"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. In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." (Ephesians 1:4-7)
If we all could read our Bibles with an inquiring mind, what a vast amount of spiritual information should we amass! But, unhappily, men for the most part either do not read their Bibles at all, or, if they read them, they take no interest in what is stated therein. Men seldom read the Scriptures as the poor Ethiopian eunuch read the 53rd of Isaiah when Philip met him. In the simple narrative as it is recorded in Acts 8., we have a happy illustration of the manner in which a quickened man reads the Scriptures. The eunuch was evidently an anxious inquirer. What he read struck him with amazement, but he could not make out who the party was of whom the things were spoken. If we all were quickened, we should upon reading the text for the first time ask, Pray who are the parties spoken of here? And then we should try and find out whether we had an interest in the things that are spoken. Rely upon it, inquiry is the very first step we take after the Spirit has quickened us; and we may all be sure that the Lord has begun to work in us when we are anxiously seeking after spiritual information. But, as I have been hinting, men for the most part are completely callous about spiritual things. They live on as if they had no souls, no concern in eternity; or as if the smattering of religion they got in their youth was all-sufficient for their wants. It is sad, but we cannot alter it; yet I have ever taught you that religion is a personal thing. We do not inherit it from our ancestors; we do not learn it at school; we do not pick it up as we do a language; we do not get hold of it even through our minister. It is a matter between the soul and God. Ay, each for himself must give an account by-and-by as to when and how he came by his religion.
My hearers, the text I have read is as glorious a one as there is in all the Bible; and, if we are anxious inquirers, we shall certainly be induced to ask the questions,
I. Who are the parties spoken of here, and are we amongst the number?
II. What is involved in this redemption and remission of sins? and,
III. What is the originating and what the procuring cause?
I. Who are the parties spoken of?--Oh, what favored parties are these! See what wondrous things are spoken of them. (1) Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, before all time. (2) Chosen, too, that they should be holy and without blame before Him (God) in love: not, mark you, as the blind guides tell us, that they should be so by their own exertions--for who then could be holy and without blame before God? But, as we shall see presently, through the redemption and remission of sins by Christ. (3) Predestinated, appointed before time to be God's children by adoption. (4) Being redeemed from all iniquity, and forgiven all sin.
There is a privileged party for you. Now, your common sense will tell you, without any further inquiry, that this party cannot possible include all mankind; for the parties here are chosen parties; they are predestinated parties and redeemed parties. It were an abuse of language to speak of chosen parties, if there were not some unchosen; and it were folly to speak of parties predestinated to be children of God, if there were not some unpredestinated to such a privilege: besides, such language would involve us in the absurdity and blasphemy of supposing that God might predestine or foreappoint some things that would never come to pass. And, again, it were wholly contradictory to speak of redeemed parties who, after all, were lying under the weight of an enormous debt, which would be the case if all were redeemed, yet not saved. I say, your common sense must tell you that all mankind are not included in the parties spoken of in our text. Who are they, then? I answer, They are the members of the Church which Christ loved and gave Himself for. They are the sheep of Christ for whom He laid down His life. But then, you ask, "Are we amongst the sheep? Are we parts and parcels of the Church of Christ?" To which I reply, No man knows, or can know until Christ has revealed Himself to him. No man knows or can know till he has been born again, until he is conscious of possessing the two radical graces, repentance and faith. There can be no question at all about it, that there are very many members of Christ's Church, very many sheep of Christ, in existence this moment, and very many not in existence yet, who have not had Christ revealed to them, whose time has not yet come to have the precious and glorious secret unfolded to them; but who must be brought into the fold, because they have been given to Christ, have been chosen of God, and predestinated to be His children by adoption. But this I can tell you, that if any man amongst you has had Christ revealed to him, has had Christ made precious to him, has had repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus given to him, that man is interested in all the blessings and privileges of our text. This is how we get to know our adoption, our election, our predestination, our redemption. It is by heart-work, and not by head-work; and I cannot but think that there are thousands interested in the blessings of our text who no more can see as clearly as some of us see, than a babe can work a problem in Euclid. Where there is vicious opposition to the great doctrines of grace, it is another thing; but I am sure there may be interest in the covenant, where there is no mental capacity to comprehend it.
II. What is involved in this redemption and remission of sins? I might answer, Everything that conduces to the eternal happiness of our souls; for redemption-work reaches to glory. Our very bodies are redeemed. Paul says, in Rom. 8., "We groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption of our bodies;" we long for the time to come when we shall realize the fact that these frail, sinful, corrupt bodies have been redeemed as well as our souls. I have been once or twice lately upon the great subject of redemption, so I need not enlarge upon it now. Suffice it to say that redemption means release from difficulty or danger or bondage. In all cases mentioned in Scripture it was a real, actual, certain, unmistakable--transaction. It was redemption from the power that held. Now, it is exactly so with the redemption of Christ's people. They are redeemed from Satan's power, so that he can no more bring back to his dominions those whom Christ has manifestly set free than could Pharaoh bring back the Israelites to Egyptian bondage; he will try, no doubt, as his type tried, but he cannot; and he can no more hold in his cruel chains those who are not yet manifestly set free when the order comes for their release, than he can take heaven by storm. The phrase, "The forgiveness of sins," is explanatory of the word redemption. They who are redeemed are forgiven all sins. Oh, what a precious passage is that in Colossians 2:13, and again in Titus 2:14! "What, all sins? All iniquity?" Yes, I answer, Jesus says ALL, past, present, and to come. "The sins of Judah shall be sought for, and shall not be found." (Jer. 50:20) "Ah, but" you say, "we have often a painful sense of sin in our consciences. Can we be forgiven, and yet feel this?" I reply, God retains a sense of sin in our consciences to humble us, and to break our hearts; but, considering us in Christ, in the Beloved, He forgives all, strikes all off at once by His blood. When Christ is said to have redeemed us from sin, we must not suppose that He has delivered us from the assaults of sin, but from the power and dominion of sin--from the effects and terrible consequences of sin. The language of the apostle can mean neither more nor less. If it meant more, then the saints would be sinless. If it meant less, then the saints could not be saved; for they all sin. Yea, "in many things we all offend."
Redemption, then, means, not release from the annoyance of sin, or release from the assaults of sin, but release from sin's awful dominion and sin's terrible consequences. As I have said, Christ has redeemed His people effectually and thoroughly. He has blotted out all their iniquity; and this may give rise to the question, Why, then, are some of them kept in bondage still?" To which I reply, Their time for release has not yet come. When the set time arrives, that very day, that very hour, that very moment, shall they be let into the liberty of the sons of God. The case of the poor kinsman whose estate was mortgaged illustrates this. It is in virtue of this redemption work that we are "holy and without blame before God in love," (ver. 4) and not in virtue of anything we can do. It is Christ's blood that makes us holy and without blame before God. It is Christ who must present us faultless, "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing," at the throne of the Father's grace.
I would say to all, Strive with all your might to be as holy, as harmless, and as undefiled as you can; but do not for a moment give place to the accursed notion that men have been chosen, before the foundation of the world, to make themselves holy and without blame before God in love.
III. Now for the originating and the procuring cause of all this blessedness. We have them both stated in the text. The first is God's riches of grace; the second is the blood of Christ. If ever there was a Scripture that limits salvation within the boundaries of God's sovereign will, it is this first chapter of Ephesians. There is choice, there is predestinating purpose, and there is the motive, all in God, and for God, and by God, as clearly as language can make it appear. "According to the good pleasure of His will." (ver. 5) "According to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself." (ver. 9) "Predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will." (ver. 11) The quickening of the saints is also wholly attributed to God. (see ver. 19) All, all, of God. No free-willer has any lodgment here; it is all of God, from beginning to end.
First. But let me say a word on that sweet phrase, "The riches of His grace." Why riches of grace? Because of our unbelief. When our sins are remembered by us, oh, what fear will fill the heart! "Who can forgive these?" We say. "The riches of God's grace," says Paul. You have multitudes of sins; but here are multitudes of riches. Enormous transgressions, but here are enormous riches to cancel their charges. Poor quickened sinner, could you drink up the ocean? No more can you absorb the riches of God's grace. Boundless in height, fathomless in depth, there they are for the comfort of God's chosen ones. Fear not to lay hold of them, all things are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Secondly. And now about the procuring cause of all this blessedness. It is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. "The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin"--all sorts of sin, all kinds of sin, all depths of sin, all aggravations of sin. Blessed be God for it, may the Spirit continually apply it to the wounded consciences of His dear people!