Scripture informs us that God plans. He is supremely prudent. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing is overlooked or omitted. His perfect wisdom is comprehensive and thorough. Nothing is accidental. Nothing catches him off-guard or surprises him. His wise providence encompasses all things. His ongoing action brings mercy or judgment continuously into the affairs of mankind without intermission. His sovereignty is indisputable in his determinations and ceaseless doings. His righteous will prevails. His decisions are fulfilled. As mysterious as they may be to us they are plain and settled to him.
It is only in the outcome that we shall begin to understand the mind of the Lord, and all eternity will give us scope to ponder his ways and praise him for them. Scripture unfolds a series of divine plans to us, which constitute one purpose to him.
Our collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity discloses the central feature of that purpose as it affects us: Lord God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things that surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which are greater than we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Preparation is the ultimate expression of prudence. It is so in human life. We make preparation for joyful events with diligence and eagerness. We take precautions against possible disasters and we endeavour to be provident with regard to the future and its necessities. And so it is in the divine scheme of things – God prepares for all that he will accomplish. We notice his designs coming into fruition in installments that compose the historical narrative in the Bible. He knows the beginning and the end as a fait accompli.
The extraordinary fact is that God has a plan of pure pleasure in mind for his people. It is the unique and ultimate pleasure of knowing him to the full. This pleasure transcends every earthly pleasure, even Eden itself, or anything else we could possible conceive. It will not be limited or carnal. It will be unending and spiritual. It is immeasurable and indescribable. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9). This glorious prospect exceeds our greatest expectations.
What is more it will erase our deepest sorrows and regrets: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). Our heavenly blessedness will compensate every earthly trial and all agony and disappointment experienced here. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All believers may look forward to this blissful condition for the Lord himself has pledged it: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). As the collect avers in line with Holy Scripture, “Lord, you have prepared for those who love you such good things that surpass our understanding”.
Here is the extravagant generosity of God. He prepares our eternal wellbeing with the utmost care and hospitality. He has laid out innumerable promises to this effect. All that he holds in store is inestimable. God’s goodness is incalculable. And it is there for those who love him.
But is our love a qualification, a price, an inducement for God to favour us? Is it something that we summon up within our selves to gain the divine bounty that awaits us, this gargantuan prize that the Lord offers? Indeed not! As fallen beings we have no capacity to desire God or love him. Our love for him is a gift of his love to us. It is entirely responsive to his bidding – it does not originate in us.
The collect recognizes this great truth and cries out for the enabling grace of God: “Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises”. The promises are beyond our reach without first receiving the love of God that stirs up our desire for him and drives us to him. His love triggers our quest and whets our appetite for God. He must allure us to himself by showing himself to us in all his beauty and we witness his charm and his worth. He gives himself to us so that we surrender ourselves to him in return.
Our salvation is the result of a courtship, a wooing of our souls to him. His appeal is irresistible to the soul enabled to gaze upon him. We are inevitably drawn to God in Christ and we sigh the words of Augustus Toplady, “Jesu, lover of my soul”. Salvation is the story of a romance between God and man as it is portrayed in the Song of Solomon and captured so well in the sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux, so delicious to read.
Jesus sweetens our hearts with fondness for him. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4: 9-10).
The sublime pleasure afforded to the Christian comes through the pain and death of the Saviour. We were selected in him, sought by him, saved by him, and secured for divine fellowship. We sinners are wanted people. Traitors to God are now treasured by him and it is all due to the righteous obedience of Christ on our behalf, an obedience that redeems us and makes us righteous in reputation and reality. God is pleased to restore us to himself at infinite cost and though the efforts and endurance of his Son. The plan of God is centred upon the cross and he prepared the victim and the success to follow.
Soon, for every believer, will come the moment of enormous and thrilling discovery. The promises that God has given us will be infinitely larger than our small minds can encompass – greater than we can desire. Our life with God will be exceedingly abundant to overflowing. For ever and ever our capacities will need to be increased to contain the store of God’s goodness poured out upon us, and then there will always be more.
Heaven will be rapturous. God, the Three in One, will be our constant and complete delight. And we shall owe all this to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit.