A Jagged Word


“When the attempt is made to combine justifying grace with the legal scheme or idea of ‘movement,’ grace turns to poison; it deserts me when I need it most…

“To use a rather far-fetched illustration, it would be something like saying that you have to grow freckles in order to be saved. Well, then, if you don’t have them (by some mysterious predestination) the question would be, ‘How do I get freckles?’ ‘By grace,’ comes the answer. ‘But where do I get such grace?’ ‘From God.’ ‘But how?’ ‘Well , you go to church and partake of the sacraments and pay attention to the preacher and do what he says.’ So I do all that and the next morning I look in the mirror and behold, no freckles! Now what? Then there are just the two possibilities. Either I have not followed the instructions properly, or God has just decided not to give this mysterious freckle-creating grace to me. I am left between the devil and the deep-blue sea: my own failure and the terrors of predestination. Usually, of course, I will be pious and gracious enough to flatter God by not laying the blame on him and grit my teeth in resignation and take the blame on myself. So in the end everything will depend on me.

“The point of the illustration is that when one attempts to combine freely given grace with an empirical legal scheme (the demand to grow freckles) everything will come to depend on me in the end, no matter how much one talks about grace. When one thinks that way, even the freely given grace becomes poison, it turns into a terrifying thing. God, I am told, gives his grace freely to everyone. God loves everybody. There is nothing wrong with the delivery system either. ‘All systems are go!’ But I don’t get freckles. What am I to conclude? It makes no difference then how much one exalts grace or what you can say about it. You can say that grace makes the beginning, grace if free, grace makes the progress, and grace puts the finishing touches on those strange spots. But every such statement about grace, given that system, is just another nail in the coffin. Statements about grace only remove me from it all the more.”

– Gerhard O. Forde, “Justification by Faith” (27-28)