Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
[3. Prayer for the Further Knowledge of this Mystery (Ephesians 3:1-21).
(1) PREFATORY DECLARATION of the newness of the revelation of this mystery of the calling of the Gentiles, and of the special commission of it to St. Paul, to be manifested before men and angels, both by word and by suffering (Ephesians 3:1-13).
(2) PRAYER for their full understanding of this mystery (although passing knowledge) by the indwelling of Christ, wrought in them by the gift of the Spirit, and accepted in faith and love (Ephesians 3:14-19).
(3) DOXOLOGY TO THE FATHER through Christ Jesus for ever and ever (Ephesians 3:20-21).]
The chapter is in form a parenthesis of fervent prayer and thanksgiving between the doctrinal teaching of Ephesians 2 and the resumption and summing up of that teaching in Ephesians 4:1-13. At the same time it involves much profound implicit teaching in itself.
(1) For this cause . . .—After much discussion of the construction of this verse, there seems little doubt that the nominative, “I, Paul,” must be carried on beyond the digression upon the mystery of the gospel, and his part in ministering it, which follows. The only question which can well be raised is whether the resumption takes place at Ephesians 3:13, “I desire that ye faint not;” or at Ephesians 3:14, “I bow my knees;” and this seems decided for the latter alternative, both by the emphatic repetition of “for this cause,” and by the far greater weight and finality of the latter sentence.
The prisoner of Jesus Christ.—The phrase (repeated in Ephesians 4:1; Philemon 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:8) is dwelt upon with an emphasis, explained by St. Paul’s conviction that “his bonds” tended to “the furtherance of the gospel”—not merely by exciting a sympathy which might open the heart to his words, but even more (see Philippians 1:13-14) by showing the victorious power of God’s word and grace—which “is not bound”—to triumph over captivity and the danger of death. The expression itself is notable. When St. Paul calls himself the “prisoner of Jesus Christ,” he represents our Lord’s own will, as ordaining his captivity for His own transcendent purposes of good, making him an “ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20), and these “the bonds of the gospel.” (See Philemon 1:13; and Acts 28:20, “For the hope of Israel I am bound in this chain.”) Hence in this passage St. Paul seems to speak of his captivity as a special proof of the reality of his mission, and a new step in its progress; and appeals to it accordingly, just as in the final salutation of the Colossian Epistle, “Remember my bonds.” The whole idea is a striking instance of the spiritual alchemy of faith, turning all things to good—not unlike the magnificent passage (in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30) of his “glorying in his infirmities.”
For you Gentiles.—This was literally true of the origin of his captivity, proceeding as it did from the jealousy of the Jews, excited by the free admission of the Gentiles to the Church; but the reference is not to be limited to this. St. Paul regards the captivity as only one incident in a mission sending him entirely to the Gentiles (Acts 21:21; Romans 11:13; Galatians 2:9). From these words the digression of Ephesians 3:2-13 starts, bringing out the reality and greatness of that mission.
(1) Ephesians 3:1-13 contain two subjects closely blended together. The first (carrying on what is implied in the contrast drawn out in Ephesians 2) is the absolute newness of this dispensation to the Gentiles—a mystery hidden from the beginning in God, but now at last revealed. The second, an emphatic claim for St. Paul himself, “less than the least” although he is, of a special apostleship to the Gentiles, proclaiming this mystery by word and deed.
(2) Ephesians 3:14-19 contain a prayer, addressed with special emphasis to the Father of all, that by the strengthening grace of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ, accepted in faith and deepened by love, they may, first, know the mystery already described in all its greatness; and, next, learn by experience the unsearchable love of Christ, as dwelling in them, and so filling them up to “the fulness of God.”
(3) Ephesians 3:20-21 sum up the whole in a doxology to God the Father through Christ Jesus. It may be compared with the other more solemn doxologies in the New Testament: as Romans 16:25; 1 Timothy 5:15-16; Jude 1:24-25; Revelation 1:6. Each has its distinctive character. Here the prevailing idea of the preceding chapters is the wonder and the mystery of God’s fore-ordaining love, overflowing in the riches of His grace to those who are made one with Him and with each other in Christ Jesus. Hence, God is here described as He “who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” and to do all “by His power dwelling” and working in us.
(5) Which in other ages (rather, to other generations) was not made known unto the sons of men.—For the general sense comp. Colossians 1:27. The phrase “the sons of men” (except that it is once used in Mark 3:28) is peculiar to the Old Testament, where it is of frequent use in the poetical books, and it is notable that in Ezekiel it is the name by which the prophet himself is constantly addressed. Hence, although it is probably wrong to restrict to the children of Israel, or to the prophets, words which by their very nature apply to all mankind, yet the phrase seems to be used with a suggestion of the contrast between the old dispensation and the new. (Comp. our Lord’s words in Matthew 11:11, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”)
As it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.—The application of the epithet “holy” to the Apostles has been thought strange as coming from one of their number; and it is worth notice that this exceptional application is certainly more appropriate to the comparatively impersonal style of an encyclical epistle. But the epithet (applied to the Old Testament prophets in Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21; 2 Peter 3:2), like the frequent use of it as the substantive “saints,” in application to all Christians, refers not to personal character, but to official call and privilege. In this passage it is clear that it is used thus, in emphatic contrast with “the sons of men” above, and in connection with the following words, “in the Spirit.” The contrast here briefly conveyed is the same which is drawn out in 1 Corinthians 2 between the “wisdom of men,” and the “wisdom of God,” sanctifying, and so enlightening, the Christian soul.
(6) That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs.—More exactly, are fellow-heirs, admitted already fully in God’s councils, as partially in actual fact to the kingdom of God.
And of the same body, and [fellow-] partakers of his promise.—These three words (of which the last two are peculiar to this Epistle) evidently describe progressive steps in the work of salvation. First comes the acceptance by God to a share in the inheritance, as “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17); next, incorporation into the mystical body of Christ; lastly, the actual enjoyment of a share in the promise—that is, all the spiritual blessings of the covenant, called “promises” because, though real in themselves, they are only an earnest of the hereafter. At every point stress is laid on their fellowship with Israel in all these gifts. The shoots of the wild olive (Romans 11:17) are first chosen out, then “grafted in,” and lastly “partake with the natural branches of the root and fatness of the olive tree.”
In Christ by the gospel.—These words should be joined with all the three preceding. Of all the privileges of the new life, the being “in Christ” is the substance, the reception of the gospel in faith the instrument.
(7) According to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.—The words “given by” should be rendered given according to. The working of God’s power is described, not as the means, but as the measure of the gift of His grace. In fact, what is a “gift” in its source, is “effectual working” in its actual nature. On the phrase “effectual working of power”—a divine force in the soul, not latent but energetic—see Ephesians 1:19. In the whole of this passage, however, the chief emphasis is laid, not on the spiritual power, but on the freedom of God’s gift to the Apostle of this high privilege of preaching the mystery of the gospel.
(8) Less than the least of all saints.—Compare with this expression of deep humility the well-known passages 1 Corinthians 15:9-10; 2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-16. It may be noted that in each case his deep sense of unworthiness is brought out by the thought of God’s especial grace and favour to him. Thus in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, the feeling that he is “the least of the Apostles, not meet to be called an Apostle,” rises out of the contemplation of the special manifestation of the risen Lord to him as “one born out of due time;” in 2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:9-11, “boasting” has been forced upon him, and so, having been compelled to dwell on the special work done by him, and the special revelations vouchsafed to him, he immediately adds, “though I am nothing;” in 1 Timothy 1:12-16, as also here, it is the greatness of his message of universal salvation which reminds him that he was “a persecutor and injurious,” “the chief of sinners,” and “less than the least of all saints.” Elation in the sense of privilege—“the glorying in that which we have received,” so emphatically rebuked in 1 Corinthians 4:7—is the temptation of the first superficial enthusiasm; deep sense of weakness and unworthiness, the result of second and deeper thought, contrasting the heavenly treasure with the earthen vessels which contain it (2 Corinthians 4:7). Possibly there is a “third thought,” deeper still, belonging to the times of highest spiritual aspiration, which loses all idea of self, even of weakness and unworthiness, in the thought of “the strength made perfect in weakness,” and the consciousness (as in Philippians 4:12-13) that “we can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth us.” See this last brought out in peculiar fulness and freedom in 2 Corinthians 5:13 to 2 Corinthians 6:10; a passage almost unique in its disclosure of spiritual experience.
The unsearchable riches of Christ.—The word “unsearchable” properly carries with it the metaphor (latent in our word “investigate”) of tracking the footsteps, but not tracking them completely to their source or issue—thus gaining an evidence of a living power, but “not knowing whence it cometh or whither it goeth.” In this proper sense it is used in Romans 11:33, “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (as also in Job 5:9; Job 9:10). Here it is used in a slightly different sense—applied to that “wealth” or fulness of Christ on which this Epistle lays such especial stress, as a wealth of truth which we can see in part but cannot wholly measure, and a wealth of grace which we can enjoy but cannot exhaust.
(9) To make all men see.—St. Paul speaks here first of manifestation to all men. The phrase used in the original is at once stronger and weaker than our version of it. It is stronger, for the word is, properly, to enlighten or illuminate—the same word used above (Ephesians 1:18), “the eyes of your heart being enlightened.” Strictly, Christ alone is the Light of the world, “which enlightens every man” (John 1:4-5; John 1:9; John 8:2); but, as reflecting Him, He declared His servants to be the “light of the world.” Yet it is weaker, for while we can enlighten, it is our daily sorrow that we cannot “make men see.” Even He wept over Jerusalem because His light was, by wilful blindness, “hidden from their eyes” (Luke 19:41). To “open the eyes, and turn men from darkness to light,” although (as in Acts 26:18) attributed in general terms to the servants of God, because naturally following on their ministry, is properly the work of the Holy Spirit, even in relation to the words of our Lord Himself (John 14:26).
The fellowship of the mystery.—Both MS. authority and internal evidence point here to “the dispensation of the mystery” as the true reading. Probably here the reference is not to the commission of the mystery to the Apostle (as in Ephesians 3:2), but (as in Ephesians 1:10) to the law or order which God Himself has ordained for the manifestation of the truth, both to men and angels.
Who created all things by Jesus Christ.—The words “by Jesus Christ” should be omitted, probably having crept in from a gloss, and not belonging to the original. The description of God as “He who created all things,” material and spiritual, is here emphatic—designed to call attention to the dispensation of the gospel as existing in the primeval purpose of the Divine Mind (comp. Ephesians 1:4; 1 Corinthians 1:7), hidden from the beginning of the world (properly, from the ages) till the time of its revelation was come. The New Testament constantly dwells on this view of the Mediation of Christ, as belonging in some form to the relation of humanity to God in itself, and not merely to that relation as affected by the Fall; but nowhere with greater emphasis than in the profound and universal teaching of these Epistles.
(10) In this verse St. Paul passes on to consider the manifestation of God in Christ as brought home not only to the race of man but to the angels—“the principalities and powers in the heavenly places”—who are described (1 Peter 1:12) as “desiring to look into” the consummation of the gospel mystery. In the same sense the Apostles, in their ministration of the gospel, are said to be a spectacle to angels and to men (1 Corinthians 4:9); and in a magnificent passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12:22), Christians are encouraged in their warfare by knowing it to go on before “the city of the living God” and “an innumerable company of angels.” The angels are, therefore, represented to us as not only ministering in the Church of Christ, but learning from its existence and fortunes to know more and more of the wisdom of God. Hence we gain a glimpse of a more than world-wide purpose in the supreme manifestation of God’s mercy in Christ, fulfilled towards higher orders of God’s rational creatures, aiding even them in progress towards the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, which is life eternal. (There is a notable passage on a kindred idea in Butler’s Analogy, Part i., c. Iii. § 5.) This world, itself a speck in the universe, may be—perhaps as a scene of exceptional rebellion against God, certainly as a scene of God’s infinite goodness—a lesson to other spheres of being, far beyond our conception. Possibly this view of angels as our fellow-learners in the school of Christ may have been specially dwelt upon in view of the worship of angels of which we read in Colossians 2:18; but it accords well with the wide sweep of thought characteristic of this Epistle, literally “gathering up all things in Christ.”
The manifold wisdom.—The word “manifold” (properly, many-coloured, or wrought in many details) is used here (and nowhere else) for the wisdom of God, as “fulfilling itself in many ways” (the “sundry times and divers manners” of Hebrews 1:1). It is manifested, therefore, in the infinite variety both of the teaching and the life of the Church—manifold, yet one, as embodying but one life, the life of Jesus Christ.
(11) The eternal purpose.—Properly, the purpose of the ages; but the sense clearly is, of the purpose of God (see Ephesians 1:11), conceived before the ages of His dispensation, and fulfilled through them. Hence the rendering of our version is substantially correct.
Which he purposed.—It should be, which He wrought, or made, for the word is quite distinct from the substantive “purpose,” and is in itself ambiguous, capable of meaning either ordained or worked out. Either sense will suit the passage; but the latter perhaps better, since the idea is throughout of the completion and manifestation of the mystery of God’s purpose in the Lord Jesus Christ.
(12) This verse returns to the idea of Ephesians 2:18, as though St. Paul, after the wide sweep of thought far beyond the earth in Ephesians 3:10-11, desired, as usual, to bring his readers back to the practical and personal aspects of their Christianity.
In whom we have (our) boldness and (our) access with confidence.—“Boldness” is, properly, boldness of speech (as in Ephesians 6:19), though used in a derivative sense for confidence and frankness generally. Probably here it is suggested in its original sense by the reference in the preceding verse to the charge of proclaiming the mystery of God, and accordingly means that boldness of thought and utterance before men and angels which Christians, in virtue of that charge, ought to assume. The “access (see Ephesians 2:18) in confidence” is, on the other hand, that confidence before God, as presented to Him in the Lord Jesus Christ, which belongs to Christians as no longer servants but sons. (On this confidence see 2 Corinthians 3:4-6.) Both these gifts depend on “faith in Him:” in the one case, faith in His teaching and grace; in the other, faith in His atonement and His gift of the new life.
(13) Wherefore I desire . . .—The verse is parenthetical—a reflection suggested by the greatness of the trust and the littleness of the minister dwelt upon in Ephesians 3:8-12, and inserted as a warning to the Ephesians not to be disheartened at the present “tribulation” of his imprisonment, as if it were a failure of his mission. (See this idea more fully worked out in Philippians 1:12-29.) “To faint” (as in 2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13) is “to play the coward,” as “thinking it (see 1 Peter 4:12-13) a strange thing” that trouble should fall on him or them. It might well seem strange, when for four years at least, at Cæsarea and Rome, the marvellous activity of St. Paul’s Apostolic career was apparently cut short.
At my tribulations for you, which is your glory.—There is a peculiar beauty in the thought suggested by the words “which is your glory.” The suffering, triumphantly borne and actually turned to the furtherance of the gospel, is certainly a “glory,” in the proof which it gives of the power of the truth and the grace of Christ. But the more obvious idea would have been to comfort the Ephesians by the declaration that St. Paul’s tribulations were to himself a cause, not of pain, but of joy and glory—as is, in fact, done in Colossians 1:24, and in the celebrated passage, 2 Corinthians 11:23-31. Here, however, instead of so doing, St. Paul pursues the same line of thought as in 1 Corinthians 4:10—there half ironically, here seriously—that, while the suffering falls on himself, the glory passes to the Church, for which he suffers, and in which he is content to sink himself. Hence he bids the Ephesians find encouragement and glory for themselves, instead of a cause for “fainting,” in the afflictions endured on their behalf and overcome in Christ. As he identifies himself with them, so he would have them take what might be his glory to be their own.
(14) Unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.—The words “of our Lord Jesus Christ” appear, by both external and internal evidence, to be an interpolation—probably from a gloss indicating (in the true spirit of the Epistle) that the universal Fatherhood here spoken of is derived from the fatherly relation to Him in whom “all things are gathered up.”
The Father and the Families
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.—Ephesians 3:14-15.
1. There are two great prayers in this Epistle. The first is in the first chapter. It seemed to Paul that the gospel was so wonderful that it was impossible for men to See the glory of it unless they were taught of God, and therefore after his lofty account of God’s purpose to bring the heavens and the earth into an eternal unity in Christ, he tells the Christians at Ephesus that he was continually praying that God would give them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him,” and that the eyes of their heart might be enlightened that they might know the hope to which God had called them, and “the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” Spiritual illumination is necessary if we are to know the contents of the Christian gospel; for the gospel reveals invisible and eternal things lying far beyond the frontiers of the common thoughts of men.
The second prayer takes another form. Its central idea is strength. Strength is necessary as well as light. We cannot know the gospel unless its glories are divinely revealed to us; and the spiritual energy necessary to receive it and to hold it fast must also come from God.
2. The prayer which he offers here is no less remarkable and unique in his Epistles than the act of praise in chapter 1. Addressing himself to God as the Father of angels and of men, the Apostle asks that He will endow the readers in a manner corresponding to “the riches of his glory”—in other words, that the gifts He bestows may be worthy of the universal Father, worthy of the august character in which God has now revealed Himself to mankind. According to this measure, St. Paul beseeches for the Church, in the first instance, two gifts, which after all are one,—viz., the inward strength of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:16), and the permanent indwelling of Christ (Ephesians 3:17). These gifts he asks on his readers’ behalf with a view to their gaining two further blessings, which are also one,—viz., the power to understand the Divine plan (Ephesians 3:18) as it has been expounded in this letter, and so to know the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:19). Still, beyond these there rises in the distance a further end for man and the Church: the reception of the entire fulness of God. Human desire and thought thus reach their limit; they grasp at the infinite.
Few of us can fail to have been struck with the solemnity and high tone of this prayer. It may be that some of us have thought that it contained a higher standard of feeling and life than we could hope to reach, and therefore have been tempted to abandon the consideration of it in silence; whilst others, striving to force the feelings which it recommends, have been betrayed into false excitement and unreality. The remedy for both these common cases is a careful consideration of the Apostle’s petition as a whole. Almost every word is a rich mine of thought, but there is a lesson contained in its general scope which we must carefully observe. It is indeed very spiritual; but it is not the less practical. It is a pattern for the most advanced Christian; but it is a lesson for the weakest believer. We are not to regard it only as an Apostle’s prayer for the early saints, who lived in days far different from our times. It is a prayer suitable for all ministers of the Gospel, for all times. It shows us what is the object of Church teaching, and therefore points out the state to which all Christians ought to be advancing. The Apostle did not pray for any blessing which his people could not receive; and therefore all he prayed for they were bound to seek. Hence this petition came to the Ephesians not only as an evidence of their pastor’s love and devotion, but with an implied command.
And so it is now: the prayers of the Church are exhortations to the faithful. For example: when the earnest petition arises from the altar, “that this congregation here present may with meek heart and due reverence hear and receive Thy holy word,” it is a solemn admonition to cultivate that very meekness and reverence for which we pray. And when the Apostle tells us: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father that he would grant you according to the riches of his exceeding glory, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man”; when he prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith,” and that we may be skilled in the heavenly wisdom of the “love of Christ,” as the members of His mystical body should be—are not these several petitions so many loving exhortations to us to seek after spiritual strength, to acquire a constant faith, to study God’s attributes, especially His love in the Cross, that love which exceeds all other mysteries and surpasses all other knowledge; and to strive after all the perfection which God requires? The Apostle opens the door of his “closet” to show all Christian pastors how they should pray for their people; and all Christian people what they should seek for themselves. As in church solemn lessons are conveyed in the services, so here we are admitted into the awful privacy of an Apostle, to learn our duty whilst we catch his fervour. So beautifully is edification always mingled with devotion.1 [Note: J. Armstrong.]
3. The prayer is conveniently divided into four petitions: “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man”—that is the first. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”—that is the second, the result of the first, and the preparation for the third. “That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge”—that is the third. And all lead up at last to that wonderful desire beyond which nothing is possible—“that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.”
The Occasion of this Prayer
“For this cause.”
1. “For this cause,” says St. Paul, “I bow my knees,”—what is the cause on account of which he bows his knees? In order to ascertain this cause we must look back, first of all, to the beginning of the chapter. The chapter begins with the same words, “For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, for you Gentiles.” Then there comes a parenthesis, which continues until the verse immediately preceding our text. Therefore, if we want to find the connexion, we must look at the close of the preceding chapter, where the cause is set forth in language beautifully and expressively instructive. There the Apostle has been speaking of those who were “builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit,” of those who, having been previously afar off, had been made nigh by the blood of Christ, who were “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God”; he had been speaking of those who were saved “by grace through faith,” who had been brought into covenant with God through Christ, through whom they had “access by one Spirit to the Father”; and then he says, “for this cause I bow my knees,” that is, as if he had said: God hath blessed my ministry to you—Ephesians; there was a time when you were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world”; but the God of all grace has reversed all this, and has now “created you anew in Christ Jesus”; and “for this cause I bow my knees to the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”
2. There is, however, an immediate and pressing necessity for this prayer, but it is rather implied than expressed. When he wrote this letter and offered this prayer, Paul was a prisoner in Rome, a circumstance which appears to have had a very depressing, if not a staggering effect on the newly-converted brethren at Ephesus. Retaining some of the follies of their former heathenism, they looked upon this calamity as an evil omen, and drew from it strange inferences. A prisoner in Rome, and an ambassador of the King of kings! A favourite of heaven and shut up in gaol! Can it be? Is Christianity of God? Is Paul true? So thought and so reasoned these novices in the Christian faith, as is evidently implied in the words immediately preceding our text—“Wherefore I ask that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.” To save them from “fainting,” and to keep them steadfast in the faith, notwithstanding his imprisonment, he prayed for them. It is occasions that make prayer. We never pray as we ought without having definite cases before our minds, and seeking the Divine help, either for ourselves or others, according to the actual circumstances and the special needs of the time.
These Ephesian Christians have passed away, their city lies in ruins; the heron and the stork wander where once the multitude stood. The hand that wrote these lines has long since mouldered into dust; and yet to-day these words are as fresh and appropriate as when first penned. For the fundamental facts of human need and Divine grace remain through all generations, and are true of all nations. To the English Christians of the twentieth century, who represent the same Gentile Church as the Ephesians of the first, the message of the Apostle is suitable: “I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man.”1 [Note: J. W. Ewing, The Undying Christ, 69.]
The Apostle’s Attitude in Prayer
“I bow my knees.”
1. “I bow my knees.” Why is that mentioned? Is not posture a small thing compared with spirit? Why does the Apostle refer to the attitude? It is because of what that attitude meant to him and means to every sincere worshipper. Kneeling is the attitude of humility, of confession, of entreaty, of worship. Some have gone further, and thought that kneeling in prayer is a symbol of man’s fallen state, that he can no longer stand erect before God, but is broken and crushed in the presence of Jehovah. Certainly, kneeling is the natural position of man before the Almighty and All-Holy Creator. The holiest and highest of men have approached God thus. Solomon, the greatest, except David, of all Jewish kings, upon the day of the dedication of the Temple, knelt down before all his people and presented his prayer to God. Ezra, the priest, on receiving news of the people’s sin tells us: “I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God.” Daniel, the prophet, when, in the city of idolatry, he heard of the decree forbidding prayer, except to the king, for thirty days, went into his house and “kneeled upon his knees” as before.
But we have still higher authority; for did not Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, withdraw Himself from His disciples a stone’s throw and kneel down and pray? And, after Jesus, what a line of men—the greatest, the purest, the tenderest—we see kneeling in prayer. Stephen, with that stony rain beating out his life, kneels down and cries with a loud voice: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Peter, when Dorcas is dead, kneels down and prays for her restoration. And Paul, when bidding farewell to the elders of this very Church, knelt down on the seashore and poured out his heart to God for those he was leaving. Evidently it was the habit of his life.
I was touched by reading yesterday morning of Bishop Latimer, the martyr, that towards the end of his life he used to spend so much time kneeling in prayer that he had to be assisted to rise. He forgot his troubles when pouring out his soul before God. Robert McCheyne spent a large part of his time in prayer. As he said: “Prayer is the link between earth and Heaven.” These men stooped to conquer, knelt to prevail, humbled themselves that Christ might be exalted. I pity the man or the nation that knows not how to kneel in prayer to God.1 [Note: J. W. Ewing, The Undying Christ, 71.]
2. Yet no one could be less inclined than Paul to place any emphasis on any possible amount or variety of genuflexion. He knelt, but in assuming that attitude, and in mentioning it, he only gave expression to the humility, the reverence, the earnestness, the concentration of his spirit in devotion. Prayer lies in the heart only, but the words, the attitude, the place, the time, have all their influences directly or indirectly on our heart. We all kneel in private, and no doubt find the attitude helpful, at least to the fixedness of our attention on the work professedly in hand. Would not kneeling in public be equally helpful, and would not its general practice be as seemly as it would be helpful? But, whatever the attitude, let us not forget that the spirit fairly indicated by the Apostle’s expression, “I bow my knees,” is essential to the validity of prayer.
The old customary, seemly attitude in prayer was standing. So Jesus said when He described the penitent publican, “He stood afar off and prayed”; so when He commanded His disciples and said: “When ye stand praying, forgive!” So in the godly fear of our fathers I still remember the awe that seized me as a boy when the whole great congregation rose to its feet in prayer, when the feeble old man and the frail man lifted their worn faces uncovered in speechless reverence to the eternal light which descended and suffused them with a glory which makes the burnished nimbus with which the painter ever loved to decorate his saint seem tame and tawdry. So when the subject enters the presence of his sovereign he stands, and in the very act and attitude of his homage shows that he is a free-born citizen conscious of his dignity.
But prayer is too large and masterful a thing to be capable of being expressed in any single attitude. There are moments when collective worship is beautiful and seemly, and there are moments when a man is overpowered with a transcendent need and is forced to his knees. The man who is dazzled with excess of light finds that he lives and looks through a medium of vision too perfect for his dim eyes. So the man who for a moment is possessed by a great vision, or is conscious of a great need, may as it were be swept from his feet into the attitude of a suppliant before God. The year when I first entered the University was a year when the most learned of all Scottish thinkers died and passed away. As I saw him he was a frail and shrinking shadow, scarcely equal to the humblest act of articulation, yet round the benches the whisper passed that in strong manhood, when first he came to his Chair and wrestled with the problems of metaphysics, and seemed now and then to wrestle in vain, there would come such a torrent of passion and of intellectual conflict in him, that he would leap from his desk and away from his papers and fall prone before God, that light might come and he might, see.1 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn.]
Brother Lawrence told me that it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times: that we were as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in its season. His view of prayer was nothing else but a sense of the Presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine Love. When the appointed time of prayer was past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might, so he passed his life in continual joy; yet hoped that God would give him somewhat to suffer, when he should have grown stronger.2 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 21.]
“I bow my knees unto the Father.”
1. St. Paul says that he offered his prayer to “the Father.” He did not address a material image, a creation of his own fancy, a power, or even “the Divine totality of being.” He prayed to a Person. With St. Paul prayer was mind addressing mind; heart pleading with heart.
Madame Blavatsky, the founder of modern Theosophy, was asked: “Do you pray?” “No,” she replied, “we do not pray; the only Deity we know is an abstraction. We have no time to kneel to an abstraction.”1 [Note: J. W. Ewing, The Undying Christ, 71.]
2. The Authorized Version has an addition which we may well wish we could retain. “Unto the Father of our lord Jesus Christ.” There is something peculiarly tender and winning about this title of God. God is brought very near to us as the Father of Jesus. And we can still cherish that beautiful title, for it is used in several other places.
All nations, all men, who have cultivated religion, have given names and titles to God, in which they have expressed and embodied as well as they could their most exalted ideas concerning God. So the Jew called upon the God of his fathers by the name of Yahveh (“Jehovah”); and in that name called to mind a whole world of plighted troth, of faithfulness and tenderness. So the Moslem, as he tells his beads, recites the names of God, and passes into a kind of ecstasy as he recalls one by one the lofty titles of the beneficence and power of Allah. St. Paul, like all other Christians since, had no personal name for the God whom he adored, no long string of loud-sounding titles. You will not find in the New Testament any mention made of the Supreme Being, of the First Great Cause, of the Architect of the Universe, or anything else in that line. For St. Paul, and for us, God is simply and for ever “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is hardly too much to say, “that is all we know, and all we want to know, of Him.”
(1) The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ means “the Father” of our Lord’s teaching, of those good tidings which He came to bring home to our minds and hearts. That is quite good grammar, and quite good theology. It is (most emphatically) “the Father” of our Lord’s discourses and parables; it is the Father of the Prodigal Son, who went forth to meet him while he was yet a long way off, and fell on his neck and kissed him; it is the Father of whom our Lord testified, “I say not unto you that I will pray for you, for the Father himself loveth you”; it is He alone to whom we bow our knees, because we cannot help it, because His goodness and patience and amazing love are too much for us, because they have tamed our pride and broken down our obstinacy, and shamed us out of our indifference; and now we bow our knees to Him in adoring love, even if we have to add, “Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
There are many people nowadays who claim to know “the Father,” and in the strength of that knowledge they reject the Saviour, reject the Bible, reject Christianity. Yet it remains absolutely true that the New Testament is the one and only book that ever told them anything worth knowing about “the Father”; it is a fact that “the Father” to whom they bow their knees (if, indeed, they ever bow them at all) belongs exclusively to our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone knew Him; He alone revealed Him. Even they have to come to the Father by Christ: as a matter of history, as a matter of fact; there is no other way. And so their position is this: they embrace with effusion the one great and glorious revelation of the Book, and then they throw the Book aside with contempt; they acknowledge with enthusiasm “the Father” whom Christ (and only Christ) declared unto them, and then they dismiss Christ with scant courtesy.1 [Note: R. Winterbotham.]
(2) In the second place, it is impossible to doubt (if we believe Himself) that “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” means more than “the Father” of His discourses, of His gospel. There was an ineffable relationship, a mysterious unity, between our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father, which is as strongly marked in His own words as in any creeds which have been made since. Whatever fault may be found with those creeds, they do not assert more strongly than He did Himself a oneness with the Father which passes man’s understanding; which, assuredly, it had been impossible for any other, and intolerable in any other to assert.
If we understand that He is indeed the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in such wise that there is absolutely no difference or inequality; that such as the Son is in the Gospels, such is the Father also above us, and such the Holy Spirit within us; even so good, so loving, so pitiful, so faithful and true, so unyielding in the face of wrong, so careful for His own, so just and right in all His ways, so compassionate to error, so grieved for sufferers, so sorrowful for sin even unto death; if we understand this, I say, then we believe our Lord’s saying, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (and cannot possibly be mistaken concerning Him), and we bow our knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with the most joyful and complete assurance.1 [Note: R. Winterbotham.]
Trust My Father, saith the Eldest-born;
I did trust Him ere the earth began;
Not to know Him is to be forlorn;
Not to love Him is—not to be man.
With My Father I am so content
That through all this dreary human weather
I am working, waiting, confident.
Life is bliss, because I am His child;
Down in Hades will I lay the stone
Whence shall rise to Heaven His city piled.
Hear Me, sister; hearken, child, to Me:
Our one Father is a perfect glory;
He is light, and there is none but He.
All of you, sore-hearted, heavy-shod,
Come to Father, yours and mine, I pray;
Little ones, I pray you, come to God!2 [Note: George MacDonald.]
3. When St. Paul said, “I call upon the Father,” he was not saying a truism; he was striking the note that was distinctive of Christianity. He was saying the very central thing which Christ, our Master, came into the world to say. “I call upon the Father.” What does it mean, this belief that God is our Father? We are in the hands of a great power. No one can be such a fool as to think that man is independent. We are in the hands of a vast and universal power on which moment by moment we depend, as for our life originally, so, moment by moment, for the breath we breathe. What is this power? Is it blind force? The Jew alone of all the races was taught to believe that the power which lay behind him was righteousness, and that God was just and righteous; so it was that he set to work to build up the foundations of human society—because he believed that God was righteous, and all this our Lord maintained and deepened. He deepened it into the belief that God was a Father.
(1) That means, first of all, that God is love, that behind all the suffering, the misery, the inequality, and the injustice which confront us in this wild and irregular scene of human life, there beats always and everywhere the heart of a Father, the heart of a personal and impartial love. You ask how it was that Christ persuaded men of this truth. It was because of what He was. It was because He was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” If some bright angel had come down from heaven with all the glory of miracles, and had flown to the earth and had proclaimed in a voice of thunder and with works of wonder that God was love, we might have shaken our heads and said, “It is all very curious and mysterious, and it is a very nice thing to listen to, but I know better.” Our Lord persuaded men that God was love because He came a man among men, hiding not Himself from His own flesh, moving among men in free and open contact, bearing men’s sicknesses and carrying their infirmities; because He went down Himself into the dark valley of failure and suffering; because He bore all the pains of body, all the racking agonies of mind, all the mysterious sense of failure and desolation, that, generation after generation, have turned philanthropists into cynics and made them mad; all the human history that has lain behind that bitter cry of righteous men forsaken—that cry which we hear in the Psalm, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—those words which rang out of the lips of Christ on the Cross.
In our great cities we seem as if we were lost in a crowd. What am I but a tiny little element in some vast human machine that sweeps along in the sway of great forces which move from one end of the industrial world to another and seem to annihilate any sense of the individuality of a single life? It is crushed under the great forces which rush along. So even the old Jew could feel years ago in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, where the writer says: “Say not thou, I shall be hidden from the Lord; and who shall remember me from on high? I shall not be known among so many people; for what is my soul in a boundless creation?” We feel it even more in our modern time, but the assurance of Christ is that it is not true; that there is no one of us lost in the crowd; that there is no one of us created by accident; that we were not turned out in hundreds or in thousands or in nations, that we were created individuals, that God is the Father of each and all; and that behind all the seeming inequalities of position and comfort there is the perfect rectifying justice and equality of God. I believe that God is my Father. That means that He knows all my circumstances, that He values me, not in proportion to my performance, but in proportion to how much I am tried; because, to keep my temper, if I am naturally an angry man, is worth in His sight ten thousand times more than to keep my temper if I am naturally an amiable person without a bad temper to contend with. He knows my circumstances. He knows me and cares about me with the infinite knowledge of the Creator and the Father of everything that goes to make the individuality of my lot, which means the individual love of God.1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]
(2) And then, the Fatherhood of God, St. Paul says, is the pattern and source of every fatherhood in heaven, and on earth. It means that God rules by a method of fatherhood. Men are set in groups and societies, and each group and society has one at the head of it, and the model of government is to be fatherhood. So it is in the family, and Christian civilization depends upon maintaining the sanctity and the dignity of the family. To believe in the Fatherhood of God is to set to work to be a good father, a good head of a household in our own families.
The other day I had occasion to find out, in very large works, about a great mass of very intelligent men who were workers there, that they were very unwilling that their wives should know how much money they were getting. I thought that was a very bad sign. There can be no sound and healthy married life where the wife does not know what money the husband is getting, because there can be no confidence; there can be nothing of that confidence of heart to heart, that real unity of life, that real fellowship and co-operation which means complete trust; and you know we have a great job to-day if we are to restore home life to its proper sanctity and dignity.1 [Note: Bishop Gore.]
Now, look for a moment how the small families of the earth are all made after the fashion of the heavenly family. Did it ever occur to you—surely it must—that God’s invention of the family in this world is just to compel our thoughts to rise up to the great Father, and to recognize the great family? Love is the secret of God; love is the creative power. It is symbolized in birth. See how the child comes into the world, dependent on the mother. See how the child has no notion of bliss but in the mother’s arms, surrounded with the protection of those arms, looking up into the heaven of her face, reading the infinite in her eyes. The child, I say, is compelled to love the mother. He cannot help himself. Of course, there is the faculty of loving in the child, or else he could not love. It is his Divine nature; he is born of love, and he is love; but it can be brought out only in this way—that he shall, through helplessness, passivity in bliss, feeding on the very body of the mother that bare him, seeking the shelter of her bosom at every dread or anxiety or fear that comes upon him, learn that there is an overshadowing, an upholding love, and that love is his very servant, and, I had almost said, Slave. Surely there is no servant in His house like God Himself, for He does everything for His little ones.2 [Note: George MacDonald.]
“Every family, in heaven and on earth.”
1. “I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom [not the whole family, but] every family in heaven and on earth is named.” The point of St. Paul’s original phrase is somewhat lost in translation. The Greek word for family (patria) is based on that for father (pater). A distinguished father anciently gave his name to his descendants; and this paternal name became the bond of family or tribal union, and the title which ennobled the race. So we have “the sons of Israel,” the “sons of Aaron” or “of Korah”; and in Greek history, the Atridae, the Alcaemonidae, who form a family of many kindred households—a clan, or gens, designated by their ancestral head. Thus Joseph (in Luke 2:4) is described as being “of the house and family [patria] of David”; and Jesus is “the Son of David.” Now Scripture speaks also of sons of God, and these of two chief orders. There are those “in heaven,” who form a race distinct from ourselves in origin—divided, it may be, amongst themselves into various orders and dwelling in their several homes in the heavenly places, and there are those “on earth.”
The various classes of men on earth, Jewish and Gentile, and the various orders of angels in heaven, are all related to God, the common Father, and only in virtue of that relation has any of them the name of family. The father makes the family; God is the Father of all; and if any community of intelligent beings, human or angelic, bears the great name of family, the reason for that lies in this relation of God to it. The significant name has its origin in the spiritual relationship.
This great and noble conception of the unity of heaven and earth in God is characteristic of that form of Christian theology which is illustrated in this Epistle and in the Epistle to the Colossians. It appears elsewhere; but in these two Epistles, which were written about the same time, it is developed with extraordinary boldness and with a vehement and glorious eloquence. As yet, according to Paul’s conception, the Divine idea is unfulfilled. Its orderly development has been troubled, thwarted, and delayed by sin, by sin in this world and in other worlds. But it will be fulfilled at last. In Christ “were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him”; and in union with Christ, the eternal Son of God, heaven and earth will be restored to the eternal Father.
During this tour in England (in 1894) Dr. Paton was invited by the Bishop of Durham—the late Bishop Westcott—to visit him at Auckland Castle. Both of the men of God who then met are gone, and we can speak more freely of the event. The Bishop received his Presbyterian brother as whole-heartedly as if he had been one of his own clergy. The missionary on his part was profoundly moved by the visit, and told his friend subsequently how the Bishop had led him away to his study, and there discussed, with evident eagerness of soul, the progress and hopes of the evangelization of the heathen in the South Sea Islands and in the world. Then they knelt together before God—those two warriors who, in such different fields and circumstances, had fought their great fight and well-nigh finished their course. They recognized that they were one in heart and purpose, and each poured out his soul in fervent petition for the other, and for the bringing in of the Kingdom of God.1 [Note: John G. Paton, iii. 52.]
Painful as it is to witness the ineffectual yearnings after unity on all hands of which you speak, still it is hopeful also. We may hope that our good God has not put it into the hearts of religious men to raise a prayer for unity without intending in His own time to fulfil the prayer. And since the bar against unity is a conscientious feeling, and a reverence for which each party holds itself to be the truth, and a desire to maintain the faith, we may humbly hope that in our day, and till He discloses to the hearts of men what the true faith is, He will, where hearts are honest, take the will for the deed.2 [Note: Cardinal Newman, in Life of David Brown, 239.]
2. The Greek words can grammatically mean only “every family” not “the whole family.” All such ideas, therefore, as that angels and men, or the blessed in heaven and the believing on earth, are in view as now making one great family, are excluded. The sense is “the Father, from whom all the related orders of intelligent beings, human and angelic, each by itself, get the significant name of family.”
In the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul lays open a vision of the spiritual origins and influences and issues of things temporal and confirms the truth which lies in the bold surmise of the poet that earth is in some sense a shadow of heaven. Now he sees in the future of the material Temple with its “wall of partition” a figure of the state of the world before the Advent, and then passes to the contemplation of its living antitype, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets with Christ for its head corner-stone. Now he traces in the organization of the natural body the pattern of a glorious society fitly framed together by the ministries of every part, and guided by the animating energy of a Divine Head. Now he shows how through the experience of the Church on earth the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the heavenly hierarchy. Now he declares that marriage, in which the distinctive gifts and graces of divided humanity are brought together in harmonious fellowship, is a sign, a sacrament, in his own language, of that perfect union in which the Incarnate Word takes to Himself His Bride, the first-fruits of creation. And so in the paragraph where the text occurs he touches with thankful exultation on the universality of the Gospel, by which the many races of men, Jews and Gentiles—the people and the nations—are reunited, and the purpose of God in the education of the world is at last made clear.
Not in one line but in many; not through a calm, uninterrupted growth but in sorrow and tribulation men were trained in the past—this is his thought—to receive the crowning truth, and justified their training by their faith. By the help of that most signal example we can see how every ordered commonwealth, every bond of kinsmanship, owes its strength to a Divine presence. From the one Father, every fatherhood, every family through which the grace of fatherhood is embodied, derives its essential virtue.1 [Note: B. F. Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, 161.]
3. Family relationship is therefore a very sacred thing, its root being not in the creation, but in God. And though we shall not find on earth any development worthy of its holy root, nevertheless the flower which fills the world with choicest fragrance is family affection. It is capable of becoming most heavenly, since the Eternal Father is Himself the spring of parental as His Eternal Son is of filial love. Therefore, also, family affections are capable of ceaseless cultivation. There is nothing to hinder family love from becoming evermore deeper, stronger, and lovelier. If it is so strong and so precious among fallen creatures, what must it be among the perfect? If family life on the earth gives rise, as it often does, to a very paradise of courtesies and tender sanctities, what must family life be in the immediate Presence, and under the direct influence, of the Infinite Father and His only begotten Son? Christian parents and their children should know, therefore, that in their families they have not a little world, but a little heaven, to cultivate. Their families derive their distinctions and peculiarities from relations in the Godhead. Their families have names not only in time, but in eternity. Every family in Christ is named according to its distinction, as a manifestation of a corresponding variety in the Divine Nature.
(1) The family is a kingdom.—It is not of our design. It is not of our making. It is not of our choosing. It is not dependent on our pleasure for its continuance. When complete it includes each typical relation of society, the relation of command, of obedience, of fellowship. The members of a family in simple intercourse learn, however imperfectly, the duty of service. The feeling of the family conquers self. It is enough to appeal to the experience of home to refute the cynical assertion that personal interest is man’s single or strongest motive. In the family the tenderest affection, the most watchful care, the largest forethought, are lavished, not on the strongest or the most helpful, but rather on the most helpless and weak, who can make no measureable return to their comforters. In the family, need is taken as the measure of help, and a principle is spontaneously acknowledged which in its widest application would be adequate to deal with the sorrows of the world.
On no subject has human thought more centred than upon the family. There is nothing more important in our entire social life. For a nation will not be better than its homes. Christianity did not invent the family or marriage, but it has been probably the greatest agency in giving ideals to the home. This is all the more remarkable when one recalls that Jesus was not married, and that so much of the New Testament literature was written by Paul who, like his Master, had no home. But how incomplete would the gospel be without the figures drawn from fatherhood, sonship, marriage, and childhood! The more one reads the New Testament the more does one feel how sacred the family is, because it so often serves as a symbol of the relations of the Church with Christ. When the New Testament writers wish to express the very closest and holiest union of believers with their Lord it is to the family that they turn for symbols.1 [Note: Shailer Mathews, The Social Gospel, 35.]
(2) The family is also a school, a school of character. The outer school cannot mould the whole of man’s nature. Character is shaped by action and not by words. What has been learnt by memory must be tested and embodied by experience. Under one aspect the outer school stimulates new and importunate wants, while the home is fitted to bring that social discipline which checks the selfish endeavour to satisfy them. At the same time the school offers new interests which may brighten home. Out of the home, too, must spring the spirit of purity. For home has its own proper warnings when the occasion comes. The knowledge of the elder may guard the innocent from falling; and the young have no better earthly safeguard than to carry with them the thought of mother or sister as the witness of all they do or say or think.
In September I saw a tree bearing roses, whilst others of the same kind, round about it, were barren; demanding the cause of the gardener, why that tree was an exception from the rule of the rest, this reason was rendered: because that alone being clipped close in May, was then hindered to spring and sprout, and therefore took this advantage by itself to bud in autumn. Lord, if I were curbed and snipped in my younger years by fear of my parents, from those vicious excrescences to which that age was subject, give me to have a godly jealousy over my heart, suspecting an autumn-spring, lest corrupt nature (which without Thy restraining grace will have a vent) break forth in my reduced years into youthful vanities.1 [Note: Thomas Fuller, Good Thoughts in Worse Times.]
Ah! not to be happy alone,
Are men sent, or to be glad.
Oft-times the sweetest music is made
By the voices of the sad.
The thinker oft is bent
By a too-great load of thought;
The discoverer’s soul grows sick
With the secret vainly sought:
Lonely may be the home,
No breath of fame may come,
Yet through their lives doth shine
A purple light Divine,
And a nobler pain they prove
Than the bloom of lower pleasures, or the fleeting spell of love.2 [Note: Sir Lewis Morris, “Songs of Two Worlds” (Works, 68).]
(3) The family becomes also a sanctuary.—The splendour of palaces does not secure innocence and holiness within their walls, but a sense of the presence of God does. Where God is welcomed as a guest there an atmosphere of sanctity is diffused around. A witness whose experience is unsurpassed writes: “I know numbers of the prettiest, happiest little homes which consist of a single room.” We ask then that His hallowing Presence should be habitually sought. We ask that “daily bread” should be received with some simple words of blessing; that work and rest should be consecrated by some simple words of prayer and praise. In these observances there is nothing forced or unnatural; nothing which is not possible under the commonest outward circumstances; nothing which does not answer to the promptings of the human heart. And for the fulfilment of this desire we claim woman’s help. There is a message even for the present age in the fact emphatically recorded by St. John, that a woman was divinely charged to be the first herald of the Resurrection, the herald of the new life.
The need of England, the need of every land, is “good mothers.” If they fail, it is not for lack of womanly endowments in those who are called to fulfil the duty. Poor and desolate outcasts, whom we are tempted to place lowest, are capable of every sacrifice to shield their children from bodily suffering or loss. Let them only feel, and let mothers of every class feel, that there are sicknesses of the soul which require the ministries of wise and tender affection, spiritual perils which need to be guarded against by watchful forethought, desires of the heart which crave the fullness of more than human love, and we shall be brought near to the consummation of our daily prayer in the advent of the Kingdom of God.1 [Note: B. F. Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, 168.]
“Father Endeavour Clark,” as the founder of the Christian Endeavour movement is sometimes called, tells the story of a mother, whose family is as remarkable in its influence as that of the Crossleys of Halifax. This is the Murray family of Graaf Reinet, in South Africa. The father of the family, Andrew Murray the first, was a young Scotch missionary. He wooed and won a Dutch girl of Huguenot extraction, and carried her off, a bride of sixteen years, to his parsonage at Graaf Reinet. She became the mother of seventeen children, twelve of whom lived to grow up to bless the world. From them three hundred and four descendants have sprung (including those who have married into the family). The total number of ministers in the family, either directly or by marriage, is forty-two. Three are now studying for the ministry, six are missionaries in Central Africa, four others are in Mashonaland and the Transvaal, and three in Nyassaland. Three grandsons are in the South African Parliament. Of the original family, five sons were ministers, and the daughters wives of pastors and heads of educational establishments; the most well known, outside of South Africa, by his writings, being the beloved Andrew Murray, his father’s namesake. The influence of the whole family in South Africa is incalculable. Never, says Dr. Clark, were children more fortunate in their mother. Hers was one of those sweet, persuasive natures which mould and guide and bless, without seeming to know it themselves, certainly without conscious effort. When asked, “How did you bring up such a wonderful family?” she replied, “Oh, I do not know; I didn’t do anything.” But every one else knew if she did not. She just lived herself the life she wanted her boys and girls to live. Her life was hid with Christ in God; and they, through her, saw the beauty of holiness. “Her chief characteristic,” said one of her children, “was a happy contentment with her lot. She was always exactly where she wished to be, because she was where her Father in heaven had placed her.” She outlived her husband by many years. It was felt that her serenity and gentleness and loveliness of character came not a little from the hours of long communion when she looked into the Face of the Invisible, and thus learned to endure as seeing Him.1 [Note: H. S. Dyer, The Ideal Christian Home, 77.]
No clever, brilliant thinker she,
With college record and degree;
She has not known the paths of fame;
The world has never heard her name;
She walks in old long-trodden ways,
The valleys of the yesterdays.
She seeks no other wand of power
To make home sweet, bring heaven near,
To win a smile and wipe a tear
And do her duty day by day,
In her own quiet place and way.
As round some reverend saint enshrined,
And following hers the childish feet
Are led to ideals true and sweet,
And find all purity and good
In her divinest motherhood.
God rules the world in good and ill;
Men in her creed are brave and true
And women pure as pearls of dew,
And life for her is high and grand
By work and glad endeavour spanned.
All for the sunshine of her face;
Her very smile a blessing throws,
And hearts are happier where she goes;
A gentle, clear-eyed messenger,
To whisper love—thank God for her!1 [Note: L. M. Montgomery.]
4. What a solace to our hearts is the assurance that we shall never cease to be members of a family! The perfection of the great heavenly Household is that it is a Household of households. We are born into a family, we grow up in a family, we die in a family, and after death, we shall not simply go into the great heaven, but to our own family, in our Father’s House. “Abraham gave up the ghost, and was gathered to his people.” “Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace,” God had said to him. All in heaven will not know us, but our own people will know us. We shall go to them.
We are but babes in the household of God; and, moreover, we are in a very humble part of His House, rather in an adjoining house than in the very House. But we are loved as babes, by our numerous kindred; and quite as much by our own in heaven as by our own on earth. The sweet affections of our heavenly kindred are ever seeking to reveal themselves in our hearts. What are our family altars but means of communication between families on earth and families in heaven? They unite with us in saying, “Our Father.” And in the joy of our fellowship with Him, and with His Son Jesus Christ, they joy with us.2 [Note: J. Pulsford, Christ and His Seed, 110.]
The two communities of earth and heaven are united. They, as we, live by derivation of the one life; they, as we, are fed and Messed by the one Lord. The occupations and thoughts of Christian life on earth and of the perfect life of saints above are one. They look to Christ as we do, when we live as Christians, though the sun, which is the light of both regions, shows there a broader disc, and pours forth more fervid rays, and is never obscured by clouds, nor ever sets in night. Whether conscious of us or not, they are doing there, in perfect fashion, what we imperfectly attempt, and partially accomplish.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
5. But the members of families on the earth should see to it that they are members of the Household of God. Let there be no doubt touching their union with Christ, the First-born Son. Let them have clear evidence that they are born again, and partakers of the Divine Nature. Members of Christian families who are not personally in Christ should lay it to heart that they are not as yet members of any heavenly household, and that they will be separated from their own families, unless they enter in at the door of grace, while they may. Has the door been opened in vain? We have been resting in the affections of our parents and enjoying the comforts of their house; but are we with them in Christ, and members with them of their eternal family?
In one sense, and that a very important one, every family with all its members has God for its Father, for He made all and upholds all; and the thought should be a welcome one, that we share His love with all the world, and yet our own share in His love and His care is none the less, and that the family of God is made up of those who are loved by Him. But there is more than this—the admission into His family implies for us the recovery of a lost privilege. Sin separated and banished us, made us as though we were not God’s children, and unwilling to accept the love and the care and the will of God; we needed to be made the Sons of God again, and here came a provision of the Fatherly care which made the limits of the Family as wide as ever; the barrier of enmity was broken down by the great Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Since He died, it is now, not indeed, every one upon earth, but “whosoever will”—every one who feels that he would be a child of God. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.”
That we might know Him, Thou didst come and live;
That we might find Him, Thou didst come and die;
The son-heart, Brother, Thy son-being give—
We too would love the Father perfectly,
And to His bosom go back with the cry,
Father, into Thy hands I give the heart
Which left Thee but to learn how good Thou art!
The Father and His children—not a third;
Nor, all the weary time, fell any curse!
Not once dropped from its nest an unfledged bird
But Thou wast with it! Never sorrow stirred
But a love-pull it was upon the chain
That draws the children to the Father again!
Take pity! we are poor where Thou art rich:
Our hearts are small; and yet there is not one
In all Thy Father’s noisy nursery which,
Merry, or mourning in its narrow niche,
Needs not Thy Father’s heart, this very now,
With all his being’s being, even as Thou!1 [Note: George MacDonald, Poetical Works, ii. 335.]
The Father and the Families
Baring-Gould (S.), Our Parish Church, 129.
Boyd (A. K. H.), Sunday Afternoons in a University City, 279.
Brown (J. B.), The Home, 217.
Brown (J. B.), The Home Life, 288.
Chadwick (W. E.), Social Relationships in the Light of Christianity, 173.
Clarke (J. E.), Common-Life Sermons, 29, 52.
Ewing (J. W.), The Undying Christ, 68.
Harris (H.), Short Sermons, 268.
Hull (E. L.), Sermons, i. 121.
Laird (J.), Memorials, 167.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Epistle to the Ephesians, 128.
Magee (W. C.), Sermons (Contemporary Pulpit Library), i. 73.
Pulsford (J.), Christ and His Seed, 106.
Ridgeway (C. J.), Social Life, 103.
Robertson (F. W.), Sermons, iii. 181.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxii. No. 1309.
Spurgeon (C. H.), My Sermon Notes, iv. 272.
Vaughan (C. J.), Authorized or Revised? 315.
Westcott (B. F.), Social Aspects of Christianity, 19.
Westcott (B. F.), The Incarnation and Common Life, 161.
Christian World Pulpit, xl. 233 (MacDonald); lviii. 19 (Fairbairn); lxxiv. 241 (Gore).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, xii. 201 (Armstrong), 214 (Kempthorne), 216 (Heber).
(15) Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.—The original word (patria) here rendered “family” is literally derived from the word “father” (pater). It has been proposed to render it fatherhood, and translate, from whom all fatherhood whatever derives its name—all lower fatherhood being, in fact, a shadow and derivative from the Fatherhood of God. The translation is tempting, yielding a grand sense, and one thoroughly accordant with the treatment of the earthly relationship below (Ephesians 6:1-4). But the usage of the word is clearly against it; and we must render it every family—that is, every body of rational beings in earth or heaven united under one common fatherhood, and bearing the name (as in a family or clan) of the common ancestor. Such bodies are certainly the first germs or units of human society; what their heavenly counterparts may be, who can tell? The Apostle looks upon the fathers whose names they delight to bear as the imperfect representatives of God, and upon the family itself, with its head, as the type in miniature of the whole society of spiritual beings united in sonship to the Father in heaven. Hence he declares that it is ultimately from Him that every family derives the name of patria, and by that very name bears witness to the Divine Fatherhood, on which he desires here to lay especial stress.
(16) To be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.—From the Father, as the source of all life and being, St. Paul passes on to the Spirit, “proceeding from the Father,” as the giver of life to men. His prayer here, as in Ephesians 1:17, is for the gift of the Spirit, but under some difference of aspect. There the prayer is for illumination, here for strength to grasp the mystery, to be rooted in love, and be filled up to the fulness of God. Accordingly, there the inner man is represented only by the “eyes of the heart;” here (as in Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16) we hear of the “inner man” in his entirety, including all faculties—intellectual, emotional, moral—which make up his spiritual nature. And St. Paul emphasises this prayer very strikingly by asking that the gift may be “according to the riches of His glory,” unlimited as the illimitable glory of the Divine Nature itself. Moreover, a greater closeness of communion is clearly indicated here. For light is a gift from without; strength comes from an indwelling power, making itself perfect in weakness, and continually growing from grace to grace.
(17) That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.—What that indwelling power is he now indicates, so passing to another Person of the Holy Trinity. It is (see Colossians 1:27) “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The indwelling of Christ (as here the construction of the original plainly shows) is not a consequence of the gift of the Spirit; it is identical with it, for the office of the Holy Spirit is to implant and work out in us the likeness of Christ. So in John 14:16-20, in immediate connection with the promise of the Comforter, we read: “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.” “Ye shall know that . . . ye are in me and I in you.” Hence the life in the Spirit is described as “To me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21); “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). Faith is simply the condition of that indwelling of Christ (comp. Ephesians 2:8), the opening of the door to Him that He may enter in.
The prayer is here complete, all that follows being but consequent from it. In accordance with the universal law of revelation, all is from the Father, all is through the Son vouchsafing to tabernacle in our humanity, all is by the Spirit effecting that indwelling of Christ in each individual soul.
That ye, being rooted and grounded in love.—The phrase “ye, being,” &c., stands in the original before the word “that,” as a kind of link between the previous clause and this, which seems to describe the consequence of the indwelling of Christ—viz., first love, next comprehension, and finally growth into the fulness of God.
The expression “rooted and grounded” (i.e., founded) contains the same mixture of metaphor as in 1 Corinthians 3:9, of the tree and the building—a mixture so natural as to pass into common usage. (Comp. Colossians 2:7, “rooted and being built up in Him.”) The idea implied in “rooted” is of the striking down deeper and spreading wider into the soil; in “founded” of the firm basis on which ultimately we rest. “In love:” Love is not itself the root or foundation (for this is Jesus Christ Himself), but the condition under which growth takes place. Generally that growth is upward, as in 1 Corinthians 8:1 : “Knowledge puffeth up, but love buildeth up;” or, as in Ephesians 4:16, where the body is said “to build itself up in love.” Here that growth is downward, deeper and deeper into the communion with God in Christ, as “faith is made perfect (or, efficient) by love.” As in relation to man, so also to God, love is at once the recognition of an existing unity between spirit and spirit, and a means—probably the only means—of making that unity energetic and deepening it continually. Hence love is the first consequence of the indwelling of Christ in the soul; and by it the soul becomes rooted and grounded in the unity, given by that indwelling, with man and God.
The Love of Christ
I bow my knees unto the Father … to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.—Ephesians 3:17-19.
1. These words, and the remarkable passage to which they belong, supply us with the keynote of the Apostle Paul’s life and letters and ministry. They show us how intensely he was permeated with and dominated by the love of Christ. It was not an idea that possessed him; neither was it a system. It was a Person, and that Person was Christ. It was not the life of Christ or the character of Christ that fascinated him; it was Christ Himself. Jesus Christ was the charm of his whole life: “To me to live is Christ.” St. Paul’s life was interpenetrated with Christ, so much so that he lost himself in Him: “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
I hardly know anything more disheartening than to read such a passage as this, and to feel while we read it how little our own hearts and thoughts answer to it. We see how St. Paul felt and thought. The words come glowing from his soul; he is lifted up above himself with the greatness, the inconceivable greatness, of the things he is talking of. His inward eye is fixed on the love of Christ to the world—on the wonderfulness of God’s counsels to men—on the height and depth, and length and breadth, which no one can measure, of what had just been made known of God’s feelings about them, and of His purposes towards them. And from the fullness of his heart his mouth speaks. We see that he is overflowing with the feelings produced by the contemplation of what Christ is and has done. His whole mind is alive to it. He speaks not by custom, or because it is right to magnify the Lord’s greatness, but because he cannot help it—he cannot restrain what he feels and thinks.
And how differently do we read the words! There they are before us—words of fire and life, words which show that to him who spoke them the love of Christ was the most real, the nearest, the most absorbing thought in the world. Christ is not less to us than he was to St. Paul. But how often must we confess to ourselves that we have no feelings which answer to the Apostle’s manner of speaking; we cannot repeat them as the natural and unforced expression of our own feelings. There seems such a gulf between what we ought to feel and what we do fee, such a difference between the way in which the Gospel appeared to St. Paul and the way in which it appears to us. He found no difficulty in speaking worthily of his Master’s love; he passed from the outer scenes of ordinary life to the contemplation of Christ, and straightway his heart began to kindle and his tongue to speak. But we seem only able to touch, as it were, the outside shell of his words. We see, but do not feel, how excellent they are. They are such a contrast to the common thoughts of our life, they are so far above us, that we cannot enter into them.1 [Note: R. W. Church, Village Sermons, ii. 287.]
2. This constitutes the third of the petitions in this great prayer of St. Paul’s, each of which rises above, and is a consequence of, the preceding, and leads on to, and is a cause or occasion of, the subsequent one.
There are two thoughts in the petition: he prays that the Ephesians may be able to apprehend the love of Christ in its vast dimensions, and that they may have an experimental knowledge of it, though it passes knowledge. But the exposition of each clause by itself will be the best exposition of the whole text.
Rooted and Grounded in Love
These two distinct conceptions “rooted” and “grounded” are frequently united in the Scriptures (as in Psalms 144:12, and 1 Corinthians 3:9). Two cognate conceptions—one borrowed from the processes of nature, and the other from human art—are employed to indicate at once the life, the growth, the strength, and the stability of a Christian’s hope. A tree and a tower are the material objects which are used here as alphabetic letters to express a spiritual thought. More particularly, as a tree depends for life and growth upon its roots being embedded in a genial soil, and a tower depends for strength and stability upon its foundation, the Apostle desires, by means of these conceptions, to express and illustrate the corresponding features of the Christian life. If disciples are compared to living trees, love is the soil they grow in; if they are compared to a building, love is the foundation on which it stands secure.
The root is taken from the field of nature, the grounding or founding from the world of art. The root is laid in the soil to imbibe its virtues, the foundation is placed on its base to sustain the edifice. The root grows, and produces fruit, the foundation stands, and gives strength. The root needs continual supply, the foundation rests in its completeness, and abides always.1 [Note: J. Vaughan.]
1. Rooted.—We cast our affections down into the character and the Being of God; we wind them about His attributes; we strike them into His promises; we drive them deep into His faithfulness. There the roots of our affection lie. They take up, they drink in, the nature of the love they live in; they are always assimilating themselves to it, and they send up its sweet savour by little, silent threads, which are always running to the fountain of life. Our words, our actions, our whole outer being, cannot choose but mould itself to them, and take that love. Because of those secret processes of the roots which are in Christ, we love. We love simply because we are rooted in love.
Most men, when they wish to be religious, begin by trying to give up certain things, and to do certain other actions. But there must be something that goes before that, else it is just as if you planted leaves without stems, or flowers without roots. The springs of life must be in their right places. The roots must be really in God. True religion does not consist so much in this thing, or that thing, as being always in a certain tone and atmosphere. The plant takes its character from the ground; the soul, from its inmost, deepest associations. There must be that behind whereby we are always making inspirations of love.2 [Note: Ibid.]
In descending by one of the passes of the Alps into the lovely valley of the Saarnen, the traveller may notice on the right hand of the path a pine tree, growing in extraordinary circumstances. Enormous masses of hoary rock lie scattered in the bottom of the ravine. They have fallen from the crags which form its stupendous walls, and it is on the top of one of these, a bare, naked block, that the pine tree stands. No dwarf, misshapen thing, like the birch or mountain ash on an old castle wall, where the wind or passing bird had dropped the seed; it is a forest giant, with rugged trunk, and top that shoots a green pyramid to the skies. At first sight one wonders how a tree seated on the summit of a huge stone, raised above the soil, with no apparent means of living, could live at all, still more grow with such vigour as to defy the storms that sweep the pass, and the severe and long winters that reign over these solitudes. A nearer approach explains the mystery. Finding soil enough on the summit, where lichens had grown and decayed, to sustain its early age, it had thrown out roots which, while the top stretched itself to the light, lowered themselves down to the naked stone, feeling for earth and food. Touching the ground at length, they buried themselves in it to draw nourishment from its unseen but inexhaustible supplies, to feed the sapling into a giant tree.1 [Note: Thomas Guthrie.]
2. Grounded.—More than once in this Epistle to the Ephesians St. Paul uses the imagery of the foundations of a building to describe the foundations of a Christian life. Perhaps the reason was this. To any one entering Ephesus, the first object that would strike his eyes would be the splendid temple of Diana. There it stood, with its one hundred and seven pillars, each sixty feet high. All Asia had contributed to the building of it. Though its foundations were laid on marshy ground, years and years of patient labour had overcome all the natural difficulties of the place. So St. Paul, coming to Ephesus to supplant this false form of worship, felt that the Christian’s life must rest on a foundation as hidden, but as firm, as that of this heathen temple. That foundation-stone, he says, must be love.
The grand foundation or ground of everything is love, God’s love. Because “God is love,” therefore His love goes forth to sinners. Because His love went forth to sinners, He provided a way by which He could restore sinners again to happiness and to Himself; and so Jesus died for them. And since Jesus died for sinners, therefore God chose us, drew us, pardoned us, spoke peace to us. And having loved us enough to do this, what will not the same love do, what prayer will He not hear, what good thing can He withhold, what undertaking will He not make for us, for time and for eternity? That is a foundation. It will support anything—any comfort, any work, any hope we ever choose to build upon it. It is like some mathematical proposition, which cannot be assailed, and the whole problem is actually contained within it, and only wants to be worked out. It stands to the soul like solid adamant to the whole temple—a foundation.1 [Note: J. Vaughan.]
3. In love.—The soil in which the living tree is planted is love. What is the love in which the trees of righteousness are rooted? Whether is it God’s love to man, or man’s love to God and to his brother? The question admits of an answer at once easily intelligible and demonstrably true. The love in which the roots of faith strike down for nourishment is not human but Divine. It is not even that grace which is sovereign and Divine in its origin but residing and acting in a renewed human heart; it is the attribute, and even the nature, of Deity, for “God is love.” The soil which bears and nourishes the new life of man is the love of God in the gift of His Son.
It introduces an inextricable confusion of ideas to think of believers as trees rooted in their own love—an emotion that has its abode and its exercise within their own hearts. The roots of a man’s faith and hope must penetrate, not inward into the love he exercises, but outward into the love which is exercised towards him. The roots of a tree grow, not into the tree itself, but into an independent soil, which at once supports its weight and nourishes its life. In like manner a Christian’s faith does not lean and live upon anything within himself; it goes out and draws all its support from God’s love to sinners in the Gospel of His Son.
According to the Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” A very comprehensive and noble definition, no doubt! Yet did it never strike you as strange that there is no mention of love here? This appears a very remarkable omission—an omission as remarkable as if an orator who undertook to describe the firmament left out the sun; or an artist, in painting the human face, made it sightless, and gave no place on the canvas to those beaming eyes which impart to the countenance its life and expression. Why did an Assembly, for piety, learning, and talents, the greatest, perhaps, that ever met in England, or anywhere else, in that catalogue of the Divine attributes assign no place to love? Unless we are to understand the term “goodness” as comprehending love, the omission may be thus explained and illustrated: Take a globe and, observing their natural order, lay upon its surface the different hues of the rainbow; give it a rapid motion round its axis; and now the blue, red, yellow, and other colours vanish. As if by magic, the whirling sphere instantly changes into purest white, presenting to our eyes a visible, and to our understanding a palpable, proof that the sunbeam is not a simple but a compound body: thread spun of various rays, which, when blended into one, form what we call light. And may it not be that these divines make no distinct mention of love, just because they held that as all the separate colours blended together form light, so all the attributes acting together make love; and that thus, because God is just, wise, powerful, holy, good, and true, of necessity, therefore, and in the express words of John, “God is love”?1 [Note: Thomas Guthrie.]
All vigorous life is a correspondence between organism and environment. If a tree is to be “rooted and grounded,” it must find, deep hidden in the soil, the materials it requires for its own substance. Otherwise, poverty in the soil will be reflected in its stunted branches, yellow leaves, and imperfect roots. Just so, if we are to be “rooted and grounded in love,” love must be the deepest ingredient in the soil in which our spiritual nature grows. The fact that men and women have become thus “rooted and grounded” that, by the exercise of faith, their characters have been “made perfect in love,” is thus the evidence of something more; it implies the presence of love in their spiritual environment.2 [Note: E. Grubb, The Personality of God, 124.]
It was manifest from her childhood, as almost invariably with those heroes and heroines of history who have been the lovers and leaders of mankind, that Florence Nightingale had special gifts and sympathies, and that she was inspired by a sacred ambition to use them for the alleviation of pain and sorrow. I remember a row of young palm-trees in Dr. Bennett’s garden at Mentone, and one of them was thrice the height of the rest. There was a tank of water five yards below, but the tree had reached it with its roots. So Florence, rooted and grounded in love, rose above her fellows.3 [Note: Dean Hole, Then and Now, 93.]
Strong to Apprehend
1. It requires strength, says Paul, to lay hold of the love of God. Some of us might, perhaps, fancy that it would have been more appropriate had he said, “weak enough to lay hold.” For faith, we have come to imagine, is a characteristic of weak rather than of strong souls—a quality by which we forgo the strength of our reason, and passively accept that which mere authority lays upon us. But we shall look in vain for any sanction in St. Paul’s thoughts for the opposition we fancy to exist between faith and reason. Their operation he never brings into contrast. What he does contrast is faith and sight. The spiritual realities, he tells us, are those that “eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The exercise of faith is for him of similar quality to the vigorous use of the mind, when we are striving with all our force to master some difficult problem that confronts us. He recognizes that the love of God is hidden and elusive, that it can be “laid hold of” only by strenuous effort.
2. The word translated “ye may be strong” is found scarcely anywhere else; Paul found it hard to discover a word to express his meaning; it implies the putting forth of our best powers to do something that is extremely difficult, or almost impossible,—and doing it successfully. But, while Paul is as far as possible from suggesting that the love of God can be “laid hold of” by weak and passive acceptance of a dogma, he does, it is clear, maintain that the faith which “lays hold” is not simply identical with the use of our reasoning faculty. What is the condition of its effective exercise? He does not say, “that ye, being furnished with complete knowledge,” or “that ye, having your intelligence sharpened to the utmost,” may be strong enough to apprehend; but “that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.” The condition of the vigorous exercise of faith is, for him, not intellectual mainly, but ethical. He knew, like his Master before him, that it is the pure in heart who see; the eye that is single that is full of light; the doing of the will of God that yields knowledge about the teaching. If we are to know the love that is above us, it will be through the experience of love within us.
3. Thus there are certain conditions to be observed that we may be strong to apprehend the love of Christ in its vastness.
(1) There must be the reception of Christ into the heart by faith.—He that is rooted and grounded in love because Christ dwells in his heart will be strengthened to know the love in which he is rooted. The Christ within us will know the love of Christ. We must first “taste,” and then we shall “see” that the Lord is good, as the Psalmist puts it with deep truth. First the appropriation and feeding upon God, then the clear perception by the mind of the sweetness in the taste. First the enjoyment; then the reflection on the enjoyment. First the love; then the consciousness of the love of Christ possessed and the love to Christ experienced. The heart must be grounded in love that the man may know the love which passeth knowledge.
What is the beginning of everything? “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” There is the gate through which you and I may come, and by which we must come, if we are to come at all, into the possession and perception of Christ’s great love. Here is the path of knowledge. First of all there must be the simple historical knowledge of the facts of Christ’s life and death for us, with the Scripture teaching of their meaning and power. And then we must turn these truths from mere notions into life. It is not enough to know the love that God has to us, in that lower sense of the word “knowledge.” Many of you know that, who never got any blessing out of it all your days, and never will unless you change. Besides the “knowing” there must be the “believing” of the love. You must translate the notion into a living fact in your experience. You must pass from the simple work of understanding the Gospel to the higher act of faith. You must not be contented with knowing, you must trust. And if you have done that all the rest will follow, and the little, narrow, low doorway of humble self-distrusting faith, through which a man creeps on his knees, leaving outside all his sin and his burden, opens out into the temple palace: the large place in which Christ’s love is imparted to the soul.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, 32.]
(2) There must be meditation on the love of Christ.—We have the same knowledge that St. Paul had of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. And yet what a different thing was this love to him and to us. Is it possible for us ever to realize it as he did; ever to have the feelings towards it which in him stirred up the depths of his soul, and burst out as naturally from his lips as water does from a spring? And if it is possible—and who can doubt it?—why is it that St. Paul’s strong words seem to us so strange, so hopelessly above us? One reason is that we think so little about it. We hear, and read, and talk, but we do not think. When we hear of our Lord’s wonderful doings, we do not take the thought away with us and consider it, consider what it means and what it comes to. We never turn it about in our minds as we do the ways and doings of men among whom we live.
Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character,—the Christlike nature in its fullest development. To love abundantly is to live abundantly, and to love for ever is to live for ever.1 [Note: Henry Drummond.]
The joy of heaven is the joy of love. The key to it is in Christ, who for the joy that was set before Him endured all. Christ’s was the joy of self-sacrifice, of loving, of saving, of giving up His life to another. But this is no joy save to those who love.2 [Note: James Hinton.]
(3) But above everything, if we would understand and feel our Master’s love, we must have something of His Spirit.—Most truly is it said that love is the key and interpreter of love. It is difficult to sympathize with and to enter into it if we are unlike it in our heart and mind. We may for a while be charmed and overcome by some great display of nobleness and unselfishness; we may for a moment be lifted up by the admiration of it, and the wish to be like it, when we read of a man clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, tending the sick, risking his life in pestilence or shipwreck for his fellow-men. But these feelings will pass away, unless we are in reality, and not only in the moment of excitement, like those we admire. They will pass away and leave us dull, and dry, and cold, to what calls upon our love. The story of Christ’s love is too old, and too well known, and too familiar, ever to make an impression on us now, unless we have it in our hearts to wish to have something of His love in us.
If “Christ dwell in your hearts by faith,” you will be “rooted and grounded in love,” and as a consequence you will be able to comprehend spiritual things. A noble passage from the Philippians should be quoted here: “God is my witness, how greatly I long after you all in the [motherly] affections of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in full knowledge and in all perception; that you may distinguish the things which transcend.” Love, then, according to the Apostle, is the ground and mother of the perceptive faculty. Without fire there can be no effulgence or radiance. As is the fire, will be the radiance. The source of mental illumination is the Son of God in the heart. It was surely inspiration which moved Paul to pray that his friends might be rooted and grounded in love in order that they might be able to comprehend the mysteries of their faith; but it was also pure philosophy. This I pray, that more and yet more you may abound in the spirit of love; that you may advance unto the full recognition and discernment of Heavenly things. “Love is the key which opens all the secrets of faith.”1 [Note: John Pulsford, Christ and His Seed, 117.]
When the American civil war was going on, a mother received the news that her boy had been wounded in the battle of the Wilderness. She took the first train, and started for her boy; although an order had gone forth from the War Department that no more women should be admitted within the lines. But a mother’s love knows nothing about orders; so she managed by tears and entreaties to get through the lines to the Wilderness. At last she found the hospital where her boy was. Then she went to the doctor and she said: “Will you let me go to the ward and nurse my boy?”
The doctor said: “I have just got your boy to sleep: he is in a very critical state; and I am afraid if you wake him up the excitement will be so great that it will carry him off. You had better wait awhile, and remain without until I tell him that you have come, and break the news gradually to him.” The mother looked into the doctor’s face and said: “Doctor, supposing my boy does not wake up, and I should never see him alive! Let me go and sit down by his side: I won’t speak to him.” “If you will not speak to him you may do so.”
She crept to the cot and looked into the face of her boy. How she had longed to look at him. How her eyes seemed to be feasting as she gazed upon his countenance! When she got near enough she could not keep her hand off; she laid that tender, loving hand upon his brow. The moment the hand touched the forehead of her boy, he, without opening his eyes, cried out: “Mother, you have come!” He knew the touch of that loving hand. There was love and sympathy in it.2 [Note: D. L. Moody, The Way to God, 19.]
With All the Saints
1. The definition of a saint here implied is that it is one who has apprehended something, rather than one who has attained a great reputation for sanctity by asceticism or noble deeds; one whose mental conception, whose capacity for thought, has become so quickened and enlarged as to enable him to realize a great idea, which so possesses him that holiness follows naturally. And St. Paul’s prayer for his converts is that they too may in a measure possess this widened apprehension, which will link them to all saints.
2. Of what advantage is it to apprehend the extent of Christ’s love with all the saints? There are several advantages.
(1) It encourages sanctity in us.—For our knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ depends largely on our sanctity. If we are pure we shall know. If we were wholly devoted to Him we should wholly know His love to us, and in the measure in which we are pure and holy we shall know it. This heart of ours is like a reflecting telescope, the least breath upon the mirror of which will cause all the starry sublimities that it should shadow forth to fade and become dim. The slightest moisture in the atmosphere, though it be quite imperceptible where we stand, will be dense enough to shut out the fair, shining, snowy summits that girdle the horizon and to leave nothing visible but the lowliness and commonplaces of the prosaic plain.
Those who desire to walk with Christ must try to wear the white robes of a purity that goes down to the depths of the heart, must seek to bring into captivity every thought to His obedience. How can this be done? We aim at a perfect mark, and always fail to reach it. But God will not allow us to be satisfied with anything lower than perfect holiness, so we continue our efforts in spite of failure. The Word of God is severe in its demands; but, though it is a sharp sword, that cuts down and lays bare the deepest motives hidden in the heart, it is with the “merciless severity of merciful love.”1 [Note: Dora Farncomb, The Vision of His Face, 21.]
Personal holiness is the first and foremost tribute which we owe to the Holy Spirit, for the Master’s use, and we are to offer Him no other service until this be paid. Pharnaces, says the Roman historian, sent to Cæsar the present of a diadem, while he was yet rebelling against his throne. Cæsar returned it with this sententious and admonitory message, “First of all yield obedience, and then make presents.” The truth of this message is addressed by the Holy Spirit to every Christian and to every church.2 [Note: T. W. Jenkyn.]
(2) It brings us the joy of fellowship.—In two ways does Christ give man his true place. He sets him alone beside God, as a son beside his Father, and shows him the indefeasible worth of his own soul, worth potential if not actual; for do not the angels of God sing for joy over even one sinner that repenteth? But He also sets him in a fellowship. For with cords of love He has been drawing after Him, throughout the long centuries, a great multitude which no man can number; and all who are drawn of Him should have fellowship one with another. As I am bound by the tenderest ties to the God who created me for His service, and the Saviour who redeemed me, so I am bound by bonds as strong as they are invisible to all who have ever loved the Lord and shared the redemption which He wrought. It is not good, it is not possible, for man to be alone. To be alone is to die. We are born for fellowship; and our religion satisfies this deep need of our nature by bringing us into a society, a kingdom, a church. We look into the friendly faces of those who worship with us, and we are strong.
In the highest utterances of each man’s faith, or in the best moments of his life, Stanley rejoiced to find the common ground of religious feeling or spiritual aspiration. He delighted to collect instances of such expressions from the most varied quarters. It was a Spanish Roman Catholic who said, “Many are the roads by which God carries His own to heaven.” It was the venerable patriarch of German Catholic theology, Dr. Döllinger, who said that theology must “transform her mission from a mission of polemics into a mission of irenics; which, if it be worthy of the name, must become a science, not, as heretofore, for making war, but for making peace, and thus bring about that reconciliation of Churches for which the whole civilized world is longing.”
In their loftiest moods of inspiration, the Catholic Thomas à Kempis, the Puritan Milton, the Anglican Keble, rose above their peculiar tenets, and “above the limits that divide denominations, into the higher regions of a common Christianity.” It was the Baptist Bunyan who taught the world that there was “a common ground of communion, which no difference of external rites could efface.” It was the Moravian Gambold who wrote:
That could surround the sum of things, and spy
The heart of God and secrets of His empire,
Would speak but love. With love the bright result
Would change the hue of intermediate things,
And make one thing of all theology.
It was “the Bloody Advocate, Mackenzie,” who, whatever his illiberality of action, rose to true liberality of thought when he said, “I am none of those who acknowledge no temples but in their own heads. To chalk out the bordering lines of the Church militant is beyond the geography of my religion.” It was Dr. Chalmers who, in the very heat of the great Disruption of the Scottish Church in 1843, asked the question, “Who cares about any Church, but as an instrument of Christian good?” It was the Scotch Episcopalian, Archbishop Leighton, who declared that “the mode of Church government is unconstrained; but peace and concord, kindness and good-will, are indispensable.” It was the founder of Irish Presbyterianism (Edward Bryce) who insisted most on “the life of Christ in the heart, and the light of His Word and Spirit on the mind.” It was Zwinglius who loved to dwell on “the meeting in the presence of God of every blessed spirit, every holy character, every faithful soul that has existed from the beginning of the world even to the consummation thereof.” It was the “main, fundamental, overpowering principle” of Wesley’s life, not to promote particular doctrines, but to “elevate the whole Christian world in the great principles of Christian holiness and morality.” It was the solemn proclamation of a message of “unity and comprehension”—“in necessary things unity, in doubtful things liberty, in all things charity”—which Richard Baxter carried to “a stormy and divided age,” that gave the great Non-conformist leader his pre-eminence.
This was the spirit in which Stanley delighted to see men rise above the spirit of parties.1 [Note: R. E. Prothero, The Life of Dean Stanley, ii. 242.]
(3) It secures completeness of apprehension.—St. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that they may apprehend the whole extent of the love of Christ. Individually they might see one or more aspects of that love: what they needed, what he wanted, was to see Christ as all the saints saw Him. He wanted to see with this saint the righteousness of Christ, with that saint His mercy. He wanted to see with this other saint the crucified Christ, with that other the glorified Christ. Here was a saint who saw Christ as the reformer of social things—Paul wanted to know that Christ; here was another who saw Him as the King of Glory and the Lord of heaven—Paul wished to see Christ as this. His desire for these Ephesians was that they should not have a partial Christ, but the whole Christ, What Paul seems to say is that no individual saint has apprehended the whole Christ. No single individual has been large enough to apprehend Him: else were that saint greater than Christ. No; to know what Christ is we must seek to apprehend what all the saints have known. This saint has seen this in Him, that saint has seen another aspect. To apprehend Him we must strive to know what all the saints know.
The richest individual life is poor in comparison with the manifold experience of “all the saints.” Of the Churches which call themselves catholic, what can compare in catholicity with that which includes all the saints, and places at the disposal of every struggling soul, for its guidance and inspiration, all the wise thoughts with which they have ever been visited, all the heroic endurance, even unto death, with which they have sealed their testimony, all their love, hope, faith, joy, triumph, all their vision of eternal things unseen?1 [Note: J. E. McFadyen, The Divine Pursuit, 123.]
One mighty intellect of Newton may sketch the plan of the solar system; one Laplace may demonstrate its permanent equilibrium; one Herschel map out the nebulæ of the southern sky; one Dalton unfold the laws of atomic combination; one Darwin assign the clue to the partial unfolding of the mystery of successive lives in nature. But no single soul is capable of comprehending the love of Christ, for the vision and experience of each is limited, and in morals we are members one of another. God has gifts which He bestows on the solitary students of Divine truth, and gifts which He bestows on His solitary petitioners in the closet or under the fig-tree. But, in general, the law of understanding the love of Christ is united study, united work, united conference, united prayer.2 [Note: Edward White.]
In considering Christ, His character and work, men in various ways grasp special aspects of it. They are fascinated by Him in various fashions; and when they see Christ, they often see Him in one particular way. We cannot discuss fully these various ways; all we can do is just to notify a few of them; you can add to their number. One man looks at Jesus Christ and what he especially sees is His tenderness, the sympathy He extends to sinners; his neighbour looks at Christ and what he especially sees is His righteousness; but another looks at Jesus Christ and he sees Him as a social reformer; thousands to-day see Christ especially as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. Christians meet at the Cross; it is the centre of the Church. Christ dying for men that they might be free from the thraldom of sin and be reconciled to God fascinates them. Then there are others who, while seeing the Cross and glorying in it, pass beyond Golgotha and Olivet to the throne of God, and see Christ as the reigning Lord of heaven and earth under the Father, who has subjected all things to Him, and they see Him especially as the King who shall come again to rule the earth. They say: “You must not look alone upon Calvary. The Christ who hung there has ascended on high and will come again; you must see the coming as well as the dying Christ.” The future to them explains the past; and they are wondrously drawn by the vision of the returning Christ. So do men in various ways fix and fasten their attention on various aspects of Jesus Christ, of what He was and is; and to the superficial they may seem to contradict and deny each other. The one may seem to believe in a different Christ from the Christ the other believes in; but, nevertheless, it is one Christ in whom they believe.1 [Note: J. A. Davies, Seven Words of Love, 141.]
The Breadth and Length and Height and Depth
1. “The breadth and length and height and depth”—of what? Paul does not say; but the words that follow make it practically certain that what he is thinking of is the Divine personality, the Divine character, the Divine love. His thought seems to run parallel with that in the Fourth Gospel: “This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).
2. The Apostle, then, in his prayer not only seeks that the spiritual building may be strong, divinely possessed and firmly grounded; but in his enlarged vision of what the believer may have, he teaches us to pray for an all-comprehending and experimental knowledge of the love of Christ, that ye “may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” The temple is made strong by the almighty power of the Spirit; Christ dwells in it; the foundation is settled and sure, and now he proceeds to its geometrical proportions of breadth and length, height and depth.
3. It has been said that Paul’s thought was something like this. From that old captivity of his in Rome, his mind went away, carried him to the Ægean Sea, whose blue waters lay in beauty about the yellow sands of the Ephesian shore; and, looking in thought upon the land, he seemed to see a mighty castle, a splendid fortress. It stood out above the landscape as if with conscious pride, as if it knew it was the master of the coast and country. There it was, beautiful, strong, capacious, majestic. But would all men look at it alike? Paul thought that every one looking upon it would not give the same judgment about it; not that they would disagree about any part of it, but each would be so struck by one part of it as almost to neglect the rest.
Let us imagine ourselves on board of a ship on that Ægean Sea; then, as we mix with those on board, let us go to some of them and ask them: “What do you see in that castle? What is your vision of it?” It is true that it is one castle, but, yet, what do men see in it? We go to one and we look at his mind, and we ask: “What do you see in that castle?” And he in reply says: “What magnificent breadth it has! Just look what a grand space of soil it covers! I cannot loose my mind from thinking how vast it is.” We go to another and he says: “See the length of it! Look at the front it presents to this sea! What magnificent shelter and defence against inroad from the sea!” And we go to another and he says: “See the height of its walls! Who can scale those? The houses of yonder city, compared with it, are as pigmies beside a giant!” And if you go to another, he sees the unseen. He feels the majesty of the height, but if those walls are high, they must also be deep, he thinks. Ere that castle could stand, he knows there must be firm foundations; the walls must be going down deep. It is the mystery of their depth that he is thinking of.1 [Note: J. A. Davies, Seven Words of Love, 138.]
How many men and women have sung about this temple, and have revelled in its strength and glory. Let us listen to one or two:—
O love how deep, how broad, how high!
It fills the heart with ecstasy
That Christ, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form, for mortals’ sake.
And here is another singer:—
Jesus, Thy love unbounded,
So full, so sweet, so free,
Leaves all our thoughts confounded
Whene’er we think of Thee.
And here is a word of Samuel Rutherford which he wrote to Matthew Mowat when Mowat was in great distress: “I would not wish a better stock, while salvation be my stock, than to live upon credit at Christ’s hands, daily borrowing. Surely running-over love—that vast, huge, boundless love of Christ which will try the skill of men and angels to tell—is the only thing I most fain would be in hands with. He knoweth that I have little of love beyond that love; and that I shall be happy, suppose I never get another heaven but only an eternal lasting feast on that love. Christ, all the seasons of the year, is dropping sweetness. If I had vessels I might fill them; but my old, riven and running-out dish, even when I am at the well, can bring little away.… How little of the sea can a child carry in his hand! As little do I take away of my great sea, my boundless and running-over Christ Jesus.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1909.]
(1) The Breadth.—Think of the love of Christ in its breadth. It is broad as the necessities of the world and as the expanse of the nations of the earth. It embraces all men—both Jews and Gentiles, the inhabitants of the Old World and those of the New, and men of all ages and generations. The Lord Jesus Christ, “by the grace of God, tasted death for every man,” and His gospel is to be preached to “every creature.” The great salvation is free as the air or the sunlight. Jesus unfolded the breadth and comprehensiveness of His love when He told His townsmen in His first sermon at Nazareth what He had come into the world to do. He came to pity and help the poor, and they are the world’s sad majority in every age; He came to succour the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind, the bruised, and such-like. And does not every Gospel invitation bear upon the face of it the evidence of the boundless breadth of Jesus’ love? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
The conception of Christ by the Church is larger than that of any specific Church. He is in each, but is fuller and finer than any one of them represents Him to be. It is the Church universal which bodies forth the Christ, which reincarnates Him. Churches have their “family-likeness.” We mean by family-likeness, that each face in a family has much in common with the others, yet its own individual character. Galton made interesting experiments with the portraits of the members of a family who had family-likeness, and found that when the portraits were cast one upon the other, so as to get a kind of “composite photograph,” the result was not a blur and a blotch, but a new face, which was like each, but different from all. Churches have their family-likeness; put them all together and you get a new face, the face of Christ, which is like each, yet finer and grander than any one of them shows Him to be. I must know what all the saints see Him to be ere I know Him.1 [Note: J. A. Davies, Seven Words of Love, 144.]
So long as I have a good conscience towards God, and have His sun to shine on me, and can hear the birds singing, I can walk across the earth with a joyful and free heart. Let them call me “broad.” I desire to be broad as the charity of Almighty God, who maketh His sun to shine on the evil and the good; who hateth no man, and who loveth the poorest Hindoo more than all their committees or all their Churches. But while I long for that breadth of charity, I desire to be narrow—narrow as God’s righteousness, which as a sharp sword can separate between eternal right and eternal wrong.2 [Note: Norman MacLeod, D.D., ii. 373.]
At Pretoria the town council has passed regulations forbidding the natives riding with white people on the trams; they must confine themselves to the occasional car which runs for coloured people only. They must not walk in the general park, or buy stamps in the general hall of the post office, or walk on the side pavements of the streets. So, you see, ordinary love has very severe limitations, and is apt to be very exclusive. Racial barriers impede it. Social barriers can check its flow. Ecclesiastical barriers can imprison it. But not so with the love of the Lord. It is not a little barricaded pool, but is like a tide, rolling in and obliterating the petty bulwarks of isolation built along the shore.3 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1909.]
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
Are more felt than up in heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.…
Than the measures of man’s mind;
And the Heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.1 [Note: F. W. Faber.]
(2) The Length.—To what length will the love of Christ go? There is many a runner who is good for a hundred yards, but who fails at the mile. There is many a soldier who is good at a battle, but who fails at the campaign. There is many an oarsman who is fine at a spurt, but faints at the long spin. “Ye did run well; what did hinder you?” They failed at the length. To what length can we go in our loving? When we begin to help a man, how far can we go with him? If we take up a bit of hard social service what is our staying power? It is well to ask questions like these before we turn to the Lord. For here is the way in which “the length” is described in the Word of God: “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” “Having begun a good work in you, he will perfect it.” Whenever the love of the Lord Jesus begins a ministry He never lays it down until He can say “It is finished.”
“Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?—I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.”—So said the Christ, multiplying perfection into itself twice—two sevens and a ten—in order to express the idea of boundlessness. And the law that He laid down for His servant is the law that binds Himself. What is the length of the love of Christ? Here is one measure of it,—howsoever long drawn out my sin may be, this is longer; and the white line of His love runs out into infinity, far beyond the point where the black line of my sin stops.2 [Note: A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, 45.]
The strength of affection is a proof not of the worthiness of the object, but of the largeness of the soul which loves. Love descends, not ascends. The might of a river depends not on the quality of the soil through which it passes, but on the inexhaustibleness and depth of the spring from which it proceeds. The greater mind cleaves to the smaller with more force than the other to it. A parent loves the child more than the child loves the parent; and partly because the parent’s heart is larger, not because the child is worthier. The Saviour loved His disciples infinitely more than His disciples loved Him, because His heart was infinitely larger.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]
(3) The Height.—What is the height of His love? For love can have very small ambitions. A mother’s love for her boy may soar no higher than wealth, or power, or distinction. And her love for her girl may be nothing but a desire that she be graceful, beautiful, admired, and that she may marry well and get a comfortable home. Love’s aim always determines its height. You remember that word of Macaulay’s mother: “I must have the wisdom of my child acknowledged by the angels before an assembled world.” There is height. But turn to the height of the Lord’s love: “I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” It was the goal of His love that we should share His glory, and become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” It is the supreme quest of His love that we should sit with Him “in heavenly places,” and partake with Him in all the fullness of grace.
What we here can know or conceive of the heights of God may be to us like an infinite mountain-peak, eternally ascending above the highest-winged flight of created holiness and power—so that angel and archangel to Him are but like eagle or bright-winged insect which behold the snowy heights, still fixedly soaring, where their pinions and their very atmosphere fail. And yet if such a parable must be dwarfed into nothingness when once our parted spirits have caught one glimpse of God as He is; then, again, St. Paul may well pray that even here we may be able to grasp something for ourselves of what that height of God is, lest we should never exclaim—“He is beyond my utmost conception; and so I ever can know Him, never can love what is so separate from me. He is to me unknowable, unthinkable. He is to me as if He were not.” Lest height should thus separate our souls from Him, He makes us know that His high Eternity is summed up, and shortly rendered in His love; and that love, though it be only ours, has a right to know love, though it be God’s; a right to appropriate it, a right to dwell in Him, and in Him to advance for ever.1 [Note: E. W. Benson, Living Theology, 7.]
(4) The Depth.—The love of Christ is profound as the uttermost abyss of human sin and wretchedness. We begin to see “the depth of the riches” of it when we reflect on the marvel that the Lord should have loved us at all. His love was not caused by anything in us, otherwise He could never have loved us. The natural condition of His people is unlovely and even loathsome in His sight. We recognize this when we look unto the rock whence we are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence we are digged. But that vast, measureless love of His has gone away down far deeper than the lowest depths of human sin, “and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Our love is so often only a narrow sentiment; we can so easily touch the bottom. It shines and shimmers like a white shore, but we can sail nothing in it. It is wanting in depth and therefore is lacking in deepness of ministry. Now turn to the Lord:
O love of God how deep and great,
Far deeper than man’s deepest hate.
Let us lay hold of that most tremendous line. Let us grip it, or, better still, let it grip us. Take our own deepest hate, or the hate of any fiercely hating man whom we have known—deep, black, secretive and malignant as hell! And God’s love is deeper than that! “He descended into hell.” Yes, and He is still doing it! Some of us would never have been found unless He had found us there. We sometimes say of a man who has lost his heritage, and who would fain fill himself with the husks that the swine do eat, “He’s got very low!” Yes, but the love of the Lord can go lower and deeper still. The vilest wretch who crawls the earth to-day may have the everlasting arms beneath him.
He came from on high to suffer and die,
To save a poor sinner like me.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1909.]
The puzzle which baffles faith is, How can Christ understand and sympathize with man when He has never sinned? The monumental pile of righteousness that pillars the church and maintains social respectability may tell me what I ought to be. He may quote all the maxims and mottoes of virtue, and repeat the commandments and denounce the “exceeding sinfulness of sin,” and thank God that he is “not as other men are,” but what does he know about my conflict? His ravings about virtue do not help me; they depress and discourage and enrage me.
’Tis the weakness in strength that I cry for! My flesh, that
In the Godhead!
I seek a Saviour who knows my road, not from His study of geography, but because He has travelled it. How can Christ do this when He has never sinned? He does it by the power of love. This is the miracle love works. It enables us to enter fully into all the struggles and aspirations of those we love. It so thoroughly puts our life into accord with another’s that we are not only able to sympathize with what he suffers and enjoys, but we find it impossible not to do so. Love cannot escape this vicarious participation.1 [Note: J. I. Vance, Tendency, 71.]
To Know the Love of Christ
1. The true man desires to know, to understand, to apprehend. He is one who feels that the world is full of an attraction to his mind, to which he must yield, or forfeit his name of man. And there is nowhere a sweeter, more charming picture than that of a man who is a humble, eager student, filled with high thoughts and earnest ambitions; a man who can live “laborious days” and despise the common pleasures of the crowd; he is one who has kinship with the skies, and lives on the high places of the world.
Browning, in one of his poems, “A Grammarian’s Funeral,” gives us a wonderful picture of a man eager and heroic in his quest after knowledge, and determined to strive to the last hour of his earthly life. They are now going to bury him—where? The appropriate country for such a man is not the “unlettered plain,” but “a tall mountain, citied to the top, crowded with culture!” He belonged to the morning: his body must rest near the stars. And as the funeral cortege winds up the heights, we are given the picture of the man and his majestic quest. Men did not know him for a long time: “long he lived nameless.” We leave work for play, but he was a man who “left play for work, and grappled with the world, bent on escaping,” and when he was pitied, he “stepped on with pride over men’s pity.” Many of us begin a book, but do not read it from cover to cover; but when this man got the scroll of a bard or sage, he “straight got by heart that book to its last page.” But some one would be ready to say: “Why trouble thus over books? Why burden the soul? This is the time to taste life! Up with the curtain!” “No,” he would say; “even though I have read the crabbed text, still there is the comment. Most or least, painful or easy, these are not to be thought of by me. I must know all that books can give me.” But men said: “Time passes! Live now or never!” And yet this was his grand intent—
That before living he’d learn how to live—
No end to learning;
Earn the means first—God surely will contrive
Use for our earning.
But is not life passing? Is it not very brief? No, “Man has Forever.” And so he laboured lovingly on, his mind dragging the body after it, and in that dragging the body suffered. He was fierce as a dragon for knowledge, and believed great undertakings have slow profits. Life is too brief to see them. As the poet says:—
That low man seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it;
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
Dies ere he knows it.
And this man struggled on, was struggling at the last. When the rattle was in his throat,—
So, with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar;
Still, thro’ the rattle, parts of speech were rife:
While he could stammer.
He was struggling with the unsolved problems of grammar, even though, as Browning vividly tells us, he was
Dead from the waist down.
What a zeal for knowledge had that man! What an unquenchable thirst! What an imperious hunger for knowledge! Where ought such a man to be buried? Why, on the top of the mountain; the top peak! And so Browning sings, “Here”—on the mountain top—
Here’s his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
Lightnings are loosened,
Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
Peace let the dew send!
Lofty designs must close in like effects:
Leave him—still loftier than the world suspects,
Living and dying.1 [Note: J. A. Davies, Seven Words of Love, 134.]
2. Paul was a man who wanted to know—to know the highest things. His soul was athirst for the highest, purest knowledge, even the knowledge of Christ and His love. And, like the true scholar, he wanted others to know and to know from others. He made it his business in life, next to knowing for himself, to make others know, to be their teacher,
Some years ago—it is a good many years now—there was a lady, with a little girl of some three summers, travelling by coach in England from one town to another, and a young man got into the coach who was exceedingly clever; in fact, he thought himself so clever that he might dispense with all belief in the Bible and in God; and young as he was, he was the head of an infidel club in a certain city, whither he was then going to preside over their annual dinner that night. As the coach rolled on, the little girl became talkative, and soon she climbed up on the young man’s knee, when to amuse her he showed her his penknife, and she liked that, and became quite at home. A few minutes before the coach stopped, she looked up in his face, and in a loud, clear voice she said to him, so that every one in the coach heard it, “Does ’oo love God? Does ‘oo?” She was only three years old, remember. “Does ’oo love God?”2 [Note: G. C. Grubb, The Light of His Countenance, 32.]
3. What is this love of Christ?
(1) It is a forgiving love.—St. Paul in all his Epistles evinces extreme sensitiveness with regard to sin, and his own personal sin. He had felt its galling bondage, its crushing burden, its withering curse. He had been “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious.” He had felt himself to be “carnal, sold under sin.” He calls himself the “chief” of sinners. But now for a long time Christ had been revealed to him as his personal Saviour. His faith rested upon the “obedience unto death” of the Son of God in his stead. His conscience reposed on the righteousness of Christ, and his heart was drawn by the magnet of Christ’s love. St. Paul’s attachment to Christ was enthusiasm for a personal Redeemer. It was a sense of redemption that made the Apostle what he now was. He never forgot that he was a poor sinner saved by Divine grace, and the thought bound his heart to his Saviour. He felt that it was a wonderful love that had redeemed him, and all the currents of his soul kept flowing with tremendous energy towards his Redeemer.
I am reminded of the incident of a boy who had been tried by court-martial and ordered to be shot. The hearts of the father and mother were broken when they heard the news. In that home was a little girl. She had read the life of Abraham Lincoln, and she said: “Now, if Abraham Lincoln knew how my father and mother loved their boy, he would not let my brother be shot.” She wanted her father to go to Washington to plead for his boy. But the father said: “No; there is no use; the law must take its course. They have refused to pardon one or two who have been sentenced by that court-martial, and an order has gone forth that the President is not going to interfere again; if a man has been sentenced by court-martial he must suffer the consequences.” That father and mother had not faith to believe that their boy might be pardoned.
But the little girl was strong in hope; she got on the train away up in Vermont, and started off to Washington. When she reached the White House the soldiers refused to let her in; but she told her pitiful story, and they allowed her to pass. When she got to the Secretary’s room, where the President’s private secretary was, he refused to allow her to enter the room where the President was. But the little girl told her story, and it touched the heart of the private secretary; so he passed her in. As she went into Abraham Lincoln’s room, there were United States senators, generals, governors, and leading politicians, who were there upon important business about the war; but the President happened to see that child standing at the door. He wanted to know what she wanted, and she went right to him and told her story in her own language. He was a father, and the great tears trickled down Abraham Lincoln’s cheeks. He wrote a dispatch and sent it to the army to have that boy sent to Washington at once. When he arrived, the President pardoned him, gave him thirty days’ furlough, and sent him home with the little girl to cheer the hearts of the father and mother.1 [Note: D. L. Moody, The Way to God, 20.]
(2) It is a transforming love.—It is a love that makes all things new, for St. Paul says, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God.” God wants to transform us. Transformation gives a man a new character, a new life, a new nature, and the Gospel is a gospel of transformation, not a gospel of reformation.
At one of the missions last December there was a young man with whom the Spirit of God had been striving. Three times in one day he came up to the rectory drunk, and then we had prayer with him, and he gave himself to the Lord Jesus Christ. The next day he came up to the house in order to get a Bible, and one of the ladies who had seen him the day before came up to me and said, “Mr. Grubb, are you quite sure that that is the same man who was here yesterday?” And I said, “Yes, the same man, only he is a new creature in Christ Jesus to-day.”2 [Note: G. C. Grubb, The Light of His Countenance, 27.]
(3) It is a restoring love.—The most sorrowful condition of soul in the world is that of a backslider, for a backslider can be satisfied with nothing; he cannot be satisfied with the world; he cannot be satisfied with sin; and he is not satisfied with Jesus. He knows what Christ was once to him; he knows that at one time in his life he used to love to pray; he knows that at one time in his life the society of Jesus was a reality to him; he knows that at one time in his life the Word of God used to speak to his heart; but all that has passed; Christ is a misty shadow to him now, if, indeed, there be such a person at all. Yet God is near, watching all the while over His wayward one, yearning for his return and using means to bring him back.
Love for all! and can it be?
Can I hope it is for me?
I, who strayed so long ago,
Strayed so far, and fell so low?
Wayward, passionate, and wild;
I, who left my Father’s home
In forbidden ways to roam!
I, who would not be controlled;
I, who would not hear His call;
I, the wilful prodigal.
At His feet myself I’ll throw:
In His house there yet may be
Place, a servant’s place, for me.
See, He reaches out His hands:
God is love! I know, I see,
There is love for me,—even me1 [Note: Samuel Longfellow,]
A Love that Passes Knowledge
1. What is it that so raises the Apostle’s soul and gives him a tongue of fire? It is nothing that is beyond the feelings and sympathy of man. It is no mystery which only a few can penetrate, and which is not for the many. It is the “love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” We can understand what love means. All can understand being touched and melted by love. True, he calls the “love of Christ” a love that passeth knowledge—a love so great and astonishing that no thought of man can embrace it in its fullness, or sound it in its depths. But though its unsearchableness adds to its wonder, it does not prevent us from understanding that it is love, love shown to us and felt for us in a way that it was never shown or felt before. This is what St. Paul is talking of, this is what sets his soul on fire.
And we have the same knowledge that he had of that “love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” We have before us continually, in one form after another, that picture of Christ loving man which moved St. Paul so deeply. We have that history of love ever open before us, to which nothing done by man for man can compare. There have been men like ourselves, who have lived—as far as man can live—only for their fellow-men; who have spent their lives in ministering to their good; who have taught them, and fed them, and healed them, and comforted them; who have spent this world’s riches in providing, not for their own pleasure, but for the welfare of numbers who would never know or thank them; men who have left home and kindred to toil in the hardest and weariest way among the lost and the unthankful. And there have been women who have left ease and comfort, and all the tenderness in which they were nurtured, to attend on the sick, to minister to the forsaken and friendless sinner, to spend days of labour and sleepless nights in hospitals. We know what love means in these. But there was One, greater than they, who did more than any of them; who fed the hungry, and healed the sick, and taught the ignorant, and called back the wanderers, and was gentle and merciful to the sinners and the forsaken, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister; whose whole life was one endless display of love without stint, love careless of self, love doing its heavenly work without thanks, without return, without comfort. We hear sometimes of men, in their generous love to others, giving up what was their own, contenting themselves with a lower place, throwing up advantages, and coming down from a worldly position, in order to do more good to their fellows. But who among men came down as Christ did? Who among men gave up what He did, that He might cast in His lot with us? Who among men has that to throw away, for the good of his fellows, which Christ surrendered, when the Lord of the worlds became for us a little child, born in the lowest rank of life, born to poverty and neglect, without even where to lay His head?
I could tell you, says one who himself was a great kinsman of the Lord, of friends who have been fifty years in Christ, and though they hold a constant jubilee in the sense of His love, yet they will tell you that they are only scholars in the lowest form, beginning to spell out the alphabet of the grace of our Lord Jesus. After fifty years in Christ, only just beginning to know, only just matriculated in the Academy of Love!1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1909.]
2. Why does the love of Christ surpass knowledge?
(1) Because our experience of it is incomplete.—We are like the settlers on some great island continent—as, for instance, on the Australian continent for many years after its first discovery—a thin fringe of population round the seaboard here and there, and all the bosom of the land untraversed and unknown. So after all experiences of and all blessed participation in the love of Jesus Christ which come to each of us by our faith, we have but skimmed the surface, but touched the edges, but received a drop of what, if it should come upon us in fullness of flood like a Niagara of love, would overwhelm our spirits.
When St. Paul prays for the Ephesians that they may be able “to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge,” he means, not that he desires they should ever come to think that they have explored all “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” or are able to pronounce with confidence on all the reasons and modes of God’s dealings with men; but that they should, through the indwelling spirit of Christ’s own love in them, be led on to a deeper and ever deeper sense of the love with which He has loved them, to a firmer conviction that that love lies at the root of all their disciplines in life no less than of all their blessings, to a more perfect faith in it as the constant feeling, with which God’s heart is moved towards them.
They only miss
The winning of that final bliss,
Who will not count it true that love,
Blessing, not cursing, rules above,
And that in it we live and move.1 [Note: R. H. Story, Creed and Conduct, 152.]
Columbus discovered America; but what did he know about its great lakes, rivers, forests, and the Mississippi valley? He died without knowing much about what he had discovered. So, many of us have discovered something of the love of God; but there are heights, depths, and lengths of it we do not know. That Love is a great ocean; and we require to plunge into it before we really know anything of it.2 [Note: D. L. Moody, The Way to God, 9.]
(2) Because after all experience it will still be beyond our range.—It is possible for people to have, and in fact we do possess, a real, a valid, a reliable knowledge of that which is infinite, although we possess, as a matter of course, no adequate and complete knowledge of it. But we have before us in Christ’s love something which, though the understanding is not by itself able to grasp it, yet the understanding led by the heart can lay hold of, and can find in it infinite treasures. We can lay our poor hands on His love as a child might lay its tiny palm upon the base of some great cliff, and hold that love in a real grasp of a real knowledge and certitude, but we cannot put our hands round it and feel that we comprehend as well as apprehend.
The love of God is the glory of love, the most orient pearl in the crown of it. It is not mercenary, nor self-ended, nor deserved; but as a spring or fountain it freely vents or pours out itself upon its own account. And what ingenuous, truly noble, heavenly-descended heart can hold out against the power of this love? Its constancy and unchangeableness is a star of eminent magnitude in the heaven of love. It is not a fading, a wavering, an altering thing, but abides for ever. It may be eclipsed and obscured, as to its beams and influence, for a season; but changed, turned away, it cannot be. And this consideration of it renders it to the souls of the saints inestimably precious. The very thought of it is marrow to their bones and health to their souls, and makes them cry out to all that is within them to love the Lord and to live unto Him.1 [Note: John Owen, The Perseverance of the Saints.]
It passeth knowledge, that dear love of Thine,
My Saviour, Jesus: yet this soul of mine
Would of Thy love, in all its breadth and length,
Its height and depth, its everlasting strength,
Know more and more.2 [Note: Mary Shekleton.]
The Love of Christ
Aglionby (F. K.), The Better Choice, 118.
Arnot (W.), The Lesser Parables, 200.
Benson (E. W.), Living Theology, 1.
Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, ii. 287.
Davies (J. A.), Seven Words of Love, 134.
Grubb (E.), The Personality of God, 122.
Grubb (G. C.), The Light of His Countenance, 19.
Jerdan (C.), For the Lord’s Table, 21.
Lushington (F. de W.), Sermons to Young Boys, 63.
McFadyen (J. E.), The Divine Pursuit, 121.
Maclaren (A.), Christ in the Heart, 27, 41.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, iii. 217.
Mason (A. J.), Length, 1.
Moody (D. L.), The Way to God, 1.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, v. 1, 9.
Purchase (E. J.), The Pathway of the Tempted, 118.
Ridding (G.), The Revel and the Battle, 93.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), v. No. 577.
Whitworth (W. A.), Christian Thought on Present-Day Questions, 1.
Wilberforce (B.), Following on to Know the Lord, 131.
Wray (J. J.), Honey in the Comb, 278.
Wright (D.), The Power of an Endless Life, 170.
British Congregationalist, Jan. 28, 1899 (Jowett).
Cambridge Review, viii. No. 203 (Barry).
Christian World Pulpit, lxv. 77 (Robinson).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, xii. 226 (Huntington), 229 (Lloyd), 231 (Dix), 237 (Williams), 238 (Silvester).
Literary Churchman, xiv. 394.
(18) May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.—It has been asked, Of what? Various answers have been given; but as St. Paul has obviously of set purpose omitted all definition, leaving the phrase incomplete in absolute generality, no answer can be perfectly satisfactory. The early fathers delighted to refer it to the cross, and to trace in the four dimensions of the cross a symbol of this four-fold extension of the love of God in Christ. The clause following, “to know the love of Christ,” though partly explanatory of this, hardly seems to be identical or co-extensive with it. The knowledge there described is a part—perhaps the chief part, but not the whole—of the comprehension here prayed for. If anything is to be supplied, it should probably be “of the mystery”—i.e., of the whole mystery on which St. Paul had been dwelling, including the predestination, the redemption, the call and union of Jews and Gentiles. The prayer is that we may know it every way, in every direction in which the soul can go forth towards God.
It may be noted that comprehension is placed after love, just as in Philippians 1:9, “I pray that your love may abound (that is, overflow) in knowledge and in all judgment.” The spiritual order of revelation differs from that of the “wisdom of the world.” It has first faith, next love, and finally knowledge, because its object is a person, not an abstract principle. That knowledge must, even here, “grow from more to more;” but St. Paul’s prayer can never be perfectly realised till we “know even as we are known.”
(19) To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.—The intentional paradox of this expression is weakened if (with many interpretations) we suppose that there is opposition in kind between knowledge referred to in the two clauses: as if “to know” meant to know by faith and spiritual experience, while the “knowledge,” which the love of Christ “passes,” is mere “human knowledge”—head-knowledge, and the like. Of such opposition there is no trace (contrast 1 Corinthians 2:6-16). In the original, the word “to know” is in a tense which expresses cognition in a particular case; hence the meaning of St. Paul’s prayer seems to be that they may know from time to time, as each opportunity offers, what must in its entirety pass all human knowledge, either to discover or fully to understand, even when revealing itself; so that they may always go on from faith to faith, from knowledge to knowledge, and yet find new depths still to be fathomed. The “love of Christ” is the love which He bears to us, and which is the motive of His sacrifice for our redemption. It is known only by those who are rooted in love to Him; such love being at once the consequence of the first knowledge of His love to us (1 John 4:19) and the condition of entering more deeply into that knowledge.
That ye might be filled with (or, rather, up to) all the fulness of God.—This clause must be taken as dependent, not merely on the clause immediately preceding, but on the whole sentence. It describes the final and glorious consequence of the indwelling of Christ in the heart, viz., the “being filled” with grace “up to the fulness of God.” The meaning is more clearly seen in the fuller expression below (Ephesians 4:13): “till we all come . . . to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” It is simply perfect conformation to the image of Him in whom “dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9), and whose fulness is therefore the “fulness of God,” manifesting all the attributes of the divine nature. The process is described in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory;” its consummation in 1 John 3:2, “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” (Comp. Philippians 3:20-21.) Here it completes the climax. When Christ dwells in the heart we have first, love perfecting the faith which roots the life in Him; next, a thoughtful knowledge, entering by degrees into the unsearchable riches of His love to us; and, lastly, the filling the soul, itself weak and empty, up to the perfection of likeness to Him, so renewing and deepening through all time and eternity the image of God in our humanity.
(21) Unto him be glory in the church by (properly, in) Christ Jesus.—In the parallelism of these clauses is implied the great idea of the Epistle—the unity of the Church in Christ. Hence all that is “in the Church” is “in Christ Jesus.” The visible unity of the Church represents, as it depends on, the invisible unity with God in Him.
Throughout all ages, world without end.—The original expression is emphatic and peculiar: to all the generations of the age of the ages; that is, in each successive generation of that age (or, dispensation) which includes in itself all the ages which we can reckon or conceive. The conception represents to us each generation, as adding its own peculiar thanksgiving to the great chorus of praise which fills eternity.
Sunday, March 26th, 2017
the Fourth Sunday of Lent
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