Part 1 of Lectures on the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, to the Ephesians with a new translation.
The Epistle to the Ephesians.
A New Translation|
The Epistle to the Ephesians: a new translation.
1 Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus by God's will, to the saints that are in Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus. 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, 4 even as he chose us in him before [the] world's foundation, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love; 5 having predestinated us for adoption through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 unto [the] praise of [the] glory of his grace, wherein he made us objects of grace in the beloved; 7 in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of offences, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he caused to abound toward us in all wisdom and intelligence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself 10 for [the] administration of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth, in him 11 in whom we have also obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to [the] purpose of him that works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 in order that we should be unto [the] praise of his glory, that have fore-trusted in the Christ; 13 in whom ye also, having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom having also believed, ye were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is earnest of our inheritance, for [the] redemption of the purchased possession unto [the] praise of his glory.
15 On this account I also, having heard of the faith that [is] among you in the Lord Jesus and the love that [ye have] toward all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give you [the] spirit of wisdom and revelation in full knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling; and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints; 19 and what the surpassing greatness of his power toward us that believe, according to the working of the might of his strength, 20 which he wrought in the Christ in having raised him out of the dead, and seated [him] at his right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above every principality and authority and power and lordship and every name named not only in this age but also in that to come; 22 and put all things under his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the assembly, 23 which* is his body, the fulness of him that fills all in all.
* Or, 'the which' (though this is rather antiquated), 'inasmuch as it, ἥτις, not ἥ, i.e., character, not fact. Comp. Eph. 3:13,
And you, being dead in your offences and your sins, 2 in which ye once walked according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience; 3 among whom we all also had our conversation once in the lusts of our flesh, doing the wishes of the flesh and of the thoughts, and were children, by nature, of wrath even as the rest; 4 but God, being rich in mercy, on account of his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 even us being dead in our offences he quickened with the Christ (by grace are ye saved), 6 and raised together and seated together in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, 7 that he might show forth in the coming ages the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace ye are saved through faith; and this not of yourselves — God's is the gift: 9 not of works, that no one might boast. 10 For his workmanship we are, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God before prepared that we should walk in them.
11 Wherefore remember that once ye, the nations in [the] flesh, that are called uncircumcision by that called circumcision in [the] flesh made by hand, 12 that ye were at that time without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 but now in Christ Jesus ye that were once far off have become nigh by the blood of the Christ. 14 For he is our peace that made both one, and broke down the middle wall of the fence, 15 having annulled the enmity in his flesh, the law of the commandments in ordinances, that he might create the two in himself into one new man, making peace, 16 and might reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, having slain the enmity in it. 17 And having come he preached peace to you that were afar off and peace to those that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have * access by one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but ye are fellow-citizens of the saints and of the household of God, 20 being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being chief corner-stone, 21 in whom all the building fitted together increases unto a holy temple in [the] Lord, 22 in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God in [the] Spirit.
* I had hesitated whether I should not, with several translators, say 'our' access (and so bis in Eph. 3:12, and in Eph. 3:17). But it appears to me that our possessive is too strong an expression of the Greek article here; and that the force, in one case at least, is rather technical.
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of the Christ Jesus for you nations, 2 if indeed ye heard of the administration of the grace of God that was given me toward you; 3 how that by revelation was made known to me the mystery, even as I have before written briefly, 4 in accordance with which ye can, in reading, perceive my understanding in the mystery of the Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it hath been now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in [the] Spirit, 6 that the nations are fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and fellow-partakers of the promises in Christ Jesus by the gospel, 7 of which I was made minister according to the gift of the grace of God that was given me according to the working of his power. 8 To me who am less than the least of all saints was this grace given to preach to the nations the unsearchable riches of the Christ, 9 and to enlighten all as to what [is] the administration of the mystery which hath been hidden from the ages in God that created all things; 10 in order that there might be known now to the principalities and the authorities in the heavenly [places] by the assembly the manifold wisdom of God, 11 according to [the] purpose of the ages which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord; 12 in whom we have* boldness and* access in confidence by the faith of him. 13 Wherefore I entreat [you] not to faint at my tribulations for you which is your glory. 14 For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom every family in [the] heavens and on earth is named, 16 that he would give you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power by his Spirit into the inner man, l7 that the Christ may dwell through *faith in your hearts, 18 being in love rooted and grounded that ye may be fully able to comprehend with all the saints what [is] the breadth and length and depth and height; 19 and to know the love of the Christ that surpasses knowledge, that ye may be filled to all the fulness of God. 20 Now to him that is able to do above all things far exceedingly above what we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to him [be] glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus unto all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen.
*See note to Eph. 2:18.
I exhort you therefore, I the prisoner in [the] Lord, that ye walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, 3 using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: 4 one body and one Spirit, even as ye were also called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, that [is] over all, and through all, and in [us, or, you] all.
7 But to each one of us was given grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ. 8 Wherefore he saith, Having ascended on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts to men. 9 Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower [parts] of the earth? 10 He that descended, he it is also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. 11 And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the perfecting of the saints, unto work of ministry, unto edifying of the body of the Christ, 13 until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, at a fullgrown man, at [the] measure of [the] stature of the fulness of the Christ; 14 that we may no longer be babes, tossed and carried about by every wind of doctrine in the sleight of men, in craftiness for the scheming of error, 15 but, holding the truth in love, let us grow up unto him in all things, who is the head, Christ, 16 from whom all the body, being fitted together and compacted by every joint of supply, according to [the] working in [the] measure of each one part, works the increase of the body for edifying of itself in love.
17 This then I say and testify in [the] Lord that ye should no longer walk even as also the rest of the nations walk in vanity of their mind, 18 being darkened in the understanding, estranged from the life of God on account of the ignorance that is in them, on account of the hardening of their heart, 19 who, as being past remorse, have given themselves up to lasciviousness unto [the] working of every uncleanness with greediness. 20 But ye have not thus learnt the Christ, 21 if indeed ye have heard him and been taught in him even as [the] truth is in Jesus,* 22 that ye should put off, according to your former conversation, the old man that is corrupt according to the lusts of deceit, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new man, that according to God was created in righteousness and holiness of truth. 25 Wherefore having put off falsehood, speak truth each with his neighbour, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and sin not: let not the sun set upon your wrath, 27 nor yet give room for the devil. 28 Let him that steals steal no longer but rather labour, working what is good with his own hands, that he may have to distribute to him that hath need. 29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but if [there be] any one good for edification of the need, that it may give grace to those that hear. 30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God by whom ye were sealed for redemption-day. 31 Let all bitterness and passion and wrath and clamour and evil-speaking be removed from you with all malice; 32 and be to one another kind, compassionate, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ hath forgiven you.
* Or, 'in Jesus — your having put off … and being renewed and having put on,' etc.
Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, 2 even as the Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God for an odour of sweet smell. 3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not be even named among you, even as becomes saints; 4 and filthiness and foolish talking or jesting, which are not becoming, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For this ye are aware of, knowing that no fornicator nor unclean nor covetous [person], who is an idolater, hath inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you by vain words; for on account of these things comes the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Be not therefore fellow-partakers with them; 8 for ye were once darkness but now [are] light in the Lord: walk as children of light (9 for the fruit of the light [is] in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 proving what is agreeable to the Lord; 11 and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather also reprove; 12 for the things in secret done by them it is shameful even to speak of, 13 but all of them,* when reproved by the light, are made manifest; for everything that makes manifest is light. 14 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise out of [the] dead, and the Christ shall shine upon thee. 15 See therefore how carefully ye walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 buying up the time, because the days are evil. 17 On this account be not foolish, but understanding what the will of the Lord [is]. 18 And be not drunk with wine, in which is dissoluteness, but be filled with [the] Spirit, 19 speaking to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and chanting in your heart to the Lord; 20 giving thanks always for all things in [the] name of our Lord Jesus Christ to him that is God and Father, 21 submitting yourselves one to another in fear of Christ.
* Here the Auth. Version is doubly wrong. To justify it, there should be no article with πάντα, and there ought to be one with ἐλεγχόμενα. I have done the best I could (though the result is poor) to represent the text.
22 Wives, [submit yourselves] to your† own husbands as to the Lord; 23 for a husband is head of the wife, as also the Christ [is] head of the assembly: he [is] the saviour of the body. 24 But as the assembly is subject to the Christ, so also the wives to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your own wives, even as the Christ also loved the assembly and gave himself up for it, 26 that he might sanctify it, having cleansed [it] by the washing of water in [the] word, 27 that he might himself present to himself the assembly glorious, not having spot or wrinkle, or any of such things; but that it should be holy and blameless. 28 Thus ought husbands to love their own wives as their own bodies: he that loves his own wife loves himself, 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Christ also the assembly: 30 for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 Because of this shall a man leave father and mother and shall be closely joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I speak as to Christ and as to the assembly. 33 Nevertheless, ye also every one, let each so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife fear the husband.
† Some excellent authorities read, "Let the wives be subject to their" etc. Others do not express the verb.
Children, obey your parents in [the] Lord; for this is just. 2 Honour thy father and thy mother, which is a commandment first in promise, 3 that it may be well for thee, and thou shalt be long-lived on the earth. 4 And, fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in [the] Lord's discipline and admonition.
5 Bondmen, obey your masters according to flesh with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to the Christ; 6 not with eye-service as men-pleasers but as bondmen of Christ, doing the will of God from the soul, 7 with good-will doing service as to the Lord and not to men; 8 knowing that whatever good each shall do, this he shall receive of [the] Lord, whether bond or free. 9 And, masters, do the same things toward them, giving up threatening, knowing that the master both of them and of you is in [the] heavens; and there is no respect of persons with him.
10 For the rest, my brethren, be strengthened in [the] Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the panoply of God, that ye may be able to stand against the stratagems of the devil; 12 for our wrestling is not against blood and flesh, but against the principalities, against the authorities, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual [hosts] of wickedness in the heavenly [places]. 13 On this account take up the panoply of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having fully done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having girt about your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with [the] preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 besides all, having taken up the shield of faith with which ye will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one; 17 and receive the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God's word; 18 with all, prayer and supplication praying in every season in [the] Spirit, and thereunto watching with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, 19 and for me that utterance may be given me in [the] opening of my mouth with boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chain[s], that in it I may be bold as I ought to speak.
21 But that ye also may know my affairs, what I do,* Tychicus shall make known all to you, the beloved brother and faithful servant in [the] Lord, 22 whom I sent to you for this very thing, that ye may know our matters, and [that] he may comfort your hearts.
* Or, 'how I fare.'
23 Peace to the brethren and love with faith from God [the] Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ; 24 grace with all that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption.
NOTES OF LECTURES ON THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.
It must be manifest to the most casual reader of the epistle that we are upon very high and holy ground here. Let none suppose that this is to impeach other portions of the inspired scriptures. But who can deny that in revealing His mind, God has been pleased to employ different instruments and with various measures? He could, if He pleased, have written all by one. He could have revealed Himself by all according to the full height of His own glory and nothing else. But we may be quite sure that the ways of God are as admirable in the forms which His revelation takes, as in all other things which He has made for His praise. These diverse manners of developing His nature and character, His counsels and ways, display His glory in an infinitely more blessed light than if there had been one unvarying blaze of brightness. And the same wisdom which works best for His majesty and praise, is precisely that which is suited to the wants, and efficacious for the blessing of His children. Need I say, that a revelation, while it is from God is for His people? No doubt, it does glorify Him; but God, when He speaks, has an object in view, and provides graciously for those to whom He addresses Himself. The revelations of God, therefore, while they flow from God, and are worthy of God, necessarily pre-suppose, and are adapted to, the condition of man. Now this, far from, in the smallest degree, lessening the divine glory which manifests itself in the successive parts of God's word, on the contrary, enhances it infinitely, and proves that it is His, by nothing more than its wonderful suitability to poor sinners, brought out of their low estate, in His rich mercy, and adopted into His family by faith in Christ Jesus.
Now, of all the epistles of St. Paul, I am not aware of any one which rises so high as this to the Ephesians; and one cannot doubt that there was a harmony between the condition of these saints themselves, and the manner and measure of the Spirit's communications to them. We find it so elsewhere. In addressing the saints at Rome, they were not called a church; they were, indeed, in an infantine state. There were blessed saints of God there, but the assembly was not founded by an apostle. Years passed before ever an apostle went to Rome. God saw well that this very city of Rome would arrogate to itself enormous claims of a spiritual character. Therefore He took care that more inconsiderable places, such as Corinth, etc., should have an apostle to found churches and labour there for a considerable time; while the great centre of the world's glory was unvisited by an apostle till there were many assembled there, through persons going thither from one cause and another. When we consider the circumstances of the Roman saints, we can understand the propriety of addressing an epistle to them which strongly resembles a comprehensive scheme of christian doctrine from the very alphabet of truth. And, hence, the very first thing that we have proved there, after the introduction, is the total ruin of man, and of man looked at in every point of view — man examined, and weighed in the balances of God, from the flood downwards. After man had possessed a knowledge of God of an outward sort, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God. In fact we have the origin of idolatry shown; and also the time after the flood before idolatry came in. The verses I have referred to in Romans 1, bear upon the time when there was simply the race possessing the knowledge of God. But man departed from it, corrupting himself; and we have the awful picture of human depravity traced in the early chapters. Next, we have philosophic man; and then man under the law — man in every point of view — before the subject of redemption is treated of, or anything is said of the way to be justified. The reason is this: the apostle never having been there, the saints at Rome were comparatively ignorant, and required to be instructed in the nature and fatal issues of the fall. They needed to learn what the history of man is, as God looks at and thinks of it. Therefore, we have him seen as ruined in every way, and no help for him in the creature, the law, or anything else. Hence the result is, that all are gone out of the way: "there is none righteous, no, not one." In a word, every mouth is stopped, and the whole world become guilty before God. Then, and not till then, we have the provision God has made in His righteous mercy for man, in Romans 3 and Romans 4; and from Romans 5, consequences shown and difficulties met, winding up with the triumphant conclusion of Romans 7.
What a weighty summary of christian doctrine, beginning with the actual condition of man, Jew or Gentile, and leading up to the firm footing God has given in Christ, dead and risen, to him that believes! But in all this you have, most important as it is, only the individual. It may be man lost, or man saved; but you have nothing about the Church. It is what pertains to those who are members of the Church, but no such thing appears as the assembly of God treated as such. Man's ruin and redemption is the theme, with the effects of redemption, and the order of the dispensations, and the practical duties flowing from all. But in Ephesians how totally different! Here, comparatively speaking, man disappears, and God is viewed as acting from Himself.
Hence there is no preface nor proof of what man's state is. This was not necessary, nor is it the starting-point of the teaching there: in Romans it is; and nothing can be more simple. But in Ephesians, instead of our being raised up from the pit of corruption, in which man lay buried, the very first thing the apostle does is to speak of God in heaven. It is God showering blessing upon man, and not man brought up to God. It is God shown in the ways of His grace and the thoughts of His heart, before even there was a world at all, entirely apart from all questions of Jews or Gentiles. It is God forming a scheme of glory and blessedness for His own praise; God delighting in the display of His goodness, and this for the purpose of blessing, and the very highest, fullest character of blessing. Hence you will find that it is not simply God as God acting towards man, but He has Christ before Him, and hence there is no limit to the blessing. He would have some channel of grace toward us to the full content of His own heart. Now there is no object that could draw out and sustain the delight of God, none that could be in itself an adequate object to look upon with complacency but one, even Christ. As for the angels, He charges them with folly, and yet were they holy. If He scanned lower than the angels, what is there but a world lost in sin? Thus there is but one capable of satisfying the heart and affections of God — Christ Himself.
Having therefore this great truth in hand — God blessing, and Christ the object before God, through whom God is going to bless, according to all that is in His heart, we also find that He is named as a Blesser in a twofold manner. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." These two titles are really the key to the epistle. And I must be permitted to press strongly the importance of weighing words in Scripture. When we have to do with mankind, we must not make a person an offender for a word. But God needs no excuses for His word. Whatever allowance we might make for the slips of one another, with Scripture the occasion can never arise. When we draw near and listen to Him, the only proper attitude is to bow and worship. And, therefore, in this epistle, which is so full an expression of His love, the apostle opens it thus, "Blessed be the God and Father," etc. He could not write to the Ephesians without breaking out into the praise and worship of God. Elsewhere you will find him blessing God, but where he does so, as in 2 Corinthians 2:14, there were special circumstances that called it out. But not so here. At Corinth there was a blessed intervention of God's grace, breaking down the proud hearts of wayward disciples there, making them ashamed of themselves. But in Ephesians it was apart from passing circumstances, save that he saw them in such a condition of soul that they were capable of going on with God, entering into His thoughts and counsels. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" was not because of some peculiar mercy, or comfort; but it flows from what He always is to us. For this very reason many saints may be unable to enter in. Some are apt to be particularly alive to, and touched by, sensible tokens, from day to day, and now and then extraordinary providential interventions of God. Perhaps they are in great trial, and God brings them a fresh blessing too out of it. But here the Ephesians were so simple and willing to go on with God that the apostle, instead of being detained by their state, could but speak in praise and thanksgiving. It is very blessed when there is such happy communion given in having to do with one another.
It is true, again, that before he enters upon what I shall endeavour to develop, he introduces himself as an apostle. He does not say "servant" here; in writing to the Romans he does. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ." He was indeed Christ's bondman. Why should Paul be writing to them? He was His servant. Did not they belong to Jesus? There was no such thought as "independency" sanctioned in those days — no such practice as little districts or assemblies belonging to this man or that; but the Church everywhere the loved object of the Lord's servants. He is a true servant who is able to realize that he is the bondsman of Jesus Christ; and he will serve souls best who most realizes what it is to serve the Lord. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called [to be] an apostle." He was an apostle by the calling of God. At this time there was no such thing as a congregation giving a candidate "a call." Paul was an apostle called of God, and they were saints called of God, and they knew it. It was very sweet for them to think they had been thus called. They were in their measure treading the path of Christ, and the apostle was His servant and an apostle also. His object was to bring his apostleship into relief. But they at Corinth were in danger of beginning to stand in doubt of him and of thinking that to Jerusalem they ought to look. He thoroughly owns the common place of a brother; but if persons like the Corinthians were raising their heads too high, he says, "an apostle" simply, without adding "servant." If a dispute arose about the point, he proves the reality of his call. In addressing the Galatians I have shown elsewhere what peculiar force there is in his introduction of himself. "Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man)," etc. Here you have controversy at once, but of divine temper and strength. There were false principles in Galatia, and therefore he uses energetic, urgent language in writing to the saints. They were adopting Jewish notions about earthly succession. The apostle, therefore, takes the very highest ground, and shows that while he fully acknowledged the twelve in their place, he would not, in what touched the truth of the gospel, give place by subjection, no, not for an hour; so that the whole epistle bears the stamp of the unqualified re-assertion of the call of grace and its heavenly character, founded upon the death and resurrection of Christ.
In Ephesians he has no object of a controversial kind, nor of laying down the christian foundations of truth, as in the case of the Roman saints. But he does put forward his apostolic function — "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ." He shows fully out of what it sprang; that same "will of God," out of which flowed their own blessing. He is about to trace, first the individual blessing, and then the corporate. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the former is a deeper thing than the latter. On the contrary, our highest blessings are connected with what we have as individuals. Fully acknowledging the blessedness of what is corporate, what we have individually is higher still; and it is the way of God's Spirit to begin with this before entering upon what is common. Hence I think he here addresses "the saints which were at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus," as such. They were the Church there, not only gathered formally, but intelligently so. They had had the Apostle Paul there, who had been God's instrument in that work. There were twelve men who believed before Paul went there; but they never received the Holy Ghost after the Pentecost sort till Paul's visit. It is the personal presence of the Holy Ghost, founded upon our faith in Christ dead and risen, that brings us into this church character. But the Holy Ghost, besides making us members of Christ's body, the Church, also gives us the consciousness of our relationship as sons with His God and Father. He addresses "the Church of God at Corinth" as such, when he is speaking of points that concern order and discipline. Here he is going to look at the Church in a far higher point of view; yet he begins with what is individual: "To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." Then he introduces the twofold title of God already referred to — the same that our Lord announced when He rose from the dead, and sent the first message given to His disciples, by Mary Magdalene: "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God" — not "to the Almighty God," or "to Jehovah."
Our Lord stood in a twofold relation to God; He was Son of God, not only as a divine person, but as man in the world (Luke 1); besides His highest personal glory which shines through John's Gospel, etc. "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." This last title refers to Christ, viewed in humanity in this world; and it is therefore stated only in the Gospel of Luke, which is pre-eminently the human biography, if I may so speak, of Christ. But it might not have been known, unless God has told us, that He carried that same relationship as man into His resurrection. He teaches us that death and resurrection gave Him title in God's righteousness to put us in His position. So that He could for the first time say, in the fulness of meaning which those words convey, "I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." He is now not merely "my Father" and "my God," but "your Father" and "your God."
The death of Christ had completely obliterated all that was against the children of God: the resurrection of Christ, after redemption was effected, enabled Him to give them His place of resurrection and sonship before God. And what a wonderful place is this! To think that now, even while we are in this world, our Lord would have us to know that we are sons, in and through Him, before our God, and that we are instinct with resurrection-life — "alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord;" that we stand before God without a single charge or condemnation, and this, because He had taken by grace the "same condemnation" with the guilty on the cross. He was the "holy thing" — we unholy, altogether undone. But on the cross He was made sin for us, and entered the same condemnation — made it His own on the cross; and now there is none for me. I am brought into the same place that He had as the risen one before God. Of course I am not speaking now of His divine glory. The notion of the creature, no matter how blest, being in any other position than that of looking up to God and worshipping Him, could not enter a renewed mind. The Lord Jesus was Son in His divine nature from all eternity; but as man, too, He was Son; and also as risen from the dead. And by His death and resurrection, He brings us in before God and His Father, having the same position as Himself, so far as to be sons, absolutely without sin in our new nature, and freed from condemnation before God because the old nature is already judged. The new nature requires none to die for it, but the old did; and all is done. In Christ crucified, God condemned sin in the flesh, and to faith all the evil is gone: The blessedness of Christ is now made ours, and we can look up and say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." One great mischief that is done to the practical power of Christianity is the putting off the blessing, which the Holy Ghost attaches to us now, till we leave this world and get to heaven.
Suppose you were to tell the great mass of God's children on the earth, You are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ," they would think it rank enthusiasm or mysticism. They are not prepared for such truth, and in general either do not enquire what the verse means, or attenuate it into some mere emotional sentiment. They have no notion that it is a present fact true of all Christians. Though we are not displayed in it yet, it is no question of feeling. May we believe it! Feelings may deceive me, but faith never can. If I see a thing, it is merely my eye that sees. If I believe a truth on God's word, I am looking at it, in a measure, so to speak, with God's eyes. The world has a notion that faith only implies confidence as to a thing which is not sure. This is not the meaning of "I believe" in the things of God. My own vision is a poor range of sight; but what of God's eye? The believer stands upon the highest ground; he rests upon the certainty of what God says. Happiness, too, is the result; for when you believe, you soon begin to feel. If you believe that God has blotted out your sins, you ere long, if not at once, begin to enjoy it. If I look at myself, I shall always see something wrong. How is this? My sins all gone; and yet, if looking within, I see so much that is painful, loathsome, humiliating. The putting away of sin is not a thing that goes on in my heart, but a mighty work that God wrought in the cross of His beloved Son, on which He calls me to rest, because on it He rests. Am I looking for a sign and token in myself? If so, I shall never have an assurance of it on the right ground. If I think that my sins must be forgiven because I am a changed character (as men speak), can I ever have an hour's real peace? The result must be, that the more one judges himself, the less happy he will be. What God puts before His children is this — that they should be thoroughly happy in the certainty that their sins are gone, through the blood-shedding of Christ, and yet that they should spare nothing they find within them; judging themselves day by day, because Christ has been judged for them, and God has blotted out their sins, and they cannot endure trifling with that which cost the blood of His Son.
Here, however, the first great thought is that "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." It is not redemption, though of course based upon it. I am here upon the earth, and yet I know that I am blest there where Christ is at the right hand of God. Not only have I blessings there, but I am blessed "with all spiritual blessings." The highest blessing God can confer is that which He gives every child of His in heavenly places in Christ. In these few words we gaze at the height of God's wonderful counsel about us and love for us. He has thus blessed us according to the fulness of His value for Christ.
The expression "heavenly places" is in contrast with the portion of the Jews, who were blessed in earthly places. If we look at Ezekiel 36, it may bring out more distinctly the character of our blessing in contradistinction to theirs. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean … And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God." Thus, there are spiritual mercies mingled with their blessings; but they will be in the land of their fathers, which God is to make good to the generation to come. It is chiefly learned but unspiritual men who make confusion about these matters. If readers were only simple about Scripture, they would not fall into such mistakes. The prophets says, "Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers." Nothing can be plainer than this. He is to bless Israel on the earth — in their soul too, no doubt: but the sphere of this blessing is the holy land. It is His earthly people, not the Church, as we shall see lower down. "I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen." Evidently the blessing is in earthly places. I should not find fault with good men trying to give this a spiritual turn and to preach the gospel from it, provided they did not blot out from it the hopes of Israel by and by. Primarily the people there are Israel, and they are to be blessed in this manner. We see the land of Palestine now desolate like a wilderness; but "the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" in that day. There are certain blessings that apply to the believer now, it is true. To the "water" and "Spirit," in a wonderfully enlarged and deepened scope, our Lord alludes thus in John 3. But I object to the inference that God has abandoned His people, and that this prophecy about the earthly places should be confounded with our heavenly title. The earth and earthly blessings are here dwelt upon by the Spirit of God. Why should we be jealous about the Jews or the earth either? God has shown us such overflowing and surpassing favour that we may well delight and thank Him that the earth is reserved for His ancient nation.
Now if we turn from this — the predicted blessing of Israel upon the earth — to our own proper blessing in Ephesians, how totally different it is! "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." It is God revealing Himself in the fullest manner conceivable. Who was it that knew God pre-eminently? who was the object of God's love as none had ever been before? If ever there was one who fathomed the full meaning of the words, "My Father," it was the Lord Jesus. And who but He sounded the depths of "My God?" Yet now, that Blessed One, by redemption and the gift of the Spirit, has capacitated the believer in Him to enjoy the same privilege with Himself. Just in proportion as we receive it with simplicity and judge the old nature (which never enters into it, but only comes as a thick cloud over our blessing), shall we enter into the realization of our blessing.
Israel's hope is not inward only but outward, in earthly places to be made the most exalted people here below. The scene of our blessing, on the contrary, is in heavenly places, and we are blessed there now in Christ. In a word, a Christian is as one who belongs to the family of the sovereign. There might be reasons of state to make it desirable for the Queen's heir to pass as a stranger through a foreign land, unknown and unregarded. So with the Christian. He is not of the world nor of the age. His body is of the earth, but that which makes him to be what he is, as a son of God, has nothing to do with the present scene or circumstances. He belongs altogether to a glorified Christ. When God begins to deal with Israel, it will be another thing. The attention of the whole world will be directed towards them. There was a time when, even in the midst of all their sin, the people of Israel exercised an enormous influence in the world, spite of their being a small nation and having only a narrow slip of land to dwell on. Their priests and kings gave up the true God, who thereon made them to be the sad evidence of His judgments. But the day is fast coming when they that smote will acknowledge their rejected Messiah, and then will shine the full splendour to which Israel is destined of God. He will crown them with blessing of every kind here below. All the nations of the earth will bow down to Israel; kings and queens will be their nursing fathers and mothers. Christendom, despised as a proud and effete political engine, and more and more degenerating into apostacy, will be set aside like Vashti; God will bless His people of Israel, the Esther of the great King, with all outward blessings in earthly places, not revealing Himself as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, but as the Lord God, Jehovah, Most High, identified at length with the lowly Jesus of Nazareth.
Is this the way in which we are spoken of here? Not at all. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. A Jew has nowhere in the Old Testament the hope of being blessed in their Messiah. To be joint-heirs with Christ, not only blessed by Christ, but in Christ, is an idea that could not possibly enter the most intelligent Israelite's mind. In a word, their portion will always be under their Messiah, to be ruled by Him as an earthly people. But ours, who believe in Christ now, will be to have the same blessing which God the Father confers upon Christ risen from the dead. What has He done for Christ? He has raised Him up, and put all things under His feet. This glory He will not take alone. He is waiting for His bride — for those who are now being called out of Jews and Gentiles to the knowledge of His name. So that our Lord, while personally exalted, holds it in abeyance because He is waiting for His companions to share it with Him; heirs by His grace, not merely of the fathers, but of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
Nothing can be larger or higher than the blessing spoken of here. Christ will have His heavenly ones above, and His earthly ones below; each fully blest though in different spheres. May I commend the truth brought out in Ephesians 1 to the serious study of God's children? While it becomes us to hear the word of God, it claims from us earnestness of purpose and searching into it as for hidden treasure. We must not expect to be really and fully blessed through the word of God, unless there be diligence of soul.
We have already seen the twofold title in which God blesses His saints now; in both the form of the blessing being found only in Christ. Had God merely revealed Himself as the God of Abraham or Isaac for instance, He would not ensure a blessing beyond that promised to the fathers. Now He does. Instead of having merely the Jewish blessing before Him, He has Christ in His eye, whom He raised from the dead and set at His own right hand, where He never put David nor any one else. It is a place that belongs to Him in virtue of His personal glory and His suffering unto death. We may sit with Christ on His throne, but this is a very different thing from Christ's sitting at God's right hand. Now it is as the God of the Lord Jesus Christ that He blesses — it is the full blessing that would be suitable to Christ Himself as the object of blessing. Grace puts us as common objects with Christ in order to be blessed by God who blesses after this manner and measure. Nor this only. He is the Father of the Lord Jesus, and as such also He blesses us. So that these two characters, the very highest possible in which to look at God, are those according to which we are blessed. The characters of God, both as God and as Father, as they deal with Christ, issue in a blessing, a commensurate blessing, which He gives to us. Hence there is no limit. He has blessed us "with all spiritual blessings," and moreover too, as we saw, not on the earth, the comparatively lower part of the universe, but in the highest scene of God's power, "in the heavenly places;" and in order to crown and complete all, it is "in Christ;" all is secured in His person.
Verse 4 particularly belongs to the first of these characters in which God has revealed Himself, as verse 5 belongs rather to the second. "According as he hath chosen us in him (that is, in Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." Now it is as the God of Christ that He thus blesses us; not as Father, but as God. In verse 5 it is as Father, because we there read, "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself." The style and character clearly answer to the character of the Father. Special relationship to Him is brought in. "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children" — not merely chosen, but — "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will." Now that language was not used in verse 4. He does not say that He has predestinated us to be holy and without blame before Him in love. Neither does He say that He has called us into this wonderful place according to the good pleasure of His will. And the reason is most manifest. When we hear of the good pleasure of His will, we have language suitable to sovereign special love — that which He displays in order to manifest His own favour. But when we hear of "holy and without blame," it is God who has chosen us for it: it could not be otherwise. If God would have any brought near Him, and so near as to be in His presence in heaven, if chosen in Christ at all, somehow they must be holy and without blame before Him in love. And all is really of His grace.
The one blessing is from the necessary character of God as God; the other flows from the special relationship into which He enters towards us through our Lord Jesus. Choosing us is a necessary part, because it is evident there was no one but God to choose. It was before the foundation of the world, when God alone was. Man had no voice nor choice in the matter. It was purely God acting from Himself. It was a matter of God's own choice, that He would have others to be in heaven besides Himself. But if they were to be near Him and before Him, how could they be so with sin upon them? Impossible. How could God sanction souls, even in the most distant part of His dominion, with sin upon them? Still less could it be in heaven, the throne of His Majesty. The day is coming when all evil must be banished into the lake of fire. How then could He tolerate sin in those who are to be brought into the nearest circle of His presence? It was the positive necessity of His character and nature, that if He chooses to have any with Himself in heaven, they must be there "holy and without blame before him." But that is far from being all: it must be "in love," because nothing could be more miserable than that they should not be able to enter into His own affections. Merely to be in the most blessed place of creatures without taint, without anything that could sully the presence of God, would not be enough. Man was made to have a heart, to have affections; and there could not be happiness in creatures, who know what affection is, unless there were that on which affection could rest. If God had such beings brought into His presence, and necessarily without sin in any form, it must be in love also. He will give them a nature not only capable of being before Him without reproach and fear, but also answering to His own love. "We love him because he first loved us." In Christ alone that love is known; but St. John so speaks of God and Christ, that there is great difficulty in deciding which is meant. He uses "Him" thus, not indiscriminately, but sliding from one into the other. This flows from their oneness: "I and my Father are one," which is said by John only.
Here we have God's choice of us personally. For it is not merely to have a people, as if it were some vague thing, a certain number of niches in heaven to be filled up with so many souls. There is no such notion in the Bible. It is persons He chooses. There cannot be such love without a person distinctly before it. And if it is true even among men, that love is not an uncertain feeling — which is rather a fancy, much more is it true with God. He loves us individually. Hence He has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to show how entirely it is a choice independent of our character and ways; and if so, it must always flow back to God in a way according to Him. And so it does. If there is this choice of God in Christ before the foundation of the world, He will have saints before Him in such a way as God alone could. He will never have what is unworthy of His love and presence. Hence then it is said, "that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." This is not merely holiness, or blamelessness, or love — any or all in part. Hence it does not refer to what we have been. If we examine any person we may find grievous faults in him. Even as a Christian, he is very far indeed from being what is due to God. He is ashamed of himself, grieving over the little his heart responds to the favour God has shown him. And would this suit His presence? Will God be satisfied with that which even a Christian finds fault with? Impossible. The verse looks not at the complex man here, but at what He makes us in Christ, His Son.
In the saint now there is that which is very unsaintly indeed, unlike God and His beloved Son: pride, vanity, foolishness, all kinds of evil ways and thoughts that never flow from Christ, and have no kind of resemblance to Him. But for all this, are they not saints? God forbid they should not be. And yet this is the steady thought of God. He has chosen us in Christ that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. How can that be? The answer is, because God looks at us here according to that which He gives us in Christ, and nothing less. All is ignored in this verse, save that new nature which flows from His grace to the objects of His choice. He has chosen us to be so, and He will have us so perfectly, and nothing else, when the time comes for us to be in His presence. But even now it is true in the essence of the thing, inasmuch as we are in Christ and have His life in us. Can I find any fault in Christ? If Christ is without blame in love, in the very nature of God Himself, He is precisely the life of every Christian, let a man be called by what name he may among men.
But even this is not all. Blessed as it is to answer to the holy character and nature of God — and that is what every saint will do by and by in the glory, and what every saint really possesses as a new creature in Christ now — yet this is not enough. We might be there holy and without blame before Him in love, yet simply as servants. Her Majesty the Queen may surround herself with servants to do her will; she may bring one and another into her presence, and they ought to think themselves greatly honoured by being thus made the ministers of her pleasure, though no family relationship, of course, exists between them. But nothing less than this will do in heavenly things. Such is the wonder of God's grace. In the very next verse we have the fact that God is not alone acting from Himself to call us into this wonderful place — to be the reproduction of His own moral nature and character. God is holy and without blame, and He is love in His own nature. This belongs to our life now, and will belong to us altogether when we are brought into heaven, by the power and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, shortly. But it is not as mere servants, but as sons, we shall be there — consciously as sons; not even standing there, like angels, as ministers of His pleasure, but as those who take an interest in all that He is interested in. We shall feel not merely for Him, but with Him. We shall have a common interest with Him — the same kind of feeling, if I may use the same illustration, that members of the royal family have with the crown.
This is what the Holy Ghost brings before us in verse 5. The Christian is planted in Christ before God, and has a holy and a loving nature. But besides this, there is a positive relationship formed; and that relationship, in which we are brought to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is nothing less than being sons according to the pattern of the risen Son of God. As the eternal Son of the Father, none could have such a place with Him. The very thought would be repulsive to a renewed mind; But Christ was pleased to call us His brethren when He rose from the dead and not before. And it is on earth, the place of our sins, where we have been servants of Satan — it is here that through the faith of Christ, we leave behind us all that we were, and enter into this blessed and glorious and most intimate relationship with God. "He hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children." The word predestinated is a more special one than "chosen," which signifies God electing us out of the world. None but an unbeliever could fancy that every one is to be in such a place as this, or that men who have lived in blasphemy against God all their days are to be holy and without blame when they die. God has a choice, and our business is to bless God for His great love — not to judge or find fault with His ways. "Who art thou that replies against God?" That is the answer of God to all vain thoughts and reasonings. But then if He chooses according to His nature and holiness, He has predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself. So that now we find the special privilege and glorious relationship of sons before God in His presence by Jesus Christ. He might not have done it, but it was "according to the good pleasure of his will."
Not merely He would have, and therefore chose persons; but here is a peculiar display of His pleasure, and therefore He puts them in this blessed place, "to the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." Verse 6 shows us that which answers to both the verses before it. The clause, "to the praise of the glory of his grace," etc., takes in both the choice of verse 4 and the predestination of verse 5 — the character of the choice of God, and the special favour of the predestination of the Father. "To the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." "Accepted" is rather a cold word to express what is meant here. It is not what persons doctrinally call acceptance, which is rather more of the nature of reconciliation. But here it seems to me there is the fulness of divine favour, which goes far beyond bare acceptance. In short, God makes us objects of favour according to all that is in His heart, and, in order that this should be most fully brought out, He says "in the Beloved," not merely "in Christ." There was one object that satisfied God, that met every thought, every desire of His heart; and this was Christ, the One beloved, of course, in a sense in which no creature could be so in itself. In order to bless us fully, God has made us the objects of His favour in this Beloved One, and all is "to the praise of the glory of his grace." This takes in all the heights and depths of His grace who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, blessing us in Christ. In fact, He could not go farther. Could He show favour to any one so much as to Christ? Just so He loves and blesses us. He could not do more, and He will not do less. He has risen up to the fullest character of love and blessing in the grace wherewith He regards us in the Beloved.
But, then, what was our previous state? Verse 7 says, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." It is only alluded to passingly, but it supposes that we were wretched slaves of Satan. In the same person, in whom we become the objects of such favour, we have redemption. God does not in the least degree forget what our condition was when He thus blessed us. He is aware that we had to be brought out of all we were, for indeed we had nothing but sins. With only the previous verses, there might have been the idea that such blessedness and glory could not have been mixed with such as we were. But we have redemption, we are told, in Christ. Still, he never touches on redemption and forgiveness of sins till he has brought us into the height and depth of all privilege flowing from God Himself: so entirely is all question here of what man is out of sight, that we only, as it were, incidentally get hold of the sad truth of his condition. It might not have been known from the first few verses, that persons so blessed had ever been guilty of a single sin. But here we find that they needed to be redeemed, to have their sins forgiven; and the same Christ, in and through whom we have all our other blessings, is He in whom also we have "redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace."
It may be noticed here, that there is a difference between "the glory" and "the riches" of His grace. "The glory of his grace" takes in all these privileges referred to before. The Holy Ghost has brought out in the seventh verse the riches of His grace — the means and provisions for us as poor sinners. But this would not suffice for God, if He is acting so as to show, not merely His rich resources in dealing with the most wretched individuals, but the glory of His grace. He would display His own character — what He is, and not merely provide for what we were. The praise of the glory of His grace flows from what God feels, and in consequence will do, in order to manifest Himself for us.
Observe, moreover, before we have done with this, that later on we have another redemption, that "of the purchased possession," and a very different thing. We have redemption as far as the forgiveness of sins is concerned: we are waiting for redemption as concerns the inheritance, which depends on the coming of Christ in order to take it actually under His government. The purchased possession has to do with the inheritance, not merely with what affects our souls. As for the soul, we have redemption now as completely as we ever can have it; which we do well to bear in mind. The believer cannot be more forgiven than now, nor could God do more to put away sin than He has done already. He has given His Son, and the blood of His Son is shed, and it is impossible that God Himself could do more to blot out sin from before His face. What a comfort for our souls! If we think of our sins, we may also enter into the comfortable assurance that all our guilt is gone from before God. We may fall into sin, for it does exist; but it remains a source of self-judgment, instead of a fearful looking for of judgment by and by.
There is just the real difference. As a matter of divine judgment, sin is gone in Christ; as a matter of self-judgment, it is always to be confessed if we slip into it. Nor is self-judgment ever thorough until we know that God's judgment of sin is ended for us on the cross. Under the Old Testament there was no such self-judgment because of sin, as there ought to be under the New. We find, accordingly, that although God never did or could treat any sin with indifference, yet is it often left without a word of comment. But this is not light dealing: God lets the thing speak for itself. He exercises so much the more the hearts of His children. If they are in a wilful state, they may use the record of sin to make light of their own evil ways; otherwise conscience is brought into exercise. It is not until the full condition of man comes out in the cross of Christ, that we see what God's judgment of sin is. Since then we first hear of "the flesh" in the sense in which the New Testament speaks of it. You may find the expression in the Old Testament, but it never wears the same strong, determined, full character of wickedness as it does in the New. It had not yet proved itself, and God always waits till a person or thing proves its real character, before He pronounces judgment. And we ought to learn from God as to this. The patience of God in judgment is one of the most marvellous of His ways; and we ought to be as to this imitators of God. He awaited the cross of His Son before the true character of man's iniquity was fully brought out. Under the Old Testament we read of things borne with because of the hardness of men's hearts; but in the New Testament there is a different measure, and no evil tolerated for a moment. The mind of God is pronounced upon evil: the darkness is passing, the true light now shines. There is no hiding either of God or man. All is out. Man is lost. God is known not merely as a lawgiver, but as a Saviour-God; and if I do not know Him thus, I do not know Him at all. "This is life eternal: to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."
From all this we learn that the final character of evil has only now come out. The Old Testament commanded that evil should not be done; but, as we shall see in the next chapter, the full issue of the trial comes out here: and what is the verdict? That man is dead — morally, spiritually — dead in trespasses and sins. God perfectly understood the character of man before, but He wants us to understand it. We needed redemption, and we have it — forgiveness, and we have it. But we are waiting to have the redemption of the purchased possession This takes in the whole creation of God, including, perhaps, our bodies too, as a part of the creation of God. But the redemption of verse 7 is a closer thing, and we are put in a position now of thoroughly judging ourselves, because we know that we shall not be condemned with the world. God puts us thus into a common interest with Himself; puts us on His own side, to take His part against ourselves. And this is what repentance means, and therefore it is called repentance towards God.
But the next verse opens up another subject: "Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence." It is not said, "abounded toward us in forgiving us," because full forgiveness is a positive need. But when we hear of "wisdom and prudence," it is a question of God's counsels about His Son, over and independent of all thought of necessities. He says, as it were, You are able now to enter into My thoughts, and understand them when I speak. You are delivered from anxiety about your sins, and are free now to enter into My purpose. "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself." And this secret of His will is, "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance." (Ver. 9-11.) We have clearly here, in these central verses, the fact that we are capacitated (the question of sin being settled in our souls) to hear what God has to say to us about all other things. He has not now merely to tell us what He is going to do upon the earth, as He dealt with Abraham. The relationship is higher than that which was made known to the patriarchs. At the beginning, when the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, He brought them to Adam, the lord of creation, to see what he would call them; and whatsoever he called each living creature, that became its name. "And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field." (Gen. 2:19-20.) This was conferred wisdom in the domain of nature. But now it is far more profound and comprehensive; for it is a question of the supremacy of the second Man and of the discernment which suffices for and suits its boundless heights and depths. Accordingly, God has made His grace to abound towards us in every sort of wisdom and intelligence. Whatever displays His character and Christ's glory, He makes known to us. He treats us, not as servants, but as friends. He has one thing nearer than aught else — what He is going to do for His Son: and He imparts to us the secrets nearest to His own heart.
If any person say, I do not want to understand mysteries, I answer, You do not want to know what God wishes to teach you. Unbelief always shows itself in some character of hostility to God. He, in His perfect goodness, gives the comfort of salvation, and then opens out these other truths. "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will." This does not mean something you cannot understand, but what you could not know before God told you. Do not turn away and say, All I want to know is to be saved. We ought to desire to learn all God deigns to teach us. The word "mystery" means what God was pleased to keep secret — something He had not before revealed, but quite intelligible when it is unfolded. "Mystery," in a popular sense, is totally different from its use in the word of God. There are many things very wonderful in the prophecies, but they are not called mysteries. Brought out now for the first time, it is the mystery of His will. There are many mysteries explained in the New Testament as those of the kingdom of heaven. Babylon, too, is called a mystery. The mystery here is, that God means to unite all things in heaven and in earth, under the headship of our Lord. He does not mean to have the heavens, as they are now, completely severed from the earth, but to have a united system of heavenly and earthly glory, all under Christ — this is the mystery of His will.
But there is more than this. He means that we should share the glory along with Christ. Thus there are two great parts in the mystery of His will. The first is Christ, and the second is the Church: and therefore it is said in this very Epistle, "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." It is not "the Church," of course, that is the mystery, but "Christ and the Church." The Church, however blessed, is but a subordinate part of it. That she is so at all is solely because she belongs to Christ, the heavenly Head of all things. God's purpose is for "the dispensation of the fulness of times." Then the hours of shame and sorrow that are now running on will have exhausted their course — the time of the creature's subjection to vanity, the time for Israel to be blinded judicially, the time for the Gentiles to rule as if God neither intervened nor noticed, the time when the Church of God lies in weakness and broken, the time of Satan's liberty to deceive and torment men. These things are now going on — man, the chief, through sin, subject to sickness and death, and all creation groaning. But God Himself will put an end to everything of the sort. He means to bind Satan and deliver man from his seduction. He will have Israel blessed and united under their Messiah — the Gentiles blessing God, who will be sanctified among them — the earth itself no longer the poor, groaning, miserable scene that it is, but the curse removed, and the wilderness rejoicing and blossoming as the rose. All these things God will yet accomplish; and when the suitable times according to God are complete (πληρ τ. κ.),* He will change all, bringing forth Christ as the Head, centre, and means of every blessing. Christ is the stronger man that is to bind the strong, the bruiser of the serpent's head — the Lord of heaven and earth — the Messiah of Israel, and Son of man ruling supremely over all nations. All these things are to be accomplished most simply and efficaciously, but not by the power of man — not even by the spread of the gospel. Christ in person will administer and uphold the glory of God in the universe.
*As the verse contains several words and clauses which are not generally understood, it may be added in this note that the word "dispensation" (οἰκονομία) has no reference to a particular period or age (which is in the New Testament expressed by αἰών). It means "stewardship," or rather "administration," the particular form here meant being the summing, or heading (ἀνακεφαλαίωτις) up of all things, heavenly and earthly, under Christ. This will be in the age to come, when Christ shall be displayed as Head over all things, and the glorified saints shall reign with Him. It is neither this age, during which Satan is still permitted to reign as the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air; nor is it the eternal state, when all government is over, and Christ will have given up the kingdom, that God may be all in all. It is the intervening millennium. This will be the fulness of the times, previous periods having been the necessary preparation for it. Meanwhile, redemption through Christ's blood having been effected, the Holy Ghost seals the believer, and is the earnest of the inheritance.
If men had a just sense of the present state of the Church, they would put on sackcloth and ashes instead of blowing their trumpet. What we have to do is to humble ourselves before God, because of what we are and see around us, even in the best. It requires a great deal of patience not only to bear, and be borne with, but to go on in love. If we really have a heart for God and for His children, we shall feel these things deeply, and shall seek the blessing of those who are led away by it — yea, thoroughly and heartily — remembering that the blessed day is at hand when Christ will be exalted as the Head of all things, heavenly and earthly. While it becomes us to chasten ourselves, we need not be disheartened. We know that our hope is one that makes not ashamed. It is not founded upon what the Church or any society is going to do, for our hope is Christ. We know that God has made known unto us the secret of His will. Where there is not an exercised conscience, this truth may not be rejected; but it is not realized nor applied in such a state. God's blessed cure for the world's disorder is Christ brought out from His present hidden position; and the moment that He is so, what a change! All things in heaven and earth will be united in Christ; and when that day comes, we shall enter visibly on our inheritance. We have the title already, but are not in manifest possession. "In whom we have also obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will; that we should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ."
We have, first of all, (verse 5) our predestination as children. "And if children then heirs" — heirs of a glorious inheritance, Christ being made the head of the universe. (Ver. 10, 11.) The prevalent interpretation is to apply verse 10 to Christ's position now. They imagine that "the fulness of times" here means the same thing as in Galatians 4. But "the fulness of the times" differs widely from "the fulness of time," which last means the space which closed with the incarnation of Christ, or was completed by it. Christ's birth is a very different thing from Christ's exaltation, as the head of all. Deadly error is at work when men put the Son's incarnation in the place of redemption. Our union with Christ is made to depend upon His bare incarnation, not upon His being risen from the dead and entering upon His headship thus. But if our union with Christ be confounded with His being a man, He unites Himself with human nature, and there is no special union between the Christian and Christ, because humanity belongs to the whole race, i.e., to man in sin. This naturally leads to the further heresy of making Christ take up humanity in its fallen condition.
It is said, again, "That we should be to the praise of his glory, we who first trusted in Christ." The allusion is, before the Jews (of whom it specially speaks) behold Christ in the appointed time and way. "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced." Now, he says, we are those who have fore-hoped in Christ. Our hope was founded upon Christ before He is seen and believed in by the rest of the nation. The "we" in verse 12 does not go beyond believing Jews. "In whom ye also" is in contradistinction. The "we" and the "ye" refer, the one to Paul and his fellow-believers out of Israel, the other to believing Gentiles, such as the Ephesians. If this be so, the meaning is "that we [Christian Jews] should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ." The nation of Israel will not be fore-hopers "to the praise of His glory." They will be the subjects of His glory. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." His glory will embrace their salvation; but to "the praise of His glory" it will be that there are those out of that unbelieving nation who received Christ before they saw Him, and who consequently will appear with Him in glory. Blessed are they who receive Christ when they behold Him; but still more blessed those who, though they have not seen Him, yet have believed! (John 20)
We have thus seen that the apostle, in verse 12, introduces the believing Jews as now brought into all the blessings spoken of in the previous portion. Then, addressing the Gentile saints at Ephesus, he says, "In whom ye also having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise."
It may be profitable, here, to enter into a further development of the Holy Ghost's presence and action. Men soon departed far from the truth of God. Before the three last centuries we know that a thick cloud of darkness hung over Christendom. But even since the light that shone at the Reformation, Christians have been struggling to realize in their own souls that they were born of God and justified in Christ. One fully admits the immense importance that a soul should be thoroughly established. But were regeneration and justification intended to be the sum and substance of the Christian's research, efforts, and desires? On the contrary, are they more than the very threshold, or, at most, the foundation on which a Christian has to build? Does not God look for it, that, being born again, instead of occupying ourselves with continual searching after signs and tokens that we are so, we should be making progress in Christ? To be born again is the first essential work of the Spirit of God, without which there is no life towards God, no possibility of advance in the things of God. It is the universal want, the indispensable condition in order to any soul's having part in the blessing of God at any time and in all dispensations.
Hence, when Nicodemus came to our Lord, wishing to be taught of Him, our Lord at once begins there. The Rabbi owned that Jesus was a teacher come from God, by whom he wanted to be taught. But our Lord stops him in a peculiarly solemn manner: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus, astonished, asked how such a thing could be? Our Lord, however, meets his unintelligent question with a re-assertion, only in still stronger terms: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." There we have clearly the explanation of what it is to be born again. It is to be born of water and of the Spirit. Nicodemus still expresses his amazement at this; that a Jew, a moral, religious Jew, who was no heathen, who had the law, and seemed to have been peculiarly honoured of God, should need to be born afresh; that he himself, a master in Israel in a pre-eminent sense, should thus be met by what was really a rebuke, to him, that pressed the necessity of a vital change which, so far from having realized, he did not even think to be necessary! This was indeed a blow that arrested Nicodemus at the very start. Our Lord, however, shows that he ought to have known these things (i.e., of course, from the prophets). Mark this, because it is a thoroughly satisfactory answer to those who wish to connect the being born of water with baptism. He who is acquainted with the views here taught, cannot fairly think that there is any depreciation of that institution of Christ. For I hold, that nobody ought to be owned on christian ground till he is baptized with water. I do not mean that he may not be a believer; but if he have not submitted to baptism in the name of the Lord, he is not yet ostensibly off Jewish or Pagan ground. And our Lord elsewhere insisted on the necessity of being baptized as well as believing. (Mark 16)
But important as baptism may be as the appointed sign of death and resurrection in Christ, yet our Lord did not directly refer to the rite with Nicodemus. For He says — not, Art thou a disciple of Christ, but — "Art thou a master of Israel and knowest not these things?" That is, as a Jew he ought to have known this. How could he know christian baptism as a Jew? To such an one this was a novelty; it did not even exist at the time. How could that be known which was not yet brought out? He ought to have known what was meant by being born of water and of the Spirit, and to have felt the absolute necessity of it. What then was meant? This: that no matter where, when, or who, everyone who should see or enter the kingdom of God must be born of water and of the Spirit, must have the Holy Ghost communicating a new life to him. And how is that life produced? By an ordinance? No. By christian walk? No. By what means, then? By prayer? Nay; but by the reception of God's Word revealing Christ. Therefore it is written, that we are born again, "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides for ever." With the testimony of Peter there is that of James also: "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." The instrument employed for God's begetting us, is "the word of truth." So that water is clearly used in this passage in John 3 as figurative of the word of God applied by the Spirit. The two are joined together that it should not be supposed it is merely an ordinance or the word, but the Spirit applying God's word with quickening power to the soul. Therefore, when speaking about believing, it is said, "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" It is necessary the Word should be preached. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Compare also 1 Cor. 4:15. It is no matter what positive passage of Scripture you take up, all teach the same thing. Our Lord insists that every one who enters the kingdom must enter by that door. What, then, is to become of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Some may say that circumcision is equivalent; but do not believe the dream for a moment: if so, what would become of so many before or outside both circumcision and baptism? All these explanations are mere clumsy guesses at Scripture. Even if there were no real difference between baptism and circumcision, when our Lord lays down the new birth He refers to neither. He does not insist on a rite with such large exceptions, but an absolute and universal spiritual necessity. He is not speaking of the comparatively modern rite of baptism — of that which, as it came late into the world, will not always abide in it. For there is no ground, that I know, to suppose that during the millennium baptizing people with water will proceed. It is a rite peculiar to the time, at least, between the two advents — baptism into Christ's death.
But John 3 speaks of what every person must pass through without qualification or exception, if he is to see and enter the kingdom of God — what was as true of the thief upon the cross as of Saul of Tarsus. All children of God, past, present, or future, are born again; all have this new life given to them. There is the communication of divine life to them. But as far as regards those who hear the word, it is plainly through the Holy Ghost using the word as a means of life. It is emphatically the representation of Christ. In John 4 we enter on another operation of the Holy Ghost. "If thou knewest the free-giving of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." The living water is plainly the Holy Ghost, whom Christ gives. Here it is not the quickening operation of the Spirit, indispensable for all times and under all circumstances, if any souls are to belong to God; but it is a special privilege that Christ bestows personally. And you will find in the discourse of our Lord which follows, and is connected with what He had said to the woman of Samaria, that the Holy Ghost is given to believers now as the means of worshipping their God and Father in spirit and in truth. Thus we have in John 4 a totally different operation of the Spirit from what was urged in John 3. And to whom did our Lord disclose this? To a poor, wretched, abandoned woman; not even a Jewess, but a Samaritan. Our Lord is there showing the grace that goes out to the very vilest. God was now no longer, as before, putting the law forward. He displays Himself as a giver. Under the law God is rather a receiver; He asks, demands, insists that the creature render Him the honour due to His Majesty. In the gospel, God is the giver of His own Son. Instead of seeking something from guilty, lost man, He confers His very best on one who did not at first ask Him. "If thou knewest the gift — the free-giving — of God, (what a new sound to the Samaritan!) thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." This is what He does — He is giving the Spirit, the power of eternal life. The consequence of this most precious opening out of the truth is, that we know the Holy Ghost to be in us as the spring of communion and power of worship. It is not so much as using the word of God to deal with us in our natural uncleanness and to communicate a new life which cleaves to God and hates sin, with new feelings, new desires, new wants, which are only answered in Christ, and which every regenerate soul must have, if it were a poor nun, or a superstitious priest going through the mass. Yet if one were born of God, he could not but have a yearning after what he had not, and find, in the long run, Christ the object that attracted his soul — Christ the contrast of all that was found on earth or anywhere — Christ the only One that suited him, and the One, too, whose glory it was so to bless him. Of what would this be the proof? That he was born of God. For there is no proof but what may turn out a delusion save this — that my wants turn me to Christ, and make me find in Him the only One that can satisfy the soul.
But in John 4 it is not the case of a proud ruler of the Pharisees who is made to feel the need of regeneration, but a depraved woman, that had lost her character, to whom no one would care to speak, except — wonderful to say — the Son of God! It is to her that the Lord brings out this great truth, the gift of the Spirit: no longer merely acting morally on the soul or quickening, but Himself dwelling in the heart, the Holy Ghost the power of divine fellowship and worship. What a joy! the Holy Ghost dwelling in believers, the Father seeking such to worship Him. Do you know this? Or are you still tramelled by what is now passed, what once existed and then had the sanction of God? by the role of a past dispensation for an earthly people? by rites which no longer have the slightest value in His sight who reveals Himself as Father? The day of forms and ceremonies is entirely gone. How often people say, We do not attach importance to such things! The truth is, that they are now a very bad thing, and contrary to God's actual order. It is not only that fine sights and sounds should not be an object in worship, but it is a positive sin to seek or admit them. It is, in principle, a going back to idolatry and a condemned world. Therefore, in John 4, our Lord brings in, "The hour comes and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." There is the truth enunciated about worship. At Jerusalem the splendour of ceremonials had been at its height; but now all this is over, and any one fighting for it now unwittingly rebels against Christ. Our Lord shows that it is no longer in that mountain nor at Jerusalem that God should be worshipped. There was just about to dawn a new condition of things. And what does God value now? The true worshippers adoring the Father in spirit and in truth. What are they? His children. "The Father seeks such to worship him." He is gathering children, forming them for His own praise, putting the Holy Ghost within them to give the consciousness of their relationship with Himself, and, having this, to draw near to Him as their God and Father.
It is plain, then, that the notion now of having a mixed worship of people, some converted and some not, is a direct contradiction of Christianity. It could not be otherwise before the cross. There was then no such thing as God separating His children from those that were not thus related to Him. It would have been a sin for a believing Israelite to have said to an unbeliever, I cannot worship with you, because you are not born of God. But now the sin is to join in God's worship with those who are not His children; and for this simple reason, that the Father is seeking true worshippers, and none but such, to worship Him. I do not mean that it is a sin for those not converted to be in the same place as spectators and hearers. But the attempt to join everybody in the worship of God is a fatal delusion, dishonouring to Himself and destructive to the souls of those that are not true worshippers. But people have not faith to stand separate from the world. They like to have the countenance of men; and, of course, it is trying to have to act decidedly. We are warned of God that, if we seek to please men, we should not be the servants of Christ. We must run the risk of paining them, but faithful are the wounds of a friend. Some confound hearing the gospel or other truth with worship. But they are totally different. In worshipping God, Christians offer up to God services of praise and thanksgiving. Worship is what goes from the believer to God; whereas, in the gospel or other ministry, it is a message coming down from God for the good of souls, for the instruction of believers, or for the conviction and salvation of unbelievers. But whether one or other be addressed, it is always that which comes from God to them, and not what goes from them to God; so that the confounding of these two things is a serious evil. Among many the thing which makes them attached to the old walls and routine is not the prayers, but because they hope to hear something good in the sermon. They entirely thus pass out of the condition of worshippers. Worship is the true expression of the heart's praise and thanks by the Holy Ghost, whether by an illiterate man or not. We know in the case of the apostles that they could not speak correctly (Acts 4); but, for all that, they were the chosen vessels of such a power of God as never visited this earth before or since, in men of like passions with ourselves. And I believe it is so still and always will be so. God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. Although there may be a Paul brought in occasionally, this is the exception, and God never intends that the exceptions should become the role.
Thus, beside regeneration, which is the first operation of the Spirit of God, there is the further gift of the Holy Ghost. "In whom ye also … after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation." They were born of water and of the Spirit. They heard the word of truth, which we find in this very epistle set forth under the figure of water — "that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:26.) It is not only that the Church is washed by the word, but the poor sinner is born of the word when he believes the gospel — born of water and of the Spirit. But was it merely that they were born of water and of the Spirit? "In whom also, after that ye believed (or having believed), ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise." It is very startling to many to find that, after they have been born of the Spirit, there is such a thing as being sealed by the Spirit. Others, again, seeing both facts, invented confirmation. They felt from the Scripture that there is something over and above being born of water. Therefore a religion of forms first made baptism to regenerate every one, and then confirmation to crown it. But forms are no better than idolatry: it is putting something in the place of Christ. After the apostles left, this grew apace. Ceremonies, done by the hand of men, were substituted for the power of the Holy Ghost acting on the souls of men. Finding from the word of God that there were these two things, regeneration first and then the subsequent gift of the Holy Ghost, they adopted two different ceremonies — in one sense very properly, if there must be a religion of forms at all. But it is a total mistake as to the very nature of Christianity.
Yet the truth remains that there were two different operations of the Holy Ghost. The first is, when a man is brought to a sense of sin. What makes a man abhor himself? He is born of God. He has no happiness at all perhaps, but a real sense of ruin; yet his heart cleaves to God. That man is born of God — truly converted: no comfort as yet perhaps in his soul, but his heart is open to listen further to the word of the truth, the gospel of salvation. He believes it. What then? He is sealed of the Holy Ghost, as a believer, not only in Christ, but in the gospel of our salvation — the work that Christ has done. For I do not think that you can have a soul sealed with the Holy Ghost, unless he enters into the work as well as the person of Christ. This accounts for the fact that there were persons born of the Holy Ghost who never were sealed. For instance, the Old Testament saints were believers in Christ; they all looked for Christ. All were born of God, but not one was sealed with the Holy Ghost. To be born of the Spirit and sealed with the Spirit are very different things, which may or may not be united in the same person. All must be born of the Spirit, but it is never said that all must be sealed with the Spirit in order to enter into the kingdom of God. Wherever the Holy Ghost speaks of the sealing of the Spirit, it proves the clean contrary. Who was the first person said to be sealed with the Spirit? Our blessed Lord Himself. He had it in a way peculiar to Himself. When was He sealed? When redemption was accomplished and He went up to heaven? No; but when He walked upon earth. "Him hath God the Father sealed." It was as Son of man He was sealed, and as Son of man on earth before redemption — without bloodshedding, because He knew no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. He was absolutely sinless: He could have the Holy Ghost abiding on Him entirely apart from blood, because He was the Holy One — the Saviour. He needed no work — no blood — no redemption; but yet He died, and there was blood shed and redemption effected. Why so? That we might be sealed — that we, who had no natural title to be brought nigh, that we, in whom the Holy Ghost could never take up His abode, might have that same Holy Ghost who dwelt in Him abiding in us.
This is what our Lord gradually brings out to view. "Thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." Therefore it was that the Lord taught the disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit; and this, after they were already regenerate. Yet He tells them to ask the Father for the Holy Spirit. (Luke 11) Is it the same thing now, seeing that He has given the Spirit? Am I to ask for the Holy Ghost when I have Him dwelling in me? It would have been the most flagrant unbelief, after Christ was in the midst of the disciples, had they asked God to send Christ. And now, when the Holy Ghost is sent from heaven, and given to be in us a well of water springing up into everlasting life, was it for such to entreat the Holy Ghost to be given them? for Christians to be praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? It is a practical denial that the Holy Ghost is sent down from heaven, and is dwelling in us. It is quite right to pray that we may not grieve Him, and that we may not quench Him. To pray that we may be strengthened with all might according to His Spirit in the inner man, is according to the word of God; but we ought not to say one word that implies the Holy Ghost is not here when He is. A most grievous cloud of darkness rests on the minds of many children of God as to this subject. They do not believe their privileges, they do not know that the Holy Ghost dwells in them. Does not the Holy Ghost feel this? If you had one caring for you day by day, and you were habitually to question your relationship to him, or doubt his care of you, it would show that you were morbid. There is a mist over your eyes, and you are asking for the very mercies that are already given. This is neither wisdom nor faith. It is quite true that we may ask God to bless the gospel to the unconverted and to regenerate them. But people pray for a pouring out of the Spirit — a different thing from conversion, and only mentioned in connection with the Holy Ghost's being given, first to the Jews, next to the Samaritans, and, thirdly, to the Gentiles. From that day to this, there is not the smallest ground to ask God for an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. It is an unintelligent prayer, founded on unbelief of the truth that the Holy Ghost is sent down. Even God Himself could not add to the blessedness of the gift He has already given. There was a great difference between a Jew, a Gentile, and a Samaritan; and therefore it is mentioned expressly in relation to the three. The Holy Ghost never will be poured out again upon the Church. It is ignorance of the ways of God to look for it. He has been poured out for the Church as truly as it is possible for God to give. But when the heavenly saints have been taken to be with Christ at His coming, there will in due time follow an outpouring of His Spirit on a new people, when the Jews and Gentiles will be brought as such distinctly to the knowledge of Jesus. But as long as the Church is on the earth, there never will nor can be such a thing. Can it be repeated, any more than there can be another mission of the Lord Jesus to work again for us? Nor is this a mere matter of speculation. It is connected in the deepest possible way with our worship and even our peace.
You will find that faith in the presence of God's Spirit, or unbelief of it, is that which puts to the test saints in the present day. It behoves us to consider well whether we really do enter into the mind of God about it. Let us understand that what constitutes us Christians is not only that we believe in Christ, but that we are now sealed with the Holy Ghost. He regenerates an unbeliever by faith in Christ; He seals none but believers. This was the decisive proof of man's being a Christian. Peter thus alleges the fact: "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" It was not merely that they had believed; but God had given them the Holy Ghost, and could they dare to refuse persons in whom that divine Person dwelt, on whom God had conferred such signal grace? Such, too, is the ground of all christian unity — the presence of the Holy Ghost. The question is not merely, Is there life? but, Have we believed that the Holy Ghost dwells in you? It was the possession of the Spirit, and not life merely, that was made the turning point. It was not until they had received the Holy Ghost that the Gentiles were acknowledged as part and parcel of the Church of God. (Acts 11) The Church is not only bound to look for life, and to believe that there is life in the soul, but is also authorized from the word of God to wait till there is such a manifestation of it, as to plainly manifest that the man has the Holy Ghost dwelling in him. There never was such a thing as owning as an assembly till there was a recognition of their being on common ground with the Church by the reception of the Holy Ghost.
All this makes the true way of dealing with saints now very evident. The Church would be justified in expecting this manifestation of the power of the Spirit. It is not true charity which does not look for it. "In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory." Without dwelling on this last verse, I would make the remark again, that as the seal of the Spirit could not be till the work of Christ was done (the Son only being sealed upon earth who needed no redemption, but who came, on the contrary, to redeem us to God), as we now, on the footing of redemption, receive the Holy Ghost to dwell in us, so we receive the earnest of the inheritance.
This last, I believe, to be just as peculiar to the Church of God since Pentecost, as the sealing of the Spirit. As the disciples were not sealed with the Spirit, so neither had they the earnest of the inheritance till the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven. This earnest is the power of the Holy Ghost giving a believer now present joy, present anticipation of the glory to which he is going. This may be hindered in many a believer's heart by a want of knowledge of the truth, or by the workings of the flesh, worldliness, etc. But still it remains true, that, now that the Holy Ghost is given, a believer ought to look up and pray to God if there be anything that hinders his entering into the joy of his blessed inheritance, that it may be detected and put away. I am quite sure that the caring only for being born of God has acted greatly to the injury of the children of God; it has stopped them short, as if the only object were to learn that they were children and no more. But our business is, having believed, to go on and learn other truths, and above all, Christ Himself. So it is precisely that the Holy Ghost's regenerating a soul is not to arrest the soul with the fact that it is regenerate; but being born of God, we have to go forward, to enter into the blessed truths of God, which cluster round both our redemption and our future glory, and find their centre in Christ's person and work.
As the seal, the Holy Ghost is the witness of the perfectness of our being cleansed from our sins — the effect of the work of Christ. That operation of the Spirit is meant which supposes the work done, and that we are set apart to God on the ground of redemption. We are sealed because redemption is finished. If I look at glory, it is not arrived. Therefore the figure is changed when he speaks of our inheritance. "Sealing" would not do in connection with that, because we have it not as a fact; we wait to be put in possession of what we are to have along with Christ. Hence the Holy Ghost is spoken of as "the earnest of our inheritance." The same Spirit who seals us is the earnest of our bright future "till the redemption of the purchased possession." First of all, we have the privileges of divine grace that chose us in Christ; predestined us to the place of sons; took us into full favour, without a single question, "in the Beloved;" gave us redemption already in Christ through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. But no sooner has the Holy Ghost thus established us in the full knowledge of God's love to us, and the present effect of it in putting away our sins, than He brings before us the inheritance. Hence comes in the relation of the Holy Ghost to these two things. And as there are two great parts in God's choice of us personally, so the Holy Ghost takes a double relationship. He is the seal of the grace and blessing that we have in Christ, and He is the earnest of the glory we are going to have with Christ. These are the relations of the Holy Ghost to the individual believer. All the corporate dealings of the Spirit have a secondary place compared with His ways with the soul individually, which, though susceptible of a far fuller development, have received a measure of notice sufficient for my present purpose.
We have now the Holy Ghost leading the apostle into a remarkable prayer flowing out of the subject (or, at least, a part of it) already brought before us. It will be found that all is in the most orderly connection which it is possible to conceive, even when revealed to us; an order that we never could have conceived, unless God had made it known, but which, once communicated, approves itself immediately to the spiritual judgment. For the blessing which the enraptured apostle had poured out in the earlier verses flows, we have seen, from a twofold title of God: "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Accordingly in this epistle there are two prayers, answering to this double title. The first prayer is given in the portion now before us, and pertains to His title as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ; while in Ephesians 3:14, we have a corresponding prayer, which answers to the second title, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both, clearly, have Christ as the foundation and centre; but, then, Christ regarded in a wholly different point of view. In the former of the two, Christ is viewed as man, and one who calls God His God; in the second of them, Christ is regarded in His still more intimate relationship as Son, who therefore brings before us the Father. We, too, have communion with God in both respects; we have to do with Him as God and as Father. It is said in John 4, "The hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." But then our Lord adds, "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." There is an immense difference between the two things. As the Father He is seeking worshippers, communicating the unspeakable favour of bringing them to the knowledge of His love. He forms their hearts after the display of Himself in Christ, causes them to overflow with thanksgiving and praise, and thus constitutes them worshippers in spirit and in truth. But then it is added, that God is a spirit, etc. Whatever the form in which He might have manifested Himself in Judaism, for special reasons — whatever displays of His judicial majesty, in tangible ways, Himself properly hidden, He is a spirit, and consequently He must have spiritual worship. Thus it is not merely the exceeding love that is seeking and making and gathering out worshippers, but it is the necessary character of the only worship that He admits now. From the moment that He reveals Himself fully, He can own nothing but real worship in the Spirit. The day of forms, rites, and ceremonies is totally passed. Hence it is not only that He does not look for them, but He scorns them; He treats them as a libel upon His nature, a slight on His Son, and Satan's substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost. They that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. I think it important to bring out the connections of the blessed word of God so as to show that the distinction pointed out is not imaginative. Alas! that men should be beguiled to invent, in presence of the untold treasures of the Bible. All we have to do is to bow before what is given us there. We may have, no doubt, to learn; but where the truth is known, what a mercy to be entirely delivered from the vain desire or the need of any invention! It is natural to unsatisfied man to seek out exciting novelties. But God is infinitely above man, and His word rich beyond all thought; so that all we have to do is to submit our souls to Scripture, assured, too, that the revelation of God, old as it is, offers practically that which is ever new to the heart.
In our epistle, then, we have these two prayers; the first of them introduced by the apostle, who says, "wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints." Now inasmuch as our love would bring in the thought of something on man's part that would give importance to us, although he is about to speak of love to the saints, he introduces the matter by "faith," because this throws us not so much on our love to Him as His love to us. "Wherefore," he says, "I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus," and then gives the consequence of this, "and your love unto all the saints." This is a very important word in judging of our love. We are all apt to form a circle even among the saints of God — to have those that we prefer, those that suit us best, whose thoughts, feelings, habits, are more or less the same as our own, or, at least, are no great trial to us. But, then, this is not love to the saints. There is more love to ourselves in it than loving them. The flesh likes what is agreeable to us — what does not cause us pain, what is, perhaps, a gratification to the amiabilities of nature. All that may be where there is really no exercise of the new nature, no mighty power of the Spirit of God working in our hearts. We have always to test our souls, and ask how we stand in this. Is the prominent motive and objects of our hearts the Lord Jesus? Is it with Him and for Him that we think of and feel towards all the saints?
I fully admit that love towards the saints cannot, and ought not, to take the same shape towards all. It must be in the energy and intelligence of the Spirit, varied according to the call upon love. While one ought to love even a person who is under discipline, it would be a very great mistake to suppose that your love must be shown in the same way as if he were not. You do not cease to love him; indeed you never are in a position and spirit to exercise discipline with the Lord where there is not love — righteous hatred of the sin, indignation it may be, but real charity to the person. It would be better to wait upon God if it be not so in our hearts, till we can take it up in the spirit of divine grace. There must be, of course, a dealing in righteousness; but even in dealing with one's child there ought not to be such a thing as chastening it in a passion. Anything that merely arises out of a sudden impulse, is not a feeling that glorifies God about evil. Therefore, in cases of discipline, there ought to be self-judgment, and great patience, too, unless it be something so flagrant that to hesitate about it would be culpable weakness, or want of decision and jealousy for God, for there are some sins so offensive to God and to man that they ought, if we are sensitive to His holiness and obedient, to be met with grave energy and as it were on the very spot. The arena of the sin, God would have to be the scene of its judgment according to His will.
Supposing something done in the public assembly, false doctrine in the midst of God's people, if there were the power of God, and a heart for His rights, it might be due to His majesty to deal with it without delay. This is sufficiently plain from the word of God, where in a case of direct hypocrisy and lying against God, we find the promptness of the Holy Ghost, through the apostle, in the very presence of the Church, which at once judged the fraud that was attempted to be practised upon Him who dwelt there. I deny there was want of love in this: rather was it the necessary accompaniment of divine love acting, through the Holy Ghost's might, in the assembly, or at least, by Peter, as the special instrument of His power therein. It was a stern judgment, doubtless; but it was the fruit of intense desire for the saints of God, and of horror that such a sin should get a footing and shelter among them, and the Holy Ghost should be thus foully dishonoured, and be grieved with the whole Church if it were connived at. But in ordinary cases the same love would wait, and let time be given for the fault to be owned and repented of. In nine cases out of ten mistakes arise from precipitancy, because we are apt to be jealous for our own reputation. O how little have we realized that we are crucified and dead with Christ! We feel the scandal, or something that affects the public mind: this is not the power of the Holy Ghost, but the selfish egoism that is at work in our hearts. We do not like to lose our character, or to share the sorrow and shame of Christ in those who bear His name. Not of course, that one would make light of what is wrong: that never could be right about anything either great or small. We ought never to justify the least wrong, whether in ourselves or in others, but accustom our souls to the habitual clearing of the name of the Lord, even if it be about a hasty word. If we begin to be careless about little offences, there is nothing to preserve us from great sins but the mere mercy of God. If love unto all the saints were working in our hearts, there would be less haste.
We sometimes misconstrue things, and endeavour to give, as we take, a very sombre impression. where evil was but in appearance. Let us beware of judging according to the first blush, where the reality may prove to be otherwise: it is not righteous judgment. We should seek to judge things by a higher standard, and in the light of God. In these serious matters we are bound to be sure, and never to yield to suspicion. All judgment, if it be according to God, must proceed upon what is known and certain, not upon what is a surmise — too often the effect of an unfounded pretension to superior spirituality. We find the importance of this constantly; and, were our souls more simple about it, fewer mistakes would be made.
Christ has the first place where the heart is true; and next, "all the saints" become the object of our love. If there are two cases of persons in fault, and the one were a prime favourite, and the other but little liked, the latter is in imminent danger, I need hardly say, of going to the wall. My object of aversion would labour under a cloud which obscures the truth, no matter how evident it might be to the dispassionate; whereas, on the contrary, the favourite would derive that which outweighs the proofs of guilt from the unwillingness on the part of his friends to pronounce anything wrong about him. Both these feelings are thoroughly at issue, in such circumstances, with the mind of God. Indeed, both favouritism and prejudices are plainly condemned by His blessed word. "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." (James 3:17)
"Love unto all the saints" is enjoined because they are saints. To love them, because God has separated and brought them into an eternal relationship with Himself, is the only true and christian love to such. Our great difficulty always is that our thoughts, feelings, actions, should flow from this ground. Do not mistake me. I do not mean that it is wrong to have friends. Our Lord had. He loved John as He did not love the others, and there was a sense in which He loved them every one alike; as His saints, they were beyond comparison precious in His sight. He might prize the faithfulness of some of His servants; He might have to encourage, reprove, correct all round; and we must leave room for all these things. There is the grand basis of love to all the saints; but it is clear we are not bound to open out matters of a personal nature to every one because he is a saint. For example, saints are not always the wisest of men; and while we are not to disown their saintship, we are not bound to lay bare our difficulties, or to seek counsel in what may require ripe spiritual judgment from those who could render no help whatever in the case. Love there must be always. This brings in the value of that divine principle, "esteeming others better than ourselves." This I hold to be true of all saints. It might be a man that had not two ideas and yet had Christ before his soul. He might be very ignorant and very foolish — hasty perhaps in spirit, strong in prejudice, weak in sympathies, and worthless as a counsellor; but if there is evidently a soul that cleaves to Christ and values Him above everything, can I not, should I not, esteem him better than myself? Do not I see there is that which admonishes my soul — which refreshes and edifies me, much more than if he were merely the staunchest friend and the wisest adviser? In the least saint of God there is that which both cheers and humbles the heart. I am not to esteem a person for a quality which he may not possess: God does not, could not, put such a phantom before us. On the other hand, it is well to bethink ourselves of the preciousness of every saint as such. Show me the very weakest and most trying of them all; yet we may and ought to cultivate a real, genuine respect for them as God's children. There is not only God for them, but what is of Christ in them; and this may commend them above all other considerations to him who values communion with the Father and the Son.
On the contrary, in thinking of ourselves, ought we not to feel how much there is that is unlike Christ? May we ever be specially alive to that in which we break down and grieve the Spirit of God! This would have the effect of lowering and putting down our own self-esteem. Could we think so highly of ourselves, if we felt as we ought our exceeding and, alas! frequent failure, in presence of the rich, perfect grace of God to our souls? Whereas, if we had before us in others, not their failure, but Christ's love to and His life in them, and the glory to which they belong, what would be the effect? "Love unto all the saints." It is Christ discerned in the saints, which is the power of the love He would have going out towards them. Under certain circumstances, with a person whom you trusted God might bring out as a saint — whom you have prayed for, and whose good you have sought in any way, yet at a given time it might be a sin to associate as a Christian. I am speaking of one who had by filthiness of flesh or spirit brought dishonour upon the name of the Lord. But though we may for the time abstain from all the expressions of loving intercourse, yet love always finds a place in which to show itself, though sometimes it may be only in the presence of God, and not manifestly to the human eye. So that, as to the manner of showing love, we must search the word of God. But the general principle cannot be doubted, that God would lay upon our hearts all the saints. He has them all upon His own heart, and He will have us to cultivate this largeness of family affection.
Accordingly Paul, who entered into this in a measure which even the saints addressed perhaps knew little of practically, adds, "Wherefore I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." There is the title so often referred to — "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." He is about to speak of the divine dealing with man and even with Christ as man; for of course it is only in that sense that one could so speak. But if dealing with us accordingly, working mercies through the risen man and fresh blessings suited to this character, yet He is "the Father of glory" as being the great Head and Fountain of all heavenly blessedness, the One from whom it all came to His own name and praise. This at once lets us into the secret of the prayer. Glory is the main thought — not the only, but the most prominent, feature of the prayer. Hence then the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, purposes and works by Him to give certain blessings to us; and it will be found that the basis of the bright pillar of blessing is Christ risen and glorified at the right hand of God. If you look at the prayer in chapter 3 there is not a word about His being there exalted "far above all principality, and power, and might;" for its subject is not glory at all, nor what God has done: it is not anything conferred upon Christ, but Himself and His love, the sum and substance of my blessing; as it is said there "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." Here the prayer in Ephesians 1 is the contrast in every way of that in Ephesians 3. In the latter, love is the parent idea, and not glory. It is well to bear in mind always this wonderful connection of love and glory; because the one would not do without the other. And although glory be its bright manifestation and effect, yet love is still deeper and is never fully known except in the immediate presence of our Father. The kingdom is not the evidence in our case of the love of God; the proof of it on our behalf is that we are to be with the Son in the Father's house, and that we shall appear with Christ in glory. Who brings us there? The world knows nothing about the Father's house. It is a scene outside the earth, that no eye of man here below can possibly enter into. But He will also display us to the world.
Hence it is that, in John 17:22, you will find that the glory which the Father gives the Son and which the Son gives to us because of His all-perfect love — this gift is in order that the world may know that the Father sent the Son and loved us as He loved the Son. To prove the love, the glory there, as here, is set prominently forward. As we have the prayer of glory in Ephesians 1 and the prayer of love in Ephesians 3, so the glory that is given in John 17 is to prove what otherwise would not have been so clearly made known to the world. Men here below may see the glory, but they cannot enter into the love. The world will gather from our being in the glory with the Lord Jesus that we were loved with the same love wherewith the Lord Jesus was loved. Glory expresses itself outwardly, but love goes deeper still and brings one into the scene where the Father reveals Himself in His beloved Son. This is what l may call an intimate, family scene outside the world, the heavenly rest and home. It is not merely brightness, glory, majesty, or power. All these things will have their full display; but there is something deeper than all and which lies at the root of all. It is the love, which, though it be the least entered into, yet at the same time was really before all, and that to which all will turn. It is the highest of all, and it is eternal. The kingdom may terminate — the love never. The display before the world will have a beginning and an end. But as the love will never end, so it always was in the bosom of God the Father.
Thus we have the prayer that "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him." There might be a little difficulty if it were simply "the knowledge of him." The proper meaning of the word is "the full knowledge of him." They already knew Him, but Paul prayed that they might know Him more. He wanted them to be fathers in Christ, and what constitutes a father is a deep and growing knowledge of Christ Himself. The Spirit of God alone could give them this entrance into it; but it was in the full knowledge of Him. "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe." We have three things here brought before us, which call for particular consideration.
First, there is "the hope of his calling." Now I conceive that there he is referring in measure to what we have already found in the early part of the chapter. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us 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." At any rate, I think verse 4 is before his mind's eye here. Verse 5 brings in His place as Father. "The hope of his calling" is founded on the full blessedness that pertains to us according to that purpose of God which is already ours in Christ — already made known to us and received by our hearts — the calling of God that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. But then if this be the hope of His calling (for everything is made to flow from God Himself), he adds, "and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." (Ver. 12.) There clearly he refers to what we found in the body of the chapter: the inheritance and not only the calling. The calling was the effectual work of God's grace, and the riches of the inheritance rather the glory suited to such a calling. But, besides this character of glory, there is, first, the hidden portion suitable to being chosen to be holy and without blame before Him in love — called to be the reflection of His own holy, loving nature, which, of course, we have got in the life of Christ, and which we shall have perfectly developed when changed into His image, from glory to glory. For His calling has its own proper hope of what we shall enjoy in His presence.
Thus there is, secondly, the inheritance. He wished them to know the riches of its glory, to know it better. But he uses a remarkable expression — "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." You must carefully guard against a prevalent error on this subject, namely, that the saints mean the inheritance. This is not at all the force of the phrase: nay, I have no hesitation in saying that it would falsify the chief blessedness of the Church's calling. If we look at the Old Testament, we find that Israel were His inheritance and His people; and that God, by virtue of Israel, took possession of the land. When the day comes for God to be king, and more than king, when He takes under His government the entire universe, how will this be done? Will it be by Israel? No; but by virtue of His heavenly saints — the Church of God. The expression seems to be purposely large. Most decidedly it means the saints changed or risen, so as to be in the likeness of Christ, in an entirely heavenly condition. Such is the mode in which God will challenge and assume the inheritance by and by into His own hand. When He took Canaan, He did not come down and possess it by heavenly power, but by means of His people. But when God expels the wicked spirits from any connection with the heavenly places, when He puts down all power upon the earth — everything that contradicts Himself, and reduces the whole universe into subjection to the name of Christ, who are destined to take it in His name, as Israel entered on the land of Canaan? The risen saints. Hence the meaning of the words, "the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." The common notion that the saints constitute the inheritance is unscriptural. For most carefully throughout the New Testament, the saints are always represented as (not the inheritance, but) the heirs, "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." They are nowhere treated as the inheritance, but, on the contrary, what is revealed as the inheritance means the things in heaven and things on earth; and the Church is ever and sedulously separated from them. This I consider to be a point which cannot be left as an open question; the testimony of the word is too abundant and precise. We ought never to allow what is clearly revealed in Scripture to be debatable or uncertain, because doubt always has an injurious effect upon the spirit, no less than it insults God and grieves His Spirit. Another's certainty will not do for us; but we need not hesitate to speak plainly where we have no doubt of God's mind upon a subject. And when looked at in this point of view, it quite falls in with the structure of the chapter. As we have found "the hope of his calling" in the first clause answering to what we had in the earlier verses, so the "glory of the inheritance" answers to the middle verses of the chapter. God means to have the whole universe blest and happy under Christ; not merely glory given to Him in heaven, or a people subject to Him here below. We have here an incomparably larger view of what God intends. Christ is to have universal blessedness and glory, all things in heaven and earth being put under Him; and we have obtained in Him this inheritance.
The remaining point is, "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." (Ver. 20.) Why not draw attention to the power that was put forth when He made the world? When Israel are addressed, He speaks of Himself as the Jehovah-God who clave the Red Sea, and brought His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
But what to us is the Red Sea crossed? The resurrection of Christ; not the incarnation nor even the cross of Christ, though we could not do without either. The cross, though the most essential of all things for God's glory and our need, does not give us the power of God. It shows us what God calls His weakness, and if I look at Christ there, He was "crucified through weakness." It was One who submitted to everything, who put Himself in the power of His creatures; who went down under the judgment of God and sank even under the puny hand of man. But when we look at the resurrection, all trace of weakness is for ever past away and nothing is seen but the most triumphant power of God; a power far beyond anything connected with either the law or creation. It was a question of going down into the grave, not merely of a man, but of that man who had borne in His person the sins of every soul that believes in Him. And so completely was God glorified about these sins that He takes up the despised, rejected, forsaken man from under the unheard of burden, and puts Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places. We have there the astonishing contrast between the grave in which Christ lay and the glory into which He is now exalted, still as man — the glorified man — far above all creatures, be they ever so high or blest: above creatures which were far above man in one sense and had never known taint or fall: above the principalities, authorities, dominions, powers on high, the heavenly orders, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but in that which is to come. (Ver. 21.) There will be the display of angelic hosts then, when the Son of man shall come in His glory and all the holy angels with Him. But He is raised above them all now. To be above them as God would be nothing new; He is so always. But He has carried humanity above them; He is there exalted in our nature — risen, of course, but still the nature of man. He has given us present association with the throne of God. For the application of all this is given to us here — "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead." It is not merely the exceeding greatness of His power towards Christ, but towards us in Christ. The power that wrought in our deliverance from Satan, that gave us our place as saints before God, is the self-same power that raised up Christ from the dead and put Him in the most glorious place in heaven. Is there anything difficult after this? If we knew we had at command the power which called the world into being, should we not laugh at impossibilities?
But we have an energy greater than that which was put forth in creation — no less than what raised up Christ from the dead. The word of God positively tells us so. Why then are we so weak? Because we so feebly believe it. The great mass of God's children never hear about it at all. But even they who, through the mercy of God, have heard, how little do they enter into it! It is one thing not to deny it doctrinally, another to apply it and live in it, not only for great straits or heavy blows, but for the ordinary train of daily duty, of that which becomes us as saints, subjecting ourselves to the will of God. We forget, if we are in circumstances of difficulty, if in the midst of foes, if we have to do with unseen enemies, what it is the apostle prays for us. That we may know the exceeding greatness of His power towards us who believe, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. If the power of the Holy Ghost so wrought in Paul, it was but the answer of the servant to the Master's heart, who was so pleading above, that we might know the power that is above all obstacles. No saints could know this till after the resurrection was accomplished. It is to usward who believe — strictly to the New Testament saints, called in after the Lord's death and resurrection.
Alas! how are the mighty fallen. How feebly they now realize their own privileges. Thus, supposing that a deliverer were expected for anything at all, it would be perfectly right to cry for that deliverer — to feel that he was long in coming. But when he came, do you think it would be proper or suitable to urge him to come? It is the mistake people make now. They take up the language of the Psalms and apply it to christian experience. But you could not have in the Psalms the revelation of that which we have here. God's mercy you surely have previous to the resurrection of Christ; but there was no such thing as that power at work which raised up Christ from the dead. The mistake is profound who pervert the Old Testament so as to make it the language of our experience. It would be sin if one did not use the Old Testament for our own profit and good; but that would be abusing, not using, it. It is unbelief to confound anything of old with the heavenly power of Christ's resurrection.
This, then, is the measure of the power at work towards us — the same power that wrought in Christ. How are any of these things to be known according to God? "In the full knowledge of him." You will never learn any truth aright excepting in the deepening knowledge of Christ. It is the lack of this which is the cause of weakness among us: bare doctrine is not connection with Christ. When the flower is separated from that which is its source, its sustenance and support, it is thenceforth doomed to decay and death. We have that which is lovely and full of blessing in Christ; but if we are to know it such, to prove its truth, to enjoy it always, it must be in taking these things as connected with Christ. Let me look at Christ, and I see there the very life that God has given me, and the hope of it too, even as to the inheritance. Who would dare to say, it is presumption for Christ to have it? Nay, but it is what is due to Him. God loves and delights in Him as man so well, that He could not keep back a single thing that He has made from Him. He is the heir of it all; and we, hidden in Christ, can enter into the fulness of His calling, and into the inheritance, because we merge into union with Christ. And as you can only know the calling and the inheritance in the full knowledge of Christ, so it is also with "the exceeding greatness of his power."
The height of that power is what God put forth when He raised up Christ "from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places," etc. He has given Him the supreme seat of glory. No matter what could be conceived of the highest angel or archangel, Christ has received a higher dignity, and this place. He holds in present association with us while we are here. It is One who not only owns us and is kind to us, and uses the greatness of His glory for our good, but far more. He who is at the head of a vast empire can turn the throne to the good of his subjects and the glory of those whom he desires to honour; but there is no positive, immediate, personal association with him. This is what the Christian has with Christ. Nothing less than to be one with Christ is what we have here.
Therefore it is added, that this blessed One, under whose feet God has put everything, has been also given to be head over all things to the Church. It is not said, "head over the church," but "head over all things to the church." (Ver. 22.) The Church shares His place of headship over all; but as His body, in inseparable union with Him. The glorified Man has universal exaltation over all the creatures of God; and this He shares with us, and will soon manifest as our portion with Him. The Christian is now a member of Christ's body — now, therefore, by the Holy Ghost, in the most intimate association with Christ, not only as having life in Him, but as enjoying oneness with Him who is the supreme exalted Head over all. He is a member of His body; and although it was not to Eve directly that God gave the dominion, yet did she share it by His will. It was given to Adam, but by association Eve had it along with Adam. So the Church has it as the dependent and associated Eve of the heavenly Man, the last Adam. This gives us at once a bright view of what our calling is, and why God looks for complete separation from the world. In the time of the Protector in this country, it would have been improper for any one that held to the royal family to seek or even accept a post of honour. So with the Christian now. We belong to One who is hidden away from the earth — exalted now into this universal headship. The world that we see is not yet put under Christ practically, though to faith all things are; but we know that He is exalted, "head over all things to the church."
We belong to Him, and He would have our hearts lifted up above all the present scene. The Church is "His body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all." (Ver. 23.) It is the complement, or that which fills up Christ, looked at as man risen from the dead. As Son of God He, of course, requires nothing to complete His glory; but as man He does. He would no more be complete in His resurrection-glory without the Church, than Adam would have been without Eve. And God has, in the counsels of His glory, so ordered it. He meant, from all eternity, that when His Son became this blessed, glorified man, He should share for His own honour and praise all the glory He had as the risen man with those who were by nature poor, dead sinners, but now delivered from their sins, and made one with Christ on high. By the Spirit now given He communicates the knowledge of it to them while in the world, that they may be in spirit and ways entirely above the world.
We now enter upon a new portion of our epistle; if not so exalted in its tone as that which we have glanced over in chapter 1, equally important in its place and of the utmost moment to us. But then we must carefully bear in mind that what is of interest to us is not an adequate measure in looking at either the word of God or His ways. God never acts for anything short of His own glory. So that although we find many parts of the word of God which in the very closest way touch our condition, wants, blessing and glory, we invariably fall short of the just scope and standard of the truth of God, if we limit our thoughts by its application to ourselves. Never do we reach the full extent of any truth in its bearing upon us, unless we also take into account its infinitely higher range as the revealed display of God's glory, character, and purposes. Hence it is, that although we find in the Scripture grace already shown to us, and glory that we are soon to participate in, yet how infinite the blessing when we no longer look at it as that which is directly toward creatures so limited and feeble as ourselves! When we realize that it is the grace and the glory of God, how all is changed completely! We then hear and find out this grand truth — He does speak of us and feel for us in ways, forms, depths, and heights suited to Himself. He enters into all our little wants as well as all our greatest. But still, if it were the least thing He meets in us, the supply of that want flows from One who has no limits; and if it be suited to our capacity for the present moment, it will not be always so. God will never rest in His love till He has not only given us by the Holy Ghost now to taste in measure the sweetness of the display of His own character, but made us in every way worthy of it. He has called us to be His children. The day is coming when not merely His love will not be ashamed so to call us, but when there will be no reason why it should be: when, on the contrary, everything that pertains to the family of God will savour just as much of what He is as, alas! now our poor, pitiful, worldly ways often tell a painful tale of self and not God.
In this chapter then it is, not the unfolding of God's counsels and magnificent purposes as they flow from His own mind — consequently going back to the beginning of time, and before creation had a place at all as a matter of fact, when all was but God Himself in the eternity of His own existence. Even then, as Ephesians 1 told us, before His hand had been put forth in anything, there was this blessed thought in His heart: He meant to have a people, yea, sons, out of the scene that was yet to be created, gathered by His own sovereign grace out of sin, to be the partakers of His love and of His holiness, along with His beloved Son. This was His counsel. Chapter 1 showed us this, not only what was in God's mind from eternity, but the answer to it in the day of glory that is coming. For two great thoughts were brought before us there: first, the calling of God; and next, the inheritance that is yet to be displayed in the bright display of glory when Christ shall take everything that God has made, and will be the acknowledged, glorified Head of it (all things, whether in heaven or on earth, being put under Him); and when we who believed in Him shall be called to the place of sharing that inheritance along with Him, our Lord and Bridegroom. Thirdly, we saw an added and most weighty point — that the same power of God which raised up Christ from the dead is at work toward believers now. This was only alluded to passingly in the prayer of the apostle at the end of chapter 1. What we have here is, to a certain point, a kind of development of it. Chapter 2 is mainly based on His resurrection-power; nay, not this only, but, if I may so say, ascension-power. The energy which raised up Christ and set Him at the right hand of God, is now put forth on behalf of and working in those that believe in Him. We shall see the consequences of this. But now let us weigh for a moment what the Holy Ghost here brings out. It is the application of the mighty power of God to the believer. It is not, therefore, simply the purpose of grace, nor the execution of that purpose in glory by and by, but it is the exercise of His power after the pattern of Christ risen and glorified, and the application of it to the believer even now.
Hence we have necessarily first brought before us the condition of those in whom the power is put forth, what they were when it began to work in them. Accordingly it is only in chapter 2 that we begin to have any development of the actual condition of those with whom God is so nearly linked. Chapter 1 is mainly occupied with what God had in His mind, and what He will yet accomplish. Now we have the question raised and answered, Who are these people, and what was their state when God could so deal with them? And it is most marvellous, that, when we come to hear His word, there is in no other epistle any portion that gives us so deep, searching, humiliating a picture of the desperate, degraded state in which those were whom God destined to be joint-heirs with Christ. The laying bare moral corruptions we have in Romans, fully proving what man is if he take the ground of anything within him. Whether the favoured Jew under the law, or the Gentile with his conscience, all is thoroughly discussed there, and every pretension of man is ground to powder. But in Ephesians the proof of guilt is needless. Man is viewed as so completely dead, that it is but the removal of the cloth from off the corpse. Therefore the apostle says, "You has he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." It is not simply, How is a sinner to be forgiven, justified? but "You has he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." The words "has he quickened" are inserted, it is true, in italics, but it is the evident and necessary sense; without it, to an English reader, the sentence would be embarrassed. It is not till verses 4, 5 that we have the completion of the thought. It is plain that the quickening affects those that are called — "you," as well as those designated "us." I shall hope to show the meaning of the distinction presently, but I only refer to it now in order to guard against the notion, that there is no sufficient reason for inserting in English the expression, "You has he quickened;" whereas it is implied in the language that the Holy Ghost used, or at least in the sense.
The grand fact remains. It is not merely a question of disease in the moral state of man; but they are "dead." What a blow to all the thoughts of man — to the notion that he is in a state of probation — that he is in a mere sickly state of soul; and if you only soothe and comfort and educate him, after all he is not so bad! Some people think there is a difference between believers and unbelievers in their unconverted state: this I deny. As to men being born, some of them more worthy of having mercy shown them than others, the idea is contrary to every word of God that treats of the subject. On the contrary, what the Holy Ghost insists upon is the real death and equal ruin of all. In Romans it is said that we were "without strength," but here we were "dead." The only way in which death is spoken of in Romans is as a privilege, the happy condition into which faith brought us when baptized unto the death of Christ. We are thus viewed as being dead to sin and alive to God.
In Ephesians, on the contrary, death was our misery. It was the expression of God's mind about the extreme ruin in which we lay. We have both Jews and Gentiles (neither now first or last) — man as such — morally dead; so that it becomes a question of what God can do. God above, and man here below, are in the presence of each other; and if man is dead, thanks be to God! He raises the dead, and can and does quicken souls. The immortality of the soul is certain. However, what Scripture calls "life" is not bare existence, but a blessed spiritual nature given to a man who naturally was without it and merely felt or acted after a nature under sin. Such is the condition of every person until the Spirit of God has wrought this good work upon the soul.
Our Lord reproaches Nicodemus for not understanding this. Even as a Jew he ought to have done so; but as a "master in Israel" was it not a shame that he should not know these things? When he heard of the necessity of being "born again," or on an altogether new principle, he imagined that the Saviour might speak of some repeated natural birth, which, if possible, would have been but the old thing over again. But the word "afresh" (ἄνωθεν) is exceedingly emphatic; and so is the opening out of the truth. Hearken to this: "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Flesh never can become spirit. There is no such thing as spiritualizing the old nature, and making it new and holy. What the unregenerate soul wants is a new nature, or, as the Lord explains it, to be "born of water and of the Spirit." It is the word of God, figuratively presented thus, and applied by the power of the Holy Ghost to the soul, which is the meaning of the passage. Baptism may set forth that which is conveyed by it, but it is a figure of a reality. Our Lord shows that there must be a new life imparted; and, as we are told elsewhere, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." And this is brought out not only by James, but by Peter also, where he declares that we are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which lives and abides for ever." We know positively from the Apostle Paul, that the washing of water by the word is God's own explanation of the figure.
Again, what could Nicodemus have known about christian baptism? It was not then instituted; and the disciples' baptism was only a sort of modification of St. John's rite, i.e., the confession of a living Messiah, coming or come on earth. But proper christian baptism is founded upon the death and resurrection of our Lord. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ, were baptized unto his death?" Christian baptism is the confession of the death and resurrection of Christ, and was instituted by our Lord when He rose from the dead. Then, and not before, He told them to go forth, baptizing all nations, or Gentiles, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He laid down the grand, full, christian revelation of the Godhead, into the confession of which the believer is brought by his baptism.
In the Scriptures just alluded to, we find clearly that, where unfigurative language is used, the means of giving the new life is said to be the word of God applied by the Holy Ghost; and that, when figures are used, water is what is chosen. But the sum and substance of the entire teaching is, that the testimony of God is the divine means of communicating life to the soul when applied by the Holy Ghost — that is, by faith. And if we want still further to know what specially in the truth of God is used to quicken those who are dead in sins, it is always, more or less, the revelation of Christ. My believing that the creature was made by God will not quicken my soul. I might believe any facts in the Old Testament, and be assured of all the miracles, discourses, and ways of Jesus in the New, and yet my soul might still be unquickened. But believing in Christ Himself is a very different thing from not doubting things about Him. It supposes that I have, more or less, come to an end of myself; that I have bowed to the humiliating sentence of Scripture upon my nature, and that I own myself to be only a poor, lost, dead creature in the sight of God.
All this is beyond nature. Some men are proud of the affections we share with the brutes, and some still more deify themselves because of conscience; but even conscience was acquired by sin. Adam, before the fall, could not have told what good and evil was. He did not avoid eating the forbidden fruit, because he knew it was in itself evil; nor was there indeed anything morally wrong in its own nature in eating the fruit of that tree. But the command of God made it a test — a moral test that Adam would have known nothing about unless God had told him, "Thou shalt not eat." Thus, for the purpose of exercising a child's obedience, it might be said, You are not to go out of this room: it might have been all right before. It was only after eating of the forbidden fruit that Adam obtained the distinctive and intuitive knowledge of good and evil. Thus he knew evil only by being under its power. Had it been said to Adam before the fall, "Thou shalt not lust or covet," he might have said, What does it mean? I do not understand. But the moment he listened to the devil, and took the fruit that God forbade, there was another element infused into Adam's nature that had not been there before. Unfallen, he had body, soul, and spirit; after the fall, he acquired what Scripture calls "the flesh." This is not mere "flesh and blood:" our Lord had these, (else He could not have been truly a man,) but not "the flesh," which is the principle of self-will, or liking our own way, and not God's. This is sin, and what Scripture means by sin — that strong, restless craving to have what we wish, whether God wills it or not. Satan blinds the soul as to what is God's will, God's mind. The love of one's own will was not in the original nature of man. "The flesh" was gained through the fall, and shows itself in love of our own will and independence of God. St. Paul constantly dwells upon it, as it is also what St. John (1 John 3:4) really calls "lawlessness," rather than, as we have it, "transgression of the law." It is the wish for our way in despite of God's will and way, whether expressed or implied. It is the essence of sin, the sad inheritance of sinners, from which, thank God, the believer is delivered. So that, when a man receives Christ, he has still his old nature, not only body, soul, and spirit, but even "the flesh" — for this, too, he has still, and it may be, alas! the occasion of many a slip and sorrow, if he be unwatchful. Besides these, there is for the believer a new nature that he had not before.
God has given us a new life, and this is just as distinct in its workings as the old life is. But God has quickened us and given us a new life. Look at a man: what is there? Self-love; a little bit of pride here and of vanity there; love of one's own will everywhere — the characteristic of the sinner under all circumstances. Search and see, and you will not have to search long before you find that which betrays [displays] not Christ, but Adam. Look at the history of man, as given in Genesis, and there see what he is. He might be enticed by his affections. But why allow his affections so to work as to carry him into disobedience against God? Had God told him to listen to his wife? He ought to have acted as the head, and have reminded her of what God told them. And God's order is never forgotten with impunity. So man, having allowed the wife to take the lead, soon reaped the bitter consequences. But in Christ I have the exact contrary. What more remarkable feature morally can be than this? — A person, who, while He was everything, was content to be nothing; who, while He was man here below, never acted upon His own independent title; who always, under every circumstance, great or small, sought and was subject to His Father's will. "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" says He, in Luke 2, when only a child. It was not only when He came publicly forward, but He had the consciousness of it always. And if I want to know what our Lord was as He grew up to mature years, there, too, I find it. And wherever I look at Him, this crowning feature shows itself in all times and circumstances — One that never sought and never did His own will.
There, do you not see, is another sort of man altogether? No wonder the Holy Ghost says about Him, and Him only, "the Second man." All other men were only just so many reproductions of Adam, so many sons in his own likeness, after his own image. As far as they were men, viewed simply as such, they bore that one common character of Adam. But now comes forth another man; and from and in this dead and risen stock we become new creatures, having His life communicated to us by faith in Him. As by natural birth we have the life of Adam, so we have what would naturally flow from such a frightful beginning — the same self-will, weakness, boastfulness, dread of God, dishonesty and insolence towards Him, etc. Such is man: such, too, is just what I find in my own self; and if I read the Bible aright, God will force me to own it. When quickening a soul, He always obliges it to take up the picture and say, That is myself, black as it is. Then, when a person is broken down under the awful discovery of sin within, and judges it according to God, this is what Scripture calls repentance. It is owning not only what we have done, but what we are also. How is it to be remedied? "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The Spirit has given a new life, and in this world, through the knowledge of Christ. Hence it is by the word of God ("faith comes by hearing," etc.), not by baptism, or any other institution of the Lord, blessed as they are. We must take care that we put things in their proper places. It is the word brought home by the Holy Ghost that produces faith, and this not by mending the first, but by revealing the last, Adam. God has come down from heaven to accomplish this great purpose — to give me this new life — to deliver me from sin and self: and how is it done? It is the Holy Ghost who effects it by the word of God, which makes Christ known to the soul.
But here the apostle does not enter into the detail of it; he is merely telling out the grand facts: "And you has he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins (the worst of all deaths); wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience." Does it not show how active in evil was this kind of death? These dead were at the same time walking according to the age of this world; which, indeed, was the proof of their moral death. They had no desire to shape their walk according to God's word. As Job says (Job 21:14), "Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." And was not this the condition of our own souls? Can we not remember when it was a painful thing to have to meet God about our sins? I must have to do with God. And here is the solemnity of it. If I do not meet God now about the Saviour, I shall have to meet Him about my sins. And if I despise meeting the Saviour about my sins, meet God I must in my sins — to be lost for ever. You put a sort of honour upon an enemy by paying attention to him; but you cannot more deeply insult a friend than by paying no heed nor notice. So it is as to indifference about Christ. Perhaps we try to settle accounts with God once or twice a day — what a wrong to God and a wrong to my soul! If I have sins upon me — and in that condition we all are and have been naturally — what is to be done? It is easy to say what we have been doing — walking "according to the course of this world." This is not merely gross things. Supposing that people were all as courteous and kind as possible — that there were no such things as jails and judges, nor convicts punished: supposing that men could be reasoned out of their wickedness, what would still be the condition of men? "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." Man, as such, never can see the kingdom of God. The only way by which I can be brought into His kingdom is by being born anew, and having that new nature which is of Christ and not of Adam. Baptism is the sign of it. Paul had already believed on the Lord when Ananias said to him, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins." There is the figure of washing; but the only effective means or instrument in the sight of God is the blood of Christ. "To him that loves us and washed us from our sins in his own blood."
The thought, then, of quickening leads the apostle to bring out the condition from which they were delivered. They were walking according to this world's age; and not only so, but according to the arch-enemy. The title, "Prince of the power of the air," was to set forth his all-permeating influence. As the air surrounds and penetrates everything, so does the devil the realm of nature — "the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience." This was the way they showed that they were under his power — by their disobedience. "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past." Why is it "we?" Why this change from "you" to "we"? When addressing the Ephesians, who had been Gentiles, he uses the word "ye;" but he includes now in this moral sentence, "dead in trespasses and sins," Jews as well as Gentiles. When God was measuring man by Christ, this was their state — not a single being that was not dead. And there can be no degrees of death. If a man is dead, there is an end of him. So that, although, if you look at men morally, you may draw distinctions, and say, There is a man going farther and faster on the downward way than others, yet, if you look deeper still, these distinctions vanish, and they are all indiscriminately ruined, yea, dead, in the sight of God. So he says, as proving this, "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts." No matter who we were, or what, he calls it all "the lusts of our flesh." But some of them might have been philosophers, and some benevolent and moral, some gross people living in open and atrocious wickedness. But take the best of them, and judge them by this: — was it their life-breath and governing motive to do the will of God? Not at all. They might have been gratifying their own kindly nature; but God was not in their thoughts; or it was a kind of bribing God to let them off. For in heathenism there was a tradition that a sacrifice was necessary; but it was corrupted, and degraded, and perverted in all sorts of ways.
Here, then, we have the common condition in which all, Jews and Gentiles, were by nature. Yet he distinguishes "the desires (or wills) of the flesh and the thoughts," by which he means the grosser tendencies, and the more refined, intellectual workings. Supposing a man devoting himself to science, and making it his object, is this to do the will of God? Nay, but rather the indulgence of the desires of the mind, and as thoroughly self as with others who might be given up to the coarser appetites of nature. The grand thing is, that I have no right to myself — I belong to another. Am I doing His will? Then, when we enter the relationships of faith, we are not merely the Lord's creatures, responsible to do His bidding as a natural duty, but bought with the blood of Christ, and alive in Him from the dead, that we should henceforth live, not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us and rose again. Let it be the choicest men that the world can boast of: this is their state — "by nature the children of wrath even as others." What a word! Even the Jews, who had the light of God as far as outward light was concerned, were "by nature" the children of wrath, as much as the degraded, idolatrous, stock-and-stone-worshipping Gentiles. So that there can be no more complete annihilation of all man's religious privilege as well as creature-standing, than what we have in this verse. It is not only that people have done wrong, but they were by nature the children of wrath. God did not make man so: it was man who chose the path of disobedience, who gave up God for the devil. He did not, of course, intend this; for Satan comes in as an angel of righteousness; but however he may work, this is the one result to which all are reduced without exception — "by nature children of wrath." And what does God? For there is the absolute necessity that God should act in order to bring in one ray of light into the midst of this hopeless wreck and ruin. But people will not believe that they are ruined; they will think that it is a good world after all, and a state of things God has given man to cultivate, forgetting that God "drove out the man," and that all the inventions of man are only expedients to cover his nakedness, and to lead him to overlook that he is an exile from Paradise. Of course these inventions we can use, if we do not abuse them. But let us bear in mind that, as Christians, our life, our home, is not here; we belong to another scene, where Christ is. We are not of the world; we are purchased to do God's will, sanctified to obedience, to the same kind of obedience as our Lord's. Do we weigh and apply this earnestly, assiduously, conscientiously, within the bosom of the family of God, or wherever we may be placed? In our Lord was life, and He was ever happy in the consciousness of His Father's love. The believer, too, has life in Him, and is loved as He was loved. God may use the ten commandments to crush a man in the flesh; but as a believer, he is called to obey as Christ obeyed, to walk as He walked; for He left us an example that we should follow His steps.
Here, then, we have this mighty intervention of God, who, "rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness upon us through Christ Jesus." Not only are we quickened — this would have been true, looking at any saint that ever lived on the face of the earth. But could you have said that all were raised up together with Christ? seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus? Is it not a fuller statement of the blessing that belongs to us as Christians now, which could not be predicated of any till the resurrection and ascension of Christ were facts? Our Lord says, "I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly." Why does He draw the distinction between life, and life "more abundantly?"
On what principle, then, is it that Christ quickens at all? Because in Him, the Son, is life; and this life becomes the portion of the believer in Him. "For the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live." He was always the source of life to the soul, no matter when or where, though it was, of course, only in virtue of foreseen redemption that sinful men could receive it. Before His death and resurrection, however, it was simply life. But our Lord added, "and I will give it more abundantly." The disciples who then surrounded Him already had life because they believed in Him. But when our Lord rose from the dead, the first time He appeared among the disciples, He breathed upon them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." What was this? The Spirit as the power of life more abundantly (not as gift yet). He gave them life while He was here, and when risen He imparted it more abundantly, life in resurrection.
What is the difference, people may ask, to us? Immense. But the difference in the mind of God is the main thing and how it bears upon His glory. Therefore, whether understanding it or not, I desire to bow and bless God, perfectly sure that there is a wise and good reason for everything He does and says. We are to be raised by and by from the dead: our bodies are still unchanged. The body of the believer decays and crumbles like the unbeliever's, yet he has the resurrection-life of Christ, this life "more abundantly." "As my Father has sent me, even so send I you," was not a word merely for the twelve. No doubt they had a mission that none of us has. But while this is true, and none now can be put on a level with them as apostles, yet at the same time I maintain that they also had administrative functions, apart from their special apostolic character, and in those, not in this, they have successors. Our Lord met, on that day when He rose, "the disciples," which embraces a far wider thought. It was the then christian company, all that were there, whether men or women, if they were disciples. It was upon these He breathed. They were all to have His more abundant life. The effect is, that all are brought into liberty. (Comp. Rom. 8:1-2.)
I do not enter farther into the very blessed accompaniments of this new life, but only remark that, as to being raised and sitting together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, all is spoken of as being now true of the believer. There is no such mystical notion meant by this as that we are not on earth or in our bodies here. Everything in Scripture is the very reverse of extravagance. Mysticism is the devil's imitation of God's mysteries, and the mere mist of men's fancies. "Mystery" in Scripture means nothing vague, but truth the human intellect would never discover, which, when presented by the Holy Ghost to the new nature, is perfectly intelligible. Some things are of a profounder character than others, and there may be that which is beyond all knowledge, as, for instance, the nature of the Son of God. "No man knows the Son but the Father;" and it is not said of the Son, "he to whom the Father shall reveal Him." The Father maintains with holy jealousy the inscrutable glory of the person of His Son. But apart from this, the mysteries of Scripture are truths once locked up but now revealed and intended to be known, and in fact the portion and joy of the believer.
We have already glanced at the strong contrast drawn between man's condition in the first three verses, and the mighty intervention of God's grace that follows. We have seen the Gentile brought out in the dark portrait of abject moral corruption and senseless idolatry, the Holy Spirit laying everything bare in a few mighty touches. They were "dead in trespasses and sins," thoroughly subject to the prince of this world. They were merely pursuing the course of this age, children of disobedience, without reference to God in their ways. There is no thought of bringing out in detail the frightful forms of human impiety, or the depravity and degradation into which man has fallen under Satan's instigation. Nevertheless we have a far deeper view of the hopelessly evil condition of man here, than even when all the details of impurity, superstition, and rebellion are entered into at full length. In the word of God, how little the energy depends on seeming strength of language! Still less is it what we find with men when they wish to put a thing forcibly. Of violent, exaggerated expression there is nothing in Scripture.
We have simply (and what a fact it is!) God Himself sounding the condition of man, no longer looking at the heart as if it were a question of restraining its desires, which He did under the law. But now it is the utter death of nature in the presence of God — the power of Satan substituted instead of God's government — man himself evidently and hopelessly ruined. But into this scene of death God enters — God who is rich in mercy. And the great love wherewith He loved us is just alluded to as the spring of all that He has done. "God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins" — "we," whether Jews or Gentiles, but more particularly referring to the Jew here. At least he had contrasted the two in verses 2, 3. In verse 5 he may possibly be bringing them both in; but if any be particularly alluded to, it is the Jew, for he is as dead as the Gentile — there is no difference as to this. "Even when we were dead in sins, [God] has quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved), and has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Having already entered into the general subject of regeneration, I would only just add, that although, now that Christianity is divulged, we have regeneration going on at least as much as ever, we have in fact the Holy Ghost stamping upon the regeneration of the present time a deeper character. For it is not only that there is life given, or souls born again, but they are quickened together with Christ. Language like this could not have been used before Christ's death and resurrection. There can be no hesitation, that all the life which any saint ever received from the beginning of the world, was of and through Christ. "In him was life." He is the eternal life that was with the Father, and other life there is none for a sinner. There was a tree of life before man fell; not only a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but a tree of life. But this was only creature-life, that might have sustained an innocent creature to the end. But what, if the creature fell? What, when Adam became a sinful man? Would the tree of life avail for him then? Not for a moment. "So he drove out the man." God would not permit that man should touch the mere natural tree of life. For supposing he had eaten of it after sin, what would have resulted? Only a perpetuation of evil in a wretched, remediless condition of sin — an eternal existence in a condition alienated from God, from which there was no escape. So that, although death came in as the sentence upon a guilty man, there is in a sense mercy in it, now that man is born into a sinful world, and is subject to every kind of misery, which an enemy has brought in, and which, if you look at death as a part of it, may be the just sentence of God upon man's iniquity. But all this is laid hold of by Satan, and turned to his purposes, mingled with bad conscience, on which Satan works, so that a man is filled with dread and horror of God. From this God, by presenting Christ, delivers the soul. It is not only that the soul finds a life that is suited to its every need; it is not at all a mere perpetuating one's existence in misery; but life in Christ ensures deliverance out of evil and all its effects and curse, flowing from God in His grace, founded upon holiness; and a holy blessedness in the presence of God is in that same Christ who brings in this life. There is also God recovered by the soul, as surely as He recovers it to Himself. It was not only that man by sin lost natural life, but he lost God; and it is not only that Christ gives me now a new and better life than the tree of life could give, but He gives me God; He brings me to God and puts me in the presence of God. He makes known God to my soul, and gives me to be sure of His love, of His interest in me, of His deep pity and even complacency; for God cannot only love in a natural way, but with a love of complacency and special relationship.
This, then, is what we find in Christ; and although life could be spoken of in connection with all the Old Testament saints ere Christ died and rose, still I doubt much that the Spirit of God could speak of the life which they received, as being life with Christ. Life by and in Christ it could not but be; but quickening with Christ goes a great deal farther. And this is what we have now. For God points us to Christ under the burden of our sins, under the whole consequences of that which my nature deserved because of its distance and enmity to God — its spirit of disobedience and self-will. All the evil was charged upon Him, and He was treated as if He were it all; as if He, suffering for us on the cross, had the entire sum and substance of the evil of human nature in His own person. Of course, had there been a single particle of it in Himself, He could not have atoned for others — the judgment of God must have been upon it; but the total absence of it in His own person was what indicated His perfect fitness to be the victim. God was dealing with the whole height and length and depth and breadth of sin in the person of Christ upon the cross. But God raised up that same blessed One who went down under the wrath of God, and who, when He had tasted what it was to be forsaken and God's face hid from Him, did not and could not depart from this life without saying, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," which showed the perfect confidence of His heart and delight in God. "Our fathers trusted in thee … they cried unto thee and were delivered." But He could not be heard till the full trial was closed. He was only heard from the horns of the unicorn. He must go through it all — unutterable sorrow and anguish, intolerable to all but Him; and yet to Him, what was it not? — all the wrath of God if the deliverance was to be complete and according to God. But He has done so; and He lets us know, in departing from the scene, that however He might suffer, yet His heart truly rested in God; and He confessed unwaveringly, not only that God continued holy, but that the Father was full of love. "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
But now we have another thing altogether — God interposing to deliver to the uttermost. He would not say that He quickened Christ absolutely. It is always qualified somehow, because Christ was life Himself. He was the eternal life with the Father, in d ue time manifested on the earth; and how say anything that would imply that He owed His life to another? He might say that, as man put to death in the flesh, He was quickened of the Spirit, but His intrinsic personal glory abides, which indeed gave its value to the whole extent of His humiliation and suffering unto death. The Father, too, gave Him as a man to have life in Himself. This was the perfection of Christ here below: He would not take it as His own right; He would not speak a word nor do a work that He had not heard from and in God. He was the perfectly dependent man. The same Gospel that dwells, as none other does, on His divine glory, shows us also His absolute dependence on God. On the other hand, how sweet to see in Scripture how God the Father watches over the glory of Christ! He would not say one word that could in any way impair the dignity of His Son.
Here, therefore, it is said, He has "quickened us together with Christ!" It was we that needed the life. Christ might have gone down into death, but He has quickened us together with Him. Christ had died in a more solemn manner than any mere man could die. He was emphatically the Holy One of God, the only holy man, and yet even so had He died. Of course, no unholy one could die as He died. He knew what it was to taste death in all its bitterness, God's judgment and wrath, as none other could; and yet He was one who felt it so much the more because He was essentially in the bosom of the Father. But this blessed One having gone down thoroughly under death as the judgment of God upon our nature and our sins, thereon ensues the mighty power of God, who has quickened us together with Christ. In a word, the life is in the most intimate association with Christ, and we are in union with Christ Himself, put to death in the flesh, but now quickened by the Spirit. As to the life that He had here below, it was given up and gone; and now He rises in a new condition of life, in resurrection. It is therefore immediately added that God not only quickened us together with Christ, but raised us up together; and more than this, He made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Thus the full value that belongs to life, as it is now in Christ, is also given to us; so that we can be spoken of, even while we are in this world, according to the complete blessedness of life as it is now seen in Christ at the right hand of God.
Let us consider what such a marvellous thought as this involves — what it brings us into association with. We know what our old nature loves, and does, and is; we know too well what the life, or rather the death, of Adam, dragged us into. What have we derived from our first father — what have we deserved and brought on ourselves, but sin, sorrow, suffering, sickness, death, a bad conscience, and a fearful looking for of judgment? All these things we have as the workings and effects of that existence which we have inherited, our sad heirloom from the first man. But now comes the new and supernatural source of life in the Second Man; and where shall we best know its character? Let us look up at Christ. How does God the Father regard Him? Is He delighted in Him? He was always so; and surely never more than when He traced Christ's steps as He walked a Man among men. But there was the terrible question of sin — our sin. Is it an unsettled question now? Or has Christ in very deed answered it for ever in the cross? Yes, it is the very thing that has given occasion for God to show His love as nothing else could. How should I have known how much God loves me if I had not had such depth of need as an enemy of God, fathomless save to His saving mercy in Christ? I do not say it to lighten the sin of my enmity to God, nor to allow the notion that there was or could be the smallest title to the favour of God. But my hopeless evil becomes a measure of the depth of His love; and this because it brings Christ into the scene, yea, Christ as a Redeemer and Saviour on God's part — Christ the infinite gift of God's grace — Christ, who would be turned aside by nothing — Christ, who endured everything from man, Satan, and God's righteous judgment, that we might be saved after a divine sort. And so in truth we are. And what do we not owe the Saviour and the God who gave Him? But what did not Christ bear? Our frightful ruin and sin has just brought out what God is in His great love to us, and what Christ is in His value, and the mighty power of the life in which He is risen and gone up, seated, and ourselves in Him, in heavenly places. Do you still ask what the character of the life is that the Christian possesses now? Look at Christ, and see how precious He is to God — how He cannot have the Blessed One, who is the full expression of that life, too near Himself. He has raised Him up and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places. In Ephesians 2 it is simply "made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." It is not added here, as in Ephesians 1, "at his own right hand." I am not aware that such words are ever said about the children of God, nor do I think they could be. Do they not rather seem to be the personal place of Christ? But it is said "in the heavenly places," because it is to them, and not to the earth, that we belong. Israel, as such, in their best days, belonged to the earth (as did we, far off, in our worst); but now it is not only that our names are written in heaven, though that very expression shows the wonderful love of God which destines and enrolls us to be above — which connects us with heaven while we are upon the earth: all that is true; but we have much more in Ephesians. There we find that, in virtue of our union with Christ, we are said to be not only raised with Him, but seated with Him in heavenly places. In a word, what is said of Christ Himself is true by grace of us, only excepting what may be personal in Him as God the Son, or used of the Lord in a necessarily pre-eminent degree. For after all there is a distinction between the Head and the body, even as such; though, on the other hand the very difference shows the closest possible association: we are His fulness or complement.
We learn, then, from this that we have Christ's own title while we are in this world — nay, more than that, Christ's own life is ours, by virtue of which we are said to be quickened with Him, yea, raised and seated in Him in heavenly places. But let us carefully bear in mind that all this is never said of any in purpose or election, but only where faith exists. It is not applicable to us before we believe: it would not be true of any person before there is positive, living association with Christ. What is commonly called Calvinistic theology, much truth as it embodies, is totally false on this head. One of its main features is the endeavour to make out that, the love of God being from everlasting to everlasting, our relationship is always precisely the same; that because God has the purpose of making us His children, He always regards us as His children; that if a man be elect, supposing him still an infidel or a blasphemer, he is as much a son of God as when he is regenerate of the Holy Ghost and walking in the ways of God. It maintains that God loves him with exactly the same love (while he is, for example, a sot or a swearer) as afterwards. What among believers can be conceived more dishonouring to God and destructive to man than this doctrine? Manifestly the apostle is speaking here, not of persons elect merely, though, of course, they were elect, but quickened. That is, they had actually life. Not only was there a purpose of God about them, but they were then living to God as those who had faith in Christ. You could not say that a man has life before he has faith. It is the reception of Christ by the Holy Ghost which, on the one side, is called faith, and on the other, life. You could not rightly put one before the other. If you could scarcely say that faith was before life, certainly life is not before faith. The first exercise of faith is the first also of life. It is the power of the Spirit of God presenting Christ to the soul. Hence it is said, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." The living is there, if there be any difference at all, the effect of hearing, rather than the hearing the effect of living. This is very important; because none can affirm that persons are quickened with Christ until they are here to be called; and it is impossible to say that they have life till they have heard the voice of the Son of God. The first proof that a man is a sheep is that he hears the good Shepherd's voice. He is not thrown on certain (or rather uncertain) indications, of life within himself, but on the grand, objective test and evidence which God demands — not merely what I am doing, or not doing (the law asked this), but whether I receive and rest on the Son of God. Am I drawn away from all the sounds of the world? and is His voice attracting my soul? As sure as this is so, you have life. "He that believes has everlasting life." "He that has the Son has life." I prove that I have it by the very simple, sure, and blessed fact that I hear the voice of the Son of God. Thus only I have life — then only am I assured of being quickened and raised with Christ. Mark, it is association with Christ after He had gone under death for our sins, which is the christian character of quickening. We are also said to be seated in heavenly places, because we have the life of Christ who is there, and we are spoken of according to the place which He has entered who is our life. So that Scripture does not merely mean that we are so in God's decree or thought, when it says that He has raised us up and made us sit together in heavenly places. The reference is not to our future resurrection, but expressly to the present association of the believer by virtue of union with Christ, who is in the presence of God. And, in alluding to this first part of it, the apostle says, "By grace ye are saved." This is the source of all the blessing. Hence the expression is very strong. For what the form of the word implies is that the salvation was complete, and that they were now enjoying its present result. Salvation in Scripture is not always thus treated: there are whole Epistles where it is never so spoken of. Thus, particularly in Philippians, salvation is regarded as a future thing — as not complete till we see Christ in glory. Salvation, there, is a solemn but not precarious process, which is now going on, because it is plain that we are not with Christ in glory, but in our natural bodies. And accordingly Christ is therein seen as a Saviour, not merely because He died and rose, but because He is coming back for my full deliverance and joy. This explains the meaning of the text which has perplexed some so much — "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" because, in the sense intended there, we shall only get salvation when we are glorified with Christ. Meanwhile, we are working it out with fear and trembling, remembering that Satan hates us because we are to be in glory with Christ. We are viewed as persons in this world, who know that there is not the slightest doubt that we are to have the prize, but we have to fight and run for it, though we ought to hold fast the assurance that we shall have it when we see Christ coming for us from on high.
But when we take up the language of the Ephesian Epistle, all is different. There salvation is regarded as an absolutely past thing: "By grace ye are saved" — not merely that it is going on, and is to be completed by and by; but we are saved and cannot in Christ be more so than we are. Whereas, according to Philippians, Paul himself had not his salvation yet: "not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." The perfection there spoken of entirely and solely refers to the time when we shall be changed into the glorious likeness of Christ; then, not before, we shall be saved. If you apply the same sense of salvation to both Epistles, you make the doctrine contradictory. Take again the Epistle to the Hebrews. There, too, salvation is always represented as a future thing. "Wherefore," it is said, "he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him." God's people are meant, not the unconverted, as coming unto God by Christ. For whom is He a priest? For the believer only. Thus it is the saint that requires to be saved in the Epistle to the Hebrews; because salvation there applies to all the difficulties of our wilderness-journey. The whole doctrine is founded on the type that we are now, like Israel of old, going through the desert, and have not yet entered into Canaan; whereas, the characteristic teaching of the Ephesians is that Christ has gone into Canaan, and that we are in Him there. It is because we are occupied with a part of the word of God and not the whole, because we see one truth strongly and not the truth generally, that we get confused and faulty views which lead to wrong practice.
The reason of these differences is most interesting. You have exactly in each epistle what is suited to its own character. In Ephesians the revelation is not of Christ as one interceding for us before God: this we have in Hebrews. Why is He a priest? That He may have compassion on the ignorant, and on them which are out of the way. This is exactly, as we journey here below, our danger: we are ignorant, and always exposed to the temptation of slipping aside through an evil heart of unbelief. Therefore we need the Epistle to the Hebrews. The doctrine of Ephesians would not of itself suffice to meet me in my weakness, difficulties, and sorrows. Supposing I had wandered, what is there to recall and comfort my soul in Ephesians? There I read, "that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." Nay, but I have gone astray, and I cannot get any relief to my anguish thence. I may try to stay my heart on God's election and high counsels, but, if I have a tender conscience, these alone will make me more miserable. If God really loved me so much, how comes it (the heart will reason) that I should so dishonour Him? In Hebrews I find nothing at all about my sitting in heavenly places, but Christ at the right hand of God, and pleading for me, after He had by Himself purged my sins. The very first chapter starts with the glorious truth — that Christ took His seat on high only when He could go there on the ground that He had completely blotted out our sins, and this "by Himself," i.e., to the exclusion of all other help. It was His own task, and He has accomplished it, and would not rest even in that, to Him, familiar glory, save on this ground. Therein we have a most sure foundation. But although we have the purging of sins through Christ, we are in a place of temptation where, through ignorance, and weakness, and a thousand things that may arise, we are in constant peril of turning aside and slipping. What is to become of us then? What is to sustain and carry us through? God reveals the blessed Priest who cares for the soul — One who has the full confidence of God the Father — who has given the most entire satisfaction to Him — One who is seated at the right hand of God, and who there is unceasingly occupied with our need, on the ground that we belong to God and are already redeemed, and have no more conscience of sin. We can perhaps hardly make out how it is that persons who are so blessed of God should be so weak and wretched; so little like Him who, at His own cost, has bought and secured us our blessing. But faith receives and asks of God what He intends to be our strength and comfort in the midst of our weakness and dangers. His answer is, that Christ is there to plead our cause, as surely as the Spirit is here to render us sensible of it. And it is through Christ's intercession at the right hand of God that we are brought to feel our need and failure. For we never judge it, without getting moral blessing through that judgment. All power of Christ resting on us is in proportion to the depth of the moral estimate produced in our souls by the Spirit of God in answer to the intercession of Christ; and it is part of Christ's intercession for us that we are made to feel, when we have in mind and fact gone astray. In Hebrews, salvation could not be spoken of as a past thing. We know that we shall be fully saved, and that Christ is coming for it. But although it is appointed unto men to die, it is not necessarily so for the saint. We know that they may never fall asleep, as for certain they will never be judged, though all they have done will be surely manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ. But He has gone through death for them, and therefore there is no necessity that they should die; and He has endured judgment as none other could, and we have His own word for it that into judgment, at any rate, we shall never come. He that believes on the Son of God "has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment." (John 5) The consequence is, that though we look for Him to come, we know that when He does appear the second time, it will be without sin unto salvation. He has so perfectly put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, that when He is thus seen the second time by them that look for Him, it will be "without sin" (apart from all question of sin, as far as they are concerned), "unto salvation," and not unto judgment. Salvation and judgment are the two things above all others most in contrast. You cannot have judgment and salvation exercised upon the same individual. In Hebrews, then, you have salvation connected with our Lord's appearing the second time.
In Ephesians, on the contrary, we are saved already, and there Christ's return to receive His people is not throughout referred to. In the Epistles where salvation is said to be consummated by and by, there we have Christ coming to finish it. In Philippians he says, "Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." There we have our Lord changing this body of humiliation into the likeness of His glorious body, proving Himself to be the Saviour; because it is not a partial deliverance, but a complete salvation for the whole man. But in Ephesians, where our Lord's coming is never introduced, this links itself with the fact that salvation is already supposed to be an accomplished fact, which we now enjoy. This is a way of looking at salvation rare in Scripture: it is generally looked at as something we have before us. People confound salvation with justification or reconciliation to God; but in Romans the evident distinction is drawn — "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." Thus, we have the reconciliation, but not the salvation, in the sense spoken of there. "We shall be saved." He is living for us, and, as a consequence, we are being saved. The salvation is going on; and when Christ comes again in glory, then salvation will be complete. Hence, in Romans 13 we have the doctrine applied again: "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." We have not got it yet; but it is nearer; and we shall have it all perfectly by and by. Before we believed, we were enemies and lost; then, believing, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Now He lives for us; and soon He will come again for us, and then all will be complete.
Again, take Corinthians, and you will find the same teaching there. Salvation is not regarded there as complete. Hence the apostle says that he is keeping under his body and bringing it into subjection. He will not allow any evil lust to gain the mastery over him. He might preach to all the world; but if evil got the upper hand of him, how could he be saved himself? He puts it in the strongest possible way of his own case; and shows that preaching (of which some apparently thought more than of Christ) has nothing to do with a man's being saved, but life in Christ; for the grace of Christ manifests itself in holy subjection to God and self-judgment of evil. These are the inseparable consequences of having the life of Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost in the soul. "I keep under my body," says he, "lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." This last word I take in the strongest, and, indeed, the only scriptural, sense — i.e., of reprobate. A castaway in the New Testament means not merely that a man was going to lose something, but to lose his own soul and lose Christ. There are no instances in the Epistles where the word is used in a modified sense: it invariably means lost for ever; and it is neither faith nor intelligence to modify its force. It was not that Paul had any fear of being lost; but he transfers the case to himself to make it more energetic, supposing that he were to renounce Christ and holiness. What is the consequence? He might have been ever such a preacher, and yet be a castaway; but no man that ever was regenerate could be a castaway; and so he does not say, Though I were born of God, I might be a castaway. Such a thing could not and might not to be supposed. But he does illustrate most seriously what, alas! has been far too common, that a man might preach to others and be a reprobate. We know that one of the apostles preached and wrought miracles; but the Lord never knew him.
This will show the importance of leaving room for salvation in every way that Scripture looks at it. In the largest part of Scripture it is not regarded after the Ephesian manner, but in the way I have been describing in Romans, etc. No question is fairly raised of falling away when the apostle speaks of salvation in this sense; but the fact is, that all the result of the blessing — all the fulness of the deliverance, is not yet our portion. And who can say that it is? Here we are suffering still: then we shall be out of the scene of temptation altogether. In Ephesians, when looking at the character of our life, he says, it is entirely outside all danger, all temptation, and everything of the sort. "By grace ye are saved." By this he means that we have been and are saved; that is, we have the present enjoyment of that which is already past and complete before God. It is a fact accomplished, because it is in Christ, and everything here is regarded as being in Christ, as, for instance, our peace. Hence He is called "our peace" further on. Hence, too, so truly is the salvation viewed as being in Christ, that, the Saviour being seated on high, we are said to be (not in process of salvation, but) completely saved, so as to need nothing more as far as this is concerned. In full accordance with this it was added, that God "has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." What plainer than the completeness of the salvation? How manifestly it has a character of association with Christ, that is entirely beyond all human conception! It is easy to conceive that such a blessedness might be by and by; but the wonderful thing is, that this could be predicated of poor, weak Christians in the world now. If we dwell much upon human things, they become cheap and common, and we cease to wonder; but with this glorious work of God in His beloved Son, the more we think of it, the more we stand amazed before it. Observe, too, it is for this very purpose: "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." That is, it is not merely God looking at us, and giving us what we need, but God acting for the indulgence of His own affections through His Son. God says, as it were, I want to show what I am, not merely to supply what you want. Thus it is God rising up to the height of His own goodness, and acting from what He is, entirely irrespective of what we are, save that we become the occasion for God to show His matchless love; and this, not merely now, but "in the ages to come," or, as I suppose, for unlimited time.
Nor is this all. There is a fresh guard against certain misconceptions by taking up or repeating the expression, "For by grace are ye saved," with the addition of "through faith," a strong confirmation of what has been already said. We are not saved by the electing purpose of God, true and blessed as it is, but through faith in our hearts, through that divine persuasion which the Holy Ghost works in the heart of a man once an unbeliever. "By grace are ye saved through faith." There is no such thing as God introducing one into the relationship of a child without the action of his heart and conscience. The Holy Ghost gives such a man to feel his own condition as seen of God and yet know what God is toward him in Christ. A cold parchment-deed, mechanical salvation there is not, any more than such a change of the old nature as could be a ground of hope toward God. But if human feeling cannot be trusted, neither can ever so orthodox a recognition of God's decrees. When God speaks in and of His Son, it is a real thing, and he who hears must more or less deeply have the consciousness of its solemnity. He is no longer unwilling and indifferent to Christ. He may feel sin and hate himself as he never did, just because he is under the hand of God and under the teaching of God. Thus the very thing that you bring to prove that you are not one of God's own, is rather a proof that you are. If you were dead to God, would you feel what grieves Him? It is when Christ has begun to dawn on the soul that you begin to realize that you have been lying in all that is dark and loathsome, though a glimmer of hope may break through the clouds. You are seriously conscious of evil things to which you were insensible before. This is an effect of God's mighty and gracious operation; but there is no such thing as life without faith or with unconsciousness. There will always be something that awakens new thoughts and feelings about God, a fear and a desire after God, a horror of sin, and a hatred of self. All these things and more will pass through the spirit of him that is born of God, and what produces all these feelings by the Spirit of God is Christ — nothing else will. Otherwise a man in vain attends a church or chapel — going to the best or the worst testimony; but he is there on this principle — he thinks it is his duty to attend perhaps every day — it is the notion of a religious service which he thinks he ought to pay to God, and that, if he does it diligently, God will remember him on his death-bed and in the day of judgment. Such is one part of the duty man pays in the hope of escaping hell. But all this goes on the ground of man's putting God under a kind of obligation to himself. Man is doing something because of which he thinks God ought to show him mercy. What can more flagrantly deny both sin and God's grace? Now, it is "by grace ye are saved, through faith." And the meaning of being saved by grace is by what God is toward me in His Son, apart from a single thing deserving it in me. Are you willing to trust your salvation to God only, in His beloved Son? This is faith. "By grace we are saved through faith." If I mingle a particle of my own, it is properly neither grace nor faith; for faith renounces self for Christ, and grace is God's pure favour to me a sinner on the cross. When I listen to Christ, then the word of God begins to deal with everything in me that is selfish and contrary to God, and I must not attempt to modify or accommodate the word of God to my own thoughts, and thus to make provision for a little indulgence of the flesh.
I maintain, therefore, that the salvation spoken of in Ephesians is already complete for him that believes; so absolute indeed, that none can add anything to it, because it would be adding something to Christ, and to what Christ has done. And this may not be, cannot be, seeing that it is all the free, unmerited, unmingled mercy of God. And this is the great thing for the soul. Am I able, without question of what I am, or what I hope to be, or what I ought to do for God, to trust Him now? Can I rest all that I have been and am upon Christ, without any promises or pledges of mine — without any hope or thought of what I may do, because God might take me away in a moment? Can I rest entirely and implicitly in Him? Think of the case of the dying thief, which is a living and notable testimony of salvation by grace throughout all ages. Others may have a work to do afterwards; but there we have one who was an object of grace in the last hours of his life. And there is no other way. Had he lived for a thousand years afterwards, he would not have been a whit more secure by grace than he was then. It is of great moment to bring our souls to the touchstone from time to time — whether we are resting solely upon the grace of God toward us, not upon what people call grace in us, i.e., our faithfulness toward Him. For this is a common notion of grace. They mean a great change that has taken place in the heart in respect of God. This, however, is not what God calls grace, but what He has given gratuitously in the work that Christ has done for sin. "By grace are ye saved through faith." The Spirit shuts out all thought of man's contributing the faith or taking any credit because coming to Christ; for He says immediately after, "And that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." This probably refers, not only to the salvation, but to the faith; it was all the gift of God, and not man's production: "Not of works, lest any man should boast." On the contrary, instead of being a question of our works, we are God's handiwork, the new creation for His own praise. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." There you have a most plain proof that there could be no carelessness as to the walk of the believer; but the same verse cuts off all thought that man's doing can be the ground or means of salvation.
Here, then, we have the believer the workmanship of God in Christ, and this "unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." This is a very remarkable expression, and one that we cannot too much weigh. It is not the good works of the law — not those which might seem so in human judgment, but an offering of a new character, heavenly and of grace, which was in God's mind and all determined about us before the scene existed into which we are now brought. The same God who had a purpose of saving us and blessing us with Christ before the world was made, had a certain line of walk, a special course of action, in which He expected the recipients of such favour to walk. It is not the thought of the good we ought to do as men, as a means of showing that we are willing to obey God under the law. It is not loving God, and one's neighbour as oneself simply, but another type and display of love altogether. It flows from our new relationships, and if it be exercised in loving God and loving those around us, it is according to the rich love which God Himself has shown us in Christ. It is not merely duty, let it be the very highest form of obligation. If a man were to walk merely in this, though ever so well, he would fall short of what a Christian ought to be, and they are not the "good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." The law was brought in by Israel's presumption and self-conceit; it was not something that God had before ordained for His people to walk in. Therefore it is said in Romans, that law came in by the way (περεισῆλθεν). It was a thing that entered incidentally, as a sort of parenthesis brought in for a special but very momentous purpose. And it has done its work, and the believer, even if he had been under it, is brought clear out of it and made alive to God. He has a new husband, and is dead to the old one. But here the truth is put in a very beautiful form, in harmony with the character of the whole epistle. As the calling and the purpose and all that God thought about us were before the world was, so even the character of the believer's walk was ordained before ever we came into the world and is in its own nature entirely above it. It is a question of our manifesting God aright, as He is now displaying Himself. "Be ye followers of God as dear children."
What a wonderful place is this that we are put into! We have been created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God before prepared that we should walk in them. We have a new character of life altogether that the law never contemplated, and we have a correspondingly new character of good works.
Here opens a very distinct section of the epistle. It is not God's thoughts of grace unfolded, reaching forth from before the world's foundation unto the inheritance of glory, when all things shall be subjected to Christ, the Church being one with Him in His supremacy over them all. Neither again is it the means whereby God takes up souls that were dead under the power of Satan and by nature children of wrath, one as much as another, quickening them with Christ, raising them up and making them sit together in Him in heavenly places. We have had this in the earlier part of chapter 2. But now we have the present working of the plans of God in the world. Ephesians 1 gave us the counsels of God about them; Ephesians 2:1-10, the way in which He wrought in them; but now we have the manner of His plans upon the earth. Accordingly, this brings into very distinct relief the condition in which man had been before. There had been already dealings of God here below. After the flood, when the whole world had departed from God, and set up a new form of peculiarly malignant evil — the worship of false gods, the true God called out one man into a place of separation from all others, and made him to be the depository of His promises and testimony upon the earth. This was Abraham, and Abraham's seed. Accordingly there it was that from the call of Abraham we find the scene of the workings of God's power, goodness, and government, though government was afterwards severed, because of Israel's hopeless evil, and handed over to the Gentiles. But the cross of Christ terminated these trials. God might linger for many years after, as we know, in forbearance, but the fate of the Jewish nation was sealed in the cross of Christ; and from that very moment God began to bring out these much deeper purposes of His love. For the Jewish people, at the very best even, had they been converted and received the Messiah, could never have been more here below than an earthly people. They might have been regenerate, but they must have been earthly. The promises that were so fully and richly accorded them in the Old Testament had to do with the earth. I do not say that faith had nothing deeper, or that there was not in the hidden mind of God something outside this present scene. But, let me say again, they were an earthly people; they had the "earthly things" of the kingdom by the distinct gift of God; and it is in reference to this very circumstance, that God declares that His gifts and calling are without repentance. He had given earthly blessings to the Jews, and He had called them out for the purpose of enjoying the land. It will be in a condition of glory under their Messiah. He will never repent of His purpose, nor withdraw His gift. But meanwhile the whole history of Israel's rejection of God has come in; their worshipping of idols, and finally the crucifixion of their own Messiah; and for the time being they are dispossessed of their land, and scattered over the face of the earth.
But during the time of the dispersion of Israel, and even before it began, from the moment that their guilt was consummated, this heavenly purpose of God was gradually manifested upon the earth. But we must remember that the Church, besides being the object of God's eternal counsels, and having a glorious portion in heaven along with Christ, for which we are waiting, has also an existence upon earth, and enters into the dealings of God here below. This is the point at which we are arrived in this epistle. We have had the deeper thoughts of God; but as the epistle does touch upon the ways of God on the earth, we should not have had a full view of the Church's place if it did not give us the dispensational succession here below. Accordingly we have the elements which compose the Church: "Wherefore remember that ye being in times past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands." Here we are on totally different ground. It is no longer "children of wrath," persons that were by nature one as bad and dead as the other; but here men are distinguished on earth — the uncircumcision on the one hand, and the circumcision on the other. So that you are on earthly ground, the ground of dispensational dealings, where you have God separating one part of mankind from another by His own will; not because the one was better than the other, but for the display of His own wisdom and purpose. The great mass of the Jews were just as evil in the sight of God as the Gentiles; and some of the Gentiles were converted, such as Job, while there were many of the Jews that perished in their sins. But for all that, God did put a difference between Jew and Gentile; and He says, "Remember that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh." You were among the rest of mankind, left out of the call of God; you were not brought into a place of separate witness for God as Abraham was; you are called the uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision. "At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel." They had no part in the polity of God set up in Israel; and they were "strangers from the covenants of promise." God gave glorious promises in the form of a covenant, and bound Himself to accomplish them. The Gentiles had no part nor lot in them. There were promises about Gentiles, but none to them. Israel were the direct parties concerned in the promises — they, and they only. And we must carefully remember what these promises meant. They were not made to Abel or Enoch, much less to Adam and Eve, though it is common to speak of the promise made in the garden of Eden. But Scripture never talks of promise there. And if you examine Genesis 3, you will find the wisdom of God in this; for it could be in no sense a promise. To whom could it be a promise? To whom was it uttered? To that old serpent. No believer could imagine a promise to him. It was a threat of the extinction of his power. God was judging the sin which had just entered the world: is this the suited time when promises are made? It is strictly a revelation of God, not in the form of a promise at all, but a declaration which comes out in denouncing judgment upon the serpent, and which showed that the Seed of the woman was to bruise his head.
"The promises," then, do not go up higher than Abraham: they are connected with the dispensations of God. It may be asked; Have we not promises? I answer, We have all the promises of God; but how and where? They are yea and amen in Christ Jesus. If we have Christ, we are Abraham's seed, and inheritors of the promises, though in a way totally differing from that in which the Jews had them of old or will have them by and by. We come in on the ground of pure mercy, and as altogether outside covenant. There is no such thing as a covenant with the Church, or with us Gentiles. I do not mean that we receive not the blessings that are in the new covenant: we have all that is blessed in it, and better too; but not as Israel. They come under them as subjects of the promises of God; whereas we are sought, and reached, and blessed by sovereign grace — having a title to nothing, and yet some better thing provided for us. We come in as filling up the gap between the rejection of the Messiah and His reception by Israel by and by; and we form part of this parenthesis, rather than of the dealings of God here below, in a very interesting manner, as I hope to show.
Here, then, the difference is first brought out. He wants us to know what was our condition. We have right to nothing; we have not the smallest claim upon God; we had no such prescriptive place conferred upon us as Israel had through the promises. They had a place even as unconverted men in the world; and the day is coming when, being converted, they will have a signally conspicuous position in the world, an earthly distinction and glory which never was and never will be our portion. Do not suppose that we shall not have far better, but we shall never have such a place on the earth. We shall have one with Christ over all things; but it will not be while we have our natural life here below. It is in the resurrection-state that the Church's glory is destined to be brought out, in all its fulness, as far as manifested to the world. So that here the Ephesian saints are reminded of what their condition had been as Gentiles: "At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." They had no hope. They were not expecting any divine intervention to deliver them on the earth: they might dream of what people dream still — a perfectibility of man upon the earth. They had no connection with God in the world; whereas the Jews had Him to direct all their movements — how they were to live and how their inheritances were to be settled. God entered into all their domestic affairs as well as their worship: everything was entirely under the distinct ordinance of God. If they had God thus in the world, the Gentiles knew nothing of the sort. Out of this miserable condition, what are we brought into? Into the position that Israel had? That is treated of elsewhere. In Romans 11 the great point is to show that the natural branches of the olive tree were broken off, that we who were wild branches might be graffed in. The subject there is not the Church, but merely the possession of promises, and the place of testimony to God here below. These are distinct things. Every baptized person — that is, every one who outwardly professes Christ — belongs to the olive. All such have a special responsibility, as not being heathen (nor Jews either), but in possession of the oracles of God, and as bearing the name of Christ in an outward manner. But in Ephesians 2 there is a far deeper line: the apostle treats of the body of Christ and the assembly of God. And we must remember, that at the beginning of Christianity these two things closely approached each other: in other words, the assembly consisted of hardly any others than the members of Christ's body, true believers united to Christ by the Holy Ghost. But soon individuals crept in, not born of God, and of course not members of Christ, who nevertheless entered the assembly of God. Thus, by a Christian now is meant one who is not a Pagan nor a Jew. Hence, in Romans 11, you read of branches being cut off; hence the branches that are grafted in are said to stand in the goodness of God, and warned to continue in it, lest they also should be cut off. It is a question of profession, of its danger, and its sure doom if faithless. But in Ephesians there is no such thing as cutting off, because there the main subject is the membership of the body of Christ. Some now talk of not rending the body of Christ; but there is no such phrase or idea in Scripture. You will find passages that insist much upon the firm standing of true believers, and others which warn of professors coming to nothing of themselves or being judged of God. There is no such thought as cutting off a member of Christ's body. There are solemn warnings to Christians for preserving them from evil, but no such a thing as their insecurity.
Proceeding with the chapter, the positive side of the question appears. The Gentiles did not possess the privileges of the Jews by nature. "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made both one" — both Jew and Gentile — "and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us." There we have it plainly set forth that the very institutions God set up in His dealings with the Jews are now cast down. God Himself has destroyed the middle wall of partition. He alone is competent so to do. It would have been a sin for any one else to have attempted it. On the other hand, you will find persons who, in their ignorance of Scripture, will argue that, because God had commanded these things once, He must sanction them always. Nothing can be more unfounded. It is entirely limiting God, and shutting their eyes to the plainest statements of His word. Throughout a large part of the New Testament God Himself sets aside the Jewish institution, in all its parts. Doubtless there are moral principles that were true before the law — revealed ways of God from the first, that always must regulate man's conduct with God; but these have nothing necessarily to do with the law. Under the legal institution they might be more or less embodied into the law and take the shape of commandments; but their roots lie far deeper than the law given to Moses. It is founded upon this misconception, that when you speak of the Christian's deliverance from the law, some think you are going to destroy morality, and overthrow God's holy standard of good and evil. But it does not become us to judge what is most for the glory of God. Humility is found in, and proved by, obedience; and obedience depends on subjection to the word of God. The same act in different circumstances is a duty or a crime: the only unerring test for the believer is God's word. It was a sin in the Jews not to destroy all the Canaanites: God commanded them to do so — the only One competent to judge, and entitled to command of His sovereign will. For a Christian now to do the same thing would be to mistake His mind. The world is bound to deal with murderers as stringently now as ever: God has not revoked in any wise the word He uttered as to the sanctity of human life. That is what God had set up long before the law of Moses, or any distinction between Jews and Gentiles. It is annulled neither by the law given to Israel, nor by the gospel that now flows out in grace to the world. Government among men stands upon its own foundation and was involved in the commission given to Noah; but the Christian is outside and above it all. He is called unto a new calling and this we have here. "Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." Our task is not the preservation of the world's order or the punishment of its disorder; but a new building grows up on the blessed, holy, divine ground of the blood of Christ, by which we are brought nigh to God. Nor is it only what we shall be by and by, but what we are now. We "are made nigh by the blood of Christ."
Nothing can be more distinct, "For He is our peace;" a most wonderful expression. Our peace is not merely a thing of enjoyment within us, but it is Christ outside us; and if souls only rested upon this, would there be anxiety as to fulness of peace? It is my own fault entirely if I do not rest in and enjoy it. But even so; am I to doubt that Christ is my peace? I am dishonouring Him if I do. If I had a surety whose riches could not fail, why should I doubt my standing or credit? It depends neither on my wealth, nor on my poverty: all turns on the resources of him who has become responsible for me. So it is with Christ. He is our peace, and there can be no possibility of failure in Him. Where the heart confides in this, what is the effect? Then we can rest and enjoy. How can I enjoy a blessing before I believe it? And I must begin with believing before I enjoy. The Lord in His grace does give His people betimes transports of joy; but joy may fluctuate. Peace is or should be a permanent thing: that the Christian is entitled to have always; and this because Christ is our peace. He is not called our joy, nor God the God of joy, but of peace, because He Himself has done it: and it rests entirely upon Christ. "He is our peace who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us."
There prevails a notion (unknown to the Bible) that Christ was making out our righteousness when He was here below. Now the life of Christ was, I do not question, necessary to vindicate God and His holy law, as well as to manifest Himself and His love; but the righteousness that we are made in Christ is another thought altogether — not the law fulfilled by Him, but the justifying righteousness of God founded on Christ's death, displayed in His resurrection, and crowned by His glory in heaven. It is not Christ simply doing our duty for us, but God forgiving my trespasses, judging my sin, yea, finding such satisfaction in Christ's blood that now He cannot do too much for us; it becomes, if I may so say, a positive debt to Christ, because of what Christ has suffered. It is not seen that the law is the strength of sin, not of righteousness. Had Christ only kept the law, neither your soul nor mine could have been saved, much less blessed, as we are. Whoever kept the law, it would have been the righteousness of the law, and not God's righteousness which has not the smallest connection with obeying the law. It is never so treated in the word of God. Because Christ obeyed unto death, God has brought in a new kind of righteousness — not ours, but His own in our favour. Christ has been made a curse upon the tree; God has made Him sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Were the common doctrine on this subject true, we might expect it to be said, He obeyed the law for us, that we might have legal righteousness imputed or transferred to us. Whereas the truth is in all points contrasted with such ideas. Surely Christ's obeying the law was not God's making Him sin. So, in the passage that is so often used, "by His obedience many are made righteous." How is His obedience here connected with the law? The apostle does introduce the law in the next verse, as a new and additional thing, coming in by the way.
Further, Adam would not have known the meaning of "the law," though undoubtedly he was under a law which he broke. What, for instance, could Adam in his innocence have made of the word, "Thou shalt not lust," or covet? No such feeling was within his experience. Accordingly, as we see, it was only after man was fallen that the law in due time was given to condemn the outbreak of sin. But Christ has died for and under sin — our sin. And what is the consequence? All believers now, whether Jews or Gentiles, in Christ Jesus are brought into an entirely new place. The Gentile is brought out of his distance from God; the Jew out of his dispensational nearness; both enjoy a common blessing in God's presence never possessed before. The old separation dissolves and gives place by grace to oneness in Christ Jesus. When did this begin? An important question, for it is really the answer to the question: — What, according to Scripture, is the Church? Ask many of God's children. Would they not say, The aggregate of all believers? But is this the body of Christ as shown us here? There were saints from the beginning, all who were born of God; but were they formed into an united assembly on the earth? Did anything under the Old Testament correspond to one body? It never was heard of, excepting as a thing promised, till the day of Pentecost. It awaited the cross of Christ. Therein God abolished the enmity. Before that God had commanded the Jew to be apart from the Gentile; and our Lord maintained it most strenuously when He was upon earth. He forbade His disciples to go into any city of the Gentiles. He told the woman of Syrophenicia that He was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She had gone on the ground of promises, but He shows her that she had no part or lot in the promises. Had she addressed Him as Son of God, would our Lord have kept her waiting? She appealed to Him as the Son of David; and as such His connection was with Israel. She had to learn the mistake of going on the ground of promises that she had no title to. And this is often the reason why people do not enjoy peace. They plead God's promises; but what if I cannot say that they are promises to me? Need I wonder that the answer tarries? Hence, too, there is in general little solid peace. How well for the poor woman, how well for us to know and confess what we really are! She owns that she was not a child nor a sheep at all. "Yet the dogs eat!" She sees why it was that she could not get what she wanted on the false ground of privileges she did not possess. She is brought to own herself as having no promises at all; and then there is no limit to the blessing in the grace of Christ. "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
The two instances in which the Lord admires the faith of those who came to Him were of Gentiles — the centurion and the Syrophenician. Our Lord cannot gainsay His love, and they knew it. They pressed their suit consequently. It was in the midst of dense ignorance: but then the eye was single in the main, and the object on which it rested was a blesser beyond all thought. The blessing consequently could not be lost, and though it might be delayed, it was infinite.
So in this epistle we have the Gentile in a most deplorable condition of distance from God, and separation from all that God had chosen upon the earth. But the cross of Christ has annihilated all such distinctions. It has proved that the favoured Jew was, if possible, more iniquitous than the poor Gentile. They had rejected and crucified their own Messiah; and if there were any among the Jews more urgent for His death than others, it was the priests; and so it always is. There is nothing so heartless as the religion of this world; and if it was so then, still more now. What so bad under the sun as a spurious Christianity? It may be fair-spoken, and have a good deal of truth mingled with it; but it is without a purged conscience and without divine affection; and the more fearful will be its end. We need take care what we sanction at the present hour: the time is short. The Lord has brought out what His Church is. The will of man has raked up the law of commandments out of the grave of Christ, and enacts it over again. This is what is found throughout all Christendom. It is inconceivable, except through realizing the power of Satan, how Christians can take up the peculiar institutions of God to His people, curses and all, in the face of such a chapter as this, where we find that all this is gone, even for Jews who believe, by the authority of God. It is a practical denial of the blood and cross of Christ. What a solemn proof of the ruined state of the Church of God! The truth is plain indeed: "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." To this figure of one new man Christians answer. You will find that such a state of things never was known during the Old Testament times, nor even during our Lord's life on earth. It is only after the ascension that Jew and Gentile are united upon earth, and worship God on the same level. This is the Church. It is not merely that they are all believers, but they are members of Christ and of one another on earth. Of course, when we get to heaven, it will still be the Church; but it begins here, and that with Christ crucified and ascended to heaven. When He thus takes His place there, the work follows of forming the body in union with the Head. All distinction is gone, as far as its own sphere is concerned. The nature of the Church is most plain from this: "That he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" — which enmity was in the commandments of the law, which straitly and wholly separated one from the other.
But Christ "came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them which were nigh." All is attributed to Him, because founded on the cross; and it is Christ, by the Holy Ghost, who now proclaims this heavenly peace to the Gentiles once afar off, as well as to the hitherto favoured Israel. Where this truth is unknown, men may preach Christ more or less, may be descanting much in general on the promises of God; but a Jew would do that; and to them especially it will be given by and by to sing the song that "the mercy of the Lord endures for ever" — the great burden of the millennial Psalms. The practically Jewish position taken by most Christians makes them turn the Psalms of David into the staple of Christian communion, and the expression of their own condition before God. All Scripture is, of course, given of God for the profit and blessing of the Christian. But am I to offer a bull and a goat, because of old it was commanded? To imitate Leviticus is one thing; to understand it is quite another. "By faith we establish the law," but we are not under it. So, speaking about my walk as a Christian, St. Paul says that sin shall not have dominion over me, for I am not under law, but under grace. How sad to see that the Evangelicals as a body now diligently preach the contrary! They may preach a measure of truth about other things, but they cannot preach the gospel, and they deny the Church of God. A Christian is under the law for nothing whatever, because he is under Christ dead and risen. Christ was under it once; but then I had nothing to say to Him. He passed out of it on the cross; and my association with Christ begins thenceforward. I am united with Christ in heaven, not on the earth. What has Christ in heaven to do with the law? Hence we are said to be under grace, not under law. Further, this doctrine is most practical. The walk is amazingly lowered where a mistake is made about it; and Satan tries to bring in the law after believing, if he cannot pervert it to hinder believing.
Here, then, it is peace that is preached "to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." There, instead of the law, which drew a distinction between Jew and Gentile, the Holy Ghost unites them on a common ground, and puts them in a common relationship as sons, having to do with the Father. This is our position. When God was acting as a governor, He chose a nation, He had His own servants. But now, when He has a family, all that order of things vanishes. He has His children, and wants to have them near Him. The end of all the Jewish forms of holy places and days, of priesthood and of sacrifice, was the cross of Christ. God has fully tried and given up any working upon men by a religion that is visible, or by sight and sounds that act upon the senses. The Holy Ghost sent down from heaven leads the children of God to draw near to the Father. How can a Christian acknowledge that this is what God has given to guide him, and yet be found taking part, were it only by his presence, in that which is positively Jewish? What God has provided for the Jew, and what He enjoins upon the Christian, are very different things. We are not Jews but Christians. What He presses upon Christians is far more cutting to nature and more honouring to Christ than anything that He ever did or will give to Israel. He has brought us as His family to Himself, and through Christ we have access by one Spirit unto the Father — we both — Jew and Gentile. How far are we carrying it out? Are we to sanction the unbelief that turns back to the weak and beggarly elements of the world? or are we cleaving only to Christ, worshipping God in the Spirit? We may suffer, if faithful to grace and truth; but happy are we, if it be so.
He adds further, "Now, therefore, ye [Gentiles] are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." They were brought out of all that condition of distance, and made part of His household, "and are built upon the foundation" — not of the law — but "of the apostles and prophets." What prophets? Of the New Testament only. God was not taking up an old foundation, but laying down a new one; and this new one He begins in Christ dead and risen. It is the foundation, not of the prophets and apostles, but "of the apostles and prophets." The phrase in Greek means that both classes, the apostles and prophets, were united in this joint work. They were together employed in laying this common basis. We read (Eph. 3:5) of the mystery of Christ, "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." These words set aside all controversy; for they prove that it is a question only of the present. So in Ephesians 4:11, "He gave some apostles and some prophets." Some of the New Testament writers were not apostles, and yet they were just as much inspired. We are said, then, to be built upon this "foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone." It is not merely prophecy or promise, but "Jesus Christ Himself" — His Person. It is what the Apostle Peter learned from the lips of our Lord: "Upon this rock I will build my Church;" that is, upon the confession of Christ as the Son of the living God. And so here you have Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. But it is not here, as in Matthew, Christ building; but these apostles and prophets are used (of course subordinately) because they were the instruments of revealing the Church. Thus Scripture confines the Church to that which followed the death and resurrection of Christ, and makes it depend on the Holy Ghost sent down to form them into one body upon earth. "In whom all the building, fitly framed together, grows to an holy temple in the Lord." It is not yet complete. "In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." God had once a dwelling-place on earth — the temple; and there He dwelt, not by the Spirit, but in a visible manner. Now God dwells on earth in a more blessed way still, even through the Spirit. The Holy Ghost constitutes the saints the divine habitation and unites them as one body. He dwells in the Church, making it thus the temple of God. It is not His indwelling in the individual that we have here. This also is most true and important; but, besides, He dwells in the Church: He makes the Church to be God's dwelling-place. What a truth! It is plain that God looks for it, that we should be walking faithfully in the truth, and according to Christ.
We have here a remarkable instance of the parenthetical style of the epistle; for the whole chapter on which we are entering is an example of it. We shall find parenthesis within parenthesis, the want of seeing which increases the misunderstanding of the epistle; but once observed, all is easy, and the moral fitness of such a form of describing what is in itself a sort of parenthesis in God's ways has been and should be noticed by the way. We can seek, by the grace of God, to learn and consider the reason for these digressions, which form an episode of unusual length. The whole of Ephesians 3 comes in between the doctrine of the close of Ephesians 2 and the exhortation at the beginning of Ephesians 4, which is founded upon that doctrine. What is the meaning of this turning aside? The Holy Ghost stops short in the midst of the unfolding of the doctrine to lead us into — what? The answer, I think, is very plain. He has just alluded to that which must have seemed a great stumbling-block to a Jew; namely, God's forming one body, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Among many Christians now, I am sorry to say, the difficulty is not even felt, still less is the truth understood. The reason is, because they have so little hold of the faithfulness or the purposes of God. For it is a real trial of faith to a devout mind, when one part of the truth of God appears to clash with another. There cannot be any real discord; all must be in perfect keeping and harmony. But we are not always able to understand how the different parts of truth hang together. While thus ignorant, we ought to wait in faith, neither doubting on the one hand nor indifferent on the other.
Let us for a moment seek to put ourselves in the position of the Jewish believers, who inherited the thoughts and feelings and prejudices of the Old Testament saints. And let such an one have words of this kind clearly pressed upon him — one body, neither Jew nor Gentile, the enmity slain, the middle wall of partition broken down. What a truth for a Jew! How extraordinary that God should destroy that which He had been building up, and had so long sanctioned; that God who had formed and insisted on the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, on peril even of death to those slighting them — that He Himself should reduce them to nothing, and bring in what is totally different from and irreconcileable with the old order! No wonder all this should be a difficulty, if put together as the mind of God for the same time. But there is a key to the whole enigma. They are not instituted of God contemporaneously. Hence all the difficulty amounts to, is, that God, who at one time ordained the distinction between Israel and the Gentiles, is pleased now for a season to abolish it and to bring in an entirely new thing. Now the early part of Ephesians 3 is devoted to the explaining of this special part of the mystery of Christ, whereby the Gentiles are brought forward and put upon exactly the same level with the believing Jews who now received Christ, so that in this world they form one and the same body. But the more that a man adhered to the truth of the law and prophets, the more insuperably hard this was, because the Old Testament never speaks of such a state of things. In fact, for a person who only knew the ancient Hebrew revelations, it was a wrench without precedent, and that for which he must have been altogether unprepared. There was the difficulty of apparently going contrary to the plain word of God. This it is, accordingly, that the Holy Ghost here removes out of the way. And first of all, observe the wisdom of God in laying an admirable foundation for the bringing in of the new doctrine. We have seen the counsels of God from all eternity centring in Christ, and embracing the glorious thought of souls gathered out from this world to be the sharers of the same love and glory in which Christ is now found in the presence of God. (Eph. 1) Next, we had the means employed to meet souls in their ruined state upon earth; this we had in Ephesians 2. And now in Ephesians 3 we have a digression for the purpose of explaining fully the nature of this part of the mystery in special relation to Gentiles.
We must, however, guard against the notion that "the mystery" or secret means the gospel. The gospel in itself does not and never can mean a mystery. It was that which in its foundations always was before the mind of God's people in the form of promise, or of a revelation of grace not yet accomplished. But nowhere in Scripture is the gospel called a mystery. It may be connected with the mystery, but it is not itself a mystery. It was no mystery that a Saviour was to be given; it was the very first revelation of grace after man became a sinner. The Seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent's head. A mystery is something that was not revealed of old, and which could not be known otherwise. Again, you have in the prophets a full declaration that the righteousness of God was near to come; the plainest possible statement that God was going to show Himself a Saviour-God. So again you have His making an end of sins and bringing in reconciliation and everlasting righteousness. All these things were in no sense the mystery. The mystery means that which was kept secret, not that which could not be understood, which is a human notion of mystery; but an unrevealed secret, — a secret not yet divulged in the Old Testament but brought out fully in the New. What, then, is this mystery? It is, first, that Christ, instead of taking the kingdom, predicted by the prophets, should completely disappear from the scene of this world, and that God should set Him up in heaven at His own right hand as the Head of all glory, heavenly and earthly, and that He should give the whole universe into the hands of Christ to administer the kingdom and maintain the glory of God the Father in it. This is the first and most essential part of the mystery, the second, or Church's part, being but the consequence of it. Christ's universal headship is not the theme spoken of in the Old Testament. You have Him as Son of David, Son of man, Son of God, the King; but nowhere is the whole universe of God (but rather the kingdom under the whole heavens) put under Him. In this headship over all things, Christ will share all with His bride. Christ will have His Church the partner of His own unlimited dominion, when that day of glory dawns upon the world.
Hence, then, as we know, the mystery consists of two great parts, which we have summed up in Ephesians 5:32; "This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Thus the mystery means neither Christ nor the Church alone, but Christ and the Church united in heavenly blessedness and dominion over everything that God has made. Hence, as we saw from Ephesians 1, when He was raised from the dead, God set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, "and put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church." It is not said, "over the church," which would overthrow, not teach, the mystery. He will be over Israel and over the Gentiles, but nowhere is He said to reign over the Church. The Church is His body. I admit it is a figure, but a figure that conveys an intense degree of intimacy, full of the richest comfort and the most exalted hope. The saints who are now being called are to share all things along with Christ in that day of glory. Hence it becomes of the greatest interest to know what the nature of the Church is. When did its calling begin, and what is the character of that calling, what the responsibilities that flow from it?
The Epistle to the Ephesians is the capital seat of the doctrine of the Church; and if the Spirit of God here departs from the current of the doctrine, it is to give us a view of what was one of the chief difficulties connected with it; viz., the Gentile believers being brought with believing Jews into the unity of Christ's body. A Jewish mind would not feel it so strange that God should bless a Gentile; but he would suppose that the blessing must be inferior to that of a Jew — that a higher place must be reserved for Israel and a lower one for the Gentile. The doctrine now brought out overturns all this. To a mind bred in Old Testament thought it was the apparent undermining of the plain word of God. How was so natural and strong an objection to be removed? It was a new thing for heaven, during Israel's rejection for the earth. Further, it is from not understanding "the mystery," and what the Church really is, that the Popish or antichurch system has sprung up. But not only so: Protestants too have departed from the word of God on this subject through unbelief of our heavenly relationship to Christ and through love of the world — love of present honour and worldly greatness. They have not the faith and patience to wait for the day of Christ. A Christian is called upon to suffer now, to be cast out as evil, waiting to be glorified with Christ — not merely by Christ, but with Christ, to be with Christ Himself where He is. This supposes our place "without the camp," i.e., every form of worldly religion. Does not the world now take the place of being the Church of God? This is the part of Babylon; and though the strongest expression, and the centre, if you will, of Babylon be found in Popery, that system of confusion is not confined to Rome. We do well to come nearer home, to examine what we are about ourselves, to look whether we be not drawn away into a grave misunderstanding of what God has saved us for. Do Christians generally realize that they are saved at all? Are they simply, thoroughly, abidingly happy in the consciousness of God's salvation? Look at the hymns that are sung — think of the prayers that are offered. They are the aspirations of anxious, uneasy souls, who call themselves miserable sinners, because they have no conscious possession of the blessing, but only desires after it. Is it possible that it comes to this, that souls count it humility to doubt God? that it is a becoming and boasted part of the worship of God to express the misery and the bondage of redeemed souls on the day which proclaims that their sins are blotted out and their peace made? Where, in all this, is the simple, hearty rest in the knowledge of redemption as a completed thing? of sins being entirely done with for the Christian, as far as regards the judgment of God? Assuredly there remains always the need of our acknowledging our sins, and of judging ourselves; but this is quite another kind of judgment and of confession, the confession of souls which blame themselves so much the more because they have not a doubt that they are sons of God — hearts which are perfectly at peace and which express their happiness in songs of praise and thanksgiving to the God who has for ever saved them.
Upon the foundation of salvation as a complete thing, the Holy Ghost leads on to the understanding of the Church. If you do not know and rest in Christ's redemption as accomplished, yea, and accepted for us of God, you cannot have a single true idea of the Church. This shows the exceeding wisdom of the Spirit of God in bringing in the doctrine of the Church here, after all question of salvation has been fully met and settled. "For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles." He was a sufferer even to bonds for the sake of the Gentiles. Wherever a person takes his place truly as a member of the body of Christ, how can he have honour, or escape reproach and trial in the world? The proper home of the Church is in heaven; but on earth he who brought out this blessed truth is content to be a prisoner. "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward." Dispensation here means "administration" or "stewardship" — that for which he was held responsible to God. The Apostle Paul was the instrument chosen of God for bringing out the nature, calling, character, and hopes of the Church. Mark the ways of God. He would not develop it among the Jews, nor would He reveal it by Peter or James. It was revealed to them no doubt, but not by them. The Apostle Paul was the only one of the inspired writers by whom God made it known. Hence if there were the smallest truth in apostolic succession, Paul ought to be the root or channel through whom the succession comes, and not Peter, who was expressly an apostle of the circumcision. Paul's apostleship was directly from the Lord and with the uncircumcision as its sphere. He was the grand witness that all true ministry must be direct from Christ. The Lord may work by means. He may call a person to preach, and there may be persons whose gift is developed by means of teaching. The same apostle who derived his gift from the Lord, and who insisted upon it so strongly, used to teach others. He communicated the truth to Timothy, who again was enjoined to teach others that which he had himself received. The Lord works by those who understand the truth well, to communicate the truth to those who understand it less. But still the principle remains, that all gift is immediately from Christ, and not derivative from man. There were outward and local appointments, such as elders and deacons; but that was another thing altogether. The elder might teach or not, and might do so formally and publicly, if he were a teacher; but his eldership was purely a certain charge communicated by the authority of the apostles, distinct from the question of gift. I only refer to the underived character of gift properly so called, which the Spirit distributes in the Church. It comes immediately from Christ on high (Eph. 4), and not through a human channel, save in an exceptional and miraculous instance, as when the apostle laid hands on Timothy and imparted a χαρισμα to him according to prophecy.
In this further statement the Apostle Paul says, "By revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in a few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.)" He had touched upon it in Ephesians 2, but now he is entering upon it more fully. "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men." Here you have a positive statement that the secret was a something not revealed in other ages — not that it was obscurely intimated or badly understood, but it was not revealed at all. It was a secret kept hid, as the apostle lets us know in Romans 16. "Now to him that is of power to stablish you … according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest." It was only now divulged. It was not that the thing had been predicted by the prophets, and only now laid hold of by faith. In truth it was now made manifest, now published and taught; it never had been before. "But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." There is no doubt that the "scriptures of the prophets," alluded to here, are New Testament scriptures. It is, properly speaking, "by prophetic scriptures," not referring to Old Testament prophets at all; and for this reason — "Now is made manifest, and by prophetic scriptures … made known to all nations." Had the meaning been Old Testament prophets, what could have been more extraordinary than such an expression? He might have said, It was revealed to the prophets, but now it is understood. But he says, It is now made manifest. "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." There were inspired men, not apostles, who were prophets. To both of these it was now revealed; but we cannot say that "prophetic scriptures" in Romans 16 extend beyond the writings of Paul, which develop this blessed secret of God. The unfolding of the Church ensued when the Holy Ghost was given after a new manner. "The Holy Ghost was not yet [given] because that Jesus was not yet glorified." The Holy Ghost had wrought before, but He was to be poured out personally; and this is identified with the calling of the Church. At Pentecost, for the first time, we have an assembly that is called the Church of God. "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." There we find what is called the Church, or the assembly: a body where God intended to have Jew and Gentile without distinction; which state of things never existed before the day of Pentecost. And now we have Jews and Gentiles brought into this new order, new to both of them, to which the former revelations of God no longer applied as a direct description of their privileges.
And here let me warn you to beware of so taking the Scriptures as if everything God says there is about you and me and the Church. The Church is, comparatively, a new thing in the earth; it is exclusively a New Testament subject. If I said that saints were thus new, it were false; but if you say that the Church embraces Old Testament saints, you neglect and oppose the word of God, which confines the Church of God to that which began with Christ set at the right hand of God, and the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to baptize all who now believe into this one body. What is meant by "the church?" The assembly of souls gathered by the knowledge of Christ dead and risen, and by the Holy Ghost united to Christ, as the glorified man at God's right hand. Such a state of things did not exist before Pentecost. There was no redemption accomplished before the cross. Christ stands alone as Son of God from all eternity — a divine person equal with the Father. But He became man in order to die for men upon the cross; and risen from the dead, He enters upon His new place of headship to the Church, His body; the Bridegroom of the Bride. Atonement has been made and sin put away by the sacrifice of Himself; and there could be no such thing as becoming a member of the body of Christ till this was accomplished. The Church is founded upon the remission of sins by the blood of Christ already shed, and consists of those that are united with Christ to share all His glory, save that which is essentially and eternally His own as only-begotten Son of the Father.
Then comes in this especial part of the mystery — "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." The promises of God to Abraham, and this promise of God in Christ, are two things not only different but contrasted. For if I look at the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, "I will make of thee a great nation," is this the Church's expectation? When Christians become great in the earth, it is when they have slipped out of their proper blessing in fellowship with Christ; but when Israel is made a great nation in the true sense of the word, they will be blessed and a blessing as they never were before. The promise was given to Abraham, and will be accomplished in his seed on earth by and by. "I will make of thee a great nation … and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." Here you have room left for the going out of blessing to the Gentiles; but, mark, they are to be blessed in Abraham, and afterwards in his seed. In Genesis 22, the promise is renewed to Isaac; and this is what is referred to in Hebrews. "By myself I have sworn, saith the Lord. … That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." Is this what we are looking for? I trow not. We want to be in heaven with Christ, and we shall be there through His love and the favour of our God. But Israel is to possess the gate of his enemies, and to be exalted above all people of the earth. In the Psalms we have a sort of commentary upon these expectations of the godly in Israel. Thus in Psalm 67 we have the prayer, "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause His face to shine upon us (Selah); that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations." The preliminary of the blessing to other nations is the answer to Israel's cry, "God be merciful unto us and bless us." All hope for the world as such depends upon the blessing of the Jews.
It is not so as to the Church, which God is now calling out. Its blessing does not hinge on the promises or the blessing of any people. Hence these Psalms do not apply; yet persons persist in diverting them to present circumstances. No wonder that they are bewildered. The fault is in their perversion of the word of God. "Let the people praise thee, O God; yea, let all the people praise thee." Now it extends to others. "O let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for thou shalt judge the people righteously and govern the nations upon earth." When that day dawns, instead of the groaning and travailing which as yet prevails, "Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us." Anything like this is very far from being the case now. It is the millennial state that is expected here, when the power of God will be put forth triumphantly, and God will acknowledge His people Israel, and other nations will be blessed in them. Now the Gentiles are "fellow-heirs and of the same body." Fellow-heirs with whom? With Christ, and with all who are in Christ. Whether Jews or Gentiles, they are fellow-heirs. Grace has put them on common ground. It is not now the Jews set on the pinnacle of the earth's blessing. On the contrary, as a nation they are dispersed, and God is judging them, not showing mercy: there is a complete obliterating of the old landmarks. And for this reason: the Jewish people were the real leaders in the world's enmity against Christ, and in the crucifying of their own Messiah. The cross of Christ terminated the distinctions between Jew and Gentile; and, founded upon that cross, God is building the Church. The vilest sinners upon the face of the earth, whether Jew or Gentile, God takes up; and, out of their condition of sin and distance from God, He puts them all upon one common heavenly level as members of the body of Christ. This is what God is doing now, and it is of immense importance to understand it, in order to enjoy fellowship with His ways. Besides, the whole Bible becomes practically a new and yet more precious book when this is understood. Truth cannot admit of compromise, however rightly we may seek to be patient; the revealed mind of God necessarily excludes the notion of people having their own private judgment. Neither you nor I have a right to an opinion on matters of faith. God is the only one entitled to speak on these things; and He has spoken so plainly that it is our sin if we do not hear Him. But you cannot sever truth from the spiritual affections. Hence, if people do not carry out the truth of the Church practically, they lose it, and become bitter against it. God's mind about the Church always brings him who knows it into the world's enmity, and the special enmity of Christians who do not understand it. It was so with St. Paul pre-eminently, and it has been the same tale ever since, as souls have laid hold of his testimony; and so it must be. The doctrine that Paul held, if taught by the Spirit of God, never can admit of a party, because the very centre of it is Christ in heaven.
The apostle goes on with his statement; and this is the particular phase of the mystery that he brings out here — "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel; whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power." What is the effect of this truth? The most humbling possible. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." It brings out the value of Christ as nothing else does. He adds further, "And to make all men see what is the administration [not, fellowship] of the mystery." He shows thus, that besides the aspect of the mystery towards the saints, it has also its application to all men, without distinction — to those outside the Church. Persons who preach the gospel necessarily preach Christ; but there are few who understand the character of the grace which unites the soul with Christ in the relationship of members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. This was a main part of Paul's work. Therefore he adds, administration of the mystery, "which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ." Mark, it is not hid in the Scriptures, but "hid in God." "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God."
Let us consider what a wonderful place this is — that God is now making known a new kind of wisdom to the angels above by His dealings with us; and, by us, I mean all the saints of God now on earth. For let them be called by whatsoever name, every saint of God is a member of the body of Christ. All belong truly and equally to the Church of God. One cannot but sorrow that so few understand or care what the Church of God is, and to act upon it. We ought to know what God intends, and how He intends His Church to walk. Christ is equally possessed by all; but all do not equally understand what the will of God about His Church is; how He would have us to worship Him, and to act upon His word together; how to help one another to carry out this glorious truth — God is manifesting by the Church His varied wisdom. Are we walking so according to the will of God for His Church, that He can point to us as a lesson to the angels of God? Such, and no less than this, is God's intention. You cannot, surely, get rid of the responsibility connected with it, by refusing to act according to it! It is not by and by, when we reach heaven, that God will manifest by the Church His manifold wisdom to the heavenly hosts; but now on earth while the members of the Church are being called. "That now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." Does not this bring in serious considerations? It is not a question of what men think about us, and whether we are loved or disliked here below. Very sure I am, that if we are walking according to Christ, we never can be anything but hated by the world; and it shows that we value the world if we wish otherwise. It is a most painful thing to feel that so it must be; but if I believe Christ, I must believe this, and I ought to rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer in the least degree. But besides this, the Church is called to be the lesson-book for the angels of God. When we think that God is overlooking with the angels that surround Him; that He is occupied with such objects as we are; that He sees in them the dearest objects of His affections; that He has given them Christ to be their life; and sent down the Holy Ghost, that blessed person of the Trinity, to take up His dwelling-place in them, and make them to be His temple, while they are in this world, what a calling it is! If an angel wants to know where His great love is, he must look down into this world and see it thus. You cannot sever Christ from the Church. But the wonderful thing is, that, before the angels of God, the astonishing conflict is going on — Satan and all his hosts endeavouring to mislead them by putting them on a false ground, preaching righteousness in a thousand forms, in order to lead them away from grace and from the cross of Christ. On the other hand, there you have God working by His word and Spirit to bring His people to a consciousness of their privileges. But whether the children of God are faithful or not, perfect love dwells upon them and acts toward them (it may be in discipline); God is occupied with them, caring for them, always keeping this before His mind, that He will have them perfectly like Christ. Nothing can cloud this. Weakness may for a time dishonour the Lord, and destroy our own comfort, and help on the delusion of the world. All that may be; but the purpose of God, it shall stand; what God has spoken must be accomplished. Our weakness may be manifested, but God in His mighty love will complete His purpose. And this is the way in which He is teaching the principalities and powers in heavenly places a new kind of wisdom, that never was seen before in this world. They had seen God's ways in creation and at the deluge, and in Israel. But here was something that not even the Scriptures of God hinted, that was not promised to man — a thing entirely kept secret between the Father and the Son.
Now it is come out. The Holy Ghost is the One who develops and makes good this glorious truth of the Church of God. How far have our souls entered into it? How far do we content ourselves with vague guesses at it, thinking that it is of no great importance? Willing ignorance of this truth arises from a secret love of the world. There is the feeling in him who declines it, that you cannot take it up in heart and walk with the world. You must thoroughly break with everything that the flesh values under the sun. You have a place above the sun with Christ, and the consequence is that you are called on to submit to the sentence of death on everything here, to glorify the name of Christ and rejoice in Him, whatever may be the will of God about us. For no circumstances shut us out from the responsibility of being the witnesses of a glory that is above this world. The world ought to see in the Church the reflection of Christ. You may find a monk or a nun sweet morally, but all this may be mere nature and not Christ. I do not say that Christ may not be there too, in isolated cases, spite of an outrageously wicked system. To faith, however, it is a question of doing the will of God and of glorifying Christ in the place of earthly reproach. God looks for the confession of the name of His Son at cost of all dear to us. If the world heed it not, is it in vain for the principalities and powers in heavenly places?
On the closing verse or two of the portion just before us, I did not comment. A few words now, therefore, on verses 12, 13. The apostle having alluded to Christ as the One in whom, exalted on high, the eternal purpose of God has now been revealed by the Spirit, adds, that in that same person "we have boldness and access, with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory." Now it is very sweet to find how, even in so vast a subject as that which was occupying his heart and which he was desiring to press upon the saints, he can link on with the highest and deepest counsels of God the very simplest of the fundamental truths on which the believer rests. This is most instructive: because while, on the one hand, we saw before now that it is quite in vain to enter into the nature of the Church without having a simple, clear, and full understanding of the peace which Christ has made and which He is for us in the presence of God; on the other hand, when we do seize in any measure the character of the Church, when we see the astonishing privileges which are ours as being made one with Christ, we regard with a more intense enjoyment the first elements, and we realize the amazing stability of the foundations on which our souls are privileged to stand. Thus one sees God would take care that peace of conscience, and of the heart too, should be kept up practically. There is nothing that is merely given for the wonder of our minds. I do not say that there is not endless matter for admiration or that there is not an infinity to learn; but every step, and indeed the highest attainment of the knowledge of God's purposes in Christ, is intimately linked with the confidence of our souls in His love. So that while we cannot apprehend aright the nature of the Church until we have known simple peace with God, when we do enter into it, that peace is brightened in the heavenly light of the privileges into which the Holy Ghost has been leading our souls. We come back with renewed understanding and deeper enjoyment of the boundless grace which is ours in Christ. Hence it is that having ushered us into this wonderful expanse of God's love and purposes, he for a moment glances at certain practical consequences in us. "In whom," says he, "we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him." It is not only peace, but "we have boldness," which refers more particularly to our speech in addressing God; being able, as it were, to say anything to Him, because of our confidence in His love. And "access with confidence," which is not merely what we utter, but the drawing near to Him, even where there may be no positive going forth of heart in the way of formal prayer; but there is the enjoyment of nearness, "access with confidence by the faith of him." "Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory." Here is another practical fruit of this blessed truth. We saw before how he introduces the unfolding of the Church along with the fact that he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ. At the very moment when he was under the hand of the power of this world, and with the possibility of death before him, the Lord is pleased to bring out through the apostle the glorious calling of the Church. And he reminds them of this again. They might have been cast down at his sufferings. He says, on the contrary, you should not faint; tribulation ought to be rather that which would exercise and strengthen your faith. In 2 Corinthians 1 the apostle speaks of being pressed out of measure, above strength, so that he despaired even of life. But when the Corinthians needed comfort, he had it from God and was able to give it out to them. Now he was under the world's power and in prison, and there God unfolds the glory of the Church. They would, no doubt, be called to suffer too, and would have to know what tribulation was. So that the apostle, in the fulness of his own enjoyment of the truth which enabled him to rejoice even in his sufferings, calls upon them not to faint. So entirely has the Spirit of God united together the saints, not only with Christ, but also with one another, that what Paul was suffering was their glory, not his only. They had a common interest in it as being members of the same body.
"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." (Ver. 14-16.) Here we are on perceptibly different ground, and I may say, higher than that of Ephesians 1. It is one of the two great relationships in which God stands to Christ, and, consequently, to us. For God now acts toward Christ, in view not merely of His person, but of His work. The consequence is that the work efficaciously puts us in the same place before God which belongs to Christ as man, yea, to Christ as man risen from the dead and in heaven. I carefully guard against saying all that Christ is, for this would not be true. We never can share what pertains to Him as the Son of the Father, from all eternity. It were impossible: the very conception of it would be irreverent. No creature can overpass the bounds which separate him from God, neither would a renewed creature desire it. For in truth it is the joy of the most exalted creature to pay the lowliest homage to Him who is above him. Therefore I have little doubt that, in heaven among the angels of God, the highest is he who shows the deepest reverence. So, in earthly things, it is plainly the duty of every one to mark respect to the sovereign; but the one who has the place next to the sovereign has the largest opportunities and the strongest obligation to prove what the sovereign is in his eyes. So with us now in things spiritual.
In this portion, then, we have the second of the two great titles of God in relation to Christ and to us. It is not here, as in Ephesians 1, the God, but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The God of Christ brings out Christ more as the glorious man, which He is — the glorified man in God's presence, the centre of all the counsels of God's power, who is even now exalted in the highest seat in heaven, and all things put under His feet. But it is plain that Christ has that which He values more than all that is set under His dominion — the love and delight of His Father in Him. Even our hearts are capable of understanding and enjoying this in the Holy Spirit. Indeed the time comes in most men's history, even where the world has counted them greatest and happiest, when they find a void that nothing can satisfy. But in Christ's case glory will not be the withering plant that human handling makes it. We know that in His hands it will be equally bright and holy, because God will be the object of it all; and everything, consequently, will be turned to His praise; as it is said, "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." But then no possession of the universe, no expulsion of evil, no righteous judgment, no blessed control of every creature to the glory of God, could possibly satisfy the heart. There will be the salt of the everlasting covenant of God in it: the constant maintenance of God's will and glory will be felt. But there is something sweeter than any power, let it be ever so glorious or howsoever administered; and this we have here. It is the Father's love which is above all. The effect of the first prayer is, that you look down upon the immense scene that is put under Christ; and it is intended of God that you should. But the effect of the second is rather, you look up in the enjoyment of the love that is the secret of the glory, the glory being the effect and fruit of the love, and that which evidences what the love must have been, that has given such glory. But blessed as glory is, the love that gives the glory is still deeper and better. And hence when our Lord in John 17 prays for the saints — when He says, "The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them," what is it for? "That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me." This is the object of it. All are made perfect in one in that glory; but the end of this manifestation of glory is that the world may know how much the Father loved them. Thus, the glory that is seen, blessed as it must be, is not the end of everything. There was love before there was glory. And while I would not assert that there will be love after there is glory, still I do say that what produces, gives, and maintains the glory, is better than the glory itself. Ay, and there is nothing in all the thoughts of God more wondrous than that God can love such as we are with the same love wherewith He loves His Son. And He does so love us; I know it for myself, and dishonour His word if I do not know it. If He says it, is it not that I may believe it and take it home to my heart, and enjoy it now in this world? — that I may use it as my constant buckler against everything that flesh, or world, or Satan can insinuate against me? He loves us as He loved Him. Do not say it is too high a thought. I know nothing so humiliating — that so convicts us of being nothing — as this that, so loved, we should so little feel it; that, so loved, we should so feebly return it; that, so loved, we should yield to the cares, the vanities, the thoughts, the pursuits, anything, in short, that is not according to such love. It is the delight and, if we may so say, the desire of God that those who are His should enter into the greatness of His love. For no glory, nor sense of it, nor confidence in it, nor waiting for it, ought to be enough even for such hearts as ours. It is a wonderful thing to think that we are to share the glory of Christ: but more so that we have the same love. The same God who gives us the glory of Christ, will have our souls enter even now by the Holy Ghost into the community of the same love; and such is the grand central thought of this prayer: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Father of Christ is that relationship which brings out the love, just as the kingdom of Christ is connected with His conferred or human glory. In the one case it is what He is going to do for us. If we think what He did for Adam, what His purpose was about man, what will He not do for the last Adam, even Christ? And all that He does for Him as this blessed, glorious man, He will share with us. But more than this. The love that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bears to Him, He bears also to us. We know how He expressed it when His Son was here — at what striking moments He brought out His love — how jealous He was lest man should suppose that He was indifferent to His beloved Son. Suffering allowed is no proof that He does not love; yea, rather, the contrary — it proves how much, not only He trusts our love, but how much also He would have us to trust His — confiding in Him, that, spite of all appearances, He loves us as He loves His Son. We may be exposed to all that Satan can array against us; but we are only in the same scene which the Son of His own love has trodden before us. But when men might have thought from this or that, that Jesus was no more than any other man, see how God vindicates Him. Thus, it was not only that John the Baptist tried to hinder the Lord Jesus from being baptized, as if He needed to confess anything — for that baptism was a confession of sins; and therefore did John show his astonishment that there should be even the appearance of confession on the part of such an one as Jesus. But God had deeper thoughts, and allows that there should be that which unbelief might torture into the insinuation of evil, but which faith lays hold of, and for which we only adore Him and the Lamb yet more. So it was that the Father, when His beloved Son rose out of the Jordan, where all others were confessing unrighteousness — where He was fulfilling all righteousness — where He who had no unrighteousness to confess, still would not be severed from those who were doing that which became their unrighteousness, who were owning the God whose rights had been forgotten — when, in sympathy with the holy feeling that led them there, He would be with them there: then it was that the Father declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It was just at the right moment, and with the fullest wisdom; but with what love the Father uttered these words! He that served Him as He never was served before — He that glorified Him as God never had been glorified on this earth — He that finished the work which God had given Him to do — was God likely to betray the smallest turning aside of His heart from Him? But yet we know that at the moment when He most of all needed it, when all else was against Him, then, crowning all, God forsook Him. If sin was to be judged and put away for ever, it must be judged in all its reality. There must be no sparing, nor mitigating the wrath of God about sin. The whole judgment of God fell upon Him. The work was done: sin was put away by the sacrifice of Himself.
And now all the love which the Father had towards this Blessed One can flow out to us on the ground of that work. It is there that the apostle puts us, brought into the place of sons with the Father; and he bows his knee to the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every family in heaven and earth is named." The expression "the whole family" is jumbled up with people's notions about the Church, as if part were supposed to be in heaven and part on earth. But the real force is "every family." There is no reference to the unity of the Church here. On the contrary, he means that when we look at the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, we rise sufficiently high to take in every class of creatures that God has made. Supposing you look at God as He made Himself known of old, it was as Jehovah to Israel. Does every family in heaven and earth come under this title? Not a single family in heaven, and only one family on earth. Under the title of Jehovah there is a separate relationship in which God reveals Himself to the Jews. He was their God in a sense in which He was not the God of any other people. As Creator, He is the God of all; and thus in some scriptures the term "God" is used, not Jehovah, because of a certain dealing with Gentiles. But where it concerns the ancient people of God, he uses the term Jehovah. Nay, in the second book of Psalms, when the Holy Ghost is contemplating the godly Jew cleaving to God far from His temple, we have not Jehovah prominent, but "God;" for they are not able to enjoy what is specially given to Israel. He never will cease to be God; and they find their blessing in this — come what may — God cannot deny Himself. They are outside the special place in which He had promised to bless them; but God was God everywhere. So that, if they were cast out of the Holy Land, and could not go up to the temple to worship according to the law, God could never cease to be God. It is the very same principle of grace that Christ was bringing down the poor Syrophenician woman to; for we must always come to our true position; and the same thing in substance is verified in every real conversion. I must always be brought down to the truth of what I am, as well as receive the truth of what God is; and then there is no limit to the blessing.
I have just referred to this, by the way, for the purpose of illustrating by contrast the phrase "every family in heaven and in earth." When God was revealing Himself in special relationship with Israel, it was as Jehovah. In Daniel we hear not of Jehovah, but the God of heaven, clearly in contradistinction to God revealing Himself on the earth to a certain people to which He gave a peculiar land and privileges that no other nation shared along with them. They go after false gods: He takes His place in heaven, and falls back upon what never could be denied, and as "the God of heaven" He says, I will choose now whom I will; I will take the very worst people in the whole world, and will give them the empire of the earth. So He chose the enemy of the Jew — the Babylonians. If God is acting thus sovereignly, as the God of heaven, the vilest may have the power here below. But "there is a God that judges the earth;" and when the day comes to verify this, it will be in the midst of His people as Jehovah. Looked at in this way, He has only one family that stands in covenant relationship to Himself: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." But here we have the contrast. He is revealed not merely as Jehovah, having Israel, His people, upon earth, but as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." The moment He speaks in such a relationship as this, it is expressly in association with One who made everything, as was said before, "who created all things by Jesus Christ." All creatures therefore come into view, and find their due place with Him as the Father, because the Lord Jesus is He who formed all, and for whose glory all was made. Hence all families in heaven and in earth, let them be principalities and powers, angels, Jews or Gentiles, as well as the Church of God — all come under "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." The title of Jehovah is restricted to a particular race: the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is unlimited in its range and brings in every class of beings that God has made.
This puts the Church in a most remarkable position, taking us away from all that is local or temporary. We ourselves may have the most special place within this display of divine glory, but still we have to do with a God and Father who is the proclaimed and supreme source of everything else. We may be, we are, if we understand the calling of the Church, near to Him, in a place that none can share, a nearness that no angel enjoys. I mean by "we," all the members of the Church of God. We have by grace a place of association with Christ before God, which none others enter. But as He is revealing Himself in connection with Christ as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, so He brings in other classes of beings that He has made for the purpose of His giving blessing in their suited measure. He has brought out the heir and centre of all His purposes, and there is not a single class of beings that He has made for His praise, but what are put in their proper place before the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in contrast with the peculiarity of the Jew as being the sole possessor of the privileges God gave to them as Jehovah. The Father is Jehovah, and so is Jesus; but it is not thus that we have to do with Him; nor is this our intelligent character of address to Him. It is to the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ that the apostle is here bending his knees. And we ought to be conscious that we are drawing near to Him in the full nearness that such a title implies. He takes within His eye and heart all the creation as that which He means to bless with Christ. But there are those that have rejected Christ; and, remember, God's very same love of Christ which means to bless the creation through Christ, will maintain His glory against those who despise Him. This is a solemn truth. There is nothing more intolerant of evil than love, and the gospel of God has, as its background, the eternal condemnation of every soul that despises Jesus, the Son of God. It must be so. The same disciple that was the favoured one of God to bring out love as none other had done, is the one who brings out the eternal death of those who refuse His love. The revelation, therefore, of the endless ruin of those that despise Christ, is in the closest possible connection with the love that brings out the everlasting blessedness of those that cleave to Him. Thus we have this universality brought in, "Of whom the every family in heaven and earth is named."
But there are, by grace, those who will have that which is most peculiar, which in nearest to His heart in the midst of this scene of love and glory. For these the prayer is, "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man: that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; being rooted and grounded in love, that ye may be fully able to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height." The prayer in chapter 1 was for a deep and real apprehension of their standing before God; here it is rather for practical, inward power by the Holy Ghost. That was that they might know better their place in Christ, as to the call of grace and the inheritance of glory; this is that Christ might have His place in their hearts by faith. In a word, it is here a question of actual state, of the affections having Christ within, of being rooted and grounded in love, that they might be thoroughly able (for so it means) to apprehend that which is indeed measureless. The apostle does not say of what — he leaves you there without any ending to the sentence. He brings you into infinity. I do not believe that it means the breadth, length, depth, and height of the love of Christ. The passage is often quoted so, and oftener so understood; but the "and" of the next verse indicates another sense distinctly: — "And to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge." The love of Christ is evidently an additional thought. What then is the meaning? If it were not too bold to fill up an outline which the apostle has left thus vaguely, I might venture to think that what he puts before us here, with such singular marks of undefined grandeur, is the mystery of which he had been speaking, and assuredly not Christ's love, which he immediately adjoins. He had shown how every family in heaven and earth is ranged under Him who is the Father of the Lord Jesus. In connection with this he prays, that they might be able to apprehend with all saints "what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height." It is in relation to the heavenly counsel of God the Father, once a secret, but now disclosed. All things were for the glory of His Son — the whole creation, heavenly and earthly; and the saints are to have the very highest place with Him over it all.
But there was something still deeper than this, and which needed to be known along with it. Therefore he adds, "And to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that ye might be filled to all the fulness of God." Glorious as all these prospects are, what can compare with His love? The best wine is kept to the last. "To know the love of Christ which passes knowledge." It may seem to be a paradox to say so, but a blessed one. He does not mean that we shall ever know it perfectly. But there may be the knowing more and more of that which surpasses knowledge. He supposes us launched upon that sea where there is no shore: we can never reach the end of His love. Yet he speaks of knowing the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ; "that ye might be filled to all the fulness of God." You could no more get to the end of the love, than you could get to the end of God Himself. Nothing can be more wonderful than such a desire for us, feeble creatures as we are, "that ye might be filled to all the fulness of God." And yet it is for the saints now that the apostle thus prayed; not that we might know ourselves to be Christ's body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all, but practically enlarged entrance by the power of the Spirit into God's fulness. It is the heart's condition, and real growth in communion with God that is before us here; and this most appropriately after the standing has been treated, and before the exhortations as to walk and conduct.
Hence further, "Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think." He does not say, above all that we can ask or think. The Holy Ghost takes particular care not to say so. There is some difference to be remarked between what we do and what we can ask and think. There is no limit to what we may ask, save that God is above anything that can be asked of Him; yet He loves to hear us asking more and more. He would exercise us in asking more abundantly.
Thus there is dependence on God, "according to the power that works in us." Whose power is this? It is God's, who Himself dwells in every Christian. It is God Himself who makes every saint now, every Christian, to be His temple. Therefore, however poor and weak the believer may be, looked as he is, yet what cannot God make such an one to be? He is the temple of God. God will always be above him, higher than any man's expectations of His love; but it is taken into account that there is a power which now works in us, as well as a power which has wrought for us, to which we can set no limits. As to the power that wrought for us, we see it in Ephesians 1. This was the power which raised up Christ from the dead. Yes, it is the same power that wrought to usward, that has raised us up from our death, and that raised up Christ from the dead. But now He goes farther, and points to the power that works in us to give us entrance into His love and God's fulness. Do we remember that this is precisely the thing in which we most fail? For there is many a soul constantly proving how little it thinks of this power; how apt it is to be murmuring, and tried by the very things which, if it only had the sense of His love, it would bless Him for. "To him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." In what a special point of view the Church appears! He intimates that there will never be a time when the Church will not have its own peculiar place. But it is not only true that the saints ought to have a wonderful introduction into the love of Christ and the fulness of God, by His power that works in us now; but it would appear also that there never will be a time, in all the ages to come, when there will not be an unique and blessed character of relationship between the Church as such and God Himself — the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is confirmed by the beautiful scene in Revelation 21, where we have no longer nations and kings, but God with men. There it is not said simply, "Behold, God is come to dwell with men," but His tabernacle. It is not only that God then deigns to dwell with men, but "the tabernacle of God is with men." It seems exactly the same thing that is here called the Church. God, dwelling in the Church, will take up His place with men; so that the peculiar dwelling-place of God in the Church will continue, even when the scene is an eternal one. Thus, when the heavens and earth have passed away, after the great white throne, and when all the saints will be in their resurrection bodies, then not only will God be in face of men, but "the tabernacle of God" will come down to be with men — God dwelling with them in His own tabernacle, which tabernacle can hardly but be that which is here called the Church. So that the Church, even in eternity, when all enemies and things shall be subdued, will enjoy the sweet and amazing privilege of being the home or dwelling-place of God. What manner of persons, then, ought we to be in holy conversation and godliness!
Thus there is dependence on God, but it is One who is able to bless us unlimitedly, "according to the power that works in us."