OUR CROWN OF ASSURANCE
By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
The most golden (perhaps) of all the promises - felt to so by countless myriads of saints all down the ages - is embedded in the very nature of God, and springs equally from the very nature of things. Paul begins his climb up the last summit of Christian assurance with these words:- We know - for it is not opinion, or conjecture, or inference but fact - that all things - the entire mechanism of the universe - work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Rom. 8: 28). For as in nature, so in grace, divine mathematics - albeit invisible - underlie all things. That an acorn never becomes anything but an oak is predestination. All nature is a marvellous mass of co-operating forces duplicating a divine design: so infinite love, co-working with infinite power has stamped upon all things a single design, so that the co-ordinate to achieve a single effect - the ultimate perfection of the child of God. Did I not believe in absolute predestination, King William III said to Bishop Burnett, I could not believe in a providence; for it would be most absurd to suppose a Being of infinite wisdom to act without a plan, for which plan predestination is only another name.
A CHAIN OF GOLD
Five links, wrought of the eternal purposes of God, and looped between eternity and eternity, fasten us to the Eternal Throne; and on those Paul establishes his proof for ever. Two of the links are in the eternity behind; the two middle links lie on the earth, as the chain falls and catches us up with it; the last link is fastened again, out of sight, to the throne of God in the eternity beyond. Here are the five : Whom He foreknew - this is the starting link, forged before times eternal; whom He foreordained - here is the choice, still hidden in the breast of God before the foundation of the world; whom He called - the chain looping down, now lies on the earth, within touch of men; whom He justified - the link that is fastening round each soul as it is saved; whom He glorified - the chain has sprung out of sight, and fastens itself once again on the throne of God in the eternity beyond.
The chain starts from the secret recesses of the mind of God in the eternal ages before creation. Whom He foreknew - in that Divine foreknowledge which is memory reversed, He foreknew not the mass merely, but mentally isolated and recorded its individual units: those on whom His eye fixed from all eternity with love; whom He eternally contemplated and discerned as His (Godet). The vision of the whole of the redeemed rises before God far down through the unborn ages. It is no mere foreknowledge of what they would do, but rather of what He would do for them (Moule). Elect, says Peter, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1: 2). The eternity before us is based on the eternity behind us, in which everyone of us rose up before the eye of God - not one was wanting there: our future eternity rests, not on time or anything in time, but on the eternity before the creation of man: from the throne of the Almighty in the eternal ages the ordered procession arose, in its endless stream of apostles, prophets, martyrs, witnesses, down to the last child of God that shall ever be born.
The second link in the chain is still out of sight in the eternity behind. Whom He foreknew, He also foreordained - so that He had each fixed in mind, and visibly before Him, as He pronounced the saving decree - to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. This lets us into the profoundest secret of election. God sets the mighty machinery in motion from all eternity, and predestines by Divine decree, not so much to glorify us, as to glorify Christ: our selection is a means to an end, and that end is a group of mirrors set round a central Light - CHRIST thronged with a family of identical holiness. So that election is not so much an election to an escape from hell [i.e., the lake of fire - Ed.], as a fore-ordaining to holiness and Godlike character, for the purpose of creating companions for Christ. He chose us in Him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, that we should be holy - the purpose of election is the manufacture of brothers for Christ - and without blemish before Him in love (Eph. 1: 4). So that election is not Fate, or Destiny, or a hard mechanical act of arbitrary choice; but the creation, by a loving God, of a people as holy (at last) as Christ is, for the glory of Christ: the means is our glory: the end is Christs. No proof of our absolute security could be more overwhelming than that our glory is essential to Christs.
Now the first golden link appears within human sight, for all that God had foreseen and fore-decided must now be wrought out by Him in actual fact, since He Who wills the end, wills also the means. So an enormous task immediately opened up before the Most High. Whom He fore-ordained, them He also called - summoned, invited; putting apostles and prophets and evangelists to His lips as trumpets for the summons. Brethren, beloved of the Lord, God chose you from the beginning unto salvation, whereunto He called you through our Gospel (2 Thess. 2: 13). Not one of the foreknown is forgotten; each link is rooted in the link before, and so every one whom God saw, God now calls: in attic, or nursery, or sick chamber, or Sunday School class, or on the battlefield, or in the sinking warship, or in the death-throes comes the low sweet call of the Bridegroom to the Bride; and none who ever hears that call says No. For it is not only the outward call of the Gospel, but the inward call of the [Holy] Spirit: so we read in the Acts - As many as were ordained to eternal life, BELIEVED (Acts 13: 48).
The fourth link, springing into sight the moment the call is heard, is the only other link mortal eyes have ever seen. Whom He called, them He also justified. How extraordinarily the view-point of God alone is given! Only what God does comes into sight in the whole passage. Faith is not named: holiness is not named: though between the calling and the justification comes faith; and between justification and glory comes sanctification: for it is Gods telescope we have got in our hands, and what alone we are watching is the eternal and irresistible march of the everlasting purposes of God. On all the called - those who have given the inner response to the outward call - falls instantly the garment of a perfect [imputed] righteousness; they are accounted righteous, justified, put in the catalogue of those who have committed no evil and omitted no good; a justification [by faith alone] that carries with it the regeneration of their nature, and the immediate beginning to make holy what has been judicially accounted holy; for all regeneration holds in it the promise of complete ultimate sanctification. This link is now fastening around every soul as it is called.
The last link now disappears again, as the chain returns to God in the vast eternity beyond. Whom He justified, them He also glorified: the inner change to holiness becomes at last the outer change to glory; for all heavenly glory is only goodness shining. This, as Bishop Moule says, is a marvellous past tense looking through Gods telescope, we suddenly see the things that are not, as though they were: God regards as done what, in His irresistible purpose, is done: so unerring is the fore-knowledge, so sure is the fore-ordination, so effectual is the calling, so flawless is the justification, that the consequent glory of every child of God, however it may be delayed, is a foregone conclusion; its title deeds are in our hands; it is so certain as to be equivalent to past history; it is as inevitable as God. For it is not only that if the Head is crowned, so is the Body; but more than that - as a whole oak is in the acorn, so a whole heaven lies for ever in the justification of a single soul. What extraordinary restfulness the truth gives! If souls continually baffle us, we remember that we cannot enrol them in the Lambs Book of Life; we can only find them there: however hell may rage, and Antichrist triumph, the saved will not be diminished by a single soul, or heaven be deferred by a single moment: so also, in spite even of our own sins, the biggest obstacle God has got to overcome, all we who believe shall triumph at last. Though all devils descend upon me, and all kings, emperors, heaven and earth be against me, I nevertheless know that I shall conquer at last (Luther).*
* That sanctification is not once named, nor its consequent rewards, gives us the keynote of the passage:- It is God that justifieth, The glory given here to all the redeemed is set four-square on justification [by faith] alone, an eternal glory, as granted on the infinite imputations of Christ for all who have (it may be) no more than a name in the Book, and on that ground alone, shall reign for ever and ever (Rev. 22: 5). This glory which our Lord gives to all His own is the glory He had before the world was (John 17: 5, 22), not the glory which, obtained on the ground of His conduct as a Man (Heb. 2: 9), He shares with the overcomer alone (Rev. 3: 21); and the Kingdom He went away to obtain because He had not yet got it (Luke 19: 12) is manifestly not the Eternal, but the Millennial, which even to our Lord is granted only in virtue of a lifetime of self-emptied service (Phil. 2: 8, 9).
So now we
understand why all things work together for good to them that love God.
The manufacture of the Gobelin tapestry in
So Paul, after pausing for a moment on the last plateau of justification, scales the crowning peak of assurance. Who shall lay anything to the charge of Gods elect?* It is Christ Jesus - not we - that died. If any would lodge a valid accusation against Gods elect, he must establish a flaw in Christs atonement, or in Christs resurrection, or in Christs ascension, or in Christs intercession: he must prove a flaw in Christ: for it is in Christ that the justification, freeing us from all flaw, has been pronounced once for all by God. So therefore the swan-song of the un-risen redeemed pours from apostolic lips. For I am persuaded - it is safe to make our own a persuasion of the man who wrote half the New Testament - that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers - not all the forces of Hell acting on the mind of God to wean us from Him - nor things present - such as my worst transgressions - nor things to come - not even the judgment Seat with its awful possibilities - nor height nor depth - not all the infinities that stretch between God and my soul nor any other creation**- worlds beyond worlds, in any fresh universe that God may ever make - shall be able - no, not if all these put forth their combined power to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thus in standing Gods [redeemed] people are without a flaw. In reply to Balaks attempted
** The translation creature (Rom. 8: 39) hardly suits the (Greek) ... which signifies different, and not merely other (Godet).