Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1) By the will of God.—This phrase, used in 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1 (comp. the equivalent expression of 1 Timothy 1:1), appears to be St. Paul’s ordinary designation of the source of his apostolic mission and authority; used whenever there was nothing peculiar in the occasion of the Epistle, or the circumstances of the Church to which it was addressed. It may be contrasted, on the one hand, with the more formal enunciation of his commission, addressed to the Roman Church (Romans 1:1-5), and the indignant and emphatic abruptness of the opening of the Galatian Epistle—“an apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:1). On the other hand, to the Thessalonian churches, in the Epistles written shortly after their conversion, he uses no description of himself whatever (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1); in the Epistles to the Philippians and to Titus he is simply “the servant of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1): to Philemon (for special reasons) “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” The phrase in the text stands midway between the emphasis of the one class of Epistles and the more familiar simplicity of the other.
To the saints. . . . and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.—Here, as in Colossians 1:2 (“the saints and faithful brethren”) the same persons are described by both epithets. They are “saints,” as “called” (see Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2) into “the communion of saints” by the grace of God; they are “faithful,” as by their own act believing in Christ and holding fast that faith. The two epithets are correlative to each other. Without the call and the grace of God, men cannot believe; without the energy of faith they cannot be, in effect as well as in opportunity, “saints.” Both epithets belong in capacity and profession to all members of the Church militant; and St. Paul applies them accordingly to the whole body of any church which he addresses, without hesitation or distinction. In living reality they belong only to the “Invisible Church” of the present, which shall form the “Church triumphant” of the hereafter. It has been noted that the use of the word “saints,” as the regular and ordinary name of Christians, is more especially traceable in the later Epistles of St. Paul. So in his speech before Agrippa he says, “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison” (Acts 27:10). The phrase, “in Christ Jesus,” belongs to both the words “saints” and “faithful;” but it is here more closely connected with the latter.
Which are at Ephesus.—On these words, omitted in the oldest MSS., see the Introduction.
[1. Introduction to the Epistle (Ephesians 1:1-23).
(1) SALUTATION (Ephesians 1:1-2).
(2) THANKSGIVING TO GOD FOR—
(a) The election of the whole Church before the world began, by the predestinating love of the Father, to holiness, grace, and glory (Ephesians 1:3-6);
(b) this election depending on Redemption, in virtue of unity with Christ as the Head of all created Being (Ephesians 1:7-10);
(c) and being manifested doubly, in the calling and faith, first of the Jewish, then of the Gentile Christians (Ephesians 1:11-14).
(3) PRAYER for their fuller knowledge of the hope, glory, and spiritual reality of their inheritance, manifested in the Resurrection, Ascension, and Royalty of Christ, the Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:15-23).]
(2) Grace be to you, and peace.—On this, St. Paul’s all but invariable salutation in every Epistle (found also in the Epistles of St. Peter, 2 John, and Apocalypse), see Note on Romans 1:7.
(2 a.) In Ephesians 1:3-6, the first section of the Introduction, the Epistle ascends at once into “the heavenly places,” naturally catching therefrom the tone of adoration and thanksgiving. It dwells on the election of the children of God by His predestinating love—an election based on His will, designed for His glory, and carrying with it the blessings of the Spirit, through which they become holy and unblamable before Him. On the whole section comp. Romans 8:28-30.
(3) In Ephesians 1:15-23, this introductory chapter ends in a prayer for the enlightenment of the readers of this Epistle, that they may understand all the fulness of the blessings of the gospel. In accordance with the heavenward direction of the thought of the whole Epistle, these blessings are viewed in their future completeness of glory and power, of which the present exaltation of the risen Lord to the right hand of God, as the Lord of all creatures, and the Head of the Church His body, is the earnest and assurance.
(4) According as (i.e., inasmuch as) he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.—Again it should be, He chose us for Himself. The eternal election of God is inseparably connected with the blessing of the Spirit. This passage stands alone in St. Paul’s Epistles in its use of this word “chosen” in connection with God’s eternal purpose, “before the foundation of the world”—a phrase only applied elsewhere to the eternal communion of the Son with the Father (John 17:24), and to the foreordaining of His sacrifice in the divine counsels (1 Peter 1:20). The word “chosen” itself is used by our Lord of His choice of the Apostles (John 6:70; John 13:18; John 15:16-19); but in one case with the significant addition, “one of you is a devil,” showing that the election was not final. It is similarly used in the Acts (Acts 1:2; Acts 1:24; Acts 6:5; Acts 15:7; Acts 15:22; Acts 15:25) of His choice or the choice of the Apostles; and once (Acts 13:7) of the national election of Israel. In 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 (the only other place where it is used by St. Paul), and in James 2:5 it refers to choice of men by God’s calling in this world. Clearly in all these cases it is applied to the election of men to privilege by an act of God’s mercy here. In this passage, on the contrary, the whole reference is to the election “in Christ,” by the foreknowledge of God, of those who should hereafter be made His members. From this examination of Scriptural usage it is clear that the visible election to privilege is constantly and invariably urged upon men; the election in God’s eternal counsels only dwelt upon in passages which (like this or Romans 9, 11) have to ascend in thought to the fountain-head of all being in God’s mysterious will. It will be observed that even here it clearly refers to all members of the Church, without distinction.
That we should be holy and without blame before him.—In these words we have the object of the divine election declared, and the co-operation of the elect implied, by the inseparable connection of holiness with election. There is an instructive parallel in Colossians 1:22 :—“He hath reconciled you in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable, and unreprovable in His sight.” The word “without blame,” or “unblamable,” is properly without blemish; and the word “unreprovable” more nearly corresponds to our idea of one unblamable—i.e., one against whom no charge can be brought. Here God is said to have “chosen” us, in the other passage to have “presented” us (comp. the sacrificial use of the word in Romans 12:1), in Christ, to be “holy and without blemish.” It seems clear that the words refer not to justification in Christ, but to sanctification in Him. They express the positive and negative aspects of holiness; the positive in the spirit of purity, the negative in the absence of spot or blemish. The key to their interpretation is to be found in the idea of Romans 8:29, “whom He did foreknow, He did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.” The word “without blame” is applied to our Lord (in Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19) as a lamb “without blemish.” To Him alone it applies perfectly; to us, in proportion to that conformity to His image. The words “before Him” refer us to God’s unerring judgment as contrasted with the judgment of men, and even our own judgment on ourselves. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 4:3-4; 1 John 3:20-21.)
In love.—If these words are connected with the previous verse, they must be taken with “He hath chosen us,” in spite of the awkwardness of the dislocation of order. But it is best to connect them with the verse following, “Having predestinated us in love.”
(5) Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.—The idea of Election depends on the union of the sense of actual difference between men, as to privilege and spiritual life, with the conviction of God’s universal sovereignty. Hence, in all cases, it leads back to the idea of Predestination, that is, of the conception of the divine purpose in the mind of God, before its realisation in actual fact. On the doctrine of predestination see Romans 9. It will suffice to note that here (1) its source is placed in God’s love; (2) its meritorious cause is the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ; (3) its result is adoption, so that He is (see Romans 8:29) “the firstborn of many brethren,” who are conformed to His image, and redeemed by Him from bondage to sonship (Galatians 4:5). (It is clear that the adoption here is not the final adoption of Romans 8:23; but the present adoption into the Christian covenant, there called “the firstfruits of the Spirit;”) (4) it is in itself the expression of “the good pleasure of His will” on which all ultimately depends; and (5) its final purpose is to show forth God’s glory in the gift of His grace. In a few words the whole doctrine is summed up, with that absolute completeness, so eminently characteristic of this Epistle.
According to the good pleasure of his will.—In our version, “good pleasure,” there is an ambiguity, reproducing the ambiguity of the original. The word used may signify (as in Matthew 11:26; Luke 10:21; Philippians 2:13) simply God’s free will, to which this or that “seemeth good,” or (as in Luke 11:14; Romans 10:1; Philippians 1:15) “His good will towards us.” Even the old Greek interpreters were divided upon it, and either sense will suit this passage. But the close parallel in Ephesians 1:11, “according to the counsel (deliberate purpose) of His will,” turns the balance in favour of the former rendering.
(6) To the praise of the glory of his grace.—That is, for the acknowledgment by all God’s creatures of the gloriousness of His grace; or, in other words, for the acknowledgment that God’s essential glory is best manifested in His grace—that He “declares His almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity.” So in Exodus 33:18-19, to the request, “Show me Thy glory,” the answer is, “I will make my goodness to pass before thee . . . and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” (Comp. Exodus 34:5-7.) He is pleased to consider His glory best realised in the spectacle of souls redeemed and regenerate by His grace, and to decree that it should be thus realised for our sakes. “Wherefore would He have us praise and glorify Him? It is that our love to Him may be kindled more fervently. He desires not our service, nor our praise, nor anything else except our salvation” (Chrysostom’s First Homily on the Ephesians).
Wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.—The verb here rendered “made us accepted,” is the same verb used in Luke 1:28 (and nowhere else in the New Testament), where we translate “highly favoured.” Etymologically it means to “bestow grace upon;” the tense here is the past tense, not the perfect Hence the meaning is (in connection with the previous clause), “His grace, which He bestowed upon us in the Beloved”—in virtue of our unity with “His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This special title is given to our Lord to mark a connection with the “love” declared in the last verse to be the source of God’s predestination. It is a love to all mankind, as in God’s foreknowledge already made one with His beloved Son. (See John 17:23; John 17:25, “Thou hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me . . . for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.”)
(2 b.) Ephesians 1:7-10 form the second section of this Introduction to the Epistle, linked to the former by the words, “in the Beloved.” From the declaration in the former section of the source of salvation in God’s love, it leads us on to the mystery of the Mediation of Jesus Christ, in Whom all Being is gathered up for redemption.
(7) In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.—This passage is identical in sense and expression with Colossians 1:14, except that the word here used for “sins” means, properly, “separate acts of transgression,” while the word there is the more general word for sin in the abstract. (In Ephesians 2:1, both are used.) In both passages we have united, as correspondent to each other, the two expressions under which our Lord Himself describes His atonement—in Matthew 20:28, as the “giving His life a ransom for many,” in Matthew 26:28, as “the shedding of His blood for the forgiveness of sins.” These two expressions appear to be complementary to each other, rather than identical. (1) The primary idea in “redemption” is deliverance from a bondage, mostly the bondage of sin itself (see Romans 8:23; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:18-21); occasionally (and in this sense with a different Greek word), the bondage under sentence of punishment for sin (Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5). Into that bondage man has plunged himself; God’s mercy redeems him from it at an unspeakable price (John 3:16; Romans 7:24-25). (2) The primary idea in “the forgiveness of sins through His blood” is propitiation, that is, the offering to God “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice” for sin, by One who is the Head and Representative of the human race (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). So St. Paul interprets our Lord’s words by the declaration that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7); and it is notable that exactly in His words is the Atonement designated in the earliest apostolic preaching (Acts 2:38; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38; Acts 26:18). Hence the former phrase looks at the Atonement from the side of God, the latter from the side of man; both being wrought by Him who is Son of God and Son of Man at once. Together they represent the whole truth.
According to the riches of his grace.—As above, in relation to praise, stress is laid on the gloriousness of God’s grace, so here, in relation to enjoyment of it, on its overflowing richness. (See Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Ephesians 3:16; and Romans 3:24; Romans 9:23.)
(8) Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.—It should be, which He made to overflow to us in all wisdom and prudence—the word “overflow” having an emphasis which our word “abound” has lost, and signifying here that the richness of God’s grace not only fills the soul with the blessing of salvation, but overflows into the additional gifts of “all wisdom and prudence” in us, which gifts are here dwelt upon in anticipation of the declaration of the next verse. Of these two gifts, wisdom is clearly the higher gift, signifying (as in the Old Testament) the knowledge of the true end of life, which can only come from some knowledge of the “wisdom of God,” that is, the divine purpose of His dispensation. (See especially Proverbs 8:22-31.) Such knowledge is revealed to us through the “mind of Christ,” who is Himself the true wisdom or “Word of God.” (See 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; 1 Corinthians 2:16.) Hence wisdom is spoken of in connection with various other gifts, which are but partial manifestations of it. Here with “prudence,” that is, wisdom in action; in Colossians 1:9, with “intelligence,” that is, wisdom in judgment; in 1 Corinthians 12:8, Colossians 2:3, with “knowledge,” that is, wisdom in perception; in Ephesians 1:17 of this chapter, with “revelation,” the means by which wisdom is gained.
(9) Having made known unto us the mystery of his will.—In the same connection we read in 1 Corinthians 2:7, “we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery.” The word “mystery” properly signifies a thing which (see Ephesians 3:5; Colossians 1:27) “was hid from all ages, but is now made manifest.” So our Lord evidently uses it (in Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). For the rest, except in four passages of the Apocalypse (Revelation 1:20; Revelation 10:7; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 17:7), it is used by St. Paul alone, and by him no less than twenty-one times, of which ten belong to this Epistle and the parallel Epistle to the Colossians—always in connection with such words as “knowledge,” “declaration,” “dispensation.” The ordinary sense of the word “mystery”—a thing of which we know that it is, though how it is we know not—is not implied in the original meaning of the word; but it is a natural derivative from it. Reason can apprehend, when revealed, that which it cannot discover; but seldom or never can it comprehend it perfectly. In this verse the mystery is declared to be accordant to the good pleasure of God’s will, which (it is added) “He purposed in Himself.” In this seems to be implied that (see Ephesians 3:19) though in some sense we can know it, yet in its fulness “it passeth knowledge.”
(10) That in the dispensation of the fulness of times.—The connection marked in our version seems certainly erroneous. The words should be connected with the previous verse, and translated thus: which He purposed in Himself for administration (or disposal) of the fulness of the (appointed) seasons, to gather, &c. We note (1) that the word “dispensation” is usually applied to the action of the servants of God, as “dispensers of His mysteries.” (See Ephesians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Colossians 1:25.) Here, however, and in Ephesians 3:10, it is applied to the disposal of all by God Himself, according to “the law which He has set Himself to do all things by.” Next (2) that the word “fulness,” or completeness, frequently used by St. Paul, is only found in connection with time in this passage, and in Galatians 4:4 (“when the fulness of time was come”). There, however, the reference is to a point of time, marking the completion of the preparation for our Lord’s coming; here, apparently, to a series of “seasons,” “which the Father hath put in His own power” (Acts 1:7) for the completion of the acts of the Mediatorial kingdom described in the words following. (Comp Matthew 16:3; Luke 21:24; 1 Thessalonians 5:1; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:15; Titus 1:3.)
That he might gather together in one all things in Christ.—In these words St. Paul strikes the great keynote of the whole Epistle, the UNITY OF ALL IN CHRIST. The expression “to gather together in one” is the same which is used in Romans 13:9 (where all commandments are said to be “briefly comprehended,” or summed up, “in the one saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”). Here, however, there is the additional idea that this gathering up is “for Himself.” The full meaning of this expression is “to gather again under one head” things which had been originally one, but had since been separated. The best comment upon the truth here briefly summed up is found in the full exposition of the Epistle to the Colossians (Colossians 1:16-20), “In Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth . . . all things were created by Him and for Him . . . and in Him all things consist. It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell, and . . . by Him to reconcile all things to Himself . . . whether things on earth or things in heaven.” In Christ, as the Word of God in the beginning, all created things are considered as gathered up, through Him actually made, and in Him continuing to exist. This unity, broken by sin, under the effect of which “all creation groans” (Romans 8:22), is restored in the Incarnation and Atonement of the Son of God. By this, therefore, all things are again summed up in Him, and again made one in Him with the Father. In both passages St. Paul uses expressions which extend beyond humanity itself—“things in heaven and things in earth,” “things visible and things invisible,” “thrones and principalities and powers.” In both he immediately proceeds from the grand outline of this wider unity, to draw out in detail the nearer, and to us more comprehensible, unity of all mankind in Christ. (Comp. Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:21.) So also writes St. John (John 1:3-4; John 1:12), passing from the thought that “all things were made by Him,” first to the declaration, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men,” and next to the power given to those who believed on Him to become sons of God. The lesser part of this truth, setting forth the unity of all mankind in the Second Adam, forms the basis of the argument of 1 Corinthians 15, that “in Christ all shall be made alive,” in the course of which the existence of the Mediatorial kingdom of Christ is described, and its continuance till the final triumph, when it “shall be delivered up to God, even the Father,” “that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:28). In virtue of it, those who are His are partakers of His death and resurrection, His ascension, even His judgment (Ephesians 2:6; Matthew 19:28; Romans 6:3-10; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; Colossians 3:1-3).
(10, 11) Even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance.—We have here (in the repetition, “even in Him”) an emphatic transition to the truth most closely concerning the Apostle and his readers. The word “we” is not here emphatic, and the statement might be a general statement applicable to all Christians; but the succeeding verse seems to limit it to the original Jewish believers—the true Israel, who (like the whole of Israel in ancient days) have become “a people of inheritance” (Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 9:29; Deuteronomy 32:9), so succeeding to the privileges (Romans 11:7) which their brethren in blindness rejected. Possibly this suggests the peculiar word here (and here only) used, meaning either “we were made partakers of a lot” in God’s kingdom (to which Colossians 1:12, “who has made us meet for a part of the lot of the saints,” closely corresponds), or “we were made His lot or inheritance;” which perhaps suits the Greek better, certainly accords better with the Old Testament idea, and gives a more emphatic sense. A third possible sense is “were chosen by lot.” This is adopted by the Vulgate, supported by the only use of the word in the Septuagint (1 Samuel 14:41), and explained by Chrysostom and Augustine as signifying the freedom of election without human merit, while by the succeeding words it is shown not to be really by chance, but by God’s secret will. But this seems quite foreign to the genius of the passage.
Being predestinated . . . that we should be to the praise of his glory.—This is an application of the general truth before declared (Ephesians 1:5-6) that the source of election is God’s predestination, and the object of it the manifestation of His glory.
After the counsel of his own will.—The expression evidently denotes not only the deliberate exercise of God’s will by “determinate counsel and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23), but also the guidance of that will by wisdom to the fulfilment of the Law Eternal of God’s righteous dispensation. Hooker, in a well-known passage (Eccl. Pol. i. 2), quotes it as excluding the notion of an arbitrary will of God, “They err, who think that of God’s will there is no reason except His will.”
(2 c.) Ephesians 1:11-14 form the third part of the Introduction, applying the general truth of election by God’s predestination in Christ, first to the original believers (the Jews), and then to the subsequent believers (the Gentiles).
(12) That we . . . who first trusted in Christ.—That the reference here is to the first Christians, in contradistinction to the Gentiles of the next verse, is clear. But the meaning of the phrase “who first hoped” (or, more properly, who have hoped beforehand) is less obvious. Our version seems to interpret it simply of “believing before” the Gentiles, i.e., of being the “first believers;” and this interpretation may be defended by the analogy of certain cases in which the same prefix signifying “beforehand” has this sense (e.g., Acts 20:5; Acts 20:13; Romans 3:9; Romans 12:10; 1 Corinthians 11:21). But the more general analogy strongly supports the other interpretation, “who have hoped in the Christ before He came”—that is, who, taught by prophecy, entering into that vision of a great future which pervades the older Covenant, looked forward “to the hope of Israel,” and “waited for the consolation of Israel;” and who accordingly in due time became, on the Day of Pentecost, the firstfruits of His salvation.
(13) In whom ye also trusted . . . in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed.—The insertion of the word “trusted” (suggested by the word “trusted” in the previous verse) is probably erroneous, nor is it easy to find any good substitute for it. It is far better to refer the whole to the one verb, “ye were sealed.” The irregularity of construction (arising from the addition to “hearing” of its proper accessory of “faith,” Romans 10:17) will surprise no one who studies St. Paul’s Epistles, and especially these Epistles of his Captivity, remembering that they were dictated, and in all probability read over again to the Apostle for addition or correction.
After that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.—There is a contrast hero between the Jewish believers, looking on in hope and gladly embracing its fulfilment, and the Gentiles, who had no such hope, and who therefore waited “for the word of the truth” (the full truth, not veiled in type or symbol), the glad tidings of a present salvation. The greater emphasis laid on the latter process seems intended to impress on the Gentiles a sense of the simpler and fuller means by which they were led to Christ.
After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.—The order is to be noted, and compared with the experience of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). First, the light of the gospel shines before men; next, by faith they open their eyes to see it; then they are sealed by a special gift of the Holy Spirit. Such faith is, of course, the gift of God by the Spirit; but our Lord teaches us (John 16:8-13) to distinguish between the pleading of the Holy Spirit with “the world” “to convince of sin, because they believe not in Christ,” and the special gift of His presence in the Church and the believing soul “to guide unto all the truth.” This fuller presence is the seal of the new covenant.
Ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.—This word “sealed” is found in exactly the same connection in 2 Corinthians 1:22. The original idea of this sealing (which, it should be observed, is not of documents, but of men) is best seen in the “sealing of the servants of God in their foreheads,” in Revelation 7:3-8. In that passage, and in the passage of Ezekiel which it recalls (Ezekiel 9:4), the sealing is simply an outward badge, to be at once a pledge and means of safety amidst the destruction coming on the earth. In like sense, circumcision appears to be called “a seal” of previously existing righteousness of faith, in Romans 4:11; and the conversion of the Corinthians “a seal” of St. Paul’s apostleship, in 1 Corinthians 9:2. (Comp. also John 3:33; Romans 15:28; 2 Timothy 2:19.) But the word is used in a deeper sense whenever it is connected with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then it corresponds to the “circumcision not made with hands” (Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11); it has the character of a sacrament, and is not a mere badge, but a true means of grace. In this connection we read first of our Lord, “Him God the Father sealed” (John 6:27), with a clear reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at His baptism (comp. John 1:33; John 5:37; John 10:33); next of His people (as here, in Ephesians 4:30, and in 2 Corinthians 1:22) as being, like Himself, baptised with the Holy Ghost. In this passage the very title given to the Spirit is significant. He is called (in the curious order of the original) “the Spirit of the Promise, the Holy One.” “The promise” is clearly the promise in the Old Testament (as in Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-32) of the outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people in “the latter days.” The emphatic position of the epithet “Holy One” seems to point to the effect of His indwelling in the actual sanctification of the soul thus sealed. From this passage was probably derived the ecclesiastical application of the name “seal” to the sacrament of baptism, which is undoubtedly made the seal of conversion in Acts 2:38.
(14) Which is the earnest of our inheritance.—On the word “earnest” (arrhabôn), a precious gift, as surety for a fuller gift hereafter, see 2 Corinthians 1:22. The word “inheritance” has a correspondent meaning. It is a present possession (as in Acts 7:5), which shall be developed into a more precious future. “We are very members, incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, and also heirs through hope of His everlasting kingdom.”
Until the redemption of the purchased possession.—The “redemption” here is the complete and final salvation from sin and death (as in Romans 8:23). The original word here rendered “purchased possession” properly means “the act of purchase or acquisition,” and is so used in 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 10:39. But it seems clear that it is here used (in the sense of our version) with that confusion of idea, common in English, though rare in Greek, under which the result of an action is understood instead of the action itself, so that the word “purchases” is used for “things purchased,” “acquisitions” for “things acquired” and the like. The transition is marked in relation to this same word in Malachi 3:17; 1 Peter 2:9, where the Israelites are spoken of as “a people for acquisition,” that is, as a people acquired or purchased.
(15) After I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints.—These words have an almost exact parallel in Colossians 1:4, addressed there to a church which St. Paul had not seen, and have been quoted in support of the belief that this Epistle cannot have been addressed, properly and solely, to the well-known Ephesian Church. They are not, however, decisive, for we have a similar expression to Philemon (Philemon 1:5), St. Paul’s own convert.
We may note a distinction between “faith in the Lord Jesus” and “faith towards the Lord Jesus” (like “the love towards the saints”). Comp. 2 Timothy 1:13 (“faith and love in Christ Jesus”). “Faith in Christ” is a faith which, centred in Christ, nevertheless rests through Him on the Father; recognising a “life hid with him in God” (Colossians 3:3) and a sonship of God in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). The connection of the two clauses here shows that such a faith abounds (i.e. overflows) unto love, first necessarily to God, so being made perfect (Galatians 5:6), but next towards all His children. For “this commandment we have from Him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also” (1 John 4:21).
(16) Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.—Almost all St. Paul’s Epistles are introduced by this union of thanksgiving and prayer, which is, indeed, characteristic of the right harmony of all Christian worship. (See Romans 1:8-9; Philippians 1:3-4; Colossians 1:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2 Timothy 1:3; Philemon 1:4.) In the Galatian Epistle the omission of both is characteristic; in the two Epistles to the Corinthians thanksgiving alone is explicit, though prayer may be implied. But the proportion of the two elements varies. Here the thanksgiving has already been offered, although in the widest generality. Accordingly all that follows is prayer. In the parallel Colossian Epistle (Colossians 1:3-13), which has no corresponding preface of thanksgiving, both elements are co-ordinate, with perhaps a slight predominance of thanksgiving.
(17) The God of our Lord Jesus Christ.—See John 20:17, “I ascend unto My Father and your Father; and to My God and your God.” It has been noted that, while on the cross, our Lord, in the cry, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” adopted the common human language of the Psalmist, He here, after His resurrection, distinguished emphatically between His peculiar relation to God the Father and that relation in which we His members call God “our Father.” St. Paul’s usual phrase (see above, Ephesians 1:3) is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;” the phrase here used is unique, probably substituted for the other on account of the use of the word “Father” in the next clause. It refers, of course, entirely to our Lord’s nature as the true Son of Man. In that respect God is in the full sense (which in us is interrupted by sin) His God, in whom He lived and had His being. In proportion as we are conformed to His likeness, “God is our God for ever and ever.”
The Father of glory.—Better, of the glory. This phrase is again unique. We have, indeed, such phrases as “Father of Mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3), “Father of Lights” (James 1:17); and, on the other hand, “the King of Glory” (Psalms 28:5), “the God of Glory” (Acts 7:2), “the Lord of Glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8; James 2:1). In all these last instances “the glory” seems certainly to be the Shechinah of God’s manifested presence, and in all cases but one is ascribed to our Lord. But “the Father of the glory,” seems a phrase different from all these. I cannot help connecting it with the missing element in the preceding clause, and believing (with some old interpreters), in spite of the strangeness of expression, that God is here called “the Father of the glory” of the incarnate Deity in Jesus Christ (see John 1:14), called in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “the glory of God in the face (or person) of Jesus Christ.” (See Excursus A to St. John’s Gospel: On the Doctrine of the Word; dealing with the identification of “the Word” with the Shechinah by the Jewish interpreters). The prayer which follows connects the knowledge of the glory of our inheritance with the exaltation of our Lord in glory.
The knowledge of him.—The word here rendered “knowledge” signifies “perfect and thorough knowledge;” and the verb corresponding to it is used distinctively in this sense in Luke 1:4; 1 Corinthians 13:12. It is employed by St. Paul more especially in his later Epistles (Ephesians 4:13; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; Colossians 2:2; Colossians 3:10), dealing as they do with the deeper things of God, and assuming more of a contemplative tone. It is represented here as coming from distinct “revelation.”
(18) The eyes of your understanding.—The true reading is of your heart, for which the words “of your understanding” have been substituted, so as to yield a simpler and easier expression. The heart is similarly spoken of in relation to spiritual perception in Romans 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 4:5; it signifies the inner man in his entirety; and the phrase here used seems to convey the all-important truth, that for the knowledge of God all the faculties of understanding, conscience, and affection must be called into energy by the gift of the light of God.
That ye may know.—The knowledge which St. Paul here desires for the Ephesians, in accordance with the whole tone of this Epistle, is a knowledge of heavenly things, only experienced in part upon earth—with an experience, however, sufficient to be an earnest of the hereafter. The succession of ideas follows the order of conversion—first, “calling;” then acceptance to “inheritance;” lastly, “inward working of divine power” in the accepted. To each the conception of looking onward is attached; to the “calling” “hope,” to the “inheritance” “glory,” to the “power” the exaltation of Christ (and of us with Him; see Ephesians 2:6) to the right hand of God.
The hope of his calling.—(See Ephesians 4:4.) That is, probably, “the thing hoped for,” because promised, at our calling (as in Galatians 5:5; Colossians 1:5; Titus 2:3; Hebrews 6:18; and perhaps 1 Timothy 1:1), for the other objects of knowledge with which it is here joined are certainly objective or external to ourselves. This hope is of the perfection of all, which we are called to enjoy really, but imperfectly, here.
The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.—Comp. Colossians 1:27, “the riches of the glory of this mystery . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The inheritance of God is the unity with Christ, in which lies the earnest and hope of glory. “Among the saints” is best connected with the word “inheritance,” showing that our personal inheritance of Christ gives us a place in the kingdom of heaven here and hereafter.
(19) According to the working of his mighty power.—More correctly (see margin), the working of the might of His strength. The word “power” is a general word for force, which may be latent, and, in fact, often describes force which is latent, in contradistinction to the word here used for working or energy. St. Paul, therefore, adds that this power of God is not latent; it actually works “according to,” that is, up to the full measure of “the might of the strength” of God—of that strength which is a part of His nature. The whole phrase forms a glorious climax, in which the Apostle accumulates words ever stronger and stronger to approach to the description of the omnipotence of the Spirit. It is a “force of exceeding greatness;” it is an ever energetic force; its only measure is the immeasurable might of the divine nature. (Comp. Ephesians 3:7; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:29; Colossians 2:12.)
(20) Which he wrought in Christ.—The reality of the work of God upon us is insured by the reality of that work upon the true Son of Man, whose members we are, in His resurrection, His ascension, His exaltation over all things at the right hand of God, and His headship of the Church. It is notable that, while it is on the spiritual meaning of the resurrection of Christ that the chief stress is laid in the earlier Epistles (as in Romans 6:4-11; 1 Corinthians 15:12-22; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57), in these later Epistles the Apostle passes on beyond this, as taken for granted (see Colossians 3:1), and dwells on “Christ in heaven,” exalted far above all created things, but yet vouchsafing to be in a peculiar sense the head and life of the Church on earth. See, for example, Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:14-19; and compare the pervading conception of the Apocalypse. In this advance of thought he approaches to the idea of our Lord’s own great intercession (John 17:5 et seq.), constantly connecting the unity of His Church in Him with the glory which was His from all eternity, and to which He was to return—“Now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. . . . I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory.”
(21) Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion.—The words here used are intended to include all possible forms of power, corresponding to the exhaustive enumeration in Philippians 2:10, “of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” The words rendered “principality and power” (more properly signifying “government and the authority committed to it”) are used in Luke 12:11; Luke 20:20; Titus 3:1, distinctively for earthly-powers; in 1 Corinthians 15:24, generally for all created powers whatever. But St. Paul mostly employs this whole group of words, especially in the Epistles of the Captivity, with a manifest reference to angelic powers of good or evil. Thus in Romans 8:38 we read, of “angels, and principalities, and powers” (as in 1 Peter 3:22, “angels, and authorities, and powers”); in Ephesians 3:10 of this Epistle, of “principalities and powers in the heavenly places;” and in Ephesians 6:12, of “wrestling not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers,” &c.; and in Colossians 1:16, of “things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers.” It is likely that he was induced so to do by the half-Gnostic speculation on the nature and worship of angels, prevalent in the later Judaism, of which we have a specimen at Colossæ (Colossians 2:18)—in the same spirit which leads the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews to dwell so emphatically (in Ephesians 1, 2) on the infinite superiority of the Son of God to all angels. We observe that his references to these orders or aspects of the angelic hierarchy vary both in fulness and in order. (Comp., for instance, this passage with Colossians 1:16.) Hence we gain no encouragement for the elaborate speculation in which men have indulged as to the right succession and relation of the hosts of heaven. In this passage the names rather point to different aspects, than to different orders, of superhuman power. The first two words signify appointed government and the authority which is committed to it; the last two the actual force and the moral force of dignity or lordship in which it is clothed. In the Colossian passage the words here placed first come last, though in the same mutual connection, and the words “dignities or lordships” is connected with the word “thrones,” not here found. His purpose is, indeed, better served by this comparative vagueness: for that purpose is to exalt the majesty of our Lord over all other, whatever it may be, and whatever name it may wear.
Not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.—The word “world” is here age, and the antithesis is exactly that of our Lord’s words in Matthew 12:32 (see Note there). Manifestly, however, it here signifies “this life” (or dispensation) and “the future life,” that is, the life on this side, and on the other side, of the Second Coming of Christ.
(22) And hath put all things under his feet.—See 1 Corinthians 15:25-28, where St. Paul deals with the quotation from Psalms 8:6, in application to our Lord’s Mediatorial kingdom. In this passage these words fill up the picture of our Lord’s transcendent dignity, by the declaration of the actual subjugation of all the powers of sin and death, rising up against Him, in the spiritual war which is to go on till the appointed end. They therefore form a natural link between the description of His lordship over all created being, and of His headship over the Church, militant on earth, as well as triumphant in heaven.
And gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body.—This is the first time that this celebrated phrase is used, describing Christ as the Head, and viewing the Church as a whole as His body. It is characteristic that in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Christ is called “the Head of each man,” as “the man of the woman;” whereas in this Epistle Christ is the Head of the whole Church, on occasion of the same comparison (see Ephesians 5:23). The consideration of all Christians as the “body of Christ” is indeed found in Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 : but it is notable that in these passages the leading idea is, first, of the individuality of each member, and then, secondarily, of their union in one body; and in 1 Corinthians 12:21, “the head and the foot,” just as much as “the eye and the hand,” are simply looked upon as members. (Comp. also 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 10:17.) Here, in accordance with the great doctrine of this Epistle—the unity of the whole of humanity and of the whole Church, ideally co-extensive with that humanity, with Christ—the metaphor is changed. The body is looked upon as a whole, Christ as its Head. The idea is wrought out again and again (see Ephesians 4:15-16; Ephesians 5:28; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:19) in these Epistles of the Captivity. It is from these that it has become a household word in all Christian theology. With some variation it is expressed also in other metaphors—the building and the corner-stone, the bride and the bridegroom. But under the title of the “Head” Christ is looked upon especially in His ruling, guiding, originating power over the Church. Probably the idea of His being the seat of its life, though not excluded, is secondary; whereas in His own figure of the vine and the branches (John 16:6) it is primary.
The church, which is his body.—Ephesians 1:22-23.
1. Every article of the Creed is the subject of controversy. There are those who challenge the existence of God; there are those who dispute the Divinity of our Lord; there are those who deny the personality and presence of the Holy Ghost. But those who make such denials are for the most part outside the Christian Church. They are men who disbelieve in revealed religion altogether. When, however, we come to discuss the subject of “the Church,” we are entering upon what is a matter of angry debate amongst Christians themselves.
Of all wars, the most bitter and disastrous are civil wars. “The Church” is an occasion of civil war amongst Christian folk; it stirs up internecine strife; it splits up Christian people into antagonistic and hostile camps. Right away from the days of the Donatist controversy to these days of ours, it has been the fruitful cause of division and conflict. Its disastrous effects are only too manifest; it has inflicted upon Christ’s cause infinitely more damage than all the attacks of critics and sceptics from Celsus down to Robert Blatchford; it has weakened the efforts of Christian people and paralysed their energies. The strength that ought to have been employed in fighting the world, the flesh and the devil, is frittered and wasted in mutual recrimination and strife. The swords that ought to be turned against a common enemy we turn against one another. Look at the Christian people of England at this time, rent and torn and divided as they are, suspicious of one another and often fiercely hostile to one another. Think of that miserable education controversy which has been, for all these years, embittering and poisoning the very springs of our social and national life. The quarrel—to our shame be it said—is a quarrel amongst Christian people. If Christian people would only compose their differences, the quarrel would be settled in a week; but the quarrel drags its ugly length along, the interests of the child are sacrificed and the interests of religious instruction itself are jeopardized, all because Christian people cannot live together in peace and concord. This bitter strife, these fierce and incessant quarrels of ours—they give the devil his opportunity, but they must make the angels weep.
“Tell Mr. Horne,” said the Bishop of London not very long ago, referring to some joint action he and Mr. Silvester Horne had taken for the moral welfare of the metropolis, and in which they had been brilliantly successful—“Tell Mr. Horne we can always win when we are united.” Yes, united we could always win. In every great fight for liberty and righteousness and truth and purity, we could always win. We are baffled and beaten because, instead of being united, we are split up into a number of warring sects. “Divide et impera!” was the cynical advice of the Roman statesman; “Divide and rule!” “Split up your opponents and so retain the supreme authority.” Looking abroad over the religious condition of England, one is almost tempted to say that that has been the devil’s policy. He has sown seeds of dissension amongst the Christian people, and while they have been quarrelling, he has kept his power; he has split up our forces and beaten us in detail.1 [Note: J. D. Jones, Things Most Surely Believed, 147.]
2. Unity will never be secured by banishing the question of the Church from our public speech; unity is to be gained only by arriving at right views about the Church. It is difference of view that keeps us apart at present; it is only a true understanding of the Church that will ever bring us together.
Behind all the divisions and antagonisms I detect a real spiritual unity. And as I gaze at all these sects at war amongst themselves, I seem to behold them melt into a glorious and blessed fellowship. Behind these manifold and differing churches, I believe there is a Holy Catholic Church. Turn to your hymn-book, and you will see what I mean. Men who belonged to different churches, and who were separated from one another by ecclesiastical party walls, meet in our hymn-books; Roman Catholic, Anglican, Non-conformist—they jostle one another in its pages. When we want to sing the praises of Jesus, this is what we sing:
Jesus, the very thought of Thee,
With sweetness fills my breast;
and it is the monk, Bernard, that leads our song. When we want to offer a prayer for guidance we cry:
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on;
and it is Cardinal Newman that leads our song. When we want to sing of our duty to foreign lands and heathen people, this is the hymn we sing:
From Greenland’s icy mountains,
From India’s coral strand;
and it is the Anglican Bishop Heber who leads our song. And when we want to sing of the “sweet wonders of the Cross” we say:
In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
and it is actually the Unitarian, Sir John Bowring, who leads our song. There is a Catholic Church. Even the most exclusive churches are constrained to acknowledge it. Isaac Watts never was allowed to preach in Westminster Abbey, but scarcely any great function takes place there but they sing Isaac Watts’s hymn:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come.
There is a Catholic Church. Behind all our divisions there is a great and blessed unity.1 [Note: J. D. Jones, Things Most Surely Believed, 159.]
3. The doctrine of the Church reaches its completest statement in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and perhaps the words of the text sum up the Apostle’s teaching. We do not sufficiently recognize the ardour of faith which glows in St. Paul’s language. Christianity was then a very small thing in the world; it had behind it no famous history, rich in heroic and saintly memories; it had not expressed itself in a vast and various literature, including the masterpieces of the human mind; it did not preside over the world’s proudest civilization. Christianity was the creed of a few obscure communities scattered thinly over the Roman Empire, and composed mostly of the humblest members of society—slaves, freed-men, poor artisans. The Apostle could be under no delusions on the subject; and, as a matter of fact, he was now in prison at Rome, in a position well calculated to chasten enthusiasm. Yet he writes in these sublime terms of the Church. The little Christian congregations become transformed by his ardent faith. He sees them inspired with Divine energies, commissioned for eternal destinies, crowned with heavenly beauty. All the world is petty in comparison with them; they are marked out for universal sway. All history leads up to them, and in their fortunes is bound up the welfare of the nations. They enshrine the hopes of the human race, for they carry the graces of the Redemption. The historic triumph of Christ finds in them its visible expression; they are the instrument of His conquests.
The work which Christ came to do on earth was not completed when He passed from the sight of men: He, the Head, needed a body of members for its full working out through the ages: part by part He was, as St. Paul says, to be fulfilled in the community of His disciples, whose office in the world was the outflow of His own. And on the other hand His disciples had no intelligible unity apart from their ascended Head, who was also to them the present central fountain of life and power.1 [Note: F. J. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, 148.]
The subject is the Church as the Body of Christ. We may consider—
I. The Use of the Words “Church” and “Body.”
II. The Ideal Church.
III. The Ideal made Actual.
The Words “Church” and “Body.”
1. Church.—The word “Church” is used in the New Testament upwards of one hundred and ten times; and the fact that it occurs so frequently, and that it is used in the most solemn and important connexions, is sufficient proof of its pre-eminent importance, and sufficient reason why our ideas of its significance should be consistent and luminous.
(1) In not one single instance is the word used to describe a building, whether of stone or of other material, of imposing splendour or of humble pretensions. When the places in which we meet for the worship of God are called by this sacred name, it is by that common figure of speech by which ideas are transferred from the thing itself to the principal instrument, or means, by which it is embodied, or represented. Thus, when we speak of the power of the press, we mean not the mere iron or steel of which it is constructed, but the thoughts and ideas and information that are by its means multiplied and spread abroad.
(2) Fundamentally, the word is “an assembly”; not ecclesiastical, but civil. Nor is it used exclusively in the ecclesiastical sense in the New Testament. The town clerk of Ephesus “dismissed the assembly.” The word used by St. Luke would bear the interpretation that “he set free the Church.” But there is no confusion in the use of the term; there is no doubt in which cases it means “the Church,” and in which cases it means something else.
(3) But even when the meaning is a Christian one, it is not always the same. There is more than a shade of difference between one case and another, and the difference is important. For example, we have mention of the church in the house of Priscilla and Aquila, and of the church in the house of Philemon; and of Lydia being “baptized, and her household.” In these cases it may imply the family, and a few surrounding neighbours who were in the habit of meeting for common prayer.
(4) It is used next of the Churches or assemblies of Christians in particular localities, as when we read of the Church of Jerusalem, or the Churches of Asia or Galatia, or the Church that is in Corinth.
(5) Lastly, it is used of the whole body of believers in all times and in all places, as when our Lord said, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”; or, as when St. Paul describes it as “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
It is this last and widest use of the word that is characteristic of the great Epistle to the Ephesians. When St. Paul talks about Christ being Head of all things to the Church, when he talks about Christ loving the Church and giving Himself for it, it is not simply the Church at Ephesus he is thinking of, but that greater Church, that universal Church, which embraces and includes the holy and the loving and the good everywhere.
2. Body.—The only point about the use of the word “body” to be observed at present is the distinction between Christ’s body which He took of Mary and His body which is the Church. Christ’s body which He took of Mary He wears in Heaven. He is manifested there in it, as “the Lamb as it had been slain,” i.e. with the wound-prints upon Him. He wears for ever the robe of our nature, the glorified yet real human form; the angels see it. But He is manifested on earth in His mystical or spiritual body, which in some way expresses and manifests Him. He is clothed in a body here, He is still incarnate here in the Church, He still acts and speaks among men. So He said again and again, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.” “The world seeth me no more; but ye see me”—ye, the disciples; i.e. those who in every age have eyes to see.
Why did our Lord institute the Church in the world? What is the one great doctrine? It is summed up in words the most exact that human speech could find—the Church, the immortal Body of Christ. That body which was mortal here, and was so marvellously changed, has gone up yonder, but the immortal body of Christ is here; the body in which He lives, still to speak the truth of God, to work the works of God, with these folded hands to plead as intercessors. Oh! for the Church, the body of our Lord, that it might wear on earth the beauty of the Lord, and be His representative on earth until He come!1 [Note: Life of J. B. Paton, 287.]
The Ideal Church
1. The Church doctrine of this Epistle is inestimably precious. The word “Church” occurs frequently. We have it here, in a connexion high as the heavens, and full of the very deepest spiritual suggestions. We have it in chapter Ephesians 3:10, where “the Church” is beheld as the scene in which, even now, “the governments and the authorities in the celestial regions” get informed of “the variegated wisdom of God, according to His purpose of the ages.” We have it again in Ephesians 3:21, where “glory” is given to the Eternal Father, “in the Church, in Christ Jesus,” throughout eternity. And in the fifth chapter (23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32) we have it set fully before us as the Bride and Spouse of the Lord Himself. He is the Church’s Head, the Saviour of the Body; it is subject to Him, with wifely reverence; He loved it, He gave Himself for it, to hallow it, to cleanse it “by the bathing of the water attended by an utterance,” to present it to Himself glorified, spotless, holy. He nourishes it and cherishes it. He and His Spouse are one.
Here is on the one hand an Ecclesia which is lifted for our view far above mere terrestrial and visible limitations. The one allusion to the external is the reference to the “water,” but even this is at once so connected with the “utterance” ( ῥῆμα) of the everlasting Covenant as to point us straight through the ordinance to the heavenly blessing which it seals. The whole conception soars in the high air of direct spiritual relations between the Lord and a redeemed Company, whose units are all joined in an ineffable reality of faith and love to Him, and so member to member. We may call it the Ideal Church. We may call it the Invisible, in the sense of invisibility which points to an Organism seen in its true limits and relations by God alone. Yet it is a something which refuses to be really identified with any one organization, or aggregate of organizations, officered and tabulated by human ministers. It is related more nearly, may we not say, to heaven than to earth. It is, in its essence, with Christ where He is. It is the wonder of angels. It is the sphere within which glory is given to God as much in eternity (Ephesians 3:21) as in time. It (not parts of it, but it) is to be presented to its Lord at last in the heavenly light. Let us beware of lowering the radiant sublimity of the conception by definitions of the Church essentially conditioned by time.
There is a particular conception of the nature of the Church to which I desire to give prominence and distinctness, believing that in this conception is to be found the key which will reduce into order the various notions which the word “Church” sets floating in our minds. In our Collect for All Saints’ Day the term “mystical” is associated with the Church, or we should say that the Collect is describing the Church when it speaks of knitting “together Thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of Thy Son Christ our Lord.” To many, perhaps, the word “mystical” is nearly the same as mysterious: others would explain it as meaning spiritual. I would suggest that the nearest modern equivalent to it in this place would be “ideal.” The mystical body of Christ is a body which exists in idea. The Church is primarily an idea of the living God—an idea, not as we should speak of your idea or mine or any other man’s, but, what is a very different thing, an idea of God, and of a God who lives and works, and in the creative mind a foreordained purpose which God is working out by degrees in the world of His creatures.1 [Note: J. Ll. Davies.]
2. Is there any better way out of our difficulties than to lay hold of that conception of the Church as an ideal body which St. Paul suggests to us? In thinking thus of the Church we start from God and Christ, and not from visible organizations. We find the substance and reality of the Church, not in the forms with which it clothes itself in the development of the ages, but in the purposes of God which He is revealing to us in history. We may gain some help by thinking of the design of a picture or a group of sculpture which exists in the artist’s mind. The work has reached a certain stage, but we cannot say that this, as it stands, is the picture or the sculpture. We have received perhaps some notion of what is in the artist’s mind, but we do not think of the incomplete material representation as the work of art, as the artist’s creation. The Apostles have given us the conception of a body of Christ, which they themselves derive, not so much from verbal instruction as from the ardent contemplation of Christ Himself. They saw that Christ raised and exalted was a Head who must have a body; they looked round on the societies which they had been impelled to form, and this helped them to conceive what a perfect body of Christ might be. They beheld an immeasurable number of human beings all attached by spiritual apprehension to Christ, fulfilling the most various functions, in the happiest harmony with each other, and so leading to the growth and perfection of the whole body; they believed in this design of God as working creatively in the formation of Christian societies, in a Divine power, the same as that which brought in the exaltation of Christ, continually urging design into outward, living fulfilment. If ever the question arose, What is fundamentally and distinctively the Church? the inquirer would be referred to the Divine pattern, that heavenly conception of Christ with associated men into which actual Christian life, with its manifold imperfections, was by Divine energy being built up. The Church of God was both visible and invisible, but it was the invisible form that was satisfactory, permanent, unifying, complete.
If in our own time, seeking for the true Church, we can look through visible societies and members to the real pattern of God, we should not allow our faith to be too much disturbed by the scene which Christendom presents to our view. It is in many respects a shocking scene, with its divisions and corruptions, its faithlessness and its strife, contradicting, one might be tempted to say, the elementary conception of a Catholic Church. But the Divine energy in its marvellous condescension is content to work with the materials of human weakness and perversity, and our joy must be to recognize an institution of apostolic authority, a living expression, revealing the Divine idea of humanity and tending towards visible fulfilment of it.1 [Note: J. Ll. Davies.]
This is the difficulty of all the highest service of life, namely, that the spiritual is invisible, and yet omnipotent; public attention is fixed upon the human agent, and professions of spiritual inspiration and impulse are treated with distrust, if not with contempt, by the most of mankind. It is the invisible Christ who is with the Church. Were He present manifestly, it is supposed that greater results would accrue from Christian service; but the supposition must be mistaken, inasmuch as He to whom such service is infinitely dearer than it ever can be to ourselves has determined the manner of Christian evangelization. What, then, is the great duty and privilege of the Church? It is to realize the presence and influence of the Invisible. The Church is actually to see the Unseen.2 [Note: J. Parker.]
3. Except as an ideal, except as a vision, the perfect outward symmetry and beauty have never yet been seen, because the professing Church and the true Church have never yet been coextensive. The magnificent conception of the perfect spiritual temple in all its majestic proportions has never been realized. You can see the great outline, you can admire the grand simplicity and the marvellous harmony of the design, as you may in some great Cathedral on whose glorious beauty Time has laid his defacing hand; but as in that there may be the crushed and defaced pillar, and the ugly rents and fissures and gaps even in the central tower, so the visible Church of Christ has been torn by heresies and schisms, her very safety threatened, her very central tower shaken and ready to fall, had not the hand of God stayed up her pillars and repaired her ruins.
The situation that has not its Duty, its Ideal, was never yet occupied by man. Yet, here in this miserable, despicable Actual, wherein thou even now standest,—here or nowhere is thy Ideal! Work it out therefrom!1 [Note: Carlyle.]
Remember, it is the Ideal that rules the world, that moves the world; and the true Church of Christ is ever an ideal, a dream, a prophecy, a vision, an aspiration; but a dream, a prophecy, a vision of the future, in seeking after which is ever found the best hope for the practical life of the present. For it is the idealists, the seers of the race, who are ever the reformers; it is the men who see visions and dream dreams of possible progress and happiness, and not the pessimistic and social agnostics, who make the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.2 [Note: C. W. Stubbs.]
The intense enthusiasm with which Mr. Gladstone entered into the subject and the object of the moment was apt to dim, if not obliterate, the little loves and affections which crowd the life of smaller men. The execution of his great work was the one thing in his eyes, and the instruments and tools he used were dearer to him than anything else; and the men associated with him at the moment were always greater than the men who had passed away. He became absorbed in the task, whatever it might be, which he had set himself to do; he was not one of those who, having put their hand to the plough, knew what it was to turn back.3 [Note: Algernon West, Recollections, ii. 33.]
Have we not all, amid life’s petty strife,
Some pure ideal of a noble life
That once seemed possible? Did we not hear
The flutter of its wings, and feel it near,
And just within our reach? It was. And yet
We lost it in this daily jar and fret,
And now live idle in a vague regret.
But still our place is kept, and it will wait,
Ready for us to fill it, soon or late:
No star is ever lost we once have seen,
We always may be what we might have been.
Since Good, though only thought, has life and breath,
God’s life—can always be redeemed from death;
And evil, in its nature, is decay,
And any hour can blot it all away;
The hopes that lost in some far distance seem,
May be the truer life, and this the dream.1 [Note: Adelaide Procter.]
The Ideal made Actual
How is this ideal Church to be made the Church that we see and know? How is the Church to fulfil its office as the Body of Christ? How is it to be the Body of Christ in deed and in truth? That is the great question which when answered answers all other questions concerning the Church.
1. The Church must establish a living relationship with the risen Lord.—“And gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body.” The figure used by the Apostle shows what kind of relationship exists between Christ and His Church. In this relationship we see the fundamental truth, the central truth, the truth which contains every other truth, concerning the Church. One of the Old Testament prophets—Isaiah—poetically describes God’s constant remembrance of His own, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” This poetic imagery has become a glorious fact in Jesus Christ. Through His Incarnation and Crucifixion and Resurrection, we can say that God now has the marks of the nails upon His hands which always make Him mindful of His own. As King and Head of the mediatory kingdom, Christ must have His people even as a sovereign must have his subjects. And they need not only His rule but also His Divine strength in them. The Church can never succeed without Christ. The risen Lord made the Church, the risen Lord keeps the Church, the risen Lord fills the Church all in all. “That ye may know what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
The communion which the members of His body have with the Head is threefold. (1) It is a communion of mind. “We have the mind of Christ.” “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (2) It is a communion of heart. “Fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.” “The fellowship of his sufferings.” (3) It is a communion of power. “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” This threefold communion with the risen Lord is finely expressed in F. W. H. Myers’ Saint Paul:
Then thro’ the mid complaint of my confession,
Then thro’ the pang and passion of my prayer,
Leaps with a start the shock of His possession,
Thrills me and touches, and the Lord is there.
Hardly I hear Him, dimly understand,
Only the Power that is within me pealing
Lives on my lips and beckons to my hand.
Cannot confound nor doubt Him nor deny:
Yea with one voice, O world, tho’ thou deniest,
Stand thou on that side, for on this am I.
2. The Church must recognize a real brotherhood among its members.—We shall be helped to understand the meaning of the Apostle’s doctrine concerning the Church as a brotherhood if we see what he has written in other portions of his Epistles. In the text he declares that the Church is the body of Christ. He uses the same figure of speech many times. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members each in his part.” Nothing can be clearer, in the light of these words, than that the Church of Jesus Christ means a real brotherhood among the members.
A comparatively new method of Christian work is what is known as the Brotherhood Movement. The meetings of this movement are held mostly on Sunday afternoons, and they give a pleasant hour to thousands who never otherwise attend any place of worship. Doubtless the movement has been a boon and a blessing. The president of the movement recently said: “We are part of organized Christianity, and we must ally our forces with other parts of God’s great army, and present to the world a united front, and together attack the forces of evil.” In the same address he presented some of the perils of the movement, and sounded, not without reason, the note of warning. The Sunday school can speak of its losses through the pleasant enticements of the Brotherhood meetings. Experience will teach us how to avoid the perils, and to secure the best service and most helpful work in the one and the other. The gleams of God’s glory shine in buoyant hope wherever the truth of brotherhood is declared. The Church of Christ, which is His body, meets all human needs. The claims of brotherhood are recognized as being far-reaching. These claims are founded upon the relationship which exists between each member and the risen Lord. In Christ we are all brethren.1 [Note: J. C. Owen.]
The name of brother carries with it a sweet and delectable sound, and is in itself an argument for peace. It is true that the complication of interests strangely relaxes the fraternal tie; brethren pursuing their fortune by the same path often jostle and hinder one another; but a common faith originates a true and perfect brotherhood, which nothing should ever be allowed to disturb. The beautiful ideal of brotherly kindness is always a reason for peace. Fraternal discord is an odious spectacle. Strife between those who should be friends is more grievous than an outbreak of plague.… Quarrels among brethren are always unnatural, and in the presence of unbelievers—the Canaanite and the Perizzite in the land—unspeakably mischievous. There is always a common foe around us, within earshot of our brawling and controversy, rejoicing in our internecine warfare, and watching for our fall. On the other hand, it is beautiful and impressive when men who are united by a common faith and hope live in love and peace. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
Religion should extinguish strife,
And make a calm of human life.1 [Note: J. Strachan, Hebrew Ideals, i. 47.]
3. The Church must fulfil its mission to the world.—Through the Church, which is His body, Christ carries on the work of salvation. Thought cannot express itself apart from the body, even so Christ cannot carry on His work without His Church. “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Over the waves of the ages sound the marching orders, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
It is as the Church realizes and expresses the mind and purpose of Christ, that He finds in it the reward of His great sufferings, the satisfaction of His beneficent desires. The stars obedient in their courses, and the flowers lovely in their season, are emblematic of a higher and an enduring perfection in the moral world, where men are won to Christ and choose His will as their highest good. His wisdom, and purity, and grace, and love will then become their abiding possessions, they will be transformed into His nature, and be filled with His disinterested affection, and be moved with a benevolence from whose all-comprehensive sweep nothing can escape.2 [Note: G. Packer.]
By holding fast at home Christ’s truth in greater purity; by growth in love; by devotion deepened and increased; by more frequent and earnest communion; by a wider, more enduring, more steadfast unity; by being more filled with the Spirit; by being transfigured into Christ’s likeness; by sitting always beneath His Cross; by bearing His burden; by learning to do common things in a higher spirit of self-sacrifice and grateful love to Him;—by those, beyond all other ways, shall we become able as a Church to cast abroad a brighter light of truth and to gather in more largely the fulness of the heathen to our Saviour’s fold.3 [Note: Bishop S. Wilberforce.]
People think we missionaries go out to those parts of the world, and from morning to night do nothing but preach sermons. It is quite a mistake. It is not the preaching of a sermon so much as the living the life that tells on the native heart. It is by living a Divine life, by striving to follow in the footsteps of Him who came to express the Father’s love, that we win the heart of the savage, and raise him up to become a true man in Jesus Christ.1 [Note: James Chalmers; Autobiography and Letters, 274.]
One holy Church of God appears
Through every age and race,
Unwasted by the lapse of years,
Unchanged by changing place.
Beneath the pine or palm,
One Unseen Presence she adores,
With silence, or with psalm.
To serve the world raised up;
The pure in heart, her baptized ones,
Love her communion-cup.
The soul her sacred page;
And feet on mercy’s errand swift,
Do make her pilgrimage.
Fulfil thy task sublime;
With bread of life earth’s hunger feed;
Redeem the evil time!2 [Note: Samuel Longfellow.]
Davies (J. Ll.), The Gospel and Modern Life, 1.
Eyton (R.), The Apostles’ Creed, 143.
Fyffe (D.), The Essentials of Christian Belief, 206.
Goodman (J. H.), The Lordship of Christ, 1.
Grant (W.), Christ our Hope, 303.
Henson (H. H.), Ad Rem, 143.
Howard (H.), The Conning Tower of the Soul, 45.
Jones (J. D.), Things Most Surely Believed, 145.
McConnell (S. D.), Sons of God, 27.
Rainsford (M.), The Mystery of His Will, 149.
Sampson (E. F.), Christ Church Sermons, 78.
Smith (D.), Christian Counsel, 31.
Varley (H.), Some Main Questions, 131.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xv. No. 1058.
Westcott (B. F.), The Historic Faith, 113.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxi. 155 (Perowne); xxv. 353 (Davies); xlix. 392 (Packer); lx. 211 (Stubbs); lxxix. 229 (Owen).
Contemporary Pulpit, 1st Ser., x. 257 (Goodwin).
Homiletic Review, xxi. 143 (Davis).
(23) The fulness of him that filleth all in all.—The word pleroma, “fulness,” is used in a definite and almost technical sense in the Epistles of the Captivity, and especially in the Epistle to the Colossians, having clear reference to the speculations as to the Divine Nature and the emanations from it, already anticipating the future Gnosticism. The word itself is derived from a verb signifying, first, to “fill;” next (more frequently in the New Testament), to “fulfil” or complete. It is found (1) in a physical sense of the “full contents” of the baskets, in Mark 6:43; Mark 8:20; and of the earth, in 1 Corinthians 10:26-28; and in Matthew 9:16, Mark 2:21, it is applied to the patch of new cloth on an old garment. It is used next (2) of fulness, in sense of the “complete tale or number,” “of time” and “seasons,” in Ephesians 1:10, Galatians 4:4; of the Jews and Gentiles in Romans 11:12; Romans 11:25. In the third place (3) it is applied to the full essence, including all the attributes, of a thing or person; as of the Law (Romans 13:10), and of the blessing of Christ (Romans 15:29). Lastly (4), in these Epistles it is applied, almost technically, to the fulness of the Divine Nature. Thus, in Colossians 1:19 we have, “It pleased the Father that in Christ all the fulness”—i.e., all the fulness of the Divine Nature—“should dwell;” or (to take an admissible but less probable construction) “In Him all the fulness is pleased to dwell;” and this is explained in Ephesians 2:9, “In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Similarly, though less strikingly, we read in this Epistle, that those who are in Christ are said (in Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:13) “to be filled up to all the fulness of God,” and “to come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. In which of these last senses is the Church here said to be the “fulness of Christ?” If in any, probably in the last of all. As the individual, so the Church, by the presence “of Him who filleth up all things for Himself in all,” comes to be “His fulness,” the complete image of Him in all His glorified humanity. But it may be questioned whether it is not better to take here a different sense, corresponding to the “patch” in Matthew 9:16, and signifying the “complement.” In the original Greek of Euclid (in Book 1., Prop. 4), the cognate word, parapleroma, is used of “the complements.” In this compound word the idea is, no doubt, more unequivocally expressed. But of the simple word here employed it may be reasonably contended that, if one thing or person alone is contemplated, the pleroma must be the fulness of the one nature; if, as here, two are brought in, each will be the “complement” to the other—as the patch to the garment, and the garment to the patch. So here (says Chrysostom) “the complement of the Head is the Body, and the complement of the Body is the Head.” Thus by a daring expression, St. Paul describes our Lord as conceiving His glorified humanity incomplete without His Church; and then, lest this should seem to derogate even for a moment from His dignity, he adds the strongest declaration of His transcendent power, “to fill up for Himself all things in all,” in order to show that we are infinitely more incomplete without Him than He without us. This sense, bold as it is, certainly suits exactly the great idea of this Epistle, which differs from the parallel Colossian Epistle in this—that while both dwell emphatically on Christ the Head, and the Church as His Body, there the chief stress is laid on the true Deity of the Head, here on the glory and privileges of the Body.
Monday, March 27th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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