What God does he does for his own glory. All his wonders in creation—all his dealings in providence—all his actions in grace are for this end—that his great name might be magnified, and his glory be visibly manifested. Were there, indeed, no creation, no providence, no grace, God would still be the same; nothing would be lacking to his happiness, nothing lacking to his eternal and infinite perfections. We can, therefore, in imagination, look back to that period in eternity when there was no creation, when "as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world;" (Prov. 8:26;) and we can similarly fix our eyes on that moment when "he laid the foundations of the earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." (Job 38:4, 7.) But creation, with all its wonders, added nothing to the glory of God. It became, indeed, a vast theater for its visible display to millions of angelic and human intelligences; but the wisdom and power of God would have been the same had he never said, "Let there be light, and there was light," or made man in his own image, after his own likeness. But it was his holy will that there should be a visible manifestation of his glory; in other words, that there should be a display of his wisdom and power, and of every other such attribute of his divine character, as should bring eternal praise and honor to his name. Thence his original wonders in creation, thence his daily acts in providence, in opening his hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.
How beautifully is all this unfolded by the psalmist—"O Lord, what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. Here is the ocean, vast and wide, teeming with life of every kind, both great and small. See the ships sailing along, and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea. Every one of these depends on you to give them their food as they need it. When you supply it, they gather it. You open your hand to feed them, and they are satisfied." (Psalm 104:24-28.) And why this display of his power? "The glory of the Lord shall endure forever; the Lord shall rejoice in his works." (Psalm 104:31.)
But we need not dwell on the glory of God as thus visibly manifested in creation and in providence. The point which more immediately concerns us, as being connected with our present exposition, is the manifestation of this glory in a special way of grace—"To the praise of the glory of his grace." At this point, therefore, we resume our exposition of the chapter before us. "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the Beloved." (Eph. 1:6.)
We have showed that "the good pleasure of God's will" was the moving cause of his choosing the Church in Christ before the foundation of the world, and blessing her with all spiritual blessings in him. As, then, we may call "the good pleasure of his will" the moving cause of his choice, so we may term "the praise of his glory" its ultimate end. This is expressed by the Apostle in the words now before us, "To the praise of the glory of his grace." Let us look a little, then, into this deep and blessed subject.
We are usually so much taken up with looking at grace as suitable to ourselves, that we are apt to forget or overlook it as glorifying to God. It is, indeed, hardly to be expected that, in early days, we should lose sight of ourselves, when our own miserable condition as sinners before God is forced so continually on our thoughts, and so deeply and sensibly impressed upon our consciences. And it seems to be the will of God that we should practically and experimentally learn our need of grace as suitable to ourselves, before we rise up into a higher knowledge of grace as glorifying to him. It is for this reason that we are made to feel the burden of our sins, the holiness and justice of God, and what we deserve at his hands as transgressors. This is a view of the glory of God in the law, as reflecting his justice; but not a view of him in the gospel, as reflecting his grace. But it is still divine teaching, for we read—"Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O Lord, and teach him out of your law." (Psalm 94:12.) Under, then, this heavenly teaching, producing a sense of sin and of the justice of God in punishing it, all hope or help in self is cut off, and down we sink, body and soul, before the face of the Almighty, just able to cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"
Now this view of the glory of God in the law prepares us for a view of his glory in the gospel; and a knowledge of sin by the ministration of condemnation and death fits us for a knowledge of salvation by the ministration of life and righteousness. As, then, salvation by grace is manifested to the eyes of our enlightened understanding in the word, and is inwardly revealed by the power of God to the soul—how sweet and suitable is the melodious sound, as it thus reaches both ears and heart. It is this blessed suitability of God's way of saving sinners by grace, when every other door is shut and every other refuge cut off—which makes salvation by grace the sweetest tidings which can ever fall on the ears of man! Nor does an increasing knowledge of grace, both in its Fountain and in its streams, lessen either its suitability or its sweetness. No, the more deeply that we are led into a knowledge of the mystery of ungodliness—the more suitable and precious does salvation by grace become—as opening to our faith and hope the only escape from the wrath to come, and the only remedy that we can see or find, in heaven or earth, to meet the whole extent of our desperate case.
As, then, the benefit and blessedness of grace become more clearly and fully manifested—and its freeness, sovereignty, and super-aboundings are made more experimentally known—it is more warmly and lovingly embraced, more closely cleaved unto, more fully and unreservedly looked to and hung upon—as the only hope of our tried and tempted, and often cast down and dejected soul.
But during all this time we may have but very dim and scanty views of the grand and glorious truth here presented to us by the Apostle—that this grace, which is so suitable to us—is also glorifying to God. We seem to love and admire the gift more than the glory of the Giver! Our own salvation by the fullness and freeness of his grace—not his praise and glory in thus fully and freely saving us—as it was at first our chief concern, so it seems to form too often afterwards our chief thought and pleasure. Now this is surely not rendering to God the glory due to his name. It is not making his will our will, nor his glory the chief joy of our soul; and we thus fall short of what should be the main desire of our hearts. And as we thus fail in rendering to God the glory due to his name, so we proportionately lose much of what would be for our own comfort and stability, had we a clearer apprehension and a more abiding sense of the intimate connection between the grace of God end the glory of God.
But when we are somewhat farther and more clearly led into a vital, experimental knowledge of the great mystery of salvation by Christ, and can see by the eye of faith that God's own glory is far more deeply interested in saving us freely and eternally by his grace—than if it were merely from a feeling of pity and compassion to us as lost, undone sinners—then we seem to get a new view of what grace is, as dwelling eternally in the bosom of God, and see that it is not only for our salvation—but to the praise of his glory. As, then, we thus rise out of self into the purer and higher atmosphere of the glory of God, we see that this view of the true nature of grace gives it a deeper root, a firmer foundation, and makes it a more rich, copious, and ever-flowing spring of salvation and sanctification, of holiness and happiness, than were it merely God's free favor to undone sinners, in which his own glory had little share.
Now it will ever be found that as the glory of God is the ultimate end of all his thoughts and counsels, words and works—so a dim and defective view of this glory will impair our spiritual judgment, weaken our faith, becloud our hope, and diminish our love. To be always thinking of ourselves, and never lift up eye or heart to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, is a kind of spiritual selfishness, which, like moral selfishness, cramps and contracts the heart, and, by shutting out the glory of God, may, in a sense, be said to shut out himself.
But we need hardly wonder that so many of the living family of God have such dim and imperfect views of the real nature of grace, when we think how deficient in this point is the ministry of the day. There are but few, speaking comparatively, who preach salvation by grace at all; but even of those who do preach it, most seem to represent it rather as a remedy for the fall, a kind of expedient which God, moved with compassion, devised, almost as an after-thought, to repair the breach—than as a fruit of his eternal counsel and good pleasure for the manifestation of his own glory. They speak well of grace as opposed to works; and they proclaim, at least many of them, clearly and boldly, that salvation is all of grace from first to last. But they do not seem to see and admire how the glory of God shines forth with such conspicuous luster in his grace, and that he saves man, not merely as touched with pity and compassion for his case, but that, long before man sinned and fell, it was his determinate will that the love of his heart, the wisdom of his counsels, the power of his might, and the triumphs of his grace should bring to himself a revenue of eternal praise.
This, then, is what we should seek to realize by the power of faith, and we shall then see that this view of grace identifies, if we may use the expression—God in his glory with grace in its manifestation—and that it arrays, therefore, on the side of grace, not merely the sovereign will of God, but that glory which is the end of all his works. Thus it is, as the Apostle here declares, "to the praise of his glory." That his glory in manifesting his favor to the poor, needy children of men should be eternally praised, and form the theme of thanksgiving and blessing of myriads of redeemed sinners through millions of revolving ages, as it was the ultimate end of God's counsels, so in it will he eternally rest and be satisfied. And as this alone will satisfy God—so it alone will satisfy the objects of his love and the subjects of his grace.
And you, poor needy reader, who are often pressed and bowed down with a sense of your sins, have you not sometimes felt that none would so bless and praise God as you, if admitted to his presence—for of all sinners you have been and are in your feelings the vilest and worst, and of all extreme, peculiar, and complicated cases—yours seems to be at times the most deep and desperate? Well, then, you will have something to bless and praise God for, should you reach heaven at last—and to do this with an immortal tongue, as it will be your highest happiness, so it will be to God's own eternal glory.
But the Apostle goes on still further to unfold the nature and the triumphs of sovereign grace—"Wherein he has made us accepted in the Beloved." That the grace revealed in the gospel is wholly in Christ must never for one moment be lost sight of. This is the reason why the Apostle keeps pressing it again and again on our attention, lest we should unawares lose sight of it.
The point, then, here chiefly developed is our ACCEPTANCE. "Accepted in the Beloved." The word means literally "graced" us, or given us favor, "in the Beloved," that is, of course, the beloved Son of God. The word occurs only in another place in the New Testament, that is, Luke 1:28, in the salutation of Gabriel to the Virgin, where it is rendered in our version, "You that are highly favored," and in the margin, "Graciously accepted," or "much graced."
Acceptance, then, means being in a state of favor of God; and "acceptance in the Beloved" gives us the reason of this state of favor, that it is in consequence of possessing such a union with Christ, and of being so identified with him, as to be viewed with the same favor as he is by the Father. What a light this throws upon the union of the Church with Christ and the fruit of this union. How close, peculiar, and intimate must be the union of the Church with the Person of the Son of God, if by virtue of it the Father loves her with the same love, rejoices over her with the same delight, and bears toward her the same favor as he does to his only-begotten Son. This union with Christ is, then, the only ground of the acceptance of our persons; and, as such, is the first fruit of distinguishing grace. Until we were thus personally accepted, there could be no flowing forth of the streams of love and mercy, some of which we have already touched upon, and others which we hope soon to trace.
Indeed, we may say that it is almost in divine as in human love. A woman must be personally acceptable to a man before love can fix itself upon her. He may and should love her for the qualities of her mind; but it is her person, for the most part, which first catches and entangles his affections. And if this be thought a carnal view of divine love, may we not appeal to that portion of the Book of which heavenly love forms the chief subject? In that record of the loves of Christ and the Church do we find the heavenly Bridegroom unmindful of, or insensible to the personal charms of his bride? How much of the divine Song is taken up with the mutual admiration of each other's personal beauty. How we seem to see the Bridegroom's loving looks and hear his loving tones—"Behold, you are fair, my love; behold, you are fair; you have doves' eyes within your locks; your hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from Mount Gilead." "You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you." "You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of your neck." (Sol. Song 4:1, 7, 9.) But what is all this personal beauty which the heavenly Lover so much admires in the Church—but the reflection of his own loveliness in her? It is with her as the Lord said to the Church of old—"And your renown went forth among the heathen for your beauty; for it was perfect through my loveliness, which I had put upon you, says the Lord God." (Ezek. 16:14.) The Church, then, being viewed as one with Christ, the beloved Son of God—his beauty and loveliness are seen put upon her and reflected in her—and the Father, viewing her as thus one with his dear Son, contemplates her with the same delight, approbation, and favor—as that with which he looks upon the Son of his eternal love. Our Lord, therefore, said of his people to the Father, "And have loved them as you have loved me." (John 17:23.)
This, then, is being "made accepted in the Beloved;" and this acceptance of our persons, as it is the first result of our union with Christ, so it is the source of all subsequent acts of favor. A man can never do too much for the woman that he loves. "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it." No sacrifice was too great, no suffering too severe for him not to endure for her sake. From love to her he laid his glory aside, took part of the flesh and blood of the children, hid not his face from shame and spitting, and endured all the agony and ignominy of the cross. But this is a subject on which we need not enlarge, as it would take us too far afield. Suffice it to say that all subsequent thoughts, words, and acts of love towards the Church were built, as it were, on this foundation. "I was," the Church says, "in his eyes as one that found favor." (Song 8:10.) But why? Because she was made accepted in the Beloved.
But as this is a grand point, not only of Christian doctrine but of Christian experience, we trust to be excused if we dwell a little longer upon it, and show how it bears upon the work of the blessed Spirit on the heart.
We are ever looking for something in SELF to make ourselves acceptable to God, and are often sadly cast down and discouraged when we cannot find that holiness, that obedience, that calm submission to the will of God, that serenity of soul, that spirituality and heavenly-mindedness which we believe to be acceptable in his sight, and to make us acceptable too. Our crooked tempers, fretful, peevish minds, rebellious thoughts, coldness, barrenness, and death, our alienation from good and headlong proneness to ill, with the daily feeling that we get no better but rather worse, make us think that God views us just as we view ourselves. And this brings on great darkness of mind and bondage of spirit, until we seem to lose sight of our acceptance in Christ, and get into the miserable dregs of self, almost ready to quarrel with God because we are so vile, and only get worse as we get older. Now the more we get into these dregs of self, and the more we keep looking at the dreadful scenes of wreck and ruin which our heart presents to daily view, the farther do we get from the grace of the gospel, and the more do we lose sight of the only ground of our acceptance with God. It is "in the Beloved" that we are accepted, and not for any good words or good works, good thoughts, good hearts, or good intentions of our own.
Not but that the fruits of godliness are acceptable in God's sight; not but that our continual sins are displeasing in his eyes. But we must draw a distinction between the acceptance of our persons and the acceptance of our works—between what we are as standing in Christ and what we are as still in the flesh. If our acceptance with God depended on anything in ourselves, we would have to adopt the Wesleyan creed, and believe we might be children of God today and children of the devil tomorrow! What comfort that doctrine would give us, we leave our exercised readers to judge of for themselves. If it did not drive an exercised soul to despair, we know not what either hope or despair is. What, then, is to keep us from sinking altogether into despair, without hope or help? Why, a knowledge of our acceptance "in the Beloved," independent of everything in us, good or bad. Here is a firm foundation for our faith and hope.
And how the Scriptures pour in, as it were, on all sides their confirming testimony—"Their righteousness is of me, says the Lord." "In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified and shall glory." "You are complete in him." "By him all that believe are justified from all things. Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption," "That he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." "You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you." What a universal chorus of harmonious voices do we hear all sounding forth the same melodious strain, that the Church stands before God accepted in the Beloved.
But we need not further enlarge on this point, especially as we have other precious truths still in reserve. We pass on, therefore, to the next verse—"In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace."
It will be, perhaps, observed that we now come to a spiritual blessing connected with, and dependent upon the fall. The blessings which we have hitherto been considering we may view as antecedent to and, therefore, unconnected with the fall of man. Election in Christ before the foundation of the world, a state of perfect holiness and blamelessness before God, predestination to the adoption of children to himself, and acceptance in the Beloved—these four choice blessings are irrespective of the entrance of sin into the word and of death by sin. And observe how, as being antecedent to and irrespective of the fall, they gave the Church a standing in Christ which preserved her from being personally wrecked and ruined by the fall. We say "personally," that is, as regards her person; for as regards her state she fell in Adam, being in his loins when he committed the first transgression.
A figure may help us here. A king marries his son to a pure, chaste bride, and presents her with a goodly dowry. Now, she might be carried off by pirates, dragged into slavery, reduced to a state of great poverty and misery, and yet with all this remain the king's daughter and the son's wife. And if her husband should go after and undergo every kind of peril and privation to find her and bring her back, this would not make her any more his wife than she was before.
What made the Church to be the bride of God's dear Son? You cannot surely say that redemption made her such, any more than being rescued from the hands of the pirates, in our figure, made the freed captive to be the king's son's wife. We see, therefore, that the Church had a standing in Christ as his chosen bride before she fell in Adam, and thus the blessings which we nave named and gone through in our exposition were given her antecedent to, and irrespective of the fall. We do not say that the fall was not foreseen and fore-provided for; we do not say that in the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, regard was not had to it. All we contend for is, that the choice of the Church in Christ, her union with him as his bride, and her acceptance in him as the beloved Son of the Father—were blessings antecedent to, and irrespective of the Adam fall.
But though it is not our object to dispute, or split hairs in divinity, yet as it is in our judgment a blessed part of revealed truth, we shall close our present article with an extract from Goodwin, who, in our judgment, of all authors whom we have ever read, has written most clearly and beautifully on this point:
"In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." (Verse 7.)
"I stand here at the 7th verse, between two of the greatest—what shall I call them?—heights or depths of God's wisdom and grace toward us; and as that angel in the Revelation had one foot upon the earth and another upon the sea, so I stand with one foot upon the blessings ordained us from eternity, and intended us when we come in heaven, and the other upon the blessings intended us here in this world. They are both of them two vast arguments, and therefore you shall give me leave to be somewhat larger than ordinary about them. For of all the mysteries of the gospel, since I knew it, this has most swallowed up my thoughts.
"Two things I shall observe about these two sorts of decrees and blessings—First, I shall show you how these blessings differ, as before I showed you what was common to them among themselves; and, Secondly, I shall give you a glimpse of that infinitely glorious harmony between these two contrivements, and of the wisdom of God which shines in them both. The greatness of the point deserves this.
"For the First. How these blessings DIFFER.
"First. The first sort of blessings, perfect holiness, adoption, &c., were ordained us without the consideration of the fall, though not before the consideration of the fall; for all the things which God decrees are at once in his mind. They were all, both one and other, ordained to our persons. But God, in the decrees about these first sort of blessings, viewed us as creabiles, as creatures which he could and would make so and so glorious. For God can easily ordain the subject, and the utmost well-being of it, both at once; and this might well be the first idea taken of us in God's purposes, because such is the perfection of God's understanding, that he at first looks to the perfection and end of his work. But the second sort of blessings were ordained us merely upon consideration of the fall, and to our persons considered as sinners and unbelievers. And the first sort were to the praise of God's grace, taking grace for the freeness of love; whereas, the latter sort are to the praise of the glory of his grace, are with an endearment of a greater degree of his grace, unto a further glory of his grace, and an illustration of it, taking grace for free mercy.
"Secondly. Those first sort of blessings are ordained to have their full and plenary accomplishment, and to take place in that other world, and are suited to that state into which we shall then be installed. And as in God's primary intention they are before the other, and therefore are said to have been 'before the foundation of the world,' (ver. 4,) so they are to take place after this world ended, they being the center of all God's thoughts towards us. Then we shall be so holy as Satan himself shall find no ground to carp at us. Then we shall receive the adoption of children; and though we are now the sons of God, yet then it shall appear to us and all the world, by that infinite glory that God will then bestow upon us. But those second sort of blessings were ordained for our entertainment in this world, and are suited unto that condition which we shall run through unto the day of judgment.
"Thirdly. The first sort are founded merely upon our relation to the Person of Christ, as is manifested in all those three mentioned, (ver. 4-6,) 'chosen in him,' and therefore holy; because as he, being the Son of God, was to be holy, (Luke 1:35,) 'That holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God,' so are we, we being members of him. And as this is true of holiness, so of the other two it is more plain. But this second sort are founded merely upon the merits of Christ; as redemption through his blood, and so forgiveness, conversion, etc. In a word, these latter blessings are but the removings of those obstacles which, by reason of sin, stood in our way to that intended glory. In the fullness of time God sent his Son to redeem them that were under the law, that they might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal. 4:5.)"—Dr. Goodwin's Works, vol. 1, p. 117.