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21

CHAPTER II.

THE ETERNAL PURPOSE.

We enter this epistle through a magnificent gateway. The introductory Act of Praise, extending from verse 3 to 14, is one of the most sublime of inspired utterances, an overture worthy of the composition that it introduces. Its first sentence compels us to feel the insufficiency of our powers for its due rendering.

The apostle surveys in this thanksgiving the entire course of the revelation of grace. Standing with the men of his day, the new-born community of the sons of God in Christ, midway between the ages past and to come,2626   Ch. ii. 7, iii. 5, 21; Col. i. 26. he looks backward to the source of man’s salvation when it lay a silent thought in the mind of God, and forward to the hour when it shall have accomplished its promise and achieved our redemption. In this grand evolution of the Divine plan three stages are marked by the refrain, thrice repeated, To the praise of His glory, of the glory of His grace (vv. 6, 12, 14). St Paul’s psalm is thus divided into three strophes, or stanzas: he sings the glory of redeeming love in its past designs, its present bestowments, and its future fruition. The paragraph, forming but one sentence22 and spun upon a single golden thread, is a piece of thought-music,—a sort of fugue, in which from eternity to eternity the counsel of love is pursued by Paul’s bold and exulting thought.

Despite the grammatical involution of the style here carried to an extreme, and underneath the apparatus of Greek pronouns and participles, there is a fine Hebraistic lilt pervading the doxology. The refrain is in the manner of Psalms xlii.–xliii., and xcix., where in the former instance “health of countenance,” and in the latter “holy is He” gives the key-note of the poet’s melody and parts his song into three balanced stanzas. In such poetry the strophes may be unequal in length, each developing its own thought freely, and yet there is harmony in their combination. Here the central idea, that of God’s actual bounty to believers, fills a space equal to that of the other two. But there is a pause within it, at verse 10, which in effect resumes the idea of the first strophe and works it in as a motif to the second, carrying on both in a full stream till they lose themselves in the third and culminating movement. Throughout the piece there runs in varying expression the phrase “in Christ—in the Beloved—in Him—in whom,” weaving the verses into subtle continuity. The theme of the entire composition is given in verse 3, which does not enter into the threefold division we have described, but forms a prelude to it.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: who hath blessed us,
In every blessing of the spirit, in the heavenly places, in Christ.”

Blessed be God!—It is the song of the universe, in which heaven and earth take responsive parts. 23 “When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy,” this concert began, and continues still through the travail of creation and the sorrow and sighing of men. The work praises the Master. All sinless creatures, by their order and harmony, by the variety of their powers and beauty of their forms and delight of their existence, declare their Creator’s glory. That praise to the Most High God which the lower creatures act instrumentally, it is man’s privilege to utter in discourse of reason and music of the heart. Man is Nature’s high priest; and above other men, the poet. Time will be, as it has been, when it shall be accounted the poet’s honour and the crown of his art, that he should take the high praises of God into his mouth, making hymns to the glory of the Supreme Maker and giving voice to the dumb praise of inanimate nature and to the noblest thoughts of his fellows concerning the Blessed God.

Blessed be God!—It is the perpetual strain of the Old Testament, from Melchizedek down to Daniel,—of David in his triumph, and Job in his misery. But not hitherto could men say, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He was “the Most High God, the God of heaven,”—“Jehovah, God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things,”—“the Shepherd” and “the Rock” of His people,—“the true God, the living God, and an everlasting King”; and these are glorious titles, which have raised men’s thoughts to moods of highest reverence and trust. But the name of Father, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, surpasses and outshines them all. With wondering love and joy unspeakable St Paul pronounced this Benedictus. God was not less to him the Almighty, the High and Holy One dwelling in eternity, than in the days of 24 his youthful Jewish faith; but the Eternal and All-holy One was now his Father in Jesus Christ. Blessed be His name: and let the whole earth be filled with His glory!

The apostle’s psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving to God blessing and blessed. The second clause rhythmically answers to the first. True, our blessing of Him is far different from His blessing of us: ours in thought and words; His in mighty deeds of salvation. Yet in the fruit of lips giving thanks to His name there is a revenue of blessing paid to God which He delights in, and requires. “O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel,” grant us to bless Thee while we live and to lift up our hands in Thy name!

By three qualifying adjuncts the blessing which the Father of Christ bestowed upon us is defined: in respect of its nature, its sphere, and its personal ground.

The blessings that prompt the apostle’s praise are not such as those conspicuous in the Old Covenant: “Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and in the field; in the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the increase of thy kine; blessed shall be thy basket, and thy kneading-trough” (Deut. xxviii. 3–5). The gospel pronounces beatitudes of another style: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the persecuted.” St Paul had small share indeed in the former class of blessings,—a childless, landless, homeless man. Yet what happiness and wealth are his! Out of his poverty he is making all the ages rich! From the gloom of his prison he sheds a light that will guide and cheer the steps of multitudes of earth’s sad wayfarers. Not certainly in the earthly places where he finds himself is Paul the prisoner of Christ Jesus blessed; but “in spiritual blessing” and “in heavenly places” how 25 abundantly! His own blessedness he claims for all who are in Christ.

Blessing spiritual in its nature is, in St Paul’s conception of things, blessing in and of the Holy Spirit.2727   Vv. 13, 14; Rom. viii. 2–6, 16; 1 Cor. ii. 12; Gal v. 16, 22–25. In His quickening our spirit lives; through His indwelling health, blessedness, eternal life are ours. In this verse justly the theologians recognize the Trinity of the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.—Blessing in the heavenly places is not so much blessing coming from those places—from God the Father who sits there—as it is blessing which lifts us into that supernal region, giving to us a place and heritage in the world of God and of the angels. Two passages of the companion epistles interpret this phrase: “Your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. iii. 3); and again, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. iii. 20).—The decisive note of St Paul’s blessedness lies in the words “in Christ.” For him all good is summed up there. Spiritual, heavenly, and Christian: these three are one. In Christ dying, risen, reigning, God the Father has raised believing men to a new heavenly life. From the first inception of the work of grace to its consummation, God thinks of men, speaks to them and deals with them in Christ. To Him, therefore, with the Father be eternal praise!

“As He chose us in Him before the world’s foundation,

That we should be holy and unblemished before Him:

When in love He foreordained us

To filial adoption through Jesus Christ for Himself,

According to the good pleasure of His will,—

To the praise of the glory of His grace” (vv. 4–6a).

Here is St Paul’s first chapter of Genesis. In the26 beginning was the election of grace. There is nothing unprepared, nothing unforeseen in God’s dealings with mankind. His wisdom and knowledge are as deep as His grace is wide (Rom. xi. 33). Speaking of his own vocation, the apostle said: “It pleased God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb, to reveal His Son in me” (Gal. i. 15, 16). He does but generalize this conception and carry it two steps further back—from the origin of the individual to the origin of the race, and from the beginning of the race to the beginning of the world—when he asserts that the community of redeemed men was chosen in Christ before the world’s foundation.

“The world” is a work of time, the slow structure of innumerable yet finite ages. Science affirms on its own grounds that the visible universe had a beginning, as it has its changes and its certain end. Its structural plan, its unity of aim and movement, show it to be the creation of a vast Intelligence. Harmony and law, all that makes science possible is the product of thought. Reason extracts from nature what Reason has first put there. The longer, the more intricate and grand the process, the farther science pushes back the beginning in our thoughts, the more sublime and certain the primitive truth becomes: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The world is a system; it has a method and a plan, therefore a foundation. But before the foundation, there was the Founder. And man was in His thoughts, and the redeemed Church of Christ. While yet the world was not and the immensity of space stretched lampless and unpeopled, we were in the mind of God; His thought rested with complacency upon His human sons, whose27 “name was written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” This amazing statement is only the logical consequence of St Paul’s experience of Divine grace, joined to his conviction of the infinite wisdom and eternal being of God.

When he says that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world”—or before founding the world—this is not a mere mark of time. It intimates that in laying His plans for the world the Creator had the purpose of redeeming grace in view. The kingdom which the “blessed children” of the Father of Christ “inherit,” is the kingdom “prepared for them from the foundation of the world” (Matt. xxv. 34). Salvation lies as deep as creation. The provision for it is eternal. For the universe of being was conceived, fashioned, and built up “in Christ.” The argument of Colossians i. 13–22 lies behind these words. The Son of God’s love, in whom and for whom the worlds were made, always was potentially the Redeemer of men, as He was the image of God (Col. i. 14, 15). He looked forward to this mission from eternity, and was in spirit “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. xiii. 8). Creation and redemption, Nature and the Church, are parts of one system; and in the reconciliation of the cross all orders of being are concerned, “whether the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens.”

Evil existed before man appeared on the earth to be tempted and to fall. Through the geological record we hear the voice of creation groaning for long æons in its pain.

“Dragons of the prime,

That tare each other in their slime,”

grim prophets of man’s brutal and murderous passions, 28 bear witness to a war in nature that goes back far towards the foundation of the world. And this rent and discord in the frame of things it was His part to reconcile “in whom and for whom all things were created.” This universal deliverance, it seems, is dependent upon ours. “The creation itself lifts up its head, and is looking out for the revelation of the sons of God” (Rom. viii. 19). In founding the world, foreseeing its bondage to corruption, God prepared through His elect sons in Christ a deliverance the glory of which will make its sufferings to seem but a light thing. “In thee,” said God to Abraham, “shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed”: so in the final “adoption,—to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. viii. 23), all creatures shall exult; and our mother earth, still travailing in pain with us, will remember her anguish no more.

The Divine election of men in Christ is further defined in the words of verse 5: “Having in love predestined us,” and “according to the good pleasure of His will.” Election is selection; it is the antecedent in the mind of God in Christ of the preference which Christ showed when He said to His disciples, “I have chosen you out of the world.” It is, moreover, a fore-ordination in love: an expression which indicates on the one hand the disposition in God that prompted and sustains His choice, and on the other the determination of the almighty Will whereby the all-wise Choice is put into operation and takes effect. In this pre-ordaining control of human history God “determined the fore-appointed seasons and the bounds of human habitation” (Acts xvii. 26). The Divine prescience—that “depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God”—as well as His absolute righteousness, forbids the treasonable thought 29 of anything arbitrary or unfair cleaving to this pre-determination—anything that should override our free-will and make our responsibility an illusion. “Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate” (Rom. viii. 29). He foresees everything, and allows for everything.

The consistence of foreknowledge with free-will is an enigma which the apostle did not attempt to solve. His reply to all questions touching the justice of God’s administration in the elections of grace—questions painfully felt and keenly agitated then as they are now, and that pressed upon himself in the case of his Jewish kindred with a cruel force (Rom. ix. 3)—his answer to his own heart, and to us, lies in the last words of verse 5: “according to the good pleasure of His will.” It is what Jesus said concerning the strange preferences of Divine grace: “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” What pleases Him can only be wise and right. What pleases Him, must content us. Impatience is unbelief. Let us wait to see the end of the Lord. In numberless instances—such as that of the choice between Jacob and Esau, and that of Paul and the believing remnant of Israel as against their nation—God’s ways have justified themselves to after times; so they will universally. Our little spark of intelligence glances upon one spot in a boundless ocean, on the surface of immeasurable depths.

The purpose of this loving fore-ordination of believing men in Christ is twofold; it concerns at once their character and their state: “He chose us out—that we should be holy and without blemish in His sight,” and “unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ for Himself.” These two purposes are one. God’s sons must be holy; and holy men are His sons. For this end “we” were elected of God in the beginning. Nay, 30 with this end in view the world was founded and the human race came into being, to provide God with such sons2828   εἰς αὐτόν, for Him; not αὐτῳ, to Him. and that Christ might be “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. viii. 28–30).

“That we should be holy”—should be saints. This the readers are already: “To the saints” the apostle writes (ver. 1). They are men devoted to God by their own choice and will, meeting God’s choice and will for them. Imperfect saints they may be, by no means as yet “without blemish”; but they are already, and abidingly, “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. i. 2) and “sealed” for God’s possession “by the Holy Spirit” (vv. 13, 14). In this fact lies their hope of moral perfection and the impulse and power to attain it. Their task is to “perfect” their existing “holiness” (2 Cor. vii. 1), “cleansing themselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit.” Let no Christian say, “I do not pretend to be a saint.” This is to renounce your calling. You are a saint if you are a true believer in Christ; and you are to be an unblemished saint.

Thus the Church is at last to be presented, and every man in his own order, “faultless before the presence of His glory, with exceeding joy.”2929   Ch. v. 25–27; Col. i. 27–29; Jude 24. God could not invite us in His grace to anything inferior. A blemished saint—a smeared picture, a flawed marble—this is not like His work; it is not like Himself. Such saintship cannot approve itself “before Him.” He must carry out His ideal, must fashion the new man as he was created in Christ after His own faultless image, and make human holiness a transcript of the Divine (1 Peter i. 16).

31 Now, this Divine character is native to the sons of God. The ideal which God had for men was always the same. The father of the race was made in His image. In the Old Testament Israel receives the command: “You shall be holy, for I, Jehovah your God, am holy.” But it was in Jesus Christ that the breadth of this command was disclosed, and the possibility of our personal obedience to it. The law of Christian sonship, manifest only in shadow in the Levitical sanctity, is now pronounced by Jesus: “You shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Verses 4 and 5 are therefore strictly parallel: God elected us in Christ to be perfect saints; for He predestined us through Jesus Christ to be His sons.

Sonship to Himself is the Christian status, the rank and standing which God confers on those who believe in His Son; it accrues to them by the fact that they are in Christ.3030   On sonship, see Chapters XV.–XVII. and XIX. in The Epistle to the Galatians (Expositor’s Bible). It is defined by the term adoption, which St Paul employs in this sense in Romans viii. 15, 23, as well as in Galatians iv. 5. Adoption was a peculiar institution of Roman law, familiar to Paul as a citizen of Rome; and it aptly describes to Gentile believers their relation to the family of God. 32 “By adoption under the Roman law an entire stranger in blood became a member of the family into which he was adopted, exactly as if he had been born in it. He assumed the family name, partook in its system of sacrificial rites, and became, not on sufferance or at will, but to all intents and purposes a member of the house of his adopter.... This metaphor was St Paul’s translation into the language of Gentile thought of Christ’s great doctrine of the New Birth. He exchanges the physical metaphor of regeneration for the legal metaphor of adoption. The adopted becomes in the eye of the law a new creature. He was born again into a new family. By the aid of this figure the Gentile convert was enabled to realize in a vivid manner the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of the faithful, the obliteration of past penalties, the right to the mystic inheritance. He was enabled to realize that upon this spiritual act ‘Old things passed away and all things became new.’”3131   From a valuable and suggestive paper by W. E. Ball, LL.D., on “St Paul and the Roman Law,” in the Contemporary Review, August 1891.

This exalted status belonged to men in the purpose of God from eternity; but as a matter of fact it was instituted “through Jesus Christ,” the historical Redeemer. Whether previously (Jewish) servants in God’s house or (Gentile) aliens excluded from it (ii. 12), those who believed in Jesus as the Christ received a spirit of adoption and dared to call God Father! This unspeakable privilege had been preparing for them through the ages past in God’s hidden wisdom. Throughout the wild course of human apostasy the Father looked forward to the time when He might again through Jesus Christ make men His sons; and His promises and preparations were directed to this one end. The predestination having such an end, how fitly it is said: “in love having foreordained us.”

Four times, in these three verses, with exulting emphasis, the apostle claims this distinction for “us.” Who, then, are the objects of the primordial election of grace? Does St Paul use the pronoun distributively, thinking of individuals—you and me and so many others, the personal recipients of saving grace? 33 or does he mean the Church, as that is collectively the family of God and the object of His loving ordination? In this epistle, the latter is surely the thought in the apostle’s mind.3232   See vv. 12, 13, where Jews and Gentiles, collectively, are distinguished; and ch. ii. 11, 12, iii. 2–6, 21, iv. 4, 5, v. 25–27. As Hofmann says: “The body of Christians is the object of this choice, not as composed of a certain number of individuals—a sum of ‘the elect’ opposed to a sum of the non-elect—but as the Church taken out of and separated from the world.”

On the other hand, we may not widen the pronoun further; we cannot allow that the sonship here signified is man’s natural relation to God, that to which he was born by creation. This robs the word “adoption” of its distinctive force. The sonship in question, while grounded “in Christ” from eternity, is conferred “through” the incarnate and crucified “Jesus Christ”; it redounds “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Now, grace is God’s redeeming love toward sinners. God’s purpose of grace toward mankind, embedded, as one may say, in creation, is realized in the body of redeemed men. But this community, we rejoice to believe, is vastly larger than the visible aggregate of Churches; for how many who knew not His name, have yet walked in the true light which lighteth every man.

There lies in the words “in Christ” a principle of exclusion, as well as of wide inclusion. Men cannot be in Christ against their will, who persistently put Him, His gospel and His laws, away from them. When we close with Christ by faith, we begin to enter into the purpose of our being. We find the place prepared for us before the foundation of the world in the kingdom of Divine love. We live henceforth “to the praise of the glory of His grace!”


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