God’s Grand Design
Recently, a colleague of mine gave me a translation of the Four Gospels. In his introduction, the author sets out his reason for undertaking this task, in these words, “The Four Gospels are spiritually supreme because they are great literature,” and continuing in this vein he adds, “If I am right in this conviction, it follows that any translations of the Gospels which neglect their artistic qualities is bound to fail.” Methinks the Apostle John refutes any such fatuous argument when he declares, “But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (John 20:31).
There is a view, held by many writers and literary critics, that ideas exist only in virtue of the language in which they are couched and that precision of epithet is essential to meaningful prose. However, it is our conviction that the greatness of the Four Gospels, and indeed of the entire Bible, lies in its purposeful message; and any reader who fails to grasp God’s Grand Design for the human race in this age and in the ages to come, as outlined in its sacred pages, fails completely to understand the Book.
Dr. Rieu is an erudite scholar and well qualified to judge the literary merits of any translation of the Bible and in all fairness to him it should be pointed out that in the same introduction he does say, “God makes a plan which Jesus volunteers to carry out.” Moreover, in a television appearance with Mr. J. B. Phillips another well-known translator, he was questioned on his work in these words, “Did you not get the feeling the whole material is extraordinarily alive?” Dr. Rieu replied, “I got the deepest feeling I could possibly have expected… it changed me; my work changed me and I came to the conclusion that these words bear the seal of the Son of Man and God; they are the Magna Charta of the human spirit.”
When God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, He promised, “I will make of thee a great nation and I will bless thee and make thy name great” (Gen. 12:1). Later, the angelic visitor to Abraham said, “All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” God has never abrogated that promise. Expanding on this theme, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Wherefore remember, that ye being in times past Gentiles in the flesh… aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope… were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:11-13). From eternity it was ever the purpose of God to have a people to honour, worship and obey Him, and for thousands of years it seemed that this purpose was to have its fulfilment in the Children of Israel for had He not said, “This people have I formed for Myself” (Isa. 43: 21). With the coming of Christ, it became clear that God was not so limited. Peter, when called to preach to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, was made aware of this for said he, “Of a truth I perceive God is no respecter of persons; But in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:34-35). Paul adds to this testimony declaring, “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).
It was to these same Ephesian believers that Paul wrote expounding at length God’s blueprint for the redemption of mankind and His plan for their present eternal good.
Between the time of the founding of the church at Ephesus (Acts 19) and the writing of the Epistle to Ephesians, the leaven of gnosticism had manifested itself in the infant church. This pernicious philosophy held that all matter was evil and therefore a holy and righteous God could not permit any contact between Himself and mankind. This reasoning ruled out the incarnation and redemption through God Emmanuel. Emancipation must come through knowledge, the possession of which could free the initiate from the clutch of matter. It was to combat this malicious teaching that Paul wrote to the saints at Ephesus and “to the faithful in Christ Jesus.”
Paul launches into the task of revealing God’s eternal purpose and plan for fallen humanity in bold and unequivocal language. “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, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:3-6). What could be clearer than this forthright statement? What easier to understand?
Every verse of this beautiful letter is pregnant with meaning and rich in revelation. Let us look at God’s Grand Design unfolded in five pertinent passages containing the phrase, “In whom.”
The first follows immediately after the forceful didactic introduction quoted above. It reads, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” (v.7). Here the basis on which all our relationship with God stands is pointedly put forward. In this sweeping statement Paul answers the challenge of gnosticism.
The truth of redemption, whereby the price is paid and we, sinners, are freed from the bondage of sin, Satan and death is more fully covered in Ephesians 2:1-10. Salvation is by grace, through faith, and without works. By an act of inexpressible love enacted on Calvary, God made it possible for us to enter His holy presence and stand before Him, cleansed and made righteous through the precious blood of Christ. This and this alone ensures our full acceptance into the family of God.
Antagonism of the human mind to the Cross and its implication is persistent and inveterate. Pursuing the trend of the mind, man seeks some refuge from the implication of guilt inherent in accepting a salvation provided in grace and available through faith alone. Either he removes some vital element from it, e.g. the doctrine of the Deity of Christ, or adds something to it, such as law-keeping or ordinances. This, affirms the Apostle Paul, is to make the Cross of Christ of none effect (1 Cor. 1:17).
Our second passage emphasizes the perfection of this salvation. The truth of the security of the believer is one that escapes many sincere children of God. But we read, “In whom also after that ye believed ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). God does not offer something imperfect; nor does its fulfilment depend upon anything we have done or ever can do. “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand,” are the words of Christ, Himself (John 10:28). Shall we give Him the lie?
The child of God is not left to his own resources for he has at his disposal all the power and might of God. “Ye have not because ye ask not,” says James in his Epistle (4:2) and no doubt he had in mind Christ’s parting words to His disciples in relation to prayer (John 16). Failure in our Christian life may be attributed to our lack of prayer. Here in Ephesians we read, “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him” (3:12). The life wholly yielded to the direction of God through the Holy Spirit is one of triumph and victory. It is God’s purpose that it should be so. Galatians 2:20, aptly expresses this, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live, in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Christ’s historic declaration to Peter was, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18). Peter makes perfectly clear that the rock was Christ Jesus for says he, quoting from the prophecy of Isaiah, “Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded” (1 Pet. 2:6). For nearly two thousand years the Holy Spirit has been calling from this world redeemed souls to form the Church, a spiritual body, comprising all who through faith in the efficacy of the precious blood of Christ are cleansed from all sin and made fit for the presence of God. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone… In whom also ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:1922). Is this not the fulfilment of God’s promise, “Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”? (Gen. 18:18). Was this not succinctly expressed by Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost? “For the promise is unto you (Jews) and to your children, and to all that are afar off (Gentiles), even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
“If in this world only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19). Our hopes and aspirations as children of God are not confined to this world for a greater and brighter prospect lies ahead. This is the promise of Ephesians 1:11, “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Mere words cannot describe the celestial glories that are to be found in the Father’s House; neither can the human intellect comprehend fully the meaning of the promise, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of time 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), together with His purpose, “That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Jesus Christ” (2:7). But this has been God’s plan from the beginning. Only when we get home will the scales of human limitations be removed and we will stand in His glad persence where there is “fulness of joy” and find a place at His right hand where “there are pleasures for evermore.” Christ will be there: it is enough.