Making Known The Eternal Purpose

R. V. Court, Bristol, England

All quotations are from the Revised Version

An examination of Paul’s letters makes it clear that he regarded the commission to preach the Gospel which had been given to him as an immeasurable privilege. This is not to say that the weight of responsibility in relation to it did not rest heavily upon him. In one place he says, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel”, 1 Cor. 9. 16, but this sense of responsibility did not rob him of the thrill of knowing that in the sovereign counsel of God he had been chosen to bring to men a message which had originated in eternity, a message which revealed God’s thoughts of grace, a message which brought that grace into the ambit of man’s experience.

When writing to Titus he drew attention to the fact that eternal life was something that God “who cannot lie, promised before times eternal”, 1. 2. God’s purpose for this universe included the determination that men should be brought into relationship with Himself, sharing His own life, and this by implication brings the cross into the centre of the eternal counsel. When consideration is given to 1 Peter 1. 18-20 and the reference to the lamb “foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world” is noted, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that these two things are very closely linked; “before times eternal” life was promised, “before the foundation of the world” a lamb was foreknown. God knew that to give life to men was going to cost Him His Son, the most costly gift that He could give, and it was going to cost His Son His life and the unutterable agony and shame of the cross. We can only bow in worship at such love and grace.

We bless Thee, O our Father
For Thine electing grace,
Before the world’s foundation
Thy purposes we trace -
That Thou wouldst have a people
Redeemed by precious blood,
To dwell with Thee in glory
Beloved as sons of God.

But, when in the fulness of time the cross had become a fact of history, how could these purposes be made known to men? Had they remained shut up in the heart of God, they would have continued to be secrets hidden from the knowledge of those who were to be blessed through them, and this ignorance of the purposes of God and the true meaning of the cross would have kept men in the darkness and slavery of sin. God must find a way to bring the knowledge of His eternal purposes to those who are involved in them and Paul exulted in the fact that, in His sovereignty, God had chosen men to be the vehicles for the conveyance of this knowledge. If Titus 1. 2 takes us back to eternity, verse 3 brings us into this present time and we see that God has “in his own seasons manifested his word in the message”. As Paul wrote these words he realised afresh, with deep gratitude, that this word had been committed to him “according to the commandment of God our Saviour”. He understood, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that it was God in His character as Saviour who had commanded that the “mystery” should be revealed and he rejoiced that God had chosen him to do this.

When the apostle wrote to the church at Thessalonica at a much earlier date, he linked the eternal purpose with the Gospel which he had been privileged to preach to them, 2 Thess. 2. 13-14. He gave thanks to God for those whom he could describe as “brethren beloved of the Lord” because they had been from the beginning chosen to salvation and this “in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth”. The divine purpose is seen in this choice unto salvation, but “belief of the truth” is recognised as a vital link in the chain of blessing presented, says Paul, by “our gospel”.

Ephesians 1 also emphasises the link between the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” and the Gospel by which this counsel is made known. Verse 4 indicates that God has chosen “us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him”. This was “according to the good pleasure of his will”, v. 5. Verse 9 speaks of God “having made known unto us the mystery of his will” and the passage goes on to speak of God’s intention to “sum up all things in Christ” and links the believer with Christ in relation to all this, vv. 10-12. The question naturally arises, how were these mysteries of His will made known to the men of Ephesus - how did they come to understand their place in the purpose of Him “who worketh all things after the counsel of his will”? Paul answers this question by saying “in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation - in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”, v. 13. They heard the message, they believed it, they were incorporated in Christ and sealed. They would for ever be grateful that God had sent human messengers to make known His purpose for them.

There were those who challenged Paul’s message and denied its divine origin and from time to time he deemed it necessary to emphasise that God was responsible for it. Galatians 1. 11-12 is very plain in this matter: “For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ”. He continues the thought in verses 15-16 of the same chapter, “But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles”.

Notwithstanding the opposition of false teachers, the insidious workings of the powers of darkness and the growing hostility of those in authority, this conviction of the divine origin of salvation and the divine choice of men to convey the truth to those who were to be the objects of the divine love never left the apostle. A consideration of 2 Timothy 1. 9-11 (his last letter) will show that the wonder of it was still with him. He reminded Timothy that Christians have been called “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 times eternal”. He then told Timothy how in the fulness of time this purpose and grace was “manifested by the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel”. As he contemplated the majestic movement of Deity from eternity into the “now” of the manifestation of Jesus Christ, he ignored the fact that he was a prisoner with a severe limitation placed upon his activities, and exulted in his link with the divine purpose, “I was appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher”.

Brethren, have those of us who preach today lost the thrill that came to the apostle and the other early preachers of the Gospel? Have we forgotten the high privilege that is ours in being chosen as God’s messengers to bring to men a knowledge of His eternal purpose in Christ? Perhaps we have become so accustomed to preaching it that the wonder of the message does not grip us as once it did, and maybe because of its lack of impact upon us it is having little impact on those who hear us. Possibly a consideration of Ephesians 3. 7-9 will revive this sense of privilege; such is the gospel of which “I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God”.

By divine grace the privilege conferred upon Paul is also conferred on us. May the wonder of it grip us anew!