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.
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 conclusion."
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 thy seed".
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, the 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:
"Unto Adoption as Sons."
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 outside.
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.