"Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:5-6).
"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:20-21).
"The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:16-23).
The Ultimate Issue of the Glory of God
Although we are not going to dwell in the letter to the Ephesians, you will have noted that the two passages which we read represent the beginning and the end of God's full intention and purpose for this creation. The beginning takes us right back before the world was - "...having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself". The second passage takes us right on into the ages of the ages - "unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto the ages of the ages". So far back and far on, the purpose of God is seen in conception, initiation, and far on in realisation and consummation. In between comes that section which we read from the letter to the Romans, and what a great deal is between the beginning and the end, the conceiving and the realisation; what a vast amount is crowded in between the great parenthesis. The people of God with all their experiences of trial, difficulty, adversity, suffering and sorrow and doubts, questions, fears and failures, the whole story of the trials of the people of God, apart from everything else, fills in between "foreordained ... unto adoption" and the realisation of that adoption. But the thing which is said to horizon that whole range of time and all those experiences as a great encompassment of all, governing, ruling and most certainly being the issue of all, is said to be glory, and the glory of God manifested in sons, or in terms of sonship.
The people of God who in all ages do know that the way of fellowship with God, the way of the life of God, the way of the Lord, is a difficult way; what Paul calls here "the sufferings of this present time". They are very real and very personal, but nevertheless said to be governed by ultimate glory and all these experiences, trials, and difficulties, which you and I know in measure, and the people of God have known all through the ages, need an adequate explanation, they need an adequate reason. They need to have an adequate issue, they need to be justified. When we are passing through our difficult times - and when are we not? - one thing which arises in our hearts is the question: 'Is this worthwhile? Is this justified? Is there a good enough reason for an explanation of it?' We must have it all set within the framework of an adequate justification.
And that is exactly where the apostle puts it: "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed."
Now, while that becomes something for us, our hope, our inheritance, that is not the place where the emphasis is going to be placed in this series of messages. The emphasis is going to be placed upon the glory of God, not, however much it may be true, our glory, but the glory of God, God reaching His own glory. And it is here made so clear that it is along the line of sonship. Ultimately, it is the manifestation of the sons of God which issues in the reign of eternal glory, which brings in the fulness of God's glory in the church by Christ Jesus. That is what it is all unto - God's glory manifested universally in sons.
A Foretaste of Glory Now
And may I say here, lest it should seem to you to be too remote as belonging to something called the ages of the ages lying in the future, that it is not all that. If that is to be the ultimate and consummate issue of all God's purpose, there should be foreshadowings of it and foretastings of it now. In the separate, individual, partial experiences of trial and adversity, there should be an issue of the glory of God. We should be knowing that now. It has been so. Again and again, countless times, the people of God have felt that the situation in which they were placed was utterly impossible of having any glory. It may have been long-drawn-out, but eventually they have been able to see the glory of God in the situation and magnify the Lord. Do you think that the Lord wants all His glory stored up to some future? Surely not! The Church exists now, and although the fulness of His glory will be then, He would manifest that glory as a foretaste and a foreshadowing even now.
Of course, a great deal depends upon our mental conception of glory, but if I just put it like this, in an expression, a spontaneous heart expression of 'Praise the Lord!' that is glory. If after a bad time, a difficult time, an impossible time 'Praise the Lord'' can come from our hearts, that is glory, and that is the glory of God. And, believe me, that is how it will be in the great, vast concourse of the redeemed at last who have known what it is to go through great tribulations. They will together with one heart and one voice be saying, 'Praise the Lord!' and that will be His glory.
We have said that the all-encircling purpose is sons for His glory, beginning with God's eternal Son known to us as Jesus Christ our Lord, who was appointed, we are told, Heir of all things (Heb. 1:2). God ever had Him in view, and has ever kept Him in view as His Son, the destined heir of the universe, the heir of all things. And then passing from the Son to a people in Christ, encircled by Christ, as co-heirs; according to our reading - "joint-heirs with Christ", co-heirs with Him.
The Appointment of the Son as Heir
This inheritance of the Son and the sons is said to be the Divine motive and object in creation. Let us read one or two passages at this point, going back to the book of Job chapter 38. Remember that before we reach this point in the book of Job, Job had laboured hard to vindicate himself and to overpower his opponents by declaring that he also had wisdom and knowledge and understanding, but at last the Lord comes to Job and says: "Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto Me" (Job 38:3). 'Let us know all about this wonderful wisdom and knowledge that you have claimed to have.' And then to the end you notice it is a long series of interrogations which put Job completely out of court and make it very clear to him that he does not know anything at all. But the point is this - "Job, do you know about My eternal counsels, for it is in the realm of My eternal counsels that true wisdom and knowledge are found. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding... When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4,7) What do you know about that? Tell Me, what do you know about that?"
Leave that for a minute and come to the New Testament. Let us get right to the end, the book of the Revelation. "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honour and the power: for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they were, and were created" (Rev. 4:11). "And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with Thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth. And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them, heard I saying, Unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the dominion, for every and ever" (Rev. 5:9-13).
You will note that those passages have to do with creation. A question arises which is of considerable interest and significance as to that passage in Job. "When I laid the foundations of the earth... the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Leaving out, of course, now all those questions which have arisen as to who the sons of God were, the question is this - what was happening? What was the occasion? The statement is that the morning stars sang together. I do not think that means the literal stars in the heavens. According to Scripture everywhere, stars are intelligences, they are heavenly bodies, persons of considerable eminence and power, and they come alongside of the sons of God. When the foundations of the earth were laid - that is the point - all these heavenly, celestial intelligences, sang together and shouted for joy. What was happening? What was it all about? The question with me is: was that a celebration of what we have in Hebrews 1:2: "Whom He appointed heir of all things"? When did He appoint His Son heir of all things? Is this the clue - when He laid the foundations of the earth - for in Colossians 1 we read that through Him, by Him and unto Him were all things created, things in heaven, things in earth.
When the foundations of the earth were laid, was there a celebration of the appointment of the Son as heir of all things? Was that the introduction of this great Divine conception of sonship, that along that line of sonship ultimately this great universe which was being brought into being should be filled with the glory of God? I do not answer the question dogmatically and say that it was, but it seems to me that it might well have been. All the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy - a mighty, heavenly celebration of the appointment of God's Son as heir of all things, and I think before we are through these messages, we shall see that that has a good deal to bear it out.
We leave it for the moment, but you see the point. Right back there, as far back as that, when Christ was chosen and appointed heir of all things, we were foreordained unto adoption as sons by Jesus Christ unto the praise of His glory. They sang, they shouted, and we were foreordained unto His praise, the praise of His glory. Wonderful outlook, is it not? Is that not an adequate setting for everything? But that is where it begins, this great intention of God.
God's Reaction to His Arrested Purpose
But then there comes the arrested purpose, that interlude and parenthesis, which is summed up in those verses which we read from Romans 8. Adam, the representative of God in this creation, handing over the inheritance to an enemy, and all that followed that: the glory veiled, the glory withdrawn, the glory made impossible on that line and on that ground, and yet the glory reserved. We have that great period from Adam to Christ, but God through that very period acting and reacting to the situation, while "the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope". Glory reserved, but subjected to vanity so that a creation with sin in it and evil in it and the devil in it should never reach glory. The Lord began a line along which He was going to reach His end, and we have a long series of individuals who touched the glory, or who were touched by the glory, and if you look closely and carefully into their lives in relation to God, you will see that they were heirs of the kingdom, heirs of the glory, and were being dealt with on the principles of sonship. That covers a lot. Abel was being dealt with as an heir of the glory on the principles of sonship. So with Noah. So with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. The individuals were marked down in relation to this glorious end, and were dealt with, as the apostle puts it in the letter to the Hebrews, as sons (Heb. 12:7). We are dealt with as with sons. We shall see what that means later.
Then from the individuals we come to the nation for the inheritance, a nation for God's inheritance, for God's glory, chosen from among the nations, that He should be glorified in them. How often the Lord spoke of Israel as His peculiar treasure. Looked at naturally, you would not say that of them any more than you would of the rest of us. What value is there in us, what value was there in Israel naturally? Why should the Lord speak of Israel as His peculiar treasure, something tremendously precious to Him? Just for this reason: that in their case, as in ours, there was the very best ground provided for getting glory to Himself, and He will never get that if there is glory in the thing itself. The nation - but how that nation was dealt with again on the principles of sonship - "I called My son out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1). "Let My son go" (Ex. 4:23), said the Lord to Pharaoh, and He was dealing with them on these spiritual principles of sonship, that He should eventually and progressively be glorified.
And then we come in the Old Testament to a large section of prediction, that which is pointing on all the time beyond the present to the future, the prediction of another coming One, a Son, prediction of another coming elect on this same principle, and then Christ Himself comes, the Son, the Heir. And does not that dark world recognise very clearly that He is the heir? We have often pointed out that there was a knowledge, an intelligence, a spiritual perception lying behind that parable or story told by the Lord against the opposers of Himself as God's Son, those who would not have Him as the Son of God and those who would not have Him as the heir. He told the story of a man who had a vineyard and let it out unto husbandmen, and went away. At the time when things should have been forthcoming, he sent his servant, and they stoned him, cast him out, and he sent another and they treated him badly and stoned him. At last he said, 'I have one son, I will send him'. And God sent His Son, and what did they say? They saw Him and they said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours" (Mark 12:7). Oh, the Lord Jesus knew what He was talking about! He was talking right through men to this sinister power which actuated them, and knew Him to be the Heir, the Son, and provoked them to kill Him with a view to taking the inheritance. You see, the inheritance is bound up with Him, the Son.
And then, when He has redeemed it and secured it, He brings in His church (as individuals) to be His co-heirs. "As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). Paul adds to that: "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16). "Foreordained... unto adoption as sons". And then collectively a family of children, and "Now unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever." Do you catch some glimpse of what God is after?
An Adequate Conception of the Christian Life
What is your conception of the Christian life? Have you got an adequate setting for being the Lord's? Thank God that we are saved. It is a good thing to be saved from hell, from judgement, doom, and the guilt and penalty of sin. It is a good thing to be assured that one day we will go to heaven, whatever that is and wherever that is. No one seems to be able to define what they mean when they say they are going to heaven. However, it is a good thing to have that assurance, and other things that accompany it. But is that adequate? It is good, but it is not the setting of the Christian life given to us in the Word of God. Those are only things which go towards the main thing. You will not get through your trials, afflictions, sufferings and adversities unless you have an adequate explanation of them, and God has given that.
Oh, how wonderfully full is His unveiling in His word, of the meaning of it all! How great it is to be a child of God, called unto His eternal glory, that God, the God of glory, should manifest His glory in you and me eventually, and is working on that line now, dealing with us as with sons. It is no small thing. I say again, have you got an adequate conception of what it means to be a Christian?
We have very rebellious hearts, we have a very difficult nature, and I think I have that more than most people. The capabilities of this heart are very great and very terrible, and under threats, suffering, affliction and adversity and in the great problems which arise in the Christian life, again and again the question has presented itself - is it worth it? Is there a sufficient justification for the Lord to deal with us in this way? Why should the Lord allow this and that to come into our lives, to form part of our brief sojourn here? We want a very big answer to that "Why?" because the situations are to us very big. They are very real and sometimes very terrible, and if we have not got a big enough answer, I am afraid we might throw our salvation to the winds. Forgive me for saying that if it is wrong.
We might feel we just cannot go on, we must give it all up unless there is something that makes it worthwhile and justifies these afflictions, and that is why I have always tried to impress upon you the immensity of the background in which we are set as the people of God. It is no little salvation, no little Lord. No, we demand something tremendous as the justification of this way, and here it is: "Foreordained unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself" - that is the beginning. And the end - "Unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever." Is that enough? God breaking forth in this universe in all His glory by way of us, by way of sons, and that being the signal for the release and deliverance of the whole creation from that ban. For the creation is under a ban of vanity, never getting through, striving, groaning, travailing, but nothing coming of it, just failing at last, and the removal of that, the breaking out of the whole creation into glory where nothing fades, dies, falls, perishes or sees corruption, where death, shadows and fears are no more, but everything is eternally alive. The signal for that is when God has got His sons in company, complete, waiting for our redemption, our adoption. The whole creation hangs upon you and me. The whole creation, for God's vindication, waits upon the result and the issue of God's dealings with you and with me, among many others. A tremendous thing is hanging upon this. And if you say that is too big, too high, bring it down to simple every day application, and you know it is true.
God takes you in hand over something. God brings you into trial, difficulty, suffering and adversity. You go through a dark and difficult time. Now then, there are two ways: you can revolt, you can rebel, you can become bitter, you can turn in your spirit, in your heart against the Lord, and become stubborn, recalcitrant. Have you ever done that? Is there any glory down that way? You know that is the way of darkness and death, and if you have done that a few times you have learned not to do it so quickly next time. You say, 'I have been down that street before; I know where that leads.' Take the other course. 'Lord, this is a bitterly difficult time and situation, the whole condition of things is so contrary to what I expected, I in myself am disappointed and this is a terrible thing, but Lord You know what You are doing, and You are going to bring glory out of this...'. If we really get through that, what happens? It is glory at once, and we can say:
"Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue,
Christless eyes have never seen."
Somehow or other, the world seems a different place when you get through with God on a situation, and it is glory, it is a foretaste, maybe small, but it is there. It works down to periodic experiences, but take the cumulative, the whole, bring out all the sufferings of all the people of God through all the ages; how great the glory must be and what an emancipation of this universe! Paul says that is how it will be after God gets His sons, and they are manifested. At present they are hidden, they are in secret, no one knows them, they only know one another in spirit. "The world knoweth us not" says John "because it knew Him not" (1 John 3:1). They are hidden, but God is dealing with us in this hidden way, in this deep and secret way. The Spirit of sonship is working in us developing sonship by trial and adversity. It is going on in the great multitude, ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, and then the signal, the time has come, the moment has struck for the manifestation of those sons, and with that manifestation the creation itself is delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glory of the children of God.
The Lord help us by this word for the time being, giving us some little glimpse of the great horizon of God in which we and His people are set.