The electing and adopting love of God.
As soon as the salutation of the saints is over, Paul proceeds to speak about the blessings he and they have received from God. One curious expression meets us and constitutes the key of the whole passage; it is "the heavenly places" ( ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις ) wherein the spiritual blessing is experienced. This cannot mean merely that out of the heavenly places the gracious Father pours his spiritual blessings upon selected souls; but, as a comparison of Ephesians 2:6 will show, it means that the adopted ones are elevated in spirit even to the heavenly places, where they as spiritually ascended ones can survey the Divine purposes and appreciate the Divine blessings in a way impossible otherwise. Let us, then, betake ourselves to these "heavenly places" by the blessing of the Spirit, and see how the Divine plan looks from such a vantage-ground. It is in this way we shall escape much of the obscure thinking which prevails upon the electing love of God. And we are here taught—
I. THE FOUNTAIN - HEAD OF BLESSING IS GOD THE FATHER . ( Ephesians 2:3 .) Paul puts "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" at the head of all things. Out of that paternal heart all spiritual blessing comes. The dispensation of grace is overshadowed by a Father. All the love which wells up out of parents' hearts for their children, all the love they lavish with varying success upon their prodigals, but faintly images the wondrous love that wells out of the heart of God. Yet the image, though but faint, is real, and we may climb by the firm footing of analogy up from human experience to some comprehension of the Divine love and plan. Just as earthly fathers plan blessings of all kinds for their children, and give them these on certain understandings, so is it with the infinite Father above. It is a Father with whom we have to deal, the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
II. THE RULE OF BLESSING WAS THE GOOD PLEASURE OF HIS WILE . ( Ephesians 2:5 .) Now, when we get up in spirit to the heavenly places, we have no difficulty in seeing the truth and propriety of this arrangement. For the world above is one whose inhabitants have all learned to acquiesce in the good pleasure of the Father's will. They know that the pleasure of his will can be nothing else than good; they are content to abide by it. They assure themselves of everlasting blessedness in accepting of it as their rule and law. And we have only to get to their standpoint and to perceive how good God is, to acquiesce at once in the good pleasure of his will God is so good that be could not will anything but what is good. If he has to will vengeance against any of his creatures , it is because vengeance is better than impunity; it is better that he should strike home than that he should be still. Of course, it is hard for our natural hearts which are so opposed to God to acquiesce off-hand in such an arrangement. We think it hard to have to depend absolutely upon the good pleasure of God's will; but we have only to climb up a little by the Spirit's help and see how good he is, and then shall we gladly and gratefully adore his pleasure as always good.
III. THE FATHER PLANNED THE BLESSING OF HIS ADOPTED CHILDREN BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD . ( Ephesians 2:4 .) Starting from the sovereignty of the good God, as the rule of all blessing, we have next to notice that the blessing of his adopted children was deliberately planned from all eternity—"before the foundation of the world." The foresight of a father when carried into every detail of the children's needs glorifies him in our estimation. We would not honor an earthly father who left anything to haphazard, which he could have foreseen. Hence we conceive of the infinite Father as leaving nothing to chance, but arranging all down to the minutest details. He did not leave a loose thread in the whole arrangement. Why should he, if he is the omniscient and almighty God? What is contended for in predestination, therefore, is that the almighty Father left nothing to chance, but provided for everything in his plan. How this is compatible with human freedom is beyond our feeble comprehension; but that it is compatible we do most firmly believe. There are many problems of advanced mathematics which as rusty mathematicians we cannot now see how to solve, and there are many problems of science which are to the most splendid scientists still unsolved; but we should be foolish in the extreme to pronounce either insoluble. So is it with the Divine predestination and the freedom of the creature. There is a solution somewhere, but it is beyond our terrestrial calculus. We believe in both as Facts, and we leave the future to bring the reconciliation. And in the heavenly places to which the Spirit helps us to soar, we rejoice in the thought of that Divine plan which left nothing out, but embraced everything.
IV. THE ELECTION OF INDIVIDUALS WAS TO HOLINESS AND BLAMELESSNESS OF CHARACTER BEFORE HIM IN LOVE . ( Ephesians 2:4 .) Holiness and perfection are the ends aimed at in God's electing love. It is because this is lost sight of that we have so much confusion on this subject. God could not elect any soul to a salvation without holiness; the idea has no meaning in the Divine mind. Men may desire to separate salvation from holiness, to carry their sins with them into the heavenly world; but such desires are vain, and under God's government they can have no realization. The election is unto holiness. So long as a soul loves sin and hates holiness, he has no warrant to affirm any election. He may subsequently turn from sin to God , and thus receive the evidence within him; but a soul that loves sin and hates holiness has no business in dabbling with this doctrine of election. God saves no man except in the process he makes him holy. Hence we must remember "they were not chosen because they were viewed as holy, and therefore deserving to be distinguished as God's favorites, on account of their obedience or personal purity, but that they should be holy."
V. AND THESE INDIVIDUALS FIND THEMSELVES ADOPTED INTO THE DIVINE FAMILY AND ACCEPTED IN CHRIST THE BELOVED . ( Ephesians 2:5 , Ephesians 2:6 .) We have seen that the infinite Father is the Source of all blessing. But that Father has one only Son, the only begotten, in his Divine family. The eternal Father had an eternal Son, and they held fellowship from all eternity through the eternal Spirit. This Son was and is the well-beloved. He always did the things which pleased the Father ( John 8:29 ). But, blessed be his Name, he was content to have "joint-heirs" with himself in his inheritance ( Romans 8:17 ). Jesus showed no jealousy about enlarging the family circle and about an abundance of brethren. Hence the Father set about adopting children, bringing into the charmed circle those who had no claim to the position or to its rewards. But every adopted child is made to feel that he is accepted of the Father for the elder Brother's sake. Jesus as the Firstborn in the mighty family has so endeared himself to the Father that for his sake the Father accepts the persons of the prodigals who are adopted into his family. There is no reason in us for our adoption—there can never be; it is owing simply and entirely to Jesus Christ that we are accepted and adopted. Hence there is in the plan, as so far brought before us, no ground for boasting. Election and adoption alike rest on the good pleasure of God's will. They are sovereign acts. They have their root in sovereignty; and as we rise into the heavenly places, we see that this is exactly as it should be.—R.M.E.
Origination of the Church.
I. THE CHURCH TRACED UP TO THE ELECTIVE LOVE OF GOD .
1. Chosen for himself . "Even as he chose us." He chose us out of the sinful mass of humanity. He chose us for himself, as he chose ancient Israel for himself.
2. Chosen in Christ as covenant Head . "In him." He was God's sovereign choice: "Behold my Servant, whom I have chosen." Abraham, notably among men, was chosen; and, viewed as existing in him as their covenant head, were the Israelites chosen as a nation. And so, viewed as existing in Christ as our greater Representative, have we been thought about and chosen by God.
3. Chosen for eternity . "Before the foundation of the world." He chose us ere ever we had thought of him, ere ever we had being, ere ever this world on which we stand was founded. There in the depths of eternity the Church lay in the thought of God, the object of the Divine election.
4. Chosen with a view to holiness . "That we should be holy and without blemish before him." For in the thought of God we could not be thought as simply standing before him in our sinful state. Called out of that, the intention was that we should have those positive elements of holiness wrought in us to our highest capacity which God has in absolute perfection; and that we should be free from all that incapacitates for his presence.
5. Chosen in love . "In love." It seems best to connect this with what goes before. He chose us to be fit for his presence in love. The love being placed last covers the intention as well as the act of choosing. It was love that was the moving principle in the election of the Church. God was so full of love that he could be satisfied with nothing but his having the Church for himself.
II. THE CHURCH TRACED UP TO THE PURPOSE OF ADOPTION .
1. Our adoption predetermined . "Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons." This predetermining (prearranging, prelimiting) is thought of as anterior to the elective act , covering, we may say, the whole counsel that there was about us. God has foreordained with a view to our having the position of sons. It was the highest position in which God could place us. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." It was placing us in most favored nearness to himself. It was placing us where we could enjoy all the tenderness of his fatherly love, all the plenitude of his fatherly blessing. This adoption was placing us in the family, after we had been displaced, disowned, disinherited.
2. The predetermining extended to the means by which our adoption as sons was to be accomplished . "Through Jesus Christ." It was arranged beforehand that Christ should be Accomplisher of our adoption. His own Son had to be parted with that we might be adopted as sons. It was under no sudden impulse of obedience that Abraham lifted the knife against Isaac. He bad time to think of what he was doing, a three days' journey to take to the place which God was to show him, and he was animated throughout by a calm, abiding spirit of obedience. So it was no momentary impulse that led God to make so inconceivable a sacrifice; but it was the deep, unchangeable feeling of his heart. It was all well thought over and arranged beforehand. It was deliberately written down in the book of the Divine counsels.
3. It was an adoption ante himself . "Unto himself." It was taking men from the street, as it were, that he might surround himself with them in his own home.
4. It was a sovereign adoption . "According to the good pleasure of his will." While we were the gainers by it, God, in so acting, had a supreme regard to himself. It was his sovereign desire that man should be lifted so high, and lifted by so wondrous means.
5. It was an adoption that magnified the grace of God . "To the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." The great and ultimate end or adoption was to magnify the Divine love in its freeness. It was not called forth by any excellence or merit God saw in us. In Christ that love could find its fitting object. He is the beloved, the unadopted Son of God; and it is only because of the infinite excellence and merit the Father sees in him that we are adopted into his family. This love of God, then, is most free, and, as such, is to be praised. Other attributes of God we see elsewhere; but it is in the Church that the Divine grace shines forth.
III. THE CHURCH IN CONNECTION WITH THE REDEMPTIVE PURPOSE OF GOD .
1. It is in Christ that we enjoy redemption . "In whom." It was only in a very limited way that the children of Israel were redeemed in Moses. He had not the redemption in his own person. But the person of Christ is of infinite consequence in the matter of our redemption. It is in him that redemption has its everlasting subsistence and sphere of operation. "Neither is there salvation in any other." And it is only as we are united to him and live in him that we are redeemed.
2. We are the Church of God by redemption . "We have our redemption." Redemption implies a previous state of bondage. "Out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage:" so the children of Israel were often reminded. Sin brings us under a worse than Egyptian bondage. The most galling tasks are those imposed upon us by our own foolishness. The most crushing tyranny is that which we bring upon ourselves by our own evil habits. It is out of the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity, that we have come. Redemption is to be taken in its widest sense. To the Israelites it meant deliverance from Egyptian bondage. It meant also the setting up for them in Canaan of those conditions which were best fitted to develop their national life. So redemption for us means deliverance from all the evil under which sin brings us. It also means the setting up of those conditions, and the bringing unto us of those influences, which are most conducive to our spiritual development.
3. The procuring cause of redemption is the blood of Christ . "Through his blood." The word translated "redemption" points to deliverance through a ransom; and the ransom is here stated to be blood. And it is the sacrificial association of blood that we are to lay hold of. The apparent procuring cause of the redemption of the children of Israel was the blood of animals slain in sacrifice, which was sprinkled on their doorposts. That was manifestly an insufficient account of the matter. It was, however, typical, as all blood similarly shed was typical, of what is the real procuring cause of all redemption for men, viz. the blood of Christ .
4. Redemption in its first and characteristic blessing is the forgiveness of sins . "The forgiveness of our trespasses." God does actually forgive sins. This is a fact, for the certain knowledge of which we are indebted to Divine revelation. What are our sources of knowledge? There is, first of all, nature. The great system and fabric of force, of cause and effect,—does it tell us anything about forgiveness? In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, there is a verse which bears that it is the fault even of the heathen if they do not learn from God's works the lesson of the eternal power and Godhead; but it does not bear that it is expected that we learn, and that it is our fault if we do not learn, from nature the lesson of the Divine forgiveness. Nature has no such message. Its message is this—a working toward good ends, but, according to unchangeable law, a gospel for angels, for unfallen men, and not for sinners. Can human nature, then, give us any assistance? It shows us God's laws broken; but it shows us also conscience testifying to the inviolability of law, as when it haunts the criminal with the feeling of remorse. If not, then, from conscience, are we led to look for forgiveness from any other part of human nature? Is not forgivingness the property of noble, royal dispositions? Does it not belong to the idea of the fatherly character? A father forgives a son; will not God, then, as our Father, forgive us our trespasses? Yes, if it were only a private matter , so to speak. He who is the Fountain of all fatherly feeling will not do less than that feeling prompts to in his creatures. But sin is not a private matter at all. There are involved in it public considerations . There is raised by it the question of government on the widest scale. A father naturally feels disposed to forgive his erring child; but he cannot do so on any basis whatsoever. He is not to allow him to remain under his roof and defy his authority. It is evident that there must be something in the name of law, and for the safety of other members of the household. And so we are left uncertain as to whether God can forgive our sin. Now the whole of Divine revelation may be summed up in this—that, in spite of inflexible laws, in spite of the condemning voice of conscience, God can forgive, will forgive, does forgive, sin. The moral consequences of the past can be reversed. This has not been certainly by the setting aside of Law. The blood of Christ speaks to the majesty of Law, and to a basis of righteousness, of satisfaction made to the Law, on which the offer of forgiveness is made. In this the Bible stands alone. Confucianism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, know nothing of forgiveness. They have something about human purification. But there is this clear ring only in the Bible: "Go in peace; thy sins are forgiven thee."
5. Redemption has its measure in the Divine grace . "According to the riches of his grace." Israel was redeemed by the stretched-out arm of God. It had a miraculous origin as a nation. God stretched out his arm, and miraculously interposed for us in Christ. Now that the ransom is paid, there is no hindrance to the forgiving disposition of God, unless it is in ourselves. It goes forth, not according to a penury of nature such as exists in men, but according to a wealth and liberality of disposition which belongs to God. We are thus forbidden to despair.
6. The grace which determines redemption is conjoined with wisdom and prudence . "Which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence." A parent often makes mistakes in bestowing his favors on his children; not so our heavenly Father. Wisdom is to be taken generally; prudence is rather the application of wisdom, according to time and circumstance. A seaman who is wise prudently looks to wind and tide. An agriculturist who is wise prudently considers the season and the nature of the soil and suitable implements. "His God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him." And what God gives thus, one in one kind, and another in another, he has in himself in an unbroken completeness. And, therefore, he must always abound in all wisdom and prudence. The whole scheme of redemption is a manifestation of wisdom; but there is specially a look forward here to the time and manner of its disclosure with which the Divine prudence has to deal.
7. The purpose of redemption part concealed and part revealed . "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him." There is a phase in which the purpose of redemption is the mystery of his will, and a phase in which it is made known. It was hidden in the eternal counsels. It was in part revealed when the promise was given that the Seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent. It was more fully revealed when he appeared who w. as the great Discloser of the Divine counsels. But we are not to suppose that mystery has been entirely removed from the purpose. "Should the sun glare in our eye in all its brightness on a sudden, after we have been in a thick darkness, it would blind us, instead of comforting us; so great a work as this must have several digestions ." We are not in a position to estimate aright the prudence that has marked the disclosure. It must be held to be a well-timed disclosure, as being what he purposed in himself. And we should feel thankful for our being included within its scope.
8. It is a purpose in which there is development and a consummation . "Unto a dispensation of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth." God is here represented as having the administration of times or seasons. These must be regarded as making up the whole extent across which the redemptive purpose of God stretches. The time proper for redemption is broken up into epochs. These are all determined and brought in by him, who, from one to another, is ever filling up his purpose and getting nearer to his end. We must not have too rounded conceptions of what these epochs are. When we are tempted to despond, the psalmist tells us that we are to "remember the years of the right hand of the Most High." We are to think of the vast time which God has in which to work out his purpose.
The redemptive predestination of God a reason for man's exultant gratitude.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." The leading subject of these words is the redemptive predestination of God a reason for man ' s exultant gratitude . "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. We say redemptive predestination, for there is predestination in every department of Divine operation; from the most microscopic objects to the massive systems of immensity. Before we go on to notice the reasons suggested in the passage why man should adore the Eternal for his redemptive predestination, it may be well, in order to remove much of erroneous sentiment and terrible feeling that exist in the minds of some men in relation to this great subject, to state the following things.
1. The predestination of God contemplates good , and good only .
2. The predestination of God never interferes with the free agency of moral beings . It is true that no philosophy has yet harmonized, to the satisfaction of the human understanding, the doctrine of free agency with the doctrine of eternal predestination. This is the great intellectual puzzle of the ages. But that the one interferes not with the other in the slightest degree is attested:
3. The predestination of God is not exclusively confined to human redemptions . This we have already intimated. It does not follow, because Paul refers God's predestinating agency in man's salvation to an eternal plan, that he would not have referred it in any other department to an eternal plan. It is a characteristic of a pious man that he traces all that is good to God; and of a truly intelligent man, he would trace everything to the Divine plan . Had Paul been writing on botany, he would have traced every blade and flower and plant that grew to the predestination of God. Had he been writing on anatomy, he would have traced every organ, limb, joint, vein, nerve, and sinew to the predestination of God. But he was writing of man ' s salvation , and it was only to his purpose to refer to predestination in connection with that. Predestination is not a dream of the schoolman, or a dogma of Calvin, but an eternal law of the universe.
4. The predestination of God is revealed in Scripture according to forms of human thought . As no finite being can comprehend the Infinite, no finite mind can give a representation of his acts that is absolutely correct. What, for example, in the predestination of God, is there answering to our ideas of that act? The ideas of commencement, observation, resolve, enter into our conceptions of it. But these are foreign to the subject. What is there, too, in God's choice , answering to our ideas of choice? The ideas of beginning, comparison, rejection , acceptance , enter into our conception of choice; but in God's choice there was no beginning, no comparison, etc . What conception can we have of the processes and the workings of a mind that knows no succession, to whom all the future is as the past, who has but one eternal thought? Alas! that men should be so impious as to dogmatize upon a subject like this! "Who by searching can find out God?" We now pass on to the question—Why should we exultingly adore the Eternal on account of his redemptive predestination? Paul suggests three reasons in the text.
I. HAPPINESS IS ITS EXCLUSIVE AIM . What are the "spiritual blessings in heavenly places ," which the apostle in the text traces to it?
1. Moral excellence . "That we should be holy and without blame ." The two words represent spiritual excellence .
2. Spiritual elevation . "Heavenly places." A truly Christian man is now in heavenly regions . Though on the earth, he is not of the earth, he is of heaven. His fellowships, ideas, services, aspirations, are heavenly. He is come to an "innumerable company of angels." "Our citizenship is in heaven," etc.
3. Divine sonship . "The adoption of children." All men are the offspring of God, but none are his true children but those who have the true filial spirit . To possess this involves man's highest blessedness. This is the work of Christ. "As many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God"—the true sons—"heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." These are some of the "spiritual" blessings which flow to man through God's redemptive predestination. Paul does not refer to a single evil or woe as coming to man from that source. Good, and good only, he saw flowing from that fountain. The inhuman, the blasphemous dogma of reprobation never entered his mind in connection with this grand subject. What reason for exultant thankfulness is here! Well may we exclaim, "Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
II. JESUS CHRIST IS ITS MEDIUM . Predestination, which in nature makes the sun the medium of lighting, quickening, and beautifying the earth, in redemption makes Christ the Medium of conveying all those spiritual blessings which constitute the happiness and dignity of man. The "heavenly places" to which we are raised are "in Christ Jesus." The adoption of children is "through Jesus Christ." All the Divine grace—favor—bestowed on man is through "Christ Jesus, the Beloved ." What a Medium is this! This is the great gift of predestination. God's only begotten, well-beloved Son: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? "What reason for exultant thankfulness is here! Well may Paul exclaim, "Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc.
III. ETERNAL LOVE IS ITS SPRING . "In love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ."
1. This love existed before the objects of it came into actual being . Millions of ages before mankind came into existence , before the "foundation of the world," he loved them. His love created them, organized them for happiness as creatures , and provided for their spiritual recovery as sinners. The uncreated, those that are to be, are as real to God as the created that are.
2. This love is the happiness of his own nature . Its manifestations are the "good pleasure" of his own will. The good pleasure of malevolence is misery; the good pleasure of love is happiness. Are not the reasons suggested by Paul for gratefully exulting in God's redemptive predestination abundant? "Predestination," "choice," "counsel," "purpose," "decree"! The more ignorant men are , the more they profess to have fathomed the meaning of these terms, as representing the mental acts of the Eternal; and the more flippant they are in their use. But what do they stand for when applied to God? Volition— will, nothing more. "God is love ," and his will must be happiness. He is " of one mind," and his will must be unalterable. A certain theology, which, thank God, is dying out, has invested these grand old words with attributes of hideousness, before which weak souls in all ages have trembled with horror. But they only indicate the will of infinite love to flood immensity with bliss. "Love is the root of creation, God's essence; worlds without number Lie in his bosom like children; he made them for this purpose only, Only to love and to be loved again; he breathed forth his Spirit Into the slumbering dust, and upright standing, it laid its Hand on its heart, and felt it was warmed with a flame out of heaven."—D.T.
God's idea of humanity.
We commonly regard our lives from a human standpoint, which we cannot well leave even in thought. But, if it were possible, it would be most interesting to see how God looks upon them. Now, it is one of the objects of revelation to help us to do this—to lead us to see ourselves as God sees us. Next to the vision of God himself, such a picture of humanity as it appears in the eyes of God is of the greatest importance. The manifestation of our present condition in the searching light of God turns out to be a shameful exhibition of sin and failure. But the declaration of God's idea of our lives, of what he wishes and purposes for us, and of his design in fashioning us, is truly sublime, and should fill us with genuine "self-reverence." In the verses before us, by a magnificent feat of inspired imagination, St. Paul describes this idea and the method by which God is working it out.
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE IDEA . It was conceived "before the foundation of the world." The architect's design precedes the builder's structure. God had his plan of mankind before a man was created.
1. Seeing that God is infinite, that plan must extend to every detail of the vocation of every individual soul.
2. Seeing that God is independent of time, he must know from the first all future issues, and. what course will be taken by the free-will of each man.
3. Seeing that all things are united by successive waves of influence, what God does from the foundation of the world onwards must all have its bearings on the latest development of mankind, and must therefore be determined in some measure with respect to God's idea of humanity.
II. THE OBJECTS OF THE IDEA .
1. In our character . God's will regarding us is our sanctification. He foreordains us to be pure and free from all defilement and imperfection. Thus we learn that the moral and spiritual state of a soul is far more important in the eyes of God than any intellectual gifts, or any amount of comfort anti happiness.
2. In our condition . God wishes us to be his sons. The high privilege of Christ he desires to bestow upon Christ's brethren. To be thus nearly related to God is to have the highest possible destiny.
3. In relation to God himself . The praise of his glory is thus attained. If God seeks his own glory, it is because this is the glory of goodness seen in the welfare of his creatures.
III. THE MOTIVES OF THE IDEA .
1. In God ' s sovereign freedom . He purposes "according to the good pleasure of his will." Like the potter with his clay, God has a right to choose his own idea of humanity.
2. In God ' s great love . God's will is always holy and always gracious. If, therefore, anything depends solely on his will, it is sure to be done in the best possible way, and in the way that brings most good to his creatures. Instead of fearing God's free choice, we ought to rejoice in it, seeing that it is always determined by love. It is love that leads God to design for mankind so glorious a destiny as was conceived before the foundation of the world.
IV. THE METHOD OF REALIZING THE IDEA .
1. Through grace "freely bestowed on us." God does not call us tea high vocation without giving us the means whereby to fulfill it. As he first ordained the future destiny, he alone can now give us power to accomplish it.
2. Through Christ . Christ is the greatest gift of God's grace. By our faith in Christ we receive God's grace. Christ, as the Beloved of God, brings us into the blessings of God's love.—W.F.A.
THANKSGIVING FOR THEIR DIVINE ORDINATION TO THE BLESSINGS OF GRACE . In this glorious anthem, in which the apostle, tracing all to the Divine Fountain, enumerates the glorious privileges of the Church, and blesses God for them, he first ( Ephesians 1:3 ) states summarily the ground of thanksgiving, expanding it with glowing fullness in Ephesians 1:4-14 .
Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world ; literally, he chose us out , or selected us ( ἐξελέξατο ) for himself (middle voice). The Father chose the heirs of salvation, selected those who were to be quickened from the dead ( Ephesians 2:1 ) and saved, they chose them in Christ —in connection with his work and office as Mediator, giving them to him to be re-decreed ( John 17:11 , John 17:12 ); not after man was created, nor after man had fallen, but "before the foundation of the world." We are here face to face with a profound mystery. Before even the world was founded, mankind presented themselves to God as lost; the work of redemption was planned and its details arranged from all eternity. Before such a mystery it becomes us to put the shoes from off our feet, and bow reverently before him whose "judgments are unsearchable and his ways past finding out." That we should be holy and without blame before him in love. This is obviously the design of God's electing act; εἷναι ἡμᾶς cannot denote the ground, but the purpose, of the choice. God did not choose some because he foresaw their holiness, but in order that they might become "holy and without blame." These two terms denote the positive and negative sides of purity: holy—possessed of all the fruits of the Spirit ( Galatians 5:22 , Galatians 5:23 ); without blame, or blemish—marked by no stain or imperfection (see Ephesians 5:27 ). The terms do not denote justification, but a condition of sanctification which implies justification already bestowed, but goes beyond it; our justification is a step towards our complete final sanctification. This renewal being "before him," must be such as to bear the scrutiny of his eye; therefore not external or superficial merely, but reaching to the very heart and center of our nature ( 1 Samuel 16:7 ). The expression further denotes how it is of the very nature and glory of the new life to be spent in God's presence, our souls flourishing in the precious sunshine which ever beams out there from. For, when thus renewed, we do not fly from his presence like Adam ( Genesis 3:8 ), but delight in it ( Psalms 42:1 ; Psalms 63:1 ). Fear is changed to love ( 1 John 4:18 ); the loving relation between us and God is restored. It has been much disputed whether the words ἐν ἀγάπῃ ought to be construed with the fourth verse or with προορίσας in the fifth. The weight of authority seems in favor of the latter; but we prefer the construction which is given both in the Authorized and the Revised Version, first, because if ἐν ἐγάπῃ qualified προορίσας , it would come more naturally after it; and second, because the scope of the passage, the train of the apostle's thought, seems to require us to keep ἐν ἀγάπῃ in Ephesians 1:4 . We never could come to be holy and without blemish before God unless the loving relations between us were restored (comp. Ephesians 3:17 , "Rooted and grounded in love"). The spirit of love, trust, admiration, directed to God helps our complete sanctification—changes us into the same image ( 2 Corinthians 3:18 ).
The condition of believers is fitted to excite the profoundest emotions of gratitude and praise in all who know them. Grounds of this thankfulness are—
I. STATED SUMMARILY . ( Ephesians 1:3 .) (For outline discourse on this text, see Exposition.)
II. STATED IN DETAIL . ( Ephesians 1:4-14 .) The chief elements of blessing are:
1. Holiness and blamelessness in love, secured by God's eternal election ( Ephesians 1:4 ).
2. Adoption, secured in the same way ( Ephesians 1:5 ).
3. Acceptance in the Beloved ( Ephesians 1:6 ).
4. Redemption through Christ's blood, especially forgiveness of sin ( Ephesians 1:7 ).
5. Abundance of grace, regulated by wisdom and knowledge ( Ephesians 1:8 ).
6. Enlightenment in the mystery of God's will as to the Gentiles ( Ephesians 1:9 ).
7. Especially, knowledge of Jesus Christ as the predestined Centre or Head of all things ( Ephesians 1:10 ).
8. Fellowship with Christ in the enjoyment and purpose of his inheritance ( Ephesians 1:11 , Ephesians 1:12 ).
9. The seal of the Holy Spirit, or earnest of our inheritance, the pledge and assurance of the eternal glory. Observe the constant allusions to the glory of God's grace, the riches of his grace, the abundance of his grace, the riches of his glory; the munificence of God. It is the narrowness of our hearts that will not take in this boundless generosity.
The origin of our blessings: the election of grace.
The difficulties that attach to this doctrine do not arise from any ambiguity in the Scripture proofs which support it, but from the nature of the doctrine itself, and its apparent inconsistency with other doctrines of Scripture. Many of the difficulties, indeed, that we associate with the doctrine are involved in the doctrine of Divine providence; so much so that William III . could say to Bishop Burnett, "Did I not believe absolute predestination, I could not believe a providence; for it would be most absurd to suppose a Being of infinite wisdom to act without a plan, for which plan predestination is only another name." Predestination is but God's plan of action; providence is the evolution of that plan. "If this providence has ordered and ordained everything which relates to the temporal lot and life, it is absolutely inconceivable that man's eternal lot should be determined without God's eternal counsel being fulfilled therein" (Oosterzee).
I. THE ELECTION OF GRACE , WHICH IS THE FOUNDATION OF ALL OUR SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS , HAS CHRIST FOR ITS CENTER ; for "God hath chosen us in him." We are regarded as existing in him, even in the Divine plan. The Son of God is the Firstborn, as well as the eldest Brother of the vast family of God. He who is the Center of creation, providence, history, is also the Center of the Divine plan.
II. THE ELECTION IS FOUNDED ON THE GOOD PLEASURE OF HIS WILL , WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY ONE WITH HIS MORAL PERFECTIONS , AND CANNOT , THEREFORE , PARTAKE OF AN ARBITRARY CHARACTER . The great question is—Is God or man the author of salvation? Are not faith and repentance, though man's acts, God's gifts? Is not the Christian God's workmanship—"created in Christ Jesus unto good works"? Is it possible to maintain the doctrine of grace without referring man's salvation to God? The system which rejects an election of grace does not make provision for the salvation of a single soul.
III. THE ELECTION IS FROM ETERNITY . It is "before the foundation of the world." It is as eternal as God himself, and not, therefore, founded in man's excellence, or even originated by sin, like an after-thought to rectify disorder or mistake; for believers are chosen, not on the ground of foreseen holiness, but that they may become holy, their faith itself being the effect, not the cause, of their election.
IV. IT IS AN ELECTION TO ADOPTION OR TO HOLINESS ; for "God hath chosen us in him... that we should be holy and without blame"—the positive and the negative sides of Christian life—or he hath "predestinated us to the adoption of children." A holy God cannot choose us to be anything but holy. Holiness is the end of our calling, as it is of our election. The Church of God is to be finally "without pot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." Holiness is the way to happiness. "A holy heart is a happy heart," even in this world of care.
V. IT IS AN ELECTION OF INDIVIDUALS . There is a national election, or an election to covenant privileges; but there is an individual election inside it: "Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it" ( Romans 11:7 ). This fact is further manifest from the manner in which the Apostle Paul comforts believers, and urges them to sanctification by reminding them of their personal election. Believers are comforted besides with the assurance that their names are written in heaven, or in the book of life ( Philippians 4:3 ; Luke 10:20 ; Hebrews 12:23 ).—T.C.