THE GRACE OF THE AGES
"The grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." 2 Timothy 1:9
"The grace of the ages" is a theme that should cheer the heart of every believer present. The inconstant, uncertain circumstances surrounding our lives often cast us down. Those times are permitted by most of us to disturb us unduly. If we could see them in their right proportions and assess them at their due significance our conclusions would be different. The serious consideration of the grace of the ages will do us more good than perhaps at the moment we are willing to anticipate.
Let us take it that here we have the last written communication of the apostle. It is addressed to Timothy the Grecian Jew who had come under the apostle's influence at Lystra. The heart of Paul warmed increasingly towards him and never more than at this moment when they are divided between Rome and Ephesus. The apostle senses that his earthly mission is swiftly running to its close. He lacks human fellowship. He senses the depressing trend of world events, he foresees the final declension of the churches and humanly speaking the perilous tenure of the gospel in a world devoted to wickedness. He is ready to be offered under the condemnation of Caesar, and calmly awaits the arrival of the executioner who shall carry out the dread penalty. It is well to be reminded of these things because these are the situations, the grace of the ages can and does effectively meet. There may be somebody here in worse circumstances than those attending Paul, but it can only be a difference of degree. It is this kind of theme that gives life its balance, stability and essential hope and of course, hope in the New Testament sense is always anticipation underlined by assurance. So here we are presented with
1) THE GRACE OF GOD
Grace is favour. We need not invest the word with theological subtleties that bewilder; for when we speak of the grace of God we mean, as the Scriptures mean, God's goodwill, kindness and favour. The grace of God through the ages is the favour and kindness of God of which we can at times catch glimpses, but will need the ultimates of glory for the fullest understanding.
Let it be noted that Paul puts grace in contrast to human merit. "Not according to our works." Consciously or unconsciously every one of us reaches a conclusion as to the favour of God and the merit of man. Paul has had such and experience of God that he sees everything from the standpoint of God's goodness. In the light of the kindness of God he interprets all experience. On this matter each of us reaches a definite conclusion. Like Paul we may believe to the point of experimental confirmation that our lives are governed by the favour of God. If we do not so believe, the alternative is to believe that life in all its aspects is governed by human merit, outlook, endeavour and capacity.
Whether we are convinced of Divine favour in our lives or equally to the contrary we believe in human capacity, can readily be determined by any person present. If you believe that your life is governed by the favour and mercy of God you will see it related to God and God will be its spring. You will see your little life in the remarkable context through to the ages of consummating glory yet to be. If on the other hand you believe the secret is in human merit the undoubted good that is in you, and the absolute assurance that any issues beyond time and sense are safely secured by your own character, conduct and religious sufficiency. Your thinking then starts from yourself, is centred in yourself and ends in yourself. Thoughts of God are nebulous and largely irrelevant and history and eternity have a significance only as they minister to the developing of one's ego
. Grace educates us that we see God the beginning and the end and we praise His Name. Human merit begins and ends with man and God is in incident of time and perhaps an irrelevancy of what we call eternity. Any one of us can know if we will whether we live in the realm of grace or whether our thought and outlook find their centre and circumference in ourselves.
Now this grace of God is the massive fact of the ages. God has been moved from all eternity by nothing but by love, favour, compassion and regard for the purpose that is timeless in its origin and as timeless in its consummation. Such is the conception and plan that proceed and evolve out of the essential goodwill and favour of God that nothing contrary can subdue it, render it inoperative or bring it to frustration and futility. The goodwill and favour of God cannot be deflected or deviated by any lesser being than God Himself. The grace of God is God Himself involved in the most beneficent and far reaching ministries of love and life to all who from any cause whatsoever can benefit from His love, goodwill and compassion. Its stability is its foundation, not in time, that has no stability, but in eternity.
This then is the doctrine of Grace in terms relevant to the theme before us. You speak to a man in business tomorrow and you may probably find that he cannot make head or tail of your observations on grace. You must remember, however, that nobody steps into life convinced of the grace of God. Grace has neither attraction nor substance until we have had experience of its achievement in our lives. Hence we have
(2) GRACE MANIFESTED
When we speak of manifestation we mean the action of God within the time sense and apprehension of mortal man. There never was a time when the Son was not. John took up the word Logos as expressing the essence of Deity that came forth into the form of God, the Form of the unexplored vastness of the everlasting ages that in the narrow interpretations of our sense of time are in the past. But the Logos that belongs to the form of God in the vast ages that we sense as gone, is the everlasting Logos of the ages that in truth are everlasting, and are essential to the full manifestation of the grace of God brought to light in the magnificence of the Logos, the Son, the Eternal Word and Life in whom all the ages find their comprehension and continuance, out of whom indeed the ages find their being, order and achievement.
This means, therefore, that grace is to be seen in the mighty acts of God in His Beloved Son. It is as we look upon Him, contemplate Him, discern our nothingness and His All-Sufficiency that we begin to move out of the delusion of human merit and achievement into the orbit of the Divine action demonstrated in the Person and Experience of Jesus, the Son of God, the Word made flesh. In this connection and keeping to the text as providing sufficient for our thought this morning, the apostle declares two tremendous facts.
The first is that Christ has abolished death. Christ has in Himself brought the whole fact of death to nought. In His Person physical death is ended. The resurrection is not a theory; it is a fact. The Christ Whose hands and feet were pierced on the Cross and Whose body was so tenderly laid in the tomb of Joseph, did in literal fact, come out from that tomb on the subsequent first day of the week. After an experience on the Cross which brought Him to physical death He did, in actual fact, walk on the following first day the road to Emmaus and was the Son of God, the Son of Man raised from the dead. In His Person all the ills of physical death have been dissolved. Not only so but death as a sphere or realm has been penetrated, conquered and exposed. The physical resurrection of our Lord is the manifestation that as surely as death on the Cross took Him into Hades, so surely by the power of His obedience, even to the entering of the realm of death, He was given the power to break its fetters and emerge in triumph. Behind the physical emergence lies the power of His Being to move in, and likewise to move out of the realm of death
. Secondly, His abolition of death means that in this realm of Hades there is the Devil who has the domination of the human race, since all in Adam must die. It is not without significance that the last enemy to be ultimately destroyed is death. It is the realm of death to which all in Adam are consigned that gives Satan his power, since none knows the way of escape out of its clutches. Now these facts are really tremendous.
If we are not interested to the point of investigation then our finest senses are dulled if not paralysed. This leads us on to the second aspect of the manifested grace which is that having abolished death in His Person by resurrection, He has also brought life and incorruption to light. No man can see this if his outlook is determined by human merit, if his thinking begins and ends with himself, if reality is in the earth. But if the Gospel has come to a person and it is the intention of the kindness of God that it should so come, then there shall be brought to light made luminous in the Risen and Glorified Lord, the marvellous facts of life and incorruption.
Life! The life beyond the reach of human achievement, that no human merit can obtain, the life that is eternal, deathless, humanised, if that is the word, in Jesus, the Risen Lord. Whatever else may be said, this is life at its highest. It is beyond the reach of disintegration, it is ageless, it is virile, and it is Divine. This is the life of the new age, it is the life that cannot be quenched or conquered; it is the life of the Exalted Son of God.
Incorruption! Incorruption and Immortality are facts concerning the body and not the soul! Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians: 15. is clear in its intimation that God provides a body for every organism in correspondence with its environment. Hence there is a suitable body for a bird and for a fish. "So also is the resurrection of the dead." The body we now have is suitable for the environment we now know, but the body of incorruption is suitable not only for the heavenly environment but also suitable for the eternal purpose of the ages. Hence our Lord has in His Person brought to light the truth of a new life in Himself and in His resurrection body manifested the body of incorruption suitable to all the purpose of the Son throughout the ages. In the light of these truths dimly sketched, we perceive the truth of
(3) GRACE IN EXPERIENCE
Now when a person's eyes are opened to the truth brought to manifestation in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the thing to which he has been blind now confronts him. The truth of God is not a theory, the Gospel is not the wonder of man and the meritorious works for which he is to be credited. On the contrary, truth is personalised in the Son. Hence revelation begins to work. The individual perceives that the damning fact of his personality is his godlessness. If he continues in his refusal of the will of God, and the inevitable truth that if he so persist in his present trends, nothing can save him from the perdition in which he previously scarcely believed, and has certainly never taken account. Now it shocks his conscience. His human merit, his prized philosophy is shattered and in some way he realises that the grace of God is expressed dynamically in the Person of Jesus Christ. If there is anybody here who has not eternal life it does not matter what religious office you hold, what religious work you are doing and what religious exercises you engage in, the fact is you are dying while you live! Grace becomes a reality, an active power of God in the life when we begin as perishing men and women, to seek from God the life that He gave to His Beloved Son, when He raised Him from the dead. God will teach us the significance of the death of His Son, and He then brings a man to the supreme moment, when in the mystery of transference, the life of Jesus in heaven is communicated to the repentant seeking sinner on earth.
That being so, the Holy Spirit Who moves within the orbit of heaven and earth will continually enrich the believer with the life of the Ascended Lord and replenish his being as waters on the dry ground. The love of God will become the most glorious and delectable experience he has ever known and the spirit of the believer will be wedded to the Holy Spirit in the deep wonder of creative life. This will be experience of the new life, with all its appetites and extraordinary satisfactions. He will gradually realise that in the mystic unveiling of the glory of Christ he is supported by grace Divine and is being fashioned and capacitated for God every day of his life. Then the secret will begin to unfold. He shall not see death because he is destined for the fulfilment of that life he has received from Christ the Risen Lord.
Death abolished for Christ conveys the parallel truth that death is abolished for the believer. If he has to put off this earthly tabernacle, he knows there is a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens. Grace liberates the mind to expand with a sense of increasing glory. What has seemed a cul de sac impossible to be avoided and presenting an obstacle to all development of personality is now seen to be a nexus through which we pass into an experience as limitless as the grace of God. All thinking takes on a new sense of things. Where there was darkness there is light. Heaven is wonderful; it contains the living dynamic of the eternal without limitation of human weakness, frailty and uncertainty. And grace is wonderful for all the ages out of which it emerges and wonderful for all the ages to which we are brought
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