Of recent times I have tried to read as widely as possible. I have just come across a book of sermons from leaders of the underground church in China which was published in 2021.
One of the sermons is by Wang Yi who is introduced as follows.
Wang Yi was a well-known constitutional law scholar at Chengdu University for many years, and one of the top scholars in the liberal wing of a movement that tried to bring constitutionalism and rule of law to China. Then he was converted to Christianity. As a writer, he has been moving from approaching everything as a political leader to approaching things as a pastor. The dominating consideration for him today is the eschatological centrality and importance of the church, and a main thrust in his thinking is the theology of the cross. He is a passionate visionary and a humble learner. Wang Yi was arrested in December 2018 under the Chinese government’s new religious regulations; his “unregistered” house church, Early Rain Covenant Church, had hundreds of members and was meeting openly in the city of Chengdu. As of this writing he is in prison serving a term of 9 years.
Wang gives a great illustration of the gospel of grace.
Let us take an example from the secular world: amnesty is greater than a guilty verdict. Forgiving someone and judging someone are contradictory, for one says to kill him, the other says not to kill him. If you hold both documents in the same hand, the amnesty to forgive is more effective than the verdict to kill. This is what royal grace means; free grace is not like the trespass.
Forgiveness comes from the king, and the command to forgive can come even before the command to judge. In the Water Margin, one of the four classic Chinese novels, there is a man named Chai Jin whose family holds a death-exemption medal bestowed by the emperor. If he commits a crime punishable by death, he can take out this medal and be exonerated. That is to say, there is an amnesty granted to the descendants of his family even before they commit crime, and this amnesty is more effective than any judgment. I read the Water Margin when I was a child, and my most ridiculous, unrealistic daydream was to have a death-exemption medal so that whatever felonies I committed in the future, I would be protected my whole life long.
When I got married I was not yet a believer. I had an agreement with my wife that if she ever felt that I treated her well and thus deserved her lifelong kindness, she would give me a death-exemption medal. If I then got in trouble and she was angry with me, I could pull out this death-exemption medal, and she would have to forego the right to judge and punish me. She would have to forgive me. And vice versa.
One time we got into a huge fight, almost to the point of getting a divorce. At that time, I still had in my hand two death-exemption medals from her, and she had three from me. But our death-exemption certificates were all worthless papers, because they were not issued by the king who was nailed to the cross. They were issued by us. At the time, I did not know that sin and death reigned over us. Sinners are not able to preemptively forgive the offenses and harms of others. It was in that year, shortly after our death-exemption medals lost effect with each other, that Christ’s death-exemption came to us. Christ’s cross fulfilled my childhood daydream.
The law is the verdict; grace is the death-exemption medal. The law cannot take away sin because sin existed before the law. Therefore, Luther summarizes that the law cannot give us life. For as Paul says, “The law came in to increase the trespass.”
Luther quotes Augustine again, saying the law will reveal that those who think they can fulfill the law by their own efforts will be more enslaved by the chains of sin. Why? There is a type of rope that grows tighter the more you try to escape from it. In a different classical Chinese novel, Journey to the West, the crown on the Monkey King’s brow is a perfect example of this ethical shackling. 1 Luther gives another example: if a doctor comes to visit a patient and gives him a prognosis, saying he is terminally ill and there is no treatment, we can say that the doctor’s presence actually increases the patient’s hopelessness and despair, thereby aggravating his condition. Sometimes the patient hates the doctor because the doctor delivers the worse possible news.