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"Having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will."—Eph. i. 11.
IN the Epistle to the Ephesians we have three passages concerning the will of God. The first, in chapter i., points us back to the eternal mystery of that will in God, and tells us how, as God purposed it in Himself, so He Himself works it all out. The second, in chapter v., calls us to seek to understand what the will of God is. The third, in chapter vi., brings us down into practical life, and teaches us how the most common drudgery of daily duty may all be done as the will of God. As in the heights of heaven and of eternity, so down into the conduct and the heart of the humblest Christian, the will of God claims supreme authority. Let us begin and study it in its origin and work before the foundation of the world.
Paul writes—Eph. i. 5—of God having "predestinated us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, according to the riches of His grace, which He made to abound toward us, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Him, . . . in whom also we were made an heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will." Each expression has its significance. The good pleasure of His will—that means the absolute liberty of God, the perfection of whose will knows no higher reason than that it so pleased Him. In Him the predestination, and election, and foreordaining of God's children had its origin. The mystery of His will—that suggests that it was hidden in God, that we can only know as much of it as He reveals, and that even what He reveals still has its mystery beyond our comprehension. The purpose of His will—that refers to the great plan or scheme to be carried out which His holy will formed for itself. And the counsel of His will reminds us of the Divine "wisdom and prudence" (verse 8) holding counsel with itself, and ordering all so as to prove that His good pleasure is indeed all that is most right and good and perfect. In the secret depths of God's will and its predestinating purpose lies hidden the salvation of His Church, and of every member of it.
"Having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will." What God has willed, He also Himself works out. The counsel of His will is too high and holy; none but He can work it out. The will is a working power, a determination to act; even a man who really wills a thing seeks to overcome every obstacle to that will being realised. We need, as we study and worship the will of God, to give full scope to the conviction that God Himself works out all things after the counsel of His will. The eternal purpose is what guides all His work: all that the eternal purpose fixed must and will be wrought by Himself. This faith will teach us some most precious lessons.
It inspires the assurance that God's purpose will be performed. We are so apt to look to ourselves and our feebleness, to men and to circumstances, and by these to measure what appears possible. We need to remember that God's sovereign will is a Power that will, as much in the great whole as in the minutest detail, infallibly secure the fulfilment of His plans. Whether in our own heart and life, or in the service of His kingdom in which we take part, we need definitely to know Him as the " God who worketh all in all." We speak of man's relationship to God as that of co-operation. But Divine operation ever precedes human co-operation —the former as unceasing and continuous as the latter, drawing it forth and inspiring it. All feebleness in the Divine life, all failure in spiritual work, is owing to this one thing: we do not make room for and wait on the Divine operation. We seek to do the Divine will without the living faith in Him who Himself worketh all things after the counsel of His will.
This faith will teach us to live and work in entire dependence on God's working. It will waken and strengthen us in that root of all true Christian virtue, Humility. It is through this that the angels kept their first estate—they live in entire dependence upon God's willing and working in them It was for this that the Son assumed the robe of creaturehood, to teach us that the life and glory of the creature consists in every moment receiving from God what we are to be, to will or to do. He did nothing of Himself but what the Father showed Him. He judged nothing of Himself, but as He heard so He spake. The connection between God and us is to be one of never-ceasing receptivity, God every moment imparting the life and strength we need. As we learn to know God thus, we shall fear nothing so much as taking His place, by our work hindering His, and so under the guise of doing His will making it impossible for Him to do it. Oh, let us in deep humility and reverence worship and wait on the God who worketh all things after the cousel of His will!
This faith will lead us to true diligence in God's service in the blessed confidence of being indeed able to do all His will, because what He wills He works Himself. At first sight it appears as if this entire unceasing dependence upon God will hinder us in our work. That is only as long as we do not understand or believe it fully. But to the upright, who wait on God, light will arise. It will be with this even as with the truth of faith without works for justification. At first it appears as if this would discourage good works in the believer. But as we indeed give ourselves away to the blessed truth of faith without works for acceptance, we find that it is this very faith that is most abundant in producing good works as its fruit. Even so as we accept fully the truth of which we were afraid at first sight, that we can do nothing of ourselves, and that God must do all, we shall experience that the most absolute and unceasing dependence is the secret of the most effective service. As works before faith only hinder, while faith without works is most fruitful of works, so the attempt to work without the fullest and most entire dependence upon God leads to continual failure, until ceasing from ourselves and our works has brought us to yield ourselves unreservedly to God's working, there to learn what it means to say: "I labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily." The faith of our entire impotence and dependence upon God becomes the power for our highest activity.
"Foreordained according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His will." Believer! the purpose according to and for which you have been foreordained is that of a God who works all things after the counsel of His will. Let every thought of the will of God be accompanied by the faith that He is a God who Himself works all things that He wills. All goodness and power are His, to be received direct from Him alone through Christ Jesus. Worship Him with a holy fear, lest, like Martha, you grieve your Lord by your much serving, instead of waiting, like Mary, for what He can work in you. What God hath joined together let no man put asunder: God working His will in man by the Holy Spirit; man working out the will God has wrought in him in secret, into daily life and duty.