GOD’S ETERNAL PLAN
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 3)
I don’t know about you, but over the years I’ve been getting good mileage from a line from a poem by the Scottish bard Robert Burns. It’s a line from his poem, “To a Mouse”. What’s the line? “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” If you were to look up the Scottish dictionary you’d find that “gang aft a-gley” simply means that plans often go wrong. Isn’t that the way of it? After all our scheming, after all our planning, some unforeseen factor comes along and thwarts them! In Burns’ poem a little mouse had built its home in a field and Burns came along and wrecked its house with his ploughshare.
Now, I think we’d all agree with Burns when it comes to the best laid schemes of mice and men, but what about when it comes to God? Can God plan something and have it come to pass in every minute detail exactly the way He wants it? Of course He can – and He has! For who or what can thwart the plan of God Almighty? He is the eternal Sovereign God, isn’t He? He is the Creator, and as such is Lord of all creation.
Yet, some folk think that God is helpless – that He is unable to act in His creation. They look around and see wars and death, and they conclude that the world is in chaos – out of control. But the Christian looks around and he sees that everything is going according to God’s eternal plan.
Yes, there is sin, misery, and death – even war. But there will come a day when men will stop their fighting and beat their swords into ploughshares. Yes! There will come a day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore. How do we know? We know because God has revealed it so!
In the following we’ll look at the eternal plan of God and some of the out-workings of His plan.
The Plan Contemplated
To plan something is to form a scheme or method or design for the attainment of some object. In other words, first, you have in mind the object you want. And second, you put your plan into action. Well, God being eternal, He eternally had a plan in mind, and He has put His plan into action.
What is the object God has in mind for His eternal plan? And what exactly is this eternal plan that God has in mind? Well, in short, the object of God’s eternal plan is His own glory. And we see His eternal plan unfolding every time the sun rises and sets. As each day passes, a little more of God’s secret plan is revealed.
What are we saying then? Are we saying that sin, misery, death and mayhem – the things that we see in the news – are all part of God’s eternal plan? Yes! That’s exactly what we’re saying, though you need to be careful here. We’re saying this because the Bible says it. Try Acts 15:18 for starters, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”
Does the creator of the heavens and the earth and all therein not have a plan in mind? Of course He does! Therefore, large or small, every event of every day is known to Him from eternity past, which is to say that all His works of creation, its daily and constant upkeep, were known to God even before He put His plan into action. Therefore nothing can sneak up and surprise God.
There is nothing unforeseen to the eye of God. There can be no fly in the ointment for God. There can be no stick in the spokes of creation for God. The ball never gets stuck upon the slates for God! As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
What is the purpose of God? Well, that’s what we’re contemplating. His purpose is an eternal purpose. A purpose is an idea or ideal kept in mind as an end of effort or action. A purpose, then, is a design or aim. What’s the big idea? What’s the grand design? What’s does God Almighty aim to do? Well again, it’s all about glory – His glory. The idea, design, or aim is about God glorifying Himself. And regarding angels and men there are two ways in which He glorifies Himself. God either glorifies Himself according to His grace or according to His justice.
Think about it, Man is the image and likeness of God, yes? Well, what’s the chief end of man? It’s to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Man is to reflect God by glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31. God glorifies Himself in everything He does. And His image man is to glorify Him in everything he does.
Another couple of verses that speak of God bringing to pass the eternal plan He has in mind are Ephesians 1:11&12, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” Therefore, one of the ways that God glorifies Himself is by redeeming, in time, those whom He has in eternity past predestined for redemption.
Notice in Ephesians 1:11 that God “…works all things according to the purpose of His own will…” God’s will, therefore, is not affected by anything outside of Himself. He simply wills things to come to pass because He has had those things in mind from all eternity. And His purpose for bringing these things to pass is, of course, His own glory. And part of His glorifying Himself was in His predestinating those who would in time trust in Christ.
Those who are predestined are those who have been chosen by the Father in eternity past. They are those who have been redeemed in time by the Son. And they have been, or will be, regenerated i.e., renewed by the Holy Spirit in their own lifetime.
God had in mind the entire mass of mankind viewed in its fallen state when He, out of His mere free grace and love, predestined some of that fallen mass of humanity to everlasting life. In eternity past God planned to save a multitude innumerable. Yet, there is a much smaller number of the fallen mass of humanity who, in the wisdom of His counsel, God has passed by.
Those who are saved are saved to the praise of His grace, Ephesians 1:6a. Those who are passed by are damned to the praise of His justice, Romans 9:17. Those who are saved are saved by God’s grace alone. And those who are damned are damned by their own sins alone. But whether saved or damned, all humanity, according to Scripture, deserves to be damned by God for eternity for its sins against Him.
God is not the author of sin – He simply permits it to take place in His creation – for a time. God didn’t make Adam disobey Him in the Garden. Adam exercised his own free will when he sided with Satan against God. However, as we’ve already noted, God had the Fall of man in mind before the foundation of the world.
There’s a verse of Scripture in the Book of Revelation that spells it out for us. Revelation 13:8 speaks of those, “…whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Those whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are those of the fallen mass of humanity God has passed by, which is to say that they are those whom God has not predestined, or chosen, or elected before the foundation of the world for salvation by Christ the Lamb – the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. The wrath of God abides on them, John 3:36. Therefore these are they who remain unrepentant and unbelieving. These are they who will see the justice of God on Judgment Day.
The Plan Completed
The eternal plan of God we have just been contemplating has been completed in principle. That the eternal plan of God would be completed is encapsulated in the words of Revelation 13:8b. There Jesus Christ is spoken of as “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
This is one of those verses that attest to the fact that God had the Fall of man in mind before the foundation of the world. If the Fall had not taken place, then there would be no sin, misery, and death in the world. And if there were no sin, misery, and death in the world, the death of Christ would be meaningless. For sin, misery and death are the context in which God had decreed, in His wise counsel, to send His Son to become the Lamb slain to take away the sins of the world.
The death of Jesus was to be the death of death in time. The slain Lamb was to be the punishment and payment for sins, the sins of God’s chosen people. Therefore God had it in mind from all eternity that Christ would die for the elect of God.
So, the Fall of man was no surprise to God. In fact God permitted and purposed the Fall to demonstrate His glory in grace and in justice. “Our first parents sin God, was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory”; as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it. Therefore, Adam sinned of his own free will and accord.
God didn’t coerce Adam into sinning. God didn’t cause Adam to sin. Think about it, this means that God has 100% sovereign control of all the actions of all creation. But nevertheless, Adam is 100% responsible for his own sinful actions. Don’t miss the point being made here. God permitted Adam to sin against Him. In other words, God did not interfere with Adam’s free will. Therefore this testifies that God didn’t create Adam as an automaton.
Men are not a bunch of windy-up robots under the despotic control of a capricious God. God doesn’t make us do things while He sits in heaven twiddling knobs on a remote control. No, man is created in the image and likeness of God – the God who is free! Man was created to express that freedom – the freedom of God – on the creaturely level. As you know, freedom is the ability to choose and to do good or evil. Adam chose to do evil – He chose, he willed, he free-willed to sin against God. He chose to go against the revealed will of God.
Now, what does this have to do with the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world? Well, just as God could have sovereignly prevented Adam from sinning, so He could have sovereignly prevented Christ’s death on the cross. But He did neither. He permitted Adam to sin against Him. And He permitted men to nail His Son to the cross. Why? He permits evil because it is included as part of His eternal plan.
There’s a verse in Acts that illustrates this very thing. Speaking of Christ it says, “…Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death, whom God raised up…” Acts 2:23
But again we must state that even though Christ’s crucifixion is included in God’s eternal plan, God is not the author of sin. By which we mean that He did not and does not cause any angel or man to sin. God remains without spot or stain regarding sin and evil. And does Christ’s death on the cross not prove this irrefutably and conclusively? Of course it does!
Jesus Christ is one Divine Person with two distinct natures. He is the God-man – God and Man in one Divine Person. He is the 2nd Person in the Trinity clothed in human flesh. Therefore, if God was the author of sin and evil how could Christ Jesus possibly be declared to be the lamb without spot or stain? If He were the author of evil, wouldn’t He have the blood of all humanity on His hands? Yet Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18&19, that you were redeemed “…with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” The writer to the Hebrews says, “…how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
So, if Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and if Christ is the Lamb without blemish and without spot, and if Christ is the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, then God is without blemish and without spot, because Jesus Christ is both God and man in one Divine Person. And not only that, if Jesus Christ is the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, and if Jesus Christ HAS taken away the sins of the world by His death, and if God HAS in mind from eternity that the Son of Man’s death would take away the sins of the world, then because Christ HAS died God’s eternal plan HAS been completed!
Christ’s resurrection from the tomb is “Mission Accomplished!” isn’t it? What mission? The “Mission” decreed by the eternal counsel of the Godhead in eternity past; i.e., the “Mission” that began to be put into action upon the first moment of creation.
So we see then that the entrance of sin and evil into creation through angels and men, even Adam, was included in God’s eternal plan. And the removal of sin and evil from creation by the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God without blemish and without spot, was also included in the eternal plan. God’s eternal plan has been completed by the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. And is now being consummated, i.e., brought to its final and permanent state of completion, throughout creation by the secret working of the Holy Spirit.
How do we know that His plan has been successfully completed? We know because Christ HAS been raised from the dead! And we also know because the Holy Spirit HAS been poured upon the earth by Christ from Heaven.
Now, some of you may be wondering how sin and evil can have been removed from creation when sin and evil are still around. Well, we never tire of reminding each other that the sins of the world have been taken away by Christ by the Lamb of God. Christ HAS died for our sins. Christ HAS risen for our justification. Therefore the new world order HAS begun! What has been completed in principle in creation is now being completed in practice in creation by the secret work of the Holy Spirit.
Are you with me? I know this is hard for us to understand. We look around and we see sin, misery, and death still in the world. So how can the plan from eternity have been completed in time? Well, think about the fact that over four thousand years had passed from the first moment God had put His plan into action till its completion by Christ. God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in 4004BC (Bishop Ussher) or thereabouts. After Adam’s sin, for four thousand years God permitted sin, misery, and death to exist in His creation. Then He put death to death by permitting His Son to be put to death on a cross.
But how much longer will God permit people to practice evil in His creation? The cross put death to death in principle – the Holy Spirit has already started to put that principle into practice. Therefore God will permit sin and evil until death, our last enemy, is finally destroyed in practice. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23.
Don’t miss it; death is God’s judgment upon sin and evil. When death has finally been removed, God’s Judgment will have ended. As all Christians know, death is removed from all who keep on repenting and keep on believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Can you see then that the Judgment of God has already begun? The world at the moment is being divided into the bit that will be saved and the bit that will perish. Or, if you will, the world is at this very moment being divided into the more familiar sheep and goats, wheat and tares. How is this so? It’s because Christ work is finished, completed. That’s what He said on the cross, wasn’t it? “It is finished!”
The Lamb slain in eternity in the mind of God has been slain in time in the actual physical world. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is the Lamb slain in these last days of the world.
The Plan Commemorated
Christians commemorate the finished, i.e., the completed work of Christ. For what’s the Lord’s Supper all about if it’s not about commemorating Christ’s completed work? Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of Me” 1 Corinthians 11:24&25.
But the Lord’s Supper also has a present and a future aspect to it. For the Lord’s Supper proclaims in the present His death till He comes again in the future. Think about it, the two Sacraments – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – are what physically and spiritually separate us from the world. The sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, are separated by the Sacraments. To be sure, only the Lord Himself knows His true sheep. Some weeds look like wheat just as some goats look like sheep! But, there is a physical and spiritual separation of the sheep and the goats taking place throughout the world wherever the Gospel is proclaimed.
In particular, it’s when a Christian prepares to sit down with the Lord at His table that he personally contemplates the eternal plan of God. And at the Lord’s Table he contemplates the work Christ completed on the cross. Therefore it’s especially at the Lord’s Table that the Christian commemorates the finished work of Christ. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” 1 Corinthians 11:26. So, the time-factor in the Lord’s Supper is three-fold: the present proclamation of the past death of the Lord who is to come.
What happened when Jesus died? The sins of the world were taken away by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. What happens to your sins when you repent and believe in the Lamb? Your sins are presently removed from you by the past death of the Lamb. What happens if you do not repent of your sins and do not believe in the Lamb for salvation? “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” John 3:36.
So, what are we commemorating in the Lord’s Supper? We are commemorating the wrath of God being removed from us by the work of Christ two thousand years ago, and also the work of the Spirit and the Word in our hearts today. And if the wrath of God has been removed from us, then Christ’s work is indeed complete. And if Christ’s work is complete, then the matter of Judgment has already been decided. And when was it decided? It was decided in eternity past in the eternal counsel of the Godhead, which is to say that God knew from eternity those for whom the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world.
Do you see it? The “Lamb slain”, i.e., the Saviour has to be somebody’s Saviour, doesn’t He? Christ’s work on the cross was a good work, a finished work, a completed work. Yes? Well, again, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” Therefore, according to God what did the eternal Son of God step into time to do? He came to save His people from their sins, didn’t He? And who are God’s people? They are all those who will, by the grace of God, believe in Him.
I would urge you to continue to repent of your sins and continue to believe in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. For without the inclusion of Christ, whatever your schemes or plans, no matter how best you lay them, they will perish along with you like the little mouse-house of Burns’ poem.
So start beating your sword into a ploughshare. And start ploughing as straight a furrow as you possibly can in this life. Fix your eyes on the immovable rock at the end of the paddock. Fix your eyes upon Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. God’s eternal plan has not, cannot, and shall not fail or be thwarted. To God alone be all glory. Amen.