In this epistle we have the unfolding of the grace of God in all its fulness, not merely the application of His righteousness to man’s need on His part, but God from out of Himself, and for Himself, as the adequate motive and object before Him, even His own glory. Hence it is that righteousness disappears in this epistle. We have had the gospel thus in all the epistles that have gone before. In Romans, in 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and in Galatians righteousness was largely used. It was developed in a positive and comprehensive way, as in Romans. It was brought in either to convict the Corinthians of their utter departure through the spirit of the world, the flesh taking that shape, or it was brought in triumphantly on their restoration. Again, by it the apostle, writing to the Galatians, vindicated God’s ways with man, and set the Christian outside the law.
But in Ephesians the aim is of a much more absolute and direct character. It is not the wants of man in any sense, either positively or negatively. Here God from Himself and for Himself is acting according to the riches of His own grace. Accordingly the very opening brings before us this astonishingly elevated manner of presenting the great truth with which the apostle’s heart was filled. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” (Eph. 1:1) It was pre-eminently for this that he had been chosen as an apostle; and he represents his apostleship not here as a question of calling, but “by the will of God:” everything in this epistle flows from the will of God; — “to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.”
Although about to show us what the church is in its heavenly blessing, that is, in its highest associations, he always begins with the individual. This was peculiarly needed. The tendency is ever to set aside what is personal for that which is corporate. The epistle to the Ephesians truly understood will help none so to do. It may be perverted to this or anything else; but so far is our corporate place from being put in the foreground that we do not hear one word about the assembly as such till the close of the first chapter. Only in verse 22 is the church even named for the first time, where it is said God has given Christ “to be the head over all things to the church.” But up to this the saints are contemplated as such. The moral order of this is exceedingly beautiful. In the admirable wisdom and grace of God it is the direct setting aside of that which is found in all earthly systems, where the individual is merely a portion of a vast body which arrogates to itself the highest claims. It is not so in the word of God. There the individual blessing of the soul has the first place. God would have us set thoroughly clear and intelligently appreciating our individual place and relation to Himself. Where these are made and kept right, we can then safely follow what God will show us in due time, but not otherwise.
As usual the apostle salutes the saints with the best wishes for their blessing. “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then, without delay, the next verses introduce a general view of the glorious topic that occupied him. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is God in His proper nature, and in His relationship to Jesus. He is the God of Jesus; He is the Father of Jesus. But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ “hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” It is not carnal blessing such as was in measure given under the law to Israel, and will be under the new covenant by and by; it is spiritual blessing. The earth is their sphere; it is there that Israel looks to be blessed, and the Gentiles somewhat farther off, but all in the ordered blessing of the Most High God. Altogether differently here “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” has blessed us where Christ is on high. There is no place good enough for Christ the Son but heaven. There it is God Himself displays most His own glory; there He displays Christ Himself to all the heavenly hosts, delighting to put honour on that Man whom He raised from the dead and set at His own right hand. it is there not merely that He means to bless us, but that He has blessed us already. Such is the character of our blessing, and such its seat. The character is spiritual, the seat heavenly; and as the whole is given by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, so it is secured in Christ.
In the next verse the apostle opens out that which is move particularly connected with “the God of our Lord Jesus 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.” If “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” has blessed us with every spiritual blessing above in Christ, this is the first need — to have a nature capable of communion with His God, to have a condition that would do no dishonour, not only to the highest sphere, but to the holiest form and sphere in which God has ever made, Himself known. This is the nature that is given to the believer now. But it is not merely a thing imparted. The special point before the apostle’s mind is that this was the choice of God before the world, in which we are brought to know the infinite blessing. It was entirely unconnected with the world. Far different was Israel’s case, however favoured as a nation. They were chosen in time. Not only were they called in time as we have been, but they were chosen in time, which we were not. The choice of the saints for heavenly blessedness was before the creation of the universe, before the foundation of the world.
This gives a very peculiar character to our blessedness. It is altogether independent of the old creation, of that which might fail and pass away. It was a choice of God Himself before there was any creature responsible or dependent. God made known His choice, not when the creature was to be proved, but when it had failed to the uttermost; but the choice itself was decided on by God Himself before the creature came into being. It is the moral answer to what was shown in Christ, — “that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Indeed, these are the very qualities of God Himself. He is holy in nature, and blameless in His ways. Man may cavil and murmur now in unbelief; but God will vindicate them every one when man shall be silent for ever. Besides, there is love, the activity, as well as, the moral qualities, of His being. Love it is which, as it were, puts all in movement that belongs to God. It is not something extraneous that acts on God as a motive, but His own love flowing out from Himself according to His holy nature, and in perfect consistency with His character and ways.
This is the moral nature which God confers on us who are born of Him. This and nothing less or else is what He chooses us to be before Him — chooses us to be in Christ in His own sight, and therefore with the fullest certainty that it shall be according to His own mind. It is not merely in the presence of an angel, still less before the world. Angels are not adequate judges of what pertains to us; they may be witnesses, but not judges. God Himself is acting for His own glory and according to His own love. But then the possession of a nature capable of communing with God did not and could not satisfy. He would have something more. What could this possibly be? Is He not satisfied with giving us a nature like His own? No, not even so, and for this reason — God has relationships, and these relationships are shown in Jesus just as much as His nature is. If we want to know what the holiness, and blamelessness, and love of God is, we must look at Him; but in the same way also, if we desire to know what are the relationships into which God puts those He loves, where shall we find the highest? Certainly not in the first man Adam. Israel’s was at best a mere creature relationship, though, no doubt, having a special place in creation. Of all the creatures that live and breathe, man is the only one on earth that became a living soul by the breath of the Lord God, who, as it is written, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. That is, there is a creative connection between God and man which is the source of man’s moral relations with God, and the reason why man, and man alone of all creatures on the earth, shall live again and give an account of himself to God.
But in that which comes before us in our epistle, it is not a question even of the highest creature on earth — one that was called to have dominion on earth, and be the image and glory of God here below. God had in view One infinitely above man; and yet He was a man. It was Jesus; and Jesus stood in what was altogether peculiar — in a relationship that was perfectly according to God’s counsels; but more than that, according to a relationship that was peculiar to His own person. There was counsel, but besides there was intrinsic glory altogether independent of any plans of conferred honour. In other words, the Son of God never was made the Son, He is never even called the child (
τέκνον) of God.1 To us, to be called children of God is more intimate than to be styled His sons; but it would derogate from the Lord. Jesus is never called a child in the sense in which I am now speaking He has His own relationship to the Father eternally. To us it is more to be born of the very nature of God, than to be sons adopted into the family of God. There might be an adopted son without the nature. One might be altogether a stranger to him that adopts. But in Jesus, the Son of God, there was this character of Son in His own title and being from everlasting. Need I say that this is altogether above human comprehension? Yet nothing is more certain than that God so speaks to our faith. Were there an interval of one instant between the Father and the Son, did the Father exist in any respect before the Son as such, all the truth of God as revealed in the Bible perishes. He to whom I look up, by and in whom alone I can know God and the Father, is God Himself Let the notion of time come into the conception given of Godhead and of the persons — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and all would be falsehood and confusion. The Son would be a creature — not self-subsisting, not therefore truly God. For if God, He is as such not less truly God than the Father; for there can be no difference as to Godhead. As the Father is everlasting, so is the Son. The relationship in the Godhead has nothing to do with the question of time; and the great mistake that has been wrought by all human philosophy is from introducing notions of time where time can have no place whatever.
Thus in the Godhead there are the relationships of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But I confine myself now to the relationship of the Son to the Father from everlasting. And God, having these counsels before Him from everlasting, deigns to have a people, not only capable of enjoying Him as having the very same nature as His own, without which they could not enjoy glory; but, besides, if He has us in His presence, He would have us in the highest relationship into which grace could bring us. Now, the highest being that of the Son, we accordingly are brought into that relationship, though not, of course, in the sense in which He was eternally so. To us it could be but eternal purpose, to Him eternal being; to us pure grace, but to Him His own indefeasible right. But the Son being before the Father as His supreme object of love and delight from all eternity, to bring us as sons before Him was as much a part of His counsels as to make us partakers of divine nature. Thus nature is the subject of verse 4, as relationship is of verse 5. Hence in the latter we find, not exactly choosing, but predestinating us: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
It is well to mark the difference. To be before Him without having His own nature would be impossible; and therefore it is not stated as a matter of predestination, but of choice. He might have been pleased to choose none; but if we are to be brought into His presence at all, it is impossible to be there without having the divine nature, in a moral sense (and, of course, one only speaks of this). It is not the impartation of Godhead: none can be so foolish as to think of such a thing. But the divine nature is given to us in its qualities of holiness and love. On the other hand, we find that the predestination is “according to the good pleasure of his will,” because no necessity operates in this. There was a moral necessity for a nature suitable to God, if we were to be in His presence at all; but there was none for this special relationship. He might have put us in any degree of relationship He pleased. Angels, for instance, are there; but they have no such relationship. His grace has predestinated us to the very highest relation — that of sons unto Himself by Jesus Christ “according to the good pleasure of his will.” And the apostle concludes the whole of this part of the matter “to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” All this wondrous scheme is to the glory of His grace. He uses therefore the highest terms in order to express it. Grace alone would not suffice, glory alone would not serve, but both. It is “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” Meanwhile it is again presented to us in this new fact, that we are brought in as objects of His perfect favour in the Beloved. Such is the measure, if measure it can be called, of the grace wherein we stand.
But then those in respect of whom God the Father had such thoughts were in point of fact sinners. The next verse shows that this is not forgotten, for account is taken of the fact, and it is provided for. The same “Beloved” who accounts to us for the counsels of God has brought in redemption. In Him we enter into favour, “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of offences,” not exactly according to the praise of his glory, “but according to the riches of His grace.” It is a present thing in every sense, though, of course, needed for heaven and eternity. Hence the expression does not go beyond the riches of God’s grace. Thus is touched, incidentally, the need of our souls as offenders against God, but only so far as to show that it was in no way overlooked.
Next the apostle turns to the boundless scene that lies before us, as in the preceding verses he had looked at what is behind us. And why is all this? Clearly God has a purpose, a settled and glorious plan to gather the whole universe under Christ as its Head. Are those that He has brought into a share of His own moral nature and the relationship of sons to be left out of this? In nowise: even now He has abounded toward them “in all wisdom and prudence.” These words do not attribute to God all wisdom and prudence, which certainly would be nothing new; but they intimate that He has now conferred on His saints all wisdom and prudence. It is truly an astonishing statement. The contrast is with Adam, who had a knowledge that was suited to his own place and relationship. Accordingly we hear in Genesis 2 how he gave names to all that was put under him. And as to his wife, he instantly understands, though he had been in a deep sleep while she was being formed. But when presented to him, he knows all that it was meet for him to know then. He knows instinctively that she was part of himself, and gives her a name suitably. Such seems to have been the measure of Adam’s wisdom and prudence. As being the image and glory of God on earth, he is the one that gives names to his companion, or to the subject creation. It is not merely that he accepts names given him by God, but God delights in putting him in this place of lordship, and to a certain extent also of fellowship — lordship to that which is below him, and fellowship as regarded his wife. Thus, then, Adam acts and speaks.
But the saints, now being made the objects of these heavenly counsels of God, have a wisdom and prudence of their own, quite peculiar to the new creation in Christ, and its proper relations: God puts no limits to it. In point of fact, He looks for the expression and exercise of it, be assured, from all of us, though no doubt according to our measure. It is no use merely taking it up as a name or barren title. Our God and Father does look for the display of the mind of Christ in us, so that we should be able to form a judgment according to Himself, and to express it about whatever comes before us. For if we are in Christ, we have a vantage ground which makes all things clear. Christ is not darkness but light, and puts all in the light; He makes us to be children of the light, that so we may be able to judge ourselves, not discerned by man as such, but capable of discerning whatever claims our attention. Such is the place of a Christian, and a wondrous place it is, flowing from the nature and relationship which we possess by the grace of our God.
But the connection is important. God has “abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us [what is the special proof of it] the mystery of his will.” This does not yet appear; for there is nothing to indicate to mankind what He purposes to do. It is an absolutely new thing; and this new purpose is “according to the good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 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, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, that we should be to the praise of his glory,” etc.
Here the apostle repeats that high, large, and blessed phrase already so familiar to us, “that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ; in whom ye also [trusted].” It was not confined to those that had their hope founded on Christ while the nation refused Him. Paul was one of those; and there were others at Ephesus, as we well know — in point of fact the first nucleus of the assembly there. The first saints and faithful in the city of Ephesus, as Acts 19 shows, were persons who had been baptized with the baptism of John, and afterwards brought from Jewish to Christian ground by the apostle Paul. Hence he says, “that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ,” referring to himself and any other saints who had been chosen from the people of the Jews. At the same time there is no exclusion of Gentile believers, but the reverse. “In whom ye, also [trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” For the mass subsequently brought in were Gentiles, and the gospel of salvation they forthwith received, without going through the intermediate steps that the others knew. The Jews, or those who had been under Jewish teaching, had been for a while in an infantine state, or an Old Testament condition; but the Gentiles by faith passed simply and directly into the full Christian blessing. “In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”
It cannot have escaped observation that there are two great parts in that which has come before us. The first is nature; the second is relationship. The Holy Ghost is here viewed according to these two. Connected with nature, He has sealed us, as it is said here and elsewhere; and connected with relationship, He is the earnest. For “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” The Holy Ghost thus takes a corresponding part. Just as Christ is the sample and model whether of nature or relationship, so the Holy Ghost is not without His own proper place in bringing the saint into the reality, knowledge, and enjoyment of both. The Holy Ghost gives us the certainty and joyful assurance of our place as saints; the Holy Ghost at the same time gives us the foretaste of the bright inheritance of God that lies beyond.
Then follows a prayer of the apostle — the first of those he pours out for the Ephesian saints. Naturally this prayer grows out of the two great truths he had been urging. He prays for the saints “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory [for this is what his mind connected with it], may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the 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.” These are the two former points. The “hope of his calling” is the bright prospect of the saints themselves, as they are in Christ before God. “The riches of the glory of his inheritance” embrace, of course, that vast scene of creation which is to be put under the glorified saints. He prays accordingly that they might enter into both, realizing the holy peaceful atmosphere of the one, and the glorious expectations that were bound up with the other; for clearly the future is before his mind. But then he adds a third point, which was not given in the previous part of the chapter; namely, that they might know “what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.”
This last was of all-importance to the saints, and the rather as that power had already been put forth. It shines in full contrast with Israel. If the latter enquired how God had interfered most conspicuously for them, no doubt they were reminded of the power that brought them out of the land of Egypt. This was always their comfort in the midst of disasters and troubles. The God that divided the Red Sea, and brought them across Jordan, was equal to any difficulty that might ever assail them again. In the prophets this too remains always the standard, until God exert His power in another way, when He shall be no longer spoken of as Jehovah that brought them out of the land of Egypt, but out of the north country into their land, where He shall settle them for ever. Thus Israel stands in the permanent remembrance of power that redeemed them from the land of Egypt, and in the anticipation of a still greater manifestation that will eclipse whatever had been seen of old.
But the Christian is even now himself, with his fellow-saints, the object of the very same power which never can be outshone — the power that raised up Christ from the dead. We wait for nothing greater nor its match; we await the results of this glorious power for the body and the creation; but we look for no new putting forth of power which can enter into competition with that which God has already shown in Christ. The moment that Jesus presents Himself as the answer to what has been put forth already, the saints rise or are changed in the twinkling of an eye. Besides, it is not merely that the body will immediately respond to the call of the Lord Jesus, but even now the very same power Acts wrought toward us in making us Christians which “wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Such is the power that has wrought now — wrought toward us even while we are in this world.
Accordingly, in Ephesians 2, the apostle pursues this train, and shows that it is not another exertion of power, but a part of the very same work of God which raised up Jesus from the dead. In other words, Christ was not raised up as an insulated individual, severed from all others by His glory and their sin and shame. The gospel of God’s grace proclaims the very reverse. He was raised up as the great manifestation of divine power for effectuating God’s counsels as well as redemption. Not only was His resurrection this manifestation, but also whatever God put forth toward us was in virtue of that display of His energy — was, so to speak, morally included in that power which raised up Christ from the dead. This clearly is of the deepest possible interest to the saints. Throughout the epistle all the secret is just this — God would associate us with Christ (that is, of course, in everything that is consistent with the maintenance of the divine glory). Whatever could contribute to it, whatever fell in according to it, everything that God Himself could do to bind us up with Christ, sharing with us all that is glorious in Christ His own Son, even to His holy nature and relationship with the Father, as far as this could be conferred on a creature, is no more than God had in His heart — yea, is what God has given us now, and will display in heavenly Places ere long.
So the apostle says, “You hath he quickened, who were dead in offences and sins;” for now we can bear to learn anything, however humiliating, and He can speak of anything, no matter how exalted or holy. God had never so spoken of man before. In Romans the sinner is regarded as alive in sins; and death, the death of Christ, is the means of deliverance. In Ephesians death is the very first place where we find even Christ. Not a word is said of sending Him into the world, or of His life and labours there, any more than of our doing this or being that. The first place where Christ is seen is in the grave whence God according to the mightiest action of His almighty power raised Him up. It was an absolutely new thing: never was seen one so glorious, never can there be another so triumphant, as the power there put forth. Man, Satan, yea, the judgment of God that had gone forth against Him because of our sins, had no force to detain Him in the grave. That judgment had fallen on Him necessarily and unsparingly; but in the face of everything calculated to hinder, God’s power broke up the last stronghold of the enemy. There was Jesus lying in the grave; and from that grave God raised Him, and set Him on the highest pinnacle of heaven’s glory — not only of that which then was, but that ever shall be. Such is the very power that has taken you and me up in divine grace, and wrought toward us. The very power that brought you out of the world and of your sins is the power that raised up Christ from the dead, set Him in the heavenly places, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of that glorious Head to whom it is united.
This is pursued then first with reference to the Gentiles, for now the order is reversed. In Ephesians 1 he began with the Jews, and then showed the Gentiles brought in; but now he begins with the outer circle where the Gentiles were. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in offences and sins; 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 worketh in the children of disobedience.” What can be conceived more dreadful than such a condition, positively without spiritual life, dead in offences and sins! Not only so, but they had walked according to the course of that which is most of all offensive to God — “of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience;” for indeed they were, one as much as another, children of disobedience. “Among whom also we all,” etc., for he does not let slip the Jews, but turns round on their estate, equally lifeless as the Gentiles. They might otherwise think themselves more or less superior. He had spoken of the poor idolatrous Gentiles and their awful condition; but “we all,” says he, — putting himself along with them, — Jews as we were, children of the covenant and what not, were none the less dead in offences and sins. “Among whom also we all had our conversation in time past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and raised us up together.” Now he unites both in this place of richest blessing; for He has even “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.” In truth it is His grace to the full, and for heaven (not earth), though given to us to know here before we get there; “for by grace are ye saved.” The whole work is thus presented in its completeness from first to last; nevertheless, it is only “through faith” as yet. This is and must be the medium, as far as the saints are concerned, grace being the spring on God’s part: “and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship.”
It is clearly not a question of righteousness here, or consistency with any known standard of judgment. God would frame a new sort of workmanship worthy of Himself; and therefore all question of antecedent measures disappears. Righteousness supposes a claim in the first place, however met; even though it may be God’s righteousness, still it is God acting in consistency with Himself and His own claims. But in Ephesians we are in presence of a new creation in Christ, where claim is out of the question. Who would demand of God to make the objects of His mercy like Christ the Son? Who could, before He revealed His purpose, have so much as conceived such a dealing possible? Even now, though plainly made known in this epistle and elsewhere, how few Christians there are who rest in it as their assured portion! So totally and absolutely is it outside the range of human thought and feeling that the difficulty is to drop self, to cut all the strings that bind us to human nature and the world, to see all ended even now that is connected with the present course of this age, so that we may be simply occupied and filled with that heavenly blessedness which God unfolds to our souls.
However this be, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” — a peculiar kind of good works, suited to the relationship in which we stand. This is the great point to seize always throughout Scripture. There never can be spiritual understanding, unless souls let in this after all plain principle, that the suited good depends on the relationship in which we are placed, whether to God, or to any other. The, good for an Israelite, for a Gentile, for a man, is wholly different from the good for a Christian, because their relationships are not the same as his. Now we are Christians; and this decides the character of the duties we have to pay, or of the good works which He has before prepared that we should walk in them; for “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” for this very purpose. It is not at all put as a question of command according to the law; but “God had before prepared,” as a part of His wonderful scheme, “that we should walk in them.” He merely now touches on the principle, as he had before let us see not merely God’s counsels from before the foundation of the world, but the manner and means of their application through Christ our Lord to us in time. Hence the condition in which we were found here below came into view; and, as we have seen, it was total ruin, whether Jew or Gentile be looked at.
But now from Ephesians 2:11 the apostle enters into particulars, and shows that the bringing down from God’s own heights of these glorious counsels and making them thus manifest in man here below, completely sets aside the Jewish system, or rather supposes the setting aside of all Jewish elements. Hence, being “Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; [the apostle bids such remember] that 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.” And what had God done now? Had He brought the Gentiles into the place that Israel once occupied? The Jews had rejected their own Messiah. Of old they had forfeited every claim according to the law, and were spared and kept in God’s mercy and faithfulness. But now they had consummated their rebellion by refusing the Christ of God. What was to be done? Would God send out and bring in the Gentiles to fill their place? Another plan discloses itself. The Jews who believe are taken out of their former place, as much as the Gentiles, who had no place. Both are now introduced by grace into an entirely new and heavenly place in Christ, which was not so much as heard of before. Accordingly not only does he enforce the truth first presented in the end of chapter 1, the church which is the body of Christ, but he also still more qualifies it as a “new man,” and as “one body;” because, in treating of the two objects of grace, and component parts of the church, Jews and Gentiles who believe, he shows that God does not purpose to form two societies of these saints, but one body. It is not a mere aggregate of Gentiles into the well-known line of old blessing, but one new man, not merely fresh in time, but of an absolutely new order, never seen or experienced before. It is not again a simple question of a new nature, but of a new man: the first Adam, with all remedial or corrective dealings in him disappear, and one new man comes before our view.
Here again the apostle brings in the relation of the Holy Ghost to the new things. The consequence is that we find the Spirit of God, now sent down from heaven, not only putting the saints into relationship with the Father, but, besides, dwelling in them and making them God’s habitation through the Spirit.
Thus we have at last the church developed in its two main characters. It has its heavenly association as the one body of Christ; it has its earthly place and responsibility as the “habitation of God through the Spirit.” All this, it will be observed, is consequent on the cross. The one was not at all, nor was the other in such sort before. God had a dwelling-place of old in Israel; but it was a house made with hands, however magnifical, that followed the tabernacle of witness in the desert, in both of which the Shechinah, or visible sign of His glory, deigned to dwell. Such is not the character of God’s dwelling now. It is neither the tabernacle, nor the temple, but His habitation in Spirit. It is not, of course, a display of glory before men’s eyes; yet is it most real — a proper dwelling of God on earth, answering to, though not necessarily coextensive with, those who are constituted the body of Christ glorified on high. Not that the body is there yet, but that the body of Christ is heavenly in its character, although in fact on the earth now. Besides, as we have seen, the church is the dwelling-place of God through the Holy Ghost’s presence here below.
This leads to Ephesians 3, in which the apostle unfolds things parenthetically. It is a revelation of God that comes in at the time when the Jews have, at least temporarily, lost their place altogether. The very structure of the chapter, as has been noticed, is a sort of confirmation of this. The chapter itself is a parenthesis. “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation [administration or stewardship] of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery (as I wrote afore in few words; whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ); which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed.” Observe, therefore, that what was the first in counsel is the last in revelation.
Accordingly, when all was complete in the communication of God’s plans in the Bible, there was one subject that was left a blank. Paul was the chosen witness to fill up that blank. He wrote in few words no doubt, but he has written with divine perfection, and clearly enough for those by God’s grace made competent to understand, let the words be ever so few. Many wonder that such truths as these should not have more words used in communicating them. But profound truths are for those who have spiritual understandings; and such do not require many words to comprehend them. When persons are only learning the elements of truth, the grace of God provides precept on precept, line on line, for those who want it. If He is showing needy souls how they may be forgiven of God, He displays it in a thousand forms; if the need of righteousness, He repeats it over and over again. But it is not so with the revelation of the mystery. There is a certain spiritual competence supposed, — a due preparation not only of heart, but also of knowledge; or, as the apostle said, “we speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” Here no lengthy exposition would be wanted about it, because they were not so infantine as to suppose that the truth of God depends on the number of times that a thing is asserted. Once is enough for the intelligent.
God therefore has not been pleased in the heights of divine truth to repeat words in the same way as His grace leads Him to do when He is helping the babes. Hence the apostle Paul, in what is by no means the simplest utterance he has given, writes in few words. He could condescend. We know how he would bend down and be as it were a; Gentile to one without law, and a Jew to one under law, to do good to souls.
But now he speaks briefly. He was not constrained to enter into a full or long explanation. But as he said that by revelation it was made known to him, so he would from God communicate it to them. “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.” It is remarkable that the mystery, though revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the power of the Holy Ghost, was not revealed by them. It was revealed by Paul alone. Revealed to all the apostles and prophets of the New Testament, to one as much as another, it never seems to have taken such a hold of the others as of Paul. In point of fact, from his conversion right through, the revelation of the mystery was involved. That which comforted his soul was Christ in heavenly glory far above all things. As the light that shone then was brighter, than the sun at noonday, so in the vision the truth about to be learnt was entirely outside and superior to the present or the past. It was grace in its deepest character and in its highest form, and so the apostle Paul was the suited vessel that God employed to instruct others, — not merely the one to whom the revelation was made, but by whom the revelation was to be communicated. It is revealed to us here.
We must carefully remember that the mystery does not mean the church merely. It is the mystery of Christ emphatically; and the part about Christ is the higher of the two. The church is but a consequence; and we bless God for this, and bless Him also that we know the church is but the complement of Christ. One might distrust a mystery, if it centred in the church. Who that knows what man is, and God, as Christ has made both known, would dare to rest in any one person or thing which did not find its brightest form in Christ Himself? And the reason is simple; so inadequate is the creature, so untrustworthy is the first Adam, that one might well be certain the true meaning of the Bible was lost to him who judged otherwise. Such an one must have only got the lower end of the line, and not the full truth in its own native purity and freshness from God. Impossible that the Head should not be there as well as the body; and the apostle speaks as to Christ yet more than as to the assembly.
God then brings out His own secret, after having kept it hidden from all past ages and generations, though, of course, it has been before Him from the beginning. If God reveals it now, the idea of man — of ourselves — being the first and main object in the mind of God is impossible. It is the mystery of Christ; and this is what secures the blessing in its fulness and purity for the church of God. Therefore we need never fear, no matter what the blessing and the privilege may be. If it be illustrated in Christ, if it be bound up with Him, fear not to trust simply and to believe implicitly. Enter boldly into the sweetness of His grace and fulness of His glory. We never can go astray, if we follow the path of the Lord Jesus.
Though it is the mystery of Christ, it is not exclusively about Christ. So in Ephesians 5 he says, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Is there not good reason for saying that the church is but a consequence? The church follows; and as it belongs to Christ, so it is a part of Him. Hence, to make the mystery to be the church is a very serious moral as well as doctrinal mistake.
The apostle adds that it was now revealed of the Spirit, “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. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints” — there is nothing like this truth, where it is learnt from the Holy Ghost, for humbling the soul, were it even the greatest of the apostles, — “is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and make all see what is the fellowship [rather administration] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in, God, who created all things [by Jesus Christ to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”
God had something more to teach those who are the natural denizens of heaven. They had to learn what they had never known. They had seen creation, and sung at the sight. They had seen the ways of God with man, and with Israel; and surely they had entered into the glory of God that was involved in all His ways. Nevertheless, whether it was creation, whether man or favoured Israel, there was so much the more painful a declension that portended the judgment of God upon them. Thus there were dark shadows, and lowering clouds. But now appeared something altogether new. Latest of all, God divulged His wonderful scheme in which the man that came from above, the Son that became a man, the Word made flesh, had gone down to the very lowest in order to make good the glory of God morally in the scene where He had been most put to shame. But now, consequent on His resurrection from the dead, and of the place given Him in heaven above all, there was made known to these very principalities and powers “the manifold wisdom of God,” — made known to them before it came to pass, the sure deliverance of the whole scene of creation, of man, of Israel, as well as of the earth. But not merely this. That man who came down but was found alone to the end of His earthly course would now be alone no more; He would have a new and suited body, believing Jews and Gentiles fellow-heirs and of the same body. Most wholesome blessedness! for who should be more above the feelings of jealousy than those who delight in that which shows the greatness, and the glory, and the perfect goodness of God in His greatest work? This, then, was what was needed for the principalities and powers, and this is what they behold in the church of God.
The apostle accordingly is now led at the sight of the mystery of Christ into another prayer, in which he asks “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [for now he takes up the other relationship,], of whom the whole [rather, every] 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; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; being rooted and grounded in love, that ye may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Here the prayer is not, as in the first chapter, that they might know the power that had wrought toward them; it is now that their hearts might be in the secret of His grace according to the power that works in them. That is, he looks at the inner source, not merely at the glorious results. Here he prays to the Father of our Lord Jesus, not simply to the God that had raised up the Christ from the dead, and was glorifying Him on high. It will be observed that the desire is not merely that they might be enlightened as to the special glory of their standing, but that their hearts might be filled with the love of Christ, and this too as a present thing filling them to overflowing, though surely not to cease in the ages to come. “Unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.” This is not a question therefore of the place or standing of the Christian, but rather of his condition or state, which the Spirit would have in unison with the love of Him who alone made either possible. Consequently here it is not an energy already put forth, but he pleads that Christ might dwell by faith in their hearts. It is not a conferred position, however blessed, but practical enjoyment — even that Christ Himself might be habitually the object before them, now that all question of deliverance and blessing was settled in their favour. It was all a known thing that they were blessed by — yea, with — Christ, forming a part of Christ, expressly fellow-heirs, and of the same body. But now, founded on this, the apostle prays thus for them, that the Holy Ghost would so act in the inner man that there might be no hindrance to Christ, and that they might know, not the Holy Ghost (for this they did not doubt), but Christ dwelling there by His power constantly.
Unquestionably the Spirit of God does evermore dwell in the Christian, though I am not aware that He is ever said to dwell in our hearts. He may shed abroad the love of God therein; but He is rather said to dwell in us, making the body God’s temple. Here the apostle would have Christ to be more the satisfying object of our affections. This is the point. Far be it from us just to know that He loves us through the word of God, as a security to us, like a dry parchment deed of gift that we quietly keep in a strong box. Rather is the very gospel to the sinner free and full, that, having the certainty of the divine fulness of our blessing, our hearts may be now open to enjoy Christ, and be occupied with His love. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith;” not that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, but “rooted,” etc., that ye “may be able to comprehend with all saints.” It is not here deliverance, let it be ever so complete; it is not the knowledge of our position in Christ as in Eph. 1; but rather the converse — Christ dwelling in us by faith, and the heart entering into the positive excellency of the Son, the only adequate object of the Father’s own delight. Hence it was that they might “be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and. height; and to know the love of Christ.” It is not only the full extent of glory, but the sole satisfying spring, Christ thus dwelling in our hearts in the consciousness of His love — “to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” He is the ultimate blessedness with which we are filled, the One in whom we most confide, being the Son, in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
Thus, having Him who is the centre of all glory dwelling in our affections by faith, we enter into, and become established in, the grace which is the secret of it all. In communion with the objects of it, we go out into the resulting scenes of glory on every side; knowing Christ’s love though unknowable, and filled into God’s fulness though infinite. The apostle concludes his prayer with an ascription of glory to Him in the Church unto all generations of the age of the ages, able to do far above all we ask or think according to His power which works in us. It is thus seen to be founded on the great facts and standing privileges mentioned at the end of Eph. 2; but it is the desire that the saints should know God’s present power to an indefinite extent working in them in spiritual enjoyment, through the Holy Ghost’s power, giving us to have Christ the definite and constant object of the heart.
Ephesians 4 begins the proper exhortatory portion, and here, first of all, urges a walk in view of such a calling as is ours, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Then the diversities are brought before us. “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love.” The very truth which, learnt and enjoyed in the Holy Ghost, conduces to all lowliness and meekness, as it calls for mutual forbearance in love, flesh would abuse to all pride and vain-gloriousness, to high-minded contempt of others, and bitter self-confidence. Than these nothing less becomes those so blessed. Oh that we might have grace to walk in communion with such grace! But if we are to walk thus, let us not forget the prayer for the state of our hearts which precedes these exhortations. Knowledge of standing and a, state answering to Christ’s love, are the basis of a walk worthy of our calling. “The unity of the Spirit” seems to be the general name for that great fact which is now established — that unity of which Christ is the chief, and to which we all belong. The apostle treats it as our business diligently to observe it. It is impossible for flesh to be true to it. This is as it should be. An easy path could not be divine, as men and things are on earth. We need, but we have, the Holy Spirit who is surely all-sufficient, if looked to. It is impossible to exaggerate the snares and difficulties of Christendom.
But what are difficulties to the Spirit of God? This is the great want — simple, genuine faith in the Holy Ghost. He is equal to all, and, would have us count on His presence and power answering to the name of Christ. What has all the confusion of men to do with the glorious reality that God has established — His unity, of which we all form part by the power of His Spirit? What does it matter about times, persons, or circumstances, if the Spirit abide to enable us, according to Scripture, diligently to keep His own unity? Numbers are of small account here. The Lord might be where there are only two gathered together unto His name. If but two acted accordingly, they ought to be and would be an expression of the unity of the Spirit. What is the value of any other unity? It can never rise above its human source. Evidently also, it is no essential matter for present practice of faithfulness, whether few or many see and feel it: this is a question for God’s will, who will act for His own glory, whether by many or by few. Let this then rest in His hands. Be it our part with diligence (for this is needed) “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Then we hear the particulars, and in a very orderly manner. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” This verse states the intrinsic unity that never passes away, beginning with the fact of “one body;” then the efficient power, one Spirit; and lastly the cause of it all in the calling of grace. Nothing touches these.
In the next verse we have that which has been justly designated the unity of profession, where all things may come in to mar. Hence it is said, “One Lord,” which is precisely that which is owned in the common creed of Christendom. And as there is one Lord, so “one faith.” It is neither “faith” nor “the faith.” That is, it may not be sincere, nor even doctrinally the truth that is held; but we hear of lone faith” in contrast with Judaism on one hand, and with Paganism on the other. Hence “one baptism” follows, which the context shows to be the plain initiatory rite of Christian profession, and nothing else. In the verse before the apostle had spoken of the “one Spirit,” and hence it would be superfluous to introduce the statement of His baptism here, even if the adjuncts did not exclude the idea.
Thus we have had, first of all, the great spiritual reality which is always true of Christians, and of none else. They, and only they, have “one Spirit” dwelling in them. They only have the “one hope of their calling.” But the moment you come to the “one Lord,” this city, yea every city in Christendom, is a witness to a wide-spread profession of His name. As He is outwardly called on, so there is everywhere the “one faith,” which does not mean (alas! we know too well) saving faith necessarily, but the faith of Christendom; and accordingly “one baptism” is its mark, because thus they are put on or take the ground of professing the one Lord and one faith.
Lastly, “one God and Father of all.” Here we come to what is universal. Each circle hitherto was getting larger and larger. First there was the true company that had divine life and the Spirit of God; secondly, the circle of profession very much more extensive; and thirdly remains the universal unity, which embraces not Christendom only, but all the creatures of God included under their one God and Father — whatever derived its being from God, the God that created all things, as we were told in Ephesians 3:9. He consequently is the lone God and Father of all,” not merely of all believers, for this is a mistake of its force, but of all absolutely; just as we were told in verse 15 of that same chapter, that of Him every family in heaven and earth is named. No matter whether Jews or Gentiles, principalities or powers, every family is derived from this universal source of existence — “One God and Father of all, who is above all [there we find His supremacy], and through all [there we find His permeance, if one may so say, as the support, of the whole universe], and in you all” [His intimacy with the saints]. The moment the apostle comes to inward relationship, he leaves the universality of phrase and speaks only of the saints of God — “in you all.” No statement can be conceived more exact.
Now we must turn to the diversities. “But to every [each] one is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” And as the unity flowed from the power of the Spirit sent down from heaven; so now when we come to gifts, it is expressly connected with Christ in glory. “Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended.” Yes, but He did not go up as He came down from above. He came a divine person filled with love; and He went a man also, triumphant not with love only but in righteousness and power, to give effect to all the glorious counsels of His Father, which unjudged sin would have for ever frustrated. He went up after all the working of evil had been really defeated and destroyed in the sight of God. Satan is allowed to go on for a little while longer, because God is gathering out the joint-heirs, while the evil develops itself in a new form Man had been shown to be the enemy of all righteousness, and now betrays himself the enemy of all grace. As the end of the latter will be incomparably worse than the former, so judgment will be commensurate with man’s apostasy from grace; for the Lord must come from heaven, “in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and on them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Meanwhile, before a blow is struck at man’s failure in the presence of righteousness, or at his apostasy from grace, that blessed Saviour, the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, the Son of man who is in heaven, went down to the very uttermost, and (having exhausted the powers of evil, and blotted out all that could rise against the objects of God’s grace,) was raised and seated by God in heaven. He takes His place there, of course always the Son; but, wonderful to say, humanity makes an integral and everlasting part, so to speak, of that divine person, the Son of God. And here is the key, and that which accounts for the astonishing display of what God is now doing in man. How could it be otherwise, seeing that He who sits on His throne, tar above every creature in God’s presence and in all ages, is a man, but withal the very Son of God? The Son is as truly man as God, and as such gives gifts to men. Angels are not the object. They had a distinguished place before the Son became man. Since then it is not so much they that have lost, but man in and by Christ that has gained such a place as they never had nor could have. Never were they to reign; never will they be one with Christ like the saints. They are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.”
But Christ at the right hand of God gives gifts unto men; and, as it is said here, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” — bringing in both the highest gifts and also those ordinarily requisite for the good of the saints. I say “requisite,” simply in view of Christ’s love towards the church. It is not a question of rendering a testimony of the power of God working in man and dealing with the first creation. In Corinthians we have this, and properly in its place. There we have tongues, miracles, etc.; because all that is connected with man in the flesh and in the world is a sign to unbelievers, showing them the goodness of God, and the defeat of that wicked power which governs human nature as it is.
But in the epistle to the Ephesians we have none of these dealings with the first man, but that which forms and nourishes the new creation. Hence we have those gifts alone which are the expression of the grace of Christ toward the saints that He loves, for ministerial work, for the building up of His body. In this order He gave them — the body to be edified, and ministry carried on, but always the individual first. The building up of the body is the fruit of God’s blessing the individual saints. It cannot be otherwise. It is in vain to look for the church’s prosperity, if saints individually do not grow up unto Christ. And so these gifts are given, as it is said, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man., unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”
Then we have in the centre of this chapter no longer the unity or the gifts differing, but the moral walk of the saints. And what is the first lesson of the truth as it is in Jesus? This; — not only that we hear of the one body, and that saints compose this body, but that a new man is seen. Introducing this great practical truth, he reminds them of what they had been, but also tells them what they are now. Our duties flow from what we are, or are made. And what then is the truth as it is in Jesus? Our having put off the old man, and our having put on the new man. Such is the truth, if indeed we have learnt the Christ as God teaches Him. Anything short of this is not the true Christian measure. Jesus could occupy Himself in divine love. Self would have hindered; had there been a particle, it would have ruined both His person and His work; but this is not the truth as it is in Jesus. He came so as to be left absolutely free to occupy Himself in love for God’s glory and our desperate need. And now, in Him who is dead and risen, the Christian has put completely off the old man, is being renewed in the spirit of his mind, and has put on the new man, which according to God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Not only is there this new man that God has created after the image of Christ in contrast with the first Adam, but this is the ground why all moral evil is to be judged, beginning with deceit and falsehood. “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let the stealer steal no more.” How solemn to learn what the old man is in its most detestable forms, against all which the Christian is warned! Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
But, besides the new man which lives in dependence, we need to guard against losing power according to God. “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Thus the great basis of all our walk is, that the old man has been judged in Jesus, and the new man we have already put on; but, moreover, the Holy Ghost is given, and we are sealed by Him. Thus we have a new nature which hates sin, and the Holy Ghost which gives power for that which is good.
Then he adds the great exemplar and spirit of it all, according to the forgiveness with which God met us in Christ. “Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ hath forgiven you.” But there is yet more. To forgive another’s wrongs is not enough for a Christian. No doubt it is a giving up of self, and therefore the fruit of divine grace. But in Ephesians God cannot but have us imitate His own ways as they have shone in Christ. He Himself is the measure of the walk of the new man, and the manifestation of it is Christ Himself. Nothing short of this suffices. What has God done? He has forgiven you in Christ; and you are called to do the same. But was this all? Was there only this? Was there not positive love, far beyond forgiveness? And what is the manifestation of love? Not the law, but Christ. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.”
Do you think this devotedness too much? yea, impossible? Not so. Take a passage in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:5), which has been before us only a short time ago: “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” How blessed is the character and the spring of Christian service! Think of their giving themselves first to the Lord, then to us by the will of God. It is just the answer to the grace of God in Christ. Nor is there full Christian service, except in proportion as it is according to this pattern and in this power. In Christ it was, of course, absolutely perfect: He did give Himself for us. But this was not enough. He might have given Himself ever so truly in pity for us; but it would not have been perfection, had He not “given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” And so accordingly all that is acceptable takes this shape. “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once .named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking [even light words dishonour the Christian, as being contrary to Christ], nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
But there are other elements. God is not only love but light; and inasmuch as this epistle reveals how fully God associates us with Christ according to His own nature, so having first shown us the privilege of loving, as He Himself loved us in Christ, now it shows that we are made “light in the Lord.” But it is not said that we are love. This would be too strong, yea, false. Love is God’s nature, but it is a sovereign prerogative in Him. In His own actings it has no motive or spring except in Himself. This could not be true of us. We need both motive and object, and hence could not be said to be love; because not we, but only God acts from Himself, as much as for Himself. Impossible that the creature could be or do so; and therefore the creature is never said to be love. But there is love after a divine sort in the new nature, which is said to be light, because this is the necessity of the new nature. Impossible that the new nature could countenance sin; the very essence of it is rejection and exposure of what is contrary to God. It is sensitive about sin; detects and detests it thoroughly. Hence we are said to be “light in the Lord,” and we need to shake off the things of death that encumber the light, and hinder it. And so Christ gives us more light. For the word is, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” But just as before, in the walk which shuts out hatred, and anger, and so on, we were warned against grieving the Spirit of God; so the power of the Holy Ghost asserts itself here. Here it is not merely “Grieve not the Holy Spirit.” He goes farther, and says, “Be filled with the Spirit.” “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
And is this all? It is not. There has been the full unfolding of God’s love, and the answer to it in the saints here below in their nature, and in the ways that manifest the new nature. But, besides, we have relationships; and now we have God manifesting Himself in each of our positions, and showing us that these are meant to give us opportunity of glorifying God by the good works that were before ordained of God. Accordingly he brings in the most important of them, first, the wife and the husband; then, children and their parents; and, finally, servants and masters.
All through these then we have, but more particularly in the first, the interweaving of the duty with the manifestation of God’s grace: “Christ also loved the church.” It is not now either sovereign love, or love of complacency. There was the sovereign love of God in Christ forgiving us; there was love of complacency, inasmuch as we were to love according to that love with which we were loved, as shown us in the matchless love of Christ. But now there is love of relationship as well; and here too Christ appears, who is the pattern and perfection of grace in every respect. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself.” Just look into this revelation of His love. How everything is connected with Christ! He gave Himself for us. What was it for? “That he might present it to himself [not merely to the Father, but present it to himself] a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” More than this; for “no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.” Everywhere Christ Jesus Himself is intermixed with every portion. He Himself is the beginning, He Himself the end, He Himself all the way through. He gave Himself as the beginning; and He presents it to Himself as the end. Meanwhile He tenderly cares for the church. “He that loveth his wife loveth himself; . . . for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” “This is a great mystery,” he adds at the close; “but I speak as to Christ and as to the church.”
Then we have the children, who are called to obey their parents in the Lord. It was not a question of the flesh: how could this be trusted? Let them obey in the Lord. To honour one’s father and mother was both an obligation and had a special promise under law. And if children that had a relationship with their parents in the flesh and under law did so (for it was indeed right), how much more did it become Christian children to pay them reverence?
This is followed up by an exhortation to parents: “And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Thus is the Lord ever presented as the pattern. Then come the slaves similarly. He was privileged to do all as unto Christ; as the master again must remember that he had his own Master in heaven. This also answers to the grand doctrine of this epistle.
Then the apostle introduces us to another topic. It is not the source of the blessing (Eph. 1); nor the place into which we are now brought as being made one with Christ (Eph. 2); nor the objects to whom we are bearing testimony. (Eph. 3) The closing theme shows us where and with whom are our true conflicts as Christians. As such we have not properly to fight with flesh at all, any more than to fight with the world. All other combats are outside the calling of a Christian.
I do not deny but that a Christian may slip elsewhere. But as long even as he is merely in conflict with his own nature, he can hardly be said to be on Christian ground at all. He may be a converted person; and God may be truly dealing with him in the way of gracious action. A really awakened soul may still have a great many unsettled questions in agitation within him. He has not come to God consciously. Now the very baptism of a Christian man is the confession of the truth, that God has in Christ judged flesh root and branch. Is not this the meaning of the institution? How far the person has realised it is another matter; but such is the meaning of baptism. Judging what I am, I confess that all my blessing is in the Saviour, who did not merely come to bless me as a living man in the world, but died and is risen again; and 1, confessing Him who is thus dead and risen, have part in His death. The conflict of the Christian is not therefore with flesh, still less is it with the world, but with Satan, and with his power, viewed as interposing and hindering our enjoyment of our heavenly blessing.
Is not this the meaning of the combat as described here? The wrestling is not with flesh and blood, “but against principalities, against powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.” The English translators did not know what to make of the apostle, and so they changed it to “high places,” which was an unwarrantable liberty, and gives the most perverse meaning. This has misled many beside the poor Puritans, who fancied they were called of God, as a Christian duty, to strive against kings and all in authority, when not satisfied with their ways or measures. I mention this, because it is a striking proof that an error imported into Scripture leads even right-minded men into sad evil. It is expressly not against any powers that were living and acting in the world. The conflict is against Satan and his hosts. Just as the Canaanites tried to keep the Israelites out of the land which God assured Moses the tribes were to have for their possession, so Satan’s great effort is to hinder the saints of God from realizing their blessedness in heavenly places.
But for this the most careful provision is laid on us. The first thing is to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” That is, all our strength is to lean on another, even the Lord. The next thing is that we take “the whole armour of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth [inwardly applied, and thus bracing us morally], and having on the breast-plate of righteousness.” The internal state is the great point here. Carefully remember this. Our standing is quite another matter, which itself could not avail here. The panoply is against Satan and not God. It is a question not of acceptance before God, but of resisting the enemy who would take advantage of loose ways and a bad conscience. The breast-plate means the practical righteousness of the saint himself. “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” So should our walk be. Besides, take “the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” It is the confident trust of the heart in the favour of God in which we stand, not the remembrance of our first subjection to the gospel. Finally, “receive the helmet of salvation, [there the head is lifted up, not in presumption, but with none the less joy and courage,] and the sword of the Spirit,” which is expressly said to be the word of God. The defensive comes before the offensive; and all should follow dependence on the Lord. The sword must be the real intrinsic power of the word wielded in the Spirit, which does not spare anything. Thus, first blessed, strengthened, and enjoying the grace and truth of God in Christ, we can then go out with the sword of the Spirit to deal with what is contrary to His nature, which Satan would use to obstruct our realization of our heavenly privileges.
Finally, there is the activity now for others, just as before there was dependence for ourselves. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints; and for me [as the apostle blessedly adds], that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” — (what a gracious way of encouraging and strengthening saints, giving them a feeling of the value of their prayers, both in the sight of God, and in fellowship with the most blessed apostle that God ever gave the church!) — “for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” He felt his need and that of the work. Also he counted on their loving desire to know his affairs as well as to have their hearts comforted through Tychicus.
1 The Lord Jesus is repeatedly called
παῖς, translated “son” and “child” in the English version of the Acts of the Apostles, but more properly God’s servant as Messiah.