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David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). Pastor, professor, and author, he has also served as a missionary, ministering in Europe and Central and Southeast Asia. From 2003-2007, he served as Director for TE3 (Theological Education for Eastern Europe), a regional theological training ministry based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Article by David Garner

A Sanctified Syllogism

July 10, 2015 •

God has a Grand Plan

Larger than life itself, Paul’s God is a big God. The God of the prophets and apostles, in fact, created life. Creator and Redeemer, he becomes the awesome Benefactor of new life. Words fall short of the splendor. To say God is great is to call Niagara Falls a quaint and serene stream.

Small and stunned by God’s grace, the apostle inhales the air of grace and not surprisingly pens his letter on his face. Praise is befitting of the upright (cf. Psalm 33:1). Theology airs best from our knees.

Written from this posture, the epistle exhales the truth concerning history, concerning our God and his mighty plan. The purposeful backdrop and scope simply stupefy. Before a single atom of the earth existed, “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), God had a plan. Before creation, this divine plan stood. God’s design for the world, to borrow a common Southern expression, is older than dirt. Before time itself, the glorious plan stood on the sure foundation of divine power.

Paul, in fact, situates this plan in the pre-temporal and flawless counsel of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit covenant together in a plan for creation and its destiny. That is, before time, before history, before anything, God held the creation and consummation of human history—sin, sinners and all—in the palm of his mighty hand.

Embedded with divine purpose, creation therefore offers nothing random, nothing wasted. It produces no triviality and proffers no aimless, empty existence. What do we find instead? Divine purpose orchestrated flawlessly, effortlessly, and astonishingly. Probability and uncertainty have no truck with divinity.

Genesis opens, “in the beginning, God. . . .” From the moment of creation’s first word, divine intent now had a precisely designed stage on which to work. The plan of the Triune God was now set in motion. With mighty “Let there be” declarations turning nothing into something, God launched his work toward its blessed and certain fruition.

Man’s world is God’s world through and through. And God’s world surges with purpose: the redemption of God’s people in his Son Jesus Christ. Calibrated for both consummation and the cross, world history is redemptive history.

God’s Plan is For His Church

Though in agony Jesus cried out on the cross in his abandonment, the Father affirmed his Son’s faithful work: “This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5; cf. Hebrews 5:7–10). The One from whom we long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” became himself the Good and Faithful Son in the flesh. The purpose of God concerned this glorious Son. But there is more!

 As this Son bowed his head and gave up his last breath, the gritty narrative did not come to a gruesome halt. No, the sin and death had met their mighty match, and in the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, power surged forth from the chosen Son to the to the elect sons and daughters of God. Our dead spiritual lungs filled with the Spirit of the resurrected Christ.

Christ’s resurrection found its terminus not in its effect on him, but in its effects from him. Sin and death had not only met their demise in Christ but they also suffered a lethal blow for all those who are in him! As “life-giving Spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45), Jesus graciously and permanently gives the elect of God his own life. Such is the glorious plan of God.

Reveling in the radiance of this gospel and it glorious accomplishment in the Beloved Son of God, the apostle exhales his amazement (Ephesians 1:3–14). God’s plan extends not only backwards before history itself, but reaches to the furthest corners of the globe. The work of the Beloved Son at Calvary spreads abroad to the tribes, tongues, and nations of the earth. He “predestined us [Jews and Gentiles!] for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5).

No wonder Paul exclaims, “[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”  (Ephesians 2:4-7). Immeasurable riches to be sure!

How could it be that God so loves his Church? How could it be that the Beloved Son would spill his blood for vile sinners like us—pagans and persecutors, blasphemers and barbarians? How could it be that God would spill out his grace on us his church with unqualified Niagara-like force?

Such is the merciful and sweet plan of God. Such are the ways of the eternal God of heaven, the Maker of heaven and earth. Such is the pleasure of the Creator and Redeemer. He is the One “who does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3b). And astonishingly, he takes pleasure in the redemption of us, his eternally chosen people.

In exquisite simplicity yet profound mystery, in Ephesians 1, Paul has laid the entire scope of human history before our eyes. Employing a sanctified syllogism, he argues for the primacy of the cross and the primacy of the church. The four-fold argument unfolds like this:

  • God has a plan.
  • God’s plan is for his church.
  • We are God’s church.
  • Therefore, we are God’s plan.

Feeling down? Go even lower. Join the apostle Paul on his face and sing the theology of divine purpose concerning you the sons and daughters of God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. . .” (Ephesians 1:3).

Things are really looking up for the redeemed sons and daughters of God, the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

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