Chapter Eight: The Greatness of the Love of Christ is Displayed in His Subjection of All Else to His Purpose of Redeeming Us.
When it comes to discerning the nature and degree of the loves and passions bound up in the souls of men, it is evident that, whenever any action they should perform is motivated by multiple desires or goals, any one of those goals or desires is lesser than it might have been. If, for example, I should drive into town to buy three or four different items, when no one of them alone would have been sufficient to motivate me to make the trip, I am showing that no one of those items is as important to me as another single item might be at another time, if that one item could compel me to make a trip just to acquire it alone. But still, there may be an object or goal more highly valued and desired than that one item alone for which I was willing to make a trip; and this may be shown by my willingness to devote a whole series of actions for the accomplishment of a single goal. I may value a high education, and perform many actions requisite to obtaining a degree from an acclaimed university. The number and quality of the actions and goods that I exchange for the accomplishment of this goal shows that it is very dear to me indeed. Or else, I may love a woman and make many trips and do many things with the single goal in mind of making her my wife. Because she is dearer to me than that one item I was willing to make a single trip for, I am therefore willing to make many trips in order to gain her. So then, if the goal or desire compelling my action is single, it evinces a greater love than if it is divided between various ends; and if that single goal or desire motivates many actions and sacrifices, it evinces a greater love than if it motivates one or two actions alone.
Keeping this principle in mind, consider how great the love of Christ is shown to be in this respect, that he has subjected all actions in the history of mankind, and everything in all creation, to his one, great, single purpose of redeeming a people. Does not the supremacy of that purpose argue for the greatness of his love of this people? And does not the vast extent of actions and goods that he has consumed upon this single purpose of winning the eternal happiness of his people argue likewise for the immensity of his love? God is actively sovereign over all things, omniscient, omnisapient, and omnipotent; how then does he actively work all things together, according to his infinite knowledge, wisdom, and power? To what end and for what purpose has he submitted all those actions in which he engages? According to Romans 8:28, he works all things for the good of them whom he has called according to his eternal purpose. This shows an infinite and unfathomable love for his chosen people, in that he has been willing to perform every action and offer up every good in the history of the universe for that one end of his people's eternal salvation.
Of no other thing besides the good of his people is it ever said in the scriptures that God has devoted everything to the end of its accomplishment, and does everything in order to obtain it, with one exception alone: and that is, all that he does and accomplishes is for his glory, that is, for the display of his already infinitely glorious nature (e.g. Isa. 43:7; 48:11). But consider well: if all things are directed to our good, and yet all things are directed to God's glory, it is at once manifest that those two ends are different facets of the same single purpose; that is, the goal of displaying God's glory is the same thing as the goal of bringing good to God's people, only each considered from a different vantage point. But consider this further point, too: if the display of the glorious nature of God is the same goal as the securing of the eternal good of God's people, then the eternal good of God's people must be nothing other than the sight of God's glory. God is glorified when his people see him for who he is, in his divine and eternal glory; God's people receive their greatest good when they see him for who he is, in his divine and eternal glory; and that one dual-faceted end, of God's people's receiving the greatest possible good for the greatest possible glorification of God, is the one purpose to which he has subjected everything under heaven. But if he has subjected all else to the purpose of redeeming and bringing good to his people, how great must his love for them be? Too immense to fathom, infinite, in fact, for this shows his love for his people to be as great as his divine glory, which is infinite and immense beyond understanding.
1. All of original creation was subject to the great design of Christ's redemption of a people.
From the beginning, we may see that God's whole purpose in creation centered upon his shaping a creature in his own image, who might dwell in a glorious place, and enjoy fellowship in his presence. Mankind was thus the capstone and pinnacle of creation, and after God's creation of man, there was nothing for him to do but to enter a sabbath rest, where he might walk joyfully with man in the Garden in Eden (see Gen. 1:26-2:3). After man had been formed, there was nothing greater that remained to be created; and this implies that all the lesser things created before him were awaiting his formation to give them their purpose, they were all great works of God subjected to his ultimate goal of walking in fellowship with a creature in his own image, surrounded by beauty and manifold delights.
That all the glorious things that God created were originally intended to serve the purpose of the great goal of creation, viz., mankind's most blessed condition of dwelling in God's presence, may be seen in many different ways: first, as we have mentioned already, in that he was the last of God's creation, and after him, nothing remained to be created. This means that, until man had been formed, there was something lacking, and the purpose of creation had not yet been realized. All of creation was waiting expectantly to see what the purpose of its existence should be, and it had found no answer; but then, when God created man, he rested from all his works, and all his created things recognized that they had been made as the perfect and glorious appurtenances of man in fellowship with God. They were the accessories and complements to the great goal of Immanuel, that is, God with us, his image-bearers.
Second, the very process of man's creation, that God first made the earth and then formed man from its dust and breathed into his nostrils, shows that the earth was created with a greater purpose in mind than just its own existence, and was not complete until it had been further molded into man. God created earth for the end of making man; but of man he made nothing further, but only breathed his very Spirit of life into his nostrils. Mankind was the very end of creation, the one in whom he had chosen to reside, and with whom he had chosen to walk in the beauty of the created realm.
Third, the fact that God explicitly gave all things over to the hand of man, that he might have dominion over and care for all the world with all its creatures, and put all the green herbs and fruits to his own use, shows that these things were created for man and for his good (Gen. 1:28-30). What's more, we hear even before the Fall of the beautiful gems and precious metals that God had embosomed in the earth, and this shows us that even gold and silver and precious stones were created for man to delight in and make use of, from the very beginning of creation (Gen. 2:11-12). All things beautiful in all creation were for the good of man, to whom God desired to show his glory, and with whom he desired to have fellowship.
Fourth, it is explicitly stated in the psalms that the reason for the creation of the earth was so that the sons of men might have a place of habitation. â€œThe heavens are the LORD's heavens,â€ says the psalmist, â€œbut the earth he has given to the children of manâ€ (Psalm 115:16, ESV). Furthermore, although the earth alone is for man's habitation and the heavens are reserved for the Lord, yet even the heavens themselves were created for the good of mankind in another sense: for it is manifest that God does not need the created heavens as a dwelling place, when the heaven of heavens cannot contain him (2 Chron. 2:6; 6:18)! But he created the heavens as a copy of his eternal, glorious, invisible abode, so that men might see and delight in the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). So the heavens and the earth were both created subservient to God's ultimate purpose of fashioning man to see his glory, and walk with him in a fitting environment, and have sweet fellowship with him in whose image he was created.
2. All of the new creation is subject to the great design of Christ's redemption of a people.
Now, as true as all these things are in original creation, it remains equally true in the new creation, that is, in the work and purpose of redemption, that all things exist for the good of those men whom God has purposed to redeem. After mankind had fallen, they came to realize that the whole earth was designed as a stage in which the great drama of redemption would be acted out: for God eventually took one small people and placed them in the middle of a world of many great and mighty nations, determining their times and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 17:26), first of all so that he might show his power in redeeming a people small and weak; and second, so that he might cause his redemption to overflow from this small land, and embrace every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation from the whole earth (Gen. 17:4-5; Rev. 5:9). Just as God originally fashioned a glorious Garden in Eden, where he might walk with men, so he has determined for his people's sake to fashion a new and beautiful Garden, where he might walk among them for all eternity (Isa. 35:1-10; 51:3; Ezek. 36:33-35; Rev. 22:2). At first, this new paradise was found within the borders of the Promised Land; but that new Eden was just a shadow, and God has promised someday to re-create the entire world anew, and to make Abraham and his children by faith the heirs of all this new garden-world of righteousness (Isa. 65:17-18; Rom. 4:13; Mat. 5:5).
Furthermore, just as God gave Adam pleasant food in the Garden, so he is preparing a feast of fat things and wine on the lees, for his redeemed people (Isa. 25:6). And in the meanwhile, as long as they are on their journey through the wilderness, their eyes all the while fixed on the hope of reaching their new and eternal Promised Land, he sustains them with bread from heaven (Ex. 16:4; Psalm 105:40), suitable to their daily need; and much more importantly, he gives him his very Word, which provides them with eternal life (Deut. 8:3). Even physical food is for God's purpose of redeeming a people, since it is right now necessary for our subsistence, until we reach the Promised Land; and therefore, God faithfully gives it to us. The psalmist has never seen the righteous deserted, nor his seed begging bread (Psalm 37:25); for the Lord already knows what physical things we have need of before we even ask (Mat. 6:31-33), and he is pleased to add those things to us day by day (Mat. 6:11). He has created all those things for us to enjoy (1 Tim. 4:4-5; 6:17), and we may partake of them to his glory (1 Cor. 10:31). But much greater than this physical bread is the Bread of Life, his Son whom he sent down from heaven that we might eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, and never hunger or thirst again (John 6:48-58)!
The next point, that God originally created animals for mankind, and gave him dominion over all of them, is likewise seen to be consistent with his purpose for redemption. God is making ready a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb, and the tenderest of his little children will lead them both, and will touch an asp and feel no harm, and play safely over the den of a cobra â€“ even so fully will he give dominion over all his creation to his redeemed people once again (Isa. 11:6-9). And in the meanwhile, Christ is still putting his creatures to work in accomplishing his redemption: he uses great fish to further his purpose of spreading the gospel to the nations (the book of Jonah), and little fish to instruct his chosen people about catching the souls of men (Luke 5:1-10), or about the true source of supply for his Temple work (Mat. 17:24-27). He uses donkeys to rebuke his people's enemies (Num. 22:28-34; 2 Pet. 2:15-16), ravens to provide food for his prophets (1 Kings 17:1-6), milk cows to deliver his Ark from the heathen (1 Sam. 6:7-12), bears to destroy the insolent mockers of his beloved servants (2 Kings 2:23-24), yes, and he shuts the mouths of lions, when it pleases him, for the sake of his own dear children (Dan. 6). So then, all of creation, with all of its good herbs and food, and all of its animals alike, were all subject to the good of mankind, from the beginning; and they are specifically subject to the good of his chosen people, whom he has purposed to redeem, all throughout history until the new creation.
Then, God is also preparing to use those beautiful gems and precious metals of his original creation for the matchless splendor of the New Jerusalem, where his redeemed people will dwell in his presence forevermore. The types of the old Temple and priesthood made use of the splendor of gold and jewels (Ex. 28:9-30; 1 Kings 6), but they were just a dim and fleeting glimpse of the glory of the eternal Holy of Holies, that perfectly cubed New Jerusalem, where there is no more need of another Temple, for Christ is â€œGod with us,â€ and walks among us forever (Rev. 21:16-22). In this, we see that all the creation of gold, silver and other beautiful substances is for the purpose of the eternal happiness of God's people in his own glorious presence, surrounded by astonishing delights and unimaginable splendor. So then, all the earth and all that is in it are unexceptionally subject to the eternal good of God's redeemed people.
Likewise, the very heavens, which were created to display the glory of God to mankind, are put to that same blessed end in the order of redemption. The heavens were created to display the glory of God, as we have already seen; but they are specifically designed to show the wonder of God's redemptive love, and have been made subject to the purpose of instructing and comforting the heart of his people whenever they become discouraged. Thus Abraham, when he was tempted to doubt, was made strong in the faith by the multitude of stars (Gen. 15:1-6); and we, too, may put the very heavens to such a use. The heavens were made vastly expansive beyond the humble borders of earth to show how great is God the Creator, and they declare his glory (Psalm 19:1); but most poignantly is it the glory of his love that they display: for our sins were heaped up to heaven (Ezra 9:6), but his love was greater yet, and overcame them all. The stars of morning shouted with joy at creation (Job 38:7), but all the stars and angels of creation rejoice more fervently still at the conversion of one poor, lost soul (Luke 15:7, 10). The heavens are filled with innumerable stars, and God calls them all by name (Psalm 147:4), but the seed of Abraham is more numerous yet (Gen. 15:5), and he knows every hair on their heads (Mat. 10:29-31), he loves them all perfectly, and is bringing them all to rejoice before him forever, as a vast multitude no one can number, from every nation and tongue upon the face of the earth (Rev. 7:9).
In all these things, we may see that all creation, both of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, was subjected from the beginning to the good of men, who were created to dwell with God; and after the Fall, they remained in subjection to that same purpose, in order that they might assist in the redemption of these men, so that God's chosen people might finally experience all the delights of the beatific vision of God in the midst of his created wonders. In fact, the apostle says of creation that it groans mightily right now, for it is waiting and longing for our final redemption, when it too will be redeemed to its ultimate purpose, in subjection to us whom God has chosen in his love (Rom. 8:19-23).
3. All the angels of heaven and the fallen angels of earth are subject to the great design of Christ's redemption of a people.
So we have seen that Christ the Creator, in his love for us, has subjected all of creation, the heavens and earth and all that in them is, to the eternal good of those whom he has set out to redeem. But even beyond that, he has subjected all of his angels, both good and evil, to the same great end of our eternal good and redemption.
That this is the case with God's elect and righteous angels, we may demonstrate at once from the scriptures. The angels excel man in glory and strength, but they are destined to be subject to man (Psalm 8:6; Heb. 2:5-6; 1 Cor. 6:3), they are sent as ministering spirits for those about to inherit salvation (Heb. 1:13-14), they delight in and long to peer into the mysteries of the grace that has been shown to us, his people (I Pet. 1:12). They always appear before the Father in heaven in behalf of Christ's little sheep, for whom they labor, (Mat. 18:10), and they rejoice fervently every time one of them is brought to conversion (Luke 15:7, 10). God created his angels glorious and beautiful, and they exist to exult in and praise the thrice-holy God (Isa. 6:1-3); so when all these most glorious of creatures are subjected to the end of the redemption of the people of Christ, then may we not suppose that Christ's love for his people is immense beyond words?
The Lord Christ, whom the prophet Isaiah saw in a vision, sent one of his angels away from his task of proclaiming the holiness of the godhead, to the end that he might take a coal from the altar, symbolizing the sacrificial death he would die for them, and apply it to Isaiah's unclean lips (Isa. 6:6-7; cf. also John 12:39-41); in this, we may see that the proclamation of his holiness is better served by our redemption than by all the praises of the angels, and thus it is that he has sent the angels to assist in our redemption, as the one great goal of history, so that his glory might be displayed in his salvation of us, above all other things.
Thus it is that, all throughout redemptive history, God has been sending his angels to assist his people. Now, the Angel of the Lord, who is Christ, often came down to help the people of his love; but also, he often sent other angels to help them too, great multitudes of them, as the servant of Elisha saw when his eyes had been opened (). And it was not just before the coming of Christ, but afterwards as well, such as when, for instance, an angel freed Peter from prison in the Book of Acts (). And there are also stories from God's persecuted Church in many parts of the world today that give evidence that the heavenly angels are still active in assisting Christ's poor, beloved sheep.
But it is not just the heavenly angels, but also the fallen angels that Christ has put to use for our redemption, in a mysterious and sovereign way. The devil ever rages against the people of Christ, but Christ ever turns that rage to their good and salvation. Satan strove to destroy righteous Job, but God used him instead to purify Job and display his tender mercy to all who would later inherit salvation, so that they might be strengthened and purified too (the book of Job; cf. also James). Satan desired to sift Peter and the apostles, but by the prayer of Christ, his siftings became the occasion for the strengthening of the apostle's brothers and sisters in the Lord (). Paul had a messenger of Satan to buffet him, but it became for him a boast in the strength of the Lord, and an occasion for a powerful ministry of evangelism among the Gentiles (). But the most poignant example of all is this, that Satan and his evil angels conspired against the Christ, and slew him; but God in his wisdom and sovereignty put that very act of treachery against his Christ to the most blessed end of the eternal salvation of all his people. Upon that cross of suffering and shame, Jesus crushed the serpent, he put the evil angels to an open shame (), and he saved forever all those whom he loved. So then, even the ragings of the devils of this world, just as certainly as the ministry of the holy angels, are all subject to the end of Christ's redeeming his people.
4. All other men and nations are subject to the great design of Christ's redemption of a people.
But it is not only all of creation, the heavens and the earth and all that is in them; nor is it only all of the angels, both righteous and evil; but it is likewise all the rest of mankind who have not been chosen by God for salvation, that God always and consistently employs for the good of his own little sheep. When Abraham, who alone of all the idol-worshipers on the other side of the River was chosen by God for salvation, went wandering about among hostile nations, the Lord rebuked kings and pharaohs (), and shut up wombs because of him (), and gave him victory wherever he went (). When an evil woman lied about Joseph (), and an evil man forgot his debt (), God still used everything to exalt him and to save his brothers, who by their own wickedness had sold him to Egypt in the first place (see)! In this, we see that, because of his immense grace, God is pleased to turn around for our good and salvation not only the wicked deeds of evil men, but even our own evil actions as well. Who of us has not been guilty of crucifying Christ, in our inward thoughts and actions which despise him and seek out sin? And yet, all the while, Christ only cries out, â€œFather, forgive them!â€ () â€“ and the very evil we have done comes back upon us, through the love of Christ, as our eternal good, and frees us to flee from that same deadly sin and be no longer bound to it.
This is the way that Jesus has always governed history. His people have always been small and weak in the presence of many mighty nations; but God always uses every nation and man upon earth for the good of his own, seemingly insignificant people. In order to accomplish his redemption, he has always ordered the affairs of all the nations for the peculiar good of his small and afflicted chosen people: he rebuked kings because of her (Psalm 105:12-15), he gave up nations as her ransom (Isa. 43:3), he raised up the mighty emperor Cyrus as an unwitting shepherd of his people (Isa. 44:28-45:6), to bring them back to their land and perform all his bidding, he wielded proud Assyria as an axe to accomplish his salvation (Is. 10:5-6, 15), he ordered and foretold the mighty revolutions of all the notable empires of history, all for the sake of his people. He has always put all the great and mighty among men to the sole purpose of the eternal good of his beloved Bride. How great his love for her must be!
5. All of the holy prophets, apostles, martyrs and missionaries are subject to the great end of applying Christ's redemption to all the elect
But even more poignant a display of the greatness of his love, is that he subjected even his own most beloved and treasured children to the end of bringing us all into his salvation. How he loved Abraham, but he made him wander as a pilgrim and an outcast, that he might not be made perfect without us (Heb. 11:8-9, 40). He loved Jacob, but made the days of his pilgrimage few and evil (Gen. 47:9). And which of his beloved apostles and prophets did he not give up to tortures, shame, starvation and death, to soften us hardhearted rebels and bring us into his Kingdom (e.g. Heb. 11:32-39)? How many martyrs have poured out their blood as seed, how many persecuted missionaries in Central Asia today are suffering unspeakable things so that they might call out worshipers of Christ, how many mothers are in this room right now who, day after day, pour out their complaint to God in the bitterness of their souls, longing for the redemption of their loved ones? Christ feels every sorrow more deeply than we can know, he treasures up all the tears of his saints in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), the death of his saints is most precious to him (Psalm 116:15), and still he delays the time of their being avenged, just so that all of us might be brought in by such patience and love in the people of Christ (Rev. 6:9-11). Who is it that has suffered and labored so that you might be brought to Christ? Your parents? A teacher or missionary? Some humble servant of God who stammeringly shared with you the message of the gospel? In all their difficult labors and prayers to bring you in, Christ was suffering with them, he was suffering for your soul, he was suffering because of love to you.
6. All the forces of history are subject to the great design of Christ's redemption of a people.
It is evident from what we have seen that Christ has subjected everything in all creation to his purpose of redeeming a people; but we must further note that it is not just everything in existence at one particular time, but everything at every time, from the beginning of the world to its end, that serves to advance and accomplish the work of redemption. There is not an atom or particle in the farthest reaches of the universe that does not find its ultimate purpose in Christ's plan of redemption, or that was not created so that he might display his divine glory to all the world in the Church; and neither is there a moment in time in the history of any person or nation that is not equally subject to this one, great, all-inclusive goal. God is too wise a Novelist not to tie up all the loose ends of his story, and weave every single element and action into a perfectly unified end, that his glory in Christ Jesus in the Church might be displayed without flaw or blemish. Every part of history was designed by the Father for the Son's accomplishment of the redemption of his people, to be applied by the Holy Spirit, and to culminate in an eternity of rest and rejoicing in the presence of God. This shows the surpassing love of Christ, which governs the one unchanging purpose of all of time and history.
We began this chapter by remembering the blessed words of the apostle, that God is working all things together for the good of them whom he has called; and as we searched out all the things that he has worked together for our good, we have only confirmed this truth. There is nothing in all creation, whether in the heavens or upon the earth, that God has not subjected to his purpose of redeeming us. There is no good angel who does not display God's glory and holiness most poignantly by ministering to us who will inherit salvation, and by peering into the depths of divine grace displayed upon the cross; nor is there any evil angel whose actions of wickedness are not entirely wrested to an altogether different end, of sanctifying the elect, and working toward the accomplishment and application of their redemption. There is no mighty ruler or proud nation that God has not put to his purpose of saving us, no, nor is there even any sin that we ourselves have committed that he does not use to further our sanctification, and bring us to righteousness. (This is why wicked men say that we ought to continue in sin so that grace may abound, but in saying this, they make clear that they are not those in whom Christ's redemptive purpose is at work [Rom].) And furthermore, there is nothing in the past centuries, nor presently, nor in all the ages to come, that God is not directing as he will to accomplish our great salvation, and to bring us where we might enjoy the eternal reward of resting in his presence in the midst of a new and glorious world, where all things display his glory and rejoice our hearts. In light of all this, then, what can we say, but to repeat with the apostle those most precious words of assurance:
â€œWho shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lordâ€ (Rom 8:35-39, ESV).