PRESENT GRACE AND THE AGES TO COME
Sermon by Dr. J. Frank Norris, First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas
DR. NORRIS: I want to call your attention this morning to one statement of the Scripture, and I could wish that we could just read it and silently file out of this place, taking it as our food and drink, shut the whole crashing world out, shut ourselves up and into the volumes of meaning in this short statement. I wish I had the gift of language – I wish I knew how to emphasize these words. Oh, how I wish I could explain them! I wish I could this morning tell you of their fathomless depths, of their boundless breadth, of their limitless length, of their glorious heights – these words:
“In the ages to come.”
Underscore them, take them to your heart, let us sit together in heavenly places, “in the ages to come.”
What goes before and what follows after these words lend tremendous significance. You may recall that they are part of that immortal chapter of Divine grace as recorded in the second chapter of Ephesians. That chapter begins:
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of the world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. “But God,” – But God! – “who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved:) And hath raised us up together,” – together! – “and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;”
Why? Now the text – that’s why, “that in the ages to come” – “that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” “For,” and the word “for” there should read, “Because by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
I wish I knew how to preach on that Scripture. I wish I had the gift of angels before the throne – No, I take that back, for no angel knows the riches of grace – but for the spirit of the Apostle Paul who wrote those inspired words! I want you to notice, first of all, in that chapter, that it is all from God to man, and not from man to God. Oh, how I wish I knew how to bring that home! Everything in that chapter is nowhere from man to God, but it is all from God to man.
Let’s go over it, and look at it, and see – “You hath he quickened” – not of yourselves – Standing before the silent grave of Lazarus, could he, the brother of Mary and Martha, rise and come forth of his own strength? No, but when the Lord of Creation said, “Lazarus, come forth,” the tomb gave up its dead. It was God working in that silent tomb.
And so when it comes to salvation, grace, a much neglected, and much despised theme, it is God working on the soul of man, and not the soul of man even lifting his hand.
Again I say, it is all from God to man – “But God, who is rich in mercy” – I never knew until the other day why God puts the word “mercy” here instead of “grace.” I will tell you why it is “grace” everywhere else, and here it is “mercy” – I am going to tell you why it changes to “mercy”:
Grace is God’s attitude toward the dead sinner; mercy is grace in action.
Grace is the old father sitting by the fireside wondering, “Where is my prodigal boy tonight?” – Mercy is that same old father running on the wings of the wind to meet that returning prodigal.
Grace is the bleeding heart within the walls – Mercy is on the way to clasp him in the arms of love, and plant a kiss of forgiveness on sin-stained lips, and put sandals of peace on bleeding feet.
Mercy puts the ring of endless love on sin-stained hands.
Mercy puts the purple robe over the garments of rags.
That’s grace added, stored up and waiting for the return of the prodigal.
Mercy shouts, “Kill the fatted calf.”
Mercy calls the servants.
Mercy rings the joy bells of heaven!
That’s why He said “mercy” here. The statement emphasizes, “all from God to man” –
The next statement says, “for his great love” – Whose love? Not the love man has for God. He hasn’t any love, but God’s love for us. I love to think that He loved us before we loved Him. He loved us before time began! He loved us before the foundations of the earth were laid! He loved us before the stars sang together, or the sons of God shouted for joy! He loved us in the morning of eternity, before time began! And in the fulness of time, that love was named and applied “mercy” – “for his great love wherewith he loved us.”
Beauchamp Vick told me this – when Evelyn Rae was run over and her body crushed and mangled, bones broken, and the doctors said there was no hope – at last they said, “This broken, mangled withered arm must come off, gangrene will set in, and she will die” – The doctors held a consultation, and came to the young father and they said, “She is your child, what shall we do?”
He called his mother, the wife of a great preacher gone home to God. He said, “Mother, you know what it is to pray.”
And those two, the father and his mother together went on their knees.
And he came back and said, “No, doctor you will not cut her arm off.” She is well and happy today.
He said to me, “Dr. Norris, I went for days and nights and forgot to eat, sleep or drink. I would rather have had both my arms cut off to the shoulders if necessary to save her.”
And now, here is what he said, “For the first time in all my Christian life, I understood the meaning of ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son’ – Who when on the cross gave, not one arm, but both arms, and both hands were nailed to the tree, and His feet pierced and the crown of thorns put on His brow, and the blood coursed down His face”
Oh, then we will understand why it is all from God to man, and nothing from man to God!
Why does He emphasize this? He wants us to be humble, to get out of ourselves, to get all our pride broken down, to get all the conceit out of us; He wants us to love Him; He wants us to worship Him; He wants us to join in the innumerable throng, before the throne and sing, “Mercy, and glory, and power and dominion unto Him who is worthy of all praise.” He wants us to join with the angels and the archangels, the cherubim and seraphim, bring our best love, bring every thought into captivity, and bring every dollar we possess, all our time, and lay them down at the feet of our King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
I say that it is all from God to man. – Going on to “for his great love wherewith he loved us” – What else? “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up” – Could you raise yourself up? We were dead. Could we get up ourselves? No. God took the casket lid off our souls, and said, “Son thy sins be forgiven thee, take up thy bed and walk” – the bed where the sin sick soul lay. It is mercy that says that and we go on our way rejoicing.
What else? “raised us up together, and made us” – literally, “caused us to sit together,” Where? On thrones? No. George saw the king of Sweden the other day when he was in Sweden – I thought “What does it matter? Thanks be unto God, we will all see the King some day! – The King of Kings and Lord of lords, who “made us sit together in heavenly places” – Who did that? I didn’t climb up and get that seat-God gave us a front seat. What else? “in Christ Jesus.”
What else? Here is something else – I want to notice that word “For by grace” – That little word “For” means “because.” I took the Bible the other day and ran through a lot of phrases, John 3:16, “For God so loved” – that word “For,” literally translated should be “because” – for it comes from the original Greek word, “because” – “Because God so loved” – Why are we saved? Why are we raised up? “Because by grace,” that’s why.
I will give you another case where the word “because” should be used, the last verse of the fifth chapter of second Corinthians, “For – because he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
Let me give you another example – a great Scripture that has been the comfort of innumerable saints, Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them who are the called according to his purpose.” For” – in the next verse – that should read Because whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren.”
That’s why all things work together, because there is an everlasting foundation under God’s unchanging purpose.
I could go on and give you many examples where the word “because” should be used.
Therefore, Why is the sinner raised up? Why is he made a child of God? Why is he saved? Because it is all built on the foundation of Divine grace, not of human works.
Now I had a very forcible illustration brought to me of this very thing, three or four weeks ago-One day a little mother came to see me. She said, “Dr. Norris, my only son is in the Jackson State Prison” – She said, “He is not a bad boy”-and I admire mothers for saying and thinking that – she said, “He fell into the wrong crowd-he came back from the War with his nerves shot to pieces” – and that is true of many of our best boys – Oh, God what will the next war mean!” – She said, “He fell into the wrong crowd, and they sent the whole crowd up for thirty years.” – She said, “He is yet young, but he will never live out his sentence. I was down there not long ago and he could hardly talk for coughing. I am a poor widow, I have no money to hire lawyers. I have no political pull. I have no influence to go out and ask influential men of this great city to put their name on my petition. I tried it but they turned me down. But I heard you read a letter from the governor the other day, and I thought perhaps he was your friend, and that you might be able to approach him for me, if you wouldn’t mind.”
In a few days I went over to Lansing, some seventy-five or eighty miles from Detroit – They have a great Christian Governor –
I said, “Governor, you have a boy down at Jackson, who has been there for twelve long years – he got into the wrong crowd, and he has paid the price. His mother is a poor widow with no money, no pull, nothing – she is nothing on earth to me, but Governor, he will soon be crossing over. The White Plague has laid its bloody hands on him.”
I had told this little mother to be there when I got there, and when I went in I told that little drooped, withered form, “You just stand on the outside in the hall, I may need you.”
And when I saw the Governor drop his head, I said, “Excuse me a minute Governor.”
I stepped to the door and said to her, “Come in”. And when I led her in I said, “Governor, this is the mother of that boy…”
She looked at him, and said, “Governor, you must be a mighty good man. I had an uncle named by your name, and it is a good Irish name, and you must be a good man.”
When I saw the Governor turn his face, I said to her, “Step outside now.”
And before the next Sunday that mother walked into my office, and there was her son, back home.
“Who knows ?” – I said to that Governor” – Governor if we understood all, we would forgive all” – “Who knows ?” – I said, “Who knows, but for the grace of God and good environment back yonder, you and I – I don’t know whether you would be or not, but I know I would be where that boy is today”
And I love to think of the Great God who can forgive, as the Governor of the universe. What did that boy give? That boy didn’t give a thing – he was set free and sent home by the grace of the Governor. The grace of God! We will understand it better by and by.
FIFTEEN EXAMPLES – FROM GOD TO MAN
Let me summarize:
(1) “And you hath he quickened” – From God to man.
(2) “But God, who is rich in mercy” – From God to man.
(3) “For his great love” – From God to man.
(4) “Wherewith he loved us” – From God to man.
(5) “Hath quickened us together with Christ” – From God to man.
(6) “(By grace ye are saved)” – From God to man.
(7) And hath raised us up together” – From God to man.
(8) “And made us sit together in heavenly places” – From God to man.
(9) “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace”-From God to man.
(10) “In his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” – From God to man.
(11) “For by grace are ye saved” – From God to man.
(12) “It is the gift of God” – From God to man.
(13) “For we are his workmanship” – From God to man.
(14) “Created in Christ Jesus unto good works” – From God to man.
(15) “Which God hath before ordained” – From God to man.
I was very sorry I couldn’t come back to conduct the funeral of Carl Smith – Something happened to me years ago that brought him into my life. It was a time of dark tragedy. Two years ago when he was running for sheriff again, somebody came to me and said, “Are you supporting Carl Smith? It is out all over town that you are.”
I said, “That’s my business.”
“Well,” he said, “all the preachers” – I said, “I’ll attend to my business, and you attend to yours, it is none of your business who I am for”
I will tell you why. In the darkest hour of my life when a cowardly would-be assassin came into my office to take the life of my children’s father – afterward I walked over there and said, “Here I am Carl.”
He said, “You can go on home as far as I am concerned.” – He had been called over the telephone and instructed to lock me up. He said, “I am not going to do it.” and he told me to go on home.
Do you think I would scratch his name after that? I hate an ingrate.
He never asked me to support him, but it got out. I never said a word, I took my medicine. I fear no criticism when my conscience dictates my course.
One day in my office he said, “I am not an enemy of any man. I am my own enemy.” He said, “Mother and I have heard you over that radio,” and he said, “One night she and I were alone, I will never forget that sermon. You preached to Carl Smith.”
I said, “What was the sermon, Carl?”
He said, “You told about that boy that got away from home, lost everything, got in rags, and then took a notion one day to crawl out of that hog pen and go home. That was Carl Smith you were talking about and he came back to his mother’s God”
And I would have told that if I had been here at the funeral.
“A debtor to mercy alone –
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring:
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which his goodness began,
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now –
Not all things below nor above,
Can make him his purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from his love.
My name from the palms of his hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impress’d on his heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace:
Yes! I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorify’d spirits in heaven.”
“In the ages to come” – I don’t know what is awaiting me in this world, but “In the ages to come” – The other day we stopped for lunch in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. That is where I saw my first railroad train – I was four years old – and when I saw that thing coming with that great cloud of smoke coming out of its smokestack, I knew the old “boogerman” was after me, and I struck out running as hard as I could go, and it took all hands to get me on the inside. I said to my family, “Here is where Hardy Winburn lives, I am going to call him. I called, somebody answered and I said, “Is this Dr. Winburn’s place?”
They said, “Yes.”
I said, “I want to speak to him”
There was no response, no word. I heard somebody crying – I shook the receiver, nobody answered. I hung up and called back again, I said, “This is J. Frank Norris, and I would like to speak to Dr. Winburn.”
A woman’s voice said, “Dr. Winburn just passed away thirty minutes ago.” The children were waiting for me at the table to eat – I never had such feelings – for a moment I was overcome in the flesh. I walked out on the sidewalk – “Passed away thirty minutes ago!” – He had been in that place for more than 25 years – Then this thought swept over my soul – I called back and said, “I want to talk to his wife.” – She could not come to the telephone.
I said, “Tell her I want to congratulate her on having such a great husband; he is not dead, he has just moved out of the old tired house into the Father’s house.”
“Yes, I know it. He died suddenly. I know he didn’t die, he just moved out.”
I thought of last Sunday night, a great preacher was in the tabernacle – He is 82 years old, alone in the world, not a relative, wife or child left. He was one of the great preachers of this age – today he is just a shadow, can hardly hear. As I sat there and looked at his clothes – they were worn, his sleeves were frazzled – I thought of the great minister who had preached to thousands, and here he is today in want! As I talked to him, he told me about some great meetings he had held.
I told one of the workers to make an engagement with him to come to my office the next morning. The old man came in the next day, tottering as he walked – I told him to sit down – I called in one of the young deacons, and I said to him, “It may not be many years until I will be tottering like this old soldier. We have here a large charity fund” – I said, “Take him in your car and go down to Hudson’s and put on him everything he needs from head to foot.”
When he dressed him up the old man said, “I don’t understand it, Who did it? – I was naked. Tell me, did Dr. Norris tell you to do this?”
He brought him back, and when he walked into the office, the old preacher broke over all rules of conventionalism, he just fell on my neck and wept – I could feel his thin quivering form, and he said, “I love you.”
I said, “Forget it, there is one who loves us both.”
Oh, my friends, I wondered – My first thought was sorrow for the old preacher, but my second thought was, “Why be sorry for the old man? – Why grieve for him? He is nearing the crossing!” No! I say, “Hail to the victorious soldiers” – They haven’t lost; they have won!
The other morning way up in northern Michigan where my daughter and her husband and little family go every summer to spend vacation – the camp is on beautiful Lake Michigan, surrounded by tall trees – a terrific rain had fallen – and I love to walk through the woods and see the rain fall, and just let it fall in my face – I thought, Old Isaiah must have walked in the rain one day when he said, “As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: It shall not return unto me void.” – I could hear the stately steps of God the Creator, as He walked in the forest when he said, “Adam, where art thou?”
Mr. James Weaver, my daughter’s father-in-law, is nearing 70 years of age, and that morning while the rest of the folks were sleeping, he and I were sitting out talking; his wife, the wife of his youth, has just passed over Jordan – He is a great soul – he said to me, “You know I am so lonely, I just can’t get hold of it. I try but I have failed.” He said, “I know Mary Bell is in glory. I know that she is with Dr. Chas. Blanchard, her father, but I just can’t get hold of it” – He dropped his voice and the tears streamed down his face – as he said, “I wish I were there with her this morning – I get so homesick.”
I close by saying this, beloved, it is great to be saved. It is great be a son of God. It is great be be a priest with God. It is great to be an heir of God, It is great to be joint heirs with Christ. – But “in the ages to come” there is something waiting for us that is still greater than that, “In the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus”
“Your harps, ye trembling saints,
Down from the willows take;
Loud to the praise of Christ our Lord
Bid every string awake.
“Though in a foreign land,
We are not far from home;
And nearer to our house above
We every moment come.
“His grace shall to the end
Stronger and brighter shine;
Nor present things, nor things to come,
Shall quench the spark divine.
“The time of love will come,
When we shall clearly see,
Not only that he shed his blood,
But each shall say, for me.
“Tarry his leisure, then;
Wait the appointed hour;
Wait till the Bridegroom of your souls
Reveals his love with power.
“Blest is the man, O God!
That stays himself on thee!
Who waits for the salvation, Lord!
Shall thy salvation see.”