The Purpose of God

by Vladimir Gelesnoff

In PAUL'S letters repeated reference is made to God's "purpose" (Rom.8:28; 9:11; Eph.1:11; 3:11; 2 Tim.1:9). In all these scriptures the word is prothesis. Its force may be gathered from the fact that the twelve loaves which were placed on the Tabernacle table before the Lord are styled "loaves of purpose" (Matt.12:4; Mark 2:26; Luke 6:14; Heb.9:2). Hence the scriptures which speak of God's prothesis tell us that He has set before Himself a definite aim or object which He is bent on achieving.

In Eph.3:11, occurs the phrase, "according to the purpose of the eons which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This phrase is fraught with deep meaning; it indicates that God, through the eons, is prosecuting a certain work, in pursuance to a prearranged, definite plan. Nothing is left to chance, or to the emergencies of the case, but everything is arranged with perfect precision beforehand; and yet the prevalent idea among Christians is virtually the same as if God had no plan at all--they hold that God's purpose has sustained a rude set-back at the hands of Satan, so that the whole period of sin's existence resembles a haphazard scramble between good and evil; thus far evil has had the best of it, but the good will triumph in the end; rather, the good will not be absolutely triumphant, but it will at least gain some advantages. In opposition to this puerile idea, the apostle asserts the fact that God has a purpose, the purpose of the eons, prearranged and perfected before the initial step was ventured upon; a plan providing for every event and movement, and according to which the minutest detail will be carried out. The programme has been mapped out by God, and every step in the process and the final outcome is infallibly settled. It may be objected that, if this be so, man's free moral agency is completely ruled out. This question has been fully dealt with in a previous paper; the present question is in regard to the purpose of the eons.

The belief of Christendom in respect to the work which God prosecutes may be summarized thus: In the beginning God created everything in six days, and rested on the seventh; but His rest being disturbed by sin, He was obliged to resume work. Hardly had God finished His work and pronounced it "very good," than the devil appears upon the scene and unsets His work, spoils everything, so that the Lord is compelled to go to work again to repair damages, and He has been ever since straightening out the tangle; ultimately He will succeed in establishing something like the semblance of the pristine order; He will be unable to wholly undo the evil, or to entirely destroy the mischief wrought by the devil, for many will be irrecoverably lost, and will be eternally tormented in the lake of fire. However, God will succeed in rescuing a portion (some say the minority, others, the majority) of humanity from this terrible doom, and to this end He works. But who can, after sober reflection, adhere to a view like that above, a view which utterly traduces His character, representing Him to be a weakling, who can be thwarted in His will, obstructed in His plans, and successfully resisted? Views responsible for such misconceptions must be at fault somewhere. Let us seek to find out where lies the fault.

The first chapter of Colossians, within the compass of a few verses, contains a summary view of the Divine forepurpose. The Creation of all things is the first movement in the execution of the plan; at the opposite extreme, as the climax of the plan, we have the Reconciliation of all things. The character of the intervening period, and the Divine activities during its course, is graphically emphasized in the phrase "peace being made through the blood of His cross".

Since Reconciliation is here conceived as being from the very outset the climax of all things created, it is evident that primeval creation was not the adequate expression of His consummated plan, but the preliminary stage, of a glorified world, in which weakness, flaw or failure can have no place. Hence creation may be said to have been complete only in the sense in which a step which is integral part of a complex whole may be said to be complete in itself.

It might be said perhaps, if any one was disposed to play the part of an objector, that, according to this view, creation was not perfect. The answer is, the universe as it came forth from God was perfect, but it was not perfected with the perfection of maturity. We proceed to point out the difference between "perfect" and "perfected."

In the third chapter of Philippians, our versions use the word "perfect" in a way which suggests a contradiction; for, in v.12, the apostle emphatically disclaims perfection, whereas, in v.15, he as emphatically claims it for himself and those who were with him. The solution is simple: the Greek word rendered "perfect" in v.12 is a verb in the perfect tense, whereas in ver. 15 it is an adjective. This fact puts a new complexion on the passage, and makes it one of singular cogency and force. The apostle says: "Not that I have already obtained, or am already perfected;" in other words, to reverently paraphrase his sentence,

I have not yet reached the goal; I am not yet crowned: What the Lord had in mind when He gave Himself for me, was not the present life of trial and training, but the crowning day, when my body of low estate will be refashioned so as to become in form like unto the body of His glory. That climax I can never attain until the Savior Himself comes from heaven. Meanwhile, there is a sense in which we can be perfect--"whereunto we have already attained, by that same rule let us walk." Thus the difference between "perfect" and "perfected" is the difference between the attainment which is a present possibility, and the attainment which is impossible until the resurrection; or, to state it otherwise, it is the difference between relative and absolute perfection, between the good work begun and the good work completed. Our Lord furnishes a striking illustration of the distinction we seek to emphasize when He said, "Behold, I cast out demons, and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am perfected" (Luke 13:32). Every act and word of His was perfect, indefectible, complete; but each was only part of a mission, so that while each step was perfect His ministry could not be perfected until the full number of steps was reached.

It is thus also with creation. God leads it to the appointed goal not at one bound, but by a long process and a gradual one; a process marked by successive stages and those stages all contributing towards the appointed end. Thus creation, though perfect when looked at by itself, is seen to be incomplete considered as the initial step of a vast undertaking. The New Creation is no after-thought called forth by the opposition of the devil; rather, it is the foreordained culmination of a process appointed for creation every stage whereof is divinely prearranged. The New Heavens and New Earth are not something devised to replace those which the devil "spoiled;" they are the fruitage of creation's finished course--the culmination, acme and climax of the primeval--perfection perfected.

But if this is true of the material universe it holds good equally of man. In 1 Cor.15:45-49, the apostle draws a contrast between Adam and Christ; he shows how they differed. Adam was not like Christ; they were not "made" alike (ver.45). Hence, there must be a material difference between Adam who was the "image and glory of God" (1 Cor.11:7), and Christ, who is the "image of the invisible God" (Col.1:15). Adam was a faint reflexion, a shadow, a silhouette of the Deity; Christ is the effulgence of His glory, the very impress of His substance (Heb. 1:3). Now, since those whom God foreknew were foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, and since such conformity is only realized in resurrection, it is evident that man was to attain Christlikeness by a process of development and testing during which, being under certain restrictions, he was to exercise his volition in accordance with God's revealed commands. The creation of man, as of the whole present creation, was planned in view of the fall, and therefore is, so to speak, in an infralapsarian manner. His origin from dust makes his return thereto possible; Adam bore in his primeval condition the possibility of death. There was--for this is the meaning of the tree of life--in Eden a means of transferring man without death to a higher stage of physical life. If I err not, this is the significance of the Transfiguration. Our Divine Lord, in compliance with the Father's will, took upon Himself the likeness of the flesh of sin, and as He went about doing the will of Him who sent Him, He endured the contradiction of sinners and resisted unto blood striving against sin. In His perfect walk on earth, as born of a woman, born under the law, He glorified His Father, did His will, magnified His law. What did He deserve personally, as man? The Transfiguration furnishes the answer. But the glory into which He deserved to be translated without tasting death, He reached only through the death of the cross.

The foregoing consideration accounts for the naiveness and childlike simplicity of the first pair. Man was unfinished; he was only half-made. Like Ephraim, he was "a cake not turned" (Hosea 7:8). What could be expected of man in this crude, rough state? These considerations have an important bearing on the question of salvation. We hear on every hand about "conditions" of salvation: theology loudly proclaims that man's salvation rests entirely on himself; that there are certain rules to be complied with in order to be saved; that God has done what He could, made man's salvation possible; and if man will repent and do many other things he will be saved; otherwise, not. This colossal error roots itself in a misapprehension of salvation, and of God's work. The work of God, as has been shown, is to conform man to the image of God's Son; this is the task which God proposed to Himself, and He alone is responsible for its attainment. And now the question arises, What is salvation? The Scriptures answer that salvation is life—life from the dead. The Bible represents man in Adam as dead, having "no life in him." When we speak of life we mean physical existence; but Scripture does not recognize physical existence as life. After his transgression Adam had physical existence as much as before, but he was dead unto God. Our Lord's saying, "Let the dead bury their dead," means that those bearing the corpse were as dead as the corpse itself. That saying illustrates precisely man's condition before God: physically he is active, spiritually he is dead. Hence the mission of Christ was to bring life to the world. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Fallen man is not only guilty, needing justification, or sinful, needing cleansing; he is dead, needing life, and anything short of that is vain, futile. Salvation, then, is life for a dead race. The Scriptures bristle with this truth: it is the great central truth of the word—Christ our life, not merely our wisdom, redemption, propitiation, or mediation; all this is true and blessed, yet it falls short of the fullness of His mission. He comes to bring life; He is our life as He Himself declares, "I am the resurrection and the life."

Salvation is the consummation of creation, the impartation of life to a dead race, thus bringing them finally to His image; and this work depends solely on God; it is not conditional, for if it were it would be contingent; but that is inconceivable; we cannot allow the thought that God's creative work is contingent, or that He would commence a work and not bring it to a worthy finish. "When I begin, I will also make an end, said the Lord" (1 Sam.3:12).

In a word, the truth on this point is this: all that man does has to do with his training, development, instruction; his final salvation--his entrance into life--in no sense or degree depends on what he does. The end is fixed and settled in the immutable purpose of God, and all will ultimately be vivified in Christ, as surely and unconditionally as all have died in Adam. The misconception that many entertain on this subject arises from their religious training, and not from the teaching of the Bible. In current evangelical theology salvation is conceived of as nothing more than escape from the penalty of sin-- the scorching fires of hell; and in order to effect this escape man must do certain things, thereby securing to his own credit the merit of Christ; add to this the ideas in vogue investing man with power to persistently resist His Maker, so that in vain God expends upon him all the resources of infinite mercy, wisdom, and power--add these errors, and you have a groundwork of falsehood broad enough to build up almost any amount of tradition, superstition, and absurdity.

On the other hand, when we see the truth that salvation is life, the consummation of the creative work of God, the completion of Christ's mission, Who came to give life, Who is our life, and hence is called the vivifying spirit--the life-giver of the world--when we see that this stupendous work of vivifying a dead race is entirely of God, and has nothing to do with the penalty for sin, any more than it has with the reward for good works—when we see further that God has resources infinite, manifold, inexhaustible, whereby He is able to reconcile all things unto Himself--when we catch a glimpse of these grand truths, we shall cease talking about "conditions" of salvation. By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men unconditionally; thus also by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto a justifying of life—equally unconditionally (Rom.5:17). Man exercises his freedom intermediately, between death and life; the individual is not responsible for his dead state, nor can he help himself to life, but intermediately--during the eons--he is free; he has his choice and is dealt with accordingly. Here is where come in good works, rewards, praying, witness bearing, enduring--by these experiences man is developed, taught, trained, while every passing hour brings him nearer to his final goal, which is immutably settled in the will of God. As the beginning is of God, so is the end. As man cannot originate absolutely, neither can he determine. Beginnings and finalities are entirely in God's hands. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." If it were not so, everything would be uncertain; if the final outcome were contingent, there could be no certainty as to what it would be. It might be chaos instead of the perfect universe of "all things new." But when we know that God is the first and the last, then we can look upon all things intermediate with perfect trust and composure. Think you that God would make the ultimate results of His purpose depend upon weak, foolish mortals?--place the infinite in the hands of the finite? Verily nay; the wisdom of God is not so foolish; God alone determines eternity.

It makes all the difference in the world whether we consider God's work as having been completed in Eden, and then upset by the devil, or whether we see that this work only began there, that the fall was part of that work, and that redemption, resurrection, judgment, punishment, are simply steps and stages in the same creative process. According to current ideas the fall was an "accident," a mishap to God no less than man, and redemption is then degraded to the level of a makeshift expedient--a "scheme" as it is often called--to repair damages. Such a view makes God to be altogether such an one as ourselves, a being subject to accident and failure, instead of One who worketh all things after the counsel of His will. Surely, no thoughtful person can entertain ideas so derogatory to God's character. God's work began with creation; the fall was a step in the same process; and all the results of that step up to the consummation are further stages in the same process.

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