forgiveness, Grace, Irrationality, John Bunyan, madness, Romans 6, Sin, The Holy War
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
Paul has developed the doctrine that (1) human beings are accountable to God; (2) that humans beings are rebellion against God, and that no good acts can atone for the rebellion; (3) but God has graciously made provision for our reconciliation by giving Christ in our place:
Romans 5:8–11 (ESV)
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
This then leads to a possible conclusion: If God gets glory by graciously forgiving me of my sin, then would it not make sense to continue sinning so that God can continue to forgive with the result that he will bestow more grace and thus get more glory?
Paul answers the question with the Greek words, “μὴ γένοιτο”. It is difficult to get exactly the correct tone and translation: This is something that could not possibly be true, it is not a possible state of affairs — maybe better: “How irrational!” (I recall reading a book about the translation of the Bible. The author tells a story about translating this passage in a class in Britain. One student “adventurously” translated it, “not bloody likely” — which some of the feel.
Now Paul will provide a number of arguments for why sin is not a possible response to grace. But I want to draw out the sheer irrationality of that question. Sin from grace is reckless, thankless, evil, spiteful, a denial of forgiveness in the first place, illogical, unnecessary — but it is sheer irrationality at heart.
There is a passage in Bunyan’s Holy War which shows the irrationality of sin from grace. We come to a portion of the story where the Prince has retaken the Town of Mansoul, that had been in rebellion and under the sway of Diabolus. The rebel leaders are captured and brought to the Prince:
And thus was the manner of their going down. Captain Boanerges went with a guard before them, and Captain Conviction came behind, and the prisoners went down bound in chains in the midst; so, I say, the prisoners went in the midst, and the guard went with flying colours behind and before, but the prisoners went with drooping spirits. Or, more particularly, thus: The prisoners went down all in mourning; they put ropes upon themselves; they went on smiting themselves on the breasts, but durst not lift up their eyes to heaven. Thus they went out at the gate of Mansoul, till they came into the midst of the Prince’s army, the sight and glory of which did greatly heighten their affliction. Nor could they now longer forbear, but cry out aloud, O unhappy men! O wretched men of Mansoul! Their chains still mixing their dolorous notes with the cries of the prisoners, made noise more lamentable. f199 So, when they were come to the door of the Prince’s pavilion, they cast themselves prostrate upon the place. Then one went in and told his Lord that the prisoners were come down. The Prince then ascended a throne of state, and sent for the prisoners in; who when they came, did tremble before him, also they covered their faces with shame. Now as they drew near to the place where he sat, they threw themselves down before him.
When questioned, they admit their guilt, their inability to make restitution and the fact they deserve death. Then something wonderful happens:
Then the Prince called for the prisoners to come and to stand again before him, and they came and stood trembling. And he said unto them, The sins, trespasses, iniquities, that you, with the whole town of Mansoul, have from time to time committed against my Father and me, I have power and commandment from my Father to forgive to the town of Mansoul; and do forgive you accordingly. And having so said, he gave them written in parchment, and sealed with seven seals, a large and general pardon, commanding both my Lord Mayor, my Lord Will-be-will, and Mr. Recorder, to proclaim, and cause it to be proclaimed to-morrow by that the sun is up, throughout the whole town of Mansoul.
But forgiveness was not the end of the Prince’s pardon:
Moreover, the Prince stripped the prisoners of their mourning weeds, and gave them ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isa. 61: 3) Then he gave to each of the three, jewels of gold, and precious stones, and took away their ropes, and put chains of gold about their necks, and ear-rings in their ears. Now the prisoners, when they did hear the gracious words of Prince Emmanuel, and had beheld all that was done unto them, fainted almost quite away; for the grace, the benefit, the pardon, was sudden, glorious, and so big, that they were not able, without staggering, to stand up under it.
Having received grace, pardon, restoration and elevation from their Prince — against whom they willfully and shamefully rebelled — would it not be complete madness to think that further rebellion would be fitting? Rebellion after restoration would be the act of a madman.
If you were to receive a priceless gemstone and then were to take it and fling it into the ocean, you would accounted insane. It would be irrational to destroy great wealth. How much more irrational would it be for the forgiven prisoners to rush back into town and burn it down. Sin is irrational in at all times. It thrice irrational to rebel against grace.