Recent events across the globe have cast many professing Christians into the throes of pessimism. Be it the expansion and brutality of ISIS abroad or the Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage here at home, one often hears cries of fear and doomsday. Now, make no mistake. These and other developments are to be lamented (and energetically resisted when possible) The full effect of terrorism and moral decay have yet to be felt and will undoubtedly wreak chaos and social havoc in the days ahead. But Christians must never yield to the perverse mentality that suggests God is losing or that his purposes might be thwarted.
I was recently reminded of the proper perspective of God’s people upon reading Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758, edited by Wilson H. Kimnach, Yale:25, pp. 113-126). Edwards delivered this message in December, 1744. The text on which he based it is Revelation 21:6 – “And he said unto me, ‘It is done’!”
Edwards is keen to demonstrate that God has a singular purpose for the creation and existence of the world. Whereas “there are different subordinate designs that God has in his different works” there is one efficient cause (God) and one ultimate end (God’s glory) in everything. God’s ultimate, great or grand design is to “present to his Son a spouse in perfect glory from amongst sinful, miserable mankind, blessing all that comply with his will in this matter and destroying all his enemies that oppose it, and so to communicate and glorify himself through Jesus Christ, [the] God-man.”
Thus God’s end or goal in the creation of the world consists in two things: “to communicate himself and to glorify himself.” But these are not two distinct ends, but “as what together makes one last end, as glorifying God and enjoying [God] make one chief end of man. For God glorifies himself in communicating himself, and he communicates himself in glorifying himself.”
What Edwards is saying is that God created the world to glorify himself by communicating himself to us, that is to say, by first redeeming us from well-deserved damnation and then by giving himself to us in his Son and awakening our hearts to the soul-satisfying, inexpressibly joyful delight of knowing and loving him.
Everything that happens thus serves this single and all-encompassing design of God: to glorify himself by bringing redeemed sinners into the enjoyment of all that he is for us in Jesus. “In subserviency [sic] to this design of thus presenting [the elect] are all things in heaven and earth managed, and that through all the varieties of God’s dispensations.” This means that all the angels, both holy and wicked, exist to serve this ultimate aim of God. The inexplicable twists of history, the wickedness of men, and the schemes of Satan himself likewise will one day be shown to have contributed to the accomplishment of God’s overarching and singular purpose.
Whereas it may appear in history that God has suffered a setback, nothing could be further from the truth. As Edwards put it, “oftentimes things seem to go backwards and not forwards, and to human appearance they seem further off from the accomplishment of” God’s grand design. “Oftentimes the devil seems to prevail exceedingly, and for a long time together [the end appears] further off than many ages before. So that oftentimes the appearance of things is so dark that it looks as though those great things never would come to pass.” Such is the mindset of many today as they cower in fear that the evil intentions of radical fundamentalism and the moral regression of our legal institutions pose a threat to the fulfillment of God’s ultimate aim. They do not.
It is precisely at such a time that Christians must be reminded that “there is no confusion in God’s scheme; he understands his own works [and] every wheel moves right [in its place]. Not one mote of dust errs from the path that God has appointed it; he will bring order at last out of confusion.” The unfolding of history may appear as a stream that runs through a vast wilderness with countless twists and turns, even at times seeming to “run backwards.” Yet God’s purpose enfolds even the apparent setbacks and each in its own way is governed by divine providence to issue in divine praise and glory.
There is, then, no place in the Christian heart for pessimism. Though the short-term prospects for the flourishing of the gospel and the triumph of the church seem slim, God is ever working and pervasively turning even the worst of social crises and moral disintegration to serve his greater and grander purpose.
Edwards sums it up as only he can:
“[He will] glorify his majesty, power [and] justice before his elect that they might behold the glory and so be happy in the sight of this glory of God, and that they might give God the glory due to him on this account, and that they might be the more sensible of the worth of [their] happiness and of the wonderfulness and sovereignty of God’s grace.”
Thus the grand design of God in all his works and ways
“is to present to his Son a spouse in perfect purity, beauty and glory from amongst [mankind], blessing all [the elect] and destroying those [that oppose], and so to glorify himself through . . . Jesus Christ, [the] God-man; or in one word, the work of redemption is the grand design of [history], this the chief work of God, [the] end of all other works, so that the design of God is one.”
So, please join me in celebrating the unshakable certainty that one day, for his ultimate glory and our eternal gladness, God will say, for all to hear and see and savor: “It is done!”