Sermon Bible Commentary
I. Note the three privileges which are here supposed to belong to believers. (1) They are quickened. There can be no doubt that this privilege, in some intelligible sense at least, is enjoyed by God's people on earth, or, in other words, that there is a change wrought upon them which is equivalent to their being made alive from having been previously dead. The three graces of faith, hope, and love, all of them the fruits of the Spirit, are the present evidences that believers are here in this world quickened together with Christ. They are evidences that life now reigns where death reigned before. (2) Believers are raised up. The expression is to be understood figuratively, as indicating that there is a spiritual change wrought upon believers, which bears some analogy to the literal resurrection of Christ. The being raised up together with Christ we consider as the development of the spiritual life in all the feelings and in the whole character and conduct of His people, in the varied relations in which they stand to Him, and to the Church, and to each other, and to the world. There is a spiritual quickening, and there is a spiritual resurrection. (3) The text forms a climax, each particular leading to something higher. Christ's people, like all others of the human race, in their natural state dead in sin, are first quickened by the Spirit, next they are raised up with Christ, and then they are permitted to sit in heavenly places with Him. The last privilege, like the others, they enjoy even now.
II. Note one or two illustrations from this truth. (1) God has provided a refuge for His people. He gives them peace. (2) In secret prayer the believer may realise the presence of God. (3) There are other heavenly places where Christ is to be met with, as, for example, where His people are engaged in solemn meditation on His truth. (4) There is another heavenly place where Christ's people are permitted to enjoy His society even on earth, viz., the spot where, after a strong conflict with temptation, grace has secured the victory for the believer. When he can say to the wicked one, "No; I will not commit this wickedness and sin against God," you see a man in a heavenly place with Jesus Christ.
A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 328.
References: Ephesians 2:4-7.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. vi., p. 52; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 106. Ephesians 2:4-8.—Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 100. Ephesians 2:5.—C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 74; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 87.
The Church a Home for the Lonely.
The subject suggested by the text is the need which mankind lies under of some shelter, refuge, rest, home, or sanctuary from the outward world, and the shelter or secret place which God has provided for them in Christ.
I. By the world I mean all that meets a man in intercourse with his fellow-men, whether in public or in private, all that is new, strange, and without natural connection with him. Christ finds us weary of the world, in which we are obliged to live and act, whether as willing or unwilling slaves in it. He finds us needing and seeking a home and making one, as we best may, by means of the creature, since it is all we can do. The world in which our duties lie is as waste as the wilderness, as useless and turbulent as the ocean, as inconstant as the wind and weather. It has no substance in it, but is like a shade or phantom; when you pursue it, when you try to grasp it, it escapes from you, or it is malicious, and does you a mischief. We need something which the world cannot give; this is what we need, and this it is which the Gospel has supplied.
II. I say that our Lord Jesus Christ, after dying for our sins on the cross and ascending on high, left not the world as He found it, but left a blessing behind Him. He left in the world what before was not in it: a secret home, for faith and love to enjoy, wherever they are found, in spite of the world around us. This is the Church of God, which is our true home, of God's providing, His own heavenly court, where He dwells with saints and angels, into which He introduces us by a new birth, and in which we forget the outward world and its many troubles. The world is no helpmeet for man, and a helpmeet he needs. What is our resource? It is not in arm of man, in flesh and blood, in voice of friend, or in pleasant countenance; it is that holy home which God has given us in His Church; it is that everlasting city in which He has fixed His abode; it is that mount invisible whence angels are looking at us with their piercing eyes, and the voices of the dead call us; Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world." "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iv., p. 185.
References: Ephesians 2:7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1665; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 140; J. Baldwin Brown, Ibid., vol. vi., p. 373.
Salvation by Grace.
I. To Paul the doctrine of justification by faith was not a final statement of Christian truth. It was not a formula which could be used mechanically for constructing schemes of Christian doctrine, and which made it unnecessary for him to recur to the actual relations between God and the human race. Any account of the relations between God and ourselves which does not include this conception is not only defective, but fatally defective, is absolutely and ruinously erroneous; but this conception does not exhaust the Divine relations to the human race. There are other relations between God and man which cannot be expressed in terms of law, and it is with these relations that Paul is dealing in this Epistle. The fact which his account of justification by faith represented in one form is represented here in another. His mind and heart are filled with the Divine grace.
II. To some of us that beautiful word has been soiled by unclean hands, tainted by contact with corrupt and pernicious forms of religious thought. But the word is too precious to be surrendered. Among the Greeks it stood for all that is most winning in personal loveliness, for the nameless fascination of a beauty which is not cold and remote, but irresistibly attractive and charming. (1) Grace transcends love. Love may be nothing more than the fulfilment of the Jaw, but grace is love which passes beyond all claims to love. (2) Grace transcends mercy. Mercy forgives sin, and rescues the sinner from eternal darkness and death; but grace floods with affection the sinner who has deserved anger and resentment. If human salvation has its origin in the infinite grace of God, if by that grace it is carried through to its eternal consummation, then our true position is one of immeasurable trust and hope. We have only to receive the infinite blessings of the Divine love; we have to surrender ourselves to that stream of eternal benediction which has its fountains in the eternal depths of the Divine nature; we have to make way for the free unfolding in our life and destiny of the Divine idea and purpose.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 170.
References: Ephesians 2:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1064; vol. xxvii., No. 1609; W. Cunningham, Sermons, p. 203; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 411; T. R. Stevenson, Ibid., vol. xxv., p. 371; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 94; T. T. Lynch, Three Months' Ministry, p. 49. Ephesians 2:8, Ephesians 2:9.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 160; A. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 165; J. Smith, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. xvi.,p. 389. Ephesians 2:8-10.—W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, vol. iii., p. 109.
Christian Men God's Workmanship.
I. The special infirmities of men vary. The fault of our nature assumes a thousand forms, but no one is free from it. I look back to the ancient moralists, to Plato, and to Seneca, and to Marcus Antoninus, and I find that they are my brethren in calamity. The circumstances of man have changed, but man remains the same. How are we to escape from the general, the universal, doom? We want to remain ourselves and yet to live a life which seems impossible unless we can cease to be ourselves. It is a dreadful paradox, but some of us know that this is the exact expression of a dumb discontent which lies at the very heart of our moral being. Is there any solution? Paul tells us what the solution is: Christian men are "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus."
II. "We are God's workmanship." The branch is in the vine, though as yet the leaf has hardly escaped from its sheath, and the flower is only timidly opening itself to the sun and air. The Divine idea is moving towards its crowning perfection. Never let us forget that the life which has come to us is an immortal life. At best we are but seedlings on this side of death. We are not yet planted out under the open heavens and in the soil which is to be our eternal home. Here in this world the life we have received in our new creation has neither time nor space to reveal the infinite wealth of its resources; you must wait for the world to come to see the noble trees of righteousness fling out their mighty branches to the sky and clothe themselves in the glorious beauty of their immortal foliage. And yet the history of Christendom contains the proof that even here a new and alien life has begun to show itself among mankind. A new type of character has been created. Christ lives on in those whose lives are rooted in Him.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 185.
The Heavenly Workman.
"We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." It is true that we do not improve ourselves; it is all of grace; yet good works are binding upon us all the more. On the other hand, let us not take credit to ourselves. We should never have come into the workshop but for the heavenly Artist.
I. A great difference in the material. It is useless to say that all men are equal. We are not all born alike. From the fault or misfortune of our progenitors, we may start in the race with heavy burdens that we cannot shake off. Besides, we differ in both physical and mental constitution. Let it be understood that the Great Workman does not expect the same results from every kind of material. There is one thing He expects from all and something He has a right to expect, and that is what all can do: we must love God. Let us be charitable with each other, for all the material in God's workshop comes there to be beautiful. This thought will help me to bear with my fellow-Christian, because I know that he will be improved before he leaves, and it will teach me to be modest, inasmuch as I should not be there if I were perfect. God is the almighty Artist. Other artists are limited, if in nothing else, certainly in time, but not so with Him who is at work upon us; and whatever God touches He ennobles.
II. It is well for us to have confidence in the Workman. God means to make us that which He can contemplate with delight, and we may be sure that every improvement in us brings Him enjoyment. "He taketh pleasure in the work of His hands." Confidence in the Workman will give us patience when He seems long.
III. We must not forget that the Workman has a plan. God knows all, and knows the precise bearing of each event on our lives. If we look back, we may often see that God has been working all along in harmony with one idea. (1) The variety of tools. What are the so-called means of grace but tools in the hand of the Great Workman? What are preachers but God's chisels and hammers? Books, too, are tools. How much the Great Workman has accomplished by the press. The finest work is often done by those sharp-edged chisels called Pain and Bereavement. How many of us are to be made perfect by suffering. (2) Will the work ever be completed? Not in this world, certainly. One thing is apparent: we shall begin in heaven where we leave off in this world.
T. Champness, New Coins from Old Gold, p. 79.
References: Ephesians 2:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1829; C. Marshall, Church of England Pulpit, vol. v., p. 65; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 6th series, p. 125; E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 181.
Judaism and Christianity.
I. To Paul the moral confusion and the religious desolation of the Gentiles were appalling. He believed that they were enduring the just penalties of their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. The first chapter of Romans is a terrible commentary on what he meant by the Gentiles being without God in the world. Everything was changed by the coming and the death of Christ. By Him the whole world had been brought within the range of the grace and redemptive power of God. The external institutions of Judaism, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, had been the middle wall of partition between the elect nation and the rest of the world; these institutions had isolated the Jews from all pagan races, and had restrained within the limits of the elect race the great revelation of the righteousness and love of God; and the reason for the existence of these institutions ceased at the coming of Christ. He was the true Temple, the true Priest, the true Sacrifice; and He came to found a spiritual kingdom in which descent from Abraham was to confer no privileges. By bringing to an end the religious supremacy of the Jews, Christ brought to an end the estrangement, the enmity, between Jew and Gentile. He created in Himself of the twain one new man, so making peace.
II. The restoration of the universe to an eternal unity in Christ has begun; the old division between the descendants of Abraham and the heathen world has disappeared; in their religious life, all Christians of all nations, whatever their temporary and external distinctions, are already one in Christ. "Each several building"—the Church at Ephesus, which was largely composed of Gentiles, as well as the Church at Jerusalem, which was almost exclusively composed of Jews—each Christian community is included in the immense plan, has its relations adjusted to the rest of the great structure, and in Christ being "fitly framed together," groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 201.
The text may be applied to us—
I. When the belief in God and its object do not maintain habitually the ascendant influence over us, over the whole system of our thoughts, feelings, purposes, and actions. Let us examine ourselves whether we live under a prevailing, powerful, all-pervading sentiment of God, or whether the thought of Him be slight, remote, uninfluential, and very often absent altogether.
II. The text is applicable to those who have no solemn recognition of God's all-disposing government and providence, who have no thought of the course of things but just as going on, or think they see things managed so wrongly that there cannot be a constant interference of sovereign power and wisdom. If God be in the world and an all-presiding Providence, those who do not acknowledge it really and practically are without Him in the world.
III. The text is a description of these classes also: (1) all those who are forming or pursuing their scheme of life and happiness independently of God; (2) those who have but a slight sense of universal accountableness to God as the supreme authority, who have not a. conscience constantly looking and listening to Him and testifying for Him: to be insensible to the Divine character as Lawgiver, rightful authority, and Judge is truly to be without God in the world; (3) that state of mind in which there is no communion with Him maintained or even sought with cordial aspiration; (4) the state of mind in which there is no habitual anticipation of the great event of going at length into the presence of God; (5) those who, while professing to retain God in their thoughts with religious regard, frame the religion in which they are to acknowledge Him according to their own speculation and fancy.
J. Foster, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 278.
References: Ephesians 2:12.—F. W. Aveling, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 360; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 67; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 144.
Sin the Separator.
I. Sin has broken the beautiful chain of the material universe. When man fell, nature fell; and the links were severed by the Fall. And worse than this, man is divided from man, every one from his fellow. The very Church is broken up, Christian from Christian. The lust of pride, the lust of an opinionated mind, the lust of prejudice, the lust of jealousy, the lust of a worldly ambition—these are the fabricators of all discord. These make foes out of hearts which were meant to love as brethren.
II. Sin separates a man from himself. I question whether any man is at variance with his brother till he has first been at variance with himself. But sin takes away a man's consistency. A man is not one, but he is two; he is many characters. What he is one time, that is just what he is not another. Passions within him conflict with reason, passions with passions, feelings with feelings; he is far off from himself, and this the separation does.
III. If you wish to know how far sin has thrown man away from God, you must measure it by the master link which has spanned the gulf. The eternal counsel, the immensity of a Divine nature clothing Himself in manhood, is love to which all other love is but a drop in the fountain from whence it springs. A life spotless; a work so finished that it admits no adding touch; sufferings which make all other sufferings a feather's weight in the balance; a death which merges all other deaths into its one intensity; an eternity of priesthood; an eternity of the intercession of the Son of God—all this, and far more than this, has gone to make the return possible. That is the reason God so hates sin, because His dear Son had to travel all that way so painfully to bring us back.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 145.
References: Ephesians 2:13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv., No. 851; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 190. Ephesians 2:14, Ephesians 2:15.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 206.
St. Paul appears to regard the Jew as an incomplete or half-man till he found the Gentile, the Gentile as an incomplete or half-man till he found the Jew. He does not speak of opinions being adjusted or fitted into each other, of arrangements, mutual surrenders, compromises. He speaks of the human being in each as being raised to a new level, as attaining the position for which he had always been intended, but which he had never reached, when they could coalesce and become one body. His language can imply nothing less than that the Gospel was declaring that true manhood or humanity which hitherto had presented itself in two apparently irreconcilable aspects. Let us ask ourselves what these aspects were, what was the characteristic of the Jewish mind as such and of the Gentile mind as such.
I. No novelties or refinements are necessary, or could help us much, to settle these characteristics. St. Paul's words to the Romans and the Athenians that the oracles of God were committed to the Jew, and that the Gentile was seeking God, if haply he might feel after Him and find Him, lead us to the very root of the matter, and explain the various phenomena which present themselves to us. Here is one picture: a Jew receiving from God His covenant, His law, His word, standing fast in the covenant, delighting in the law after the inner man, feeling His word as a fire within him, holding that to bear witness of His righteousness and truth was the great privilege and blessing of all, longing that He should reign over the earth, and that all which men had set up instead of Him should be put down. Here is another picture of one of the same race, perhaps of the same man in a degenerate stage of his existence. He looks upon God as shrivelled into his own oracles; they speak no more of Him; they speak only of those fortunate favourites whom He has chosen to receive gifts which are denied to mankind. The true Jew must have been longing for a fellowship with all God's creatures which he had not yet realised; it was the effect of all his Divine education to inspire him with this longing; and the false Jew, just because it had never been awakened in him, just because he cultivated all the habits and tempers of mind which were alien to it, was losing the perception of that which was peculiar to him, was ceasing to understand that any oracles of God had been committed to him.
II. In such a person as our Lord was, that one true man, in whom Jewish and Gentile elements might both be reconciled, might be found, and surely only in such a one. If there were no such being, no one of whom it could be said, "He is the manifestation of God; He is the living centre of all human beings and of all human thoughts," I do not see what explanation we have of the history of the old world or of its passage into the modern. But without Him I can as little understand how there is to be peace in the jarring world to which we belong. He comes to arouse men and all the thoughts and energies of men out of sleep, not to put them into sleep. All that is strongest in man hears His voice and starts into life. Therefore the Jew becomes more intensely a Jew, and the Gentile more intensely a Gentile, before they consent both to receive their law from Him; and when they do receive it, though it crushes their pride, it justifies His Father's purpose in the destiny which He has fixed for them, in the education which He has given them.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i., p. 137.
References: Ephesians 2:16.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 93. Ephesians 2:17.—E. H. Higgins, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 268.
In this text we have a declaration of the Holy Trinity; there can be no doubt about that. Here are all Three Persons together: the Father, unto whom we have access or introduction; the Son, by or through whom we are introduced; the Holy Spirit, in whom, in whose communion, we enjoy that access. But what is remarkable about the text is not the mere declaration of the Three Persons which is often to be met with in St. Paul's epistles, but the practical nature of the declaration. We have here no mere assertion of a doctrine, but the declaration of a fact, and that fact not set down as a thing which must be believed, but made mention of as a thing to be recognised with thanksgiving and dwelt upon with joy.
I. "We both have access," says the Apostle, "unto the Father," and for this word "both" we may substitute "all," since the great distinction of that day between Jew and Gentile has been obliterated, and only those numerous minor distinctions remain which race and clime and colour make within the fold of Christ. We all have access unto the Father—this is the great and blessed fact, the practical sum of our religion; and this is the answer of the Gospel to all the seeking and questing of the natural man since the world began.
II. The Son, who is both God and man—He, the Daysman desired by Job; He who is equally at home both in earth and heaven, who was in heaven even while He walked on earth—He shall introduce us; by Him we shall have that long-sought-for, long-despaired-of access to the Father of our souls. He shall take us (as He only can) by the hand, and lead us (as He only may) into that dread presence.
III. After that first difficulty—Who shall lead us to the Father?—there comes another question quite as hard to answer, and it is this: If we attain unto Him, how shall we bear ourselves in His presence? How shall we, defiled, stand in that holy place? If I have some one to show me the way to heaven, to introduce me there, yet how shall I be fit to appear, how prepared to dwell, in that all-holy presence? And the practical answer to such questing of the natural man is the revelation of the Spirit. In Him who ministers the gifts and graces and perpetuates the life of Jesus within the Church, in Him, the Lord and Giver of life, the Sanctifier, shall we have true access unto the Father.
R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 331.
References: Ephesians 2:18.—Phillips Brooks, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. Hi., p. 318; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 291; W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., pp. 228, 250. Ephesians 2:18, Ephesians 2:19.—E. L. Hull, Sermons, 1st series, p. 175. Ephesians 2:19.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 19; Maclure, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 289; Ibid., vol. xxi., p. 292. Ephesians 2:19, Ephesians 2:20.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 32. Ephesians 2:19-22.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 217; Ibid., vol. v., p. 390. Ephesians 2:20.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 209; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1388; Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 143. Ephesians 2:20, Ephesians 2:21.—F. Haines, Church of England Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 116; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 8th scries, p. 125. Ephesians 2:20-22.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 439. Ephesians 2:21.—A. J. Griffith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 197. Ephesians 2:22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 267; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 218; T.Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 255. Ephesians 2:22.—R. Tuck, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 125. Ephesians 3:1.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. ix., p. 29.
Sunday, March 26th, 2017
the Fourth Sunday of Lent
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