The word “gratuitous” means uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted. It can also refer to something given or done free of charge.
In discussions on the problem of evil, gratuitous is used for evil that seems to lack any greater purpose for accomplishing a greater good. Gratuitous evils are of a kind that people say, “What possible reasons could there be for this?” They are evils that make no sense to us. “Why?” is the painfully perplexing question that lingers over such evils.
When aimed at God, the question is how God could have any adequate justifying reason for permitting such inexplicable evil. My aim here is not to resolve this perplexing matter. I addressed it in an earlier post here.
My present interest is a phrase I first encountered in John Calvin’s works: “gratuitous mercy.” Calvin wrote that man can only be “regarded as righteous before God on the footing of gratuitous mercy; because God, without any respect to works, freely adopts him in Christ, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to him, as if it were his own” (The Necessity of Reforming the Church).
This is inexplicable mercy! How could we begin to account for such mercy? It is unexplainable! How could God have any adequate justifying reason for offering mercy to sinners like me? I cry out “God be merciful to me the sinner” but I know that there is nothing in me that deserves mercy. When I receive divine mercy, “Why?” is the perplexing question that lingers over it. “Who am I that such great mercy would be shown to me?” I cannot get my mind around it. It doesn’t make sense. What possible greater purpose could be served by showing mercy to a wretch like me?
With the apostle Paul, I acknowledge that, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5, emphasis mine). “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).
While we were still sinners
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
“The only haven of safety is the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions, by His sacrifice appeased the divine anger, by His blood washed away our stains, by His cross borne our curse, and by His death made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy.” (A Reformation Debate)
Carl F. H. Henry
“The expression ‘in Christ’ sums up as briefly and as profoundly as possible the inexhaustible significance of man’s redemption. It speaks of security in Him who has Himself borne in His own body the judgment of God against our sin; it speaks of acceptance in Him with whom alone God is well pleased; it speaks of assurance for the future in Him who is the Resurrection and the Life; it speaks of the inheritance of glory in Him who, as the only-begotten Son, is the sole heir of God; it speaks of participation in the divine nature in Him who is the everlasting Word; it speaks of knowing the truth, and being free in that truth, in Him who Himself is the Truth. All this, and very much more than can ever be expressed in human language, is meant by being ‘in Christ’.”
“When Paul declares that for the Christian old things have passed away, the tense of the verb (aorist) points back to a definite moment or event, namely, the experience of the new birth. It is then that the old things—the distinctions, prejudices, misconceptions, and enslavements of the former unregenerate way of life—assume the character of pastness. “Behold, they are become new”: note the tense again (this time perfect), indicating that the old things became and continue to be new;… (God and Culture: Essays in Honor of Carl F.H. Henry, p. 2)
Philipp E. Hughes
“In Christ, God’s holy and loving work of reconciliation has been accomplished once and for all. It is because the way of reconciliation now stands wide open that the ministry of reconciliation has been committed by God to His servants. There is no service to mankind more crucial and urgent than the exercise of this ministry. As God does not cease to be the sovereign Creator and man does not cease to be His creature in desperate need of redemption, and as all things are of God who, even while we were yet enemies, graciously acted on our behalf (Romans 5:10), this ministry with its message of reconciliation is, in the ultimate issue, the one thing needful for our world in all circumstances and in every generation (Commentary on the epistle to the Hebrews).
by gratuitous mercy,