God Foreordains All Things
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, Ephesians 1:11.
John Owen, the greatest of the Puritan theologians, was born in 1616, the year William Shakespeare died and four years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. He was a brilliant theologian who wrote profound and helpful books which many still feast upon today. He served with Oliver Cromwell, preached numerous times in Parliament, and was a major contributor at the Westminster Assembly in 1643 and onward. But that’s not what I want to stress here. Owen was married for 31 years and his wife blessed him with eleven children, ten of whom died in infancy and one as a young adult, and his wife died five years before he did. How could Owen possibly live with a sense of peace, joy, and fervency for Christ in the midst of untold tragedy? It is true that death was very much a day to day reality for people in the 17th century, and families commonly experienced infant mortality, but eleven children? That’s simply staggering. How was Owen able to weather such storms?
The above verse gives us an insight. Paul, in verse 10, is presenting an overarching plan or purpose for all things, saying that Christ Jesus is the household manager as it were (oikos, nomos) , given responsibility by the Father to direct and dispose all things for His glory. He goes on to say that Christ Jesus will sum up again, make all things right on that great day of His return. Now Paul deals with present realities. Every English translation I have consulted translates this verse as inheritance or heritage, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, a heritage.” Certainly it is a glorious truth that we have an inheritance from God, that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ; but I suggest inheritance is not what Paul has in view here. The Greek word is our root word for lot. In Joshua we read of how God directed Joshua to allot portions of land to the twelve tribes of Israel. It seems to me that a more accurate translation of this verse is, “in whom we also were made to receive a lot, this lot being foreordained or predestinated according to God’s purpose, who continually works or energizes all things after His deliberate, well intentioned will.” This means that you have a lot from God. Whatever your life situation is- marriage, children, health, money, you name it- this is God’s lot for you. Furthermore, this lot has been foreordained, predestinated by God. See Romans 8:29, 30, Isaiah 14:27, Daniel 4:34, 35. God has planned it from eternity past. This is not bad luck, chance, a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This is precisely what God had in mind for you, your loved ones. Furthermore, God is not merely One who set this in motion in eternity past and sits back and watches it unfold in today’s world. He energizes, continually works in and through you to accomplish His well intentioned, gracious, most wise will for your life.
It is clear that the doctrine of foreordination, that God plans everything which happens in eternity past, is meant to evoke praise from us. After developing this doctrine in great detail in Romans 9-11, Paul says, “O the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Praise, adoration is the order of the day for those who understand and embrace this doctrine. It also follows that the doctrine of providence is vital to our living with peace and security in the world. In Matthew 10:29, 30 Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are numbered.” And in Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill he says, “And God made from one every nation of mankind on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,” Acts 17:26. In other words, God planned the nation in which you would be born, who your parents and siblings would be, the century in which you would be born. He planned everything and He directs, carries out everything in your life.
I know what you are thinking- that sounds like we are not necessary, that we are merely robots with no freedom, no decision making power. Theologians refer to this as concurrence or concursus, that God foreordains everything which comes to pass, but these things work themselves out in a real world where we make decisions everyday which impact our world, decisions for which we are directly responsible. The classic text on this is Acts 2:23 where Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost says, “This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” There we find both God’s foreordination and man’s human responsibility. At the end of the day we must simply confess this to be one of many mysteries in the Bible.
What does this mean practically for you? Three things. First, learn that God’s plan for your life is not misery or calamity, that His plan is for your welfare, it has a future and a hope. See Jeremiah 29:11. I am not saying you do not experience misery or calamity. I am saying that God works all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose. Are you focusing on your calamity, not seeing the good the infinitely wise and gracious God is or will bring to your life? Second, learn to see God in the details of your earthly journey. Joseph finally came to understand this after the turmoil of his brothers’ abuse. He said to them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” I am not saying you do not experience sorrow and confusion. I am saying you must learn to see God in the details, trust Him, wait on Him. And third, learn to wait until that great day when God will make all things clear to you. See I Corinthians 2:9. When you enter the glorious presence of our exalted mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, then all the confusion, the sorrow, the misery and calamity, the injustice in your life will all make sense to you. You will see how the sovereign, gracious, all wise God of predestination, foreordaining providence was behind everything and you will be able to say, “This was very good for my soul.”
Al Baker is the Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut
The Works of John Owen are published by the Banner of Truth, along with his work on Hebrews, and Death of Death in the Death of Christ
The Puritan Paperback series also has the following John Owen works in an abridged and easy to read form:
The Holy Spirit and the Church
Communion with God
The Glory of Christ
The Holy Spirit
Mortification of Sin
Apostasy from the Gospel
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