by Doug Rose
Necessity will make us all forsworn
Three thousand times within this three years’ space;
For every man with his affects is born,
Not by might mastered, but by special grace.
Wm. Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1.1.147 – 150.
My good Son, know this, thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve Him, without His special grace.
Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, 1552.
Arguing with the King of Navarre in Shakespeare’s play, Lord Berowne endeavors to convince his master that the King and his three noble friends would never be able to keep a sworn vow of fasting, abstinence, and chastity and remain isolated in the castle keep for three years. Berowne acknowledges our manifold human frailties, presaging the comedic trampling of the four knights’ oaths over the four remaining acts, and refers to the concept of “special grace” found in the catechism familiar to Shakespeare and his audience. Berowne states that, except be God’s special grace, the “necessity” of human nature – the “affects” of sin with which man is born – will lead the noblemen to break their new vows nine or ten times a day!
“The effectual call [of the elect out of the state of sin and death] is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man …” The Savoy Declaration of Faith, Art.X, §ii. Paul tells the Ephesians, “For by grace have you been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph. 2:8 – 9. Your correspondent has just spent the past four months kicking against the goads of this special grace: I was neither apostate nor particularly more reprobate than usual, but I let myself believe that I could somehow command the contents of my own futurity and guide or even push God’s hand for myself. Like Navarre in the play, I reasoned that by controlling my environment, I could perhaps predestine or channel the results God intended for me.
The affects of my fallen human nature apparently include even the inability to see God’s hand in my life. The Spirit had already led me to some level ground and was teaching me to do God’s will right here and now. It is His will, not ours, that Jesus prayed be done for us. Special grace, however, enlightens even deliberate and often obstinate me to see that I am not able to do these things – to walk in the Commandments and to serve Him – without that very special grace.