According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
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.
(1) It points to life given for life. The animal was the substitute of the worshipper. That lies at the root of all sacrifice. When, therefore, the animal gave its life, it was as though the worshipper gave his life. So Christ was our Substitute, and, when he shed his blood, it was as though we shed our blood.
(2) It pellets to life given in the same kind. This was wanting in the case of the old sacrifices. But it is manifestly an indispensable condition of all true substitution. And so Christ had the same flesh and blood as those for whom he became a sacrifice.
(3) It points to unforfeited life given for forfeited life. The animal had done nothing to forfeit its life. It was therefore, in this respect, a fit substitute. It had a life to part with, in order that the sentence of forfeiture might be removed from the offerer, upon whom sin rested. So Christ had no sin of his own, and therefore he had an unforfeited life to give for those who had sinned, in order that forfeiture might be removed from them.
(4) It points to a more valuable life given. It was the life of One who, in becoming man, could not part with his essential divinity. It was, therefore, a life of infinite value. And, when he shed his blood, it was far more than if the whole world of sinners had shed their blood.
(5) It was life carried to the highest state of human perfection. The animal had to be without blemish. But that was only an imperfect symbol. The Head of humanity required to have more than mere innocence. He required to have perfection in human kind. And when he finished the most beautiful human life with an act of perfect love to man and of absolute devotion to God, he once for all touched the summit for us. He first touched the lowest depth of human misery; but it was that, with him, we might touch the summit. Such was the life, not untried, but grown rich in all excellence, that was substituted for ours, that we might be redeemed.
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.
(1) There is a completing-point in the development. The times administered by God are to come to their fullness. When that will be is yet mystery.
(2) At the point of completion there is to be a unification which is described in terms of universality. There is to be a gathering up into one of all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth. There is confusion now; all things will be harmonized at last. We who are in the midst of the confusion cannot expect that the future shall stand out all clear before us. How many will be included in the redeemed Church of mankind? Will the unification extend to the angels as well as to men? Will it extend to the material creation? In what form will God at last conquer evil? These are questions of which we have not the full solution. The final shaping of the purpose has not been all brought out of mystery. Enough that he who has the administration of the times is to bring all things to an issue which will be satisfactory to his own mind and to that of every rational creature. Such a prospect as is here pictured, while it may not gratify curiosity, is fitted to fill the imagination and to kindle hope.
(3) This unification is to be in Christ. It was promised that in Abraham all families of the earth would be blessed. The Church has a greater word of hope here. It is Christ who has made this possible and certain. He is harmonizing now by his blood and Spirit, by his Word and Church; and he will not cease until, under the great Administrator, he has harmonized all. It is in him that the purposes of God will come forth at last into all their clearness, and have their complete justification. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: