The Church: ‘A Purchased Possession’
John B. D. Page, Harrow
With one stroke of his quill in this paragraph, said to be the longest in the Bible, Paul peers into eternity past and looks into the future as he traces the path of believers through grace to glory.
In these verses, the writer is not concerned with the world but the Church, which is seen as the recipient of "all spiritual blessings". The word "spiritual" designates the nature of the blessings; "the natural man" cannot receive such blessings but only "he that is spiritual" can discern and appropriate them, 1 Cor. 2. 13-14. All three Persons of the Trinity have played a part in the provision of these blessings, because the Church, first is chosen by the Father, w. 3-6; secondly redeemed by the Son, vv. 7-12; and thirdly sealed by the Holy Spirit, vv. 13-14. Each of these sub-divisions ends with the refrain "to the praise of his glory".
In the first of these sub-divisions, vv. 3-6, the writer takes us from "before the foundation of the world" to the manifestation of "the beloved". In the second, vv. 7-12, he directs us from the scene of "redemption" to "the dispensation of the fulness of times". In the third, vv. 13-14, he points us back to when "ye heard . . . the gospel of your salvation" and forward to "the redemption of the purchased possession" at the Lord's return.
It has been said that the concluding phrase of verse 14, "the redemption of the purchased possession", containing the thought of acquisition besides possession, was associated with husbandry, with which the addressees of the Epistle would have been familiar. For instance, a husbandman who required grain for the forthcoming winter, would have gone to another husbandman and would have first chosen a growing crop of corn, next purchased it, and then placed his seal upon it, which indicated his acquisition and the new ownership of it, pending his redeeming his purchased possession at harvest time.
The location for enjoyment of these spiritual blessings is in the heavenlies, v. 3, which is the place where Christ now sits at the right hand of God, and the present position of believers in relationship to Christ, 1. 20; 2. 6. Furthermore, these spiritual blessings are deposited "in Christ", a phrase (including its equivalent with a personal pronoun) occurring nine times in this paragraph, and signifying our heavenly position through a spiritual union with Christ.
We shall now consider the first of these spiritual blessings.
1. Chosen by the Father. God the
Father "hath chosen us", v. 4. The personal pronoun "us" denotes that saints and not sinners, the Church and not the world, are the subject of the Father's choice, which does not imply the rejection of what is not chosen. The choice was not human but divine, and so it is not capricious or partial but absolute and final, because God is sovereign. How was the choice made? "In him", that is, "in Christ", indicating that God did not look at us in ourselves, but only what we are "in Christ".
The timing of the Father's choice takes us outside the span of time and into eternity past—"before the foundation of the world", a phrase which is used three times of Christ and the Church, whilst "from the foundation of the world" occurs seven times and it has the coming kingdom on earth in view which is within the span of time. Therefore, the Church ante-dates the kingdom in the purpose of God, Matt. 25. 34, and God chose us in eternity, but He calls us in time!
The purpose of the Father's eternal choice is "that we should be holy and without blame (or, blemish, r.v.) before him", which means that we should be holy before God and without blemish in character before men during our lifetime on earth. The two words "before him" may point to the occasion when "every one of us shall give account of himself to God" as Judge, Rom. 14. 12; cf. 2 Cor. 5. 10, and the same two words occur in a similar judicial setting in Colossians 1. 22 r.v., "to present you holy and without blemish and un-reproveable before him".
Several writers consider that the words "in love" do not belong to what precedes but to what follows. "In love, having predestinated us . . .", v. 5. Predestination is the next step in God's plan for those whom He has chosen. As an expression of His love, the Father "predestinated us" (or, marked us out beforehand, lit.) with an objective in view —"unto the adoption of sons (not, children, a.v.) by Jesus Christ to himself . . .", v. 5.
From patriarchal times onwards, adoption has been practised, as Abraham adopted Eliezer, his servant; Pharaoh's daughter, Moses; Mordecai, Esther. But "by the Roman law of adoption, the adopted child was entitled to the father's name, possessions and family rights, as his heir at law", fausset, which may be the background of Paul's use of the word here.
This and other spiritual blessings from the Father are "according to the good pleasure of his will".
The purpose of bestowing such blessings upon us is expressed in the refrain, "to the praise of the glory of his grace". Furthermore, "he hath made us accepted (or, made us the objects of His grace, wigram) in the beloved", v. 6.
2. Redeemed by the Son. From "before the foundation of the world" we move to the focal point of time, the cross. From the spiritual blessing of election, we proceed to that of redemption.
"In whom", referring to "the beloved", "we have redemption through his blood", v. 7. By nature we are not our own, but Christ has redeemed us from the shackles of sin and Satan; see 2. 2; Tit. 2. 14. Resulting from Christ's redemptive work is the spiritual blessing of "the forgiveness of sins", which is deliverance from the guilt of sin, and it is "according to the riches of his grace", which emphasizes the absence of human merit and magnifies the grace of God!
Christ, having redeemed the Church, has enlightened it of His purpose for it in association with Himself during the age to come, vv. 8-10. Knowing our present natural limitations to grasp His eternal design for the Church, Christ has lavished His grace upon us "in all wisdom and prudence", which means that He has graciously given us an insight into His far-reaching plan besides an ability to discern its outworking, and so He has made known to us "the mystery of his will", that is to say, His determined resolve, not merely His desire, for the Church, which He had hitherto kept secret.
In verses 9b and 10, "the mystery of his will" is unfolded: it is "according to his good pleasure (and intention) which he hath purposed in himself, that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ (or, the Christ, lit.), both which are in heaven (or, the heavens, fit.), and which are on earth, even in him". Here, we are transported in thought from before time, v. 4, to the last epoch in the span of time, for the word "times" (or, seasons, fit.) is part of a prophetic phrase indicating events characterizing an epoch; see Acts 1. 7 and Dan. 2. 21, quoted by our Lord. In the millennium, the final administration for spiritual blessings, which Paul calls "the dispensation of the fulness of times", Christ's intention is to coordinate and unite "all things", both spiritual and human, which are in the heavens and on the earth, "in the Christ".
The word "Christ" (as in the a.v. text) refers to that Blessed Person, but the phrase "the Christ" (fit.) denotes the composite Christ, that is, both Christ and the Church, in whom the divine purpose for "all things" in the final administration will centre. Undoubtedly, a necessary prelude to such universal uniting of all beings in both the celestial and terrestrial spheres under the one headship of Christ and the Church will be for "all things", both "in earth" and "in the heavens" (fit.), to be reconciled unto God the Father, Col. 1. 20, besides the subjection of all beings "in heaven", "in earth" and "under the earth" unto Jesus Christ as Lord, Phil. 2. 10.
From this spiritual blessing reserved for the future, the writer turns to one which is a present possession, for "in him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated . . .", v. 11. The basis for our present inheritance in Christ is our having been predestinated "unto the adoption of sons" in eternity past and, if sons, then the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, Gal. 4. 7; Rom. 8. 17. Only heirs have a right to an inheritance and, as heirs, we now have an inheritance which is beyond human comprehension. This spiritual blessing is "according to his purpose, Whose working makes all fulfil the counsel of His own will", v. 11 coney-
The purpose of these spiritual blessings from the Son is "that we should be (and live) to the praise of his glory", v. 12.
3. Sealed by the Spirit. The spiritual biography of every Christian is set forth in verse 13. "ye heard", "ye believed", "ye were sealed". First, "ye heard" — "the word of truth", presented as "the gospel of your salvation", and so preachers have a responsibility to proclaim only the truths of salvation. Next, "ye believed" —"in Christ" as Saviour who effected our salvation at the cross, and it is "with the heart (man) believeth unto righteousness", Rom. 10. 10. Then, "ye were sealed", not "after that ye believed" (a.v.) but "having believed, ye were sealed" (r.v). We were not "sealed" subsequently to believing but when we believed and were redeemed, even as the oriental husbandman placed his seal upon the crop at the time of purchase.
The seal, with which we were sealed, is the Holy Spirit of promise, defined as "the earnest of our inheritance". Apparently, this is a metaphorical allusion to the money deposited by a husbandman (or that in any other business transaction), known as earnest-money, making the contract binding, and it was a pledge by the purchaser to complete the purchase later when he would take possession of his purchased crop. To believers, the Holy Spirit, now indwelling us, is an earnest of our future eternal inheritance reserved to us as sons and heirs of God, and is a pledge for the fulfilment of the "promise", cf. Rom. 8. 23. The Church is sealed by the Holy Spirit, says the apostle, "until the redemption of the purchased possession", or, "unto the redemption of God's own possession", (r.v.). Such a metaphor signifies that the divine Husbandman has purchased the Church to be His own possession; cf. Acts 20. 28, and the seal of the Holy Spirit is a pledge that the redemption of the Church, already begun, will be completed when He comes again on "the day of redemption", Eph. 4. 30. For the third time, the refrain is repeated to conclude this paragraph, "unto the praise of his glory", reminding us of the ultimate purpose of redemption; moreover, of course, the most important consideration in the universe is the glory of God.