Sermon Bible Commentary
In these words we have—
I. Paul's description of himself: "an Apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God." He was not appointed to his office through the intervention of the Church or of those who had been Apostles before him; his call came direct from heaven. Much less had he dared to undertake his great work at the impulse of his own zeal for the honour of Christ and the redemption of men. He was an Apostle "through the will of God." The expression is characteristic of the Pauline theology; Paul believed that the Divine will is the root and origin of all Christian righteousness and blessedness. And this is the secret of a strong, and calm, and effective Christian life. Our spiritual activity reaches its greatest intensity when we are so filled with the glory of the Divine righteousness, the Divine love, and the Divine power that we are conscious only of God, and all thought of ourselves is lost in Him.
II. Having described himself, Paul goes on to describe those to whom the Epistle is written. They are "the saints which are at Ephesus and the faithful in Christ Jesus." In the early days all Christians were saints. This title did not attribute any personal merit to them; it simply recalled their prerogatives and their obligations. Whenever they were so called they were reminded that God had made them His own. They were holy because they belonged to Him. According to Paul's conception, every Christian man was a temple, a sacrifice, a priest; his whole life was a Sabbath; he belonged to an elect race; he was the subject of an invisible and Divine kingdom; he was a saint. The title implies no personal merit; it is the record of a great manifestation of God's condescension and love.
III. The closing words of the second verse, "Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ," belong to too lofty a region to be regarded as merely an expression of courtesy and goodwill. I think that we must call them a benediction. If the true ideal of the Christian life were fulfilled, men would be conscious that whenever we came near to them Christ came near; when we invoked on men the Divine favour and the Divine peace, the invocation would be His rather than ours: it would be spoken in His name, not in our own, and what we spoke on earth would be confirmed and made good in heaven. We have ceased to bless each other because our consciousness of union with Him who alone can make the blessing effective has become faint and dim.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 11.
Reference: Ephesians 1:1, Ephesians 1:2.—Homilist, 4th series, vol. i., p. 213; Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 59.
Of the spiritual blessings which we have in Christ we notice—
I. Election. God has chosen us not only that we may be saved from eternal destruction, not only that we may be happy for ever in heaven, but He has chosen us for this special purpose: that we should be holy and without blame before Him. We cannot have before us a nobler, grander object to contemplate than that it is God's purpose to make us holy and without blame before Him, to conform us in spirit and in life to the image of His dear Son.
II. Predestination and adoption. Whatever may be said about all human beings being the children of God, I am inclined to think that there is more of sentiment than of sound Scriptural truth in that notion, for I find it continually set forth in the New Testament that there is a connection between faith in Christ and our becoming children of God. "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus," says the Apostle Paul, and thus it is that we are adopted and received into the adoption of sons.
III. Redemption. Much as this doctrine is derided at the present time, the fact that He bought us at such a price as His own precious life makes our redemption and eternal life so absolutely secure.
IV. Forgiveness of sins. Christ has not redeemed us from the curse of the law that He might afterwards reproach us for our sins. There comes with the redemption the forgiveness. There comes with the act of love that saved us from the curse of the law the act of oblivion, in which all sin is forgiven and forgotten.
H. Stowell Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 344.
(with Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12)
In the Heavenlies.
I. In the heavenlies we have (1) a blessed home. (2) We are quickened together and raised up with Christ. As a result of His thus quickening us together with Christ and raising us up together, God makes us sit together at His own right hand. This involves elevation over all created powers and a share in His absolute sovereignty.
II. The situation of believers in the heavenlies, thus blessed and thus exalted, naturally draws upon them the notice of other beings, of other intelligences, good or evil, who may be capable of understanding what is going on in the heavenlies. The heavenlies now put on the aspect of a theatre or place of exhibition in the view of holy angels, the unfallen inhabitants of heaven. By the Church they have made known to them the manifold wisdom of God.
III. In chap. Ephesians 6:12 another change or metamorphosis befalls the heavenlies. Instead of a spectacle, there is a strife; instead of an exhibition, a fight. The heavenlies now appear as a field of battle. The heavenlies are not now, any more than the heavenlies before the Fall, secure from the invasion of the spoiler and the foe. Our enemies are the world rulers of the dark and disordered system of things that now prevails among men. They follow us into our retreat. Resenting our escape from their dominion, bitterly grudging our being blessed by God and exalted in Christ, in the heavenlies, they would fain scale the mountain of our hope and joy in the Lord. Their temptations and assaults now are not carnal, but spiritual. Be not unduly afraid of them. Be not ignorant of their devices. Beware of meeting them in their own domain, in the world of whose darkness they are rulers.
R. S. Candlish, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 1.
I. Men, in the midst of the many conflicting manifestations of God, are trying to find the supreme revelation which will harmonise all the crossing rays in its own serene and fadeless light. This supreme revelation we find in Christ. The God whom Jesus obeyed, the Father whom Jesus loved, is the God and Father we today are striving to find that we may love Him too. Every Godlike man gives a new revelation of God to man. "The God of Abraham" was a new conception of God that made primitive religion richer and better. The personal appropriation of God, so common in Hebrew piety, does not make the world at large poorer, but richer, by enlarging human faith and by sanctifying human experience. Every flower that blows, every bird that sings in summer, may claim the sunshine as its own. The violet can say, "My sun," without trespassing on the rights of the daisy; the butterfly can say, "My sun," without taking anything away from the lark. Each leaf and plant, each fern and flower, is a fresh revelation of the same sun—a new incarnation of the one great mind in nature. So is every Godlike man showing a new phase of the Divine character.
II. The God of Jesus Christ can do no wrong. The eternity after time is done with will be as stainless as the eternity before time was. Time and sin are discords leading into deeper and sweeter symphonies. Christ saw hell and loved God; He knew that hell was not a land lying outside the boundaries of the kingdom of righteousness. Christ did not explain evil; He simply left it beneath His feet and went home. The explanation of sin comes only to those who have conquered sin.
H. Elvet Lewis, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 390.
References: Ephesians 1:3.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 130: J. Stalker, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 127.
I. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." These words recall the joy and triumph of the ancient Psalms. They read as if Paul was intending to write a song of happy thanksgiving. He attributes to Christ the whole development of his spiritual life. The larger knowledge of God and of the ways of God, which came to him from year to year, had come from Christ; and he felt sure that whatever fresh discoveries of God might come to him would come from Christ. Faith, hope, joy, peace, patience, courage, zeal, love for God, love for man—he had found them all in Christ. It was on the ground of his own personal experience that he was able to tell men that the riches of Christ are unsearchable.
II. I need hardly remind you that Calvinism has derived its strongest Scriptural support from the interpretation which has been placed upon certain passages in the writings of the Apostle Paul. On the first few verses of this Epistle the Calvinistic theory of election and predestination has been supposed to rest as on foundations of eternal granite. It is true that the technical terms of the Calvinistic theology are to be found in the Epistles of Paul, but they do not stand for the Calvinistic ideas. When Paul speaks of God electing men, choosing them, foreordaining them, predestinating them, He means something very different from what Calvinism means when it uses the same words. Calvinism teaches that by the decree of God some men are foreordained to everlasting death; Paul teaches that "it is the will of God that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." Calvinism teaches that "neither are any other redeemed by Christ but the elect only"; Paul teaches that Christ gave Himself a ransom for all. According to the Calvinistic conception, some men who are still children of wrath, even as the rest, are among the elect, and will therefore some day become children of God. That is a mode of speech foreign to Paul's thought; according to Paul, no man is elect except he is in Christ. We are all among the non-elect until we are in Him. But once in Christ, we are caught in the current of the eternal purposes of the Divine love; we belong to the elect race: all things are ours; we are the children of God and heirs of His glory.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on Ephesians, p. 25.
References: Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1738. Ephesians 1:3-6.—Homilist, 4th series, vol. i., p. 272. Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 1:5.—Ibid., 3rd series, vol. viii., p. 202. Ephesians 1:5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 360; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 102; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. v., p. 373.
Regeneration and Sonship in Christ.
We have now to consider that original and central Divine purpose which explains and includes all that the infinite love of God has done for our race already, all that the infinite love of God will do for us through the endless ages beyond death. God "foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself."
I. "Through Jesus Christ." Our Lord is always represented as being, in the highest sense and in a unique sense, the Son of God. He is a Servant and something more. There is an ease, a freedom, a grace, about His doing of the will of God, which can belong only to a son. There is nothing constrained in His moral and spiritual perfection; it is not the result of art and painstaking. He was born to it, as we say; He does the will of God as a child does the will of his father: naturally, as a matter of course, almost without thought. The character of His communion with His Father confirms this impression. There is no irreverent familiarity, but there is no trace of fear or even of wonder. It is plain that He lived in the very light of God, saw God as no saint had ever seen Him; but He was not subdued or overawed by the vision. Prophets had fallen to the ground when the Divine glory was revealed to them; but Christ stands calm and erect. A subject may lose self-possession in the presence of his prince, but not a son.
II. This adoption of which Paul speaks is something more than a mere legal and formal act, conveying certain high prerogatives. We are called the sons of God because we are really made His sons by a new and supernatural birth. In some the change is immediate, decisive, and apparently complete; in others it is extremely gradual, and may for a long time be hardly discernible. Look at these Ephesian Christians. The Apostle has to tell them that they must put away falsehood and speak the truth; that they must give up thieving, and foul talk, and covetousness, and gross sensual sin. He addresses them as saints. They were regenerate, but yet in some of them the moral effects of regeneration were very incomplete; the change which regeneration was ultimately certain to produce in their moral life had only begun, and it was checked and hindered by a thousand hostile influences.
III. What God has done for us is "to the praise of the glory of His grace"; and the Apostle adds, "which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." With the infinite suggestiveness of the last word Paul seems to have been content. Christ dwells for ever in the infinite love of God, and as we are in Christ, the love of God for Christ is in a wonderful manner ours.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 40.
The Final Restoration of all Things.
There are several passages in the New Testament—and this is one of them—which make it clear that the Divine mercy is ultimately to achieve a complete triumph over misery and moral evil; and these passages, if they stand alone, might give us the impression that all who in any age, in any land, in any world, have erred and strayed from God are to be brought back by the Good Shepherd to the flock and to the fold.
I. But this Epistle, like the other documents contained in the New Testament, was not written for persons who were uninstructed in the Christian faith. If anything is clear about the teaching of Christ and His Apostles it is that they warned men not to reject the Divine mercy and so become irrevocable exiles from God's presence and joy. They assumed that some would be guilty of this supreme crime and would be doomed to this supreme woe. Some men will inherit eternal life; some men will be punished with the second death. When therefore Paul spoke of God's purpose to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, the Ephesian Christians would not misunderstand his meaning. It would be understood that while those who had incurred irrevocable exclusion from the life of God were to receive the just punishment of their sin and to perish, the rest of the moral universe was to be organised into a perfect unity for eternal ages of righteousness and glory.
II. The universe was created to reach its perfection in Christ, and the eternal thought of God has been moving through countless ages of imperfection, development, pain, and conflict towards this great end. Crossed, resisted, defied, apparently thwarted, by moral evil, the Divine purpose has remained steadfast, has never been surrendered. Its energy has been wonderfully revealed in the incarnation and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Its final triumph is secure. God will "sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth." In Him the discords of the universe will be resolved into an eternal harmony; its conflicts will end in golden ages of untroubled peace; it will find God, and in finding God will find eternal unity and blessedness. What we hope for in the endless future is a still more complete participation in whatever knowledge and love of God, whatever righteousness, whatever joy, may exist in any province of the created universe. Race is no longer to be isolated from race, or world from world. A power, a wisdom, a holiness, a rapture, of which a solitary soul, a solitary world, would be incapable, are to be ours through the gathering together in one of all things in Christ.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 90.
Reference: Ephesians 1:6.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 267; Ibid., Sermons, vol. viii., No. 471; vol. xvi., No. 958; vol. xxix., No. 1731; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 95. Ephesians 1:6, Ephesians 1:7.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 93.
The Forgiveness of Sins.
I. The Apostolic doctrine of the Atonement rests on Christ's own teaching. To understand this doctrine it is necessary to have a clear conception of what is meant by the forgiveness of sins. (1) It is not a change in our minds towards God, but a change in God's mind towards us. (2) It must not be confounded with peace of conscience. It is clearly one thing for God to be at peace with us and quite a different thing for us to be at peace with ourselves. (3) There is another possible error. We must not suppose that as soon as God forgives us we escape at once from the painful and just consequences of our sins. The sins may be forgiven, and yet many of the penalties which they have brought upon us may remain.
II. What is it then for God to forgive sins? (1) When God forgives men, His resentment ceases. He actually remits our sin. Our responsibility for it ceases. The guilt of it is no longer ours. That He should be able to give us this release is infinitely more wonderful than that He should be able to kindle the fires of the sun and to control through age after age the courses of the stars. (2) He can forgive sin because He is God. Sin is a violation of the eternal law of righteousness, and that law is neither above God nor below God. The eternal law of righteousness is one with the eternal life and will of God. When His resentment against us ceases, the eternal law of righteousness ceases to be hostile to us. The shadow which our sins have projected across our life, and which lengthens with lengthening years, passes away. We look back upon the sins which God has forgiven, and we condemn them still, but the condemnation does not fall upon ourselves, for God, who is the living law of righteousness, condemns us no longer.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 52.
The Riches of God's Grace.
It is quite clear from the whole teaching of the New Testament that faith—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—is the critical act which determines the eternal destiny of all to whom the everlasting God in Christ is made known. Penitence for sin may be most bitter, and yet sin may remain unforgiven. Prayer may be most passionate, and yet the soul may find no rest. The endeavour to break away from old courses of evil may be sincere and earnest, and yet be altogether unavailing. Forgiveness is not granted to us, nor the gift of eternal life, until we trust in God to save us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I. The riches of God's grace are illustrated by the nature and cause of those evils from which God is willing to redeem us. All the evils of our condition, from which God is eager to save us, are the result of our own fault. We have sinned, and the sin is regarded by God with deep and intense abhorrence. It is to the guilty, and not merely to the unfortunate, that God offers redemption. It is to the guiltiest as well as to those whose sins have been less flagrant, and thus He shows the riches of His grace.
II. Again, the riches of His grace are illustrated in what He has done to effect our redemption. "We have redemption through the blood of Christ." If Christ had descended and declared that God was ready to be at peace with us we should have had infinite reason to speak of the riches of God's grace; but He came unasked. The price of our redemption has already been paid. We have not to entreat God to redeem us; He has provided for our redemption, and thus He has illustrated the riches of His grace.
III. Again, the condition on which God offers salvation illustrates the riches of His grace. If I were to speak with strict accuracy, I might speak of the absence of all conditions, for it is a free gift, and the only condition is that we should receive it. As Peter rose at the touch of the angel and found that his fetters were gone, and that the prison doors were open, we have only to rise up free.
R. W. Dale, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 691.
The Forgiveness of Sins and the Death of Christ.
The two truths which Paul affirms in the text are in a sense equally mysterious; but the first may be more accessible than the second. He says, first, that we have forgiveness of our trespasses in Christ, and, secondly, that we have the forgiveness of our trespasses in Christ through His blood.
I. We are assisted to approach the first truth by what he has said in the earlier verses of this chapter. The eternal springs of the Divine life of the human race are in Christ. Whatever strength, and wisdom, and blessedness, and glory are possible to us are possible through Him and through our union with Him. Christ's eternal righteousness, His eternal relationship to the Father, the Father's delight in Him, are the origin of all the greatness for which the human race was created. It was from Christ, according to the Divine idea of the race, that we were to receive all things. Every spiritual blessing was conferred upon the race in Him.
II. But what special relation can be discovered between the death of Christ and the remission of sins? (1) In Christ we have found the ideal righteousness of the race. Shall we be surprised if we also find in Christ the ideal submission of the race to the justice of the Divine resentment against sin? His eternal righteousness made it possible for us to be righteous, for we were created to live in His life: His voluntary endurance of agony, spiritual desertion, and death made it possible for us to consent from our very heart to the justice of God's condemnation of our sin. In another sense than that in which the words are used by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "He was made perfect through suffering." (2) The death of Christ has another effect which constitutes it the reason and ground of our forgiveness. His death is the death of sin in all who are one with Him. (3) The death of Christ was an act in which there was a revelation of the righteousness of God which must otherwise have been revealed in the infliction of the penalty of sin on the human race.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 68.
In Paul's idea the redemption in Christ stands out as something altogether unique, enshrined in distinctive grandeur. The definite article is used—"in whom," he says, "we have the redemption"—the one great deliverance of sinful men. That redemption is procured for us through "His blood," and it consists in "the forgiveness of sins."
I. The New Testament nowhere represents God as a Father only. A Father of infinite love and tenderness He is; it is our Lord's supreme revelation of Him; but is He not Sovereign and Magistrate as well? If His words are words of infinite love, are they not also words of inflexible holiness? The word "redemption" is strictly a legal word. It refers to penalty, not to mere moral influence. It is an act of grace on the part of Him against whom we have sinned, but founded on principles of righteousness.
II. It is clear that Christ did not suffer to appease any implacable feeling in God, to incline God to save. Every representation of Scripture is of God's yearning pity and love. Christ, a holy and loving Man, realised what the sin of His brother-man was—sin against the loving Father, sin that filled the soul with evil; and the realisation agonised Him, the pure, the holy, Man and Brother. Was not this bearing human sin? Feeling all this anguish for others' sin, the anguish that they should have felt, that was the natural consequence of sin. And was not this a sacrifice for sin, a homage to righteousness, a manifestation of the inviolability of holiness, of the inevitable misery of sin, the satisfaction of a great principle, "magnifying the law and making it honourable"? "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Have we not here the key to the holiness, the love, and the profound moral philosophy of Christ's propitiatory sacrifice?
H. Allon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 104.
(with Colossians 1:14)
What we have in Christ Jesus is here indicated by two phrases or forms of expression, which explain and define one another. The redemption through His blood is the forgiveness of sins; the forgiveness of sins is the redemption through His blood.
I. This limits the meaning of the term "redemption." It is restricted by the qualifying clause, "through His blood," and it is restricted also by the explanatory addition, "the forgiveness of sins." The transaction is wholly and exclusively an act and exercise of the Divine sovereignty.
II. The forgiveness of sins is the redemption through Christ's blood. The statement or definition thus reversed is significant and important. It is not the simple utterance of a sentence, frankly forgiving. It is that, no doubt; but it is something more. There is the offended Father Himself providing that the irreversible sentence of law and justice lying upon His rebellious children shall have fitting and sufficient execution upon the head of His own well-beloved Son, who is willing to take their place; so that they may come forth free, no longer under condemnation, but righteous in His righteousness and sons in His sonship. This is the redemption through the blood of Christ. And this is what we have when we have the forgiveness of sins, this and nothing short of this. It is something more than impunity, something more than indulgence, something very different from either impunity or indulgence, and indeed the opposite of both.
III. We have this great benefit in Christ. The gift of God held out freely to the acceptance of all the guilty alike, the gift of God, His free gift, is Christ, and not Christ as the medium or channel through which the redemption or forgiveness reaches us, but Christ having in Himself the redemption and the forgiveness.
R. S. Candlish, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 18.
References: Ephesians 1:7.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 334; Ibid., Sermons, vol. vi., No. 295; vol. xxvi., No. 1555. Ephesians 1:7-14—Homilist, 4th series, vol. i., p. 337. Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 1:10.—F. H. Williams, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 262; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., pp. 85, 225.
Christ the Justification of a Suffering World.
Such words as these of St. Paul spring out of that first bewilderment of joy which belongs to the sense of discovery. Christ is still a newly discovered wonder, and the wonder of the newness still fascinates, still overwhelms. What, then, is the mystery of God's will in gathering together all in one in Christ? Why was the Incarnation the true and only secret, the fit and only instrument? What did it actually do? Why was it such an immense relief to St. Paul?
I. Let me take it very broadly. What is the primary plan of God as we see it in nature? For this is the plan that Christ came to fulfil. We gaze and wonder at the terrific process of creation; and if we ask in awe and amazement, What is the end of all this? What is the purpose to be achieved? we are told, "Man." Man is the final achievement in which all this preparation issues; man is worth all this infinite toil, this agelong effort, this endless struggle, this thousandfold death. He is the justification; it is all very good since it all rises up into his crowning endowment. We turn to look at man, then, man as this world's fulfilment. What has he done to be worth it all?
II. The one nation in all the world which discovered the permanent purpose of God in history; the one nation which succeeded in finding a path through its own disasters, so that its own ruin only threw into clearer light the principles of God's ordained fulfilment—this unique nation pronounced that the fulfilment, the justifying purpose, was to be found in holiness of spirit, the union of man with God, whose image he is. Accept this as man's end, and no destruction appals, no despair overwhelms, for this is the higher life, which is worth all the deaths that the lower can die; this is the new birth, which would make all the anguish of the travailing be remembered no more. But to know the secret was one thing; to achieve its fulfilment was another. The one possible end— the achievement of holiness—was itself impossible to the only people who recognised it as their end.
III. The holiness of God incarnate in the flesh of this labouring humanity, the holy image of God's perfect righteousness taking upon Himself the whole agony of man, dying the death which justifies all death—but it turns death itself, by the honourable way of sacrifice, into the instrument of the higher inheritance, into the sacrament of righteousness, into the mystery of holiness, into the pledge of perfect peace—this, and this only, makes a consummation by which the effort of God's creation achieves an end; this and this only, is a secret and a victory worthy of the merciful God in whom we trust. I need not spend many words on the practical application of this. It is practical enough sometimes just to draw out and study God's truth; and if we meditate on it, it will enforce on us its own applications. Only let us seek to realise that we are saved only by being well-pleasing to God; and we are well-pleasing only if He can recognise in us the fruit and crown of all this long travailing, the satisfaction of all this immense effort of creation; it is the holiness of Christ.
H. Scott Holland, Logic and Life, p. 81.
References: Ephesians 1:10.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. x., p. 121. Ephesians 1:11.—R. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 86; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 215; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 30. Ephesians 1:11-14.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 456.
The Holy Spirit the Seal of God's Heritage and the Earnest of our Inheritance.
I. In the early Church the access of the Spirit of God to a man was commonly associated with the mysterious gift of tongues, with the power of prophecy, or with other manifestations of a miraculous kind. It seems to be a law of the Divine action that the beginning of a new movement in the religious history of mankind should be signalised by supernatural wonders which bear emphatic testimony to the new forces that are revealing themselves in the spiritual order and illustrate their nature. These wonders gradually cease, but the loftier powers of which they are only the visible symbols remain. The miraculous manifestations of the Divine Spirit have passed away, but it was the promise of Christ that the Spirit should remain with us for ever.
II. That for the most part we are so indifferent to the presence of the Spirit of God is infinitely surprising. We repeat in another form the sin of insensibility of which the Jewish people were guilty when our Lord was visibly among them. The past was sacred to them, but they were so completely under its control that they failed to recognise the nobler disclosures of the righteousness and power and love of God to themselves. And is it not the same with us? We look back upon the days when the Son of God was teaching in the Temple and in the cornfields and on the hills of Galilee; and we feel in our hearts that those were the days in which heaven and earth met, and in which God was near to man. The presence of the Spirit, which Christ Himself declared was to be something greater than His own presence, was to bring clearer light and firmer strength and completer access into the kingdom of God, does not fill us with wonder, with hope, with exulting thankfulness.
III. Paul has spoken of us in ver. 11 as being God's heritage; in ver. 14 we are described as anticipating an inheritance for ourselves. Our hopes are infinite. If by His Spirit God dwells in us now, we shall dwell in God for ever; and His Spirit dwells in us that He may redeem us completely from all sin and infirmity and raise us to the power and perfection and blessedness of the Divine kingdom.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 109.
References: Ephesians 1:13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x., No. 592; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 4; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 61.
I. The character of the inheritance. The teaching of the passage is that heaven is likest the selectest moments of devotion that a Christian has on earth. If you want to know most really and most truly what that "rest which remaineth for the people of God" is, think of what the fruits of God's working in your hearts have already been, and expand and glorify these into "an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection." Heaven is the perfecting of the life of the Spirit begun here, and the loftiest attainments of that life here are but the beginnings and infantile movements of immature beings.
II. We gather from the passage some thoughts with regard to the true grounds of certainty that we shall ultimately possess the fulness of the inheritance. The true ground for certainly lies in this: that you have the Spirit in your heart, operating its own likeness and moulding you, sealing you after its own stamp and image. This idea is a very grand and fruitful one. There are many grounds on which, as I think, this principle rests: that the present possession of this Holy Spirit is the true certainty of the full possession hereafter. (1) The very fact of such a relation between man and God is itself the great assurance of immortality and everlasting life. (2) The characteristics that are produced by this Holy Spirit's indwelling, both in their perfectness and their imperfection, are the great guarantee of the inheritance being ours. (3) The Holy Spirit in a man's heart makes him desire and believe in the inheritance.
A. Maclaren, Sermons in Manchester, p. 42.
References: Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 1:14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 358; vol. xxii., No. 1284; E. C. Hall, Sermons, 1st series, p. 238; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. i., p. 315; Ibid., vol. vii., p. 163; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 225; A. Maclaren, Sermons in Union Chapel, Manchester, p. 47. Ephesians 1:14.—Ibid., A Year's Ministry, p. 233; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 202. Ephesians 1:15.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 275.
The Illumination of the Spirit.
I. The Apostle's prayer raises the whole group of questions which are connected with the two great words "inspiration" and "revelation." These words represent two very different things. Revelations may come to men who are not inspired; and men may be inspired who are not entrusted with any new revelations of the Divine thought and will. The whole life of Christ was a revelation. His miracles were revelations of the power and pity of God. But all the men that saw Christ's miracles were not inspired, nor all the men who were touched by His goodness, or who trembled while listening to His menaces.
II. To the Apostles inspiration was given in a very remarkable measure. They were appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ to lay the foundations of the Christian Church; they had authority to teach all nations in His name; later ages were to learn His mind from their lips. Theirs was a position of unique responsibility, and their qualifications were unique, for in the Divine order the measures of human duty and the measures of strength conferred for the discharge of it are always equal. But in kind the inspiration of the Apostles was the same as that which Paul prayed might be granted to the Christians at Ephesus, the same as that which we ourselves may hope to receive from God. We should never be afraid to accept the infinite grace of God. In Luther's time men were afraid that the doctrine of justification by faith would corrupt the morals of the Church by relaxing the motives to righteousness. Luther preached the doctrine which many sagacious theologians regarded with dismay, and it ennobled and invigorated the morals of half Europe. A similar courage in accepting and asserting the inspiration possible to all Christians would not lessen, but confirm, the authority of prophets and psalmists, Evangelists and Apostles. When the spirit of wisdom and revelation is granted to us, the eyes of our heart, to use Paul's phrase in the next verse, are enlightened, our own eyes, and we see the glory of God. Apart from this illumination no true knowledge of God is possible to man.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on Ephesians, p. 128.
References: Ephesians 1:15-22.—H.P.Hughes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 248. Ephesians 1:17.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 331. Ephesians 1:17, Ephesians 1:18.—A. J. Parry, Phases of Truth, p. 58.
Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:7
Christ's Resurrection and Glory in Relation to the Hope of the Church.
I. The descent of the Son of God from His eternal majesty to the infirmities and sorrows and temptations of this mortal condition is so transcendent a revelation both of the love of God and the possible greatness and blessedness of man that we need not be surprised that to many profound Christian thinkers the Incarnation has seemed to constitute the whole of the Christian Gospel, but even the Atonement did not end the succession of wonders which began with the Incarnation. The Incarnation was wonderful; that it should have been possible for the Eternal Word, who was in the beginning with God, to descend from the eternal splendours of Divine supremacy and to become man, is an infinite mystery. But that, having become man and retaining His humanity, it should have been possible for Him to reascend to those heights of authority and glory, is also an infinite mystery. This is the explanation of the emphasis and energy with which Paul dwells on the greatness of the Divine power as illustrated in the resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Christ. During His earthly life He was unequal to the great tasks of supreme authority, just as He was unequal during His childhood to the tasks of His public ministry. In His resurrection and ascension into heaven there came an extension, an expansion, an exaltation, of the powers of Christ's human nature, which corresponded with His transition from humiliation to the glory of the Father. "The working of the strength of" (God's) "might" rendered Him capable of a knowledge so immense, enriched Him with a wisdom so Divine, inspired Him with a force so wonderful, that Christ, the very Christ that was born at Bethlehem and was crucified on Calvary, became the real and effective Ruler of heaven and earth.
II. God will confer on us a greatness and a blessedness corresponding to the greatness and blessedness which He has conferred on Christ. No promises of glory, honour, and immortality can adequately represent the wonderful future of those who are to dwell for ever with God; but in the ascent of Christ from His earthly humiliation to supreme sovereignty, in the corresponding development of the intellectual and moral energies of His human nature, we see how immense is the augmentation of power and of joy to which we are destined.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 144.
Reference: Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 254.
I. "What is the hope of His calling." This phrase should surely be taken in its simplest sense: "That ye may know the hopefulness of God's calling; what hope there is in it; how full of hope it is." (1) Consider who it is that calls. It is God, and God in the character of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, the God who gives grace and glory. (2) Consider who are called. All men such as they are. (3) The calling of God is hopeful (a) because it is on the one hand absolutely free, and on the other hand peremptorily sovereign and commanding; (b) because it is on the one hand earnest in the way of persuasion, and on the other hand effectual, as implying a Divine work of renewal in the will within; (c) because it is on the one hand righteous, and on the other holy; (d) because it is sure on His part and capable of being made sure on our part.
II. "What the riches of His glory and His inheritance in the saints:" its rich glory; its glorious richness. This expression "His inheritance in the saints" is remarkable. It is not the inheritance which they receive from Him; it is not the inheritance which they have in Him; it is the inheritance which He has in them.
III. "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe." That is the third thing to be known. (1) The knowledge which Paul prays for is altogether Divine, coming from a Divine source, through a Divine agency, for a Divine end. (2) The highest point in this threefold knowledge of God is the centre, and that implies your being His saints, His holy ones. (3) The exceeding greatness of God's power is put forth in our exercising faith: it is to usward who believe. (4) The hopeful calling of God is to sinners without reserve.
R. S. Candlish, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians.
Reference: Ephesians 1:18-20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1466.
I. The Apostle desires that the Ephesian Christians may know what is "the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe." I can easily imagine that a person who has been wont to speak of the privileges of believers till he has brought himself to think of them as separated by their belief from the rest of human beings—I can easily imagine that such a person will exclaim triumphantly, "See, then, the clause determines the meaning of all that follows. Whatever glory the Apostle, or rather the Spirit of God, may unfold, these are the persons to whom He will unfold it." Even so. I rejoice to think it. And therefore let us consider who these persons were. They were a very small society, aliens from the synagogue, aliens from the Gentile temple, regarded with scorn by those whom they met in the market-place. They were obliged to live much within their own circle. It is to these persons that St. Paul speaks of a fellowship that was quite illimitable. The reward of their faith was that they could not separate themselves from any creature bearing the form of a man. To do so was not to believe in Christ. To believe in Him was to acknowledge One who represented mankind at the right hand of the Father.
II. Such a faith as this, carrying them so far above all appearances, contradicting the conclusions of their natural understandings, overcoming the temptations that most beset them, could not be attributed to anything less than a Divine operation on their spirits. The power which raises any man into the largeness and freedom of fellowship with God and with the universe is the power which exalted Christ to the right hand of the majesty on high.
III. The Resurrection and Ascension are held forth to us as the object of faith. He who wore a crown of thorns was proved to be the Prince of all the kings of the earth. He who had gone down into hell had triumphed over the principalities of hell, making a show of them openly. This St. Paul held to be the true faith of a Christian; hereby it was marked out as different from the faiths that had gone before it or that still struggled with it in the world.
IV. St. Paul, who had thrice suffered stripes; St. Paul, who had hardly escaped from the mob at Ephesus; St. Paul, who was in Nero's hands at Rome—St. Paul dares to tell these disciples of his that the powers of the world are put under Christ. The confidence with which the Apostles believed that the kingdoms of the world had in very deed been proved to be the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ explains the longing with which they looked forward to the final unveiling of Christ, their zeal to keep the longing alive in their disciples. They could not define the limits of His conquests, who had ascended on high that He might fill everything.
V. But what is the witness of our constitution in Christ? What is it that lives to prophesy of this ultimate victory? "He has given Him to be Head over all things to His Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." All the blessings which individual men have ever received from the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be traced directly to the belief, which our Communion Service expresses, that we dwell in Christ, and that Christ dwells in us; that we are very members incorporate in the body of Him that filleth all in all. Take away that faith, and you do not take away some grand mystical conception of Christianity: you take away all that has made it practical, all that has made it dear to the hearts of sinners and sufferers, all that binds together men of different races, classes, countries, ages.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 85.
References: Ephesians 1:19-23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 534. Ephesians 1:20, Ephesians 1:21.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 97. Ephesians 1:22.—W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 237; S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 237; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 89. Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23.—A. Blomfield, Sermons in Town and Country, p. 32; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 15th series, p. 229. Ephesians 1:23.—J. B. Heard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 317; L. Davies, Ibid., vol. xxxv., p. 353; Congregationalist, 1872, p. 454. Ephesians 2:1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 127; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 65. Ephesians 2:1-3.—R. Elder, Family Treasury, Jan., 1878. Ephesians 2:2.—E. Paxton Hood, Preacher's Lantern, vol. ii., p. 435. Ephesians 2:3.—J. B. Heard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 120; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 20. Ephesians 2:3-5.—F. W. Robertson, The Human Race, p. 163. Ephesians 2:4.—J. B. Brown, Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 392. Ephesians 2:4, Ephesians 2:5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 808.
Monday, March 27th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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