1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed on me was not in vain…
1. There are those who regard themselves as simply the effects of natural causes.
2. Others are wont to attribute their character to social and civil influences, the times and institutions in which they live.
3. There are men of great individuality and power of character who are apt to attribute to their own selves the whole skill and efficiency of their life.
4. The truly Christian man is wont to combine all these as composing a Divine providence; and led by the Spirit of God to see his life and character in its relations to God's superintending power and grace, profoundly sympathises with the text. See it illustrated in —
I. OUR PERSONAL HISTORY. No devout man can calmly consider many of the circumstances of his history without profoundly feeling that he has been guided by a wisdom greater than his own; that he is the creature of a God of goodness, who has led him in a way that he knew not.
1. The family is the grand starting place.
(1) To many of you family influences seem to be the very best and brightest gifts of God. Your parents were faithful, and their whole life was an engineering for yours. Even where men go wrong, there are golden threads which were wound around their hearts by a mother's hand, and which, unwind as they may, never break, and often become a clue by which they find their way back again to God.
(2) But there are many who had no such parental influences. And where a child's parents exert all their power upon him for evil, and he nevertheless grows up to honour and piety, I think he is a miracle. Such a man may truly say, "By the grace of God I, of all men, am what I am."
2. Many of us have been powerfully influenced by others than parents.
(1) It may have been a brother, a sister, or an aunt who was more than father or mother to you. Or perhaps God raised up a labourer in your neighbourhood, a servant, some praying and holy nurse, some young associate, to do you a service which has stood connected with the safety of the whole of your after life.
(2) On the other hand, does there not rise up before every one's memory some malign influence of associate, schoolmate, shopmate, whose shadow darkened the prospect of the soul? We often say, "I wonder that I was not ruined by such a one." And we should have been but for the grace of God.
3. Everybody can remember scenes in his early life which threatened his destruction, and many, when reflecting upon these things, are constrained to say, "I never could understand why I was not crushed." They would have been had not the way in which they were going been obstructed by the grace of God. If I had not been taken out of Boston at one time, I do not see what would have prevented me from going to destruction. I look back upon moments of wilfulness, which would have led me to serious disaster, had not events in the providence of God transpired to check me in my course and change my career.
4. Men can often look back and see that the whore complexion of their life depended upon a single choice. Nor do they know why, out of a hundred choices, they should have taken the only one that seems to them to be connected with prosperity and integrity.
5. Many can recall painful crises of their life when everything depended on a single throw. Ninety-nine chances out of a hundred were against you, and God gave you that hundredth, and by His grace you are what you are. Life is like the experience of an Alpine climber. He is met by dangers at every step; and when the ascent is accomplished, he can count twenty places where he might have been dashed in pieces for one where he was absolutely safe.
II. OUR INWARD NATURE AND DISPOSITIONS. I suppose there are but few who do not feel that there are laid up in them terrible powers, which, if set on fire of evil, would be desolation to their life. There are criminals of every description to-day whose early tendencies were as good as yours, and who had as favourable a chance as you had of making upright citizens. Now, why are they in their situation, and you in yours? There has been a grace of God which for mysterious reasons has led me in the way in which I have walked, and left them in the way in which they have walked.
III. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE DIVINE LIFE IN THE SOUL. When a man looks back upon the beginning of his Christian life, and considers what his then state was, he wonders more and more at the way in which God leads him in his religious experience. At each stage, as we have gone on from one grace to another, from one victory to another, we are obliged to say, "By the grace of God I am what I am" Conclusion:
1. This is, in other words, the doctrine of man's dependence upon God. It may be so stated as to be offensive, but when it is rightfully stated it is as sweet as the doctrine of love between a child and a parent. It is natural for the weak to lean; but I think none want to lean so much as the strong. The practice of constantly depending upon God is not opposed to activity, but promotes it.
2. Out of this retrospect, and out of this sense of our dependence upon God in the past for all that we have been and all that we have had, there ought to spring a future. That same hand that has taken care of you; that same power that has taken the obstacles out of your way, or marvellously put them in your way; that same Providence that has conducted you thus far through life, yet exists, and rules over the affairs of men. "By Thy grace, O God, in the past, I have been what I have been; and by Thy grace I desire, in the future, to be what Thou wilt have me to be. Glorify Thyself, and I shall be satisfied."
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.