“…Be gracious unto thee” (Numbers 6:25)
How sweet the Gospel is! But what makes the Gospel sweet? There is but one word which sheds a perfume through the whole—GRACE. Take grace out of the Gospel and you destroy the Gospel; you nullify and overthrow it; it is the Gospel no more. Grace pervades every part and every branch of the blessed Gospel; it is the life of the Gospel; in a word, it is the Gospel itself.
“Be gracious unto thee” is our petition to the LORD. In what, then, is God gracious? In a broken law? What does that know of grace? In New Year resolutions, creature performances, or human righteousness? Can the Lord, will the Lord, show Himself gracious in these things?
I read in Gulliver’s Travels where Jonathan Swift wrote satirically about a scientific project by the fictional Grand Academy of Lagado for “extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers.” Well, we might as well expect to make sunbeams out of cucumbers as to make grace out of the law; it is cold as cucumbers; there is no sun in it. Grace, to be grace, must come out of the Gospel. It is in the Gospel, and out of the Gospel it must come; and it does come, excluding all man-made righteousness and putting an extinguisher upon all human merit. As the Apostle argues: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work” (Rom. 11:6).
“Be gracious unto thee.” But how is the Lord gracious? Perhaps you have had occasion, at some time of your life, to go into the presence of someone in worldly rank far your superior, and you went timid, nervous, and trembling; but you experienced what is called a “gracious reception.” Did that not enable you to speak and open your petition? So it is in the things of God.
A sense of our meanness and unworthiness may and does make us tremble and feel timid before the face of the Most High; but when He draws us into His presence, and receives us graciously, as King Ahasuerus received the trembling Esther, extending to her the scepter of his grace, it emboldens the soul to lay its petition at His feet. Nothing will do it but this.
But you feel and say often, “I am so unworthy.” Will you ever be anything else? When do you hope to be worthy? When do you mean to be worthy? If you could be worthy tomorrow, where is your worthiness today? Is the old score yet paid? If you venture upon the ground of worthiness you must have the old score rubbed off before you come to the new.
Worthiness! Where is it? In man? Never since the day that Adam fell. Righteousness fell in Paradise; when Adam’s hand touched the apple, worthiness fell to the ground, and never since has been able to raise its head. I must not, then, go to God upon the ground of worthiness. But may I go on the ground of unworthiness? I read of one person who did, and met with a very gracious reception. “Lord,” said one, “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). What did the Lord say of this man? That He had not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
What, too, was the confession of the returning prodigal? “I am no more worthy to be called thy son” (Luke 15:21). But this brought out the best robe, the ring for the hand, and the shoes for the feet. Why? Because faith dwells with a sense of unworthiness; they are bosom companions; it dwells in no other but unworthy breasts. Feel spiritually unworthy and you are spiritually believing, for it is faith that gives a sense of unworthiness. You believe you are unworthy; therefore, by the same faith that you believe your unworthiness, you also believe God’s grace.
“Be gracious unto thee.” It is this truth of God’s grace which melts the heart; law and terrors only harden it. It is grace that softens, grace that melts, grace that constrains, and grace that produces a godly obedience. Indeed, are we not, as believers, forever compelled to fall into the arms of our Lord, Who is “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psalm 145:8)?
— Updated and expanded from a devotion by J.C. Philpot