To the former verses of this chapter, the verses 1-3, we have allotted four articles. At the beginning of the last of the just mentioned series of articles we told you, that this was all we would write on these verses. At that time we contemplated writing on some other subject at this time. However, after thinking about the matter, and also after studying this passage a little more, we are of the conviction that we ought to also write on the verses 4-10. It is true, that in our former articles allusion was made from time to time to these verses here in question, but we did not give a thetical exposition of these verses in that series of four articles. And, therefore, a more thorough treatment of these verses we deem to be in order. We trust that the thoughtful reader will share this our conviction.
Before we enter upon the detailed discussion of the implication of these verses, we shall endeavor to gain somewhat of a bird’s-eye view of this passage. And so doing we shall at least endeavor to preclude the very common error of presenting so many trees that the forest is lost out of view.
It is our conviction that it ought to be clear to any careful reader of this passage, also to the reader who has no scientific knowledge of the rules of interpretation of Scripture, that in it Paul teaches us the three parts that a Christian must know to live and die happily in the fullness which is in Christ Jesus, our Savior. These three parts lie at the very surface. Permit us to call your attention to the following observations:
1. That in the verses 1-3 Paul calls our attention to the greatness of our sin and guilt as we are by nature, as we are apart from the redemptive work of God in Christ.
2. That in the verses 4-8 Paul elucidates upon the great redemption that is ours in Christ, in His death and resurrection; it is the greatness and the riches of the grace of God, the exhibition of His rich mercy as this latter is rooted in sovereign love.
3. That in the verses 9-10 Paul is speaking of our gratitude to God, as this must needs follow by the very nature of the great grace of God and our salvation from sin by a living faith.
Of course it should also be evident to the thoughtful reader that Paul is here not giving us the Heidelberg Catechism pure and simple. Putting it that way would be an oversimplification. However, in the very warp and woof of the theme saved by grace these three elements are present, Paul is here not writing for a group of people who are merely interested in a theological system of thought for the sake of the system, but he is addressing the people of God’s choosing, who have heard the Gospel of salvation, the word of truth and have believed it, who have been sealed unto the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit with a living and an abiding hope of the return of Christ in His day. Wherefore Paul can and does address them in this letter, giving the motive of his writing to them as being, that “he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and of their love to all the saints”. And Paul’s prayer is, that these believing and loving saints, who have a faith in Christ that is energized by love, may come to know and experience all that God has prepared for them in this hope of their calling. And, therefore, surely the elements given in the Heidelberg Catechism are taken as to the body of their truth from all the Scriptures, also from this passage.
We do well to keep this practical intent of the Word of God in mind. To give some line of thought to these articles on this passage; to prevent us from falling into needless and wearying repetition; to make our discussion fruitful with the least possible effort, (at least “possible” for this writer) we will call attention to the following elements in these verses:
1. That we are saved by grace. That is the great theme in these verses. It is the scarlet thread running through every element.
2. That the divine purpose of this salvation by grace is: the display of the riches of His grace—to the praise of the glory of His grace. It is the great purpose: Soli Deo Gloria!
3. That we become partaker of this great salvation by faith and by means of faith only; that not only is salvation a free gift of grace, but that also faith is gift of God. By this law of faith all boasting on the part of man before God is silenced in humble and grateful confession and praise.
4. That by virtue of this faith working by love we are indeed a new creature, old things have passed away, and we are constituted fit unto every good work—the good work which God hath before prepared in order that thus we should walk in them.
We begin with the proposition under 1. It is the truth here uttered by Paul: that we are saved by grace.
When we place ourselves before the question what this implies we see ourselves confronted, first of all, with the matter of the Biblical implication of the term “grace”. What is “grace” in Holy Writ.
It has often been alleged, and that not without a great deal of truth, that “grace is unmerited favor of God”. Now this need not surprise us. For surely grace is never merited by the believer. It is always merited for him, at least grace is as we see it, as we taste it. Now it has been said that prior to man’s fall he also tasted God’s grace. It was God’s great goodness to man that he was created as he was. At least thus various Reformed theologians have spoken of God’s grace in relationship to Adam prior to the fall and to his subsequent receiving of the Protevangel. And our Confession, the Belgica, says that the good angels remained standing by the grace of God. Thus we read in Article XII, which speaks of “Creation”. We quote: “. . . .He also created the angels good, to be His messengers and to serve His elect; some of whom are fallen from that excellency, in which God created them, into everlasting perdition; and the others have by the grace of God, remained steadfast and continued in their primitive state.”
How are we to judge of this quotation from the Confessions, particularly as it touches upon the “grace of God manifested to angels” so that they, the angels, did not fall from their own estate? Was this a certain creation grace to them? Or was this the grace of God in Christ unto whom, asteaches us, all things were made in heaven and on earth? Thus also the angels were made in view of God’s redemptive work in Christ, that He be in all things pre-eminent? For amongst all things Paul explicitly mentions: the angels. We quote: “because in Him were created (Aorist tense-point-action: Upon God’s one time speaking in the beginning. Not after the fall) all things in heaven and on earth, whether seen or unseen things, whether thrones or lords or principalities or powers”. This is the angel world. Now this includes the evil angels “who fell from that excellency, in which God created them, into everlasting perdition”, but Paul here also speaks of those angels, who by the grace of God remained standing. They remained standing how? By the grace of God in Christ, or by the grace of God in virtue of their creation and subsequent preservation in the favor of God immediately from the throne?
We believe that there was a grace of God revealed in the Protevangel prior to Christ’s actual coming into the world in the fullness of time; it was revealed through the ceremonies and shadows. So, too, I believe, there was a grace of God shown to the angels who remained in their original excellency, a grace by virtue of which (Belgic Confession) they remained standing. And although this grace of God was not merited for them by Christ, yet when God sent His Son and made Him an heir higher than the angels, saying: Let all the angels of God worship him (; ) then also the angels were taken up into the great work of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. These angels needed not be redeemed from sin, but they did need to be unified under the summing up of all things under one head in Christ. .
We here touch on a fine point. We do not want to wander too far from our subject, namely, the implication of grace. But that is then, too, exactly the point we are considering here in respect to the angels. What is the grace they receive. And this is a fine point in theology. It touches the question of Christ being the Mediator of His people, or whether as Mediator He also is the all and all in creation. To our mind it is here a matter of explaining what one means with the term “Mediator”. That Christ’s mediatorship as to His people finds its setting in the midst of God’s eternal purpose over all things is so clearly the teaching of the books of Ephesians and Colossians (yes, where not in Scripture?) that it is simply folly to deny it.
Just how the Belgic Confession conceives of the grace of God in Christ’s redemption to the angels is not explicitly slated. What the Belgic Confession does state is, that the “angels were created” to be His messenger and to serve His elect”. This does suggest that the Tendency, the intent of the preserving grace of God to the angels, who fell not from their excellency, was to have messengers for the elect, who will become partakers of the grace in Christ Jesus. I say that the Confession does not say that this is the intent of the grace to the angels, but it surely is the only logical conclusion possible, and also a conclusion, that fits with the pattern of sound doctrine given in all of the Scriptures.
Whether this grace for the angels is merited in Christ is a matter which lies beyond the scope of this article. Fact is that the Belgic Confession speaks of grace to the angels, but it is equally a fact, that, whereas the Holy Scriptures were written for men, for us, the believing Israel of God, it would from the very nature speak little of the grace of God to angels, but rather of the grace of God to redeemed sinners. In either case grace, as all of God’s gifts to the creatures are never merited by the creature. They are always gifts.
But our text, as does all of Scripture, speaks of our being saved by grace. And then it may be remarked, that we are certain that grace is first of all a perfection of God, not prepared for us as favor, but that it is a perfection of God’s own being. God is the gracious God. He is this in His simplicity, that is, God is His virtues and all His virtues are one. But God is the God of all grace, that is, there is no grace that is not from Him. He is beautiful in all His perfections. He is gracious in His justice, equity as well as in His love and mercy. And all the gracious beauty of God’s holiness is reflected also in His almighty and omnipresent unchangeableness. But the fundamental notion of the term grace seems to be beauty.
When God is gracious to His people in Christ He restores them to the beauty of true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. He then in grace removes from us all of our sins, and gives us beauty for ashes, and the oil of gladness in the stead of all of our sorrows.
Yet, this grace of God we never taste except as God has concretely made His grace appear in Jesus Christ. I don’t know just how the angels receive the upholding grace of God, but I do know that they are very much interested in the grace as it is manifested in history, even so that they come to understand the manifest wisdom of God in the manifesting of this grace in the church, through the church. The grace in its richness is not for the angels, but it is thus for us. It is the grace which became a reality () through Jesus Christ. The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth became a reality through Jesus Christ. And only as it became (egeneto) do we receive it. It came to us by the Son of God sent in the fullness of time made (having become) from a woman made (having become) under law, that He might redeem us from law in order that we might receive the adoption of sons. . We call attention to this verse from Gal. 4:4 as well as that of because of the verbs employed. In Gal. 4:4 the term in the Greek stands for that which became. The participle is “ginomenon”. Hence, there was a time on the calendar in God’s time and appointed seasons in history when this grace of God was not yet revealed because it was not yet realized.
(to be continued)