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            Salvation is entirely planned by God

 

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000.

 

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:1-5 NKJV)

 

In our study of this great chapter we have been concentrating in particular upon the great doctrine of salvation as it is revealed and displayed to us in these five verses. So far we have seen that the entire glory for salvation must go to God, and we have been looking at this truth in general. We have seen how the plan of salvation manifests God's great character, his holiness, his mercy, his wisdom, his love, his justice and his power. We have just noted these things, but we know that as we go on and follow what we are told here, and particularize a little more, we shall see the glory of God in a still more wonderful manner. Now I trust that no one is doubtful as to the importance of this consideration. I hope there is no one who is thinking, `All this would be fine if one had leisure and nothing else to do. It is quite all right to be considering the glory of God and meditating upon it, but speaking for myself, I find life very difficult and trying. I am hard pressed. All my energies have to go to making a living. I have problems in my own life. I have sickness in the family. I am literally hemmed in by difficulties of all kinds and forms. What has all this to do with me?'

So often men in their ignorance and folly have taken up that position. They have regarded this wonderful doctrine of the glory of God as something theoretical and remote. But, my dear friends, there is no greater fallacy than that! The very fact that our Lord offered this prayer proves in and of itself how completely foolish that is. Why did he offer that prayer, and especially why did he offer it audibly? There is only one answer to that question: he was concerned about these disciples. He had to leave them. He was no longer wishing to be with them in the flesh, and he reminded his father, in this prayer, of what he had done for them while he was with them. But now, he continues, `I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee' (verse 11), and he makes known what his desire is for them. His desire for them is that they may come into such a knowledge of their relationship to God that in spite of the fact that he is going to leave them, and in spite of the fact that the world is going to hate and persecute them, they will not be shaken.

There was never anything more practical than this, because the only ultimate strength and hope and consolation that the Christian gospel offers to anybody in this world is just that of understanding the plan of salvation and knowing our relationship to God. And there is no question about this in practice. I have certainly observed during many years in the Christian ministry and as a pastor that, generally speaking, most of the problems and difficulties which people have are due to the fact that they have not taken a firm hold of this great doctrine. As we have seen, it is subjectivity that accounts for our troubles, because we only look to ourselves. But once a man sees himself as part of this great plan, most of his problems are solved almost automatically. So that is why we are going on to consider some of the detailed aspects of the plan of salvation as it is revealed in these five verses in particular.

Having said that the plan of salvation reveals the character of God, I want to put to you, as my next proposition, that salvation is something which has been entirely planned by God, and that this is something which is suggested here on the very surface: 'Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life ... I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.' That is the first thing, therefore, that we have to take hold of. Salvation, if we may so put it, is entirely the idea of God; it emanates from and has its source and origin in God the Father. Now this is a staggering thought! So often you and I feel we have to placate God because of sin, sin in us, sin in our mind and whole outlook and thought, and sin in the world. We tend to think of God as being opposed and antagonistic to us, and therefore we are always thinking of him as someone we have to appease and placate. We regard God as Someone who is unwilling to be kind and gracious to us and to love us. We think of him as Someone in the far distance in his eternal glory and absolute righteousness who is not well disposed towards us. We feel we have to put forward these great efforts in order to get him to look upon us with favour.

That is a complete fallacy. Salvation has all originated in the mind of God---it is God's own purpose. I go so far as to say that even the Lord Jesus Christ does not have to placate God. Sometimes our hymns can be rather dangerous, and there are certain of them that would lead us to the conclusion that the Son of God has to plead with the Father to have mercy and pity upon us. But that is a gross misunderstanding of the term ‘Advocate', it is something that is absolutely foreign to biblical teaching. Rather, the Bible teaches that `God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them' (2 Corinthians 5:19); `God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son .. .' (John 3:16). It is all from God. So this idea that the Lord Jesus Christ is at great pains to persuade God the Father to forgive and accept us is utterly unscriptural and entirely false; the source and origin of salvation is the great and eternal heart of God.

But we go from that to this further point. It is not only God's idea, we see here that it has been perfectly planned from the very beginning to the very end. Here we come to something that is the source of the deepest assurance and consolation that any Christian person can ever know in this world of time. What could be more comforting and reassuring than the fact that there is nothing contingent about this salvation, nothing accidental, nothing that needs modification? It is a perfect plan. God has planned it from eternity, before the foundation of the world, it is eternally in the mind of God. There is nothing, therefore, that is accidental about this. It never needs to be modified, or changed or altered in any respect. Here again is a point at which so many have gone astray. There are those who believe and even teach---you will find it in the case of a certain well-known Bible---that God sent his Son into this world to found and establish a kingdom, but because the Jews rejected him, God had to modify his plan; he had to introduce this way of salvation and so the church was brought into being and ultimately, at some future time, the kingdom will be introduced. They believe that it was all a modification of God's original plan. But that, I say, is a theory without the slightest vestige of a basis in Scripture. Scripture, rather, teaches that this plan was worked out before the foundation of the world, before a single man was ever born. And we find this here in these words. `Father, the hour is come.' What hour? The hour that God had determined. You see that the whole purpose is to be found in that one word---`the hour'. We shall return to this, so for the moment I merely note it in passing, in order to deduce from it this great truth that the plan of God is absolutely complete, and was complete, even before the world was created.

But let us just glance at this time element in order that we may have it firmly in our minds. The plan was there, but it has been revealed in parts, and the great emphasis in the Bible is that everything is always, absolutely on time, with never a second or a moment's delay. Every item has been fixed, everything happens at its appropriate moment. The promise at the beginning was given at the right moment, the flood came at a particular point, and warning was given to mankind: `My spirit shall not always strive with man' (Genesis 6:3). He is still doing the same now, but there is an end, there is a limit to it. A time is coming when God will judge the world, and he fixes a time when it is to happen. The call of Abraham was not something accidental, it was done at a precise moment. It was to Abraham that the statement was made that certain things should not happen until the iniquity of the Amorites should be completed. The going down to Egypt was not accidental, it was prophesied, and Abraham was told exactly how long they would be there---430 years---before it ever happened. All these things were perfectly planned because God has his time, God has his exact moment.

But let us come to Moses, to whom the promise was given just at the time when it was necessary, and, again, the promise was given to David in his day. You certainly find this argument employed in the writings of the prophets. They foretell these things with a minuteness and an exactness which to the natural man is quite astonishing, but when we realize that it was God who laid down that great plan in eternity---that everything was determined and everything planned so that things should happen in order for this great design---there is no difficulty at all about it. To anybody who realizes this, it is rather what you would expect, and it is exactly what you find in the Scriptures. And then, of course, there is the well-known verse in Paul's epistle to the Galatians: `When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law ...' (Galatians 4:4).

     Now people often ask the question---'Why didn't Christ come earlier? Why did he come at that particular point?' Well, though we cannot answer this question in detail, we can say that there are many reasons why that was the right time. God had given his law to his own people. Men always want to claim that they can save themselves, so God gave them time to see and understand that they cannot do so. He gave them a perfect law and said, If you keep that you will be saved; you will be righteous in my sight. He allowed them to try to do that for at least fourteen centuries, but they failed completely. And he also allowed the great succession of Greek philosophers to come and put their thoughts before man. Men said, `Give us the right idea and we will carry it out.' They tried to, but they failed. The same thing happened with the Romans and their legal system---all that had been tried and failed before God's hour arrived, the hour that had been planned in eternity.

I commend this to you as a fascinating study, apart from the wonderful spiritual truth. As you read through the Old Testament try to put yourself in the position of that ancient race and you will often feel that God had forgotten his own people and his plan of salvation. But every time you begin to think that, and feel that the enemy was triumphant all along the line, God does something again, and you will find that it is not only the exact moment but also the exact thing for the exact moment. It is always the case---and there is nothing that is so comforting as this thought---`The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice'; `The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble' (Psalms 97:1;99:1). We must get hold of this truth that the whole plan is already made in the mind of God. It is because of this that the Son of God can turn to his Father at this particular point and say, `Father, the hour is come', the hour that we originally agreed about is at hand. He had been preparing his disciples for it, as we see, both in John 12 and even earlier than that at the wedding in Cana, when he said, `Mine hour is not yet come.' The time was all determined, and planned.

But we do not stop at that---thank God for this---for the end is likewise planned and certain. There are many Christian people today who are asking questions. Why does God allow the church to languish? Why does he allow certain things to happen in the church? Why does he allow this liberal criticism of the Bible that has been going on for a hundred years? Why doesn't he put a stop to all this? Well, that is not God's way, but there is one thing about which we can be certain, and that is that God reigns; and those who may be perplexed about the state of the church here or anywhere else under the sun need not trouble and worry and vex their righteous souls. God reigns! God is still seated there in the heavens and he looks upon the citizens of the earth as grasshoppers. What he has determined is going to be carried out; the hour and the end of history and the world is determined. God knows it, but nobody else knows the hour, says Christ, no, no man, not even the Son, but the Father only and he knows it. And if you are not comforted and encouraged by that, well I doubt whether you are a Christian at all. The consolation of the glorious biblical affirmations---that neither death nor life nor anything else can separate us from the love of God---rests upon the fact that everything is purposed and planned in the mind of God who sees the end from the beginning and whose power is such that no one can withstand it. He can even take up a man like Pharaoh and use him like clay to bring his own great purpose to pass.

So let us now, with reverence, look into this plan in a little more detail. I like to take a glimpse into it and I am going to do something now that some of you may regard as strange and odd. I am going to ask you to come with me and look into the Council that was held in eternity, the great Council that was held between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. What was it all about? It was about this very question of salvation, and what happened there was that the Son, the second Person in the blessed Trinity was given an assignment; he was appointed the heir of all things. See him reminding his Father of that eternal Council here: `As thou has given him [the Son] power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him . . .' Let us look into these things with wondering gaze, with amazement and astonishment and remember, as we are doing it, that we are really in a sense still thinking about ourselves, because that Council was held with respect to us.

So the first thing we see here is that contemplating what was going to happen to man and to the world, seeing the entry of sin and the fall, this eternal Council decided what should be done about it. And the first great decision was that this matter should be handed over specifically to the Son. It is the purpose of God, says Paul in Ephesians 1:10, that all things should be wound up in Christ, `that in the dispensation of the fullness of times'---you see the time element again---'he [the Father] might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.' In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ, in that Council, was appointed as the head of mankind. He was made responsible for the world, a kind of head and representative of all the earth and its peoples. He himself told us this at the end after he had risen, when he said to the disciples: `All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth' (Matthew 28:18).

Now this is one of those crucial principles which we must never fail to understand, one which throws great light upon many an obscure incident in the Old Testament which otherwise cannot be understood. Take, for instance, those appearances to men of the so-called `Angel of the Lord'. There can be no question at all but that these are the appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ---what are called the `theophanies'. He was interested in the world even then; it had all been given to him; that was why the world came to be created, it was in him and through him and by him. He is the One in eternity who is deputed to do this particular task. And the record, in a sense, is the record of our Lord carrying out this great task that had thus been given to him. That is the explanation, too, of John's vision in Revelation 5. John is perplexed that no one is big enough or strong enough to open the books---the books of history---then suddenly he sees the Lion of the tribe of Judah stepping forward and the whole of heaven seems to applaud. At last there is One who is big enough and strong enough to take complete charge of history and to break the seals and to open the books. He is the Lord of history, yes, it has already been given to him, and it belongs to him.

So, then, we must look at it like this, that everything with respect to this world and to man has been handed over to the Lord Jesus Christ. He has been given this authority, this power over all flesh. He rules and reigns and controls everything that is in the world---the sun, the moon and the stars, the rivers and the streams---that is why he can hold back or send the rain and the thunder storms. He can produce an earthquake. He is controlling everything, for everything has been put into his hands. He is the Governor of the earth. He is in charge of the kingdom and he will remain in charge right on to the end when, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, he will finally finish the work, and hand the kingdom back to his Father.

But I must not stop at that. God had not only, in that eternal Council, handed over the world and its powers to the Son, he has also given him a people. I wonder how often you have stopped to consider the second verse of this chapter of John, and how often you have battled with its tremendous doctrine? I wonder what you have made of it. `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.' Does he say, `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to all flesh'? No---'that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him'. The universal and the particular are both here in one verse. This is indeed high doctrine, so high that no human can understand it, but so high and glorious, that every man who has the mind of Christ in himself, bows before it in humble reverence, in amazement and in astonishment.

Scriptural teaching is that while God has given to his Son power over all flesh, without any limits whatsoever, he has in particular given him a special people who are to enjoy the blessings of Christian salvation and eternal life. He has to give eternal life to as many as God the Father has given him, but what I am emphasizing here is that it is God the Father who has given him these people. He gave him these particular people who are coming into the church and into eternal life, from the very beginning to the very end. All of them were given to the Son, there in that eternal Council. It is God who chooses them, and, according to John 6, it is God who draws them to him, for unless, Jesus says, God does draw them to him, they will never come. `All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out . . . And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day' (John 6:37,40).

This is something that you find running right through these Scriptures. God, from before the creation of the world, had chosen these people. He gives these particular people to his Son, and he says, I give them to you for you to save them for me. `Those whom thou hast given unto him'---that was another decision of this great and eternal Council.

But, you see, it is even more particular than that, for God the Father prescribes the particular work the Son has to do in order to save these people. The Lord says, `I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.' I propose to come back to this again and to look at it in more detail, but all I am emphasizing at this point is that the work of saving these individuals was given by the Father to the Son. Thus we find our Lord constantly saying that he does nothing of himself He says in effect, `I am simply doing the work which the Father has shown me and given me to do.' It all comes from God the Father, who then sends the Son into the world to do it---to give the Father back the glory that the Son had with him before he ever sent him. But it was God the Father who sent him, for `God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son'---his Son, with power to save. And the purpose of it all, I would remind you again, was that you and I might become the children of God; that we might have this eternal life which is to know God, the only true and living God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent into the world in order to bring us to this blessed knowledge.

My dear friends, are we not guilty of neglecting this glorious doctrine of the glory of God and the plan of salvation in eternity? Evangelical Christians, how often have you meditated about these things? Do you not think that we have been guilty of judging particular aspects of salvation instead of regarding this glorious plan? This is why we are so superficial and why we are so shaken in our faith when adversity comes to try us. Our faith is not sufficiently broadly based---we must go back into eternity.

Let me summarize the message by putting it like this---what I deduce from this doctrine is that the eternal God knows us and is interested in us and has a plan for us. If that is not enough for you, then I despair! The astounding thing I find here is that the eternal and absolute God knows me, that he thought of me before the foundation of the world, not only before I was born, but before he even made the world; that this eternal, absolute Being is interested in me, even me, as an individual and as a person, and that I was in his mind when he conceived this amazing plan that includes the incarnation and the cross, and the resurrection and the ascension, and the reign of his Son at his side that is going on now. What a staggering, yes, but what a glorious thought!

The next thing I deduce is that there is therefore nothing uncertain about my acceptance with God, nor about my forgiveness, nor about my sonship. When I realize that I have been brought into God's plan I know that nothing can frustrate this. Now there are many people who talk about the Protestant Reformation, and the influence it had upon the world. You find that certain statesmen do this. They say you cannot explain the history of England apart from the Protestant Reformation. Neither, they say, can you explain the United States of America apart from these things, because they all had their origin in that Reformation. But how little do these people really see what it all means and what it really represents, which is that these great truths are absolute and certain. Do you know why the Pilgrim Fathers made that attempt, and succeeded in crossing the Atlantic? What was it that enabled men to do things like that, and to do things which were even more hazardous? It was that they believed in what is called the `Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints', it was because they had seen themselves in the plan of God which cannot be broken and which cannot fail. It is as absolute as God, himself; he knows the end as well as the beginning. `Neither shall any man,' said Christ, `pluck them out of my hand.' It is unthinkable.

So the next deduction is: if God has done all this for us in Christ, and especially in his death, we can be certain that he will carry on with the work until it is completed. That is Paul's argument: `He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?' (Romans 8:32). `If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life' (Romans 5:10). Let me put it like this: God, who is sufficiently concerned about me to send his Son to die on the cross of Calvary for me, is not going to let me down when any difficulty or temptation faces me. My dear friends, there is nothing for you to fear! You belong to One of whom we are told that all power has been given to him over all flesh. You are in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ if you but knew and realised it, and he controls everything. He controls every human being, all the affairs of nature, he is even controlling the devil himself. All power is given unto him, thrones, dominions, principalities and powers are subject unto him, so you need never fear! You and I have but to realize that we are in those mighty hands, that that strong arm is engaged on our behalf, that all flesh under his power, and that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.

Therefore, when you are troubled and perplexed and harrassed, and when all things seem to be against you and you despair, when you pray to him, before you say a word, just remind yourself of his authority and of his power: `As thou hast given him power over all flesh . . .' He that has formed you has a power like that, and therefore, being in his safe keeping, why should you fear man or beast or the powers of nature or of hell? Simply trust in him, he has so loved you that he has died for you, and his power on your behalf is indisputable. (55-67)

 

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