“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
The epistle in which our text is found is addressed “to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus,” and embraces all those of every name and locality, of every kindred, and throughout all time, which were chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before him in love, predestinated to the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, unto God, and made acceptable in the Beloved. With these the apostle includes and identifies himself in the pronoun we. “For we are his workmanship.” As well in the apostle’s day, as at the present time, men were found contending for salvation by works; and those who expected to be justified by the deeds of the law, and accepted according to their own righteousness. In branding this heresy, and to settle this matter forever, the holy apostle, inspired by the Holy Ghost, has said in the preceding connection of our subject, most emphatically, “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” And then follow the words of our text, “For we are his workmanship,” &c. Being the workmanship of God, we cannot be our own workmanship, nor the workmanship of men or of angels. This workmanship embraces and includes all the work, from first to last, that has any bearing on our salvation, or the good works which he has before ordained that his people shall walk in. The creation, formation, manifestation, as well as the inscription of the names of all the saints in the Lamb’s book of life before the world began, must necessarily have been the work of God himself. Therefore he says, “Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth: even every one that is called by my name; for I have created him for my glory.” “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise. Thy Maker is thy Husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name. But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; and thou art mine.” The workmanship of God plainly appears in their creation and formation, and also in their redemption, “For I have redeemed thee.” Their Redeemer is the holy One of Israel, the God of the whole earth. The whole arrangement of the covenant of grace and salvation was the work of God alone. He loved them with an everlasting love. He elected them, as he has declared, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” It was his work alone to “Bless them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” “He hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works; but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” In all this the exclusive workmanship of God is indisputable. Nor is this all, their regeneration and heavenly birth are also the work of God. Of his own will begat he them; and they are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God; not of a corruptible seed, but of an incorruptible seed, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever. Hence the men of God, inspired by the Holy Ghost, most devoutly acknowledged that God has wrought all our works in us, that it is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. No man can come unto God but by Christ, and no man can come unto Christ except the Father draws him. No man knoweth the Son, but he unto whom the Father shall reveal him. Simon Bar-jona was blessed in this, that flesh and blood had not revealed to him the Son of God, but the Father which is in heaven. And Paul also testifies the same. When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, to reveal his Son in me, straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood. Again, God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, hath shined in your hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. Each of these Scriptures, separately considered, prove beyond all successful controversy that the saints are exclusively the workmanship of God, and all of them collectively confirm the same important truth. Of this truth every one that is born of God and taught by his Spirit, has a witness in his own experience, and as soon as he is born of the Spirit, he begins to lisp it forth in language, like this: “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul; he hath taken me up out of an horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and he hath established my goings, and put a new song into my mouth,” &c. The workmanship of God is inimitable. Neither men nor angels can create within us a clean heart, nor renew within us a right spirit. When men attempt to convert sinners, make ministers, direct the course of the gospel, or to protect the church, they make wretched work; their base imitations may be received by the world, but they are easily detected by those who are taught of God. “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord, God, Almighty.” Truly he is a wonder-working God. “All his works are perfect.” But none of the works of men are perfect. And this is the work of God, saith Jesus, that ye believe on me, for faith is the fruit of the Spirit, and it is the gift of God.
“Created in Christ Jesus.” As our natural creation was in Adam, so our spiritual creation is in Christ. What we understand by our creation in Adam is, that God gave us an existence in the person of Adam, which was to be developed in the proper time, by ordinary or natural generation; and so it is our understanding of the Scriptures on this subject, that God gave his people their original spiritual life in Jesus Christ, who is the second Adam and the Lord from heaven, and that all spiritual blessings were given to the church in him, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. And as the apostle John has said, And this is the record, (or divine testimony) that God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. The Son of God is the life of his people, as it is written, When he who is our life shall appear, then shall we appear with him in glory. The life given to the church is called eternal life, and that which is eternal is without beginning of time or end of duration; yet it is spoken of as a creation in our text. What then are we to understand by the term, in its application to the spiritual existence of the church of God in Christ Jesus the Lord? To help our infirmities, we being finite creatures, God has in his word pointed us to natural things, as figures of things which are spiritual. Thus the natural creation of the world is illustrative of the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. But while we trace the instruction given in the figure, we should be careful to observe that the figure is natural, but the things signified are spiritual. As, for instance, in the new birth, allusion is made to a natural birth, but not to signify that the new birth is a natural birth, but as in the natural, a new production or manifestation of natural life is developed, so in the second birth, a new and spiritual life is brought forth and made manifest. All we know of the natural creation of the world is, that God spake the word, and it stood fast; he commanded, and it was done. All things were spoken into existence, which did not previously exist, and this calling things into existence was called creation; formation is another thing. But in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and all that in them is, and all the years that fill up the space from the creation to the great burning day, are required for the development of what was in the beginning created. The spiritual existence of the church is also attributed to the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. And it is thus set forth, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him.” That is, by the word, which was with God, and which was God. “And without him was not anything made that was made.” “In him” (that is, in the Word which was with God, and which was God) “was life, and the life was the light of men.” “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John bore witness of him, and cried, saying, “This was he of whom I spake. He that cometh after me is preferred before me. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.” Thus as the existence of the natural world was embraced in the word of God’s power, and sprung forth into development, when that word of power was spoken, so the spiritual existence of the church, or the life of the church of God, was in the Word, which was with God, and the Word which was God. This Word in which was life, and grace, and truth, is the same that was made flesh and dwelt among us, and whose glory was seen by the saints as that of the only begotten of the Father. The relative appellation of Son, applying to Christ in his mediatorial position, is based on his being the only begotten of the Father, and begotten full of grace and truth. His being the begotten Son of the Father, shows that his existence was in the Father, and one with him, and that his being set up as the mediatorial Head and life of his people, in eternity, is what we understand to be expressed by the terms begotten, set up, brought forth, sent, &c., together with every other term implying derivation or subordination, which is in the Scriptures applied to him, except such as apply to the flesh which he assumed, or was made, when made of a woman, and when he took part of the same flesh and blood which his children are partakers of. Thus, as in the creation of the natural world, God spake all things into existence by the word of his power; so, in the spiritual creation in Christ Jesus, he spake the word and it stood fast. He spake, and said of Christ, “A seed shall serve him, and it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.” Our hope of eternal life, therefore, rests upon the promise which God, who cannot lie, made before the world began. And hence it is affirmed that God hath saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.
The third and last point to be considered is, Unto what end were we created in Christ Jesus? Our text informs us that they were created unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Many portions of the Scriptures express substantially the same thing. Peter says, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And Paul says, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” The psalmist whose words we have quoted, says, “A seed shall serve him,” &c. “They shall come and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.” The good works in which God has ordained that his people shall walk are also ordained of God. God has said, they shall shew forth his praise. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness, and to this end were they created in Christ Jesus, and to secure this end he has not only taken them up out of the horrible pit, but he has established, or before ordained, their goings, and put a new song in their mouths. It is not in them that walk to direct their own steps, for God has before ordained that he will lead them in a way that they knew not, and in paths that they have not known, and put his fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from him, and he will not turn away from them to do them good. This people he has formed for himself, and they shall shew forth his praise, for he has before ordained it. No works are good in his sight, but such as he has before ordained for them to walk in, and of these the New Testament is replete with instruction, and the man of God is thoroughly furnished unto all good works. All works which he has not ordained are evil. In no other works than those which he has ordained can we glorify God in our body and in our spirit, which are his.
In our fleshly nature we are fallen and depraved, and the whole fountain of our carnal hearts and minds are polluted and wicked, and “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” Not one. From our creation in Adam we have a nature which is totally depraved, in which there dwelleth no good thing. In that nature, “There is none that seeketh after God; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” But in our spiritual creation in Christ, we are constituted members of him. His Spirit is put within us; his law is written within our inward parts, and we are redeemed from the law, and become dead to it by the body of Christ, that we should be married unto another, even to him that is risen from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. By vital union with Christ we have our fruits unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. But as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, neither can we bring forth fruit to the honor and glory of God, except we abide in Christ; for he is the true vine, and we are the branches.
Middletown, N. Y.
April 15, 1856
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 319 - 326