THE EVENTS of the pre-creation period have made us familiar with the grand purpose of God, which, like a mighty stream, flows through all of His preparatory activities, carrying on God's irrevocable, inherent determination eventually to bless all of His creatures through Christ, so that no one will wish for a greater bliss. We may deduce from this that God Himself will experience His highest joy and satisfaction when all intelligent beings find, in Him and in His Son and in the treasures of His grace, the fullness of blessing that they desire. The Lord Jesus Himself, in the days of His humiliation, in words that have come to us only through the apostle Paul, calls our attention to this precious trait of His own heart and that of His Father by saying that "Happy is it to give rather than to get" (Acts 20:35).
How illuminating is this revelation of His own bliss in giving! It issues from the perfect, absolute goodness and infinite love of His Father. "GIVING" is written large on His heart, and is His most cherished employment. To give means giving to Himself happiness and enjoyment. This feature of His character, this precious fruit of His grace, was so strong that Paul could say, "He who spares not His own Son, but gives Him up for us all, how shall He not, together with Him, also be graciously granting us all?" (Rom.8:32).
Furthermore, we can see that these God-given gratuities are not bestowed indiscriminately, but in a definite order and arrangement. At first there is not an equal distribution of His gifts, as may probably be the case when all will receive lifegiving justification at the end of the eons.
God's storehouse of grace contains great and still greater gifts, which He distributes at various seasons, to different groups, in accord with the unfolding of His master-plan. He does not treat all alike, according to a single pattern. His loving purpose is many-sided and diversified. We, for instance, the figurative body of Christ, are raised to an unusually high place by His grace, in that He gave us the precedence, and selected us, and chose us beforehand. But that is not all.
We now approach scriptures which lead us under the mightiest outflow of His beneficence, and overwhelm us with the highest and most glorious treasures of His heart. These are not common gifts which we only receive before the rest, but such which have a value far above those given to all others. They are the true gems from the treasury of His immeasurable riches, and are in keeping with our exalted tasks and fitting for our nobility as the elect. Yes, in that earliest era in His plan, God did not only choose us, but made out a deed of gifts which conveys to us His most gracious gratuities.
It cannot but deeply impress and humble us to always be reminded of this divine precedence, which reveals such a strong and prominent trait of His heart!
In our daily life, in dealing with our associates, it indicates a lack of culture to continually express and emphasize our own advantages over these, and then to rejoice that we have more than so many others. But, if we have the disposition of Christ in our hearts, and cultivate it, we will find it impossible to exult over these unusual grace gifts, if God has no further object with them than to give us more than others. Neither would this be in harmony with His great love to all. But as soon as we realize that our selection, and the transcendent riches of His grace granted to us are a means in His hand to bless the others also, we are in a position to jubilate with joy, pure and spotless.
Our temporal precedence over others who are also to be saved will be used by God to train us to become useful instruments of His grace. The possession and enjoyment of His highest gifts should equip us with energy and zeal to bring to others the riches which God has in store for all His creatures throughout the universe. The joyful experience of His grace will enable us to herald it and awake a genuine longing for it in the hearts of our hearers. We can practice this blessed employment now already, as we live among so many who are estranged from God and His Christ. In the glory we will be the tidings-bearers of His grace to the celestials. At present we do not see very much fruit, but we can, in spirit, look forward to the end, where we see all in the place prepared for them by God, filled with joy and satisfaction because they are free from all jealousy of those who received greater gifts, and because their experience taught them that God had their own happiness in mind when He called others before them. And our hearts will jubilate over the divine wisdom with which He carries out His loving plan of the eons.
In view of this precious truth, it is not the possession of the grace gifts in itself that fills our cup to overflowing but the knowledge that these will help us to be a blessing to the whole universe. And we, as the mediatorial instruments even now, but specially in our future career, may share the precious experience that: "Happy is it to give rather than to get."
With this disposition in our hearts we are enabled to explore, in a manner well-pleasing to God, the gifts which He prepared for us before the creation of the universe. Besides this, God has, in His unintermitting, fatherly care, made a provision worthy of our worship, so that we, even today, in the body of our humiliation, may receive a deep insight into the nature of these gifts, in order that they may consciously and intelligently influence our path, and enable us to make due use of them in the life of faith.
It is the passage in 1 Cor.2:12 which brings before us this glorious revelation: "Now we obtained, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we may be perceiving that which is being graciously given to us by God." And furthermore: "which we are speaking also, not with words taught by human wisdom, but with those taught by the spirit..." Two mighty, divine factors are these, to which we owe the knowledge of God—the possession of His Word, and of His spirit, through which He inspired the sacred Scriptures and reveals the deep things of God. This spirit is our teacher. The more we are engaged with the sacred oracles, and explore their riches by means of prayerful study, the more opportunity we give the spirit to exercise its teaching function. It must bring genuine joy to God to find us occupied with His Word, in order to be introduced into the divine depths, so that we may be able to realize what God's grace has given us.
Trustfully and expectantly we now turn to these grace-gifts as we enter a new section devoted to the period before the eons. Like a brilliant star trio of His love for us they enlighten us in the following scriptures.
1 Cor.2:7: "...we are speaking God's wisdom in a secret, which has been concealed, which God designates before the eons for our glory...?"
2 Tim.1:9: "...who saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian, yet now is being manifested through the advent of our Saviour, Christ Jesus..."
Titus 1:2: "...in expectation of life eonian, which God, Who does not lie, promises before times eonian, yet manifests His word in its own eras by heralding, with which I was entrusted, according to the injunction of God, our Saviour..."
In these statements we are introduced to the great gifts of God by name, and placed under a veritable outpouring of His love. They are
Wisdom, Grace, and Life
To begin with, we will set forth the traits common to them all, as they become apparent if we study them as a whole.
Let us especially take to heart the very important fact of the divine character of all three of these gifts. Grace is adapted only to sinners. Life is needed by those who have come under the power of death. Wisdom is for them that are ignorant of God's thoughts and will.
A feature common to these gifts is that all three reach back to a period before recorded time, of which God's Word speaks the precise phrases, "before the eons," or, "before eonian times," both of which express nearly the same thought. These words throw a flood of light on the whole of the divine plan, and enable us to recognize its first phase. Here God begins with the elementary introduction into the doctrine of the eons, which is so important and means so much in understanding the Scriptures.
It is to be regretted that access to this doctrine was barred by the discordant translations of the word "eon." The renderings "ever" and "everlasting," expressing endlessness, were especially to blame. Like a heavy veil they have darkened the whole matter. We are not concerned now with criticizing these terms were they used of that which is endless, but we object to their use in the wrong place. We have nothing to say against such terms when used of that which follows the reconciliation of all, for there they are justified. But forced upon the stages within the unfolding of God's plan of salvation, during the eons, all of which have a beginning and end, this idea of endlessness introduces confusion confounded, for it makes the limited periods of God's judgments endless, purposeless, and, therefore, loveless.
For quite a long time translators and annotators found it necessary to point out that this word really meant "age," or "age-times." But this was usually done only in a few contexts, as a rule, not only in English, but in other languages also. Yet these efforts failed to make a very definite impression, or they would have called down the anathemas of orthodoxy.
This fundamental and God-honoring work was reserved for the Concordant Version. In holy recklessness the old, worn-out rails of human tradition were left for unqualified subjection to the divinely inspired text of the Original. Consistently we find in this version every occurrence of "eon" and its adjective "eonian," rendered without any alterations. This applies also to the modern languages which have such a version. By means of this great advance in the translation of the sacred scrolls the different time periods in God's plan of salvation were purged of the thought of endlessness, which bred so many false doctrines. This faithfulness to His Word God has rewarded with a deep insight into His plan and its divisions, which previously had been impossible. This whole series is only the fruit of a thorough study of concordant expositions.
As a result, the expressions "before the eons," and "before eonian times" become a valuable and reliable light to lead us on the way in the pre-creation period. To begin with, we may see that God has not given us a name by which to call this unparalleled period.
Neither are we given a definite, distinct answer to the question "when." This period, with all the great deeds accomplished in it, is oriented simply on that which followed. This gives us the keyword "before." It was a time which came before the eons, and may readily be expressed by the phrase "pre-eonian times," for there are no limits, as to its duration, revealed in the Scriptures. This corresponds with the time after the eons, which likewise have no definite name or boundary. Perhaps the glory of that future consummation is beyond our present capacity to understand. So we remain in quiet expectation of this coming sublimity and do not seek to trespass beyond the boundaries of that future, unrevealed time that lies beyond the eons. Alas! that has been done far too often, when the word "eternity" was applied to eonian conditions, which are occupied with the development of God's plan and last only to the consummation. We should not carry these over into that post-eonian time of which God has given no revelation.
Secrecy is one of the features which the three great gifts, wisdom, grace and life, have in common. They were not revealed until the time when they became operative. They were hid until Paul was commissioned to make them known. This is repeated in each case with different words.
It is by no means sufficient to speak of the revelation of these gifts in general, for those for the present ecclesia are many-sided, and were not all revealed at the same time. Besides, there is a special side of these three gifts to consider. We could never say that wisdom, grace and eonian life were first revealed through Paul, for all three are to be found in the Scriptures even before the time of Abraham. Our God of untold wealth possesses many of these gifts. All will eventually receive wisdom, grace and life from Him, but not all the gifts are of equal value. Even in the Hebrew Scriptures we can see that, with continually increasing revelation concerning His people Israel, their gifts also become more complete, and are filled with a more profound view of salvation. But that grace, and that wisdom, and that life which God has prepared for the present ecclesia is of such an original character that, in their results, they differ much from the previously given gifts. Such glory as that bestowed on those who receive them was beyond human imagination. Neither the eye perceived, nor the ear heard, nor did the heart of humanity ascend to that which God makes ready for those who are loving Him (1 Cor.2:9).
For our special meditation we will now begin with the basic gift from which the others emerge and on which they are founded, that is grace.
Grace, what is its real essence? The Keyword Concordance (page 133) explains it as "an act producing happiness." This definition is based on the close relationship of the word with joy in the Original. Grace is char-is. Joy is char-a. Long before the spirit of God used the word grace in the sacred text, the Greeks used it of that which brought joy and even for the desire to make others happy.
As a matter of fact, there could be no better or more appropriate explanation of God's grace. It is God's love in operation, in which Christ condescends to us, and gives Himself to us. That is the essence of the glad tidings, which brings us the greatest joy.
Joy is a feeling of heart-happiness, and God has created us with feelings, but we must keep them in control. Many saints base their faith on feelings and through this are brought into trials, for good as they may be, they always vanish. Others have deduced that feelings should be shut out altogether. But both of these extremes are abnormal. We should be neither unfeeling nor immersed in feelings. It is impossible to really entertain the glorious revelations of God's love in our hearts without being filled with a measure of joy. O, the poor souls who are not stirred to their depths by God's glorious gifts! Indeed, let us thankfully enjoy such a God-given happiness. But let us not use these as the foundation of our faith, but rather as an occasional result. We know that God, in His wise discipline, alternately weaves joy and sorrow into our lives. Yet a right appreciation of joy divine will give us power to conquer in the contest of faith.
The possibility of being gracious is by no means a divine prerogative. In the Scriptures love gifts, which believers present to one another, are often called a "grace" (1 Cor.16:3; 2 Cor.1:15; 8:4,6,7,19). In these instances also it is abundantly clear that "grace giving" amounts to "joy giving." From this usage of the word grace for earthly, tangible gifts we can see that the grace shown us by God is not exhausted by the feeling in God, the Father's heart, but consists of deeds and grants which He holds in readiness for us above.
God has many possibilities to bring joy to the hearts of His creatures, so we may speak of grace in the plural, of many graces, or, better, grace-gifts. This may help us to recognize the unparalleled and transcendent riches of the grace given to us. As already remarked, the present ecclesia is not the first to be granted grace. Even Noah found grace in the eyes of Jehovah (Gen.6:8). A terrible judgment was imminent, but Jehovah announced salvation. What thankful joy must have gripped the hearts of Noah and his family when this grace eventuated in their deliverance!
A very great grace-getter was Abram. He was the first to enjoy justification by faith, which is in accord with grace. Moses also found grace in the eyes of Jehovah (Ex.3:12,17). It consisted of this, that Jehovah heard his petition.
A very special grace came to the people of Israel. The birth of Christ and the grace that came through Him (John 1:16,17) was an evangel of great joy (Luke 2:10). The same joy is found again in Israel at Pentecost. The apostles had grace for the whole people, and those who received it exulted (Acts 2:46).
Even if this stream of grace was held back by their rejection, nevertheless, according to the divine promises, it will flow again into the people of Israel and through them into the other nations, for through the faithful benignities of David (Isa.55:3; Acts 13:34), which they received by a covenant of Jehovah, the kingdom and all its joys are secured to them. Through this grace a veritable stream of grace will inundate the whole earth (Psa.137:6; Isa.35:10; 51:3; 60:5; etc.)
This grace is destined for the earth. The nations have a part in it, but only as guests, as such who have been invited to the wedding festivities by the people to whom the grace belongs (Matt.22:1-10). As often recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, believers in Jehovah, the God of Israel, proselytes from among the nations, have come and enjoyed the hospitality of Israel's richly laden board.
But no one knew, at that time, that long before God had already provided a much richer grace for an election out of the nations, yet kept it a profound secret.
A remarkable circumstance prepared for the occasion when God began to reveal this grace. When Israel became callous, as recorded in the Acts of the apostles, and when it was set aside, the grace which flowed through it, and which the nations will enjoy on this earth in the kingdom, was held back. In its place God opened up a new channel, through the apostle Paul, in order to bring to the nations the grace which He had hidden in His heart so long before. This is the greatest evangel that has ever been brought to mortal men.
The substance of all grace is Christ crucified and risen. There is no other basis for grace except HIM. Out of this spring flow various gifts which far excel the others, with important differences well worthy of notice. The blessings of the kingdom do not by any means attain to those which God brings to us.