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   The Plan of Salvation reveals the Glory of 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.

 

John 17:1

So far, in considering this great prayer, we have been looking at the matter in general. We can now proceed to look at the actual subjects which our Lord dealt with in his prayer, the thoughts that were uppermost in his mind as thus he prayed to his heavenly Father. Let me remind you that the prayer can be divided into three main sections: the first is from verses 1-5, in which our Lord prays for himself; then in verses 5-19 we have his prayer for his immediate disciples, those who were around and about him; and from there on he prays for the church universal.

In the first section, where our Lord prays for himself, we find that the essence of his petition is that the Father may glorify him, in order that he also may glorify the Father: `Father the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.' In other words, his main concern at this point is that he may glorify God. That is the supreme thing, but, you notice, he tells us why that is so, and he does this in terms of God's great purpose in the matter of our salvation. The whole idea here expressed is that our Lord is anxious that God's glory may be manifested, and manifested especially in the salvation of men.

As a result, in these five verses we have one of the most marvellous displays of the whole gospel of salvation and of the plan of salvation which is to be found anywhere in the Scriptures. There is nothing which is more characteristic of the Scriptures than the way in which here and there they give us a kind of complete synopsis, or compendium, of doctrine and theology. In this prayer in particular, our Lord opens our eyes and instructs us with regard to some of the vitals and fundamentals of our faith. And as one can well anticipate, in view of the fact that it is our Lord himself speaking and praying, there is no more glorious statement of the gospel than you find in these five verses.

Why is it, do you think, that we hear so little today about the plan of salvation, the scheme, the whole object and purpose of it? I use the phrase that was so frequently used by our fathers but which, for some reason, is so infrequently used today. Our fathers delighted in looking at and contemplating, or, if I may use the words of Isaac Watts, surveying, the plan of salvation. I have no hesitation in saying that most of our troubles as Christian people, and the whole state of the church today, is to be explained very largely by our failure to consider the plan of salvation as a whole.

The trouble with us is, as I am never tired of pointing out, that we are so utterly subjective. That is the essence of the trouble with this modern generation to which you and I belong. Now I am not talking about people outside the church, but about ourselves, who are inside the church. It may be that we have all been influenced by the climate of thought and by this morbid interest in psychology and in analysing ourselves, but whatever it is, we have become self-centred and that is the curse of this generation. We are always looking at ourselves, at how things affect us and at what we want for ourselves. Now there are many possible explanations for that, which need not claim our attention now, but the fact of the matter is that we are slaves to our own habits and states and desires, and to our own likes and dislikes, and the result is that we approach everything from the standpoint of what it means to us. And the tragic thing is that we tend to approach the gospel of Jesus Christ in that particular way, with the result that we fail to realize the truth either about ourselves or about this wonderful salvation which we have, because we particularize on points. We look solely on what the gospel has to say `to me', how the gospel can `help me', and we fail, therefore, to hear what the gospel has to say about us, and we fail also to realize the scope and the greatness and the vastness of the gospel itself.

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews described the gospel as `so great a salvation'. My suggestion is that we seem to be missing this greatness at the present time and that this is simply because, instead of looking at it as it is, and as it is displayed here, we look at ourselves and what it has to give us. The gospel is presented purely in this personal manner and we forget the greatness which we discover when we look at God's plan of salvation as a whole, and when we allow the gospel to put it before our wondering gaze. You will find in many of our hymns that this idea of the greatness is most forcibly and magnificently expressed.

     Charles Wesley says, "Tis mercy all, immense and free,' and yet so often the impression is given that the gospel is something subjective and small, something which just does this or that. Thank God it does these things, too, for me, but it is not only that. If you are subjective in your approach you will often find yourself feeling unhappy; if you think of the gospel as something coming to you, or happening in your life, immediately you will be upset and you will have nothing to fall back on. The tragedy of the subjective approach is that it is essentially so selfish that eventually it fails us.

But if we take this objective approach to start with and then come on to the subjective we shall gain everything; we shall start on such a vast plan and scheme that we shall be taken up into it, and when anything goes wrong with us, we will relate it to the whole. So to avoid that danger of the subjective, we must study the great subject which we have in these five verses. Not that we must study it for that reason only. It is our duty to study it and I want to impress that upon us all. We claim that we are so busy that we have not the time to read. We know our forefathers used to read the doctrines, but we have not got the time. We want it all in a nutshell, and we want to go through the whole gospel of John in one address. We want a bird's eye view of the whole Bible, and the result is that we miss the doctrine. But here it is displayed, and because God has displayed it to us here, it is our duty to study it, in order that we may find some of the great possibilities that lie open to us. It is a tragedy that we tend to live as paupers in the spiritual realm, when God means us to be princes. But, above all, we study this in order that we may assert a confidence and a certainty and a steadfastness in our Christian lives.

Now you will find, if you analyse these five verses, that the main things they display to our wondering gaze are these. First, they show us something of the origin and the plan of salvation; they then direct our attention to the One by whom the plan has been carried out, and this leads us into a consideration of the things that he has done, and eventually shows us the purpose and object of it all. There it is, then, the whole purpose and plan of salvation. And now, of course, we must start with the first thing. That sounds a trite, almost ridiculous remark, and, yet, as I have been trying to show, it is essential that we should start at the beginning. Strangely enough, the Christian gospel---let me say this with reverence, lest I be misunderstood---the Christian gospel does not start even with the Lord Jesus Christ, it starts with God the Father. The Bible starts with God the Father always, everywhere, and we must do the same, because that is the order in the blessed Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. You find that very thing emphasized and impressed here, for the statement is that salvation is entirely of God; this is the first thing we must always say when we begin to consider this question of salvation. Salvation is entirely of God, it is the gift of God: `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him'---it is all there.

Let us therefore remind ourselves before we go any further that the gospel announces, at the very beginning, that man is absolutely helpless in the matter of his salvation, he can do nothing at all about it. The gospel is not a scheme or proposal to enable men to save themselves, nor is it a programme which God has outlined, an example of which has been given in the person of the Son of God, telling us how we can raise ourselves and lift ourselves into heaven. No, it starts by telling us that we cannot do it, we are all dead in trespasses and sins, we are utterly helpless, we are quite powerless, and while we were yet without strength Christ died for the ungodly. It was while man was in a state of complete bondage to sin and Satan and hell that God did something. Now that is the very essence of this message. It is impressed upon us here at the beginning, indeed, we find that our Lord goes on repeating it. The gospel is just the good news which tells us what God has done about us men, and about our salvation. I trust that no one still thinks of salvation as something that he or she has to arrive at for himself or herself. I hope nobody will think that church attendance, for instance, is going to gain them their salvation before God. That is a complete fallacy, for this message starts by saying that it is entirely and utterly of God, and comes solely from him.

`The wages of sin is death'---that is something that you and I have---'but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord' (Romans 6:23). That is how Paul says it, but our Lord says it here in the same way: `As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.' This gospel of John has been saying it from the very beginning, it was the whole essence of the word to Nicodemus; you have to be received, then you have to be born again-it is all of God. `God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son . . .' The quotations are endless. But we must emphasize this at the very beginning. It is only as we begin to realize this that we can grasp something of the essential greatness of this salvation, that the great, almighty, eternal God should have done anything at all about it. But the message is that he has, and in the way that we are now going to consider.

It is, then, because of all that, that our Lord in his prayer here at the crucial moment, is concerned above everything else about glorifying God. `Father,' he says, `glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.' Now his main concern is not simply that he should be glorified. He is only concerned about that because of this greater thing: he is so anxious to glorify the Father that he wants the Father to glorify him, he wants the Father to glorify himself. This is, of course, one of the most stupendous things we can ever contemplate. Our Lord's one great desire throughout his life here on earth was to glorify his Father. He keeps on saying it. He has not come to do his own will, but the will of his Father who has sent him. He speaks the Father's words, he does the Father's works, and his one concern is that he may never fail him, that he may never falter in the great task that has been allotted to him. He lives entirely and exclusively to glorify his Father. He has not come to show himself, or to glorify himself. `He humbled himself,' wrote the apostle Paul and that is the whole meaning of that term, for, in his abasing himself, he put himself as the Son in the Eternal Trinity, he glorified the Father; that was the whole purpose of his coming, and everything he has done was designed for that one and only supreme object---the glory of the Father, and, here, he prays for it.

But I cannot say a thing like that, of course, without deducing and adding that the whole purpose of your salvation and mine is that we should glorify the Father. Oh, that we might grasp this! I know that we are all guilty at this point---and I am as guilty as anybody else---of tending to think of God and the whole Christian salvation as something to solve our problems. People come and talk to me, and it is generally put in that way: `What will salvation do for me?' they ask. And the answer that is given so often in our evangelism is, `Believe the gospel, and it will do some marvellous things for you.' I say, thank God that that is true, but, my dear friends, we should not put that first. The ultimate aim and object of our salvation is that we may glorify God. The essence of sin is that we do not glorify God---let us be quite clear about this; the essence of sin does not lie in the particular acts or actions of which you and I and others may be guilty. Now that is where we go wrong. We think of sin in terms of particular sins and that is why respectable people do not think they are sinners. They utterly fail to realize that the essence of sin is not to glorify God, and anybody who does not glorify God is guilty of sin of the foulest kind. Even though you may never have got drunk, though you may never be guilty of adultery, if you live for yourself and your own glory you are as desperate a sinner as those other people whom you regard as sinners. That was put very plainly by the prophet Daniel to King Belshazzar in Daniel 5, when he pointed out to him that the essence of sin was not that he put wine in the holy cups of God and drank out of them with his wives and concubines, but that he had not humbled himself before the Lord, he had exalted himself and not given God the glory.

We can put this principle very briefly in this way. The first question in the shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession is, `What is the chief end of man?' and the answer is, `The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.' So that I assert that the essence of salvation is to bring us into the state in which we do glorify God. It does not matter what is happening, or what goes wrong for us, we are meant to glorify him and live thus to his glory. It is the object of salvation from which, therefore, I deduce this final principle, that the ultimate proof of the fact that we are Christians is that we desire to do that. The final proof of our salvation is not that we are happy whereas formerly we were unhappy. Christian Science or the cults can do that, and so can psychotherapy. These can take the miserable, and those who are worried and anxious, and can give them treatment so that they find that all their problems vanish and they are perfectly happy and contented; they have merely been able to forget their troubles and have undergone some change in their life. If that alone is the test of salvation, well then, I have nothing to say to the cults or to psychology.

But that is not the essential proof of salvation. The essential proof is that the supreme object and ambition of the Christian's life now is to live to the glory of God. If we say that when a man is saved he becomes a partaker of the divine nature, that he is born again, and that Christ dwells in him, then it follows that a Christian is a man who becomes progressively more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. And when I look at him this is what I find: I find that he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He had great and terrible temptations pressing upon him, but I find that in all circumstances, and in all places, he had but one great desire and that was to live to the glory of God. Christianity is not something light and superficial that just does certain things to you, and gives you certain pleasant feelings. It is something that brings you into a relationship with God. You begin to fix your gaze on him, and to be awed by his holiness. You approach him with reverence and godly fear, you do not drop lightly into his presence. No, you address him, as his Son did, as Father, Holy Father, righteous Father, and over and above what may happen, and over and above your feelings of salvation, is this deep desire to live to his glory, to display it, to give yourself to it---the glory of God.

I want to take it a step further, in this way---the chief end of salvation is, as I say, that God may be glorified and that his glory may be displayed and acknowledged. The result of that is that it is the gospel of salvation that really reveals to us the glory of God. Our Lord puts that in the form of a petition. Here he is, just before the cross, the crucial moment is at hand. He knows something about the agony and the sweat of Gethsemane, and his one desire is this: Father, enable me to go on, give me strength to bear, give me all I need to do this, in order that your great glory in this matter of salvation can be revealed and made manifest. I have come to do that, enable me to do it that your name may be glorified. That is his petition, that is his plea.

How, then, does the gospel of Jesus Christ thus manifest the glory of God in a way that nothing else does? Again I would remind you that that is his chief purpose. Even before he is concerned about saving us, he is concerned about revealing the glory of God. Have you realized that, or have you always thought of salvation only as something that is meant to save men? It does do that, of course, but before that, it is meant to display the glory of God. It does so first of all by revealing the character of God. The gospel of Jesus Christ displays, in a way that nothing else does, the holiness and the righteousness of God; the whole plan and scheme of salvation proclaims the fact that God cannot ignore sin. God cannot say, `Well, I will pretend I have not seen it; yes, they have sinned and gone astray and rebelled against me, but I am a loving Father, I do not see things like that, it is all right, I will have them back.' No, the gospel plan of salvation tells us that God---I say it with reverence---cannot do that. The holiness and the righteousness of his eternal being and character mean that he cannot ignore sin. Sin is a reality, a problem (I say it again with reverence), even to God. It is something he sees and has got to deal with, and so he displays the glory of his being in his holiness and righteousness.

But thank God he does not stop at that, for the next thing he does is to reveal his benignity, his mercy and his compassion. You start with sin and the holiness of God, but if you leave it at that, if that were all, there would be very little difficulty about knowing what God would have done. He would simply have blotted out man from the world. He could have done it so easily---he could have consigned all the world, and all its designs, to perdition and eternal torment, and he would have been utterly justified in doing so. But the gospel tells us that he has not done so, he has done the opposite---why?---it is because of his benignity, because of his mercy, which means his pity, for us, his sorrow for us, because of his compassion.

We shall be seeing later on how our Lord displayed all this in his own personal life. How often do the evangelists tell us that he looked upon and had compassion upon some poor suffering person? It is because he was like his Father; the glory of God's character is thus revealed in the gospel. He does not destroy our world, but rather he does something else---and this leads me to his wisdom. Paul was very fond of emphasizing this when he addressed the clever philosophers at Corinth and others, too. Christ, he says, is the power of God, and the wisdom of God, and nowhere is the wisdom of God so gloriously and magnificently displayed as in this Christian gospel. Let me explain this. Here is man in sin, there is God in the heavens. God must recognize this and yet because of his character he does not blot us out. He is going to do something about it because of his mercy and compassion. How is he going to do it? The answer is the plan of salvation, this way that God employed, in his amazing wisdom. He sent his Son, and the Son came through the whole miracle of the virgin birth; he took human nature unto himself and lived as a man---the wisdom:

 

Oh loving wisdom of our God!

When all was sin and shame,

A second Adam to the fight

And to the rescue came.

J. H. Newman

 

I am simply noting these things in passing. Have you ever stood in amazement as you have contemplated the loving wisdom of our Lord as displayed and revealed in the plan of salvation? Oh, we must go back to these things! We must come and look at the plan, its whole conception and the carrying out of it, and behold the perfection of the plan, contemplate, dwell upon it, meditate upon it, forget everything else for a while and give ourselves to this.

But not only that, I want to emphasize the way in which the gospel displays the great love of God. You notice I draw a distinction between the benignity, the mercy and compassion, and the love of God. I feel we must do that, for, after all, the love of God is displayed in particular in this matter of salvation, in his actual sending of the Son, his sparing him, if I may so put it, from the courts of heaven. My dear friends, God is no philosophic concept! God is a person and, as a person, God is, and God loves, and the essence of the life of the blessed Trinity is the love of the Father to the Son and the Spirit, and the love of the Son to the Father and the Spirit, and the love of the Spirit to the Father and the Son. We cannot conceive of that perfect unity, that perfect bliss, that absolute love, and yet it is all found in salvation. `God so loved the world that he gave ...'---yes, and I put it negatively, too, as Paul puts it in writing to the Romans: `He that spared not his own Son.' It is there, you see, the love of God, in that he sent the Son of his love, the only begotten Son, into this cruel, sinful world; allowed him to live life in that way as a man, and allowed him to suffer such contradiction of sinners against himself'. And he placed your sins and mine upon him on the cross in such a way that at that moment Father and Son were separated, and the Son cried out, `My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' When I believe that that is possible within the Father-heart of God, then I cannot believe the doctrine of the impassivity of God. I say that God in his love suffered in his Son, and it is there I see the marvellous love of God displayed. And this great gospel manifests, too, the glory of God in revealing his character in this way.

But we should see also the way in which this plan of salvation reveals the justice of God. God, because he is righteous and holy cannot, even in his love, do anything that is unjust. God, says Paul in Romans 3, must find a way of salvation which enables him at one and the same time to be just, and the justifier of the ungodly. If God forgave sin without still ministering his own justice, he would no longer be God. The marvel of this plan is that God, in putting our sins on Christ and dealing with them and punishing them there, can forgive us, and still be just. He has punished sin, he has not forgotten or ignored it. What happens in salvation is not that God says, Ah, they have sinned, I ought to punish them, but after all that would be rather hard. No, he does it through the Son, in the way I have outlined, and he is just. So the plan of salvation displays to us the glory of God's being by showing us the justice and absolute rightness of his holy character.

And, finally, it displays to us, again in a way that nothing else does, the power of God. The power of God was manifested in the incarnation when he prepared a body for his Son and worked the miracle of the virgin birth---what a marvellous power! But not only that. I rather prefer to think of it like this: it is as we look at God in Christ and all that he did in him through this plan of salvation, that we see his complete power to master everything that is opposed to himself, everything that is opposed to the best interests of man and everything that is opposed to the best interests of this world.

For the fact is that the whole problem has arisen in this way. One of the brightest of the angelic beings that were created by God, rebelled against God, and raised himself up against him. That is the origin of Satan. He is a power, a person, an angel of great might. He is as great as this: that he deluded a man and conquered him, thereby making himself the god of this world, and the `prince of the power of the air' (Eph 2:2). There has never been a man in this world who has been able to stand up to beat him in fight and in combat. The power of the devil is something that we seriously underestimate, for he is such a power that he does not feel ashamed to pit himself against God himself. He verily believed he had overturned all the work of salvation when the Son of God went to the cross.

But, says Paul in Colossians 2, it is there he made his greatest blunder, for by the cross God, `spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it' (verse 15). Christ met Satan face to face in single combat and routed him; at the cross he fulfilled the promise given to man at the beginning, when Adam was told that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head---it was in the plan of salvation. Ultimately, therefore, the power of God is a great power to rout Satan and all his cohorts, and it assures us that finally he will be cast into the lake of fire and every evil will be destroyed and burnt out of existence.

We see thus, at the very beginning of this prayer, that the primary object of this great and wondrous gospel is to display the glory of God. `Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.' How much time do we spend in contemplating this glory, in looking at it? Oh, let us study it! Let us forget ourselves and our moods and states and feelings and desires, and just stand back for a moment and meditate upon it. Let us contemplate the plan and the scheme of salvation and feel ourselves lost in wonder, love and praise. (41-53)

 

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