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

Restore to Repentance?

Having been in the church a while, I’ve seen and heard things. This verse has always troubled me:

For it is impossible,

in the case of those:

who have once been enlightened,

who have tasted the heavenly gift,

and have shared in the Holy Spirit,

and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,

and then have fallen away,

to restore them again to repentance,

since they are:

crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm

and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 6:4-6 English Standard Version (ESV) emphasis mine

I had once presented the gospel to a fellow who said to me that he knew he was not redeemable because of these verses. Ignorant as I was at the time, I tried to convince him that there was always hope while he yet lived. He, a non-believer, quoted these verses to me, thanked me for my concern, and wandered away. I never saw him again.

John Calvin comments:

Let us then know, that the Gospel cannot be otherwise rightly known than by the illumination of the Spirit, and that being thus drawn away from the world, we are raised up to heaven, and that knowing the goodness of God we rely on his word.

But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish.

To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts.

But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts.

Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.

And by this bridle the Lord keeps us in fear and humility; and we certainly see how prone human nature is otherwise to security and foolish confidence. At the same time our solicitude ought to be such as not to disturb the peace of conscience. For the Lord strengthens faith in us, while he subdues our flesh: and hence he would have faith to remain and rest tranquilly as in a safe haven; but he exercises the flesh with various conflicts, that it may not grow wanton through idleness.

So the bitter admonition in these verses serves us well: to keep us striving for holiness, humility, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in all we think, say, and do.

Fallen Angels in Hell

Fallen Angels in Hell, circa 1841, John Martin, 1789 – 1854, Public Domain in US