In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
St. Paul speaks only of the promise of "eternal life," but you will admit at once that such a promise must be regarded as including every other. In promising "eternal life," God is to be considered as promising whatsoever is required for the attaining eternal life. The promise of eternal life is a sort of summary of all the promises; for every other promise has to do with something which is helpful to us in our course; with those assistances in duty, or those supports under trial, without which eternal life can never be reached. To whom, then, did He make the promise? If He promised before the world began, He must have promised before there were any human beings, with whom to enter into covenant. If the promise were then made, the two contracting parties must have been then in existence or intercourse; whereas there was then certainly no Church, no man, to form a covenant with the Almighty. There can be little debate that it must have been to Christ, the second Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, that God made the "promise of eternal life before the world began." "Before the world began" the apostasy of our race was contemplated and provided for in the councils of heaven. A solemn covenant was entered into between the Persons of the Trinity, each undertaking an amazing part in the plan for our redemption; and though the Mediator had not then assumed human form, He already acted as the Head or Representative of the Church, engaging to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin, and receiving in return the promise that the sacrifice should be accepted, and should prevail to the full salvation of all such as believe on His name. Eternal life was promised to Christ, on behalf of the Church; it was promised to the Church for the sake of Christ; or, rather, it was promised to Christ, as that result of His obedience and endurance in the flesh, which He might bestow on all those who should have faith in the propitiation. But whilst this seems sufficient to explain the strangeness of our text, you can hardly fail to observe that the explanation involves a great general doctrine or truth; even the same doctrine or truth which is elsewhere announced by St. Paul when, speaking of Christ, he says that "all the promises of God are in Him yea and amen"; in other words, that God has promised nothing to man, but in Christ or on account of Christ, and that all that He hath thus promised hath on His account been fulfilled. In order to the clearing and understanding of this, you are to observe that Adam, as the father of all men, steed federally in their place. And when the whole race had thus fallen, in the person of their representative, there were no blessings and no mercies for which man could look. Human nature had become so necessarily and entirely exposed to Divine vengeance that there was no room whatsoever for promise. Therefore, if He promised at all, it could only have been in virtue of His having covenanted with another Head; with One who had put the race which He represented into such a moral position, that it would no longer be at variance with the Divine character, to extend to them the offices of friendship. Because it was His own Son who had undertaken to be this Head of humanity, and because it was therefore certain that the required ransom would be paid to the last farthing, God could immediately open to man the fountain of His benevolence, and deal with man as a being who stood within the possibilities of forgiveness and immortality. But if this be the true account why, after his transgression, man could still be the object of the promises of God, it follows distinctly that, according to the doctrine of our text, these promises, however announced to the sinner at or after the time of his sin, were promises originally made to another; and that, too, "before the world began." There could have been no promises, it appears, had not "the Word which was in the beginning with God, and which was God," previously engaged to become the Surety for the beings who had just woven death and woe and shame into their inheritance. Assuredly it follows from this that whatsoever is now promised to man is not promised to man in himself but to man in his representative. It must have been promised to Christ before it was promised to man; or rather, the promise must have been made unto Christ though the thing promised should be given to man. Fix not, then, as the origin of a promise, the occasion when the promise was clothed in human speech; associate not the making of that promise with the human being to whom it was first uttered. The promise was made before man was created; the promise was given to a higher than man, to a higher than any finite being. And when you have taken, as you justly may, all the promises of God, and gathered them into the one emphatic summary, the "promise of eternal life," you are not to say, "This clause of the promise was made to Adam, this to Moses, this to David, this to Paul"; you are to say, generally, of the whole, with the apostle in our text, that "God, which cannot lie, promised it" — and to whom could He then promise but to Christ? — "promised it before the world began." Now we have been so occupied with the great doctrine of our text, with the fact of all God's pro. raises being promised to Christ, and to us only for the sake of Christ, and in virtue of His merits, that we have made no reference to what St. Paul here says of God's truthfulness — "God, that cannot lie." He uses a similar expression in his Epistle to the Hebrews: "That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation." It is one of Satan's most frequent and dangerous devices, to put before you your unworthiness, and to strive to make this hide the rich provisions of grace. It looks so like genuine humility, to think oneself unworthy to have a promise made good, that the Christian will almost fancy it a duty to encourage the suspicion which the devil has injected. But you are to remember that your own unworthiness has nothing whatsoever to do either with the making or the performing the promise. God did not originally make the promise to you; He made it to His own dear Son, even to Christ, "before the world began"; and the performing the promise, the making good His own Word, is this to be contingent on anything excellent in yourselves? Nay, it is for His own sake, for the glory of His own great name, that He accomplishes His gracious declaration. He is faithful, He "cannot lie"; heaven and earth may pass away, but not one jot nor one tittle can fail of all which He hath covenanted with Christ, and, through Christ, with the meanest of His followers.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;