The Sphere of Christian Privilege (1:1-3)
As we look at the opening verse of Ephesians we are struck at once by the name of the writer, Paul. Thirteen New Testament Epistles begin with the word Paul. Another one is undoubtedly from Paul, but begins with the magnificent word God. I refer to the Epistle to the Hebrews. Do we stop to inquire as often as we should how this man ever came to be called Paul? That was not his name originally. His name in the first place was Saul. He was a Benjamite, and bore the name of the first king of Israel, who came from the tribe of Benjamin. For many years Paul was a haughty, self-righteous Pharisee, proud of his genealogy and his religious zeal, until one day he had a meeting with our Lord Jesus Christ. Have you had such a meeting? From that moment on everything was changed for him. He could say:
I was journeying in the noon-tide,
When His light shone o’er my road;
And I saw Him in the glory,
Saw Him, Jesus, Son of God.
Marvel not that Christ in glory
All my inmost soul hath won;
I have seen a light from heaven,
Far beyond the brightest sun.
That vision of Christ changed Saul the Pharisee, into Paul, the humble servant of Christ. He did not use his new name immediately, you remember. It seems to have been taken after he won his first outstanding Gentile convert, Sergius Paulus, in the Isle of Cyprus. It appears to have been given him in recognition of his apostolic ministry. It means “the little one,” a wonderful name for one who once thought himself so great; but that is what Christ does for one. As Paul wrote
What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).
All that Saul gloried in, Paul flung away for Jesus’ sake. He was content to be little, “less than the least of all saints,” that in him Christ Jesus might exhibit His boundless patience.
I remember going to a camp meeting, and the dear folk were singing a little chorus that went like this:
The quickest way up is down,
The quickest way up is down;
You may climb up high, and try and try,
But the quickest way up is down.
How long it takes some of us to learn that lesson! We are always trying to become somebody, and forgetting that Jesus said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life, for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). Blessed is the princely Saul when he becomes the little Paul, bowing at the Savior’s feet.
Paul called himself an apostle. Just what is an apostle? The word might be translated “a messenger,” “a sent one,” “one sent on a mission,” and so there is a certain sense in which every missionary is an apostle. But there is a higher sense in which the word apostle refers to those who were specially commissioned by our Lord Jesus Christ to go out to the world and carry the truth through which the church was instituted. Paul was not among those who knew the Lord on earth, but he was ordained an apostle to the nations by His personal appointment when the risen Christ appeared to him that day on the Damascus road. He said to him, “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:16). And so Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, could go forth saying:
Christ the Son of God hath sent me
Through the midnight lands;
Mine the mighty ordination
Of the pierced hands.
I do not like to touch on critical questions in these studies, and yet I must do so here. Some people do not notice divine names carefully, and this is the reason why those who copied the manuscripts were not always particular whether they wrote “Jesus Christ,” or “Christ Jesus.” Peter, James, John, and Jude spoke of our Lord as “Jesus Christ.” But in Ephesians 1:1 Paul spoke of “Christ Jesus.” Why? Because Jesus is His human name and in resurrection He was made Lord and Christ. The disciples knew Him on earth as Jesus, the self-humbled One. But Paul never knew Him in that way; he never knew Him as Jesus on earth. He had his first sight of Him in the glory, and his soul was so thrilled with what he saw that he never thought of Him as other than the glorified One. So he invariably wrote in the original text, “Christ Jesus,” and his message is in a peculiar sense called “The gospel of the glory.” The other disciples walked with Him on earth and delighted to remember Him as He was when here, and so they spoke of Him as “Jesus Christ.” Any critical version will make this distinction clear.
Paul was a messenger, a sent one of Christ Jesus “by the will of God.” It was no mere idle thought of his that sent him on this mission. It was not that he concluded it would be the best way to spend his life. He who saved him commissioned him, and sent him forth to be a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. So he insisted on the divine character of his commission, “An apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”
A simple cobbler was being introduced to a rather dignified clergyman, and when the cobbler said, “I didn’t get your name,” the clergyman replied, “The Reverend Doctor Blank, by the will of God.” The cobbler said, “And I am John Doe, cobbler by the will of God. I am glad to meet you, sir.” It is a great thing, whatever your station in life may be, to recognize it as “by the will of God.” Am I a preacher of the gospel? It should be only because I have heard a divine call urging me and thrusting me out. Am I a merchant? Have I been called to make money for the glory of God? Then let me remember that I am a merchant by the will of God. I should be sure that I am where God’s will has placed me, and should seek to be faithful to Him.
The apostle addressed himself, “To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” One might suppose that he was addressing two classes of people: saints, that is all believers, and the faithful, that is a spiritual aristocracy. However, this verse might better be rendered, “To the saints which are at Ephesus, even the believers in Christ Jesus.” In other words, it is faith in Christ Jesus that designates a person a saint. Are you a saint? You say, “I wouldn’t like to go so far. I am not sinless yet.” A saint is not a sinless person; a saint is a separated person, separated to God in Christ Jesus. People have an idea that if you live a very saintly life, eventually you may become a saint. God says, “Do you believe in My Son? Have you trusted Him? Very well, then, I constitute you a saint; be sure that you live in a saintly way.” We do not become saints by saintliness, but we should be characterized by saintliness because we are saints.
In verse 2 we have the apostolic salutation, “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is not referring at all to saving grace. These people were already saved. He tells them, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is a great thing to have your salvation settled.
The lack of positive conviction and definite assurance comes out in a great many of the hymns we sing. How hard it is to find hymns that are absolutely Scriptural. In a meeting some time ago I was giving a message on “The Indwelling Holy Spirit.” At the close of the service, the dear pastor stood up and said, “In the light of this splendid address, let us sing, ‘Holy Spirit, faithful Guide, ever near the Christian’s side.’“ I felt my heart sink as I thought, After I have spent forty minutes trying to show them that the Holy Spirit is not merely at our side, but dwells in us, they haven’t got it yet. Then they came to that last gloomy verse, and I said, “Please don’t sing that verse”:
When our days of toil shall cease,
Waiting still for sweet release;
Nothing left but heaven and prayer,
Wond’ring if our names are there;
Wading deep the dismal flood,
Pleading naught but Jesus’ blood.
What a mixture! I refuse to sing it. I know my name is there! I do not understand how it is that Christians are so slow in laying hold of divine truth.
Here in Ephesians 1:2 the apostle means grace to keep and preserve us, not grace to save. For the believer, salvation is already settled for eternity, but we need daily grace for daily trials.
How does one obtain this grace?
We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
We were saved by grace, we began with grace, but we need grace every step of the way that we might triumph over the world and over the natural propensities of our poor hearts. As Christians we have the nature of the old man in us still, and it will readily manifest itself if not subdued and kept in place by grace divine.
“Grace be to you, and peace.” This is not peace with God, which was made for us by the blood of Calvary’s cross. Every believer in the Lord Jesus should know what it is to “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). But this is the peace of God, occupying and protecting our hearts as we move along toward our heavenly home—the same peace that filled the heart of Jesus when here on earth.
May I use an illustration from the life of Jesus to illustrate this peace? In Luke 8 we read that one day Jesus said to His disciples in the ship, “Let us go over to the other side.” Where were they going? To the other side of the lake. When they got into the boat, He went to sleep in perfect peace, and in the middle of the night the elements raged, the devil stirred up a terrific tempest, but it could not drown Him. It was impossible that the boat in which He sailed should founder. But the disciples were terrified and they aroused that holy sleeper and said, “Master, Master, we perish!” Jesus, wakened from His sleep, looked at them and said, “Where is your faith?” In Matthew 8:26 we read that He said to them, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” He called them men of “little faith,” with the thunder roaring, the lightning flashing, the wind blowing a gale, and the sea raging around them. You surely could not blame men for being afraid under those circumstances! But you see, Jesus had not said to them, “Let us go out into the middle of the lake and get drowned.” He said, “Let us go over to the other side,” and they should have rested on His word. They would have had the same peace that He had if they had believed His word.
Do the trials of life sometimes test your soul? Do you wonder what will become of you? This is what will become of you: If worst comes to worst and you starve to death, you are going home to Heaven! Thousands of people are dying and going to a lost eternity, but no matter what comes to you, if you are saved, you are going home! As we realize that we are in His hand, the peace of God, like a military garrison, keeps our hearts and saves us from all doubt and fear.
“Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father” (Ephesians 1:2). Do you love to dwell on those words, “From God our Father”? The Lord came to reveal the Father, and the Holy Spirit enables us to know the Father, and one of the first evidences that a man is born of God is that he lifts his heart to Heaven and says “Father.” This is not the doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. That is not what the apostle was writing about. He was addressing saints, believers in Christ Jesus, and when he wrote to them, he said, “God our Father.” It is only by regeneration, only by the second birth, that we enter into this blessed relationship. Scripture declares that those who have never been regenerated are of the flesh, they are not the children of God. Our Lord Jesus said to certain ones, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). That does not sound very much like the universal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man! People tell me that is what Jesus came to teach. I defy anyone to find any such thing anywhere in all the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. He said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In that verse He denied the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. I know all men are brothers in Adam and we are one in sin, but it is only by a new birth that one can become a brother of the saints and a child of God.
“Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit delights to give our Savior His full title, “the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is Lord of all, and therefore all men are called to subject themselves to Him.
Notice Ephesians 1:3, for in this we properly begin the study of the Epistie: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He has said before that God is our Father, and now points out that in a peculiar sense God sustains that relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ because Jesus became man, and as man He looks up to the Father as His God. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because Christ is God the Son from all eternity. What a wealth of instruction is bound up in that expression, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It was not until the resurrection that He revealed this unique relationship. He said to Mary, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17). He does not say, “I ascend to our God and our Father.” His relationship is different from ours. He was not simply a man brought into union with God, but He was the Son of God, come down to earth in grace, who became man for our redemption.
Farther on in this Epistle there are two prayers—one in the last part of this chapter, and the other in chapter 3—and they agree in a very striking way with these titles. In chapter 1:17 Paul prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” may do certain things. Then when we turn to chapter 3:14 we read, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why the difference? Because in the first prayer he spoke of the divine counsels and power, and so he addressed himself to God. In the second prayer he considered our relationship to God and addressed himself to “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Scripture is wonderfully accurate.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” Notice, “He hath blessed us.” The apostle was not writing of something that may be ours when we get to Heaven, but right here and now I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. People often ask me if I have obtained the second blessing yet, and I generally say, “Second blessing? Why, I am somewhere up in the hundreds of thousands as far as that goes, if you refer to experience. But actually I obtained every blessing that God has for a redeemed sinner when I put my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He does not just give us a little now and a little later, but gives us everything in Christ. It is all yours. Enter into it and enjoy it.
It is one thing to have the blessings and another thing to make them yours. I read about a man in Montana for whom authorities had been searching for a long time. Some years ago a British nobleman died, leaving an estate which, as he had no children, would go to the next nearest relative. This man away out west was the nearest heir, living in poverty, and just eking out a struggling existence when they found him and gave him the news that the estate was his. It was his all the time, but he did not know it. What did he do when he found it out? Did he say, “Well, it is a good thing to know that I have something to fall back on and some day I will go and look at it”? No, he went downtown, and on the strength of the good news bought himself a new suit and a ticket, and left for Great Britain. I read an interview that the reporters had with him. They asked, “Where are you going?” He answered, ‘To take possession of my estate.” You and I are richer far than he was, but do we really take possession by faith of the things that are ours in Christ?
You may say, “But name some of these things that are ours.” He has blessed us with the blessing of forgiveness of our sins, with justification from all things, with sanctification in Christ, with a robe of perfect righteousness, with a heavenly citizenship, by giving us a place in the body of Christ, and making us heirs of His riches through Christ! And yet how some of us struggle along, eking out a poor, wretched, miserable existence! We act as spiritual paupers when we ought to be living like millionaires. God has made Christ Jesus to be our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and yet for six years after I was converted I was still seeking righteousness and sanctification. But one day I woke up to the fact that it was all mine in Christ Jesus, and that I had simply to appropriate and enjoy it.
Now notice that Paul wrote that my blessings are secure in Heaven, and He calls me in the Spirit to rise to my heavenly citizenship and live in this world as a heavenly man should live. I may draw from God all the resources I need to be more than conqueror day by day, as I pass through this world.
Notice how carefully you have to read Scripture: “Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” What a mistake it would be to translate that, “with Christ.” Do you see the difference? How often we hear people misquote Ephesians 2:6, and say that God has “made us sit together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.” Nothing of the kind. We are not seated together with Christ; we are seated in Him. He is there as our representative, and that is an altogether different thing from being seated with Him. This does not mean that we are only privileged and seated together in Christ when we have a real, good, happy, spiritual meeting. Sometimes when we have a good meeting and the people think they have been helped, some well-meaning brother closes in prayer and says, “O Lord, we thank Thee that we have been sitting together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus this morning.” I say to myself, The dear brother hasn’t got it yet. He thinks because there is a glow in his heart, because he feels happy, that means he is sitting in heavenly places in Christ. But I am sitting in heavenly places in Christ just as truly when I am oppressed with the trials of the way, as I am when I am flourishing and have everything that my heart could desire. It is a question of fact: Christ is in the heavenlies, and God sees me in Him. I am blessed in Him, and all the treasures of Heaven are at my disposal, and I am to draw on them as I have need in order that I may be strengthened and able to rejoice as I go forth in His service down here.
Our Election and Predestination (1:4-5)
Next the apostle carries our minds back to the past eternity that we may be brought to realize that salvation is altogether of God, not at all of ourselves. An old hymn puts it this way:
’Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For, Lord, that could not be,
This heart would still refuse Thee,
But Thou hast chosen me.
And again in another hymn that we know well, we are taught to sing:
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wand’ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
It was God Himself who purposed our salvation in the past eternity. It is Jesus Christ who accomplished our salvation on the cross when the fullness of time had come. It is God the Holy Spirit who convicts us and brings us to repentance and to a saving knowledge of the grace of God as revealed in Christ. We cannot take any credit to ourselves for our salvation. A little boy was asked, “Have you found Jesus?” He looked up and said, “Please, sir, I didn’t know He was lost; but I was, and He found me.” We did not have to do the seeking after Him, He sought us because of the love that was in His heart from eternity.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). This, of course, is the truth of election. Again and again believers are spoken of as elect people, as children chosen of God. Charles Spurgeon said, “God certainly must have chosen me before I came into this world or He never would have done so afterwards.” He set His love on us in the past eternity. This troubles people sometimes, and yet how could it be otherwise? God who is infinite in wisdom, with whom the past and the future are all one eternal now, purposed in His heart before the world came into existence that He was going to have a people who would be to the praise and glory of His grace for all eternity. He looked down through the ages and saw us as those for whom He would give His Son in order to add to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is wonderful to see how intimately the joy of Christ and our salvation are linked together. John Bunyan said, “Oh, this Lamb of God! He had a whole heaven to Himself, myriad of angels to do His bidding, but these could not satisfy Him. He must have sinners to share it with Him.”
Notice that it is God who purposes salvation this way; it is God who plans; it was God who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Notice, it is not that He chose the church as such, but he chose every individual who was to be a member of that church, to be one with Christ for eternity. You say, “I do not understand that.” I don’t either. Whenever I consider a subject such as God’s electing grace and predestinating love, I remind myself that the Word says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). But it may help us a little if we consider predestination apart from the question of the fall of man. Before the world was made, before sin came in, God chose us in Christ to be with His Son for all eternity. The fact that sin came in did not alter God’s purpose. He is still going to carry it out in spite of all that Satan has done to wreck His fair creation.
The purpose of God is according to His grace, grace to those who could not earn it, who did not deserve anything but eternal judgment. Somebody has well said, “The truth of election is a family secret.” It is not something that we go out and proclaim to the world. We read, “Cast not your pearls before swine,” and swine, you know, are unclean. We are not to go to unsaved men in the uncleanness of their sin and talk about election. They would not understand it at all. It is a family secret that God loves to whisper in the ears of His beloved children.
The doctrine of election has been pictured in this way. Here is a vast host of people hurrying down the broad road with their minds fixed on their sins, and one person stands calling attention to a door— the entrance into the narrow way that leads to life eternal. On this door is plainly written the text, “Whosoever will, let him come.” Every man is invited, no one need hesitate. Some may say, “Well, I may not be of the elect, and so it would be useless for me to endeavor to come, for the door will not open for me.” But God’s invitation is absolutely sincere: it is addressed to every man, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). If men refuse to come, if they pursue their own godless way down to the pit, whom can they blame but themselves for their eternal judgment? The messenger addressed himself to all, the call comes to all, the door could be entered by all, but many refuse to come and perish in their sins. Such men can never blame God for their eternal destruction. The door was open, the invitation was given, they refused. God says to them sorrowfully, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” But as the invitation is extended, every minute or two someone stops and asks, “What is that?” “The way to life,” is the reply. “Ah, that I might find the way to life! I have found no satisfaction in this old world. I should like to know how to be free from my sin, how to be made fit for the presence of God.” Then he draws near and listens, and the Spirit of God impresses the message on his heart and conscience. As a result he says, “I am going inside: I will accept the invitation; I will enter that door,” and he presses his way in and it shuts behind him. As he turns about he finds written on the inside of the door the words, “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” “What?” he says, “had God His heart fixed on me before ever the world came into being?” Yes, but he could not find it out until he got inside. You see, you can pass the door if you will, you can trample the love of God beneath your feet, you can spurn His grace if you are determined to do it, but you will go down to the pit and you will be responsible for your own doom.
There is no such thing taught in the Word of God as predestination to eternal condemnation. If men are lost, they are lost because they do not come to Christ. When men do come to Christ, they learn the wonderful secret that God has foreknown it all from eternity, and that He had settled it before the world came into existence that they were to share the glory of His Son throughout endless ages. D. L. Moody used to say in his quaint way, when people talked about the subject of election, “the whosoever wills are the elect, and the whosoever wont’s are the non-elect.” And so you can settle it for yourself whether you will be among the elect of God or not.
When asked to explain the doctrine of election, a brother once said, “Well, it’s this way, the Lord voted for my salvation; the devil voted for my damnation. I voted with the Lord, and so we got into the majority.” The devil seeks my eternal loss and God seeks my eternal blessing, and my heart says, “I will.” I then know that I am among those chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Let me link this up with another Scripture, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” There you have the purpose of God in the past eternity. God had from the beginning chosen you unto salvation, and He is carrying out His purpose through the work of the Holy Spirit as the one who hears the message believes the truth.
Then listen to the apostle Peter, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:2). There you have exactly the same order. God the Father foreknew us from eternity, but it was up to us whether or not we would yield to Christ. When we did yield in the obedience of faith, we took our places beneath the sprinkled blood of Jesus and our salvation was eternally assured. People try sometimes to put the whole responsibility on God and say, “If God has not chosen me, I cannot be saved.” If you will trust in Christ, you may know that God has chosen you.
You remember the striking illustration that the Spirit of God Himself gave us at the end of the book of Acts. When Paul and his company were on their way to Rome, a terrific storm arose, and they were casting out some of the cargo in order to lighten the ship, but finally they gave up in despair. And then an angel appeared and spoke with Paul, and Paul called for the captain of the ship and said:
I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee (Acts 27:22-24).
There was God’s foreknowledge. Everyone in that ship would be brought through safely, not one of them would be lost. But a little while afterwards Paul noticed something going on among the sailors. They were fitting out a boat and were preparing to launch it into the sea, putting some provisions into it and getting ready to cut away and leave the ship. And Paul said to the captain, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31). Had he not already told them that no one would perish? That was God’s side; their side was to “abide in the ship.” They were responsible to see that no one left the ship, and so it is in regard to the doctrine of election and man’s responsibility. Everyone who is saved will be in Heaven because he was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and yet every man who is ever saved will be there because as a guilty sinner he put his personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. You may say, “I can’t reconcile these two ideas to each other.” You do not need to do so; just believe it and go on your way rejoicing.
Look at Ephesians 1:4, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him.” God, who foresaw all who would put their trust in Christ, provided a means whereby all our sin and iniquity could be paid for, in order that we might be presented holy and without blame before Him. This, of course, involves the work of the cross. Redemption was not an afterthought with God. It was all provided for when He decided to bring into existence creatures who could give Him voluntary love and service.
The questions may be asked, Why did not God who knows all things create a race of people who would not have sinned and rejected Him, but who would always have done that which was right in His sight, who would always have loved and obeyed Him? Is not God in some sense responsible for sin because He created a creature weak enough to sin? Could He not have created one so strong that he could not have sinned? Certainly He could. He could have made creatures that could not have failed Him. He could have created humanity in such a way that it could not have deviated from the right path. But God’s determination to create a man or woman who could choose to give Him loyal obedience, loving service, and voluntary devotion, necessitated the creation of men and women who could turn away from God if they wanted to and refuse to obey Him if they so desired. Otherwise there would have been no freedom in their love, devotion, reverence, and affection. God was willing to take all the risk that He did take in order to have beings in this universe who would give Him glad and free-hearted love and devotion. So when sin came in, the Savior was given, and the Seed of the woman has bruised the serpent’s head. Now through the work of Christ, God can present us in His glorious presence holy and without blame in Him. It is not what we are naturally in ourselves, but what we are in Christ Jesus.
Now notice in Ephesians 1:5 we have another word that troubles people. We read, “In love having predestinated us.” You will notice that I began reading verse 5 with the last part of verse 4.1 ended verse 4 with the word him—“That we should be holy and without blame before him.” The King James version ends verse 4 this way: “That we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” But I believe a better translation is to add the phrase, “in love,” to the beginning of verse 5: “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” One is not so afraid of the word predestinated when it is preceded by the word love. There is no arbitrariness there, but it is all “in love.” Predestination is a manifestation of the love of the Father. As it is God who chose us in grace, it is the Father who had predestinated us to the adoption of children. Nowhere in the Bible are people ever predestined to go to Hell, and nowhere are people simply predestined to go to Heaven. Look it up and see. We are chosen in Christ to share His glory for eternity, but predestination is always to some special place of blessing.
In Romans 8:29 we read: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Predestined to what? Predestined “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” You see, predestination is not God from eternity saying, “This man goes to Heaven and this man to Hell.” No, but predestination teaches me that when I have believed in Christ and trusted Him as my Savior, I may know on the authority of God that it is settled forever that some day I am to become exactly like my Savior. It settles the question of the security of my salvation. Whatever my present unsatisfactory experiences may be, some day I shall be altogether like the One who has redeemed me.
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself’ (Ephesians 1:5). The word adoption perplexes some. They say, “Does it mean that we are only adopted children and not really born into the family? Does it mean adopted in that sense?” This word literally means, the full placing as sons. We might read this verse, “Having predestinated us unto the son-placing through Jesus Christ unto Himself.” It will help us to understand this concept of adoption better if we bear in mind that in the days when our Bible was written, a man might have a number of wives and some who were really his slaves. He would have to select those children among whom he wished to divide his estate for he might not wish it divided among all his various children. He would take those whom he selected as his heirs down to the forum, and there confess them openly before the proper authority as his sons and then go through a ceremony of adoption. From that day on they were recognized as his heirs. We have been born into the family of God by regeneration and thus made children of God. We have received the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of adoption, and God has marked us out as those who will share everything with the Son for all eternity. We are adopted sons and born-again children.
“In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Our Lord is the One through whom all this blessing comes. There is a beautiful passage in the Old Testament that speaks of the coming Savior as a “nail in a sure place” (Isaiah 22:23). The simile is taken from the tent-life of the nomadic people. Pegs, on which they hung their garments and blankets, were fitted into the upright poles of their tents, and the women hung the utensils they used on similar pegs. Scripture pictures all kinds of vessels hung on one of these nails fastened in a sure place, and it says, “And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house” (Isaiah 22:24). So the Lord Jesus Christ having accomplished redemption has become that “nail in a sure place,” and every one of us are hung upon Him. If the nail goes down, we all go down; if Christ fails, then we all go down together. But since Christ will never fail, then He will sustain every one of us right on to the very end. That is the truth that is revealed here.
This truth of election and predestination and of sonship emphasizes the preciousness of our Lord Jesus Christ! Say it over and over to your soul until your whole being is thrilled, “Lord Jesus, I owe it all to You.” Then you will begin to understand why one enraptured with His love could sing:
Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.
Bernard of Clairvaux
Every blessing for time and eternity we owe to Him. Are those blessings given to us according to our understanding or the strength of our faith, or our devotedness? Not at all! What then? “According to the good pleasure of his will.” You know some people are afraid of the will of God, yet it is the will of God that you and I who put our trust in the Lord Jesus should share the Savior’s glory for all eternity. And in revealing His will to us step by step along the way, He would have us become more and more conformed to Him while here on earth. Oh, to be able to say from the heart, “I welcome Your sweet will, O God.” The greatest mistake any Christian can make is to substitute his own will for the will of God.
Remember, it is the will of God that every saved one should eventually be with Christ and like Christ forevermore.
I know not where His hand shall lead,
Through desert wastes, or flowery mead;
‘Mid tangled thicket set with thorn,
‘Mid gloom of night or glow of morn;
But still I know my Father’s handWill bring me to His goodly land.
If you are still unsaved, the most fearful mistake you can ever make is to suppose that if you yield yourself to the will of God it would take away from your peace and happiness and joy. The only real peace, the only real happiness, the only real joy for created beings is found in following the will of God. His will planned our redemption, His will purposed our salvation, and His will secures our place in the glory for all eternity.
Accepted in the Beloved (1:6)
You will at once recognize the fact that this verse does not in itself constitute a complete sentence. It is a part of a rather lengthy sentence that began with the third verse. We have been climbing one of God’s wonderful mountain peaks from verse 3, and now we have reached the top. Standing here at verse 6, we are privileged to look below us and see the depths from which we have come, and then look beyond and see the glory that is before us.
There is no room for human boasting. Our salvation is according to the good pleasure of God’s will, to the praise of the glory of His own grace, and no man may give himself any credit whatsoever. It is to the praise of the glory of God’s grace that He has accepted us in the Beloved. I hope we are all clear about grace. We are constantly preaching about it, singing about it, and reading about it, and yet how few there are who really understand the precious fact that our salvation is altogether of grace. No matter how many times one may preach on salvation by grace, every time he rises to face an audience there are many who are still strangers to the grace of God. Let us never forget that grace is God’s free unmerited favor lavished on those who deserve nothing but His judgment. You cannot earn grace, you cannot earn His lovingkindness.
You may remember the case of the woman who attempted the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I. She was dressed as a page, and had hid herself in the queen’s boudoir awaiting the convenient moment to stab her to death, not realizing that the queen’s attendants would be very careful to search the rooms before her majesty was permitted to retire. Hidden there among the gowns they found this woman and brought her into the presence of the queen. They took from her the dagger that she had hoped to plant in the heart of her sovereign. She realized that her case, humanly speaking, was hopeless, and so she threw herself down on her knees and pleaded and begged the queen to have compassion on her and show her grace. Queen Elizabeth looked at her quietly, and coolly said, “If I show you grace, what promise will you make for the future?” The woman looked up and said, “Grace that hath conditions, grace that is fettered by precautions, is no grace at all.” Queen Elizabeth understood immediately and said, “You are right; I pardon you of my grace,” and they led her away a free woman. History tells us that from that moment Queen Elizabeth had no more faithful devoted servant than that woman who had intended to take her life.
Remember, grace that has conditions, grace that is bound by precautions, that insists on pledges and promises for the future, is no grace at all. Grace is favor freely shown to those who deserve only judgment, and so we read that our salvation is to the praise of the glory of His grace. When at last we get home to Heaven, He will have all the praise and all the glory. We will gratefully acknowledge in His glorious presence that left to ourselves we would have gone on to everlasting judgment, that it was He who showed us our deep, deep need. Looking down on us He pitied us as we were hurrying on to endless woe and He gave His Son to die. This is the grace of our Lord Jesus that led Him to go to Calvary’s cross and settle the claim that we never could have settled. And so by grace, and by grace alone, have we been saved.
Observe that we have been made “accepted in the beloved.” The saved sinner does not stand before God in any righteousness of his own, nor does he plead any merit of his own before the divine throne. Not merely forgiven, not merely justified, not merely washed from his sins or cleansed from his defilement, he is received in lovingkindness to the very heart of God according to the Father’s estimate of His own beloved Son. In John 17 we read our Lord’s prayer to the Father for His own—you and me, if we have believed in Him, for He was praying for those “who shall believe on me through their word.” Thus He included all believers to the very end of time, and speaking of such He said to the Father, “That the world may know that thou…hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” I could not believe that statement if it were not in my Bible. I could not believe that God the holy One loves me, a poor sinner in myself, as He loves the Lord Jesus Christ, His spotless Son.
We do not have far to go for the proof of His love. It is seen in that God commended His love toward us by sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. If He gave His Son for me, then He must love me as greatly as He loves His Son, or He never would have permitted Him to die for me. Also in 1 John 4:17 we read a similar passage: “That we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world,” that is, as He is in relation to judgment. He has already passed through the judgment and will never have to go into it again. He will never again know the forsaking of God, the enshrouding of His soul with the blackness of darkness, the taste of the bitter cup, the agony, shame, and curse of the cross. All that is in the past. He went through it all for us and now so truly are we linked up with Him that “as he is, so are we in this world.”
A very interesting volume was published, giving the story of the life and work of Dr. Usher, who for a great many years carried on medical missionary work in Turkey. In this wonderful story he related an incident mat illustrates in a striking way what we have before us. He told how a notable member of the Turkish movement had become governor of a certain province in which the mission hospital and schools were located. This man was very learned and of great determination, but a very rigid Muslim. He had made up his mind to carry out one of the old laws of Turkey stating that foreigners coming into the country should be allowed to live there for one year, but if at the end of that time they had not become Mohammedans, they would have to leave Turkey. That law had been a dead issue for a great many years, but he made up his mind that he would banish all the missionaries, Catholic and Protestant, from his province.
However, he decided that to be fair he would give them all an opportunity to become Mohammedans, and so during the month of Ramadan, their annual fast, he invited all these missionaries to a great feast in his home. They were allowed to feast at night but not in the daytime. As all these missionaries received the message, they knew it to be a summons. According to Turkish law it would never do to make excuses, for the invitation to dine with the governor was tantamount to a command. Dr. Usher sat on the left hand of the governor, and the Catholic bishop sat on his right hand, with the other missionaries on either side, and a number of the attendants of the governor in waiting.
After a while turning to the Catholic bishop, the governor said, “My lord bishop, will you tell me how you think a man can enter paradise?” The bishop answered, “I will say that I believe through the merits of Jesus Christ, God can forgive my sins and take me to paradise.” “Not at all,” said the governor; “I cannot believe that God is less righteous than I am, and I do not believe it would be righteous for God because of His friendship for another, to forgive a sinner and take him to paradise. If someone here had become indebted to the government and I had to put him in prison, and someone said, ‘That man is a friend of mine, for my sake I beg you let him go free,’ no matter how much I would desire to please my friend, I would be an unrighteous governor to let him go free simply because of my friendship for someone who was interested in him. I do not believe that God is less righteous than I.” The bishop had not another word to say and sat there looking puzzled.
Dr. Usher felt that something tremendous was at stake, and he knew that he would be questioned next, so he lifted his heart to God, remembering the verse, “When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak” (Matthew 10:19). He prayed, “Lord, by Thy Spirit give me now the message.”
The governor turned and said, “What would you say? How may a man be assured of an entrance into paradise?” Dr. Usher replied, “Your Excellency, will you permit me to use your own illustration, only to change it slightly? Let us think of you not merely as the governor of this province, but as the king. You have one son, the prince, whom you love tenderly. Suppose that I am the man who is in debt to the government, owing a sum so vast that I could not pay one part out of a thousand. In accordance with the law, I am cast into prison. Unworthy as I am, your son is a friend of mine: he has a deep interest in me and a real love for me. He seeks you out and says, ‘My father, my friend is in prison for a debt which he owes the government, and which he cannot pay. Will you permit me to pay it all for him in order that he may go free?’ And you say to him, ‘My son, since you are so interested and willing to pay the debt yourself, I am willing that it should be so, and more than that, I will participate with you in it.’
“And so the prince goes to the proper authority and pays my debt in full, leaving nothing to be demanded. He takes the receipt, and comes down to me in my prison cell. I could treat him in three ways. When he comes to me and says, ‘Brother, your debt is paid and you may go free,’ I could turn in haughtiness and say, ‘No; I refuse to be under obligation to anybody,’ forgetting that my debt is already an obligation and that I am now only entering into one of lovingkindness, whereas I was before obligated by law. And suppose I continue, ‘I will never leave this prison unless I can pay the debt myself.’ I would have to remain in the prison, for I could not settle the debt.
“Or I might look at the receipt and say, ‘I can’t believe it; there is some mistake about it. I can’t believe that you would take such an interest in me. I dare not leave; let me remain here. I am afraid to go out lest I be arrested again.’ But the prince might say, ‘Man, it is foolish for you to talk like that.’ And if he should insist on drawing me out of the prison, I would go slinking down the street and trembling as I thought of my debt, and my home would become a prison, for I would be afraid to look out of the window or go to the door. I would have no assurance if I did not believe the message that your son brought.
“But in the third place I could rise up and fall at the feet of the prince, your son, and say, ‘I can never repay you for what you have done for me, but I will seek to show by my life how grateful I am to you.’ And so I would go free. Let us suppose that on some later day I see the prince riding down one of the streets of the city, and I notice that someone has left a great pile of wood in the street that prevents him from going by. Would I try to get someone to get this out of the way? No, rather I myself would be glad to run out and clear a passage for the prince. If he says, ‘Thank you; let me pay for your labor,’ I would say, ‘Oh, no; you paid my debt; it is a joy for me to do something to show my gratitude.’”
The Turkish governor was listening carefully and watching intently, and suddenly a light shone, and he said, “Oh, then, Dr. Usher, is this the reason why you have a hospital here in Turkey? Is this why you establish these schools and why you missionaries are giving your lives for our people? You are not trying to earn your way into paradise?” “No,” said Dr. Usher, “our way into paradise is settled because Jesus has paid the debt, and now we serve because we love Him.”
The Turkish governor was thoughtful again and then looked up and said, “You used the illustration of my son paying the debt, and you suggested that God has a Son. But God is one God; He does not beget, and He is not begotten. I cannot accept the idea that God would come down to this world and beget a Son.” Dr. Usher said, “But, Your Excellency, when God speaks to us He has to use our language. His thoughts are above our thoughts and His words above our words. We speak to one another in different tongues. If I were to say to you in English, ‘In a little while I am going home,’ it would mean something altogether different from the message that would be conveyed in Turkish, for in Turkish there is a no word for home. I would have to say, ‘In a little while I am going to the house.’ But I do not mean that I am going to the building, I mean that I am going to the love of my wife and children whether there is a building or not. That constitutes home for me. And, you see, our poor human language has no word to express the infinite mystery of the relation between the Father and the Son, for it is not such a relationship as you and I know; it is one that existed from all eternity.”
The governor felt he could not banish the missionaries, and allowed the work to go on and was himself dismissed from his position because of his grace and kindness in protecting them. They have always hoped that deep in his heart he turned to Christ.
Our Lord saw us in our great need. He paid for us, and having settled the debt He has now brought us into the royal family, washed us from every stain of sin, robed us in garments of glory and beauty, and given us a seat at the table of the King. He has taken us into favor in the Beloved so that the Father’s thoughts of Christ are His thoughts of love for us who trust Christ. Out of our appreciation for this, springs the obedience of faith. Out of our gratitude for His love springs the earnest desire to so labor, so work, so live for God that in that coming day when we meet our Savior in glory, we will be acceptable to Him and will hear Him say to us, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21). He does not mean that we enter paradise because of our service, but that entering Heaven in all the infinite value of the Person and work of Christ we share His joy through the ages to come.
Redemption by His Blood (1:7)
In studying the first six verses of Ephesians 1 we have noticed that we were thought of and our happiness planned for by God long before the world began. When the fullness of time had come, He sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to carry out His divine purpose. Since His death and resurrection, since His ascension to God’s right hand in Heaven, He has accepted us in Christ. In verse 7 we have the assurance of our salvation, “In whom we have redemption.” I wish that we might have that firmly fixed in our minds. We do not have to pray, “Take all my guilt away”; we do not have to plead with God to save or to justify us, because these things are blessedly settled and setded for eternity if we have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ. And so we do not hope someday to receive the redemption of our soul. We have redemption. We have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
There are three very distinct words used in the New Testament for redemption. One of these words means simply to go into the market and buy—“to purchase”—and when you buy a thing, of course it is yours. We have been bought with a price, the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been redeemed to God by Him and belong to Him. He purchased us; He paid the price for us, made us His own. We sold ourselves for nothing, but we have been redeemed without money.
There is a little fuller word for redemption, and this means “to buy out of the market,” so that that which has been purchased will never be put on sale again. For instance, in the old slave markets when a slave was bought, the money was paid, and the slave was handed over to the purchaser. In a few rare instances the new owner gave the slave a legal paper, a writ that granted him complete freedom. He was never to be placed in jeopardy again. This is the definition of the word redeemed in 1 Peter 1:18:
Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold…But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God (1 Peter 1:18-21).
We have been “bought out of the market,” we are not going to be put on sale any more. We are free.
The third word for redemption is the one found in our text. It is a Greek compound, the first part, apo, means “away from,” going away from something or some condition. The second part, lutrosis, means “to be free,” “to be loosed,” and so it literally means, “to be loosed away from” something. We have been loosed away from the curse of the law that once hung over us. We have been loosed away from the judgment of God toward which we were one time speeding, loosed away from the guilt of our sins. That is why I won’t sing, ‘Take all my guilt away.” My guilt was taken away, for we have been loosed away from the entire question of guilt. God will never permit that question to be raised again. It was raised with His own blessed Son at Calvary’s cross when all the judgment that my guilt deserved fell on Him, and now I can say:
Death and judgment are behind me,
Grace and glory are before;
All the billows rolled o’er Jesus,
There exhausted all their power.
It ought to thrill our souls and fill us with a flood of joy continually. No wonder we sometimes sing:
Redeemed, redeemed, from sin and all its woe.
Redeemed, redeemed, eternal life to know,
Redeemed, redeemed, by Jesus’ blood!
Redeemed, redeemed! Oh, praise the Lord!
If we hold our peace when we realize what grace has done on our behalf, the very stones will cry out.
Then notice the price of our redemption—“In whom we have redemption through his blood.” No less a price would do; no less a price would have availed to set us free, to deliver us from the curse and the judgment once hanging over us. In Old Testament times the sinner came to the altar bringing a lamb or a goat from the flock, or a bullock from the herd, or if very poor, two turtle doves or young pigeons. These were slain, the blood poured out, and they were offered on the altar and consumed by the fire of divine judgment, a typical sacrifice for sin. But,
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away its stain.
Why? Because there was not sufficient value in those creatures that were offered up through all past dispensations. They did not have intrinsic worth. When that shed blood was sprinkled on the altar and on the sinner, it was powerless to avail, it was powerless to settle the sin question. But, thank God, in our Lord Jesus Christ we see a sacrifice of infinite worth.
People try to reason sometimes as to the extent of His atonement. Some theologians have talked about a limited atonement, for they believe that our Lord made atonement for the elect only, and that outside of that group there is no possibility of salvation for anyone. But let me say this—knowing in my very soul that I have the backing of the Word of God: If every sinner who has ever lived in the world and every sinner who will ever live were to come to God in faith confessing his sin and guilt and putting his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, so infinite is the value of the work of the cross and the life that was given there, that every sinner could be redeemed from judgment. So precious was the blood that was shed on the cross that every sinner could be freed from every charge, and still there would be untold value in the atonement of Christ, which would avail for the sinners in a million universes like this one. The atoning value of the blood of Jesus cannot be measured.
I remember hearing a Roman Catholic priest say that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus could wash away all the sins that have ever been committed in this world. He was right because on the one hand you have finite sinners, and on the other hand you have the infinite atonement of the Son of God. “We have redemption through his blood.” Do you fear then to rest in this wonderful gospel truth? Do you fear then to trust your soul to the Savior who died for your sins on the cross?
Dr. Joseph Parker of London, the noted English preacher, who for many years proclaimed the Word of God in the great City Temple, wrote in his autobiography that there was a time when he gave too much attention to the modern theories of his day. Men were reasoning and speculating and undervaluing the Word of God and he found himself, as he read their books and mingled in their meetings, losing his grip intellectually on the great fundamental doctrine of salvation through the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. But there came into his life the most awful sorrow that he ever had to bear. His devoted wife, whom he loved so tenderly, was stricken, and in a few short hours was snatched away from him.
Dr. Parker wrote that he was unable to share his grief with others, and walking through the empty rooms of his home with a breaking heart, his misery felt for some footing in modern theory and there was none. “And then,” he said, addressing a company of his congregational brethren, “my brethren, in those hours of darkness, in those hours of my soul’s anguish, when filled with doubt and trembling in fear, I thought of the old gospel of redemption alone through the blood of Christ, the gospel that I had preached in those earlier days, and I put my foot down on that and found firm standing. I stand there today, and I shall die resting on that glorious truth of salvation alone through the precious blood of Christ.”
On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
In what way does the blood of Christ save us? “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls” (Leviticus 17:11). What blood is given on the altar to make an atonement? It is the precious blood of Christ, of which all the sacrifices of the old covenant were simply symbolic. On the cross God gave Jesus, and there He gave up His life when He poured out His blood. It is through the giving of His life, and not through our imitating the life of Jesus, that we are saved. It is through the outpouring of the life of Jesus in the shedding of His blood that we find redemption: “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). And so we have redemption through His blood, and this necessarily involves the forgiveness of sins.
This subject of forgiveness of sins perplexes people sometimes. Forgiveness is presented in Scripture in three very distinct aspects. First, there is eternal forgiveness, and that is what the apostle is speaking of in Ephesians 1:7. Every believer is eternally forgiven the moment he comes to God through Jesus. He stands before God justified, every trespass forgiven and as clear before the throne of God as if he had never committed a sin. He never again has to come to God appealing for forgiveness, for He has forgiven all his trespasses. But you may say, “Well, do you mean by that, all my trespasses up to the hour of my conversion?” I mean something far more than that, something far better than that. I mean that the believer’s sins, all of them, past, present, and whatever sins may be committed in the future, were all taken into account and were all atoned for when Jesus died. This is the eternal forgiveness of God, the Judge of all. The moment a man trusts in Christ, all the value of that atoning work is put down to his account and every sin is forgiven. That is the first great aspect of forgiveness.
In the second place, there is the restorative forgiveness of the Father. The moment my responsibility for my actions as a sinner ended, that moment my responsibility as a child of the heavenly Father began. And if I fail (and I do, and you do) I come to Him not to beg forgiveness, for that was settled at the cross, but I come knowing that, “If we confess ours sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When as a believer I fail, I come to God as my Father and tell Him the story of my failure and my sin. As I confess my sin, it is put away and my communion with the Father is restored. Sin on the part of the believer does not affect his eternal life, for his life is hid with Christ in God, but it does affect his communion with the Father, and that is not restored again until the failing believer comes confessing his sins. Then he receives restorative forgiveness.
The third aspect has been called governmental forgiveness. It has to do with the temporal consequences of sin. I think of a Christian man whom I have known for a great many years, who in his unsaved days was given to drunkenness. Though that man lived a wonderful Christian life for over thirty years, he suffered all his life in his body because of his early sins. Sometimes he was tempted to wonder whether God had really forgiven him when the punishment of sin seemed to be going on in his body. Again and again you will find this. God permits temporal punishment to follow sin, but when the believer learns to take everything as from the hand of God and bows to the will of God, He sometimes even grants him governmental forgiveness and restores the body. He may even restore the years the locusts have eaten, and bring back temporal blessings that one might have supposed were lost forever.
On what is His forgiveness based? It is “according to the riches of his grace.” It does not say “out of the riches of His grace,” but “according to the riches of his grace.” Can you estimate the riches of God’s grace? How rich is He in grace? Is He a millionaire? More than that. Is He a multimillionaire? More than that. Is He a billionaire, a trillionaire? More than that. Shall I go on? It is useless, for God’s grace is infinite, and you and I have been blessedly saved, forgiven, redeemed, “according to the riches of his grace.”
I repeat, it is not merely out of the riches of His grace. For example, let us say that you approach a millionaire on behalf of some worthy cause. He listens to you and says, “Well, I think I will do something for you,” and he takes out his wallet and gives you a ten-dollar bill. Perhaps you had hoped to receive a thousand dollars from him. He has given you out of his riches, but not according to his riches. If he gave you a book of signed blank checks all numbered, and said, ‘Take this, fill in what you need,” that would be according to his riches.
We who are saved may well rejoice, for we have been forgiven, we have been redeemed, not out of the riches of God’s grace but according to the riches of His grace. If you grasp this thought, you will never feel poor again. And you owe it all to the work of the cross, to the blessed One who there died for you. Through eternity we are going to join with all the redeemed and ascribe all power and praise and honor and glory to the Lamb that was slain, “who redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
May I quote the beautiful words of one of our Christian poets, as emphasizing this precious truth?
O spotless Lamb, my Sacrifice,
Thou art my soul’s salvation;
In God’s eternal counsel, Thou,
Before the earth’s creation,
Wert slain; our God had planned it all
Ere Satan caused Thy creatures’ fall
That shrouded them in darkness.
Naught we could do the gulf to span
’Twixt God and sinful fallen man,
Created in God’s likeness.
God saw us in our deep, deep need,
He undertook to save us;
’Twas not a trifling thing to Him,
His very best He gave us.
Then mercy’s fountain to reveal,
Our weary, sinsick souls to heal,
His Father-heart not sparing,
From Godhead’s fullest glory,
He Sent His own Son to earth—
I see Him now my burden bearing.
Oh, love of God, how great and strong
Beyond all human telling!
Oh, wondrous gift! The Father’s Son,
All doubt and gloom dispelling,
The Lord of glory come to earth,
A Virgin chosen gave Him birth,
His bed a lowly manger;
Angels adoring hover near,
Shepherds the great glad tidings hear,
But to Thine own a stranger.
In adoration, praise, and love,
My heart is bowed before Thee;
I trust Thy grace, believe Thy Word.
It full assurance gives me
That all my sins are washed away
By Thine own blood! Oh, let me stay
Close by Thy side forever.
I am Thine own, and Thou art mine!
Who from Thy heart and love sublime,
And joy and peace, can sever?
The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times (1:8-12)
God has many counsels but only one purpose, and that purpose is fully brought before us in these verses. In carrying out this purpose He has His counsels in regard to the people of Israel and to the nations of the Gentiles. “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” He said to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). And He has now made known His formerly hidden counsel in regard “to the church, Which is his body, the fulness [completion] of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). He has His counsels in regard to the glorious coming kingdom, when our Lord Jesus will reign over all the earth. But all these are just different parts of His one glorious purpose.
“He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” We may think of this first of all as the display of His divine wisdom and intelligence. But there is more than that, there is the subjective side: “He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” That is, God, through the revelation of His purpose in His Word gives wisdom and knowledge in divine things, which no one else ever had in all the ages of the past. While there were unnumbered saints of God in former dispensations, none had the intelligence in divine things that you and I ought to have today.
Even the angels never had the knowledge of His wonderful plan that the weakest Christian may now have if he will. We are told that angels are learning the wisdom of God in us. He never gave to them a complete revelation of what was coming; but they are learning the wisdom, the counsels, the purpose of God, as they see His grace displayed in us. The church then is an object lesson to angels. It was given to us to understand these things, and not merely for intellectual gratification but in order that the truth might build us up in Christ, might form us morally and make us what God would have us be. “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). We are not to view divine mysteries simply as truth on which to exercise our human intelligence; but we are to be sanctified through the truth. The revelation that God has given should so grip our souls and exercise our consciences that it will lead us to behave as a people who are truly strangers and pilgrims here on earth, looking for the glorious era that Christ will bring in when He returns.
“He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and intelligence”— as the word prudence really means. “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will.” We need to remind ourselves that the word mystery, so frequently used in the New Testament, does not necessarily mean something mysterious or difficult to understand, but rather a secret that no one could understand until it was revealed. The mystery of the kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:11), the mystery of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:7), the mystery of Babylon (Revelation 17:5), the great mystery of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32), the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19), the mystery of Israel’s present rejection as illustrated in the olive tree of Romans 11—all these were once hidden secrets that no man could understand, but are now opened up to the people of God. So it is the responsibility of a minister of Christ to expound these mysteries to the saints. We read that such are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). From the treasure that God has given them they draw things new and old, and open them up to God’s people so that they may understand them.
What is the mystery of His will?
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his 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.
Here, succinctly, clearly, in one brief verse, we have the summing up of the mystery of God’s will. Everything is working on to this one near-at-hand, divine event toward which the whole creation moves, when God will head up everything in Christ.
What is meant by a “dispensation”? The word dispensation is used a number of times in the New Testament, and other words are also used to translate the same Greek word: stewardship, order, administration. We find that the original word has been brought right over into English; it is our word economy. In other words, “That in the economy of the fullness of times He might head up everything in Christ.” What is an economy? An economy is an ordering of a house. But the economy of one house is not necessarily the economy of every other house. If Christians would only bear that in mind, it would save a great deal of confusion. Then there is political economy—the ordering of the affairs of a nation. One nation does not order its affairs in the same way as another. The economy of Russia is not that of the United States of America; the economy of Italy is not the economy of England. These nations have their own ways of ordering their affairs, and if one came from Russia to the United States and attempted to order his conduct according to the economy of Russia, it would not be tolerated here. It might be lawful and right there, but not here. And so there are these various economies running through the Word of God. A dispensation or economy, then, is that particular order or condition of things prevailing in one special age which does not necessarily prevail in another.
There is a difference between a dispensation and an age. An age is a period of time in which a particular economy prevails. There was the economy before the flood when God was dealing with men according to conscience. We do not know just how God’s children met and carried on a public testimony in those days. All the information we have concerning that particular time is given us in two or three brief chapters in Genesis. But after the flood, there was a new economy; civil government was instituted by God for the restraint of human conduct. Then we see God calling Abraham out, and making him to be the beginning of a new race of people to whom He entrusted a new economy, the promise of the coming Seed through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed. And then at mount Sinai the law was given to the people of Israel. That economy was in force until our Lord cried, “It is finished,” on Calvary’s cross.
Now in the present age of the grace of God, we have this wonderful dispensation of the Holy Spirit, in which the gospel of God is being sent out into all the world. There is no one favored nation, but God’s grace goes out to all nations. We are not under law as a principle either of salvation or of life, but we are under grace; saved by Christ, kept by Christ, called to walk in Christ to the praise of the glory of His grace. In the future there will be another glorious economy, “The dispensation of the fulness of times.” That will be the last glorious age, which has been called ever since the dawn of the Christian era “the millennium” or “the reign of righteousness,” when,
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
That final dispensation of blessing is not merely for this world, but Heaven and earth will be brought into wonderful unity, and heavenly saints and earthly saints will find their headship in Christ.
How important then that we know something about what God is doing, that we understand intelligently our dispensational place in the ways of God. Many Christians have become confused because, though they are living in this age and are under our special dispensation, they are trying to behave according to another dispensation, confusing law with grace. They are confused because they do not see the difference between God’s order for the house of Israel in the Old Testament, and for the house of God, the church in this present age. The church age is to be succeeded by the glorious dispensation of the fullness of times yet to come in the millennium. St. Augustine said, “Distinguish the ages, and the Scriptures are plain.”
So God has revealed to us His purpose of grace. He has opened up the good pleasure of His will that we might understand what His plan is for Israel, the church, and the world. What a wonderful time it will be when everything unchristian will be put down, when the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ will be recognized not only by all in Heaven but by all on earth. This is the time referred to in Colossians 1:20: “Having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Notice there are only two spheres when Scripture speaks of the future reconciliation. It never includes the sad, unhappy abode of the lost; it simply says that all things in Heaven and all things in earth are some day to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
Scripture also speaks of the subjugation of all things to Christ, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). All created intelligence’s will acknowledge the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. But all in Heaven and all on earth are to be reconciled to Him in the dispensation of the fullness of times, when He will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”
Next we hear Paul speaking as a Jew, as one who belongs to the people to whom the message first came:
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated [marked out beforehand] 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, who first trusted in Christ [literally, who pre-trusted in Christ] (Ephesians 1:11-12).
The gospel of God was to the Jew first. Those who received the message on the day of Pentecost were all of Israel, although they came from the many different parts of the world into which they had been scattered because of their sins. Wherever the message went it was to the Jew first in those early days, and the apostle Paul, himself a Jew, could speak of the glorious privileges that belonged to them who had become the people of God in Christ. God has made wonderful promises to Israel, to be fulfilled when “they shall see the king in his beauty,” and shall cry, “This is our God; we have waited for him.*’ Israel in that day will be born again and will turn to the Lord. But Paul said, “We (he and his companions) have already trusted in Christ. We have pretrusted in Him before this day of His glorious revelation.”
“In whom ye [Gentiles] also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (13). Paul first speaks of his fellow-Jews, and then those of the nations who were alienated and enemies of God.
Notice that the greatest objective then for all Christians is that which so many of God’s beloved people often neglect—the truth of the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. The church’s complete blessing awaits His coming; the redemption of our bodies awaits His coming; the conversion of Israel awaits His coming; and the full redemption of all the Gentile peoples awaits the coming of our Savior. How we should long for this great event, watch for it as one watches for the morning. Frances Havergal has expressed the Christian’s attitude in a beautiful way:
Thou art coming, O my Savior!
Coming, God’s anointed King!
Every tongue Thy Name confessing,
Well may we rejoice and sing.
Thou art coming! rays of glory
Through the veil Thy death has rent,
Gladden now our pilgrim pathway,
Glory from Thy presence sent.
Thou art coming! Thou art coming!
We shall meet Thee on Thy way.
Thou art coming! We shall see Thee,
And be like Thee on that day.
Thou art coming! Thou art coming!
Jesus, our beloved Lord;
Oh, the joy to see Thee reigning,
Worshiped, glorified, adored!
Thou art coming! Not a shadow,
Not a mist, and not a tear,
Not a sin, and not a sorrow,
On that sunrise grand and clear.
Thou art coming! Jesus Savior
Nothing else seems worth a thought:
Oh, how marvelous the glory,
And the bliss Thy pain hath bought.
Thou art coming! We are waiting
With a ‘hope’ that cannot fail,
Asking not the day or hour,
Anchored safe within the veil.
Thou art coming! At Thy table
We are witnesses for this,
As we meet Thee in communion,
Earnest of our coming bliss.
Arr. from Frances R. Havergal
May we understand more and more fully, by reverent, prayerful study of and meditation in the Word of God, the glorious purpose of His grace. And may we walk now in the light of that coming dispensation when Christ will see the results of the suffering of His soul and be satisfied!
Sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13-14)
Next Paul turned to the Gentile converts, therefore the words are especially appropriate as applied to us, “In whom ye also trusted.” Notice the change in pronoun, from we in verse 12 to ye, referring to the Gentiles: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth.” He was not necessarily implying a lengthy period after they had heard the word of truth. The verse might be translated, “In whom ye also trusted, upon hearing the word of truth.” The gospel message believed results in immediate salvation. It is not necessary that people go through a long season of soul-searching and agonizing in spirit after hearing the gospel before they are converted to God. A man may hear the message for the first time, and hearing, believe and live.
Yet one can quite understand the pitiful question of the Chinese woman who had lived in the darkness of paganism all her life. Some itinerant missionaries came to her village, and for the first time she heard the message of grace. She came trembling and said, “It is a wonderful story. I have never heard it before, and you are leaving us tomorrow. I may never hear it again, but I believe it. Do you think once is enough to make my soul secure?” Yes, once is enough!
Once for all, O sinner, receive it;
Once for all, O brother, believe it;
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.
Philip P. Bliss
Most of us have heard this message over and over again. I wonder how many can take these words to ourselves, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” The gospel is indeed the “good spell.” That is the exact meaning of the Anglo-Saxon word, gospel. Centuries ago the word spell meant “news” or “message.” A dynamic orator may be called a spellbinder because he can hold an audience with his message. The gospel is the “good spell,” the “good message.” It is God’s good news for lost sinners; God’s good news about His blessed Son. It cannot be too often emphasized that the gospel is not good advice to be obeyed; it is good news to be believed. And when we believe the message, we are saved.
Now, following our salvation, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit—“In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” A good many have been misled by the rendering in the King James version:. “In whom also after that ye believed.” They have thought that this necessarily implied an interval between believing and being sealed with the Spirit. But I would call your attention to the fact that we have exactly the same words in the previous part of this verse: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth.” A better translation would be, “In whom ye also trusted, upon hearing the word of truth.” Not necessarily a week or a month, or yet ten minutes after, but upon hearing. The same is true in the latter part of the verse: upon believing we were sealed with the Holy Spirit.
There is, of course, a difference between the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work and the sealing. The difference is as great as that between building a house and moving into it. You may move into it the moment it is ready. When the Spirit of God creates a man anew in Christ Jesus, at that moment a house is built, a temple is prepared, and then the Holy Spirit of God moves in and takes possession of him. “Ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” That is, the Spirit who had been promised in past ages and by our blessed Lord when here on earth, has now come to indwell every believer.
Three times in the New Testament we read of the believer being sealed with the Spirit. We find it here (Ephesians 1:13), and in 2 Corinthians 1:22, “Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts,” and then again in Ephesians (4:30), “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” These are the only three direct references to the sealing of the Holy Spirit in connection with the believer. But in John 6:27 we read that our Lord Himself was sealed: “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” You remember after His baptism in the Jordan, the Spirit of God descended like a dove on Him, and a voice from Heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). That is the sealing of the blessed Savior. It is always interesting to note that it is in John 6, where Christ speaks of Himself as the living Bread that came down from Heaven, of which if a man eat he shall live forever, that our Lord also speaks of Himself as sealed.
A seal was a stamp, a mark of ownership, a mark of approval. At one time when you bought a loaf of bread at the grocery store, it had a little stamp on it, or perhaps it had the name of the bakery or the trademark impressed on the bread. This was done by pressing the dough into the pan that had the name in the metal. That name on the loaf of bread is the baker’s guarantee. It was as though he said, “I stand back of this bread.” It is just so with our blessed Lord. He is the Bread of God, the living Bread, the Bread of Life, and God the Father sealed Him when He gave Him the Holy Spirit. And now when we believe in Him, trust Him as our Savior, the same Holy Spirit comes to live in us. God the Father seals us by the Spirit, and says, as it were, “This man, this woman, belongs to Me; henceforth I stand back of him, I own him as Mine.”
It is a remarkable thing that the only two Epistles in which we read of sealing by the Spirit are those written to the Corinthians and Ephesians. Corinth and Ephesus were great centers of the lumber industry in ancient times. A raft of logs would be brought from the Black Sea and notice sent to the different lumber firms that the raft was in the harbor. These firms would send their men out and they would look over the logs and make their selection. One would say, “I will take those logs,” another, “I will take these,” and they would give a down payment and then cut a certain wedge on each log that the firm had agreed to take. This was called the seal. The logs might not be drawn out of the water for many weeks, but each was sealed by the mark of the firm that had pledged to purchase them.
I was standing on a high bridge at St. Cloud, Minnesota, watching a lumber jam, and as I saw the men working I said to my friend, “Do all these logs belong to one firm?” “Oh no,” he said, “there are representatives of many different firms working here in the Minnesota woods.” “Well,” I asked, “How on earth can they distinguish between the logs?” He showed me from the bridge how they were marked, so that when they reached their destination down the river, the various firms would be able to select their own logs. Though you and I are still tossed about in the waters of this poor world we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. When the appointed day comes and the Lord takes His own to be with Himself, that will be the day of the redemption of His purchased possession. Then He will take out of this world all who have been sealed with His Spirit. We will go to be with Him in glory.
We may well remember the admonition, “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed.” He who has come to dwell within us will abide with us forever. When the Spirit of God indwells a believer, He never leaves him in life or in death, until the believer is presented faultless in the presence of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. The bodies of our beloved dead in Christ are in the keeping of the Holy Spirit, and living saints are indwelt by the Spirit and will be until called to be forever with the Lord.
This enables us to understand the transition of thought as we pass to verse 14. In verse 13 the Holy Spirit is a seal, and in verse 14 He is the earnest, “Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” I mentioned the lumber dealer paying down a small sum as a pledge, the rest to be paid in full when the logs were drawn out of the water. God has given us the Holy Spirit as the pledge that eventually we are to be taken out of this world and fully conformed to the image of His Son. Now we are privileged to appropriate in a small measure what we will have in all its fullness when we get home to Heaven.
If here on earth the thoughts of Jesus’ love Lift our poor hearts this weary world above, If even here the taste of heavenly springs So cheers the spirit, that the pilgrim sings, What will the sunshine of His glory prove? What the unmingled fullness of His love? What hallelujahs will His presence raise? What but one loud eternal burst of praise?
What will it mean when we see Him face to face, when the last vestige of sin and infirmity will disappear, and we will be like Him for whom we wait? We will be to “the praise of his glory.” Think of it! Every sinner saved by grace divine, will add to the glory and satisfaction of the heart of God throughout eternity. It was in order that we might be won for Christ and set apart for Himself, that our blessed Lord came in grace from the throne in Heaven down to the cross of Calvary. He died that He might redeem us to God with His own blood and make us suitable habitations for the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.
Paul’s First Prayer for the Saints (1:15-23)
We have in this letter two prayers offered by the apostle Paul, not only for the Ephesians but for all the people of God. The first is our present passage and the second is found in chapter three. Notice that he said, “I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” He offered his petition for those who were already saved. When people are born of God, one of the first evidences that they posses a new nature is that they feel a sense of dependence on the Lord and begin to pray, first for themselves, and then their hearts, go out in intercession for others.
When the Lord sent Ananias to Saul of Tarsus, Ananias objected, saying, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.” But the Lord had said of Saul, “Behold, he prayeth.” This was an evidence of a real work begun in the soul of the former persecutor of the church of God. So Ananias went to him in confidence and laid his hands on him, saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou earnest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost,” and he commanded him to be baptized (Acts 9:10-17). It is as natural for the renewed man to pray as it is for the natural man to breathe.
Note how the apostle tells the saints of his confidence in them. He had heard with joy of the way they had been growing in grace, of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints. Where faith is genuine, it will always be manifested by love—not merely to our own peculiar group, but love to all the saints. The term saints is an all-inclusive one, taking in every individual who has been born into the family of God. Some have an idea that all the saints are in Heaven, but we do not need to pray for those who are in the presence of the Lord. Believers on earth are called saints, and for them we need to make intercession.
Paul prayed for three distinct things, but first he asked, “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.”
We have already seen that in verse 3 Paul exclaimed, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because the eternal Son became man for our redemption, it is right to speak of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because His relationship is ever that of Son, it is equally right to speak of God as His Father. When we think of God as such, we think of Him as Creator, the source of all counsel and wisdom (God is light), and we notice that in this particular prayer the apostle is especially occupied with the counsels or purpose of God. The prayer in chapter 3 has to do with the family relationship. God is love as well as light.
It is very remarkable how exactly divine titles are used in Holy Scripture. Paul prayed, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” (or excellence)—all glory proceeds from Him, and glory is the evidence of divine excellence—“may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” He does not mean that you must receive the Holy Spirit in some new and second way. If you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, but He who indwells you delights in His special work of revealing the things of Christ to His saints. How does He do that? By giving insight into the truth found in the Word of God. All Scripture is divinely inspired. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” but the merely natural man reads the Word and sees nothing in it, because he is not acquainted with its Author. The believer who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit reads, and in reading hears the voice of God. So there is all the difference in the world between reading the Bible in a cold intellectual way and reading it in the presence of God, depending on His Holy Spirit to open up its truth to your heart and mind. It is then that He acts as the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, giving the believer light to enjoy precious things never seen before.
Have you not often heard some servant of God expounding the Word in such a way that it touched your heart in wonderful power and blessing? Perhaps you said, “I’ve read that passage over and over again, and yet I never saw it like that before. I don’t understand how it is that when I read the Bible myself I fail to appreciate these things.” Often the real trouble is we do not spend enough time in the presence of God, looking to Him to open up His truth to us.
I remember years ago, while my dear mother was still living, I went home to visit the family, and found there a man of God from Northern Ireland. I was a young Christian at the time, engaged in gospel work. He was a much older man, an invalid, dying of what we then called “quick consumption.” He had come out to southern California, hoping the climate would be of some help to him. But it was evident that he was too far gone to be recovered to health again. He lived, by his own desire, in a small tent out under the olive trees a short distance away from our home. I went out to see him there. I can remember how my heart was touched as I looked at his thin worn face in which I could see the peace of Heaven clearly revealed. His name was Andrew Fraser. He could barely speak above a whisper because his lungs had been weakened, but I still recall how, after a few words of introduction, he said to me, “Young man, you are trying to preach Christ; are you not?” I replied, “Yes, I am.” “Well,” he whispered, “sit down a little, and let us talk together about the Word of God.” He opened his well-worn Bible, and in a simple, sweet, and earnest way he unveiled truth after truth as he turned from one passage to another, in a way that my own spirit had never understood.
He spoke until his strength was almost gone. Before I realized it, tears were running down my face, and I asked, “Where did you get these things? Could you tell me where I could find a book that would explain them to me? Did you learn these things in some seminary or college?” I shall never forget his answer. “My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time, and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and make clear His Word to my heart. He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.” It was not many weeks after this that Mr. Fraser was absent from the body and present with the Lord, but the memory of that visit has always remained with me and is a most precious recollection. Is it not true that most of us do not stay long enough in the presence of God? We do not get quiet enough to let Him talk to us and reveal His mind to us.
“Meditation,” someone has said, “is becoming a lost art in our day.” Another word meaning “meditate” is ruminate, which also means “to chew the cud.” Just as the cattle take their food in the rough and then ruminate and get the sweetness and the nourishment out of it, so the believer needs to read the Word and then spend time quietly in the presence of God, going over it again and again, ruminating, chewing it, until it becomes truly precious to his heart.
The Israelites of the Old Testament were forbidden to eat the flesh of any animal that did not chew the cud and have a split hoof (Leviticus 11:3). The split hoof is a foot that rises above the filth of this world. It has been well said that it is a great thing when the mouth and the foot agree—when we feed on the Word and walk in the power of its truth. It is when we get into the presence of God that the Holy Spirit delights to show us divine things that we may grow in the knowledge of Christ. That is one reason why the Spirit came.
Every believer to a certain extent has the knowledge of Christ, but the original word knowledge in Ephesians 1:17 (kjv) implies more than that. It is not merely knowledge as such; it is really super knowledge, or full knowledge: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him.” Perhaps you know Him as your Savior, as the One who has redeemed you from everlasting destruction, as glorious Head of the church, with whom you are linked by the Holy Spirit. He would have you to know Him even better, for there are riches in Christ that you may be sure you have never yet enjoyed. We cannot afford to be negligent, or to let other things crowd out the blessing we might have by giving more time to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Oh the pure delight of a single hour
That before Thy throne I spend,
When I kneel in prayer, and with Thee, my God,
I commune as friend with friend.
Fanny J. Crosby
We sometimes sing these words rather glibly. How much do we know of the reality of spending an hour in His presence, learning more of Him as the Spirit of God unfolds precious truths that otherwise our hearts would never understand?
We have already remarked that there are three distinct petitions in Paul’s prayer as recorded in Ephesians 1:18-19. He asked,
1. “That the eyes of your [heart] being enlightened; that ye may’ know what is the hope of his calling.”
2. “And what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.”
3. “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.”
Our King James version reads, ‘The eyes of your understanding” (18). But it was not merely the intellect Paul had in view, it was the heart. A better translation of this verse would be, “That the eyes of your heart being enlightened.” Christians understand with their hearts. It is “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” It is with the heart that we grasp divine realities. One may be very brilliant intellectually, but that does not guarantee for a moment that he will have an understanding of spiritual things. It is only as the heart is exercised before God, as the eyes of the heart are opened, that spiritual things will be discerned. That is one reason why people must be born again, otherwise they cannot understand the things of God.
Perhaps an illustration will help to make clear what I mean. Some people are born into the world with a remarkable musical sense, and some have none at all. Now a man who is tone-deaf cannot become a musician, no matter how others may seek to instruct him. Such an one might go to listen to the most wonderful oratorio, but it would all be meaningless to him. He would really have to be born again, as it were, in order to appreciate music, and so in regard to spiritual things, one must have a new nature if he would enter into them appreciatively.
But if the eyes of the heart are opened, then one may understand something of “the hope of his calling.” Do you understand what is meant by “the hope of his calling”? It is that to which we have already had our attention drawn in the earlier part of the chapter: “[He] 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” (3-4). This is the hope of His calling; that some day we will see Him as He is and be like Him. Our God has chosen us for this, and he is never going to give up until we attain to the full stature of men and women in Christ Jesus.
In the second place Paul prayed that we may know “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” Earlier in the chapter we read of the riches of His grace; here we have the riches of His glory. We are enjoying the riches of His grace now and we will enter into and enjoy the riches of His glory in the future. Notice this expression, “The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” What does that mean? It does not mean that the saints are His inheritance, as some would have us believe, but it does mean that when He takes possession of His inheritance, He is going to take possession of it through His saints. It is not our inheritance in Him, but His inheritance in us. In the Old Testament the land of Canaan was His inheritance, but He took possession of it through His people Israel. Someday He will take possession of a redeemed universe through His saints and we will reign with Him. Who can truly understand our part in that glory?
Then observe Paul’s third petition: “What is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” You see, Christians are not storage batteries. How often we hear people praying, “O God, give me more power,” and you would think that we were a little bit like flashlights that you can open up and put a battery in, then press a button and get a light You would imagine that as Christians, the Lord puts a power battery into us, presses a button, and then we shine for Him. Nothing of the kind! We have power only as we are living in fellowship with Him who is the source of all power. As we are walking in fellowship with Him, the same power works in and through us that worked in Christ when God raised Him from the dead. That was the fullest demonstration of divine power the world has ever known.
Paul does not call our attention to the power that created the heaven and the earth, to the power that brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and led them in triumph to the land of Canaan. Nor does he call our attention to the working of mighty miracles through the Lord and His apostles, but to the greatest manifestation of the power of God—the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the same power that works in believers who walk in fellowship with Him:
According to the… 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, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come (1:19-21).
By the expressions, “principality,” “power,” “might,” “dominion,” we are to understand the countless hosts of angelic beings, glorious sinless spirits serving our Lord, and also crowded ranks of evil angels opposed to God and His Christ.
Our Lord went down into the depths, into the grave, descended into the lower parts of the earth, and Satan and his hosts rejoiced when they saw Him under the power of death. But God raised Him from the dead, lifting Him to His right hand in the highest glory, where as man He sits today enthroned. That wonderful resurrection power is the focus of the apostle’s prayer here. That is the power at work in us as believers if we do not hinder it by our frivolity and worldliness. Do not, I beg of you, ever complain again that you have no power to meet temptation, that you have no power to rise above some sinful habit. If you find yourself in that condition it is because you are out of fellowship with God. Get right with Him; judge the sin that has hindered communion. Then, just as when you make the electrical connection the power flows through the wire to operate the mighty machinery, so you will be living in touch with God, and divine power will work in and through you to enable you to triumph over sin and live to His glory.
We are told that Christ has gone up “above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” And then we are told that He has “put all things under his feet” (22). We do not yet see everything subject to Him, but we do see Him seated in the heavenlies above all things, as evidence that all will eventually acknowledge His rightful rule.
Then we have an added word that was never revealed in Old Testament times but is now made known in this dispensation of grace: “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.” A head without a body is incomplete. The marvelous thing is that the church is the completeness of Christ. During this present time He is revealing Himself to the world through His church. Some day the members of the body will be with the Head in the glory, and the one new man will be revealed in all his perfection. Is it not a wonderful thing then to realize this: that our Lord would in this sense be incomplete without us? Think of it! We were poor lost sinners of the Gentiles, deserving nothing but the judgment of God, but now through His grace we have been saved, and not only that but made members of His body—the body of Christ—the completeness of Him that filleth all in all. What a hallowed responsibility this puts on us to represent Him aright in this world; to show His grace, His holiness, His love, His hatred of sin, His compassion for the sinner, His desperate earnestness to reach lost men and make known to them the riches of His grace. We are left here to carry on His work in the world where He was crucified. May God move us to rise to a proper sense of our hallowed responsibility and so to make Him known as we should.