We desire to consider, in a very simple way, the PURPOSE OF GOD. Paul introduces us to this theme in Ephesians 1, 11, when he refers to "the purpose of the One Who is operating the universe in accord with the counsel of His will". (C.V.)
In some of our Bibles, there is a cross-reference to Isaiah 46, 9 and 10, where God says through the Prophet,
"I am God and there is none else; I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure".
In both these passages, the omnipotence of God is proclaimed. Nothing is to prevent the accomplishment of His purpose. Moreover, it is made very clear that God is indeed working to a purpose. He is not allowing things to happen haphazardly and by chance, but has everything in the universe under His complete control, and there is no possibility of failure. As He again affirms in Isaiah 55:11, "My word shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
We, all, doubtless, believe in God; but it is one thing to say, "I believe in God," merely because to say the opposite would stamp us as atheists, and quite another thing to say, "I believe in God" because we have a firm conviction that He does in fact exist as a Supreme Being Who is directing and controlling the universe.
This is an important matter. Hebrews 11, 6 tells us that "he who is approaching God must believe that He is, and is becoming a Rewarder of them who are seeking Him out." Here a part, at least, of God's purpose is revealed. He intends to be a Rewarder of those who seek Him out. And, as we often hear sung in the Elijah, if we truly seek Him, we shall ever surely find Him. So before we try to discover what His purpose is, let us see if we can surely find Him.
First of all, how do we know that there is a God? How do we get this deep-rooted conviction, which nothing can disturb? Perhaps in many ways, but may we pass on a little illustration which has always appealed to us in this connection, and may be of help to you.
Pick up a watch. Open it, and examine its works. How wonder fully it keeps the time, and yet, without constant winding up, they run down and cease to function. Now, if we were to suggest that all these wheels and hands and springs had come together by chance, or of their own accord, you would exclaim, "How absurd!" How utterly foolish of us to expect you to believe that such a comparatively simple piece of mechanism as a watch could come into being without a maker and keep going without someone to control it.
Then look at the heavens, and to those bodies which actually regulate out time for us -- to the sun, whose risings and settings can be calculated in advance to a minute, and to that complex arrangement of planets, moons and stars, which reappear night after night in positions that can be predetermined with the greatest accuracy. Do you think that these have come together by chance, or have no mighty Hand to control them?
We are reminded of God's own words through the prophet Isaiah (chapter 40, verse 25).
"To whom then will ye liken Me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold Who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might, for that He is strong in power, not one faileth."
Coming nearer to the earth, let us think of some of the wonderful facts of nature. For instance, if we put a tiny seed into the ground, in a few months it will be bursting through, and grow into a sturdy plant or even a tree, producing in due course further seeds for the propagation of its species. Think of the way flowers are pollinated and made to grow by the action of bees and other fertilizing media passing from male and female as they do. What causes them to do this? Instinct? Yes, but Who plants that instinct in their tiny brains?
Who causes the snowdrops and crocuses to appear, and the daffodils and lilies to follow? Who causes the hedges to burst out and the roses to bloom? Every time we see a sign of life--a bud or a blossom, a bird or an animal--we can say, "There is evidence of the hand of God. For though man can, to some extent, control life and destroy it, he cannot create it.
Shall we then turn to nature for our knowledge of God? Many people do, and find considerable profit thereby. From a survey of the heavens, and a consideration of their majesty, we cannot but be impressed with His stupendous power; from the diversity of His creations we gain an appreciation of His manifold wisdom. His loving care for His creatures is demonstrated in the preparations which He has made for their sustenance and protection. In all these things His greatness and goodness are apparent.
Everything in nature,
Trees and flowers and birds.
Every living creature
Sings with silent words,
"God is goodness ever".
All my soul within me
Echoes the refrain,
God, my God, doth win me
With this constant strain,
Then forsakes me never.
But though we may learn much from this study of nature, it is at best an indirect witness. Is there no other way in which He reveals Himself? Has He, the Creator, no direct means of communicating with us, His creatures? On the face of it, it would seem unjust for God to create beings capable of thinking and reasoning, and yet provide no means of conversing with them. Does God intend to keep Himself aloof from man, or has He provided a means of contact?
We have already made several quotations from the Bible, the book which, in its original form, we claim to be the Word of God, and His means of telling us about Himself, and of revealing His purpose to us. To compile it, many holy men of old spoke "being carries on by holy spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21), and our Bible contains no less than sixty-six books, written by about three dozen different writers, all giving unmistakable evidence of the superhuman power behind them. Indeed, the most conclusive proof of the Divine authorship of the Scriptures lies in the harmony of the different writers, who lived at times as much as nearly two thousand years apart.
If we open our Bible at its commencement, we read, "In the beginning, God--". Thus the first person to be introduced to us is God Himself. In most books, following the title, comes the author's name. In this case, the real title of the first book of the Bible, as accepted by scholars, is not "Genesis" [a heading added by translators] but, "In the Beginning", and the name immediately following this is God. He was the real Author of the book, and indeed of all the subsequent books, although in many cases He caused "holy men" to attach their names to the messages He inspired them to write.
In this initial chapter of "In the Beginning," God introduces Himself to us as the Creator of all things, and this is the position, which He maintains right through the remaining sixty-five books. For example, the truth that He created the heaven and the earth, as expressed in Gen. 1:1., is reaffirmed and emphasised in Isaiah 45, 18, which reads, "For thus saith the Lord that created the Heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain [Heb., not a waste], He formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord, and there is none else."
Here God establishes His omnipotence and His uniqueness. He alone could do these things. There cannot be two Gods; let us be perfectly clear on this point. His first commandment to the Israelites was, "Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me". The Egyptians, out of whose land He had just brought them, worshipped many gods. So numerous were they that different cities and districts paid homage to different deities, which were represented by all kinds of beasts, birds, fishes and even reptiles. All this was an abomination to the One True God, and His second commandment expressly forbade this practice.
It is this One True God that we desire to know, and Whose purpose we wish to learn, and there are three phrases in the Bible, all in the writings of the apostle John, which tell us in very simple language just what God is. They are:-
"God is Spirit" (John 4, 24).
"God is Light". 1 John 1, 5).
"God is Love". (1 John 4, 16).
Could we have three more simple phrases than these? Only nine words (eight in the original Greek), and yet they tell us so much. Let us look at each in turn.
God is Spirit. What is a Spirit? Jesus told His disciples, in Luke 24:39, that a "spirit has not flesh and bones according as you behold Me having." We can perhaps best understand a spirit, when we consider other forms of life. First we have the vegetable, which is anchored to the earth. Trees and plants depend for their life on the fact that their roots are firmly fixed in the soil, and once uprooted, they die. Above them comes the animal creation, of which the highest form is Man. Animals can move about, but they still depend upon the earth for their sustenance. They cannot leave its atmosphere, nor rise from the ground for long without returning to it for their food. A spirit, on the other hand, is not confined to this earth or to any other planet.
Just because we cannot see spirit beings, we cannot argue that they do not exist. As far as we know, trees and plants have no means of appreciating the existence of the animal kingdom, but it is there. If trees had eyes and intelligence, how they would marvel to see a higher order of beings, not anchored to the earth like themselves, but able to live and move about to an infinitely greater extent than they can. So we, who are confined to earth in our bodies, though higher than the plants, ought not to be surprised if there is an even higher order of creation, with much greater freedom of movement than ourselves, and whom we have no physical means of discerning.
God especially is Spirit. Not "a Spirit", for such a definition would at once bring Him down to the level of some of His creations. God is Spirit itself, in the absolute sense, and has no limitations. He is everywhere. Whether we look into the far distances of the universe or the depths of the sea; whether we examine the infinitely great through a telescope or the infinitely small through a microscope, we see the hand of God. We see it in all the marvels of nature, as Job 12:7, tells us.
"But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air and they shall tell thee: or speak to the earth and it shall teach thee, and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?"
God describes Himself in Isaiah 57:15, as the "High and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity". Neither space nor time can confine Him. The key word, which seems to express the glory of God as Spirit is "omnipresence".
This great fact, that God is present everywhere, should give us assurance and comfort when we think about His designs for us and for all our fellow beings. Man can only be in one place at once, and cannot exercise supervision over everything he plans; often he dies before his schemes are completed, and they are left unfinished, or are carried on by others with different ideas. Not so with the purpose of God. He was there to begin it, and He will be there to watch every stage of its fulfillment.
God is light. This phrase has reference to the mind of God. We speak of men of "brilliant intellect", or of "very enlightened men", when we wish to refer to the glory of their minds. With God, we cannot find superlatives enough. His mind can only be compared to light itself, in which there is no darkness whatever. He knows the end from the beginning. As we have previously quoted, "I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure (Isaiah 46:9&10)." "His eyes are in every place" (Prov.15:3). "God, your Father, is aware of what you have need before you request Him" (Matt. 6:8). "Now all is naked and bared to the eyes of Him to Whom we are accountable" (Heb. 4:13). We would suggest "omniscience" (i.e., knowing all things) as a key-word to express the idea of the glory of God's mind. There is no limit to the scope of His mind any more than there is to the sphere of His influence. His is everywhere; He knows everything.
This, too, should give us great assurance and comfort when we think of His purpose. Man often has to improvise, simply because he cannot foresee every eventuality. There have been many schemes of man which have had to be abandoned because some unforeseen obstacle has arisen to prevent their completion. But not so with God. He knows from ancient times the things that are not yet done, and will do all His pleasure. Nothing unforeseen can arise to thwart His purpose because He has foreseen all.
God is Love. This phrase refers to the character or heart of God. It is indeed a wonderful thought that the Supreme Being, Who controls all our destinies, is such a God-- that love is the essence of His Being, and that everything else appertaining to Him (His justice, His wisdom and His power, for example) is subservient to His Love. It has often been said that love is the greatest force in the universe; this is true, for the whole universe is controlled by Love--by God Himself, Who is Love. And so the key-word, which seems to express the basic idea behind the phrase, "God is Love", and to show the glory of His character, is "omnipotence". Love never fails, and since God is Love, He cannot fail.
This fact, too, should give us great assurance and comfort. We are often prone to deviate from our plans if our efforts to help others are not appreciated, and it requires great strength of character for us to continue to assist somebody who is openly hostile to us.
Yet, though many of earth's inhabitants are at present antagonistic to God, and many more quite indifferent to Him, He still showers His blessings upon them, sending His sunshine and rain upon all, just and unjust alike. Nation may rise against nation, and man work all manner of evil against his neighbour, yet God still withholds His indignation, and permits His goodness to be enjoyed by all. Though men in general do not appreciate it, and probably none of us realise it as fully as we ought, it is true that "in God we live and move and have our being." And if God eventually does loose His anger against evildoers, it will be but for a season, for His purpose is "to reconcile all to Himself. .whether on earth or in the heavens (Col.1:20)," and He will not desist in this work until, by His great love, He has won over every heart. We remember the words of Jesus, in John 3:16&17,
"For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only begotten Son, that everyone who is believing into Him should not be perishing, but have eonian life. For God does not dispatch His Son into the world that He should be judging the world, but that the world may be saved through Him."
There were two reasons why Jesus was sent to earth. One was that He might, as a perfect sacrifice, without spot or blemish, take away the sins of the world. He that was without sin was made sin for us, and, as such, was destroyed. This is a big question, which we have no space to explore in detail now, but it is an absolutely essential factor in the purpose of God. The other reason why Jesus came was that He might reveal the Father to us. You will recall that Jesus said to Thomas (John 14:6),
"I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one is coming to the Father except through Me. Philip is saying to Him, Lord, show us the Father and it is sufficing us. Jesus is saying to him, I am so much time with you and you do not know Me, Philip! HE WHO HAS SEEN ME HAS SEEN THE FATHER, and how are you saying, Show us the Father? Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, otherwise be believing Me because of the works themselves." In another place (John 10:30), Jesus said, "I and the Father are one."
What did Jesus mean? Can a man know God? To this query a striking story is told by Dr. J. Stuart Holden (as recorded in "Unsearchable Riches"). Two friends were walking one day in the fields, talking as they walked of the inscrutable mystery of God's doings. One of them, a man of some intellectual force whose heart had never yet been opened to the divine light, said petulantly: "How can a man of finite mind know God? How can he discern what God is doing? How can he understand God's will?" And, pointing contemptuously to an anthill, where thousands of insects were busy at their toil, he asked, "How can those ants understand what is in my mind?" Like a flash the answer came: "There is only one way--by your becoming an ant and declaring it to them!" And in that answer lies everything we need for knowledge and understanding of God.
This was exactly God's position. He could not reveal Himself fully to His creatures from His high and lofty place in the Heavens; as transcendent Spirit He was invisible to men. But He sent His only begotten Son, so like Himself that He (Jesus) could say, "I and the Father are one", to take upon Himself a human form and to dwell among men, so that in the words which He spoke, the works He did, and above all in the life He lived, He might reveal His Father in a very intimate way to us.
In the life of Jesus on earth, we read about the purpose of God. It was Jesus, Who said, "Let the little children be coming unto Me", and we may be sure that God is equally anxious to welcome the peoples of the world to Himself, as soon as they are ready and humble enough to come to Him as His children. It was Jesus Who told us of the prodigal Son; and the warmth of his reception when he turned to his father is as nothing compared with the warmth of the reception, which awaits the sinner who turns to God. It was Jesus Who spoke of the Good Shepherd, who would not desist until he had found his erring sheep and brought it back to the fold, and God is equally diligent in saving even to the uttermost. Although these sayings of the Lord had local applications, they are based on lasting principles, which will be applied over and over again as His Father's purpose is gradually worked out.
And so we suggest that part, at least, of the purpose of God is to save the world. And how many are covered by this salvation? Paul answers this question in 1 Tim.2:4. "God, our Saviour, wills all mankind to be saved and to come into a realisation of the truth." Yes, this may be God's will, but will He succeed in carrying it out to complete fulfillment? We say, in all sincerity, and with full conviction, that He will indeed be the Saviour of all mankind, reconciling all to Himself, that He may be All in all. (1 Tim. 4:10; Col.1:20; 1 Cor.15:28).
These are Scriptural expressions, and are fully in harmony with what God Himself declares in Isaiah 45:21.
"Who hath declared this from ancient time? Who hath told it from that time? Have not I the Lord? And there is no God beside Me. Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness and shall not return. That unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear."
We might refer to this as God's purpose of general salvation, but now let us look at a special aspect of His purpose. This is revealed and taught in the writings of Paul. For instance, we read in Romans 8, 28 (a very delightful and familiar passage), "Now we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew He designates beforehand to be conformed to the image of His Son." This obviously does not refer to all mankind. Who then are these people for whom God is working all together for good.?
We suppose that every denomination and sect in the Christian world claims that its members are included in this category. We like to think that it is not confined to any one particular denomination. We certainly cannot confine it to ourselves, and to those who think exactly as we think, for that would mean that we should be making the choice for God. Paul tells us clearly that it was God Who did the choosing, and the calling. Romans 8:29 continues,
"Whom He [God] foreknew, He designates beforehand also to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be the Firstborn among many brethren. Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also: now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also."
For what, then, are these chosen ones called? We have just read the answer to this question. That they might be made like the Lord Himself, conformed to His Image, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren. In other words, that they might also become Sons of God, and be made "competent for a part of the allotment of the saints, in light (Col.1:12)," and eventually be transformed into glorious Spirit Beings, as we learn from Phil.3: 20&21.
"For our citizenship belongs to the heavens, out of which we are expecting a Saviour also, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to His body glorious, in accord with the oper¬ation which enables Him to subject even the universe to Himself." The great hope of the church is to be "always together with the Lord". (1 Thess. 4, 17).
But what qualifications must we possess to become eligible for this position? Strangely enough, none whatever. If a man wishes to find a candidate for pro¬motion, he looks for wisdom, capability, aptitude, education and similar qualit¬ies. But God's ways are not man's ways (Isaiah 55:8). Let us read Paul again, in 1 Cor.1:26:
"For you are observing your calling, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many noble, but God chooses the stupid of the world that He may be disgracing the wise, and God chooses the weak of the world that He may be disgracing the strong, and the ignoble of the world, and those who are scorned, God chooses, and those who are not, that He should be discarding those who are, so that no flesh should be boasting before God."
So that no one need imagine that he or she is too simple, too uneducated or too ignoble to be among those whom God is calling.
What must we do to be called of God? What tests or examinations must we pass? Again we answer, none whatever! God's ways are not man's, and this special salvation, which God is holding out to those whom He is calling, is a gift, free in the fullest sense of the word.
We can do nothing to earn it, and God will not allow us to buy it. In Eph.2:8, Paul again tells us,
"For you have been saved through faith for grace, and this is naught of yours: it is God's oblation [free gift], not of works, lest any one should be boasting. For we are His achievement, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God makes ready beforehand in order that we should be walking in them."
If words mean anything, this passage tells us that it is God Who does all the work; we are passive in His hands, as is the clay in the hands of the potter. All He requires in us is faith, and even that He gives us Himself, to make sure that we have it! Phil.2:13 confirms this: "For it is God Who is operating in you to will as well as to work for the sake of His delight".
How do we know if we have been called of God? The answer is, If God has given us this faith to believe it. That is all. We may not realise it all at once. Faith is a very wonderful thing, and extremely precious, and yet it can be possessed in great measure by the simplest souls. For a start, it may only be as big as a grain of mustard seed, the smallest of all the seeds, and yet, even so, it can remove a mountain of doubt and incredulity. Encourage it to grow, and it can grasp the infinite. Moreover, it cannot be taken away from us. If our continuance in the love of God depended upon what we could do ourselves, how often we should fail. God does not demand this; all He asks us to do is to believe Him when He says that we are saved by grace--that His salvation is a gift.
To believe Him! Yes, it is one thing to believe in God; that is, to believe that there is a God. It is another thing to believe on God; that is, to believe that we are dependent upon Him, and that He can help us; it is, however, an even greater thing to believe God; that is, to believe that He will certainly carry out all that He has said He will do--to trust implicitly--to take Him as His Word, as the old hymn says,
"If our faith were but more simple,
We would take Him as His word,
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord."
What effect will this calling have upon our lives? Will it make any difference in our way of living. To be sure it will, if we are rightly exercised by it. It will develop in our hearts a reciprocal love for God--for Him Who first loved us--and a desire to do that which would be pleasing in His sight. We shall feel a real love in the Lord for our brethren, and a desire to do good to all, whether friends or otherwise, with whom we come into contact. Also we shall want to learn more about God's purpose as revealed in His Word.
But supposing that we make mistakes, or do wrong things, can they prevent us from receiving our heavenly allotment? In other words, can we fall by the wayside? What happens if we do not always do what we should? The answer to all these questions is that, once we have been called by God, nothing in the whole universe can separate us from His love, or prevent us from realising the hope set before us. Those whom God foreknew, and designated beforehand, and called, these He justifies also [no exceptions], and whom He justifies, these He glorifies also [again, no exception]. "For," says Paul, "I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor messengers, nor sovereignties, nor the present, nor the future , nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Rom.8:38&39)."
We must never forget the omniscience of God, nor His omnipotence. He foreknew those whom He was going to call, and, once having called them, He guarantees their safe conduct through all the experiences and vicissitudes of life to that salvation which He has prepared for them. For God's graces and calling are unregretted. (Rom.11:29). If we make mistakes, or do wrong things, His grace only abounds the more to cover our omissions. We are not guaranteed immunity from the trials and tribulations which are common to all men, but these will not be permitted to prevent us from attaining our ultimate goal.
This special salvation, this celestial allotment promised to those who have been chosen of God, and given this gift of faith, is summarised by Paul in 2. Tim.1:9, where he tells us that God "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 eonian times." Yes, before eonian times (before the eons began), because it was given us by the One, Who knew "from ancient times the things that are not yet done."
And let no one suppose that those who are called of God are few in number. They are compared with the seed of Abraham, which was to be so numerous that, like the stars of heaven, it could not be numbered for multitude. Perhaps, however, they may be few in comparison with the countless millions of heathen, who have died all down the centuries without hearing the name of Christ, "the only name given under heaven among men in which we must be saved" (Acts 4, 12)." What will happen to these, and to the atheists and agnostics, and others who have opposed the Word of God?
We rejoice that they will be brought back in resurrection, when all who are in their tombs shall be hearing the voice of the Son of God. (John 5:25,28). "For even as in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, all shall be vivified (1 Cor. 15, 22)." They too, will ultimately receive the free gift of justification and life, but theirs will be an earthly allotment, a paradise truly restored. For them, the words of Rev. 21:3&4 will apply, "And I hear a loud voice out of the throne, saying, 'Lo!! God's tabernacle is with mankind, and He will be tabernacling with them, and they will be His peoples, and God Himself will be with them. And He will be brushing away every tear from their eyes. And death will be no more, nor mourning, nor clamour, nor misery: they will be no more, seeing that the former things passed away". This is an earthly picture, as the context clearly shows; not a celestial one.
In this brief survey, we have only glanced at the superficial structure of the purpose of God; just as a man, who sees the outside of a building from a distance can only form a general idea of its grandeur and its shape, and must needs examine it more closely, and from the inside as well, to appreciate all the beauty of its design, so we would need to study our Bible from end to end to grasp the finer details of the purpose of God, and even then, we should always be finding something new or that we had not fully appreciated before. For this Word of God, while containing gems of truth that can be understood and appreciated by the very simplest of minds, is also a mine, and
"Deeper, too, than can mortal ever go.
Search we may for many years;
Still some new rich gem appears."
Let no one, however, be turned aside for fear that he or she will not be able to understand it, for it is the revelation of the purpose of a God "Who is operating the universe in accord with the counsel of His will," and for the ultimate blessing of all. Remember that God is His own interpreter, and He will make plain to us just as much as He feels it best for us to know.