Our readers will remember that in the course of our exposition of the chapter before us, (Eph. 1,) we pointed out, as laid down by the Apostle, four spiritual blessings antecedent to and irrespective of the Adam fall—and four blessings as consequent upon and connected with it; and that we endeavored to open the peculiar and distinctive character of each of these blessings according to the ability which God gave us. It is with this last class of blessings that we are now engaged, the third, or REGENERATION, having occupied a portion of our Meditations in our last paper, and being still under consideration as not then fully completed by us.
But the thought has struck our mind that perhaps some of our readers may consider the referring of Eph. 1:8, 9 to the blessing of Regeneration to be a somewhat strained interpretation of the passage, and others may be of opinion that the Apostle means rather the outward promulgation of the gospel than the inward reception of it. As our desire, then, is to remove every stumbling-block out of the path, as well as clearly and distinctly open the mind and meaning of the Apostle, we shall, before we proceed any further, explain why we have interpreted those verses as referring to the spiritual blessing of Regeneration, that is, the inward revelation of the will of God, rather than to the preached gospel, that is, the outward revelation of it. This we think will be best done by first quoting and then tracing out the connection of the whole passage—"In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he has abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself." (Eph. 1:7-9.)
The first point to be observed is that all the blessings consequent upon on the fall are here linked together in one connected chain. Redemption, the first of these blessings, takes the lead; for before the Church was redeemed by blood from the consequences of the fall, nothing effectual was or could be done for or to her in a way of grace. Forgiveness of sins and Justification by Christ's blood and righteousness is the next link, and follows as the blessed result of Redemption. And now in this connected chain is not Regeneration the next spiritual blessing? Have not redemption and forgiveness of sin to be manifested and made known to the soul? and how can this be done until it is made alive unto God by regenerating grace? As soon, therefore, as the Apostle dropped the words, "The forgiveness of sins," he added, "According to the riches of his grace, wherein he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence." The words "wherein," (that is "in the riches of his grace,") "he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence," evidently mean the special display of the wisdom and prudence of God in making redemption and forgiveness of sins personally known to the soul, rather than the outward promulgation of them by the preached gospel; and this view seems confirmed by what immediately follows—"Having made known to us the mystery of his will."
It is true that this is done in the outward promulgation of the gospel; but the words "us," "abounding toward us," "having made known to us," point to individual and personal blessings as distinct from and beyond the general declaration of them by the preached word. Connecting, therefore, the abounding of God's wisdom and prudence with the making known to us, in the display of that wisdom and prudence, the mystery of his will, we seem to arrive at some special and personal revelation of divine truth to the soul; and as this is done in and by regeneration, we have for this reason explained the words of the Apostle as referring to that choice spiritual blessing. But we wish it to be fully understood that when we call this blessing "regeneration" we mean to include in that term not merely the beginning of divine life, but the whole of that work of God on the soul whereby he makes known to us "the mystery of his will" and abounds toward us in all wisdom and prudence. Here, then, we resume our exposition.
In our last paper we drew a distinction between "the wisdom" of God and "the prudence" of God, applying the former to his more usual and general, and the latter to his more special and peculiar dealings with the souls of his people. But whether these dealings are of a usual or of an unusual character, the result is the same. In and by them God makes known to the soul the mystery of his will. What this will is—why it is called a mystery—and how it is made known—are all points deserving our attentive consideration.
1. It will be observed that the Apostle speaks of three distinct things in the mind of God, but all moving together in perfect concert and harmony to a definite end. There is first God's "will;" secondly, his "good pleasure;" thirdly, his "purpose in himself."
His "will" stands first as being the more general and comprehensive expression of the mind of God; for his will takes the widest range, exercising supreme control over all things and all persons in heaven and in earth—there being nothing too great and nothing too small to escape its sovereign domain. We therefore read—"All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him—What have you done?" (Dan. 4:35.) Dominion and will go together, as in the case of Alexander the Great, intimated by the prophet—"And a mighty king shall stand up, who shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will." (Dan. 11:3.)
The will of God, then, extends beyond the domain of his grace, and reaches and influences every event. It is not, therefore, this general will of God which he makes known to the objects of his regenerating grace, but his special will, as manifested in the Person and work of his dear Son, and revealed in the gospel.
But it will be observed that this part of his will moves in special concert with his "good pleasure"—his eudokia. The word in the New Testament generally means an object with which God is specially well pleased. It, therefore, occurs in that particular expression of his approbation, given with an audible voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus—"And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:17.) So the multitude of the heavenly host at the birth of Jesus, when they praised God, said—"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:14.) So our Lord, thanking his heavenly Father for hiding the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven from the wise and prudent, and revealing them to babes, says—"Even so, Father—for so it seemed good in your sight." (Matt. 11:26.) Where the words "seemed good in your sight" are literally, "for so it became a good pleasure before you." So "of his good pleasure;" (Phil. 2:13;) "all the good pleasure of his goodness," (2 Thess. 1:11,) "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom;" (Luke 12:32;) "it pleased God," or, rather, God was well pleased, to save them that believe;" (1 Cor. 1:21;) "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me;" (Gal. 1:15;) "It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell." (Col. 1:19.)
If all those passages are carefully examined it will be found that God's "good pleasure," or will, specially respects the manifestation of his grace in the gospel of his dear Son. It is, therefore, that part of the will of God in which he takes special delight. All his will has his approbation, for the two cannot be severed; but that part of his will whereby he has willed the gift of his dear Son, with all the benefits and blessings which spring out of and are connected with his Person and work, in that is the peculiar good pleasure, the special delight of God.
And that this "good pleasure" of his will might be fixed without the shadow of a turn, it was settled by a resolve in his own immutable mind. This firm "decree" is expressed by the Apostle, in the words, "which he has purposed in himself." Thus God's will, God's good pleasure, and God's purpose in himself, all combine and move together, in harmonious concert—the sovereignty of his will, the approbation of his good pleasure, and the decree of his purpose, forming a threefold cord never to be broken.
2. But what are we to understand by "the mystery of his will?" The word "mystery" in the New Testament has chiefly two significations—1. It means generally those facts, doctrines, principles, etc., into which, as being beyond all human knowledge, we must be initiated by divine teaching. 2. It signifies specially the secret purpose of God as revealed and brought to light by the gospel. It does not mean what we often understand by the term "mysterious," as if it were something wrapped up in an inscrutable cloud. On the contrary, the word "mystery" means a secret, but which, when revealed and brought to light, is no longer mysterious, but becomes plain and clear. The word is borrowed from the ancient mysteries at which persons were initiated with many peculiar rites and ceremonies, and certain traditionary secrets made known to them which they were bound never to disclose. The gospel, therefore, was a mystery or secret hidden in the bosom of God, but in due time brought to light, and made known to the initiated, that is, those who were called by distinguishing grace. Thus, when the Apostle says, "How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ," (Eph. 3:3, 4,) he does not mean that there is something dark, mysterious, and inscrutable in the gospel, but just the contrary—that there was a secret purpose in the mind of God, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the spirit.
Now what was this secret purpose of God, this mystery revealed by the Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets? It was "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." (Eph. 3:6.) He, therefore, adds, "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ." (Eph. 3:8, 9.) The mystery, then, of God's will, the good pleasure which he has purposed in himself, is that Jew and Gentile should be fellow-heirs, should belong to the same mystical body of Christ, the Church; and enjoy in common every spiritual blessing with which he has blessed her in heavenly places in Christ. It is in the gospel that this mystery of God's will is revealed externally; but when this precious gospel is made known to the soul by a divine power, there is a display in it of the aboundings of the wisdom and prudence of God in making known this mystery of his will by and through regenerating grace. But the Apostle goes on to show more particularly what the mystery of this will of God is—"That in the dispensation of the fullness 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." (Eph. 1:10.)
When man stood in his primeval innocence, and especially when the Church stood in all her virgin purity, as the chosen bride of the Son of God, there was a harmony between heaven and earth. Elect angels above and unfallen man below, though of distinct natures, were one as regarded purity of creation, and each could serve God acceptably according to their intelligence and knowledge of him. When God, therefore, laid the foundations of the earth, the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. (Job 38:7.) But the fall broke that bond of harmony asunder. Fallen man and holy, unfallen angels could no longer meet on the ground of obedience and worship. Angels, therefore, became God's ministers, to execute his commands against man, not for him; and as the first fruit of this work, were placed at the gates of Eden to guard with flaming sword the way to the tree of life.
Now it was the will of God, the good pleasure which he had purposed in himself, to reunite this family, but in a different way, and on a different footing. It was to put them both under a common Head, even his dear Son, and that not simply as his Son, but as incarnate, as the Son of God and the Son of man in one glorious Person, Immanuel, God with us. Thus by taking our nature into union with his own divine Person, the blessed Lord became not only the Head of the body of the Church, but the Head of angels, and thus gathered together into one family redeemed men and elect angels under his glorious and abiding headship. We, therefore, read—"Of whom the whole family of heaven and earth is named." (Eph. 3:15.) Thus angels, though not redeemed, though not in union with the Lord the Lamb, are as much interested in the incarnation of the Son of God as we are; for being gathered together into one family under his headship, they are eternally secured in their angelic condition, and can never fall away after the manner and example of the apostate angels who kept not their first estate.
But here lies the depth and sweetness of the mystery that the Church, though fallen, should, by virtue of Christ's incarnation, blood shedding, and death, be promoted to a place higher, and what is more wonderful, nearer and dearer to the Lord of heaven and earth than elect angels ever had or could have. We may view it thus by way of illustration, and it will serve to show how the Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, and the Head also of angels. Take the case of the master of a house. He is the head of all that belong to the house. Wife, children, and servants, he is head to all; but to each in a different way, and in a different relationship. To the wife he is head—"The husband is the head of the wife," (Eph. 5:23,) but he is also husband. To the children he is head, as father; to the servants he is head, as master. So the Lord Jesus is the head of the body the Church, but he is her husband too. This is a much nearer, dearer, sweeter, and more intimate relationship than angels can possess or enjoy. They have not, therefore, union and communion with the Lord, as the Church has. They are filled with all happiness and holiness; they love, worship, and adore; they admire the manifold wisdom of God made known to them by the Church, (Eph. 3:10,) and gladly and willingly do they now perform their appointed office when they are sent forth as ministering spirits to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation. But the intimacy, the nearness, the love-embraces, the intercommunion of heart of husband and wife are not theirs. Angelic nature by original creation is superior to human, but, through the holy humanity of Jesus, human nature is now advanced above it. Angelic nature is not, and never can or will be in immediate and intimate union with Deity; but human nature, in the Person of Immanuel, is indissolubly united to it.
This is the great mystery that Christ and the Church are one flesh, as the husband and wife are one flesh; and thus "we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." (Eph. 5:30-32.) The angels, therefore, as seen by John, were "round about the throne"—forming the outward circle, but not "in the midst of the throne," with the four living creatures and the elders—the inner circle. At the marriage supper of the Lamb, the Church his wife sits at the table as a bride adorned for her husband. The angels look on, and reverently and admiringly wait, for envy and jealousy have no place in their pure and holy bosoms; but they do not sit down at the table with the bride.
3. "In the dispensation of the fullness of times," that is, when the times are full and the set season comes, this mystery will be made openly manifest. God will then visibly gather together in one, under one Head and one headship, "all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him." The mystery is not yet finished. (Rev. 10:7.) There is a work on the wheels still to be accomplished. Elect souls have to be called or gathered home, and the living stones to be quarried and hewed here below, as were those of Solomon's temple, before the temple is complete in all its glory. Now, at and by regeneration this mystery of God's will is made personally and experimentally known. There is therein a gathering of the soul as one of "the things on earth" into Christ. There is a making-known to it of "the mystery of God's will, according to his good pleasure," for as Christ is made known to the soul, believed in, hoped in, and loved; as union and communion with him are sensibly felt and realized, there is a gathering of the understanding, of the will, of the conscience, and of the affections unto him, so as to center wholly in him. The understanding is enlightened and informed, so as to approve of this mystery of God's will; the will is won over to join in sweet harmony with the will of God as thus revealed; the conscience is made alive, and being purged by blood, becomes clean and tender; and the affections are kindled and drawn forth to embrace the wonderful mystery of the love of God in Christ Jesus. The soul thus taught and led looks forward to the glorious day when the mystery will be complete, when the Lord himself will come and all his saints with him, and will openly claim and manifest his bride, and gathering together in himself in visible manifestation all things which are in heaven and on earth, will reign gloriously as Head of all.
It is well worthy of observation how the Apostle ever blends Christian doctrine with Christian experience, and thus brings doctrinal truth to bear upon our individual possession and personal knowledge of these heavenly mysteries—"In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will." (Eph. 1:11.) "In whom." Observe how again and again the man of God dwells upon union with Christ as the foundation and the fountain of all spiritual blessings. "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance." The words rendered literally mean, "In whom we have been allotted," or "chosen and apportioned unto by lot." They have, therefore, when thus rendered, a rather wider range than they have according to our translation, for they will bear two consistent senses—1, that we have been allotted to Christ for his inheritance; 2, that he has been allotted to us for ours. Both are scriptural, both rest on the same foundation, God's predestinating purposes, and both are intimately connected with the peculiar relation which the Church bears to Christ as her covenant Head.
1. Christ, in all his glorious fullness, is the portion and inheritance of his people—"The Lord is my portion, says my soul;" (Lam. 3:24;) "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup." (Psalm 16:5.) The Levites, therefore, had no inheritance among the other tribes as being typical of those who are priests unto God, and offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him by Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5.) "But unto the tribe of Levi, Moses gave not any inheritance; the Lord God of Israel was their inheritance, as he said unto them." (Jos. 13:33.) And does not this flow out of the peculiar relationship which the Church bears to Christ? Is not the husband the wife's best portion? To a loving wife, her husband is her earthly all. His love, his approving smile, his tender caresses, and affectionate embracements, his protection and companionship, his counsel, watchful care, and ever-ready help, and above all himself, as the object of her warmest love, and possessed by her as her own for life—is not this a better inheritance for a fond wife than a few dirty acres left her by her father, or money in a bank which she may lose at a single stroke?
Such a manifest union with the Son of God, and such sensible communion arising out of it as shall enable the soul to say, "My Beloved is mine and I am his," is an inheritance indeed. To have the Lord himself for our inheritance so as to be able to say, "Having Christ I have all I want, desire, or need; in possessing him I possess all things. His Person, his work, his blood and righteousness, his dying love, his all-sufficient grace and future glory—all are mine as my enduring and eternal portion"—could God give to his people a greater portion, a more blessed inheritance than this? What is all that earth can give compared with such an inheritance? Thus in him, the poorest, lowest, weakest believer obtains an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fades not away.
2. And as the Church has obtained an inheritance in Christ, so Christ has obtained an inheritance in the Church. "Israel is the lot of his inheritance." "Ask of me," said the Father to the Son, "and I shall give you the heathen for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession." But as we shall have occasion to enter into this point more fully when we come to the consideration of verse 18, we shall not now further dwell upon it, but direct the attention of our readers to the predestinating purpose of God, by which this mutual inheritance of Christ by the Church, and of the Church by Christ, was definitely fixed. "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will." (Eph. 1:11.)
The obtaining of this inheritance, or as we have preferred to render the words, "the allotment of the portion," is referred here by the Apostle to the predestination of God. We may observe four things spoken of in reference to this predestination, and its effects—the purpose of God, the will of God, the counsel of God, and the work of God.
1. His will we have before pointed out as the sovereign supreme author or controller of all persons and events in heaven and in earth; and as manifested in his dear Son is "the good and acceptable and perfect will of God," which we have to prove by divine teaching and personal experience. (Rom. 12:2.) It is, therefore, called "his own will," as implying sovereignty and supremacy.
2. But there is "the counsel" of this will. By this we may understand the infinite wisdom of God, and that as especially manifested in the dealings of his grace. It is not, if we may use the expression without irreverence—an unthinking, unreasoning, arbitrary will, such as we see in the case of earthly sovereigns and irresponsible despots. But it moves in concert with the most perfect and infinite wisdom. There is in reality and truth, no prior or posterior, no first or last in the various acts of the mind of God; but to make the point more clear to our understanding, we may say that the counsel of God preceded the will of God in planning and fixing the economy of grace. He took counsel, so to speak, with his infinite wisdom in the whole plan of grace before his will went forth as a sovereign act of his mind; and when his infinite wisdom had devised the way, his sovereign will fixed it beyond the possibility of a change.
It is beautiful to see the wisdom of God engaged in every transaction of his grace; and that in a matter of such difficulty, where every perfection and attribute had to be harmonized in the salvation of the Church, he took counsel with the depths of his infinite wisdom. But no sooner had infinite wisdom fixed the plan than the will of God went forth in sovereign approbation of it, and it then became his fixed "purpose."
3. The word "purpose" means fixed resolve, and this is the immediate result of God's will. Thus counsel comes first to plan—will next chooses what counsel advises—purpose next fixes what will approves—and work, lastly, effects what God thus predestinates. We find the word "purpose" elsewhere ascribed to the fixed resolves of God in the economy of grace. Thus we read of them who are "the called according to his purpose;" (Rom. 8:28;) so "According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Eph. 3:11.) So—"Who has saved us, and called us with a 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 Tim. 1:9.)
4. Here we are said to be "predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will." The question may, therefore, arise, what is the distinction between the purpose of God—and the predestination of God? The difference seems to be this—that predestination goes one stop further and beyond purpose. It is the final expressed decision of it. Let us illustrate this by taking a glance at human actions. The first thing we do in a difficulty, is to take counsel with our own mind how to get the better of it. When the way suggests itself, and has been well considered, the next step is to approve of the plan thus suggested; then follows a resolve on our mind to adopt it; then an expression of this resolve by some utterance of mouth or writing of hand so as to fix it beyond recall; and lastly some act to put the whole into execution.
So in the grand economy of grace. There is God's counsel to plan, his will to approve, his purpose to resolve, his predestination to unalterably fix, and his work to execute. Predestination, therefore, is beyond purpose, as being more definite. Thus God swore, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek." This was predestination in the oath sworn to his dear Son. The writing of the names of the elect in the book of life was also a predestinating act. It was fixing the persons who were to be saved as well as fixing the way by which they should be saved. This makes predestination a step beyond purpose, as the more definite expression of it by word or deed. I may have purposed in my own mind to help a friend, and it may be a fixed purpose too, only lacking time and opportunity, but when I have once promised him, or entered into a written engagement, it is fixed beyond recall. In this way, therefore, God's predestination goes a step beyond God's purpose, and makes that purpose as the open expression of his will irrevocable.
5. Then follows the execution—"Who works all things after the counsel of his own will." The expression is wide, for it takes in "all things;" but we may limit it here to the execution of the purposes of his grace. In this sense and this way God works all things after the counsel of his own will. "He works." Here again we come to the same point, the work of God on the soul, whereby he makes known the mystery of his will. As God's will embraces all persons and all events in heaven and on earth—so it specially has to do with the dispensation of his grace. He who works all things after the counsel of his own will works in his people both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
But as the effect of this work is more fully explained in the next verse, we shall defer the further consideration of it to our following paper.