The Second Advent
Before the Foundation
of the World
The five periods of divine activity already outlined may now be studied more closely in their contextual setting in the Epistle in which they are described, the Epistle to the Ephesians.
1. Before time began. That is a conception beyond human comprehension for the mind of man is circumscribed by the ideas of time and space. This Epistle takes the reader beyond both. We read God has “chosen us in Him (Jesus Christ) before the foundation of the world,” in love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children” 1:6-5). Again the Apostle refers to “the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11).
Certain great facts emerge from these quotations. (a) Ideas about God. His eternity is inferred. He existed before, and, therefore, outside of time. Such an idea baffles the finite mind. Man cannot think of a “time” when “time was not.” He lives in time; but God being eternal, existed before the foundation of the world. Yet the amazing fact revealed in Scripture, is that the eternal God exists also in time directing the processes of history, and especially manifesting Himself as the God of grace, made known in time by the appearing on the stage of earth of the “Saviour of the World.” This conception of the eternal grace of God has been nobly captured in the lines of a hymn frequently sung:
Before Thy hands had made the sun to rule the day,
Or earth’s foundation laid, or fashioned Adam’s clay,
What thoughts of peace and mercy flowed, in Thy great heart of love O God!
A monument of grace, A sinner saved by blood,
The streams of love I trace, up to their fountain, God;
And in His sovereign counsels see
Eternal thoughts of love to me.
God’s infinity is to be inferred. He is not only eternal, He is also infinite and unchangeable. He has eternal existence beyond and outside of space. Yet He has moved actively in space since the foundation of the world. That world is His world, and He works within it for His own glory. Such a God, infinite and eternal, has a plan which affects the entire universe. He controls and diverts “all things” for the accomplishment of His purposes.
Notice, too, the ideas which are patent about the universe. It had a definite beginning; it had a foundation. It is the product of the activity of the Creator, whose designs for it have always been beneficent. There is not a vestige of confirmation in the Bible for the atheistic contention that the universe has evolved, and that there is no scientific reason why the necessity of a Creator should be postulated. Blind chance could not have produced the universe, discoveries within which are being made with bewildering results. Magnitudes are amazing. Distances within the special deeps are staggering. Speeds at which light and the heavenly bodies travel are incomprehensible. Yet the Bible assures us that God is over all; He is the ruler even in the remotest parts of this universe. It is one, a whole, controlled by its Designer for His own eternal purpose.
Note, too, the ideas about election. Those who are to form that glorious Church which will be presented to Him have been “chosen” in Christ. The context implies that the divine purpose is unaffected by time. The choice was made “before the foundation of the world.” Such a statement is surely a very strong confirmation of the assurance of final salvation. Election, moreover, is an integral part of the gospel message understood only by those who have accepted the terms upon which the gospel is offered. They are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet. 1:2).
Of course, there are the two almost antagonistic interpretations of the doctrine of election. The Calvinist emphasizes the sovereign will of God. It is He who chooses. Salvation is all of grace, “not of works lest any man should boast.” The Arminian puts stress upon the free will of man, asserting that man must accept, must obey the gospel. Endless, and oftentimes unprofitable controversy has gathered round those two seemingly antagonistic conceptions of divine truth. Yet both aspects are taught in the Epistle to the Ephesians, although it seems impossible to reconcile the two ideas, the sovereign will of God, and the responsible free will of man.
Election is always by God “in Christ.” Yet there is nothing arbitrary in God’s doing. On the other hand human responsibility is suggested. “By grace are ye saved through faith.” “Ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also … ye believed” (1:13).
Election cannot be divorced from predestination — for, declares the passage, we have been predestinated unto the adoption of children, that is, to the status of sons, being reckoned as “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8). Predestination points forward to that end, when Christ who is our life shall be manifested with Him in glory (Col. 3:4).
Election and predestination have the same end in view, namely, “that we should be holy and without blame before Him.” The ultimate objective is expressed in similar terms, for when the completed Church is presented in its glory, it will be “holy and without blemish” (5:27). Such a consummation implies the Rapture of the Church, to be caught up to meet the Lord, who will be neither defeated nor diverted from His purpose.
All the above, and a great deal more, is involved in the declaration that believers have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. How we should revel in the truth of it, and, in measure as the Holy Spirit enables us, live worthy of the calling with which we have been called (4:1).