Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
The Christian’s Past, Present, and Future (Ephesians 2:1-7)
While holding meetings in Southern California I took public transportation one Saturday to go from Los Angeles to a well-known beach resort. We had hardly left the city when a rather peculiar-looking woman attired in what looked like red bandanna handkerchiefs pieced together, with a shawl on her head and a lot of spangles over her forehead, came and sat down beside me. She asked, “How do you do, gentleman? You like to have your fortune told?” I said, “Are you able to tell my fortune?” She held out a winsome little palm and said, “Cross my palm with a silver quarter, and I will give you your past, present, and future.” “You are very sure you can do that if I give you a quarter?” I said, “You see, I am Scotch, and would hate to part with a quarter and not get proper exchange for it.” She looked bewildered for a moment, but then said very insistently, “Yes, gentleman, I can give you your past, present, and future. I never fail; I have wonderful second sight. Cross my palm with a quarter. Please, gentleman. I will tell you all.” I said, “It is really not necessary, because I have had my fortune told already, and I have a little book in my pocket that gives me my past, present, and future.” “You have it in a book?” she said. “Yes, and it is absolutely infallible. Let me read it to you,” I said, and I pulled out my New Testament.
She looked startled when she saw it, but I turned to Ephesians Chapter 2 and said, “Here is my past: ‘And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.’”
“Oh, yes,” she said; “it is plenty, I do not care to hear more.” “But,” I said, as I held her gently by the arm, “I want to give you my present also: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’”
“That is plenty, gentleman,” she said; “I do not wish to hear any more.” “Oh but,” I replied, “there is more yet, and you must hear it; and you are not going to pay me a quarter for it either. I am giving it to you for nothing. It is my past, my present, and my future. Here is the future: ‘That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.’”
She was on her feet, and I could not hold on any tighter lest I would be charged with assault and battery, and she fled down the aisle, saying, “I took the wrong man! I took the wrong man!”
People are very interested in trying to delve into the mysterious and unknown. If it were not for this bump of curiosity that so many have, these fortune tellers and spirit mediums, who can tell you how to make immense sums of money but are themselves as poor as church mice, would all die of starvation. People want to know the things that God has not revealed. But it is amazing to see how indifferent they are to the very important revelation that He has given us in His Word. He has made known the past, the present, and the future of the universe, of the nation of Israel, of the great Gentile nations, of the church of God, and then-that which strikes home to every Christian-of every individual believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the King James version we read, “And you hath he quickened.” You will notice that the words, “hath he quickened,” are in italics. That means that they do not appear in the original Greek text, but were added here to make the sentence read smoothly. The verb hath quickened appears in the fifth verse in the original manuscripts. To be quickened is to be made alive. Because we were dead we needed to receive divine life.
“You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world.” What a past! We were utterly beyond any ability to save ourselves, for a dead man can do nothing to improve his condition, and every unsaved person is dead, dead toward God, dead spiritually. If you are out of Christ, you have never had one heartbeat toward God; you are dead in trespasses and sins. Sin has not only made man guilty so that he needs forgiveness, but sin has sunk the human race into a state of spiritual death so that men need divine life. That is why we must be born again. Being born again is receiving new life from God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, there are moral degrees of sinfulness. We would not for a moment say everybody is just as corrupt, just as vile, just as wicked, just as despicable, as everybody else. That would not be true; and yet if people are dead, they are dead. The beautiful little maid, the daughter of Jairus, had been dead only a few minutes when the Lord reached her father’s house. But she was dead; she was lifeless. No doubt she was lovely to look upon, especially in the eyes of her beloved parents, like a beautiful marble statue, but although her body had not begun to decay she was dead nevertheless. In Luke’s Gospel we find that as the Lord came to the village of Nain a young man was being carried out to be buried. He was dead perhaps a day or two. In the land of Palestine they generally bury the dead either on the day that life ceases or the day immediately following. So this young man was dead longer than the little maid, but life was just as truly extinct in her case as in his. Then we see Jesus at the grave of Lazarus. The sisters told Him not to roll the stone away, for their brother had been dead four days and his corpse would already be offensive. Corruption had set in, but the Lord Jesus brought new life to that man. In every instance it took exactly the same mighty, quickening power to restore the dead.
Only the Son of God could speak life to the daughter of Jairus, to the young man of Nain, and to Lazarus. So we were dead, every one of us who are now saved. Some were deeply corrupted because of sin, others perhaps did not know so much of its vileness and corruption, but all alike were dead before God and needed new and divine life.
“Dead in trespasses and sins.” Notice the difference between the two expressions. Sinning is missing the mark. Trespassing is the violation of a definite law. We see the sign “No trespassing” and know that that means we cannot pass a certain boundary without being guilty of transgressing. You and I are guilty on both counts. We are sinners, for we have taken our own way; and we are trespassers because we have actually transgressed what we knew to be the revealed will of God. So we are dead to God in our natural condition. Yet we are able to walk-“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world.” We were dead toward God and could not take one step with Him.
Dr. Gaebelein relates that he was holding meetings in a YMCA auditorium, and one day he was shown a card that the YMCA secretary was in the habit of handing out. It read, “I promise faithfully henceforth to lead a religious and Christian life,” and then there was a place to sign one’s name. The secretary said, “How do you like that? Isn’t that a pretty good way of putting it?” Dr. Gaebelein said, “How on earth can a dead man live any kind of a life? What is the use of putting a card like that into the hands of a dead sinner, and having him sign it and say, ‘I promise faithfully henceforth to lead a religious and Christian life’? You cannot live a life for God until you receive a life from God.”
You can live according to the world, live a moral life and even what some people call a religious life, but that is only “according to the course of this world.” For, after all, the world admires morality and religion. If you are a young man looking for a wife, you do not look in the worst part of the city for some wretched characterless girl. You try to find one who has a bit of religion and morality. And a young woman looking for a husband does the same. People have an idea that morality and religion are necessarily Christian. Of course a Christian ought to be characterized by both, but from a much higher motive than the world. The course of this world is often a religious and a moral course, but apart from Christ.
A little group of Greek philosophers were talking together five hundred years before Christ, and the question was asked, “What is the briefest possible definition of a man?” Plato said, “Man is a two-legged animal.” One of them went out, and brought in a rooster. He held him up and said, “Behold Plato’s man!” Then one exclaimed, “I have it; man is a religious animal.” That is it. There is not another creature in the world but man that ever lifts his eyes toward God and Heaven, that ever feels a sense of responsibility to a higher power, and therefore man is incurably religious. Even the atheist is incurably religious. He worships himself, he is his own god. So, we say, the course of this world may be a religious and a moral course. On the other hand, it may be a vile, abominably wicked, sinful course, but it is all the same-“the course of this world.” That is the course in which we walked before we were born again.
“According to the prince of the power of the air.” This is, of course, the devil. When living in our sins, the devil was our master and we were led by his will.
“The spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience [those who refuse obedience to God]; among whom also we all had our conversation [our manner of living, our desire] in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” We sometimes think of the word lust as though it referred only to one degrading kind of sin, but it means unlawful desire of any kind. There are just as truly lusts of the mind as lusts of the flesh. Pride, vanity, self-will, covetousness, independence of God-these are all lusts of the mind, and they are just as vile in the sight of God as the lusts of the flesh. In the first three chapters of the Epistle to the Romans we have God’s picture of the lusts of the flesh, and in the first three chapters of First Corinthians we have God’s picture of the lusts of the mind. One kind is just as sinful as the other.
“And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” That is, we were born in sin. We were born of a race that is unclean, unholy, and obnoxious to the eyes of God. But God had purposes of grace and of lovingkindness, which He has carried out through Christ Jesus, for the salvation of that sinful race.
Do you recognize the picture of your past? Maybe this is your present instead of your past. If it is, God grant that it may become your past, and that you will be through with this kind of life forever. True life is found alone in Christ.
Now look at the present as described in Ephesians 2:4-6. “But God,” what meaning that expression carries. We have God intervening. We were dead, helpless, unable to do one thing to retrieve our dreadful circumstances, but God came in. In creation God came in when this world was “without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.. .And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” So when we were dead in trespasses and sins, God came in and spoke the word of living power.
“But God, who is rich in mercy…” In what is He not rich? We saw in Ephesians 1 that He is rich in grace and rich in glory, and here we read that He is rich in mercy. There are infinite resources of mercy for the vilest sinner. There is no one for whom there is no mercy. “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us”-it all came out of the heart of God. There was not a thing about us to commend us to God but, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
Because we were dead, He sent Jesus to give us life; because we were guilty, He sent Jesus to be the propitiation by bearing our sins in His own body on the tree.
“God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). The whole human race is dead in trespasses and sins. The Jewish part of the race had the revelation from God, and yet they sought to be justified on the basis of works. But these were dead works, and the Jews were just as truly dead in trespasses and sins as the Gentiles, the great godless world outside. But now God comes in and works in power. By the living Word He speaks to the dead Jews and Gentiles, and the Word brings life, and they believe it and are together given new life. They who had been separated before, between whom was a middle wall of partition, are become one in Christ Jesus. That is the meaning of this word together. God breaks down the barriers separating Jews and Gentiles and makes them one in Christ through believing, giving us life together with Christ, not merely in Christ. Why does He put it that way? There was a time when because of my sins Jesus Christ lay dead in the grave, but having completed the work that saves, God made Him alive and brought Him back in triumph from the tomb. Christ’s resurrection is the promise of ours. We believe in Him and are brought forth from the place of the dead and quickened with Him. He is the Savior, we are the saved, and together we form one blessed company of which He is now the glorified Head.
“By grace ye are saved,” and grace precludes all thought of merit. We were not saved because we prayed so earnestly, repented so bitterly, turned over a new leaf, made restitution for past sins, tried to do good, kept the law and obeyed the sermon on the mount, or anything else that we could do. We were saved by grace, and grace is God’s unmerited favor to those who deserve the opposite.
A great many people become upset when they are told that if they were saved once they are saved for all eternity. They imagine that when they come to Christ, it is just the beginning and that they are really on probation. They think that if they keep on and are good enough, they will be saved at last. We are not being saved. It is a settled thing. No one is saved for a time and then becomes unsaved, because in order to become unsaved you would have to become unborn, and how can that be? A saved person has been made alive from the dead, born into the family of God, given a new life, and that life is eternal. If that life could ever be forfeited, it would only be probationary life, dependent on one’s ability to keep it. I have eternal life, and it is not dependent on my obedience but on the living Christ to see me through to the very end. Do not ever say you are saved if you do not mean that you are saved for eternity. If people ask you if you are saved and you believe you will be saved at last, you will have to say, “Well, not yet; but I hope to be if God and I can only hold out together!” But if you have already trusted the Lord Jesus and believe the Word, say, “Yes, thank God, I am saved for eternity through the precious, atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is one thing to be saved and have eternal life, but it is another thing to be presented before God in all the perfection of His holy Son. It is this of which we read in Ephesians 2:6, “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Notice the phrase “in Christ Jesus.” Some day we will be caught up and will be with Christ, but that will be when we all get home to glory. While still here, God sees us in Christ. We are represented by Him and in Him. When the high priest of the old covenant entered the holy place he carried the names of the Israelites on his breast and on his shoulders and they were all seen in their high priest. In the same way, we are seen in Christ, and every moment of our lives He is giving us a perfect representation before the throne of God. I am just as truly raised up together and sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus when I am lying flat on my back in the hospital as I am when in church. God sees me up there in Christ. This is a blessed fact that is true of every Christian and not dependent on experience. It is a great thing to have our experience correspond with our standing, and that comes through walking in fellowship with Him.
But what about our future? “That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). “The ages to come”-that takes us a long way beyond the millennium. The millennium, or the millennial reign of Christ, is “the age to come,” and here we have “the ages to come.” That is the Greek expression for eternity. It consists of untold millions of ages running on forevermore. Through all the ages to come God is going to exhibit the exceeding riches of His grace. One of these days I am going to have a part in a great exhibition, when from the ends of the earth there will be gathered together all the redeemed of the Lord. Then God will demonstrate to all created intelligences how it has been the delight of His heart to show great grace to great sinners. That is our future-a future that does not depend on our faithfulness but on the faithfulness of Him who saved us by grace in order that we might show His glories forever.
God’s Workmanship (Ephesians 2:8-10)
As I was meditating on Ephesians 2:8 I thought, What can I write about it that has not been written a hundred times already! But it cannot be otherwise, for in trying to present the salvation of God one must be reminded of a passage like this over and over again, for that is the very heart of the matter.
Our God jealously guards against the indifferent treatment of the Person and work of His beloved Son. God loves poor sinners so much that He sent His Son into the world to be the atonement for our sins. But He loves His Son so much that He will not permit anyone to enter Heaven who ignores the work that the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished. It is only through His finished work that any of us have a right to a place in Heaven, and so our salvation is entirely by grace. And grace utterly precludes the thought of human merit. Were there any question of merit on our part, it would not be grace. “To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Romans 4:4). If you work, you put the one by whom you are employed into your debt, and he does not get out of your debt until he has paid for your labor. Therefore, if by our works or efforts we could earn God’s salvation, we would put God in our debt, and He could not get out of it until He had taken us home to Heaven as a reward or payment for what we had done. But no works of ours, no efforts of ours, no labor that we could perform, could ever take away the guilt of one sin; we are confined to grace, to unmerited favor. It is not only unmerited favor, but it is favor against merit, for we have merited the very opposite.
“By grace are ye saved.” Notice the apostle does not say, “By grace are ye being saved,” or, “by grace will ye be saved eventually,” but he is declaring something already true of every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ: the work of redemption is already consummated. Therefore, our salvation is looked at by God as something that is finished and complete. If there were any possibility that somehow along the way to Heaven I might lose the salvation of God, it could not be said that I am already saved, but rather that I am being saved. But thank God, not only is the work that saves finished, but my salvation is seen as an accomplished fact. Verse 8 might be translated, “By grace have ye been saved.”
“Through faith,” this is the agent. Faith is simply the hand that lays hold of the gift that God presents to me. Believing the gospel, I am saved. Some people are in danger of making a savior of their faith, for they say, “Well, if I could only believe firmly enough, if I could believe in the right way, I think I would be saved.” It is not a question of how you believe; it is a question of whom you believe. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Do not make a savior of your faith. The Savior is Christ, and faith lays hold of Him. Then, lest the redeemed one thinks that he deserves credit for coming to Christ and believing this message, the apostle immediately adds, “And that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
Take the message as a whole again, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Theologians have questioned as to whether “not of yourselves” means the salvation or the faith. We may apply it to the whole subject in question. The grace, the salvation, is not of yourselves. The faith is not of yourselves; it is all the gift of God. But somebody says, “If faith is the gift of God and God is not pleased to give me that gift, how can I believe?” Scripture says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” God gives the gift of faith to all who heed the message of the gospel. After the Spirit of God brings that message home to the heart, it is thoroughly possible to resist the Holy Ghost. It is possible on the other hand to obey the ministry of the Spirit, and thus be led on to personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is a gift, and apart from it you can never be saved, but in order that we may have faith, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Refuse the Word, and there will never be faith; give heed to the Word, and faith cometh by hearing. And so we may say that all aspects of our salvation are “not of works, lest any man should boast.”
John Nelson, one of Wesley’s preachers, was a poor, godless, blaspheming blacksmith until God saved him. After that he became one of the early Methodist preachers, proclaiming in power the gospel of the grace of God and winning many to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. One day he was talking to a very self-righteous man who said, “I don’t need your Savior; my life is all I need. I can present my own life to God, and I am satisfied He won’t be hard on me. If anybody gets into Heaven I will because of the good I have done and the way I have lived.” “Look here,” said John Nelson, “if you got into Heaven, you would bring discord there. All in Heaven will be saved sinners, and we are going to sing, ‘Glory to the Lamb that was slain and hath washed us from our sins in His own blood.’ You couldn’t sing that, and so you would bring discord. You would be singing, ‘Glory to me because by my own good life and consistent living, my charity and good behavior, I fitted myself for Heaven.’ If the angels caught you doing that, they would take you by the nape of your neck and throw you over the wall.” That is a rather crude way of putting it, but he knew the truth of salvation by grace. David said, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord” (Psalms 34:2). I have no goodness of my own, no faithfulness, no merit, but I will boast in Him.
In Ephesians 2:10 we read, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The word translated “workmanship” is used only twice in the New Testament. As well as here in Ephesians it is also found in Romans chapter 1 where Paul was speaking of the testimony of creation. He wrote in verse Ephesians 2:20, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” In this verse the phrase, “the things that are made,” is the translation of one Greek word, poiema. From it we get our English word poem. Creation is God’s poem, witnessing to His eternal power and glory. The very stars in the heaven are, “Forever singing as they shine, / The hand that made us is divine.”
Poiema is used again only in this second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and here it is translated “workmanship,” which means something that someone has made. So we read that, “We are his workmanship [His poem], created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”
What a wonderful piece of literature a poem is! How different from any prose! It takes a gifted man or woman to produce a worthwhile poem. It is an artistic creation, and all the hard work in the world would not enable you to produce one unless you have the poetic instinct. It is a very artistic thing to play an organ, and I might take lessons and practice for years but I would never get great music out of it because I have no music in me. If God were other than He is, He never could have brought this universe into existence nor saved one poor sinner. Creation is God’s first poem, but redemption is His second poem, and you and I who are saved constitute the syllables in God’s great poem of redemption. Everyone is set in the right place by God Himself, “We are his workmanship,” and therefore He is given all the credit, for He has done it all through His Son.
We are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” Notice the order. He has already told us that we are not saved by good works, but now says that we must not ignore good works, for one of the purposes for which He has saved us is that we might do good works. In the general Epistles there are two great “sayings”: In 1 Timothy 1:15 we read “This is a faithful saying, and wormy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” But in Titus 3:8 we read, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” You see the place good works have, they are not to be ignored, but they are not meritorious. We are not saved by them, but we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. In other words, springing from the fact that we have been saved and have become God’s workmanship, God’s great redemptive poem, our lives should now be musical-rhythmical and lyrical. Every one of us should fit into the place where He has set us in this great epic of redemption.
“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Do you believe in foreordination? If you are a Christian, you are foreordained to do good works, to live a life well-pleasing unto God. That is what He has marked out for you. The Christian’s pathway is a life lived in obedience to Him.
Made Nigh by the Blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-18)
In this passage, the apostle addressed converted Gentiles collectively and spoke of converted Jews collectively. In times past God had called one man, Abraham, out from the world and made him the depository of certain promises. Afterwards He gave to his seed the Mosaic covenant at mount Sinai, and by that God separated the people of Israel from all the other people of the world. Those outside of Israel were called Gentiles. When Christ came into the world and the gospel first began to be preached, it could be said that those who were Gentiles in the flesh, like ourselves, “were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.”
Israel had a very definite hope. God had promised certain things to them. But the Gentiles had no such hope, they were outside of all this, and therefore without God in the world. It was not merely that they worshiped idols, gods of wood and stone, but the point was they did not know the true God at all. They were godless, “atheists,” in the world. But now, through the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and through His death on Calvary’s cross, wondrous blessing goes out to the Gentiles, blessings of which they had never dared to dream in the past.
“Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). You see the Jew occupied a place of nearness to God through covenant relationship, while the Gentile was far off, being a stranger to it all. But the Jew through his failure to keep his part of the covenant of works, had himself become personally alienated from God, so that in His sight, as we read in the Epistle to the Romans, “There is no difference, For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Therefore, the same grace that flowed out to Israel is the grace that overflows to the Gentiles. The Jews never obtained salvation on the ground of merit, or because they were God’s peculiar people marked off from the nations of the world by the covenant of circumcision, nor because of the sacrifices that they offered throughout the legal dispensation. Those of them who were saved owed everything to the matchless grace of God who gave the Lord Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah, to die for their sins on that cross of shame. And that same mighty Sacrifice which was offered on the tree avails for men everywhere who put their trust in Him. And so, although no covenant has been made with the Gentiles, yet every believing Gentile comes under all the spiritual blessings of the new covenant the moment he trusts in Christ, because salvation is all pure grace.
The shedding of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest crime ever perpetrated on the face of this earth. When a man murders another, he is held responsible for taking the life of his fellowman, but when a man stretches forth his hand against God incarnate, what can be said about his guilt! Yet that is the awful crime in which Jews and Gentiles participated. When the Lord Jesus Christ was nailed to Calvary’s tree and His blood poured out, it was the demonstration of the world’s greatest sin, but it also became the greatest possible demonstration of the infinite love and grace of God. That which exhibited the enormity of man’s sin and the corruption of his heart is that which shows the love of God to the greatest extent. All this was foreseen.
Peter could say, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). Yet this same Jesus is now made Lord and Christ, and through Him all who believe, as the apostle Paul says, “are justified from all things.” The Roman spear driven into the very heart of the Son of God expressed the wickedness of the heart of man, but that cleansing blood rushing forth to wash away our sins expressed the extent of God’s love. How wonderfully the grace of God has abounded over all our sins! We who sometimes were far off, we poor, wretched Gentiles, alienated from God by wicked works, and enemies in our minds, have now, by putting our trust in Him, been brought into a place of nearness that the law could never give even to Jews. And the Jew who believes in Him has been brought into this same blessed place. Together we have been “made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
There was not sufficient intrinsic value in the blood of sacrificed beasts to settle the sin question. But in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ we see the Holy, the Just, the Sovereign of the skies, stooping to man’s condition. He had to be who He is in order to do what He did, and because He is the infinite God become man His blood has atoning value that no other blood could have. Thus we are brought near by that blood of Christ. We may well sing:
So near, so very near, to God,
Nearer I could not be;
For in the person of His Son,
I am as near as He.
So dear, so very dear, to God,
Dearer I could not be;
The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Such is His love to me.
Dear Christian, does your heart grasp this profound truth? Do you realize that the very moment you came, a feeble trembling sinner, and reached out the hand of faith, accepting God’s Son, that moment by the precious blood of Christ you were brought into such an intimate relationship with God that you could not be drawn any closer? We are not brought to God by the sincerity of our repentance, by the strength of our faith, by the depth of our devotion, by the gladness of our spiritual experience, but brought near by the blood of Christ. We owe everything for eternity to the precious atoning blood of our Lord, and He who shed that blood, He who died for our sins on the cross, is Himself our peace.
We read, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1). That peace is not merely an experience of calmness in the soul, but it is the realization that the sin question has been fully settled. The sin that separated our souls from God has been done away, done away in the cross, and so Christ Himself is our peace. You see I am not called on to be mastered by my feelings, but by Christ. I may be very happy today, and then circumstances may arise tomorrow that cause the clouds to overshadow my soul and hide the sunshine of God’s face. I may be in darkness, doubt, difficulty, and perplexity, but my peace remains unchanged.
Peace with God is Christ in glory,
God is just and God is love;
Jesus died to tell the story,
Foes to bring to God above.
And so when I get disgusted with myself and my own poor experience, I can look away from self and look up by faith to Him, the blessed Christ of God seated there on the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven, and say, “There is my peace; my heart rests in Him. God rests in Him, and I rest in Him.” Has your soul truly understood this? I hope these things become a practical part of our lives, not merely doctrinal statements, but realities that sink into the depths of our beings.
“For He is our peace, who hath made both one” (Ephesians 2:14). Does Paul mean that God has made Christ and us one? That is blessedly true, but that is not what is spoken of here. He was speaking a little farther back of two opposite groups-the circumcision and the uncircumcision, the Jew and the Gentile, the covenant people and those who are strangers to the covenants of promise. But when Christ died, He died for both, and we who believe from both of these groups are now reconciled to God, and therefore we read, “He hath made both one.” And so my Jewish brother and I, his Gentile brother, are one in Christ.
“And hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” I think the apostle is referring, as an illustration at any rate, to the wall in the old temple, separating the court of the Gentiles from the court of the Israelites. On this wall there was an inscription that was dug up some years ago, and it read, “Let no Gentile, let no man of the nations, go beyond this wall on pain of death.” But the apostle wrote, Christ “hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.”
“Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). What does he mean by “one new man”? It is the body consisting of redeemed Jews and Gentiles here on earth and our glorious Head, our Lord Jesus Christ, in Heaven. Redeemed sinners united by the Holy Spirit to Christ in Heaven from now on form one new man, and so in a double sense peace has been made between the individual soul and God, and between Jew and Gentile, once separated by this middle wall of partition. In order that peace might be made between the individual soul and God, the law with its regulations had to be abolished.
That law pronounced a curse and condemnation on all who violated it. It was the Jews’ pride and boasting that they were custodians of the law of God, and yet they did not realize that same law put them all under the curse. They thought they were a blessed people and a privileged people to have the law of God, but sadly they had broken the law, and God said, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). But the Lord Jesus went to the cross and was made a curse for us-“As it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). And so by enduring the cross, by bearing the judgment, He abolished the law. And now both Jews and Gentiles come to God on the same basis, as sinners, but as sinners for whom Christ died. The redeemed from these two groups comprise the new man of which Christ is the Head.
Then in verse Ephesians 2:16 he used the other term, the body: “That he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” Why not say, “That He might reconcile both unto God in one new man”? We read that He has made in Himself of Jew and Gentile one new man. That includes the body on earth and the Head in Heaven. However, Christ does not have to be reconciled to God. It is we, the body, that must be reconciled to Him, for we were all poor sinners, we were once on our way to everlasting ruin, but we have been reconciled to God in one body. How are we reconciled to God? You remember, our Lord came into the world to manifest the love of God to sinners, and we read, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” But what was the result? Did men receive Him gladly? Did they acknowledge Him as Savior and Lord? Instead of that they nailed Him to the cross of shame. But love that was stronger than death, love that the many waters of judgment could not quench, led Him to go down into the darkness of the tomb for us. He destroyed the hostility by taking our place on the cross and bearing the judgment for us. Now through faith in the risen Christ who died for our sins, we have been reconciled to God.
“[He] came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh” (Ephesians 2:17). In resurrection power, having settled the sin question, having completed the work that makes atonement, the blessed Lord returned to this very world that rejected Him. He appeared here for forty days in His resurrection body, and gave the message of the gospel to His disciples to carry into the world. He proclaimed the good news of “peace to you which were afar off”- Gentile sinners dying in ignorance and darkness-“and to them that were nigh”-Jews to whom His Word had come. The Jews had received the oracles of God and the light that the Gentiles knew nothing of, but they had joined with the Gentiles in crucifying the Lord of glory. In the love of His heart, Christ preached the message of peace to Jews as well as to Gentiles.
In verse Ephesians 2:18 we have a wonderful statement: “For through him”- the resurrected Christ who ever lives at God’s right hand to make intercession for us-“we both”-Jews and Gentiles who were once far off-now “have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Under the old covenant there was no immediate access to God. The temple curtain told of a God hidden in the dark. God was not able to come out to man because the sin question was not settled, and man could not go into God for there was no way for his sins to be cleansed. But now the death of Christ has torn the separating veil.
The veil is rent! Our souls draw near
Unto a throne of grace;
The merits of the Lord appear,
They fill the holy place.
His precious blood has spoken there,
Before and on the throne:
And His own wounds in heaven declare,
The atoning work is done.
’Tis finished! Here our souls have rest,
His work can never fail:
By Him, our Sacrifice and Priest,
We pass within the veil.
Within the holiest of all,
Cleansed by His precious blood,
Before the throne we prostrate fall,
And worship Thee, O God!
Through Christ we both have immediate access to the Father by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit was given by God at Pentecost, baptizing believing Jews and Gentiles into one body, making us both members of one new man. What a wonderful thing it is to be a Christian! What a wonderful thing it is not only to have your sins forgiven but to have been brought into the family of God, and to have been made a fellow member with other believers of the body of Christ. Not only that, but to be accepted by God and to be as near to the heart of God as His own beloved Son. Not only that, but to have immediate access at any moment into His presence in the power of the Holy Spirit. And all this rests on the infinite value of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We truly are “made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
Built Together for a Habitation of God (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Next we consider our relationship to the Holy Spirit, and find that we have been formed into a habitation in which God by the Holy Spirit dwells during our time on earth, and in which He will dwell throughout all the ages to come. Two different figures are used-the tabernacle as described in the book of Exodus, and the glorious temple as depicted for us in the books of Kings and Chronicles. The tabernacle represents the temporary condition, the temple the eternal condition that will abide forever.
We noticed earlier in our study that throughout this letter the apostle said “ye” when he was addressing Gentiles and “we” when he wrote of Jews. So in this verse he said, “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” We have seen that the Gentiles were “strangers from the covenants of promise.” They did not belong to that special elect nation of Israel, but sadly many in Israel failed to enter into their holy privilege, and so we are told elsewhere that they are not all Israel who are of Israel. However, God called out a remnant from Israel, and that remnant by accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior was baptized into Jesus Christ and made living stones in the house of God. And now Gentiles who believe, though having no part nor lot in the covenant with Israel, are also brought in and are no longer “strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints.”
What do we mean by “saints”? Simply that we are now linked with Israel after the flesh? Not at all. The Israelites forfeited all rights from an earthly standpoint. It is those in Israel who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who are here called saints. So when he says we are “fellow-citizens with the saints,” he means that the Gentiles who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are as truly united to Christ now by the Spirit as our Jewish brethren who believe in the same Savior. A saint is a holy one, one set apart to God. But holiness is not a question primarily of experience. People often think of saints as those who have already attained to perfect holiness, but that is not the divine thought at all. Everyone who puts his trust in the Lord has been set apart to God in Christ, and thus is constituted a saint. But now having been made a saint, one is called to live in a saintly way. We do not become saints by holy living, but because God has designated us saints we are called to holy living.
So we read that we have been made “fellow-citizens with the saints.” What citizenship is that? It is a heavenly citizenship. We read in Philippians, “Our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven.” Philippi was what the Romans called a colony, but they used that term in a different sense from what we use it today. A Roman colony was a city that had been characterized by some special devotedness to the Roman imperial government. In order to reward the citizens of that place for their loyalty and faithfulness the title colonia was conferred on that city. That meant that from that time on every free-born person living in that place was considered a Roman citizen, and had just exactly the same rights and privileges as though he were born free in Rome.
Some years before Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians the Romans were in conflict with the people to the north and to the east of Macedonia. When the Roman legions reached Philippi they found the citizens of that place had already raised a great army to assist them, and had provided vast resources to meet the army. So delighted was the Roman general with their generosity and loyalty that he sent back to Rome a splendid report. The Senate then met and conferred on them the title colonia, which meant that every Philippian could then say, “I am a Roman citizen.” However, Philippi was in Macedonia, and of course the people had certain duties to that government, but Philippi was governed directly from Rome, and had a representative of the Roman government there. The apostle applied this same concept of citizenship in writing to the Ephesians. We are in this world sinners saved by grace and linked to our Lord Jesus Christ, though He is rejected by this world. And now God so appreciates devotion to His blessed Son in this day of His rejection, that He says, “I am going to confer on everyone who trusts Him, on everyone who acknowledges His Lordship during this time when the world is spurning Him, citizenship in my ‘colonia.’ They are heavenly citizens; they belong to Heaven.” Though we are in the world, we are “fellow-citizens with the saints.” We have our duties, our responsibilities to the world in which we live, but our prime duty and responsibility is to Heaven because we are citizens of that blessed country and belong to the household of God.
Next Paul used the figure of a building, and said, “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” You remember this same figure is used in other places in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians chapter 3 we read of the building that God is erecting in the wonderful gospel days. You have it again in 2 Corinthians chapter 6 where we read of the temple of God, and also in 1 Peter chapter 2 where believers are likened to living stones built on the living Stone, our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament when Solomon’s temple was erected on mount Moriah, in order that there might be a level platform on which the great superstructure could stand, large stones were brought and mortared into the solid rock, and then stones were fitted into that temple. At the end of seven years it was the most wonderful sanctuary that the world had ever known up to that time. But there was a peculiarity about the construction. It went up without the sound of a hammer, because the stones were quarried out elsewhere. They were also cut, shaped, and polished elsewhere, and then placed on that platform and cemented together without the use of a workman’s hammer. So today no one can hear a sound as a living stone is fitted into the temple of God, but God by the Holy Ghost is quarrying out these living stones from the depths of sin. He is lifting them up by His mighty power and building them on Christ, the great foundation.
View the vast building, see it rise!
The work how great, the plan how wise!
Nor can that faith be overthrown
That rests upon the Living Stone.
Some day this temple will be completed, but it is now in the course of construction. Every believer is a living stone. In Africa, India, China, and the islands of the sea, God is finding these living stones and they are being built into this glorious structure. It will remain for eternity the glorious sanctuary in which God will display the riches of His grace to all people. What a wonderful thing to be a living stone in that temple! You see no man can make himself a living stone. Only the Spirit of God can do that, and therefore it is only those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ who are placed in this wonderful building.
“And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” Does Paul mean that the apostles and prophets are the foundation? Not at all. He means God’s temple is built on the foundation that the apostles laid. What foundation did they lay? Paul wrote, “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). So the apostles and the prophets proclaimed the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, and on that foundation this glorious temple is being built.
You say, “But what prophets was Paul speaking of? We have no difficulty with the apostles for we know they are the apostles of the new dispensation. Do the prophets include the Old Testament prophets?” We answer, They preached Christ. Who preached a more glorious gospel than Isaiah? Listen to His wonderful words, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Listen to Jeremiah, “This is his name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). Listen to Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones” (Zechariah 13:7). And so we might go on. In this sense the prophets of the Old Testament joined with the apostles of the New Testament in proclaiming the truth of a crucified and risen Savior. But if he had in mind these Old Testament prophets, we might expect him to say “prophets and apostles,” for these Old Testament prophets came long before the apostles did. But he reversed it and put the apostles first. Could it be that just as there were apostles in the New Testament dispensation, there were also prophets? We read, for instance, of certain prophets and teachers at Antioch (Acts 13:1). Some of the writers of the New Testament, as Mark and Luke, were not apostles but were prophets. So I take it that we are to limit the “apostles and prophets” of Ephesians 2:20 to the New Testament workmen, those who were raised up of God at the beginning of the church age to lay the foundation-to preach Christ and proclaim the gospel. The temple of God has been building through the centuries on this glorious proclamation.
“Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Christ is the one Mediator between God and man. Only those who put their trust in Him are built into this holy temple. Only those who have been saved through His death, His shed blood, and His glorious resurrection are members of His body. Only those who have rested their souls for eternity on the work that He accomplished at Calvary have been quickened together with Him and are thus brought into the family of God. These are our brethren. Others are our fellowmen, in whom we are deeply interested, over whom we yearn with the compassion of Christ. But we dare not take that sacred term of “brethren” and apply it to those who reject our Lord Jesus Christ and trample His blood under their feet, for it is on His work alone we rest.
We remember Christ said to Peter, “Whom say ye that I am?” and Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” This is the one foundation. It was laid in death when Jesus died on the tree and now in resurrection the Spirit is building this glorious temple on Christ.
But now, as we said, the temple is not yet finished. As long as there are still lost sinners to be brought in, the temple is not complete. If you should ask for my opinion as to how near we are to the finished temple, I would say that I think there are very few more stones to be put in, just one here and there in the roof, and then it will be complete.
“In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” That is, every one is fitted by the Holy Spirit into his or her exact place as a living stone. It is an ongoing process. And when it is all completed, what a dwelling place for God and the Lamb it will be. What a wonderful sanctuary through all the ages to come! When you think of being a living stone in that glorious building, does it not bring to your soul a sense of the importance of holy living and devotedness to Christ, of so behaving yourself that He will delight in dwelling in you?
In 1 Corinthians chapter 3 and 2 Corinthians chapter 6 the temple of God is the entire church, but in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 the temple of the Holy Spirit is the individual. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 we read, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” And then speaking of the enemies outside, Paul continued, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” In 2 Corinthians 6:16 we read, “What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” And it is because the church collectively comprises the temple of God that the command comes, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17). But when we look back at 1 Corinthians 6:19 we find that Paul changed the figure to the individual. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” Here we find he used the singular form-“your body,” not “your bodies.” The individual is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in him. Addressing the whole company he said that collectively they form the temple of God but each individual believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. What godliness should characterize us, what piety and separation from the world: what faithfulness to Christ should mark us!
Coming back to Ephesians 2:20-21, the temple is spoken of, but in verse Ephesians 2:22 we have, I believe, the thought of the tabernacle. He has been speaking of the whole company of believers, and now he narrows his attention down to address a specific group of believers, like this church at Ephesus. “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” That is a finished product right here on the earth, like the tabernacle that could be placed at a given place one day, taken down the next, and moved elsewhere. It was made of a number of boards that had been fitted together, covered with gold, and united by bands. Then on each board there were two tenons which went down into sockets of silver. Beautiful curtains covered the united framework. At one time those boards had been trees in the wilderness, as you and I were poor sinners having no hope in the world. Then we were cut down by the work of the Spirit of God, planed and fitted together by the Spirit and now made the abiding place of God. The boards were covered with gold-symbolic of the fact that we are made the righteousness of God in Christ. The curtains speak of all His perfections sheltering His own. This is the picture that is given to us in Ephesians. You as a company of Christians are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Do we realize this as much as we should? Any assembly or church of the living God (and I use this in the strictest New Testament sense, a company of called-out believers) is the habitation of God through the Spirit. That is why the church should be kept holy; that is why unsaved people should have no part in its fellowship, because they are not members of the true church. That is why Christians who are members of that church should be careful to avoid all worldliness and everything that would dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ. May God move us to live in such a way that we will glorify His name in this world.
Monday, March 27th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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