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‘Tis Mystery All

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. Romans 16.25-27.

In the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” there is a verse that says:

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

Well the “silence of eternity” features in this glorious doxology at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans — though, sadly, the actual words are not found in the ESV that I generally use or in most other versions. The Greek that is translated “kept secret for long ages” is chronois aiōniois sisigēmenou which is literally “wrapped in silence through times eternal”. It is a wonderful image and one that is too good to be lost in translation.

What was wrapped in silence throughout the eternal ages, before even the universe was brought into being, was the “mystery” of the gospel. A “mystery”, as Paul uses the word, is something that it is quite impossible for human beings to discover for themselves but which is plain as a pikestaff once God reveals it to them. In this case it is the glorious truth that the second person of the Trinity would take on human flesh and, in the person of Jesus, enter his creation to live and die for us and to bring us salvation that we can enter into by faith alone. That is what God kept wrapped up in silence in eternity so that not even angels could hear of it before it happened.

Paul’s stress throughout these closing words is that there is nothing of action-by-crisis about the coming of Jesus. It was not that the course of human history had taken an unanticipated turn and was now not going the way that God had intended so he had to come up with an emergency solution to the situation, namely, the incarnation. No. He is “the eternal God” who has eternal purposes that never ever change. The incarnation and everything it would lead to were conceived in the heart of God and carefully wrapped up in silence before the first star ever shone and before ever our tiny planet was formed.

But now it is an open secret! Now, at the command of God, the wrappings of silence have been torn away. The gospel has been revealed. The prophets hinted at it, but now it is exposed in all its glory — and not only to the Jews but to all nations. And for why? To bring about the obedience of faith. The gospel is not there to be discussed, debated, or even blogged about, but to be submitted to. “Repent and believe in the gospel” was the command of Jesus (Mark 1.15). Faced with this now-open secret that God had kept hidden for so long, I am called to respond to it daily by embracing it with every fibre of my being and letting it rule my entire life.

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!

‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies:
who can explore His strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
to sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
let angel minds inquire no more.

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