I will read again the passages which are basic to our present
meditation in the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Romans, at
verse 33, "Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom
and the knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and His
ways past finding out."
The letter to the Ephesians, chapter three, verse eight, "Unto
me, who am less than the least of all saints was this grace given to
preach the unsearchable riches of Christ."
And seeing that we have not yet said all that we have to say for
this present time about the first context of riches, that is, the
riches of grace, we will just look at one or two other passages in
In the Ephesian letter, chapter one, and verse
seventeen: "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of
Glory, may give unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the
knowledge of Him." Now, that is following what we have in verse
seven of that chapter: "In Whom we have our redemption through His
blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches
of His grace." The apostle's prayer at the end of that chapter
for a spirit of wisdom and revelation has to do with the
apprehension of the riches of His grace, "according to the riches
of His grace". Chapter 2 and verse seven, "That in the ages to come He might show
the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward
us in Christ Jesus..." the exceeding riches of His Grace.
We have already considered some
things related to this grace, which are the riches thereof. We
have seen the nature of grace. We have seen God's work of grace.
We have set grace over against our own works or merit. And we
have seen that the great initial of Divine grace is in the free
action of the Holy Spirit, to bring us into that grace.
Before we go on to look still more
deeply into this fathomless, unsearchable ocean of Divine grace,
let us remind ourselves that just as grace is the beginning
of everything for us, and with us, so grace is the continual
basis of everything to the end. What is true of the
beginning, is true throughout the whole life of the child of
God. It sounds like a contradiction, but it is not, to say that
the Law of Grace governs the whole life of the people of God.
What grace begins, grace carries on, and grace crowns. We will
never be off the basis of grace. And we shall discover as we go
on, increasingly how we are bound, just bound to grace for
everything that comes to us from God - for everything that we
know of God, for everything that we can be or can do, it will
always be grace; nothing else. We will never move from that
grace, from that ground on to any other.
That sounds simple, but
this is something which confronts us every day of our life. And
all the way along we shall be simply compelled by the Holy
Spirit to recognise this and to accept it; to take this
position: "Now, this is all a matter of the grace of God, we
will never get by this, we will never get any further, only by
His Grace", so that we are
steadily moving, but really moving in a practical way, toward
that passage which we have just read: "That in the
ages to come, He may show the exceeding riches of His
grace toward us". In the ages to come... the riches of
grace will be exceeding and displayed in us!
I think we are beginning to
realise that that is a fact. I think more and more we
are becoming aware that it has got to be more grace, and still
more grace. And if we have any difficulty about that, it feels
that that is rather difficult, and it's going to be more and
more difficult, it's going to require more and more grace, let's
put this climactic statement over the whole life in the ages to
come: "To shew the exceeding riches of His grace
toward us". Now, you can't get to that point where it's
so great, so complete, perfect, full and final, you cannot leap
there in one day or in one experience. The whole of the life of
the people of God is a pilgrimage of grace.
I expect you know, and it's worth our
pausing here to note it, or remind ourselves of it, I expect you
know that Peter's letters are founded upon this one word: "grace".
It's a great pity that the translators have not given us the
correct translation in every case in Peter's letter. But Peter, as
you also know, represents the Church as in its pilgrimage. Paul
represents the Church as in the heavenlies, having arrived, very
largely, viewing it from above. But Peter is viewing it here, and
says, "I beseech you as pilgrims and strangers". Pilgrims - that's
Peter's standpoint - the pilgrimage of the Church, and the great
word of the pilgrimage with Peter is the word: "grace". He has so much to say about grace.
When I referred to the unfortunate translation, you will probably
remember he said, "If you take persecution, opposition, ill
treatment joyfully, this is", and the translators have put the
word: "acceptable with God." But the real word there is
"grace"! The word in the original is, "This is grace".
The pilgrimage contains persecution, opposition,
misrepresentation, and what not and if any man knew about that,
Peter did. And if any man knew the meaning of grace, it was that
man who had denied his Lord in such a way as to feel that he had
sinned beyond the possibility of forgiveness. If ever you had done
a thing like that thrice, in a vehement angry way declared that
you didn't know Jesus Christ after having been with Him for three
years, in the closest contact, to spare yourself and so strongly
and wrathfully refuse the suggestion that you had any association
with Him at all. If you had done that, or I had done that, I think
that would be good ground for believing in the unpardonable sin.
Don't you? No wonder he went out and wept bitterly. No wonder the
Lord had to make a special mention of him when recalling the
scattered disciples after His Cross, "Go to My brethren, and say
unto them, and to Peter..." and to Peter, mentioning him by name.
Well, that is old ground, so
familiar, but we can understand why Peter's great word was grace
can't we? Grace, yes, well, grace for the pilgrimage. And what
Peter is saying so much about in his letter is "the sufferings,"
the sufferings of this present time, and it's grace all the way
along, the whole journey calls for grace. But, and this belongs
to a further consideration, "It is grace unto glory". Grace unto
Well, I think it was worth
reminding ourselves of that, that what grace begins (and we all
know that it's through grace that we begin, the grace of God
that brings us into salvation) but grace is going to perfect the
work; going to carry it right through and crown it at last. I'm
sure that the top stone will be brought forth with shoutings of
"Grace, grace unto it".
Now, when we talk about the riches of grace, we're within the
realm of the unsearchable, the inexhaustible, and we shall never
be able to fathom these depths, but I think we can for a little
while go a little bit deeper this evening. And I want you to
come to this first chapter of the letter to the Ephesians. I am
not going to make anything of this - it may be a coincidence or
there may be really nothing in it - but you know that the number
in Bible numbers, the number of grace is five. Five. And here in
this chapter, we have five of the exceeding riches of His grace.
And when I say "exceeding", I am quite sure that as we look at
them you will say, "That is beyond me. I cannot comprehend that,
that's too big". But, nevertheless, you know we are allowed to
look at big mountains, even if we cannot compass them or master
them, and it sometimes does us good to look at them. But, thank
God, these are not just objective things that are presented to
us here, we are in them, we are in them. And so we just look at
these five great, I think the greatest, riches of His grace.
Chapter four then, chapter one
then (sorry) at verse four, "Even as He chose us in Him
before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and
without blemish before Him in love". He chose us... in Him...
before the foundation of the world. Do you understand that? Can
you comprehend that? This is election - very troublesome word
in theology and doctrine. But we are not at this moment
interested in theology, nor in Christian doctrine as such. What
we are concerned with is spiritual value, because we're talking
about riches, riches. I have studied a good deal of theology in
my time, but I can't say that I've got much wealth out of it,
many riches. It's as dry as dust. And studying the subject of
"election" as a doctrine, oh how arid it is! How lifeless. And
yet here it is in the Word, it is definitely stated that "He
chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world". There
was an election, which took place in those eternal counsels of
God, which included us if we are today in Christ Jesus.
We are in Christ Jesus, because we were chosen in Christ
Jesus before the foundation of the world.
You see, to begin with, you're dealing with a Timeless God. What
was a matter, so far as time was concerned four thousand years
ahead, was present with God before time began, because He is
Timeless. Everything which for us is future time, is always
present time with God. And so, for Him in effect, Christ was
then, we were then, in effect we were then, and God
acted on eternal ground. That may not be very helpful or
interesting, but let us look at this matter of "election". I'm
going to change the word, I don't like that word "election",
although in certain forms it is in the New Testament, "Elect,
according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." That is
Peter, and the elect is there mentioned as a body, but I say
again, I'm not fond of this word
"election" because of its associations. So I'm going to change
it and speak about "selection" - it's the same thing in meaning
and in working.
Now then, when we get that word,
we are helped. The nation of Israel was "selected" out of all the
nations. Selected, "chosen" if you like, "elected" if you like.
But God looked on all the nations of the earth, and selected
Israel, among the nations. Did that mean that God rejected all
the other nations, because He selected this nation? Did it mean
that He selected them to be saved, and all the other nations to
be lost, because they were not selected?
Well, let us come into this room,
here we are, a little company of people. Allow me, not to take
the place of God, but just to take this place by way of
argument, of wanting something done. I want something done and I
look over this company, and of course this is not true, I know
everyone fairly thoroughly, but I look over and I say: "Brother,
I want you to come alongside of me for this thing that I want
done. I select you from this company, for the thing that I want
to do. Now, don't jump to conclusions, either you or the others!
Do not jump to conclusions that you are more important than all
the others, and that you are better than all the others, that
you are more worthy of this than the others, for that is not
true. And you others, do
not jump to the conclusion that because I don't select
you, any one or all, that you are rejected by me
and have no place in this plan of mine. Don't conclude that,
that you are less worthwhile than this one, less worthy, because
you are not selected for this thing. Come to no such
The Lord selected the nation of
Israel and said, "I have chosen you, not because you're better
than the other nations, not because you're better. Not because
you're more worthy, but I have acted sovereignly and chosen you,
or selected you from among the nations, because I have a purpose
that I want fulfilled. Now, My purpose is just this: to use you
to the good of all the other nations. All these other nations
are going to come into blessing through My use of you, My
selection of you."
Let's go to the Bible. What was the covenant with Abraham, the
first of this nation? "In thy seed shall all nations of
the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). That doesn't sound as though
all the nations were rejected and consigned to be lost, does it, because they were not the selected nation. "In thy seed... in
A great illustration in history:
Joseph. The beloved amongst his brethren, the beloved of the
father. Joseph... sold into Egypt. Through Joseph, Egypt was
saved from death, from famine and death; not only his brethren,
the children of Israel, and his father, but through Joseph the
blessing of life, salvation came to the land of Egypt, to the
nation of Egypt. A chosen one, a selected one of a nation took
real blessing to the nations of the world.
Election - chosen, selected, whatever
word you like to use - just means the purpose; to serve
God in a purpose; not that you should be saved and the others
appointed to be lost. See the twist that has been given to this
word, how false it is! And we know right through their history
that whenever Israel forgot, lost sight of, and failed to
fulfill their vocation to the nations, they were put under a
state of abeyance as to their very calling. They were in the
nations for the nations, and when they made themselves
an exclusive body, shut up to themselves, despised the
nations, and called the Gentiles "dogs" and had no dealings with
them, and said, "We are the people, and we are the only people",
God so heartily disapproved that He withdrew their vocation, and
sent them into captivity.
And, mark you dear friends, the two thousand years of Israel's
history since their rejection of the Son of God is
because they failed to recognise their own calling that through
Jesus Christ they could be made a blessing to all the world.
They put a hedge around themselves and said, "We are the
beginning and the end of everything, God is only interested in us,
the other nations are doomed..." just the reverse of their very
calling, "In thy seed". And That Seed, says Paul, is Christ,
"shall all nations of the earth be blessed." And when, instead
of being a blessing they became really a curse
amongst the nations, God said, "That's enough. You have cancelled
out your own vocation, your own calling, your own election. You
have cancelled it out." And Israel for these two thousand years
has been in the outer darkness with much weeping, wailing, and
gnashing of teeth. That's how it is, isn't it? Why? Because in
the Son of God, their vocation for the whole world was secured,
and they rejected their own vocation when they rejected Him.
That's history. And that is the meaning of "election" - selected,
not to be saved as over against all others to be lost, but for a
purpose: the blessing of all others, the salvation of
all the others who will be saved.
Now, you see we come to Ephesians
1:4, "the Church chosen in Him before the foundation..." What
for? To be a blessing! The vessel and instrument of God is to be
a blessing to the whole world. Paul, in his letter to the
Galatians, speaks of the Church as "the Jerusalem which is
above, the Jerusalem which is above, which is our mother". John,
in his vision, sees "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down
from above out of heaven from God". Paul has seen it there, the
new Jerusalem, our mother. John sees the coming down of the new
Jerusalem from above, our mother, and he goes on to say: "The
nations shall walk in the light thereof". The nations shall walk
in the light thereof, so there are nations that are extra to
this selected nation. And this selected nation, Peter again: "Ye
are a chosen nation", this selected nation, the Church, has been
selected to be a light to the nations in the ages to come. "The
nations shall walk in the light thereof." This is, as I see it,
true doctrine of election.
Now, if you and I are in
Christ, as a part of that nation, of that Jerusalem which is
above, that holy city, you and I have been called and
chosen in Christ to form this body, which is symbolised as the
city, to diffuse the light of grace in the ages to come to the
redeemed nations that they shall see the full manifestation of
the grace of God, the exceeding riches of His grace to us-ward.
Now, dear friends, when I'm saying these things, I am all the
time catching my own breath. I know quite well that I am
involving myself in something which will be a very real test,
the ground of very deep testing. And, I say this: that because
of the greatness of the vocation, which is to display the
exceeding riches of His grace, not only to angels, but to
nations, redeemed nations in the ages to come, because of that,
you and I will have to learn the meaning of grace very deeply.
If it's to be displayed in its fulness, my, how you and I are
going to be made to know the necessity for grace, the
greatness of grace. It's all grace. May that not explain the
fiery trial of which Peter speaks in connection with grace?
"Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial...
you're in heaviness for a season, through manifold trials". Why?
Well, he just says there: grace. The grace. Grace... to know it
and to show it. Chosen.
What grace! How deep is this
grace! If this is true, and not imagination, and not only beautiful
ideas, but if we could see with John the nations,
redeemed nations of the earth walking in the light of what God
has done in us, deriving their blessing through this vessel, if
we could just see that, then we should bow and say,
"Unsearchable riches... Oh the depth of the riches! How great is
grace, that in the ages to come, the ages to come, He might show
forth the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness to us".
Well, I have taken a lot of time
on only one of the five of these riches of grace, but it wants a
great deal more, doesn't it, to explore that one realm. Perhaps
I might take another this evening, and if we don't get further
it doesn't matter. For the time being we go into the next verse
of Ephesians 1, at verse 5: "Having foreordained us
unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself,
according to the good pleasure of His will".
"Foreordained us unto adoption as sons unto Himself through
Jesus Christ." That all wants breaking up, but I will just be
content with this phrase, this part of the whole:
Selection? Adoption? What does
that mean? Paul has more to say about that in his letter to the
Romans in chapter 8, where he is defining sonship. He is saying,
"These are the sons of God, that are led by the Spirit of God...
If any man have not the Spirit, he is therefore not His, none of
His" and he is explaining that it is by the Spirit that we
become sons of God. Now here he goes right back, "Has
foreordained... unto adoption". And one meaning of adoption is
certainly this: that an adopted one does not stand on
the natural ground of sonship, but is brought in from the
This letter to the Ephesians, as
you know, was written almost entirely, if not entirely, to
Gentiles brought in from the outside, called outsiders by the
Jews, but this goes far back before Israel was a people and
existed, foreordained, to be brought in from the outside and
made sons. You are not sons by nature, and you are not sons, or
children of God on natural grounds at all. It disposes of the
whole theory that everybody by natural birth is a son of
God, a child of God. Not true, now not true: the sons of
God are brought in on other than natural ground. They
are not the "born ones" they are the "adopted ones". The Church is
an adoptive body. We are not of the Church by nature. We're not.
You know, this has been a controversy both in the natural realm,
and in the religious realm, for hundreds of years. In the natural,
the scientific realm, a controversy has raged for three hundred
years, or did rage for three hundred years on the question of
life, life; the origin of life.
Now, one side of the argument
represented by highly qualified intellectual scientists, argued,
argued and tried to prove that life is spontaneous. It is there,
naturally, and it just comes about of itself - just comes about
of itself. And they wrote wonderfully high-browed books about
this, and argued and had their conferences - life is just there
and it comes about of itself. The other side took this position,
"No, not at all. Life can only come from life. It does
not come from nothing; it can only come from life. And if life
springs up, life comes into being, you will track it down to
some living organism". You see, the whole science of
microorganisms, the very air, the very dust of the air, is
impregnated with some organism; minute, too minute for the
natural eye to see, but put under certain tests in the test
tube, you'll see, you'll discover there's a living organism
there. Always, life is coming out of life. It does not
come out of nothing, it comes out of life. Well, in the end, of
course, the second side won. The great Lister proved it, wrote
over the whole of the argument, "the theory of spontaneous life
is dead, it's killed". And he carried out all the experiments to
prove that if you bring sufficient heat or cold to the enth
degree there upon a substance, so intense, far beyond normal
heat, you will never be able to produce life from that material.
Now this same thing, is what I'm
getting at, this same kind of argument and contention has gone
on for hundreds of years in the religious world. It's a very
large school of people, theologians who say, "We are sons of God
by natural birth". Humanism is built upon that: human good,
natural good, and you've only got to develop the natural good in
people, and it may take a few millions of years, but in the end
they'll become God; the deification of humanity is in the very
nature of man. How, under the experiments of two world wars,
that theory can stand, I don't know, when we discover what
really is in man and what he can do when man has been developed
to the highest level of education and civilisation and we know
what man can do to man, and is doing today. How you can speak about the natural sonship of God inherent in man
without any special intervention or operation!
Well, there's the other side when
it comes to the Bible, the Word of God, it says, "Only from Him
Who has life can life be derived". Life, eternal Life, can never
be unless it comes from a Living Source. There must be Life,
eternal Life somewhere before you can have it; it must come from
there, it does not come out of what is dead. The simple cry of
the angel on the resurrection morning has a profound meaning,
"Why seek ye the living among the dead?" That's incongruous,
contradictory, belonging to two worlds, there is nothing of life
where there is death! Two worlds. No use seeking life amongst
the dead. You can only seek life where life is: the Living
Source, the Eternal Life, "In Him was the Life".
Now you see this sonship. Oh no, we are not sons of God by
natural birth, by adoption being brought in from the outside and
given life - we haven't got it. Of course, you people
don't need such an argument, do you? But, perhaps it's helpful
for us to recognise that we are brought out of nothingness, so
far as a relationship with God is concerned, and given
that which makes us children of God which we do not have, which
we cannot have, only by adoption. I know there are other
fuller meanings of adoption, but this is its basic meaning:
brought in from outside and made members of a family to which we
do not belong by nature. No, only by new birth are we adopted
and brought in. What a wonderful thing this is, the grace of
God! "Ye who were once afar off are now made nigh, who
were not children, now made children..." You were not
sons, now made sons.
And what a terrible plight and
state is represented by that word "not"; "not" and, "were afar
off". God only knows the great chasm that was between us and Him
and His family by nature. And there is a terrible chasm. It has
got to be bridged, and we've got to be brought over that chasm;
and that is the grace of God that does that. And the bridge is
in Christ Jesus.
Our adoption is in Christ, as our
election is in Christ. He is the Bridge Who comes over and
brings us to God and brings us in. How unsearchable are His
judgments, oh the depths of the riches, the riches of His grace.
We are truly in deep waters, we can only wonder and worship. If
this is true, if this is what the Word of God teaches, I believe
it does teach this, if
so, how deep are the wonders and the mysteries and the riches of
grace in His kindness unto us. Kindness to us: "You who were
once afar off, by His kindness, are made nigh." In other
words, by His grace.
I think we must leave it there for this
evening and not overload and leave these other three things for
any other time that the Lord may choose.