...that [God] might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.
From eternity past, God has planned to manifest his glory among mankind—whom he created to bear his image (Genesis 1:26-27). As with all God’s plans, this plan was not changed when man fell into sin.
God established what we sometimes call the covenant of works with the “first man Adam”; and with him, all mankind born to him by ordinary generation (i.e. all except the Lord Jesus Christ, whose generation was by the Holy Spirit; see Luke 1:34-35). Mankind’s continued life in covenant with God depended upon Adam’s continued obedience to God in never eating the forbidden fruit.
But Adam broke this covenant through his disobedience to that command which God gave him in the Garden of Eden; and so “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Romans 5:12 ff.).
That is why, now, “in Adam, all die.” This condemnation to death has been passed upon all men in Adam, because in the broken covenant of works, all mankind is accounted by God as having sinned in Adam. And to this original sin we all heap up our own personal sins (Genesis 2:16,17; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10-18,23; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22).
In God’s eternal decree to manifest his glory among mankind, God the Father has appointed his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to be the head of another covenant—which we call the covenant of grace.
In the covenant of grace, God is adopting out of fallen Adam’s family an astronomical number of sinners by giving them to his Son (compare Genesis 15:5,6; Galatians 3:6-9, 13, 14, 29). “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me”, Christ has declared (John 6:37a).
That is why people are turning to the Lord Jesus Christ in every nation, every tribe and ethnic-group, and every language. The number of true Christians is growing throughout history and it will eventually be beyond the calculation of mere human beings. For it is Christ himself who is building his church, and all the schemes and forces of Hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18; Revelation 9:9).
Christ’s work as the Head of the covenant of grace has involved him coming into the world in order to save his people. He has accomplished this salvation as their representative, through living for them a life of righteous obedience under God’s moral law—and by taking upon himself the sins of his people and then dying for them as their atoning sacrifice, reconciling them to God (John 6:37; Ephesians 1:4 ff.; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 2:17; 7:26-27).
Christ is the perfect Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. In God’s eternal plan he was, as it were, slain from the foundation of the world—slain for those chosen by God before the foundation of the world (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:18-21; Revelation 13:8).
That is how the Lord Jesus Christ redeemed his people from death and Hell. We have redemption through his blood. Because of Christ’s shed blood, God forgives us for our sins. And our union with Christ shall never end, because in the covenant of grace our redemption is permanent—it is an “eternal redemption” (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Hebrews 9:11-15; 1 Peter 1:18-20).
God’s Glory Is Manifested in Christ
God makes known the riches of his glory among mankind through the covenant of grace (Romans 9:23; Ephesians 1:18; 3:14-19; Colossians 1:26-27). And it is in the “last Adam”, the Lord Jesus Christ, that the glory of God is revealed in Person (Isaiah 40:3-5, 10-11; John 1:14).
He is the Lord because God ordained him to be the Lord of all the world: “The LORD said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool”. He was named Jesus because “He shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21; see also Psalms 110:1). And he is the Christ (the Messiah) because God ordained him to be “the Anointed” Prophet, Priest and King of his covenanted people1.
Christ Rejected by Men
However, in all his Person and offices, Christ is opposed, resisted and rejected by the fallen children of Adam. This was as true during his time on earth as it is now. “He came unto his own” kindred (i.e. the nation of Israel) at his incarnation, and many of them “received him not”. That rejection is not at all unusual; such is mankind’s sinful nature that Christ has been “despised and rejected of men” in general. And before we Christians were converted, we too “esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3; John 1:10-11. See also John 5:40; 15:18).
Men reject Christ the Prophet. Like those in his time on earth, there are people today who say of Christ’s words, “What is truth?” and, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” And in order to totally reject Christ’s claims, they say, “He hath spoken blasphemy”—and they similarly accuse us of blasphemy and hatred when we affirm Christ’s exclusive claims (Matthew 26:65; John 6:60; 18:38).
Men reject Christ the high Priest, who made the sacrifice of himself. This was a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks who rejected him (1 Corinthians 1:23); and it is still true today, that many people are totally against hearing about the good news of Christ’s salvation through his dying for sinners at Calvary.
And men reject Christ the King. Many of the Jews said, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” And the Gentile “kings of the earth”, and many in their nations, continue to set themselves against the LORD, and against his anointed” (Psalms 2:2; Luke 19:14).
The Captain of Our Salvation
This “contradiction of sinners” is no obstacle to Christ. He counted it as nothing compared with the joy that was set before him. The Son of God said, “Lo, I come…I delight to do thy will, O God” (Psalms 40:6-8; Hebrews 12:2-3).
And Christ “learned obedience” to God through the things that he suffered on earth. He was obedient to God “unto death, even the death of the cross.” “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8).
It was appropriate that the Captain of our Salvation, who would bring many sons to glory, should be made perfect (i.e. culminate his ministry on earth) through sufferings. Not that Christ was imperfect in any way, but his obedience to God, which took him through all this suffering of the death of the cross, was in order to fulfil his part in the covenant of grace (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:10, 17; 1 Peter 1:19).
The Foundation of All Our Hope
God the Father continues to do all that he planned to do. This includes: giving to Christ a people out of fallen mankind; appointing him as their great high Priest and making him to be the atoning (reconciling) sacrifice for their sins; evidencing that reconciliation by raising Christ from the dead; receiving him again into heavenly glory to sit on the throne over all things at God’s right hand; and sending his Holy Spirit to renew, indwell, teach, equip and sanctify the souls of the Lord’s people and to keep them safe (Psalms 110:1, 4; Isaiah 53:4-5; Luke 22:46; John 6:37; 10:27-29; 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15; 17:11; Acts 10:40; Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1).
God’s guarantee to us that this reconciliation has been accomplished is Christ’s resurrection: “God raised him up the third day” (Acts 10:40). Now that God has made Christ’s soul an offering for sin and that he is risen from the dead, he shall therefore see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. Christ shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. This seed shall serve him, and it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation (Psalms 22:30; Isaiah 53:10-12).
All our hope of salvation is solidly founded upon the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The risen Christ himself is the “firstfruits” of the full harvest. When the fulness of the Gentiles is gathered in and all Israel saved, then the Last Adam shall deliver up his kingdom unto God with this declaration told in full: “Behold I, and the children which God hath given me” (Romans 11:25-27; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 24-28, 45; Hebrews 2:13).
Christians are not denying the distinction between First and Second Persons of the Trinity when they understand Christ to be the Church’s “everlasting father” in this way (Isaiah 9:6). For the Lord Jesus Christ is our Last Adam, our Covenant head.
Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
Meanwhile, God sends the Holy Spirit to his people in Christ’s name. He quickens (or, regenerates) their spirits, he makes them hunger and thirst after righteousness, and he makes them seek the Lord and cry out to him for salvation (Isaiah 55:6-7; Matthew 5:6; John 14:26; Acts 15:13-18; Ephesians 2:1-10).
No fallen son or daughter of Adam, in whom the Holy Spirit is not working to bring them to Christ, seeks after God. Their carnal mind is enmity against God. If their heart is not opened by the Lord, they will not pay attention to the teaching of the gospel in order to believe it (John 5:40; Acts 16:14; Romans 3:11; 8:6-9). Indeed, “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9b).
Christians are those sinners who seek the Lord while he may be found, and they call upon him while he is near. We repent of our wicked ways and our unrighteous thoughts, and the Lord has mercy upon us and he abundantly pardons us. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin” (Isaiah 55:6-7; 1 John 1:7).
The Lord Jesus Christ is a very “Good Shepherd” to us, and he restores our souls and he leads us in paths of righteousness. We believe the gospel “because we are his sheep,” and he gives to us eternal life (Psalms 23:3; John 10:11, 26).
Evil Is Present with Us
However, true Christians still carry their old fallen nature in them while they remain in this world. And in our “old man” (our “flesh” or fallen, depraved nature), we are well aware that “there dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). Therefore, we must sadly admit, we return to sin—very often.
Although we know we ought to do good, and although we have a God-given desire to glorify God by doing what is right, yet we each must admit of ourselves what the apostle Paul knew was true of himself: “evil is present with me”. And—sadly, many times—the good that we would do we don’t do, and the evil we desired not to do is what we find ourselves doing (Romans 7:15-21).
In consequence of this, we can be so concerned about the state of our souls that we fear that maybe we are not true Christians after all. But then we remember to call on the name of the Lord again. We pray to God to forgive us, and to deliver us from our sins. And therefore we obtain mercy and strength to help in our time of need (Acts 2:21; Hebrews 4:14-16).
We hate our sin, and we hate our old fallen nature because of it; and sometimes we greatly regret the fact that we see so little of our new nature manifested in us. But when we do see of the law of God being obeyed in our new nature—in our “inward man”—we delight in seeing this, because we know it is a mark of God’s saving grace (Romans 7:17, 22, 24-25).
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
The Authentic Christian Life
Our desire to obey God’s moral law and thereby glorify him is part of our desire for close communion with God. And we rejoice in the fact that we have been given to believe that those “exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:2-4), which belong to believers, belong surely to us!
We do seek God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. We do endeavour to obey God’s command to us by the apostle Paul: to put off the old man, to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to put on the new man (Ephesians 4:22-24).
The authentic Christian life, which we seek to live with the enabling that God provides, is one that is increasingly yielded, not to the service of sin, but to the service of God in righteousness. We seek to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof”(Romans 6:16-18; 13:14).
God renews his image in us, his people. And when we shall see Christ, we know that in these things “we shall be like him.” In these things, we shall be “partakers of the divine nature” (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:2).
Work out Your Own Salvation
The outward manifestation of this new nature does not happen all-at-once in us, but we must “work out [our] own salvation in fear and trembling.” Or rather, as we do so, God is out-working his salvation of us in us; he is making us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
It pleases God to make known the riches of his glory on the “vessels of mercy,” whom he had “afore prepared unto glory,” in a progressive manner. Our current experience in this new life is one of an irreconcilable war, which the Spirit of God is winning in us!
As we grow and live the Christian life, God is glorified by us with every step we take as we “walk in the spirit” and do “not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”—that is, of the “old man” in us (Galatians 5:16).
As we “press toward the mark,” our chief purpose in life, with every choice we make in everything, “whether we eat or drink or whatsoever we do,” we strive and “run the race” of our life to bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 6:20; 9:24-27; 10:31; Philippians 3:14).
Our salvation is all of God’s grace, and not at all of our working or meriting (Ephesians 2:8-10). In the covenant of grace, Christ has done the work of salvation for his people—he has finished it (John 19:30; Hebrews 12:2).
Our Prophet, Priest and King
This gift of faith brings us to Christ so that: we own him as our Prophet. We acknowledge to him, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” There is an “amen” response in our own soul’s experience—we have found that “[his] words are spirit, and they are life.” We believe that God indeed “hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (John 6:63, 68-69; Hebrews 1:2).
We affirm of Christ, that “We have a great high Priest” who “put away [our] sin by the sacrifice of himself.” “The kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7; Hebrews 4:14; 9:26).
And we own him as our King. He is “our…blessed and only potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.” We willingly bow the knee to him to whom “all power (i.e. authority) is given…in heaven and in earth.” And we are well pleased with the fact that the increase of Christ’s Kingly government and peace there shall be no end. “This man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.” And that is why “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” (Psalms 22:27; Isaiah 9:6-7; Hebrews 10:12-13).
God’s Glory Is Manifested in Christians
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the “glory of the Lord” shall be revealed in us (Isaiah 40:3-5,10,11,28-31)! The riches of God’s glory are increasingly being manifested in us—we shall be filled with all God’s fullness. So much so, that, although it does not yet appear what we shall be, we shall be like Christ when he appears (Ephesians 3:16-19; 1 John 3:2).
As the inspired apostle Paul affirms, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30; see also Romans 8:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:10-12).
- Only prophets, priests and kings were ceremonially anointed in Old Testament times. And Christ holds and fulfils all these offices, over his Church.↩