A “Pitcher” of Grace

What is God’s grace?  How do we define it?  Grace is how God saves us. One of the most recognizable passages in Scripture is Eph. 2:8-9- “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  This is well known for good reason- it tells how a person gets saved.

Donald Grey Barnhouse was a pastor of yesteryear whose sermons and books I love to read.  He published a small booklet on these verses in which he illustrated the meaning of grace.  He began by commenting on the difficulty of forming adequate definitions even of common things, like a chair, let alone theological concepts.  Therefore, rather than give a theological definition of grace such as “God’s unmerited favor” or “the kindness and love of God toward sinful men and women,” he told this story.*

During the last century in the worst slum district of London, there was a social worker whose name was Henry Moorehouse.  One evening as he was walking along the street he saw a little girl come out of a basement store carrying a pitcher of milk.  She was taking it home.  But when she was a few yards from Moorehouse she suddenly slipped and fell.  Her hands relaxed their grip on the pitcher and it fell on the sidewalk and broke.  The milk ran into the gutter, and the little girl began to cry as if her little heart would break.  Moorehouse quickly stepped up to see if she was hurt.  He helped her to her feet saying, ‘Don’t cry, little girl.’  But there was no stopping her tears.

She kept repeating, ‘My mommy’ll whip me, my mommy’ll whip me.’

Moorehouse said, ‘No little girl, your mother won’t whip you.  I’ll see to that.  Look, the pitcher isn’t broken in many pieces.’  As he stooped down beside her, picked up the pieces, and began to work as if he were putting the pitcher back together, the little girl stopped crying.  She had hope.  She came from a family in which pitchers had been mended before.  Maybe this stranger could repair the damage.  She watched as Moorehouse fitted several of the pieces together until, working too roughly, he knocked it apart again.  Once more she began to cry, and Moorehouse had to repeat, ‘Don’t cry, little girl.  I promise you that your mother won’t whip you.’

Once more they began the task of restoration, this time getting it all together except for the handle.  Moorehouse gave it to the little girl, and she tried to attach it.  But, naturally, all she did was knock it down again.  This time there was no stopping her tears.  She would not even look at the broken pieces lying on the sidewalk.

Finally Moorehouse picked the little girl up in his arms, carried her down the street to a shop that sold crockery, and bought her a new pitcher.  Then, still carrying her, he went back to where the girl had bought the milk and had the new pitcher filled.  He asked her where she lived.  When he was told, he carried her to the house, set her down on the step, and placed the full pitcher of milk in her hands.  Then he opened the door for her.  As she stepped in, he asked one more question, ‘Now, do you think your mother will whip you?’

He was rewarded for his trouble by a bright smile as she said to him, ‘Oh, no, sir, because it’s a lot better pitcher than we had before.’”

This is a picture of God’s grace in salvation.  God created us in his image, but when Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world that image, like the pitcher, was broken beyond repair.  As James Boice notes, that doesn’t mean there is no value to humanity.  Even a broken pitcher can have value.  Archeologists are always finding pieces of broken pottery that tell us about ancient civilizations.  Broken pottery is not worthless, but it’s useless for carrying milk.  In the same way, human nature in its sinful, broken state is useless in terms of pleasing God to earn our way to heaven.  Rom. 3:10-12- “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good not even one.”

And yet, we keep trying to please God and think we can earn our way to heaven by making sure our good deeds outweigh our bad.  We are like Moorehouse trying to put the pieces of the pitcher back together.  We try to put together the pieces of our broken righteousness, but they never match God’s standard of perfect righteousness. We see parts of our character that are good from our perspective and we try to make that work.  But God rejects the patchwork of shards.  Spiritually speaking, it can’t hold the milk.

But here is where God’s grace comes in.  Jesus came into this world, which was hopeless and desperate in sin and unable to save itself, and he became the means by which hopeless humanity could be transformed.  Nothing in the Bible ever indicates that Jesus came to patch up the broken pieces of humanity.  Instead, Jesus said you must be born again (John 3:3) and Paul told the Corinthians that anyone who in in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).  The belief that you need to be good to go to heaven says you need to just get better, but we need to be delivered.  We don’t need a to-do list, we need a Savior.  Jesus came into this world to do for us what we could not do for ourselves- fix the pitcher as it were.  He does this by giving us a completely new pitcher- a new life.  As the girl in the story said, “It’s a lot better than the one before.”

And God gives us new life completely through his grace.  Look again at the story.  The girl did nothing to deserve Moorehouse’s favor.  She didn’t pay for the pitcher or the milk.  She didn’t even prevail on his sympathies because she was pretty or miserable or pathetic.  Moorehouse did what he did completely because it pleased him to do it.  He didn’t expect a reward from the girl and she had nothing to pay him with.  Jesus died for us and saved us solely because of his good pleasure.

I’m grateful for God’s grace!


*Told by James Boice in his commentary on Ephesians.


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