In an 1891 sermon (now simply numbered “2221”) the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon introduced his topic by saying, “. . . So all is of grace from first to last, and must never be viewed with a legal eye.”
Since then, many Christian preachers have affirmed this observation. It is true. But it is also a miraculous and unique truth. No other religion in the world has grace as its foundation.
This morning I read an example of what grace is all about. I would like to reflect on the life of Manasseh because I believe we need to spend more time deliberately and slowly strolling through the forest of grace. It is a beautiful forest where the trees are biographies of the saints. All have received grace, and all remind us that our lives are nourished and blossom only through grace. Grace is life.
Manasseh began his life as many of the kings of Israel and Judah: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord . . .” (II Chronicles 33:2). The list of his sins is long and deep. He was a terrible man! He brought back pagan worship from the surrounding nations including Baal worship and Asherah poles. He built pagan altars in the “temple of the Lord of which the Lord had said, ‘My name will remain in Jerusalem forever’” (33:4). We read in this chapter a litany of examples of pagan worship, witchcraft, and divination that descends to the pit of human sacrifice—even sacrificing his own children in fire.
Such behavior is evil and deserves God’s wrath. What made it worse is that Manasseh was the leader, and both his people and his son, Amon, followed him.
The judgment was clear: “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention” (33:10). He had no excuse: God gave him his word, and he willfully ignored it.
So, God did bring about judgement. The Assyrians came, “. . . took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon” (33:11).
And that should have been the end of the story, except for grace. We read in the next verses that this man, who did so much evil, “humbled himself greatly” (33:12). He confessed, entreated God, and God answered him, forgave him, and brought him back to Jerusalem. Grace had its effect. Manasseh was a changed man. He immediately began rebuilding the wall and called people to repentance and to serve the God of Israel. Even though the people continued to worship false gods, Manasseh himself remained faithful to God. Grace had transformed him at his core.
My guess is that everyone reading this is a sinner, but none of us has gone as far as leading others in false worship and burning our own children as a sacrificial offering. It is hard to believe that God’s grace would be deep and wide enough to cover such terrible sins.
It is grace, and grace alone from first to last.
I invite you to follow my response to this remarkable chapter of the Bible. I was deeply moved by this story of God’s grace. So, I invite you also to drum up all the sinful behaviors and thoughts you can remember. Don’t ignore even one. Remember them before the God of grace, and lay them at the foot of the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice has meaning when we remember our sins and then hand them to the one with outstretched arms.
Grace is the foundation for our full humanity, of our human thriving, of our being image bearers of God himself, and of the Church and its mission.
Jesus, we thank you that, though you can not look upon our sin, you can look upon and receive our confession and humility. We thank you that, though our human works are worthless, there is great value when we participate in your works. As we receive your grace, please guide us by your grace into works that reveal your grace to the world. Amen.
 Spurgeon, Charles. “A Sermon (No. 2221) – Intended for Reading on Lord’s-day, September 13th, 1891.” Blue Letter Bible.
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.