Tuesday, April 21, 2009
God's Grace and God's Plan, Romans ch.16 vv.25-27
Rev. Hugh Ferrier, Inverness
"Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began. But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen" (Romans 16, 25-27)
This is a tremendous Epistle, the Epistle to the Romans. And as the apostle brings it to an end, he brings it to an end with this doxology. In the doxology he is giving praise to the only wise God, who can establish and uphold the apostle's Christian friends in Rome. That is why he has given a list of the names that we read together. It's as if the apostle is saying to them, yes, the world that you are living in is uncertain, but I commend you to the grace of God, and that is enough for you. And then also in this doxology, and in these words, he extols this God, the only wise God, for unfolding His great plan of grace, which embraces a fallen world.
What I really want us to do this evening is to look at two things that emerge from these words. And the first thing is this, the upholding grace of God. The upholding grace of God: isn't that a great comfort? And the second thing is, the unfolding plan of God. And that is a great thing too: the plan of God.
So let's look at these two things: the grace of God and the plan of God.
1. The Grace Of God
2. The Plan Of God
THE GRACE OF GOD
First of all: the upholding grace of God. "Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel." From my studies in the past I have consulted from time-to-time other versions of the Bible. I always find that the Authorised Version is one of the best. Undoubtedly and unquestionably it is the translation that takes foremost place; but we do get help from other translations. For example in the Revised Standard Version it translates the words, "Now to him who is able to strengthen you." And the New English Bible puts it like this, "To him who has power to make your standing sure." J. B. Philips in his paraphrase of the New Testament puts it like this, "Now to him who is able to set you on your feet, as his own sons." Now, all these translations have the same meaning, and the meaning is this - that it is only God who can make us steadfastly endure and persevere in the Christian life.
Paul was well aware as he looked around him in his day, of being in an anti-God society, and of being in a world where God was discounted. It's the same with you and with me this evening. As we look at society today, what is it that impresses your mind and mine? It's this, that the world that we live in is anti-God. I'm talking about the God of the Bible. It will tolerate any other God, but the God who is revealed here in the Word, is the God that the world wants to know nothing at all about. Tonight a multitude of people in Inverness will be going here and there and everywhere. They will be sitting watching their television screens. They will be filling their minds with nothing but carnality and the world. God will be an offence to them. That's the kind of world we are living in. It's a society in which the god of this world, as the apostle puts it elsewhere, blinds the mind and prevents the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ from illuminating and penetrating the mind.
We are living in a world that lies in sin; a world that is in the unyielding grip of sin. You will hear people say, "Oh but I'm free, I can do as I like. I can do this, I can do that and I can do the other thing." You know you're only free within the context of sin, if you're outside of Christ. And your freedom is restricted in that way. You will be allowed to do what you like so long as the devil lets you; that is the kind of freedom that people are talking about when they say, I'm free. They 're not free to worship God in the way God wants them to. They're not free to do a single thing that pleases God, because they are not under the control of God; they're under the control of the devil. That's the society that we belong to: a world that has discountenanced God, and a world that has crucified His Son; a world that has cast aside the restraints of Divine Law in favour of unrestrained pleasure. It's a world where the prince of darkness actively operates in order to destroy what is good, and to promote what is evil. It is a world where, as we read in another part of the scriptures, "we wrestle, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12)
Having said all that, the question arises, how does the Christian maintain his integrity in a world that is in conflict with God? That's a question. How can the Christian overcome the world that he is living in? How can the Christian come to his objective, which is the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus? I suppose they wondered about that in the imperial city of Rome. It was a Godless city. They had nothing but their gladiatorial displays; human life was cheap. It wasn't so long after this when this same apostle would be taken out to the Ostian Way, when he would be asked to kneel on the roadway there, and when there would be the flashing blade of the sword, which would come down upon his head and decapitate him. It wouldn't be so very long before Nero, that monster of a man, would have Christians put on poles around the city of Rome. When he would have them lit as torches, and when he himself would take pleasure in going round the city in his chariot. That's what faced the Christian's in those days.
We too, wonder, how are we going to fare as Christians in the world of today? How is it possible to overcome the sin that so easily besets us? How can we prevent the backslidings that mar our testimony for Christ? How can we be living epistles, seen and read of all men? How can we maintain the spiritual glow that ought to be in the Christian? Well this is Paul's answer. God will strengthen you. God has power to make you stand. God will uphold you with His grace in days of spiritual darkness. And you see my dear Christian friends - that is the power that is available to you and to me; it is the power of God, which is the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord assured His disciples that the Father would send them the Comforter. The Greek word 'Comforter' is Parakletos, and the Parakletos is the One Who stands along side you. So if you are a Christian, the Parakletos is standing beside you. Do you know that? The Holy Spirit is there beside you. Just as I am standing here in front of you as a minister of the Gospel, if I am a true minister of Christ, then the Holy Spirit is standing along side; there to assist: to give the needed grace and strength. That's what you have, Christian friends: the sustaining grace of God. And more than that, Jesus promised these ordinary men of His day, and He's promising it to us in our day. "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria." (Acts 1, 8) And this is how it is with Christ. He gives us the power; He gives us the grace.
It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Ephesian Christians would be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Remember how it says that in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Paul says, "that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day,and having done all, to stand." (Ephesians 6, 13) How would they stand? They would stand, you see, because the power of the Holy Spirit would be upon them. And it's the same too with regard to the Colossian Christians, whom Paul writes to. They were asked to put off the old man and put on the new man. That's easier said than done. How do you put off the old man: the old man with his deeds that are unspeakable, and put on the new man, which makes you a Christian. Ah, says the apostle, you will be able to do it by the power of the Holy Spirit. You see it was the power of the Holy Spirit that enabled Timothy to fight the good fight of faith, and to lay hold upon eternal life. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that would enable Timothy to maintain his untarnished profession of faith before all witnesses. And it was the power of God's Spirit that would enable Titus to show himself a pattern of good works, so that no one would be able to say evil of him.
What I say to you is this; do you feel weak, unable to measure up to the standard of Christianity required of you? Do you feel weak as a Christian, to be able to cope with the problems, and the pressures of living the Christian life in this world of sin and darkness? Then I say you must turn to God, and so must I. He is able to make us stand, and having done all, to stand. That is what Paul is talking about in this doxology of his. "Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ."
THE PLAN OF GOD
And I move on to this other point, and that is, Paul talks here about the unfolding plan of God. In this doxology Paul eulogises God's scheme of grace. It is there in the Gospel: in the preaching of Jesus Christ. What is it? It's, "the revelation of the mystery," says Paul, "which was kept secret since the world began. But now is made manifest by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith."
Let us think of this mystery: the mystery of God. Do you recall how, on one occasion, Jesus said to His disciples that it was given to them - not to everybody - but it was given to the disciples to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul constantly refers to the mystery of God that has now been made known. When we think of a mystery, we think of something that is obscure; we think of something that is incomprehensible to the human mind. In scripture setting, mystery, as the famous Charles Hodge declares, mystery means "something previously unknown and indiscernible by human reason." For example, Paul speaks about the calling of the Gentiles as one of God's mysteries. It could never occur to the Jewish mind that God's Gospel would be for the Gentiles. They couldn't think of it; they were such a nationalistic people. They thought, we are the favourites of God; we are the favourites of heaven. So there will be no salvation for the Gentiles: they're beyond the pale. This was the mystery that God revealed to the apostle; that this Gospel was for the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike. In other words, it could never have been discovered by human reason that God's mercy would extend beyond the ancient covenant people. That was something that was revealed to Paul and to the church.
You remember how Paul said he had an experience, and whether he was in the body or out of the body he couldn't tell. But he was brought up into heaven, into Paradise. And there he said he saw and was given things that it wasn't possible for a man to utter with human language. Do you not think that it was being revealed to Paul in that state, whether in or out of the body he couldn't tell, these mysteries? Do you remember how with regard to the Lord's Supper, and we use the formula that was given to him every time we sit at the Lord's Table; it's there in the preamble which we use, where Paul says, I have received of the Lord. He doesn't say, I have received it of Peter; I've received it of John, or I've received it of the church. No, he says, this is something that I have received of the Lord. "That same night in which he was betrayed he took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it." (1 Corinthians 11, 23-24) It was a revelation to Paul. In the same way, it was a revelation to Paul that God's Gospel was to be given to the Gentiles.
There was something too that God revealed to Paul and the church: another mystery. It was with regard to the future restoration of the Jews. "For I would not, brethren," says the apostle in this same Epistle, "that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved." (Romans 11, 25-26) The apostle is saying, oh these poor Jewish people; they've become blind. That terrible thing that they said at Calvary has come on them. We will not have this man over us! Release unto us Barabbas! Your house, said Jesus, is left to you desolate, and so they were left in blindness. The blindness is still with them to a large extent, even to this day. But, says the apostle Paul, a day will come when their eyes will be opened and they will look upon Him whom they have pierced. And they will mourn for Him. If the out-casting of them be the ingathering of the Gentiles, what will their ingathering be but as life from the dead? In other words, when the Jews turn to God there will be a revival on such a magnificent scale as the world has never seen before. The Jew - a strange person -can almost adapt to any society. Wherever in the world you have people, you will find Jews there. They never forget their religion, do they? Wait until their eyes are opened, until they behold their true Messiah, and then they will want to disperse this knowledge. That's a mystery that God showed to Paul.
Another mystery that was revealed to Paul was, the mystery of the resurrection of the dead. This is a passage that we often read at many a funeral service. What is it? "Behold", says the apostle, "I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." (1 Corinthians 15, 52-53)
You've often been in a graveyard, haven't you? Perhaps you've been at a funeral and seen the burial of some dear one, taking place before your eyes. As I've said before, perhaps on another occasion here, I used to go frequently to the town of Greenock, when I was in Glasgow as a young minister. One of my purposes was to take my old dear mother up to the local cemetery, just in order for her to see where her beloved dead lay: her husband, my father; her children, my brothers and sisters. I would leave her for a while. She would weep her tears. She often took flowers with her just to place on their graves. I used to think; one day that grave will burst open. One day the believing dead will rise; yes, and even more than the believing dead: the dead of all will rise. Ah, you say, it's impossible! Is there anything impossible with God?
None of us were here a hundred years ago; who put you here now? Wasn't it God? None of us will be here a hundred years from now. Is it impossible for the God that put you here now, not to take you back again? Just as the calling of the Gentiles: and just as the restoration of the Jews; and just as the resurrection from the dead were matters unknown and undiscoverable by the human mind - mysteries that could only be revealed by God Himself - so it is with the plan of salvation.
The Gospel, you know, is a mystery. The Gospel is not an earthly philosophy. The Gospel is not something that has been worked out by the cleverness of the human mind. No, the Gospel is a revelation that has come from God. And God gradually unfolded this master plan of salvation. Made it manifest by the scriptures of the prophets, as we read here. The prophesies of the Old Testament, which indicated a coming Messiah, with the advent of a Saviour; this is how the writer to the Hebrews puts it. "God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things." (Hebrews 1, 1-2) Little by little it was discovered to men, what this salvation was to be like and who was to be author of it.
Do you remember in the Garden of Paradise? Here is Adam and here is his wife Eve. They've been responsible for the awful, diabolical sin that has come into the world by their disobedience. God could have destroyed them, but He didn't. So God addresses the woman, and He says, thy seed shall bruise his head (the head of the serpent), and he shall bruise your seed's heel. (See Genesis 3, 15) Who is the seed of the woman? It's not the son's that were born to Adam and Eve. There is only one Seed, and that Seed is Christ.
Down through the Old Testament there is prophesy after prophesy made about this Saviour Who was to come. "There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel." (Numbers 24, 17.) "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little (yes, you're just a little village) among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be a ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5, 2) Who is it? It's Jesus Christ.
Then you hear another prophet saying, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (God with us)." (Isaiah 7, 14) Who is this virgin who is going to bear the Son? It's Mary, chosen from among the Jewish maidens of her time, to bear the humanity of our Lord. What name is He to be given? "And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9, 6) You see how it is all being unfolded.
And at last, on that never to be forgotten night, Mary gives birth to the humanity of the Lord of Glory. Christ grows: the perfect infant, the perfect boy, the perfect adolescent and the perfect young man, until He reaches maturity of manhood at the age of thirty-three, and gives His life on the cross. And through the perfection of that life, He has wrought a perfection for you and for me. And through bearing upon Himself the sins of His covenant people, He satisfies God's Law; so that there is now no condemnation against a sinner in Christ.
Do you know this Christ? Have you come to know the plan of salvation? Are you rejoicing in it? Are you able to say tonight, oh thank God for Christ, thank God for Jesus? Where would I be without him? What hope would I have without Him? Thank God that death is not the end. Thank God, death is the beginning, not the end. This life is a paltry life, and all to soon it's over and done. But stepping across the time barrier, there in the distance, is paradise. There is heaven. There is where God dwells. There is where Christ is had in honour. There is where the elect angels are. And there is where the spirits of men made perfect in Christ are.
Will you be there? Will we see one another? Sometimes we take our leave of each other on an evening like this; maybe we'll never see one another again, who knows. Our times are in His hands. But can you look forward to another time, when you will see Christ face-to-face, and when you will see your loved ones who have died in Christ? And so Paul closes this great work of his by extolling and ascribing glory to the only wise God through Jesus Christ our Lord. "Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began. But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known (this great plan of salvation) to all nations for the obedience of faith." (Romans 16, 25-26)
I remember reading somewhere something penned by James Philip, who carried out an extra-ordinary ministry in Holyrood Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. His brother George also carried out a similar ministry in Sandyford Henderson; they were young men who had been influenced in their early lives by William Still. What a man William Still was. What a work in the Church of Scotland he wrought. Along with these men we can think of Eric Alexander and Sinclair Ferguson, as well as others. But it was from James Philip's pen I remember reading, "The salvation unfolded is no idle dream. It is a glorious reality, through the power of the living God."
My friends, perhaps what I have said is rather inadequate, so it is, but all I'm trying to say is this. There is a strength available to you and to me, to live the Christian life. Could there be anything better than being in Christ? I commend Christ to you, young and old.