Where Does “There but for the Grace of God Go I” Come From?

I have heard people say “There but for the grace of God go I” many times. I must admit, I hate that phrase.

I imagine there are many who think it is biblical.

The reason I bring it up is because I was reading a commentary that said:

“And Paul goes on to say that when we see a man fall into a fault or sin, we would do well to say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.'”

That irritates me because that quote isn’t from Paul, yet is worded to make it appear as though it were.

The main reason I don’t like this statement is because it makes sin God’s fault. God’s grace prevented me from sinning, but apparently God’s grace wasn’t given to you enough, so you totally blew it. Aint I special?!

This quote impugns God, displaces blame from the sinner, and turns the non-sinner into a self-righteous snob.

Now, sure, grace helps us overcome sin, don’t get me wrong, but not all overcome sin and it’s not the fault of God’s grace when sin wins out.

The phrase smacks of fatalism. I know it’s trying hard to be humble, but as with most admissions of humility, it is quite arrogant.

The phrase has been attributed to John Bradford, John Newton and Philip Neri, none of whom are the Apostle Paul, nor authors of Scripture.

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4 thoughts on “Where Does “There but for the Grace of God Go I” Come From?”

  1. It’s disturbing to realise how much of our understanding of what the Bible teaches doesn’t actually come from the Bible.

  2. Well, this is one of the rare cases where your theological insights didn’t really move me one way or the other. I was delighted, however, to discover in your essay a couple of finer points of English grammar: a solid use of the subjunctive mood (“as though it were”) in the fourth paragraph, and the very rare and grossly misunderstood use of the proper contraction of “am I not” (albeit without an apostrophe) in the fifth.

  3. I am honored that you were able to pull something good from my pontifications. Will work on my apostrophe skills sometime later today.

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