The Epistle To The Ephesians
How God Formed The Assembly — Chapter II
Conditions among Gentiles. We Gentiles were formerly dead toward God, being alienated from His life. False gods had supplanted in our hearts the place that properly belonged to Him. And the enemy had provided for us a system of things called “the world,” a system of lust (1 John 2:15-17). To this we were very much alive, although dead to God. Lurking in this system was Satan, its god, who catered to our lusts, and thus controlled us. Another description of him is that of “The prince of the power of the air,” an expression which describes a ruler in a position of vantage, exercising influence over the earth, an influence which the heavens properly have for fruitfulness and blessing, but which he uses for an evil purpose. However, as he cannot get at God in a direct way, he brings in disturbance through man whom he has seduced; for he is the spirit “that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Having lured mankind into lawlessness in respect of God, he operates in him in ways that express most effectively his hostility to God. Heathendom was a monument of this.
Conditions among Jews. Although not debased in gross filthiness like the heathen, the Apostle confesses that “we all had our conversation in times past in the lust of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others,” besides we must remember there were periods when they exhibited grossness beyond that of the Amorites (2 Kin. 21: 11). It is true that in an outward and national way they occupied the place of sonship (Ex. 4:22), but spiritually they were untrue to such a relationship. Not being born of God, many were fundamentally like the Gentiles, being controlled by lust, and therefore doing what the flesh and the thoughts willed to do. Consequently, despite very many great advantages over the Gentiles, they were demonstrated to be no better than the heathen; they were “by nature” the children of wrath, even as others. Such were subject to judgment as were the Gentiles. But God interposed for them in Christ, even as He has done for us Gentiles.
The Riches of God in Mercy. Mercy did not come into existence by the fall of man, it was always resident in God, it was part of His abounding riches. He was “rich in mercy.” However, sin having come in, He hath shut up together in their unbelief both Jews and Gentiles “that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32); but this is the present exercise of mercy toward those in “unbelief,” mercy in which He was rich before the foundation of the world. It found expression among us when “dead in sins,” and incapable of making a move toward Him; it has “quickened us together with Christ,” and made us live unto God. He “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Actually, of course, we are upon earth in bodies not yet adapted to Heaven. But as those who have life in Christ, as those who are united to Him by the Spirit, our position in Him is now set forth representatively, and the apprehension of this would make it effective in us as a heavenly people upon earth. By and by we shall be with Him in bodies of glory through Eternity.
Future Display. In coming ages God is going to exhibit before the entire universe the surpassing riches of “His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” But we know already what will be manifested then before all. We have present realization of the grace that intervened for our salvation from the bondage of sin in its manifold expression. We can say that we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God “not of works lest any man should boast.” So far as works are concerned in this matter, the worker is God. But He has wrought in order that we may become workers like Himself. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” All of God’s children may be such workers, independent of circumstances. It is told of a poor woman who loved the Lord and served Him meekly in trying circumstances, that when dying she regretted that she had not more to show the Lord when she met Him face to face. “Mother” sobbed the daughter, “show Him your fingers!” Yes, they were calloused with labour uncomplainingly performed, the work so necessary in the place where the providence of God had set her. Her light was shining in a lowly sphere as she prayed and toiled. But we could have told that sobbing daughter: “My dear, your mother will not need to show Him her fingers, He saw them long ago, heard her prayers, and appreciated her uncomplaining testimony to the grace that supported her in her burdens. He is the One who accredited the widow as the greatest contributor to the treasury in the House of God, He is the One who said of a woman: “She hath done what she could!” That is very far more than can be said of many of us. We may safely trust Him to appraise the value of whatever is done, and say:
“If we cannot be the watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to Heaven,
Offering life and peace to all;
With our prayers and with our bounties
We can do what Heaven demands,
We can be like helpful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.”