The familiar "Songs of degrees" contained in the Psalter
from Psalms 120 to 134 inclusive, were probably the "national anthems" used
by the Jewish pilgrims of old on the way to their feasts. We can imagine the
highways and valleys of Palestine resounding with these jubilant melodies.
On the occasion of the greatest annual celebration, the groups traveled by
the Paschal moonlight to escape the heat of the sun (Isa. 30;29). "They go
from strength to strength," or, as that may mean, "company added to
company," until "every one of them in Zion appears before God" (Ps. 84;7).
They left their distant homes among pine and olive groves on the spurs of
Hermon, by the shores of Gennesaret or on the hills of Nazareth, and as they
approached the end of the journey, they would with confidence sing (may it
not have been their, as it still is our favorite "Song of degrees")--"I will
lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help" (Ps. 121;1).
Then, that loved Song of Hope and Trust, chanted to the music of pipe and
tabret, was in due course followed by "the Psalm of realization," on
reaching the city of solemnities (Ps. 122;1, 2)--"I was glad when they said
unto me, Let us go into the House of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within
your gates, O Jerusalem."
This picturesque and sacred memory of the covenant land
suggests a befitting name for the present chapter, in connection with the
verse which now comes in course.
(V. 30) "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."
The God who conducts His spiritual Israel will never
leave them until He brings them safe to the heavenly Zion. From
predestination to glorification is a long and wondrous journey--"the path of
life"--a true way of holiness. But He who has begun a good work will
carry it on and "perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." There are, as it
were, successive pausing-places here indicated–"Predestination" being
the starting-point. "Called" is the first encampment of the Christian
pilgrim. "Justified" is the next. The final one--the glorious end and
consummation--is "Glorified." So that our Apostle might translate his
verse of prose into the glowing poetry of the prophet--"But the people of
God will sing a song of joy, like the songs at the holy festivals. You will
be filled with joy, as when a flutist leads a group of pilgrims to
Jerusalem—the mountain of the Lord—to the Rock of Israel." (Isa. 30;29).
There is no need of multiplying figure or illustration,
but were we tempted to do so, we might add yet this, that here we have A
PYRAMID OF GRACE. It recalls one of the pyramids in Egypt, rising from the
sands of Sakkarah, called "the step pyramid," from its being built in six
stages. Its foundation of primeval granite is predestination. But
tier on tier is added, until the apex is reached of glorification.
Yes, a pyramid of grace. For it is grace that is conspicuous
throughout. Grace lays every stone. The immutable foundation-stones are of
grace. Grace lays all the subsequent stones, and when the top stone is
"brought forth with shouting," this great "Building of God" will claim the
concluding ascription of Zechariah--"Grace, grace unto it" (Zech. 4;7).
Having already in the preceding meditation spoken of
predestination--we shall pass at once to the second theme in the
inspired sequences--the second strain in the Song--the second layer in the
pyramid--"Them He also CALLED."
Almost every writer on this verse has distinguished
between the two "callings" spoken of in Scripture. The first is the OUTER
call of the Gospel. That invitation is addressed to all indiscriminately.
The personified true "Wisdom,'' is represented as standing on the steps of
the Temple of Grace--the entrance of the pyramid--proclaiming with a voice
of infinite compassion, "Unto you, O men, I call, and My voice is to the
sons of man" (Prov. 8;4). Here there is no exclusiveness as there is no
condition. "Whoever will" is the motto engraven on the entrance. You can
make the sun your chariot and travel the wide expanse of earth--there is not
the nation nor the solitary individual to whom that message of peace and
reconciliation may not be addressed; so that "as far as the east is from the
west," so far will God remove our transgressions from us. That is the
outer call to which each one who traces these lines must again and again
have listened. Millions are listening to it daily, hourly. The Church has
echoed and re-echoed it, ever since, eighteen centuries ago, she received
the authoritative commission from her great Head--"That repentance and
remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations,
beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24;47). Never perhaps was that external call
louder than at the present day. It is proclaimed from pulpit and platform,
from press and book and magazine. It would almost seem as if the Angel of
the Apocalypse were beheld flying through the midst of heaven, with this
open book in his hand--"the everlasting Gospel;" while a Mightier than
created angel exclaims with pleading importunate voice--"Now therefore
hearken unto me, O you children, for blessed are those who keep My ways.
Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that
hears Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors. For
whoever finds Me finds life, and shall obtain favor of the Lord" (Prov.
Such, we repeat, is the outward call, but it is
worth nothing, unless it be accompanied with the inner response, "Behold,
here am I!" "Lord, what will You have me to do?" To use the conventional
language of theologians, that is "EFFECTUAL CALLING." By the
vitalizing energy of the Spirit of God, the ear not only catches the
external invitation, but the heart listens with sympathetic joy and accepts
the offers of a free salvation; "I will hear what God the Lord will speak,
for He will speak peace unto His people and to His saints."
It is vain for us to pry into the divine secrets, and by
unlocking the archives of heaven endeavor to explore the mysteries of God's
predestination and calling--why one selected and not another--why Zaccheus
the grasping extortioner and not Judas the consecrated Apostle; why Lazarus
the beggar and not Dives the rich; why Saul the persecutor and not Elymas
the sorcerer; why Onesimus the slave and not the stoic philosophers on Mars'
Hill; why, of the two robbers, one taken and the other left? God
Himself--the Great Supreme--gives the sole reason; and all we can do is to
fall down and reverentially adore--"I will have mercy on whom I will have
mercy." "No but, O man, who are you that replies against God? Shall the
thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Has not
the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto
honor and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show His wrath and
to make His power known, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath
fitted to destruction. And that He might make known the riches of His glory
on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory" (Rom.
The Redeemer, in the course of His ministry, seems to
avoid all needless disputations and superfluous questions. His one aim and
desire appear ever to be the proclamation of the Gospel--the good news to
sinners; that for the lost sheep wandering on the Dead Sea shores, there is
the shepherd-love of God waiting and willing to rescue it--that for the
prodigal who had deserted his home, squandered his substance and herded
among the degraded and vile of a far country, there is ready the
outstretched arms of unrequited parental affection--robe and ring and
sandals, and the jubilee of the festal hall. But, at times, when force of
circumstances, or the curiosity or presumption of His followers force Him to
speak--almost compelling reference to the mystery behind the veil--He
does not scruple to enunciate some such solemn reflection as the
following--"At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank You, O Father,
Lord of Heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise
and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it
seemed good in Your sight" (Matt. 11;25, 26).
Does He call some, and there is no response? Here is the
explanation--His own explanation--"You will not come unto Me that you may
have life." Happy those (are we among them?) to whom His own words
apply--"He CALLS His sheep by name and leads them out." Let us not be
disobedient to the heavenly voice and vision, if He is addressing us, as He
did the writer of this great Canticle when He put a new Song into His
lips--"Go your way, for you are a chosen vessel unto Me" (Acts 9;15).
But we are led to the third strain in this "Song of
degrees"--"Whom He called, them He also justified."
JUSTIFICATION is a Pauline term; or at all events an
apostolic one. We do not hear it on the lips of Christ. It has no place or
reference in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet it is in perfect keeping and
harmony with His teachings. We need go no further than the "pearl of
parables" just alluded to--that of the prodigal son; where we have set
forth, in the liveliest terms and imagery, this "act of God's free grace."
One reason, perhaps, for the difference in the formula of the Great Master
and the greatest of His successors is, that the One spoke more immediately
to Jews, who comprehended little of such forensic allusions, as compared to
Romans. Roman law had a worldwide repute. Roman justice, equity,
righteousness, survived in the kingdom of iron, when other signs of
decadence and corruption marred its imperial splendor. Our Apostle in his
theological system, as specially enunciated in the opening chapters of this
Epistle, has helped us in our conceptions of the moral government of God. He
is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. His throne has the pillars of
immutability to rest upon. True, His uncontrolled omnipotence could do
anything. His love and power combined could readily grant a free pardon and
amnesty; but they must act in divine harmony with truth and rectitude. He
can by no means clear the guilty. Here intervenes the work of the great
Surety-substitute. Around His cross mercy and truth have met together,
righteousness and peace have embraced each other. "He has made Him to be sin
for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in
Him" (2 Cor. 5;21). And "being justified by faith," faith in this
sin-bearing, sin-atoning Savior, "we have peace with God."
Justification--acceptance with Him, thus becomes not only possible but
assured. For in Christ, not only have the demands of the law been met and
satisfied, but the law itself is magnified and made honorable; God the just
God and yet the Savior--just, in the very act of justifying the unjust.
Paul in saying this and much more to the same purpose,
described his own personal experience. From the hour of justification, a new
constraining influence and principle dominated his life, as it does that of
all his faithful followers. "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I
live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in
the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave
Himself for me." Not only did the citadel capitulate, but all the rare
stores and treasures of his soul were freely surrendered to the Lord who
died for him. "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the
surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have
lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be
found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from
God and is by faith." (Phil. 3;8, 9).
And note through the chords and concords of this varying
music, the keynote of our Song of Songs is ever asserting itself in pure,
lofty cadence. "By the grace of God, I am what I am." "Who has saved us and
called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to
His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the
world began" (2 Tim. 1;9).
We have now reached the top-stone of the Pyramid. The
earthly Songs of degrees are merged in the triumphant hosannas of the
ransomed. The predestinated, the called, the justified, are now the
GLORIFIED. All has been tending to this, that "they which are called might
receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9;15). The "Songs in the
night" of God's true Israel, like those of the Palestine pilgrims, have
reached their closing anthem--when, after hill and valley and highway have
been trodden, the morning light breaks on the walls of the heavenly
Jerusalem. "The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with
Songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads. They shall obtain joy and
gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa. 35;10). Then shall
be fulfilled the prayer of the Pilgrim of pilgrims--that dirgeful Song He
sang in the deepest night of darkness, but whose strains of hope doubtless
mitigated the gloom--"Father, I will that they also whom You have given me,
be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory" (John 17;24). It is
the consummation of the believer's bliss, in the sinless, sorrowless,
tearless, deathless land. "These," said a dying saint to the writer, "are
but Your negatives--what, O God, will be Your positives?"
Let us leave them in the undefined grandeur of the
words--"In Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are
pleasures for evermore." Aye, perhaps even then (can we doubt it?) there
will still be "Songs of degrees" deepening anthem-peals--swelling, from the
sound of a great multitude to the voice of many waters, until they become as
the voice of mighty thunderings. Tier on tier will be ever added to the
pyramid--yet the apex will be ever unreached--the bliss of the redeemed,
like that of the God they adore, being "unspeakable and full of
glory"--Heaven a true and everlasting Excelsior! Shall we be among the
number of the crowned and glorified? the possessors and wearers of that
three-fold coronal--Paul's "crown of righteousness"--James's "crown of
life"--Peter's "crown of glory"?
And now, in closing, let us, as the leading lesson from
this elevating theme, exult in the assurance that all will come true.
Indeed, this seems the connection of our present verse with those which
precede. Paul would wish to certify to all his converts, that their
salvation was sure--that nothing can thwart God's purpose so as to imperil
their final safety. If predestination tells us anything it is this--that the
Author of predestination cannot lie--that being the Author He will be the
Finisher. He cannot deny Himself. He is the faithful, covenant-keeping,
covenant-ratifying God. All is guaranteed.
There may be those who make light of what is called the
Calvinistic doctrine of "the perseverance of the saints." It is a doctrine
which dare not be allied with party names. It is no party shibboleth. It is
one of the precious sayings of Christ, and dare not be eliminated from the
Church's creed. "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish,
neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10;28). "Having loved
His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (John 13;1). To
use human language, He would never take all that pains--an expenditure of
word and promise, if there were involved either contingency or failure--if
predestination were to come short of glorification. Paul seems to re-iterate
and emphasize his own words elsewhere, "God is faithful by whom you were
called" (1 Cor. 1;9). "THE CALLED OF GOD"; what a name, and honor, and
destiny! We cease to wonder at another saying of Christ on earth, when, on
the occasion of returning from their first missionary journey, the seventy
disciples gave vent to a spirit of joy not unalloyed with vain glory, on
account of casting out devils in the Master's name. His words
were--"Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, but rather rejoice because your
names are written in heaven" (Luke 10;17-20).
We have seen that God is faithful; but, on the other
hand, we must remember--"He that shall endure (and persevere) unto
the end, the same shall be saved." Let this be our coveted
beatitude--"Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have
right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city"
(Rev. 22;14). No one link in the golden chain will be broken or give way. We
may have, we must have our seasons of weakness, despondency and
depression, when faith is apt to fail and hope to wither. But, like the
river temporarily lost in the sands, all will emerge again in "the full
flood of God." Predestinated, called, justified, adopted, sanctified,
glorified. Let us grasp anew our pilgrim-staff, and with fresh heart and
hope resume the pilgrim journey. Let us sing now our earthly "Song of
degrees"--the Song of the faithful runners in the pilgrim-race, with the
heavenly goal in view, and the certainty of reaching it at last--"Forgetting
those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which
are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God
in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3;13, 14).