Another suggested and prolonged note of the great Choral Song.

In the preceding verse, the Apostle had spoken of a second privilege of God's redeemed family--that they are "the called according to His purpose." This thought--a new argument for their present and final salvation, he expands; linking it at the same time with one of the most sublime truths of redemption--their brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ--their exaltation in Him, the ever living head. No strain in the divine music, at all events up to this point, is more elevated and elevating. We may well give it the name at the head of this chapter, "The Anthem of the First-Born."

(V. 29) "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren."

In the opening clauses of the verse we have one of the unsounded depths alike of philosophy and theology. We have no desire--we have no ability to sink the plumb-line. "We have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." Such a theme would not even be incidentally adverted to, but for its prominent presentation in the chapter. There is a boundary between the knowable and the unknowable; and beyond it is presumption to cross. The attempt is, and ever has been, vain, to reconcile the decree of God with the freewill of man--predestination, with human responsibility. In the familiar words of the poet of "Paradise Lost," those who have--
"reasoned high
Of Providence, fore-knowledge, will and fate,
Fixed fate, freewill, fore-knowledge absolute,
Have found no end in wandering mazes lost."

Happy for us that all which is absolutely needful for our own salvation is revealed with such clarity, that he who runs may read. Man's part, alike objectively and subjectively, is plain. It is around God's part--the part with which we have no concern, there hovers the mist and the mystery. The rebuke which the Savior gave of old to the presumptuous casuist is full of meaning and instruction to us--"Master, are there few that shall be saved?" Note, He neither directly answers nor evades the question. His reply is virtually this--"You have nothing to do with abstract truths and problems. Life is practical. Look to yourself--"YOU strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13;24).

That God's foreknowledge and foreordination--His unalterable plans and purposes are necessities of the divine nature, arising out of His own prescience and perfection, we dare not deny. To do so, would be to undeify the Supreme. With Him there are no successive, far less contingent events. The past, present, and future are one eternal now. Over all occurrences, alike in the natural and moral world, the words are written--"To do whatever Your hand and Your counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4;28). But we may be well content to leave alone metaphysical sophistries and speculative difficulties--or (recalling the figurative name of our volume) even apparent disharmonies. While baffling to reason on the one hand, there are, on the other, gracious lessons of comfort in this very thought of the absolute decrees of an absolute God--that nothing is independent of His control--His sovereign will and pleasure. Nothing is fortuitous--nothing the result of haphazard or chance. All is regulated by a "reign of law." He speaks and it is done. The sudden lightning-flash, the sunken reef, the assault of fever and pestilence, the iron missile of battle--each of these have their appointment and commission from the Great Ruler of men.

The writer of these lines can never forget in the most appalling bereavement of early youth--when accident--what seemed cruel and preventable accident--blighted in a moment hearth and home, and left an aching blank in many hearts--the first angel-message of consolation which rocked the wild waves to rest, came from the lips of an aged relative of rare gifts and piety. In solemn tones, without note or comment, he repeated the words so familiar at all events to Scottish ears--"The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His own will, whereby, for His own glory, He has foreordained whatever comes to pass." I never read or heard these epigrammatic sentences, but the image occurs of a mighty river. Its source "the counsel of His own will;"--the river itself--"whatever comes to pass"--the ocean where it flows "His own glory." "Of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things." The sovereignty of divine grace in predestination is a doctrine continually presented to us in Holy Scripture, alike by prophets, and psalmists, and by diviner lips still. Even in the description of the final judgment in His own great parable-chapter, the Speaker brings out, prominently, "the election of God" in the ages of a bypast eternity--"Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

If, however, these and kindred truths be beyond human grasp and range, there are others, which faith can unfalteringly accept. The latter, indeed, are wondrous and mysterious, only by reason of the blessing they confer on the guilty and undeserving. If we stagger through unbelief, it is only because, in the words of a sceptic of last century, "They are far too great, they are far too good to be true."

Let us pass then, from the fact of God's predestinating love, to its object as here set forth. It is "to be conformed to the image of His Son."

We are confronted at once with a practical test--an answer to the question which not a few with anxious and anguished hearts are seeking to propound--'Am I among the number of the predestinated?--am I among the favored election to eternal life?' Let it rather take the alternative form which the Apostle here gives it--'Am I conformed to the image of God's Son? Am I walking in His footsteps, imbibing His Spirit, reflecting His image? Is it at all events my heartfelt desire and aspiration to keep Him ever before me as my ideal--following Him in His humility, and kindness, and unselfishness, and purity? Am I feeling like the copyist of a great picture, how sad the shortcoming as compared with the matchless Original--yet undeterred by failure, endeavoring to add, by faithful assiduous toil, touch to touch, until the lineaments have been faithfully caught up and transferred to the canvas?' In accordance with the significant word employed by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus" (Heb. 3;1). "CONSIDER!" Literally "gaze upon Him," with the artist's intent mental vision--until something at least of the living personality be embodied in the heart and life; the human soul, however inadequately, glowing with the features of the Divine Redeemer! We are reminded, in its practical application, of a reference by the Bishop of Durham to a great father of the early Church, who rebuked the well-meaning Christian females in Constantinople for embroidering on their dresses the mere outward form of the Savior; and not rather seeking to carry His divine image in their souls.

We know well, and these are not the times when this conviction should be dimmed or overlaid with any other views of the Savior's work on earth, that His pre-eminent mission, was to atone for sin. The sacrificial element, let it again be said, must not be deposed from its primary place in the plan of salvation. The leading strain, "no condemnation in Christ," cannot be displaced by other or minor cadences. But neither can we forget the great complementary object of the Incarnation--Jesus the Exemplar and Pattern of His Church and people. We are invited to study that peerless "Image" as revealed in the Gospel narratives, and obtain from it a touchstone whereby to try our own character and state before God. How varied are these pictures of divine-human kindness and love thus enshrined by the evangelists! Now, it is healing the sick; now, it is sympathizing with the bereaved; now, it is solving anxious doubts; now, it is feeding the hungry; now, it is sheltering the outcast--breaking not the bruised reed nor quenching the smoking flax; now, it is speaking peace and forgiveness to the troubled; now, it is returning injury with blessing; now, it is the merciful apology for unwatchfulness; now, it is pardoning the treachery of trusted friends; now, it is stooping to the most menial office, in order to inculcate the lesson of humility; now, it is folding little children in His arms! And in all this we are called to contemplate the most complete self-abnegation, the most perfect submission to His Father's will--unmurmuring acceptance of trial--heroism in duty, calmness in death--not so much as one faltering or deflection in His path, until He could utter at the close of all--"I have glorified You on the earth; I have finished the work which You gave me to do."

Do we not seem to hear our Apostle speaking, as he elsewhere does, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus;" "Be therefore followers (imitators) of God as dear children." We seem prepared, now, with an answer to the query--'Is my name written in the Lamb's Book of life?' Yes, if you can appropriate the words of that same inspired Book--"These are they who follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (Rev. 14;4). It is the saying of the blessed Master and Teacher Himself--"He that does the will of My Father who is in Heaven, the same is My mother, and sister, and brother."

Then comes the concluding note in this Song-verse. Its final clause seems to put a crown on all that precedes--that He might be the First-born among many brethren.

We have here the exaltation of the Elder Brother of the ransomed brotherhood of humanity. The glorious and glorified family are invited to look to Him as their living Head--His mark on their foreheads--He their Leader and Forerunner showing them the path of life. The first-born among the Hebrews had many exceptional privileges, as we more particularly noted when speaking, in verse 17, of the joint-heirship of Christ and believers. Let me only recall, in passing, what was there said, that primogeniture, with the Jewish nation, had a fullness and meaning unknown among others. It was a dim reflection of the prerogatives of God's "First-born"--His eternal Son--"The Only Begotten of the Father full of grace and truth--"The Prince of the Kings of the Earth," who, as He surveys the fruit of the travail of His soul, can say now, and will say with deeper and more exultant triumph on the Great Day of His appearing--"Behold, I, and the children which God has given Me."

And let us never forget that in this predestinating love and purpose of God, all is of grace. There is nothing in His people which led to their selection as "vessels of glory." "It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy." "Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace." "By grace you are saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Salvation is a glorious rainbow--one limb of the arc resting on the divine decree; the other in the eternal bliss and happiness of the saved.

Reader, I close by repeating the practical observation--Do not on the one hand entangle yourself in the mazy labyrinth of foreordination and predestination. Do not attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. Neither, on the other hand, by a wild fatalism question your own personal interest in the benefits of the Gospel. Be very sure of this, that God wishes "all to be saved." "He is not willing that any should perish." In the infinite yearning of His heart He says, as if absolute decrees existed only in the systems of stern theologians--"Why will you die, O house of Israel?" In another view of the subject, you may well rejoice that His plans and purposes are thus immutable--that your final salvation depends on no human contingency or peradventure. It is the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." Thus runs your title-deed--"God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began." The First-born, in the glory of His Person and the all-sufficiency of His atoning work, is Surety for the "many brethren."

In the Syrian version, our verse is rendered--"From the beginning He knew them, and sealed them with the image of His Son." O how much more glorious is God's theory and ideal than that of Christian schools and apologists! These latter (as we have seen) often represent salvation as a gigantic scheme of deliverance from wrath; while His end and object is "conformity to the image of His Son." "According as He has chosen us in Him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before Him in love" (Eph. 1;4). "Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5;25-27). Rejoice that in Him all penalties have been paid--all debts cancelled--and now nothing is left but the assurance and the welcome, "Him that comes unto Me, I will in no wise cast out." Let not the opening doctrine of our verse lead to despairing and desponding views. Let the thought of that love of God, in election and foreordination, rather have a quickening and stimulating influence. "Why the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if you do these things you shall never fall; for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1;10, 11).

Seek after a gradual but very real conformation to the image of Christ. Individually, as single stars in the great heavenly skies, endeavor to reflect the glory of the Central Sun--and then rise to the realization, as given here, of the Church collectively--one of many brethren--one of a mighty planetary system moving in harmonious heavenly orbits, all owning relation and loyalty to the "First-born." There is unassailable safety in Him. He promises a life commensurate with His own--"Because I live, you shall live also;"--"Changed into the same image from glory to glory." The grandeur of the kingdom--"Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun." Its numbers--"A multitude which no man can number." Its perpetuity--"As the stars forever and ever."

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