Beyond

The word transcendence means: existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level. We seek that quality in our culture; and yet, everything we try falls far short of that which is true:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than [or, beyond] all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

The eminent preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave a marvelous sermon on these verses, which he called: “Paul’s Doxology.” He said in overview:

…In the verses before us, [Paul] closes [chapter 3 of Ephesians] with a hymn, a hymn of incomparable praise…

In our text we have adoration, not prayer, …not even so much the act of praise… [Whereas] praise is a river flowing on joyously in its own channel, banked up on either side that it may run towards its one object. …Adoration is the same river overflowing all banks, flooding the soul and covering the entire nature with its great waters—and these not so much moving and stirring as standing still in profound repose, mirroring the Glory which shines down upon it—like a summer’s sun upon a sea of glass!

Adoration is not seeking the Divine Presence, but conscious of it to an unutterable degree and, therefore, full of awe and peace… It is the eloquent silence of a soul that is too full for language. Adoration is to prostrate yourself in the dust in humility and yet to soar aloft in sublime thought—to sink into nothing and yet to be so enlarged as to be filled with all the fullness of God! It is to have no thought and yet to be all thought—to lose yourself in God—this is adoration.

Spurgeon closed his introduction by urging what he hoped would result from the rest of the sermon.

[Adoration] should be the frequent state of the renewed mind. We ought to set apart far longer time for this sacred engagement… In that spirit, I desire to approach the text and I ask you to turn your eyes away from all else to HIM, even to the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.

Next, he walked through the text expositing on the words: “ask,” “think,” “all,” “we,” and “abundantly.” Spurgeon spent the most time on the word “ask:”

[Paul] declares that the Divine ability to bless is above what we ask…

The blessings sought and obtained have assuredly been neither few nor small. Some of us would almost seem to have tried the limit of prayer in the matters for which we have cried unto the Lord. …Our prayer at its best and boldest has many a boundary. It is limited often by our sense of need. [But] we scarcely know what we need! …We mistake our condition. We know not how deep and numerous our needs are.

Our soul’s hunger is not keen enough—sin has taken the edge from our spiritual appetites and, therefore, we limit and cramp our prayers. But, blessed be God, He is not limited by our sense of need! …God is able to go beyond our absolute needs and He has often already done so. He has given to His redeemed more than, as creatures, they absolutely require to make them happy and blessed!

Having identified our sin as blunting our ability to ask (i.e., pray,) he then examined our limited desire and trust:

Our prayer is also limited by our desire. Of course, a man does not pray any further than his desires go—and our desires are not always as much awake as they should be. We are sometimes very cold and slow in desiring good things…

Alas, like the foolish king of Israel, we shoot but two or three arrows when we ought to have emptied out our quiver! …But, blessed be God, He is not limited by our desires! He is able to bless us beyond what our souls have yet learned to wish for! …We cannot believe God to be so good as to give us such unspeakable blessings and so we fail. How much we lose thereby I scarcely dare pause to consider! Our unbelief is a great impoverishment to us.

…No man ever believed God as much as he might believe, nor trusted His promise so implicitly as he might do, or put so large a construction upon the Divine Word as it would bear. O Brothers and Sisters, we have to thank God that He is not bounded by our narrow faith, but even goes beyond what we believe concerning Him!

Finally, with regard to prayer, Spurgeon discussed our limited understanding:

How often, too, we are limited in prayer by our lack of comprehension—we do not understand what God means…God condescends to use human language and to us the words mean silver, but He uses them in a golden sense. He never means less than He says, but He always means far more than we think He says. …His power to bless us is not bounded by our power to understand the blessing!

Grace is not measured to us according to our capacity to receive, but according to His efficacy to bestow! He can enlarge us, my Brethren! …Prayer is an exercise in which our minds ought to be expanded and our hearts enlarged! …Our boldest prayer is not the boundary of what He is able to bestow! …Pray as you will till the keys of Heaven seem to swing at your side and yet you can never outrun that Omnipotence to bless which dwells in the Lord God Almighty!

Then, he turned to the word “think:”

The Apostle then goes on to say that the ability of God to bless is above what we think…

Your thoughts, even at their best, are not His thoughts! As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are His thoughts above yours, think however you may! How amazing a subject is now before us! What language of mine can adequately set forth the Divine ability to bless, when both the eagle eye of prayer and the eagle wing of thought fail to discover a [limit]?

Next, Spurgeon considered the word “all:”

Now, I need to call your attention, in this passage, to every word of it, for every word is emphatic. “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Not above some things that we ask, but, “ALL.” Not above some of our dimmer conceptions, our lower thoughts, but above “ALL” that we think! Now just put together all that you have ever asked for. Heap it up and then pile upon the top all that you have ever thought of concerning the riches of Divine Grace. What a mountain!

…High as this pyramid of prayers and contemplations may be piled, God’s ability to bless is still higher. …He is able to do above all good things for us. O Lord, help us to understand all this! Give us faith to get a grip of this and then to magnify and adore You! Alas, our adoration can never be proportionate to Your goodness!

Then, he discussed the word “we:”

Now, dwell on another word, “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” The “we” refers to the Apostles as well as to ourselves. …Paul, in that “we,” may be viewed as including the Apostles— “we,” the [twelve] who have come nearest to Jesus and have been personally taught how to pray by Him—we who have seen Him face to face and upon whom His Spirit specially rests.

“He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what ‘we’ ask”! The Apostles were Inspired. The Spirit of God was in them to an unusual degree. Their thoughts were larger than ours, but, says Paul, He is able to do above what we think, even we, His Apostles, the best, the most holy, the most spiritual of Christian men!

Finally, Spurgeon closed this part of his sermon with the word “abundantly,” from which this post derives its title:

…Now, notice the Apostle’s use of the word, “abundantly.” He says, not only that God is able to do above what we ask or think, but “abundantly.” We might say of a man, “He has given much, but he has still something left.” That expression would fall sadly short if applied to the Most High! He has not only something left, but all abundance left! We have already understood but a part of His ways. We have been able to comprehend the mere remnant of His glorious Grace.

The reserve of goodness, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him far exceed our thoughts. Our Apostle, not content with the use of the word “abundantly,” adds another word, and says, “exceedingly abundantly.” …No language was powerful enough for the Apostle—I mean for the Holy Spirit speaking through the Apostle—for very often Paul [must] coin words and phrases to show forth his meaning and here is one—”He is able to do exceedingly abundantly”—so abundantly that it exceeds measure and description!

As an example of God’s abundance, in a passage transposed from earlier in the sermon, Spurgeon said:

[We might have been restored to the full stature of unfallen manhood and in consequence have been as Adam was before his sin, but, wonder of wonders, the Lord has done more, for He has made us His children and His heirs, heirs of God, joint heirs of Jesus Christ!

This is not the supply of necessity—it is the bestowal of honor, dignity and exceedingly great glory! And now, although our needs are, in themselves, very terrible and far greater than can be supplied by anything short of all-sufficiency, yet God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we actually need!

He will not treat us as men treat a pensioner, to whom they allot barely enough to live upon and count themselves generous for doing so. He will treat us as kings and princes and do exceedingly abundantly above all that we need! Thus does He leave our prayers far behind, outstripping both our sense of need and the need itself.]

Returning to his overarching theme of adoration, he said:

…Now to help you to adore the Lord—for that is my one objective this morning—think how blessed you are in having such an all-sufficient God! It is always pleasant to take out of a great heap and to know that what you receive does not deprive others of their share…

Thus we see that there need be no limit to our prayers. You need never rise from your knees and say, “Perhaps I was presumptuous. Perhaps I have asked more than God will give?” Down on your knees, Brother, Sister, and ask God to forgive you for dishonoring Him by harboring such a thought! He is able to give exceedingly abundantly above what you ask. …If He was able to do exceedingly abundantly in the Apostle’s time, He is quite as able, still, and we may come to Him without fear.

Applying all that he said previously, Spurgeon said:

Now, I see, also, that if my case is very special, still I need not tremble or stand in dread of need. What if I require superabundant Grace? I may have it! …What comfort this should afford even to poor sinners who are far away from God. He is able to give you great forgiveness for the greatest possible sin! Sins that you have not yet thought of, He can pardon! Do but come to God in Christ Jesus and you shall find Him able to save to the uttermost.

…We know that God can give us more than we ask or think, for He has given us more than we have asked or thought. Our regeneration came to us before prayer, for prayer was the first sign of the new birth already given. To pray for life is not a faculty of the dead — but regeneration puts into us the living desire and the spiritual longing. The first principle of life imparted makes us long after more life.

We were dead in sin and far from God and He surprised us with His preventing mercy. And in us was fulfilled the words, “I was found of them that sought Me not.” In this case He did for us above what we asked or thought. Redemption—whoever sought for that? Had it not been provided from of old, who would have dared to ask the Lord to give His Son as a Substitute to bleed and die for man? Sirs, in providing a Substitute for us from before the foundation of the world, the Lord has already gone beyond man’s thoughts or requests! Thanks be unto Him for His unspeakable Gift!

And, then, reiterating God’s abundance, he said:

…Moreover, where prayer has been offered, our heavenly Father has gone far beyond what we have asked or thought. I said unto the Lord, in the anguish of my soul, that if He would forgive my sins I would be content to be the meanest servant in His house and would gladly lie in prison all my life, and live on bread and water.

But His mercy did not come to me in that scanty way, for He put me among His children and gave me an inheritance! “Make me as one of Your hired servants” is a prayer the Father does not hear—He puts His hand on His child’s mouth when he begins to talk so, and says, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet.” We have asked for a stone and He has given us bread We have asked for bare bread and he has given us angels’ food. …And therefore we are warranted in expecting that in the future He will continue to outdo our prayers.

Finally, in closing, Spurgeon offers his own doxology:

…He that created the heavens and the earth is made a Man and lies in a manger! He whom angels obey is despised and rejected of men! He who only has immortality, hangs on a tree and bleeds and dies! There must be, in those groans and those drops of sweat, and those wounds, and that death of His, a power to save altogether inconceivable! Immanuel made a Sacrifice! What ability to bless must dwell in Him! He must be able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we ask or think!

Thus, with this attitude, let us adore Him.

Future of Forestry – O Come Let Us Adore Him (LIVE – San Diego), YouTube, Future of Forestry, Lyrics

Idols

Scripture is clear: Idols are nothing. However, the scriptures point out that it is not the physical manifestation of the idol nor the demonic forces it represents but the disaffection of peoples’ hearts from their Lord and Creator that is deadly.

In one of the more amusing Old Testament passages, the Prophet Isaiah shows the futility of idols by describing a man using half of a wooden log to warm himself and cook a meal and then worshipping the other half:

He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god! Isaiah 44:14-17 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Prophet Jeremiah says physical idols are mere inanimate articles of superstition:

Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,

   and they cannot speak;

they have to be carried,

   for they cannot walk.

Do not be afraid of them,

   for they cannot do evil,

   neither is it in them to do good.”

Jeremiah 10:5 (ESV)

The Prophet Ezekiel emphasizes what was true all along; idol worship is a question of a person’s heart disaffection from the Lord:

For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. Ezekiel 14:7 (ESV)

John Calvin comments on this passage:

He who caused his idols to ascend unto his heart, he who placed the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, that is, was drowned in his own superstitions, so that his idols bore sway in his heart.

Lastly, he who is so forward in audacity that he did not conceal his wish to oppose the Almighty: if anyone, says he, came to a prophet to inquire of him in me, or my name, I will answer him. He [the Lord speaking through the prophet]…could no longer bear the hypocrites who deluded themselves so proudly. And certainly when they openly worshipped idols, and were [filled] with many superstitions, what audacity and pride it was to consult true prophets?

It is much the same as if a person should want only insult and rail at a physician, and not only load him with reproaches, but even spit in his face: and should afterwards go and ask his advice, saying, “What do you advise me to do? How must I be cured of this disease?” Such pride could not be borne between man and man…How then will God permit such reproaches to go unpunished?

The Apostle Paul addresses the question of idols directly:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (ESV)

Calvin disagrees with the translation no…existence:

…As to the words, Erasmus reads thus — “An idol has no existence.” I prefer the rendering of the old translation — an idol is nothing. For the argument is this — that an idol is nothing, inasmuch as there is but one God; for it follows admirably — “If there is no other God besides our God, then an idol is an empty dream, and mere vanity.” When he says — and there is none other God but one, I understand the conjunction [as giving this explanation].

For the reason why an idol is nothing is, that it must be estimated according to the thing that it represents. Now it is appointed for the purpose of representing God: nay more, for the purpose of representing false gods, inasmuch as there is but one God, who is invisible and incomprehensible.

The reason, too, must be carefully observed — An idol is nothing because there is no God but one; for he is the invisible God, and cannot be represented by a visible sign, so as to be worshipped through means of it. Whether, therefore, idols are erected to represent the true God, or false gods, it is in all cases a perverse contrivance.

Hence Habakkuk calls idols teachers of lies, (Habakkuk 2:18) because they deal falsely in pretending to give a figure or image of God, and deceive men under a false title. Hence οὐδεν (nothing) refers not to essence, but to quality — for an idol is made of some substance — either silver, or wood, or stone; but as God does not choose to be represented in this way, it is vanity and nothing as to meaning and use.

Paul takes it further and calls covetousness, which is a specific heart attitude, idolatry:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:5 (ESV)

Calvin points out this identification is representative of a greater issue:

Nor covetous man, who is an idolater. “Covetousness,” as he says in another place, “is idolatry,” (Colossians 3:5) — not the idolatry which is so frequently condemned in Scripture, but one of a different description. All covetous men must deny God, and put wealth in his place; such is their blind greediness of wretched gain.

But why does Paul attribute to covetousness alone what belongs equally to other carnal passions? In what respect is covetousness better entitled to this disgraceful name than ambition, or than a vain confidence in ourselves?

I answer, that this disease is widely spread, and not a few minds have caught the infection. Nay, it is not reckoned a disease, but receives, on the contrary, very general commendation. This accounts for the harshness of Paul’s language, which arose from a desire to tear from our hearts the false view.

Calvin says that all heart passions that disobey God deserve being labelled idolatry. But, he says, Paul is emphasizing covetousness because of its effect in man. As his Lord had said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [or possessions].” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

The same also recorded in Luke 16:13. Calvin draws an important distinction concerning this passage in Matthew:

…Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh…where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority. True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.

…What is here said with a special reference to riches, may be properly extended to every other description of vice. As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2) all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart.

All, indeed, confess in words, that, where the affection is not entire, there is no true worship of God: but they deny it in fact, when they attempt to reconcile contradictions. “I shall not cease,” says an ambitious man, “to serve God, though I devote a great part of my mind to hunting after honors.”

It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters.

For their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

Scarecrows out standing in a field

Scarecrow, Japan Paddy Field, By FG2, released into the Public Domain by its author