Experimental Religion

William Nicholson, 1862

"All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth." Colossians 1:5-6

The Gospel possesses a sovereign efficacy to reduce the rebellious soul to the obedience of Christ. The Colossians had felt its saving and transforming power, of which the Apostle reminds them in the preceding verses. How important to know the grace of God in truth! Other kinds of knowledge may be important but this is infinitely so.

I. What Does the Grace of God Imply?

1. Sometimes the term, "the grace of God," refers to the Gospel, which proceeds from the grace of God, and wherein his grace is offered and bestowed upon all penitent believers, 1 Peter 5:12. It is called "the Gospel of the grace of God;" "the grace of God that brings salvation," etc. Such language is designed to teach us three great facts.

(1.) The contrivance of salvation was of grace. It was the invention of God in all the parts of it, and never could have been devised by men.

(2.) The accomplishment of salvation is of grace. Sinners are saved entirely by the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

(3.) The application is entirely of grace; for no human merit can obtain the renewing influences of the Spirit. Thus grace reigns to purify and humble us; it reigns in our sanctification, and will forever reign in our glorification.

2. Man required such a revelation of grace. His state is one of ruin, and infinite demerit. He is exposed to perdition, and absolutely helpless spiritually. Hence the grace of God meets and suits his case.

The whole plan of salvation is perfectly free and gratuitous. Grace signifies the free love and favor of God, which is the source of all the benefits which the sinner receives from him, Romans 11:6; 2 Timothy 1:9. It was this mercy or love of God that found out redemption for mankind, John 3:16, Romans 5:20. The sufferings and death of Christ are ascribed to grace. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich!" 2 Corinthians 8:9

II. What Is Meant by Understanding the Grace of God in Truth?

1. The religion of the Colossians was not mere head knowledge. A knowledge of religious truths, and especially of those connected with the salvation of the soul, is absolutely necessary. But if such knowledge lead not to experimental acquaintance with Christ, it will profit nothing.

2. It was not mere profession. It was sincere profession combined with possession of the grace of God, and no other religion will stand in the time of trial. The Pharisees professed much, but Christ called them a race of hypocrites.

3. It was not mere form and ceremony. The depraved heart of man loves a formal and ceremonial religion, but God looks at the heart. Ezekiel 33:31-33; Romans 2:28, 29; John 4:24; 2 Timothy 3:5.

The religion of the Colossians was experimental. "They understood the grace of God in truth." They found it, they felt it to be true.

The Apostle calls them "saints and faithful brethren," verse 2. They were in a state of grace they enjoyed salvation. In the context, the operations of grace upon them are stated:

(1.) The Gospel had been preached to them, verse 6, 7. "Faith comes by hearing." The word enlightened them.

(2.) They had received it. They had mixed faith with hearing. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart!" Hebrews 4:12. They enjoyed the effects of that reception they were made accepted in the Beloved, being freely pardoned and justified, Romans 4:16; 5:1; 8:1. They were regenerated, Titus 3:5; James 1:18. They were adopted endowed with a lively hope, 1 Peter 1:3, 4.

(3.) Their piety was exemplary. Other Christians had heard of it, verse 4; it brought forth fruit, verse 6. Like its Divine Author, grace in its own nature is invisible but is manifest by its effects. Grace is . . .
a seed that springs up,
a light that shines,
a fire that burns.

Christians "hold forth the word of life; they are 'living epistles' known and read of all men." They bear the image of the Savior, and are a transcript of the truth believed. The "grace" that is in them, beautifies and adorns them, and renders them truly graceful.

(4.) Their piety was constant. They had borne fruit "since the day they heard" and received the Gospel. The root of the matter was in them they were plants of righteousness, and nothing had destroyed their life and vigor.

(5.) They enjoyed the assurance of salvation. "They understood the grace of God in truth;" that is sincerely, really, and feelingly. They felt that the Gospel was not a cunningly devised fable; spiritual darkness had passed away; Christ dwelt in their hearts; they were dead to the world; they desired a better country, etc.


1. Ascribe all the honor of salvation to God.

2. Pray for Divine influence to render your religion exemplary and fruitful.

3. Be deeply abased on account of your spiritual deficiency.