What are we to do with grace? That question ought to be more prominent in our thinking than it often is. Perhaps we think of receiving and possessing grace more than making use of it. Grace sets a sinner free – but free to do what? Sadly, many use that freedom in order to serve the sinful nature (1 Peter 2:16). Grace makes the sinner free to be a servant of righteousness (Romans 6:18). We must not, of course, turn grace into works and depend on our own endeavours. But idleness and carelessness are certainly not God’s purpose. We are meant to be busy and active with grace to the glory of God and the eternal good of ourselves and others.
John Kid (d. 1679) was a field preacher who emphasised making best use of grace. In one sermon he stresses that God has given a stock of grace for us to use. “Exercise your faith, and exercise your hope. It is not for yourself only you have got it: it is given you to benefit others; make the countryside the better for it. O trade with it”. Frequently hunted down for preaching “illegally”, his ministry was to last only a few years. Kid was executed in 1679 together with another preacher, John King. In his last days he suffered through extreme methods of torture that mangled one of his legs. The last words of his written testimony are significant, especially as he acknowledges that he was in such pain that it was difficult to compose anything or speak publicly on the scaffold.
I am a most miserable sinner, in regard of my original and actual transgressions. I must confess they are more in number than the hairs of my head. They are gone up above my head, and are past numbering, I cannot but say as Jacob said, I am less than the least of all God’s mercies, yet I must declare to the exalting of His free grace that, to me who am the least of all saints is this grace made known, and that by a strong hand, and I dare not but say He has loved me, and washed me in His own blood from all iniquities, and well is it for me this day, that ever I heard or read that faithful saying, that Jesus Christ, came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
His sermons dwell on grace to a great extent and so it is significant that he also said:
I am the most unworthiest that ever opened his mouth to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ in the gospel… I did preach Christ and the gospel in several places of this nation; for which I bless Him (as I can), that ever such a poor obscure person as I am, have been thus privileged by Him, for making mention of His grace as I was able.
It is a long yet edifying testimony but the final words are especially relevant to the subject of grace and its widest benefit.
The Lord is my light and life, my joy, my song, and my salvation; the God of His chosen be my mercy this day, and the enriching comforts of the Holy Ghost keep up and carry me fair through, to the glory of His grace, to the edification of His people, and my own eternal advantage. Amen.
The following points are extracted and updated from a sermon preached on Galatians 5:1 in July 1678.
1. Make Best Use of Faith
Make your calling and election sure. Pray and pray in faith, and yet know that prayer will not save you. Many good words will not save you nor do what is necessary.
2. Make Best Use of Hope
Make best use of your hope and pray more and more so that your hope is not marred. When Christians do not make best use of their hope it hinders them from seeing their privileges. Many do not care whether Christ stays with, or goes from Scotland. They are not troubled about it: hope is greatly decayed.
3. Make Best Use of Heavenly-mindedness
This grace is greatly decayed amongst us. It was not so when God began with you. It was so with you that the tears would have been seen to trickle down your cheeks. Then opportunities were taken for prayer and what was spoken was for God. But now this is laid aside in great measure laid by. We speak now of our own worldly things: we think our own thoughts. And since it is so, what wonder is it that the Lord disclaim us? We do not walk with God, nor are right in heart with Him.
Are we then a thriving land or people? It is not evident that our practice differs little from the practice of wicked men on His holy day? His day is not made best use of and no wonder you do not experience your privileges. Are you looking within the suburbs of heaven? Are you reading and praying with your hearts engaged? O what a desirable thing is it to have your hearts in heaven: to
be heavenly as God is, to see Him face to face, and to see Him as He is.
Remember that a holy God is taking notice of you: how you speak and hear. Resolve to walk in a more holy way and say: “This will be my work in future”. Are you not ashamed that a poor lass or lad has made more progress and profited more in Christianity in one year, than you have done in twenty (some of you in thirty) years? Oh, that it should be so and yet not laid to heart by you.
4. Make Best Use of Humility
We do not make progress in humility but all mind our own things like Baruch (Jeremiah 45:5). Yet it was not a fitting time to seek after these things. It is a more fitting time to endeavour after abasement and humility – this is more suitable to the times. The humble man that abases himself to the dust, is the man with whom the Lord delights to dwell. He dwells with the humble and contrite in heart; the man that is taken up with God and heaven.
5. Make Best Use of Sincerity
We exhort you to be sincere as with the apostle Paul to the Philippians. He desires that they “may be sincere and without offence, till the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10). A godly man in our land who was one in a thousand [thought to be William Guthrie] once said that he had been studying sincerity for many years, yet he acknowledged he did not know what it was. A sincere man is making best use of his privileges in the right way. It would be good if we were conscious of not making best use of them: but what can we expect from God, while we do not make best use of them. Try and search your own selves, and be not reprobate (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Be acquainted with God, abide nearer to Him, know more of His matters, and be ready every moment to be in God’s matters. The soul that abides near God, will be constantly examining itself; it will constantly be laying hold on God by faith. Each moment he will allow no beloved except Jesus Christ. Abide near Him, that the power of His death and virtue of His resurrection may come, and enable you to make best use of your privileges. Let sin, every lust and abomination that makes you unlike Him be put to death. Seek to have sin slain so that you may live, die, and rise again, as He did. Nothing will satisfy such a soul except more of God’s ordinances. Prayer and preaching will be empty, if Christ is not there. You should cry out, “O to be like Him!” Those that are in closest fellowship with Him, enjoy their privileges and are nourished by the ordinances. Nothing please such a soul except that.
6. Make Best Use of Stability
What are you to stand for? What is it to go on in the strength of God the Lord? Folk these days are given to flinch in many things. When a steadfast man stands or keeps his ground, however, the more trials and difficulties he meets with, the more he grows. They do not put him not one step back but he prevails over them. Thus, he improves his steadfastness. Mark your ground before, or else a trial or temptation will soon cast you on your backs. It did so with David and Peter. Improve your steadfastness still more when many are going off both to right and left-hand extremes. Improve stability so that you will not turn from the right way of the Lord.
7. Make Best Use of Single-mindedness
If we would be justified and sanctified, we must be single-minded. We must be like Joshua who said: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:13). Although the rest go on
following a bad course, serving their own lusts and the world, yet (he says) I and my family have resolved to serve the Lord. One or another will prove stable in their resolutions, when another turns aside. Many in Joshua’s days went wrong when he kept the right way. The times in which our lot is cast call for single-mindedness. Noah walked with God, and it is said that was “a perfect man in his generation”. Enoch walked with God; and it is said, “he was not because God took him.”
8. Make Best Use of Self-Examination
Try yourselves. We have taken an easy way now, we are not exercised in this duty. Men and women have abandoned it and it is now many years since it was rightly practised. You must examine
your state and see: whether you are in the faith or not, whether you are following hard after God or not. Try whether you are in a thriving condition, following the Lord and advancing in Christianity. See if you are putting sin and corruption to death. Lay yourselves in God’s balance. Deal with yourself impartially as before God. The grace of self-examination has become very rare
in these days. We exhort you to weigh yourselves before God. There are many may have the root of the matter in them, and yet things are not right between God and them. Exercising grace will keep things right but merely possessing grace will not keep you right if you are not assisted by exercising it.
9. Make Best Use of Self-denial
Jesus Christ Himself taught the lesson, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). What things do you deny yourselves in? He that
will not deny himself for Christ cannot be His disciple.
10. Make Best Use of Dependence
Let your souls depend on God. Though the mountains were removed and cast into the midst of the sea and though the fig tree should not blossom, yet truly we will trust in the Lord, and joy in the God of our salvation who rules in Jacob to the ends of the earth. Will you wait, and wait on? Do you believe that God has power and that the God of Jacob will be your refuge? Dependence on God will make the Christian suffer the loss of all things. Say, the Lord is on my side, I shall not be moved. He is my strength and my saving health — my rock and strong tower. I trust in Him, and therefore I shall stand fast, and not fall. Depend on God, that He may clear up your sky a little. Depend on God with your souls, and that will make you make best use of all that happens in providence. Fix yourselves on God. Take Him as He has offered Himself in the promises of the gospel.
[There is a readable brief biography of John King together with his co-martyr John Kid. This was recently authored by Maurice Grant. It is warmly commended and available from the Scottish Reformation Society for £5.95. Order from firstname.lastname@example.org]