Friday, December 19, 2014

God’s Love For His Church: Our Eternal Home (Part 2)

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

This idea (God dwelling with His people and, conversely, His people dwelling with Him), is found throughout the Scriptures. Moses writes in Leviticus 26:11-12 that God, in keeping His covenant with His people, will dwell among them and be their God and they will be His people. This promise has been rightly called the “Emmanuel Promise,” for in it God promises to be “God with us.” This promise is repeated numerous times in Scripture in many forms, and finds fulfillment in the Incarnation of Christ, the God-Man, and comes to ultimate fruition in the consummation of all things as recorded for us in Revelation 21:3, which cites the Leviticus 26:11-12 promise.

The Old Testament authors repeatedly call God their hiding place, refuge, or strong tower. Psalm 91:1 speaks of the “secret place of the Most High,” and the “shadow of the Almighty.” In language reminiscent of our passage, Ezekiel 11:16 has God promising, during the Exile, to be a sanctuary for His people. The true fulfillment of this promise appears in the true Israel of God, (the Church, as per Galatians 6:16), and in John’s vision of the heavenly city where there is no temple because the presence of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb is the Temple. And did you know that the Hebrew word used of God as the dwelling place of His people in Psalm 90:1 is used in elsewhere Scripture (2Chr 36:15 & Ps 26:8) in reference to the Temple itself? How’s that for continuity?

Verse 2 serves as the link which connects the rest of the chapter to verse 1. It is because of God’s eternal love for His people that He provides them the protective shelter of His presence. It is because of His eternal love that He has provided a solution for the sinfulness of His people, sinfulness of which we read in verse 8. This explains why the candid and undisguised confession of sinfulness in verse 8 does not lead to hopeless despair, but rather to a confident reliance on God’s unfailing love in Verse 14.

In New Testament terms, Verse 1 speaks of the Mystical Union that obtains between Christ and His church. Verses 3-11 speak of God’s providential dealings with His people. Verses12-17 pray for the wisdom to live in the light of this knowledge. But Verse 2 hinges everything upon God’s eternity. Again we see the truth of Ephesians 1:3-6. All of God’s good will, grace, mercy, favor, and electing love towards His people have been His purpose from eternity.

Christopher Ness speaks of the Eternity of God’s purposes in these words, “As God's essence is eternal, so His decree must be eternal also. Now the decree is God's decreeing, because whatever is in God is God; it is God Himself by one eternal act, decreeing and determining whatsoever should come to pass unto the praise of His own glory.”

There can no more be a new thought, a new intent, or a new purpose in God, than there can be a new God. Whatever God thinks, He has always thought and will always think. Whatever God purposes he has always purposed and always will purpose. He says, “I know (present tense) the thoughts I think (present tense) toward you” (Jeremiah 29:11). Just as he can never learn anything new or know anything new, neither can he intend anything new. His name is, after all, I AM.

Furthermore, if Christ be the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, as He is called in Revelation 13:8, then God’s gracious purposes for His people must be before time since our predestination unto adoption as children is expressed in Scripture by these words, “as he has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Christ is the means. Means are related to ends in such a way that the means cannot be conceived of before the ends they serve. No one conceives of an elaborate plan and then tries to find a goal to use it on! If Christ is the eternal purpose of the Father, then choosing us in Christ must be His eternal purpose also. Commenting on Psalm 90:2, David Dickson wrote, “From God’s good will to us in time, we may arise to God’s good will to us before time; and from grace showed to us in time, we may conclude grace and good will purposed toward us, and ordained for us before time.”

And of course, Scripture is replete with declarations of the eternity of God’s decree. Scripture uses expressions such as, “before the world began;” and “before the foundation of the world;” and "the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Our Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 7 was written in the light of passages such as Ephesians 1. The Catechism asks: “What are the decrees of God?” The answer given is: “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.” God’s decrees are eternal precisely because God’s essence is eternal. God dwells in what might be called an ‘infinite present.’ All things and all events in time are eternally present before Him. The fact that God is eternal, as Psalm 90:2 emphasizes, gives us the comfort of knowing God will faithfully be our dwelling place for all generations.

The great Reformer, Wolfgang Musculus, notes that God has not seen fit to tell us that He has chosen us and to leave us without the knowledge of when He did so. Commenting on Paul’s statement that God chose us before the foundation of the world, Musculus writes, “And yet there was no man before that the world was made. He chose us therefore before we were: so that there can be no occasion for the elect to boast thereof…This consideration commends unto us the wonderful purpose of God, wherein He determined with Himself upon our salvation before He made the world…It is an incredible matter how great an assurance of salvation there rests in the hearts of the faithful…that God had a care of them before the world was made, and that they were chosen by Him unto salvation, before that they were.”

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