From A Prison Cell

Reflections on the "Prison Epistles"
"According to his good pleasure
which He has purposed."
Eph.1.9 (AKJV)

The assertion that God is working to a Plan or Purpose is several times stated in the group of letters written from Paul's prison cell. The words just quoted are proof that God is following out His own designs, and that all that He does is "according to" a purpose drafted before He began to engage in His great work. Again, Paul follows this assertion by another which says that all who are in Christ were "foreordained (predestined) according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his Will" (v.11 RV). Then in a great statement indicating that the principalities and powers in the heavenly places are learning more of God's diversified wisdom through his dealings with the Church than they had hitherto been able to learn, Paul states that even this is "according to the eternal purpose" (the plan of the Ages) "which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord". (Eph.3.11 RV). Another reference to the activities of him "who worketh all things after the counsel of his Will" is found in Phil.2.13. "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure" (R.V.) This mighty energy which works creatively in the saints is linked at two points with the assertions in Ephesians. In both cases it is God that "worketh"; in both cases it is according to his "good pleasure"; hence the creative work in the hearts of the saints is part of his own great Plan.

Paul had already made known to the Church, before his prison days, that God was working to a Plan. This was no new feature of his doctrine. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul states that both the death and resurrection of Jesus took place in conformity with previous evidences given in the Scriptures. "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. . .and hath been raised… …according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor.15.3-4 R.V.). Whatever occurred "according to the Scriptures" is proof of conformity to a design. He who caused the Scriptures to be written also designed, prior to the inspiration of the prophetic testimony, that Jesus should die as an offering for sin, and that afterwards He should be raised. Again, on the same point, Paul says "while we were yet weak" (R.V.) "in due season Christ died" (Rom.5.6). What occurred "in due season" also conforms to design. This same thought is also applied to his birth, "When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman…" (Gal.4.4 R.V.). "Times" also, as well as the form of Divine activity, were incorporated in the Plan. Then in Rom.8.28, this thought of design comes out in great prominence. The control of the affairs of life by Divine Providence is assured to all who are "called according to his purpose". Again, in the distant days of Isaac, in conformity with the purpose of God it was said that the elder son should serve the younger, "that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth…" (Rom.9.11). That incident therefore in Rebecca's life was also accomplished in conformity with a "Plan".

Thus it is abundantly demonstrated that God is no mere opportunist, no strategist or tactician, waiting to seize and exploit some flaw in his opponent's methods and activities, but the Lord and Master of every circumstance, the originator of every cause, and the director of every effect. That this is so is proved by the fact that God was working to His Plan before sin came in. It was not by the act of sin by Adam, nor yet the previous act of sin by Satan, that brought the plan into operation. It was in operation untold Ages before sin began. God did not require to make any strategic move to checkmate the tactics of the great rebel who had become his open enemy. His plans were already made, and to those plans the Most High strictly adhered throughout.

God's plans began to be executed in his firstborn Son. He was the "firstborn of every creature" (of every created thing) far back in the unfathomable depths of undated time. (Col.1.15). That was according to God's Plan, that He might enjoy pre-eminence in the great family of God. Thenceforward, each angelic "being" and every instituted dignity was created and set in its place to bear some relationship to him. Paul says they were created "by" him. But they were also created "for" him—just as an instrument is made for a man to use or employ. But even more than this, every created being was created "in him"—"in" a combined fellowship under his control, to accomplish a great design which had been entrusted to the Firstborn himself to be brought to full accomplishment when a certain course of Ages had run. They were to be as working members or limbs of a body, over which He was to preside as the directing brain or Head, each member being responsible, and yielding allegiance to, him and his command. Every grade of power or rank was instituted with special relationship to what He had to bring to full accomplishment when the fulness of the appointed time should have arrived. And of the agencies in the earth which have been or will yet be found in harmony with righteousness and truth, this is also true. For "in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him and unto him…" (Col.1.16 RV). "He is before (prior to and in advance of) all things (in the creative and authoritative procession) and in him all things consist" (are held together) (Col.1.17 RV).

Perhaps this may best be illustrated by reference to the co-ordinated offices blended together in the king's government. In affairs of State, whereby the government of the people is carried out, several distinct offices are blended together each having its own province or sphere of operation. First we might mention the legislative sphere, by means of which the laws are made. The nature of the legislative body may vary from dictatorship on the one hand, to an open deliberate assembly on the other. The dictator (advised by his council) will decree law, the deliberative assembly may enact it, but for the purpose of this illustration it matters not which system is in operation. Laws are promulgated either for the King (by his Parliament) or by the King (as an autocrat). That is one office. Next we may cite the Constabulary office, whose duty is to see that the law is observed by the King's subjects. If the subject fails or refuses to observe the law, the Constabulary cites the offender before the Judiciary. The members of the Judiciary Office "try" the case presented against the offender and if the occasion requires it, mete out punishment upon the offender. When the offence so warrants, the Judiciary hands over the offender to the "detention" officers, and the offender is sent to prison for the period specified by the Judiciary.

Only the legislative body made the laws, but all the others apply them. The Constabulary is composed of many ranks and grades of authority, from the supreme chief at the centre of the Administration down to the humblest village policeman. The Judiciary is also composed of many ranks or grades of office, from the high chief down to the lowest prison officer. In addition to the legal machinery there is also the customs and excise, taxing and rating authorities, health authorities, etc., etc. Each department is separate from its fellows, yet each and all are "in" the King's confidence, and do the King's business in his stead. They are thus "in" the kingship—"in him"—yet while they are all held together "in" him and "by" him, he is "before" them all—higher in rank and prior in time. He is "first" in procession and "first" in prerogative.

Thus it was with the firstborn Son of God in relation to the whole range of authorities, dominions and powers in the heavenly realms. All these sons of light were created to bear relationship to him in the government committed to his care. By him each had been created; by him, each had been commissioned and authorised to act in his name, having dignity in rank, and splendour in person, according with the allotted sphere or task.

One member of this hierarchy, a being of high and illustrious rank appears to have been accorded vice-royalty over the earth, to act first as representative of his Lord and next as overseer and caretaker of man. Of him alone could the words of Ezekiel 28:12-15, be true. He only had been in Eden the Garden of God—and had been full of wisdom, and perfect in his beauty. He had been the cherub that had "covered"—that had spread his wings of authority over man. But iniquity (lawlessness) was found in him. He wanted to sit, not as viceroy for his appointed Lord, but as king and ruler in his own right. The story of his fall, and of the seduction of his charge from loyalty to God is too wide a story for this present exposition. Suffice it now for us to note the fact. Here, by the rebellious act of Lucifer, that ideal oneness was broken. Sin had appeared both in the heavens and in the earth. Subsequently other discontented heavenly messengers, rebelling against the Creator-Lord, left their own and sank to a lower estate to gratify evil desire. In due course the Heavenly Powers put these rebels under restraint, thus to remain until the Judgment day (Jude 6). Thus sin and rebellion spread itself in the heavenly sphere and throughout the earth.

As that ideal "one-ness" in and under the firstborn Son was the great design with which the creative work began, that "one-ness" is still the goal towards which all subsequent developments are directed. There is no alteration in the nature of the great plan for it is still God's purpose in "the fulness of the times, to sum up" (to head up) "all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth". (Eph.1.10 RV). Not even the rebellion of Satan nor the fall of man changed the fore-ordained design. Before the world began arrangements had been made for the call and elevation of beings from the human plane to the highest heavenly plane "…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him…" (Eph.1.4 RV). That is proof that the entrance of sin had been foreknown, and that every step, from the tremendous step-down from his exalted place by God's firstborn Son (and who in course of time came to be known as Jesus of Nazareth), on through the throes of death, until He was raised up to his Father's right hand, as the firstborn among many brethren, was all fore-known and foreordained. Even the defection of some of the angelic host produced no alteration of the plan, for the government of heaven and earth carried on the right without their aid, carried on in spite even of their bitterest opposition. At every step of the development on earth, the evil discontents of heaven have sought to thwart and overthrow the Plan, and seem destined to fight it to the bitter end. Some Scriptures seem to indicate that despite this opposition there will open a door of hope for them in a later day, if they cease to interfere in human affairs and wait in patience for the day when judgment will begin. For all things in the heavenly sphere as well as on this earthly globe, that can be reconciled, will be reconciled to the supreme Lord of the great Plan, and to the great Designer of this sweeping universal Purpose. "For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him" (the glorified Lord) "should all fulness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself...whether things upon the earth or things in the heavens." (Col.1.19-20 RV). Thus the unreconciled "sons of darkness" are to have the opportunity to become again "sons of light", and return to the sphere from which they fell, and dwell again "in him" and "for him" for evermore. And all the rebellious sons of men, who likewise, on invitation, leave the ways of sin, will be accepted into his dominion, so the earthly viceroys of him who is the head of all power and dominion and every dignity that can be named will rule the earth in his name, and establish universal peace for both man and beast, "according to his good pleasure which He purposed in him, unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up" (to head up) "all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth". (Eph.1.9-10 RV).

In that happy day every creature of every rank in heaven as well as in earth will occupy his allotted place and fulfil his allotted task. This is great doctrine—broad and deep and wide, yet it was not exclusive to Paul's prison days. He knew of it in an earlier day. While he does not enter into so many details in his earlier exposition, he covers all the ground relative to the subjugation of all enemies of God and of righteousness, until all things are under the Firstborn's feet. Then the Son surrenders the whole subjected and purified dominion to his Father and his God, so that God himself may be all in all. In his letter to the Corinthians, written several years prior to his imprisonment at Rome, Paul wrote: "Then cometh the end" (envisaged in the Plan) "when He shall deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have abolished all" (antagonistic) "rule and all" (contrary) "authority and power. For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under his feet… …And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him" (God) "that did subject all things unto him" (the Son) "that God may be all in all" (1 Cor.15.24,25,28 RV). This is the early germ of this great thought—Ephesians and Colossians give it full rich fruit, matured and complete.

(To be continued)p>