that cometh into the world;" showing every man "to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God"; --all the convictions which His Spirit, from time to time, works in every child of man…. [bold italics added]
The modern definition of “prevent” is “to keep from happening.” Wesley is using an older (now archaic) definition: “to come before; precede.” God’s grace comes into our lives before we know God, and without it we would have no way of coming to know God.
Psalms 145 (King James Version)
1 David's Psalm of praise.
Isaiah 30:8-26 (4/1/2011)
I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.
5 I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works.
8 The LORD is channun gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.
11 They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power;
12 To make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom.
Have you ever heard or said, “He didn’t want to hear it”? My own experience is that the things people
don’t want to hear are usually the things that would be good for them. We rarely have trouble hearing
spend-yourself-happy, get-rich-quick, eat-yourself-thin, five-minute-fitness, gloom-and-doom, me-me-me.
We don’t want to hear save-for-retirement, work-hard, eat-right, exercise, things-looking up,
you-and-God. God’s prophets were told to go away until they had better news.
It’s good news that God is waiting to be gracious to us. He’s waiting for us to hear him.
Isaiah 30:18 (English Standard Version)
18 Therefore the LORD waits chanan to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
Other Aspects of God's Character
Glory, Old Testament
Holiness, Old Testament
Longsuffering, Old Testament
Steadfast Love, Old Testament
, which is
Mercy in the New Testament
Graciousness, Old Testament
, which is
Grace in the New Testament
Jealousy, Old Testament
Intolerance of Sin, Old Testament
Copyright 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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