Saturday, October 10, 2009

0 The Mystery of God's Will Revealed to Us

I noted about four weeks ago (here) that in our Sunday school class I'm teaching on Ephesians, and I had initially thought we'd be starting with verses 1-14 of chapter 1 then and make much of the way through it if not finish off that passage in a week, or perhaps two. Well, this coming Lord's Day we're still in the same passage - and probably (as is already evident, I am not concerned with the pace of this class) we'll wrap up that first section and move on then to 15-23 next week. Of course I should have known better - the passage is so rich with doctrine and full of points worthy of devotional consideration. Not that I'm complaining... it is such a blessing to gather a group of people together and study God's Word.

Today I was rereading notes I made for the study, and want to focus in on some comments Calvin makes on Eph. 1:9 in his Sermons on Ephesians,wherein we are told that the mystery of God's will, τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ, has been made known to us by God's revelation. What a wonderful phrase - the "mystery of His will."

One thing right off, I think, that must be dispensed with is our usual understanding of the word "mystery"... on first blush, I think we hear something that makes us say "Ooh, a mystery! Fun - we'll get some clues and have to figure out the intricate workings of God's mind by looking at those clues! How neat!" This idea has to be dropped like the proverbial hot potato. It is NOT what God's telling us here.

Paul uses the word μυστήριον fairly frequently - 21 times according to my BibleWorks (reviews in progress here). Paul's use of the term connotes a subject that is "A secret or mystery, too profound for human ingenuity", according to BDAG, the "Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature", available in hard-copy here, or as a valuable add-on to BibleWorks, here. I will have more comments in a future review post about the integration of BDAG with the BibleWorks 8 software - it is a phenomenal addition to their package.

Further, the first heading for the word μυστήριον in BDAG indicates that the term μυστήριον involves "the unmanifested or private counsel of God, (God’s) secret, the secret thoughts, plans, and dispensations of God which are hidden from human reason, as well as from all other comprehension below the divine level, and await either fulfillment or revelation to those for whom they are intended." The particular use here in Ephesians 1:9 seems to be exactly this - plans and purposes that God is bringing and has brought to fruition - that are well beyond human capacity invent, discern, or otherwise bring to mind apart from God's intentional revelation of them by means of His Word and His Spirit indwelling the regenerate believer who is thereby enabled to accept these things as God's good pleasure and to thank and worship and honor Him for them. God has performed many works and done many things that are far beyond the ability of the human mind to conceive - I'm brought to think of what Paul says in this light in 1 Cor 2:9-10,
"But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"-- 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-10 ESV)"
These are the μυστήριοι of God ... and one caveat that we must recall - that Calvin points to in his sermon on Eph. 1:7-10, is this: For a μυστήριον to be revealed to us does NOT imply that we are able to see perfectly into it beyond what God has revealed. God often does not reveal anything more than the fact that this or that is being done in accord with His will, and that we must therefore accept the limitations of the knowledge that God has chosen to reveal. In many cases, that is much - the μυστήριον of the relation of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32), of Christ Himself (Col. 2:2, Col. 4:3, etc.), the transformation of Christians at the last day, (1 Cor. 15:51), etc... but in every case, what we see is a mystery that escapes the capability of the mind to construct the knowledge on its own from data that one can intake naturally speaking. μυστήριον by its very nature, and by our finite and fallen nature, must be revealed to us if the knowledge of that mystery is to be obtained.

So here we have Calvin in his sermon warning us against delving too deeply and trying to find out more than what God has been pleased to reveal. To do this is certainly our tendency - even having the best of intentions which we might have... it simply isn't in our ability to go beyond what we have been given in God's word, by God's revelation to us - and more than that. Not only is it beyond our capability, but I honestly believe it's an insult to God and an affront to His glory and honor to try to peer behind the curtain as it were. I'll close with Calvin's comments on the subject:
"Now, for a larger exposition of the matter, he immediately adds that God's so doing [God's drawing of us to Himself by means of the Gospel - TKP] is 'because he has manifested the secret of his will to us, even according to his good pleasure, which he purposed before in himself.' Here is another thing which ought to amplify the worth of the gospel even more, namely, that in it we have the secrets that were hidden previously in God. And it is not here only that St. Paul speaks after this manner, but we shall see an even fuller treatment of it in the second chapter. And not only in this Epistle, but also everywhere else, he shows how we ought to be, as it were, ravished when the gospel is preached, because God there opens the things which were incomprehensible to all men before, and which no man would ever have believed or conceived." (p. 57, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
Calvin emphasizes that the things revealed of God's mysteries are simply not obtainable any other way than by God's revelation. They are beyond our finding out. Calvin continues,
"It is true that we may well apply all our endavour to know God's will, but we must proceed no further than he has revealed in his word, for his word is our light. But where God holds his peace, he will have us rein ourselves in and, as it were, be captives, and not go on any further, for if we would try to know more than is granted us, that is to say, more than we ought to know and more than is imparted to us by his Word, it would only be entering further and further into a labyrinth, or rather, into the bottom of hell. Therefore let us well know that St. Paul's meaning in the text is that whenever God keeps his purpose to himself, it becomes us to bow our heads and keep ourselves content to be ignorant of it. For it is a cursed wisdom and such a wisdom as sends us to the pit of hell when we presume to know more than God has taught us. And, on the contrary, we are wiser in our ignorance than all of the wise men of the world, when we do not take it upon ourselves to know anything beyond where God's word guides and governs us. " (p. 59, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
God sometimes reveals more detail, sometimes less - but He only reveals what is edifying and worthwhile for us in building us up and conforming our likeness to that of Christ. Trying to go beyond is mistrusting our Lord and His purposes for us, and while it may seem pious to dig deeper in and find some "higher knowledge", it is, in the final analysis, a form of gnostic curiosity that we're dabbling with if we go down that path. Let us be content to know what God has revealed, and nothing more. Let us trust our Lord and our teacher.



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