|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||All our Spiritual Blessings|
|Text||Ephesians ch.1 vv.3-5 |
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"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 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: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will" (Ephesians 1, 3-5).
This then is the opening statement of Paul's great epistle to the Ephesians. I would like to point out that in verse three the apostle Paul is making a general statement. He puts it like this: God "hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (text). It is a general statement of fact. It does not concern everyone in the world. It concerns only those who are believers in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It concerns the blessings which God is giving to those who are truly converted and belong, therefore, to Christ. In verse three then we have this general statement. In the following verses of this chapter, down to say verse twelve at any rate, we have a series of particular statements. These are the detailed blessings which God has given to us. Therefore, the picture that we have of the way Paul has written this down is this: he first of all gives a general statement concerning the fact of theses blessings and then, in the following verses, he gives us a list or a series enumerating and writing down in detail what these blessings are.
You will notice that they are called spiritual blessings. They are called spiritual blessings for a very important reason. You will notice that the things which are itemised in this chapter, which I will mention in a moment, are all of them things which are invisible to the eye of man; they do not concern our outward circumstances here in this world. That is important because it is always a sign that Christians and churches are declining when they become too interested in the blessings which can be seen and the blessings which belong to this life. Of course, all Christians are concerned about social reform and, up to a point, we have to be concerned about politics and the work of politicians. However, the primary concern of Christians and the fundamental concern of the church must always be for the great spiritual blessings: those things which do not simply belong to this life but much more to the life of the world to come. Again, you will notice that there is nothing here about improving the political circumstances of man; there is nothing about giving social justice to men. There is nothing about politics in this chapter whatsoever. What he does talk about are spiritual, heavenly, religious blessings from God. These are the things which it is the church's duty, above all else, to preach, to teach and to explain. Whenever Christians lose sight of these things and become too concerned about the earthly blessings, it is always a sign that they have declined, that they have lost their first love; they have lost the heavenly vision.
He tells us that all these spiritual blessings are "in heavenly places" (text). You may ask - What are these heavenly places? The answer briefly is this. It is a state of grace into which a person is brought by faith in Jesus Christ. All believers are in these heavenly places. It doesn't, of course, mean heaven itself; believers are not there yet. They will be there by and by but they are not there yet. Even a state of grace is a state of being in the heavenly places; that is to say in a condition where God is giving us extraordinary favours.
Let us consider that Paul now gives us this list of blessings beginning at verse four and following. I want to point out four of these blessings to you. There are more than four but I particularly draw attention to four. The first one you notice is - God "hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world" and "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ" (text). There is the first of these spiritual blessings. I am going to return to it because this is what I particularly want to talk about today: God's predestination, God's election. I wish us to consider it and the implications of it.
The second thing he speaks about in this list is the redemption which we have through Christ's blood and the forgiveness of sins (v.7). That is the second one. Notice it is not the first one. There is an order here and in the order of God's blessings forgiveness of sins and the washing of the blood of Christ is not first; the first one is election and predestination. The next one is this redemption and washing by Christ's blood.
The third one is at verse nine: "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will" (v.9). That refers, I believe, to the work of grace beginning in a believer's soul. An unbeliever has not got that. An unbeliever does not understand this mystery of God's will, which is the gospel. It is equivalent to the new birth; it is the same really as the spiritual understanding that a man has when God begins His work of grace within his soul. It comes to its beginning at the new birth and the effectual call of God. When a man has that he begins to understand. He doesn't understand anything concerning the Gospel before that - it is a closed book - but when God begins to open his eyes and show him the mysteries of His kingdom, then this comes to pass at his new birth.
The fourth thing that I draw attention to in this list is at verse ten: "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him" (in Christ) (v.10).
What can we say about these wonderful blessings? Notice again the order of them. First he mentions election, then second - redemption, third - our illumination, then fourthly - the eternal condition that the whole church of Jesus Christ of the Old Testament and of the New are all to be together in a condition of love and glory and perfection, in heaven, in Christ, for ever. That is the destiny to which we are moving as Christians. This is the happy condition in which Christians are now being taught by God to consider themselves to be.
Another comment is that you notice here in these verses and among these blessings that the three blessed Persons of the Godhead are all concerned to give us these blessings. God has, so to say, parcelled out the work of our salvation amongst the persons of the Godhead. First of all, the Father, we are told, has chosen us in verse four. It is the Father who has done this work of choosing. Then at verse seven the work of the blood of Christ is obviously the work of God the Son. So God the Son is at work. Then there is this enlightening process mentioned in verse nine: "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will". This very definitely is the work of the Holy Spirit.
We refer to the work of the Godhead in our salvation as the work of the Economic Trinity. That is to say that God, as the three Persons of the Godhead, is interested in the salvation of the people whom they have chosen to eternal life. All these three glorious and wonderful Persons of God are concerned in this work: the Father does the choosing, the Son does the blood-shedding and the Spirit works in us to give us this illumination. Of course, it would take a series of sermons even to begin to do justice to so lofty a theme and so exalted a subject as we have before us in these verses. If you are looking for a good book to read on these verses, the best one I know of is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his series of sermons on Ephesians, which bears the title God's Ultimate Purpose. You couldn't do better that read those sermons and study them for there we have the marrow of all this teaching brought before us in all its richness and fullness, with all the encouragement and glory which it is for those who believe.
I am now going to confine myself to verses four and five that deal with one of these spiritual blessings enumerated for us. Obviously you see from these two verses the particular blessing is that of election: "he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world", "having predestinated us unto the adoption of children" (text). We call this the subject of God's election. As soon as you begin to refer to this subject, you are up against a problem. The problem is this: how can God choose some people but not choose all. If God chooses some it means he leaves others out. This is very offensive to many people and you can understand why. They argue that if God is a God of love, how can He choose some to eternal life and leave the others to go their own way until they come to eternal death and eternal damnation. Surely, they say, God does not love some in that sense; there must be some other explanation. Wherever you go in the world you will find that this particular teaching of God's election is very offensive to some people. They stumble over it; they don't like it; they object to it and argue against it vociferously and energetically. It is for that reason that I am taking up the subject here today. I want to give you certain reasons why to understand this subject is most important.
The first reason why it is important is because of the view and of the understanding we gain concerning the character of God Himself. If we ourselves as sinners choose Christ by our own free will then our view of God is going to be very different from the view of God that tells us that it is God who does the choosing. That is the first reason why the subject is intensely important to understand: are we saved by God's free grace or are we saved by our own free will? There are plenty of people who tell us that we are saved by our own decision so the view we have of God will be determined by the answer to give to this question.
A second reason why it is so important is this: these are two entirely different ways of understanding how we are saved. If we think that we are saved by our own power, our own choice and our own will, then our view of the Gospel will be utterly different from the view which tells us that it is God who saves us from start to finish. If I believe that before I was born, before I had any existence, that God wrote my name in the Book of Life and it was absolutely nothing to do with a choice of mine, then you can see at once my understanding of what has happened to me as a Christian will be very, very different from a person who assumes that it is what he has done, and what he has decided, and what he has chosen that has made the difference in his life.
A third reason why this is so important to understand is because it will affect the maturity of our spiritual character. You can almost tell at a glance between the one who believes in the absolute sovereign grace and choice of God on the one hand, over against those who believe that really, ultimately, it was their own free will, their own decision and their own choice that made them Christians in the last resort. If therefore we want to be mature in the faith and have a full-orbed understanding of what God has done to us, we must know the answer to this question - How are we to understand this election of God?
Let me tell you that this matter has been under discussion and debate all through the centuries of the Christian church. Some said we are saved by God's absolute will, choice and predestination and others said, no, there is another explanation; predestination and election are not the ultimate explanation. They tended to say, and this is an important point to grasp, they said the way it works is this. In eternity past, in heaven, God who sees the future, looked into the future and He foresaw those who were going to choose Christ. You can see and understand that point of view. I do not believe it is correct and I will tell you why I think it is wrong in a moment. Let us grasp the point first of all that this is the way they explain God's election and predestination. These people say, and they are still saying it, that God chose those, who He saw, looking into the future, were going to choose Christ one day. In other words their view is this - when the Gospel is preached, some receive it and some don't. The reason for that is nothing to do they say with God, it is everything to do with the individual. Some people choose Christ and some do not. Some use their free will to choose the Gospel and some use their free will to reject it. They say that God in eternity past looked into the future and He saw those who were going to choose Christ and on the basis of His knowledge He elected them, chose them and predestinated them to become Christians. That is the argument which is used. On the other hand, those who believe that that is a mistake, indeed, as I do, they say no, no, it is not that at all; God in His eternal will, of His own free choice, appointed some men and women to everlasting life before they were born - not in any way because He foresaw what they would do but simply on the basis of His own purpose, plan and good pleasure.
You and I have to understand the Scriptures to teach either one or the other of these two views. It is most important that we should understand the Word of God correctly at this point. The great Reformers - Martin Luther, John Calvin and our wonderful Scottish Reformer, John Knox and the English Reformers - were all what we call predestinarians: they all believed that God did the choosing on the basis of His own free will and on the basis of His own secret plan and purpose before the world began. They were predestinarians: they believed absolutely that God chooses because He chooses, and He elects because He elects - and for no other reason. That is their view. However, at the beginning of the seventeenth century a new view came in from Holland. It was the result of the teaching of a professor of divinity in one of the universities in Holland whose name was Arminius. He died in 1609 and he had many followers in Holland. In 1610 they brought out a statement with five different points or articles of Christian belief in it. Those different articles included this one: "God", they said, "looks into the future and He chooses people based on His foreknowledge of their choice of Him". So they said that election and predestination are conditional - they are conditioned on the free will of man; they are conditioned by man's choice. They are conditioned by the fact that God foresees who it is that is going to select, choose and believe in Christ. These people were called Arminians. They caused a tremendous amount of trouble in Holland. The idea came over to England - not so much to Scotland - but it did tremendous harm; it split the churches in Holland and very nearly created a civil war.
What happened was this. The Dutch churches gathered together a Synod or General Assembly called the Synod of Dort. For a number of months they discussed the implications of this matter and in 1619 they brought out a very famous and important statement called The Canons of the Council of Dort. There were five points in it, which we remember by the use of a certain mnemonic called TULIP :-
T - total depravityU - unconditional electionL - limited atonementI - irresistible graceP - perseverance in the faith
In these five articles they refuted, rebutted and contradicted all that the Arminians said and taught. What concerns us today is the Synod of Dort's view of election. Their view was that the Bible teaches the doctrine of unconditional election. That is to say that when God in eternity past chose men and women to become Christians and to have these spiritual privileges of blessings in Christ, He did so on the basis of His own free good pleasure; in no sense, on the basis of His foreknowledge and fore-understanding of what men would do.
This debate, of course, is as alive today as ever it was. Arminianism is the view of thousands upon thousand upon millions of Christians in the world today. I wouldn't hesitate to say that most of the Christians in Scotland are followers of Arminius. They don't realise it - they are just ignorant and badly taught. That is why my duty is to see that that is never the case amongst ourselves here. It is essential that we should understand that the Arminian theory is wrong and understand why it is wrong. Let me tell you why. The whole problem centres round the love of God. The argument is that if God is love, how can He choose some and leave others out. What is the answer to that? I hope you feel the force of that difficulty. I hope your realise that there is power in that argument. If God is a God of love, how can He choose some and leave others? The answer we give is this. God is love but He first of all loves Himself. He loves Himself more than the entire universe put together because He is God and His glory is more important than the benefit of sinful fallen creatures such as we are. He is not for our convenience but we are for His. He is not for our sakes but we are for His. He doesn't depend upon us but we upon Him. He is the Potter and we are the clay. So then, because God loves Himself first of all, for that reason, He has decided that He will not choose everybody; He will choose some but not all.
The reason for this is made plain in Scripture - it is so that He may display and exhibit His glorious grace, His distinguishing grace, in giving salvation to some but not to all. Some, He leaves to their own free will, to go their own way and to be lost to the glory of His great justice and righteousness, so that in heaven and in hell there will be an eternal demonstration given; in heaven, of the grace of God on those who are there; and in hell, a demonstration of His glorious justice that they are receiving the due reward of their wicked deeds. The righteous in heaven are not there because of their own righteousness but because of the free grace and mercy of God - His distinguishing favour which He gave to them - not because they deserved it or merited it but because of His own free good pleasure and because they were chosen in Christ who died for them.
Another point we are to consider in this connection is this. What is man's free will? Has man got free will or has he not? The answer to that question is most important to grasp. The answer is - man does have free will up to a point. Man can choose to do many things - of course. We know that from our own experience and daily observation. Let me look at a case like this. Living in a house, let me say, near this building is a certain young man. He has the power, if he wishes to, to come to the house of God and to sit here or somewhere like this and listen to the preaching of the Gospel. He has the ability to choose to come. He has the ability to choose to read the Bible if he wishes. He has the ability to put his hands together, close his eyes and say words of prayer to God, if he chooses. He can do those things; that is within the power of his free will. But there is something that is not within the power of his free will. It is this. He cannot make himself love God. That is the problem with our sinful fallen natures - our willpower is so fallen and so depraved that we cannot make ourselves love God; but we must love God if we are to become Christians. Christians are those who do love God. Christians are those who freely choose the things of God. That is what they are called: followers of Christ. I am afraid the sad fact is free will in man is so ruined that man cannot choose to love God - he cannot choose to let his sins go. He loves his sins; he loves this world. He loves the pleasures of life more than God and, consequently, he is a slave to his own affections; his affections are enslaved to this world and so he cannot choose Christ of himself. He cannot choose God of himself; he cannot choose conversion for himself of himself.
An illustration may help some of the young people here. I am always thrilled to have young people here listening to sermons. You may know, boys and girls, that there is a way they catch monkeys which illustrates my point. They have a heavy iron cage, the bars of which are just so narrow that the monkey can get his hand sideways through the bar but when he clenches his fist, he cannot pull his hand out again. The monkey trapper puts a banana inside this round cage. The monkey comes along, sees the banana, puts his hand inside to grasp the banana - but he cannot pull the banana out. The monkey trapper simply walks along, catches the monkey and kills it. You might ask why the monkey doesn't let the banana go and run away. That's the point. It's because his love for the fruit is so great, he will not give it up, and because he will not give it up he cannot get free. If he would only give up the fruit, he could bring out his hand and run away. Love for the fruit is so great he will not give it up: he is enslaved by his love for the fruit and so he forfeits his life.
That is exactly the problem with the sinner. If only he could give up his sin he could come to Christ, but his will power is enslaved to his love of sin. No sinner would ever give up the world for God and no sinner would ever give up his pleasure-loving spirit and attitude to come to suffer with Christ in this world - he would never wish to take Christ's burden and cross upon himself. He would never wish to deny himself, live for heaven and forget this present life unless God gave him strength and power to do so. That is exactly how election works: God's eternal predestination means that in the course of a sinner's life, an elect person receives from God a call from heaven to leave this world. The way it works is like this - the sinner realises by the power and grace of God that the world is doomed to destruction: it is like a house soon about to be burned down. He realises the whole world is going to be judged by God. There is a Judgement Day coming and he realises he must get clear from the curse of condemnation. There is only one place a sinner can go to and he sees that. He goes to Jesus Christ and believes in Him and in His blood. The sinner is saved as he believes in Christ. He doesn't do that of his own free will. He certainly believes in Christ freely; he does not believe in Christ against his will. However, the point is this - it is the electing, choosing, predestinating love of God that gives him the strength and the grace to believe in Christ. God gives him power to do what in himself he could not do. He is made willing in the day of God's power. He becomes a willing bondservant of Jesus Christ; not because of any choice on his part, of himself, but by the choice on God's part.
There are many passages in the Bible which make this very clear. Ephesians 1, 3-5 (our text) is one of the clearest. However, there are other passages; I shall mention one or two.
"So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (Roman's 9, 16). Paul is reasoning there about the very same point: when we are saved and brought to faith in God, it is not the consequence of our choosing, or our running, or our doing, or our energetic behaviour - it is the free grace of God. It is God's work - "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy" (Roman's 9, 16). There are people who have been listening to sermons in churches all their lives but they die graceless and ignorant having learned virtually nothing. You have met these people - so have I. It is a heartache and heartbreak that we cannot teach some people anything. We can say it in a thousand different ways but still they never understand; they never know what the Gospel is all about. They hear the best of preachers and the best of preaching but they live and die like beasts - they never come to believe in Christ in a true converted sense. What has gone wrong? They have never been illuminated. They have never had grace given to them. It is their own fault - they didn't want it; they loved this world too much and they loved their sins too much. So they live and die as beasts without grace.
Another text is this. "God; Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Timothy 1, 9). That clearly teaches the very same thing, that it is not according to our works or our will that men are saved but it is according to God's own purpose and grace which is given us, he says, in Christ Jesus before the world began.
I come now to the most problematical of all the passages: 1 Peter 1, 2. He says that Christians are "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1, 2). Now you see, the Arminian says - "I have caught you now!" "Here is my point," says the Arminian. "Here is exactly what I have been arguing: we are elect according to God's foreknowledge. There you are", he says, "I win my point. God has chosen us and elected us on the basis of his foreknowledge of what is going to happen in the future! God has foreseen that some people will choose Him of their own free will when others will not." I hope you are following this line of reasoning.
One further thing before we close that I must make clear and that is the meaning of this important word - 'foreknow' and 'foreknowledge'. What is foreknowledge? What does it mean to foreknow? It certainly does not mean God looking into the future and knowing ahead of time those who are going to choose Christ and those who are not. It doesn't mean that. This word 'foreknow' and 'foreknowledge' is a Hebrew idea which really is equivalent to God loving somebody. It doesn't say what God foreknew but whom He foreknew. You get the same thing in that famous passage in Romans 8 - the golden chain in v.29-30: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8, 29). Let me explain what is being said in those verses. It is not that God is saying that He foreknows what is going to happen. He foreknows persons: "whom he did foreknow". The meaning of that then is that foreknowledge is equivalent to God's choice, God's love, God's selection and election of men and women, for no other reason than that it was His pleasure to do so: His own good pleasure, His own sovereign will and gracious purpose.
I can hear someone saying to me that this is very unfair. Let me answer that question before I come to my conclusion. My friend, it is not the slightest bit unfair. Supposing I have ?100.00 note in my right hand and two more in my other hand. If I wished, I could walk into this audience later and give ?100 to this man, ?100 to that woman and ?100 to somebody else. All the rest could say that I was very unfair - "We should all have got one!" It doesn't follow in the slightest. The money in my hand is my own money; I don't owe it to anybody. If I see fit to give it to this one and that one, it is nobody else's business. You cannot go to law and demand that I give you ?100 if I do not owe it to you. So it is with God; He doesn't owe salvation to anyone - certainly not to worms like me or you. He doesn't owe salvation to a single sinner. It is of His free, sovereign grace He bestows it upon this one and that one. It people don't receive it, it is not because it is owed to them as a matter of debt; it is given to men as a matter of grace and unmerited mercy.
But wait a minute! As I close I can hear somebody say that this teaching drives them to despair. You say, "Supposing I am not elect? Here am I coming to church, week after week. Here am I hearing this preaching about Christ and about election." You say, "I am seeking the Lord as far as I can and all this teaching drives me to despair. Supposing I am not elect;" you say, "there is no hope for me. It is a waste of time. I might as well get drunk every night. I might as well commit suicide and throw my life away. If God hasn't chosen me then I will never become a Christian and I will never find peace with Him." What is the answer to that problem? In a word, my dear friend, it is this. You are not called upon to know or to guess who are elect and who are not. What you are called upon to do is to take God's promises for what they are. God has said, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22, 17). Don't you concern yourselves with that eternal predestination of God as it concerns persons or particular individuals. Your duty if you are not converted or not assured is to seek the Lord by prayer and plead with Him to have mercy upon you. And He will! His promise is what you are to look to: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5, 6).
Therefore, my beloved friends, open your mouths wide and God will fill them. And when you come to do that and enjoy the blessing, you will realise it was all of His sovereign grace, not of your own choice at all but His predestination before the world began to the praise of the glory of His own great grace. Blessed be the name of God.
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