And what does it mean that, apart from grace, we are dead in trespasses and sins?
O, it signifies exactly what it says: that by our sins we are, by nature, just as dead unto God and righteousness, unto all good works, as the corpse in the grave is dead unto all activity of any kind. It means that, apart from grace, we are wholly incapable of doing any good, or even of thinking and willing anything that is pleasing to God. We are bound from within with unbreakable shackles of darkness and corruption. We are slaves of sin, willing slaves to be sure, but slaves withal, loving darkness rather than the light. And this spiritual, ethical death is God’s own wrath upon us: the punishment for sin. For we are children of wrath from our birth, guilty and damnable because of Adam’s transgression. And we can only daily increase our guilt and our damnation.
Such is our miserable plight! There is a debt we can never pay, nor do we care to pay it. There is a power of corruption from which we cannot and will not deliver ourselves. There is wrath and damnation from which we can never escape, nor do we care to, or seek to escape: for we are enemies of God, and the carnal mind is death!
In that horrible depth of misery grace finds the sinner.
Do you imagine, then, that he is capable or willing to cooperate with God to his own salvation, or that any emotional and sentimental plea of a preacher will persuade him to desire to seek salvation in Christ? I tell you Nay. Before grace takes hold of that sinner and raises him from the dead, he will always refuse to accept the proffered salvation and will prefer death to life, sin to righteousness, the devil to God! He must be saved by grace as a divine wonder!
Consider, too, unto what heights of glory grace saves the sinner. He is made partaker of the highest good! But what is the highest good? It is eternal life! Yes, but what is eternal life? Is it a sort of carnally conceived everlasting state of bliss in a beautiful place called heaven? God forbid! O, to be sure, heaven is blessed and beautiful. But it is so principally because God is there, and Christ is there, and the saints in Christ are there. And the blessedness of heaven consists in this, that it is the house of God, and that in that house we may dwell in fellowship with the living God, a fellowship that is more intimate than the first man Adam ever tasted: for it has its center in the incarnated Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ! To be the perfect sons of God, knowing God even as we are known, righteous as He is righteous, holy as He is holy, loving and beloved forever, seeing Him face to face, and having our delight in the doing of His will and keeping His precepts, loving Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength in heavenly perfection and glory – that is the blessedness of heaven, and that is the height of glory to which grace raises us in Jesus Christ our Lord! But do you imagine that there could be any cooperation on the part of that miserable sinner we just described to reach that height of perfection? Or would you say that the sinner who is an enemy of God even longs for that perfect fellowship with God, that he who loves darkness is capable of yearning for that state of perfect and everlasting light? I tell you Nay. He is saved by grace, and by grace only, as a wonderwork of Him Who raises the dead and calleth the things that are not as if they were!
Saved by grace! Delivered from wrath, guilt, damnation, corruption, and death – all by grace! Clothed with righteousness, holiness, life, and glory – by grace only! Translated into light, from death into life, from shame into glory, from hell into heaven – all by the power of God’s wondrous grace! And all because of the eternal, sovereign love of Him Who chose the things that are not to bring to nought the things that are; that no flesh should glory in His presence!
Herman Hoeksema (1982). The Wonder of Grace (pp. 14-15). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformed Free Publishing Association.