J. N. Darby.
I find, dear friends, that the apostle appears to dwell here on the purposes of God concerning us. He speaks not so much of the means He has used, as of the blessing in which He will set us.
Doubtless, it is a good thing for our souls to understand well the means God has used to bring us to Himself, but this is in order that we may be occupied about the things to which we are called. It is in the enjoyment of these things that the Christian character is formed, and that the soul believes. They pervade our whole being, and when the heart has laid hold of them, we are thereby Christlike, and much more in testimony, so that there is a point of attraction much stronger and more evident, through the power of the Holy Spirit acting in us. This is what we have to seek.
I speak of practical things; not merely of having been saved, but of having tasted of the "grapes of Eshcol," fruit of the land of promise, of that true Canaan, whereof faith speaks, as my country. You remember, dear friends, that spies were sent by Moses to search the country into which God would make Israel enter; and that they brought back magnificent grapes, fruits characteristic of that desirable country; Num. 13. This is the distinguishing character of faith; it realises, it possesses by the Spirit the "earnest of the inheritance." Some had understood how it was with this land - a land which was not watered with the foot (as the land of Egypt), but which drank water of the rain of heaven a land of hills and valleys, rich in every way, which the Lord their God cared for, on which the Lord their God always had His eyes, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. See Deut. 11:10-12. It was a figure of the heavenly country where all blessing abounds.
The privileged position of Israel was not merely to have been kept from the destroying angel by the blood of the lamb (Ex. 12:13); neither was it merely to have been secured from Pharaoh by the power of Jehovah (Ex. 14:3-5); nor to have been kept by the cloud behind them, that their incensed enemies should not approach them, even as they were conducted by the same cloud when it went before them (Ex. 14:19, 20); but, moreover, this is what characterised Israel, that they were guaranteed by God that He would care for them in the wilderness, where they had to walk after having been delivered. They were there with God. But alas! their hearts turned back always in thought towards the country that they left. They were, but too often, taken up with the onions and the cucumbers that they had left (Num. 11:5); that is to say, with the carnal desires called the reproach of Egypt; Josh. 5:8, 9. Their hearts were not circumcised.
208 Dear friends, those who dwell in spirit in the heavenly country take the tone of it, and grow in the things wherein they find themselves. They can be in relation with God. They enjoy all that God has given, which is doubtless very precious; but, above all, they can enjoy God Himself. There is the immensity of the grace of Him who desires that we should always dwell near Him, and that we should know His thoughts and intentions. Yes; it is they who understand best what is "worthy of the Lord"; and this is what we have to desire; Col. 1:10.
It is this of which the apostle desires to speak to us in the chapter which is presented for our meditation. In verses 3 and 4 he says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" - in Christ, the "head of the body." It is there that God places us. We know it, beloved; but we know it more in theory than in practice. "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." It is not merely of the means (as I have said) that is here spoken, it is of the end that God has proposed to Himself; for it is said, "That we should be holy and without blame before him in love."
This is the thought of God concerning us; He will have us before Him, and have us happy there, and for Himself. There is but one only sense in which God cannot suffice to Himself, that is, in His love; His love needs other beings besides Himself to render them happy. He will render others happy. He will have before Him beings who respond to what He is.
He places. us before Him, "holy and without blame." It is what He is Himself. He it is who is holy. He it is, surely, who is blameless, for it is impossible to impute to Him any fault. He it is who calls Himself "the Holy One." He it is who is "love." Important and precious thought for us! He has willed that the church be such, that He may take pleasure in her, and see before Him the reproduction of Himself. He reflects Himself in His children, inasmuch as He places before Himself beings like unto Himself; it is rendering us happy as far as it is possible. He communicates to us His nature, and makes of us His delight.
209 To this end He makes us "holy and without blame in love." This is accomplished here below by the Spirit, although the effects are only found in their perfection above. For example, where is our place already here below? "Before Him." It is not a simple joy, it is the most precious thing that can be imagined, to be before Him! Adam, a sinner, fled from before God; Gen. 3:8-10. We do not like to be before Him when unholy: but when the conscience is purified by the blood of Christ, we are truly happy "before Him." See Heb. 10:19-22. We must be holy; we must enter into the tastes of the divine nature; our nature must find its happiness in being holy and without blame in love.
We find in 1 John 4:13 an expression nowhere else to be found in the New Testament. It is this: "He hath given us of his [own] Spirit"; an expression powerful enough to make us comprehend how we are made "partakers of the divine nature," 2 Peter 1:4. The apostle had already said, "He that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us," 1 John 3:24. The presence of the Spirit was felt by the various effects of His power. It was the proof that God abode in Christians; but this passage of 1 John 4:13 goes much farther. It is evident, not only that God dwells in us, but that we dwell in Him, because He has given us of His Spirit.
As to Jesus, He says, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me," John 14:11. If He had not said, "I am in the Father," one might, perhaps, have formed to oneself an idea that God dwelt in a man to manifest His presence by the effects of His power. Jesus said, "At that day ye shall know" (not only that the Father is in me, but) "that I am in my Father," John 14:20. He was one with Him in nature, with Him who dwelt in a nature purely divine, without making Himself man. Also, though in another manner, we know that He dwells in us and we in Him, "because he hath given us of his Spirit." It was not, in the case of Jesus, a simple manifestation that God was there; this is what the disciples might have supposed, but they had not the idea that Jesus was in God, for this carried with it the participation of the divine nature; and this is what the apostle speaks of (1 John 4:13, which we have already quoted), inasmuch as that applies to us, to wit, that the divine nature reproduces itself in the Christian; he has received of the very Spirit of God. It is a man who loves, and God is in him, and he in God. That which was granted was no less than the communication of the divine life, by which we dwell in Him and He in us, in order that we may be holy and without blame. What we shall be above should be our aim here below, not as an imposed task, but as being made partakers of the divine nature to the glory of God. If we would realise these things, our thoughts must be above, according to the measure of the grace we have received. It is of great advantage to us to think of the things above, of the source, of Jesus, of the accomplishment of this purpose of God in the glory.
210 Verse 5. "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." The apostle has always this adoption in view; that is to say, that God will have us for Himself, before - Him, and by Jesus, according to the good pleasure of His will, as His children; and it is the glory of that grace which has placed us there. The apostle speaks afterwards of the basis, of the means which God has employed, on the certainty of which we may reckon; and he speaks of them as an assured thing. Here is the door by which I may enter; having passed through the door in Jesus, I have the certainty of being in the house. But it would be sad to have Jesus only as a door, however precious it may be to understand that "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace," v. 7.
If we have not the certainty of our entire acceptance and of the Father's love, we question the riches of His grace; because we have redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. If I am in uncertainty, I do not enjoy this grace. I must cast myself entirely on God, on the power of Him who bids me enter. If I calculate, how can I calculate the riches of that grace? We cannot number our sins, and how much less the riches of the grace of the Lord. But it is this which has to be calculated; I say it for those who are in anguish, the only thing to be done is to consider the riches of the grace of God; it will be one means of drawing nearer to Him.
211 The Lord does more still than assuring us of His grace. He says, "wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence," v. 8. He hath done all things from Himself. "Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself; that [it is always the dominant thought in Paul] in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are upon earth, even in him," v. 9, 10. There is the thought of God; He will gather together all things in Christ, and here is the knowledge which is given us of His thought. He will "gather together in one all things in Christ which are in heaven and which are on earth, in him, in whom we also have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, that we should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ." And here, dear friends, I beg your attention to the thought of the apostle, who says to us that God will "gather together in one all things in Christ."
The church is to be His joint-heir: that is the mystery or secret of His will; but He unites these things to promises which had been made on the earth, to the ancient promises made to Abraham, namely, the coming of the Messiah and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
The question was, how to make this promise reach to the Gentiles. The Holy Spirit is "the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory," v. 14 - When the apostle says "we" (v. 12), he speaks of the remnant of the Jews, since afterwards he says "you," in speaking of the Gentiles; v. 13. The "first" (v. 12) are not the Gentiles, nor the Jews as having believed before them, but those among the Jews who first believed, having got the start of the nation, and who are placed as the first-fruits of this same nation which hereafter shall believe, and which shall then say, "Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord." See Matt. 23:39; Psalm 118:26. They believed before they saw Messiah manifested in His power; they anticipated the manifestation of His glory.
Take now the promise made in Joel 2: "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh," etc. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the great thing for us, whether for enjoyment Or for anything else. It shall happen after these things. God speaks here of the time when He shall have re-established the Jews in their land, for He says, "My people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh." This is after the blessing of the people, in order that they may enjoy it. But when the day of Pentecost is there, Peter says, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel," Acts 2:16. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit only descended on a small number, because the nation had not received Christ.
212 It is evident that was not the full accomplishment of this prophecy, for there were but few persons who believed in Christ without seeing; and those were Jews. But here, the Gentiles enter also by faith, and are "sealed." They do not receive the Holy Ghost after the accomplishment of the things foretold by Joel, for they are not yet accomplished; but some have anticipated all that by faith, and the Gentiles are also "to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved."
The Holy Spirit comes down too upon the Gentiles to put the "seal" upon men, and to give the "earnest" of the things that we have not yet, that we possess not but by faith. When God shall have accomplished all things, there will be no more need of faith, nor of the "seal": the Holy Spirit will be no more given as the "earnest." No doubt we shall, in heaven, be filled with the Holy Spirit to enable us to enjoy heavenly things, when they shall be present before our eyes; but there will be no need of a "seal" upon us, when we shall be in the glory, no need of "earnest" when we shall be enjoying the very things of God. What is presented to us in this passage is, then, the character that the Holy Spirit takes meanwhile, in those who first hoped in Christ, in order that they might be "to the praise of his glory," and made "partakers of the inheritance."
But, in the midst of a world knowing nothing of the thoughts of God, of this mystery of His will, which has caused His grace to abound towards us in all wisdom and prudence, I, a poor Gentile, I believe in all these things, in this purpose of God to gather together in one all things in Christ, in the special position of the church, "holy and without blame before him," and the object of His delights. He has "sealed" us together for that. The church, which has believed without seeing, shall be "holy and without blame before him in love," because God has given her "of his Spirit."
213 The church shall not only be blessed in His presence, but shall be also the expression of what God is, because God has given her of His Spirit. What is important in the position of the church for us Gentiles is, that having faith we are there also, having "heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory," v. 13, 14.
Afterwards, the apostle, recognising all the saints as "one body" in Christ, desired, first, that their hope might be clear and intelligent; and, secondly, that they might experience the power of the life of Christ. He desires first, that the saints may intelligently enjoy the calling of God, all the glory of "his inheritance in the saints," and then, verses 19-23, that they may know "what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." God has willed a special glory for the church; and to return to her position before God, she is "holy and without blame in love."
Two things constitute our hope: first, what we are before God; and, secondly, the position in which He places us above all things, for the possession of the inheritance that Jesus has acquired to the praise of His glory. That is what we are to seek into, and what is to be our every-day occupation. I do not say to what extent the thing can be realised, but we must understand what God has meant to do in placing us so high. There are no clouds there; I say not, no difficulties, but when we are before God, close to Him, we feel that He wills all that, and that He wills that we be there, and that the cords of His love are drawn between Him and us - that He holds us. Dear friends, are our hearts occupied about these things? Do they realise this communion with God? Do they enjoy their privileges in Christ? In order to that, they must be on a good foundation; to enjoy, we must understand that we have the forgiveness of our sins, redemption, by the blood of Jesus; we must have entered in by the door, quiet in the presence of God; His love must be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which has been given to us; Rom. 5:5. "Hope maketh not ashamed" (whatever be the difficulties', "because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts." The Holy Spirit having been given us as a seal, and dwelling in us, it may indeed happen that we fail in many respects by our foolish negligence, but we are in the position to enjoy all.
214 What is special is the Holy Spirit given as seal after we have believed, before the things themselves be accomplished. Thus, we are able to enjoy all that belongs to the church, that God has "predestinated . . . to the praise of his glory." Having the love shed abroad in the heart, I do not say, being assured of this love (that is doubtless very much), but the love being shed abroad in the heart, and enjoying this love, we have the assurance of being before Him "holy and without blame," and of possessing all the glory of the inheritance. I apply this to the practical state of my soul.
Oh! that Christians may be as in the house of their Father, tended, sustained - weak, perhaps; but, at least, let their Father's house be the place where in their weakness they grow, and that there they may savour what He has done for them! Let us comprehend that the Holy Spirit has been given as the "seal," as the "earnest," of infinitely higher things. God places us before Him "holy and without blame," and He does it for the church here below, because He wills to reproduce Himself in us. The church is before Him in Christ, and we are called to be "the followers of God as dear children" (chap. 5:1), by the power of the Holy Spirit, whilst passing through this world as others. We may fail as to the testimony we are called to bear; but may God give us the intelligence to live in these things, and to walk therein! It is what He desires to do by His Spirit; and it is what He promises by the manifestation of His presence in the midst of us.
May God so fill us by His Spirit, that we may glorify Him, and walk as those who first hoped in Christ!