Sermon Bible Commentary
The Grace Given to Paul.
The enthusiasm with which the Apostle speaks of preaching the Gospel to the heathen is contagious. His words burn on the page, and our hearts take fire as we read them. What was the secret of this exultation in the Gospel and in his commission to make the Gospel known to all mankind? The question is a large one, but considerable light is thrown upon it by the contents of this Epistle.
I. Paul had a vivid intellectual interest in the Christian Gospel. To him it was a real revelation of the most wonderful and surprising truths concerning God and the relations of God to the human race. It urged his intellectual powers to the most strenuous activity; it never lost its freshness; it was never exhausted. I believe that in all the great movements of religious reform that have permanently elevated the life of Christendom there has been a renewal of intellectual interest in the Christian revelation. And if at the present time the religious life of the Church is languid, and if in its enterprises there is little of audacity or vehemence, a partial explanation is to be found in the decline of intellectual interest in the contents of the Christian faith which has characterised the last hundred or hundred and fifty years of our history.
II. The heart and imagination of Paul were filled with the infinite and eternal blessings which were the inheritance of the human race in Christ. For human sin there was the Divine forgiveness; for human weakness in its baffled attempts to emancipate itself from the tyranny of evil passions and evil habits there was the Divine redemption. Paul believed in the unsearchable riches of Christ. We shall never recover his enthusiasm as long as we dwell chiefly on the external and incidental benefits which follow the acceptance of the Christian Gospel.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 220.
References: Ephesians 3:1-13.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 203. Ephesians 3:3, Ephesians 3:4.—H. Wace, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 45. Ephesians 3:3-6.—C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 438.
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.
I. Paul preached riches. This word represents three things: value, abundance, and supply.
II. Unsearchable riches—that is, value not traced by inquiry and investigation. You can very soon search earthly riches; but you cannot, by any use or enjoyment, search the unsearchable riches of Christ.
III. Christ bestows His riches freely; His joy is in communicating of His fulness. He has no wish to keep back anything from us that would do us good. We may stretch out both hands to heaven for all the help we need, and from the riches of Christ we shall have it.
S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, 3rd series, p. 79.
Reference: Ephesians 3:8.—A. Maclaren, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 15; A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 275; Smart, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 391; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 356; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 26; vol. ii., p. 247; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii., No. 745; vol. xx., No. 1209; Ibid., Evening by Evening, pp. 62, 237; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 33; W. Ince, Church of England Pulpit, vol. ix.,p. 61; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iii.,p. 409; Graham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 284; E. Aston, Ibid., vol. xxii., p. 148; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v.,p. 11. Ephesians 3:8-11.—D. Eraser, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 225; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 20. Ephesians 3:9.—Claughton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 72; Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 354. Ephesians 3:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 448; vol. xvi., No. 933. Ephesians 3:11.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 88. Ephesians 3:14.—A. Raleigh, The Way to the City, p. 46; J. C. Gallaway, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 88.
One Family in Heaven and Earth.
Of God, the universal Father, the whole family in heaven and earth is named. He is Father to them all. They all feel the comfort of His love. And we may be sure that whatever needs to be done in those heavenly worlds in sustaining weakness, in guiding inexperience, in the leading of young spirits, or in the comforting of those that are discouraged by the mysteries of the universe—all will be done by the universal Father, who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
I. These views ought somewhat to overcome the depressing effect naturally produced on us by the vastness and the grandeur of the material universe. Magnitudes and distances and millenniums are nothing to Him, and He would not have us sink under the weight of them.
II. This passage will do us good if it confirms our faith in the actual objective existence of heaven as a place, a chosen favoured place, where God and His children meet and dwell. Our friends have gone to the old ancestral home, which Christ has enlarged and beautified and fitted in every way for the reception of the redeemed from among men. They have gone from the mere colony, lying far out from the seat of government and the central city, into the better country and within the gates of the bright metropolis.
III. Heaven has great priority and pre-eminence over earth, and we may well yield up our best and dearest to swell its numbers and enhance its glories and felicities.
IV. If we thus regard heaven, we shall find it by so much easier to bear some of our heaviest sorrows and to understand some of the deepest mysteries of life. Among the deepest is death, the premature death, as we say, of those who are just prepared to live, who are greatly gifted, greatly needed, greatly loved. When to live is Christ, then to die must be gain.
V. It surely ought with each one of us to be the great ambition of our life and the very chief of all our cares to belong heart and soul to this great family of God.
A. Raleigh, The Way to the City, p. 46.
References: Ephesians 3:14, Ephesians 3:15.—Archbishop Magee, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 145; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 181; E. L. Hull, Sermons, 1st series, p. 121. Ephesians 3:14-16.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 313; W. Anderson, Discourses, p. 19. Ephesians 3:14-19. A. J. Parry, Phases of Truth, p. 249.
Filled with all the Fulness of God.
I. Perhaps it would be well to leave this phrase in its vague sublimity without any attempt to explain it as it stands. It appeals to the imagination, touches lofty sentiment, and seems to suggest a grandeur belonging to worlds as yet unvisited by human thought. But though the phrase stands for an idea which passes beyond the limits of all definitions, the idea will be better apprehended if we attempt to get an exact conception of the phrase.
II. There are plants which we sometimes see in these Northern latitudes, but which are native to the more generous soil and the warmer skies of Southern lands. In their true home they grow to a greater height; their leaves are larger, their blossoms more luxuriant and of a colour more intense: the power of the life of the plant is more fully expressed. And as the visible plant is the more or less adequate translation into stem and leaf and flower of its invisible life, so the whole created universe is the more or less adequate translation of the invisible thought and power and goodness of God. He stands apart from it. His personal life is not involved in its immense processes of development, but the forces by which it moves through pain and conflict and tempest towards its consummate perfection are a revelation of His eternal power and Godhead. For the Divine idea to reach its complete expression and an expression adequate to the energy of the Divine life, we ourselves must reach a large and harmonious perfection. As yet we are like plants growing in an alien soil and under alien skies, and the measures of strength and grace which are possible to us even in this mortal life are not attained. The Divine power which is working in us is obstructed. But a larger knowledge of the love of Christ will increase the fervour of every devout and generous affection; it will exalt every form of spiritual energy; it will deepen our spiritual joy; it will add strength to every element of righteousness, and will thus advance us towards that ideal perfection which will be the complete expression of the Divine power and grace, and which Paul describes as the fulness of God.
R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, p. 242.
References: Ephesians 3:14-21.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 356; Ibid., vol. xxix., p. 266; vol. xxx., p. 225; A. D. Davidson, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 227.
The ascension of our Lord is little thought of by many who seem to derive much comfort from dwelling on His death and His resurrection. The Ascension, they say, may be a fit subject for those who dream dreams and see visions to meditate upon. Often we long for a few hours' of cloister life; then perhaps our spirits would sometimes find wings and mount up as eagles towards the sun. But we are in the midst of the bustle, and distraction, and ignominious occupations, of daily duties. We must perforce stay among these. Should we not reconcile ourselves to our lot? Should we not keep our souls low, not exercising ourselves in great matters which are too high for us? Is not this a part of the humility which is enjoined upon us, and which it is difficult enough to preserve, even with all our caution?
I. St. Paul never thought of the precepts which belong to the ordinary business of earth as standing aloof from the revelations of the Divine world or as merely added to them. He supposed that the Ephesians ought to know that they were sitting with Christ in heavenly places, in order that they might not lie or allow filthy communications to proceed out of their mouths. He did not suppose that it was unnecessary to tell those for whom he asked that they might know the unsearchable riches of Christ that they should not deceive, nor slander their neighbour, nor be thieves nor adulterers. If the saints in Ephesus considered it an insult to hear these plain broad exhortations they must go to some other teacher than St. Paul.
II. A faith which boasts that it rests upon the death and resurrection of Christ, without taking any account of His ascension, may serve very well as long as our thoughts are occupied chiefly with the conditions of our own souls and with the question how they may be saved here and hereafter. But when we are brought to feel that we are bound up for good and for evil with our race, that we are not and cannot be exempt from any of its transgressions, that with it we must sink or swim, there comes a demand for something more than the gift of pardon, than the promise of a better world if we should be worthy of it. We can make out no special case for ourselves; there are no circumstances in our lives which entitle us to ask for exemptions and mitigations when our evil deeds are brought into judgment, far less which can make us dream of rewards. If man is doomed, you and I are doomed; if there is anywhere a salvation for man, that is for us. When we are brought to this pass, to this borderland between despair and a hope that is beyond all we can ask or think, the ascension day breaks in upon us with the light of seven suns. He has gone up on high; He is there, not separated from the creatures whose nature He bears, not separated from them in any sympathy, and that which constitutes His perfect humanity is our inheritance, this is the new and glorious clothing which He has provided for us if we will put it on, which' we do put on when we remember that it is His for us.
F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 75.
References: Ephesians 3:15.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1249; C. J. Vaughan, Church of England Pulpit, vol. v., p. 44; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 597; Ibid., 3rd series, vol. vii., p. 84; G. Henderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 309; J. B. Brown, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 8; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 273; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 148.
The Inner Man.
Every one has an inner man, a better self, a potential perfection within him, which will awake and begin to flower when he feels in his soul the touch of God. Through dress, through manners, through morals, through religious ceremony, we have to go to find the inner man, the very soul. How then is the discovery made? How does a man reach the centre and fountain of his own being, find himself, recover himself, bring himself home again to God? There are very great varieties of experience, but perhaps these things or something like them will be found in all.
I. First, what may be called a soul consciousness, a consciousness of having or being a soul, not merely an animated something, to be covered with dress and beautified with manners, but a something spiritual, vast, deep, related to eternity, related to God.
II. The next thing is the conscious relation to God. No sooner does a man become conscious of his true self than he in that very act becomes cognisant and sensible of God.
III. The next thing, or the thing which goes along with this very often, is the consciousness of sin. If a man, looking and searching inwards, has found no sin to trouble him and humble him, he has not yet found himself.
IV. Then further he becomes conscious of goodness as well as of sin, not the old formal goodness, but goodness that is fresh, and new, and living, with love in the heart of it, gratitude lending it a glow and a lustre, faith building it up. First repentance; then cleansing and forgiveness; then gratitude; then filial love; then active goodness? Not so. The moment a man comes to himself, all these things begin together and go on together.
A. Raleigh, The Way to the City, p. 1.
References: Ephesians 3:16.—A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 1; J. E. Gibberd, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 45. Ephesians 3:16, Ephesians 3:17.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 273.
We may fasten upon five significant terms as keys by which we may unlock this Divine casket, so that its precious contents, the riches of the Father's glory, may be set free and shed abroad.
I. The first is faith. The seat of the strength imparted is the inner man; it is the strength not of outward propping, but of inward peace and power. The essence of it is Christ dwelling in your hearts, Christ living in you, Christ in you the hope of glory. And the means or instrument of receiving it is your simple heart's faith. Well may this strength be characterised as mighty, your being strengthened with might. It is, indeed, your being strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
II. To faith succeeds love. You are to be rooted and grounded in love. These images suggest the ideas of a grove and a building. You are to be rooted as the trees that constitute a grove and grounded as the stones and pillars of a building, "rooted and built up." Love is the soil, rich, deep, and generous, and withal homogeneous all through, in which all the trees are rooted. It is also the soft and tender lime or mortar, the close-drawing and close-fixing cement, in which through successive layers the stones are deposited or embedded.
III. Faith and love lead on to comprehension, or taking in, a comprehensive survey of something very vast and vast in all directions. I am one of the family that fills the house to overflowing, one of the society for whose accommodation the house is almost too small. I comprehend its breadth, and length, and depth, and height, only to realise, in common with all the saints with whom I comprehend it, that in all directions it defies any bounds I might assign to it.
IV. Through this process we reach a marvellous knowledge, and at last—
V. "We are filled with all the fulness of God."
R. S. Candlish, Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 53.
References: Ephesians 3:16-19.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., p. 707; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 144.
I. It is certain that something will dwell in our hearts. They are not intended to remain empty. If they are not filled with good, some evil spirit will enter in, and he, not Christ, will dwell there. If we are to realise what St. Paul means when he speaks of us as a habitation of God through the Spirit, we may do well to consider what some of those things are which do daily fill our thoughts, and almost literally people our hearts. We shall find that some of these inhabitants are in themselves innocent; that some are unmistakably corrupt; that all become usurpers when they cease to be subordinate to Him who alone has a right to supremacy.
II. We must learn to carry about with us a consciousness of Christ's real presence. We must regard ourselves as working and living for Him. We must look for His sympathy in anything that we have to do. Before doing any new thing we must ask whether He would have it done, and in what spirit He would have it done. Just as we see children or very young persons, if they are asked for an opinion, turn to their father or their mother to know first what they think, so no Christian is too old or too young to turn in thought to Christ to know how far He sanctions and what way of doing or thinking He dictates.
III. Christ dwells in others in spite of much that seems to be at variance with His presence. One great difficulty in the way of our being Christians is that no one appears to imagine that we wish to be Christians. Sympathy is one of Christ's truest messengers. They who refuse it tempt us to distrust Him and to deny Him. Christ dwells, or tries to dwell, in the hearts of all of us. If so, can we tempt one another to sin, and so to shut Him out? If so, can we speak contemptuously or think harshly of one another? Contempt for a soul in which Christ is not ashamed to dwell? Harsh thoughts of a spirit into which Christ is tenderly striving to force an entrance?
H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, p. 120.
References: Ephesians 3:17.—A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 15; J. Culross, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 207; Hannah, Church of England Pulpit, vol. i., p. 313; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. vi., p. 340; Herbert, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 94; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 238; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 176; vol. ix., p. 314. Ephesians 3:17-19.—Ibid., p. 315; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 31. Ephesians 3:18.—A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, pp. 27-41.
The Cross the Measure of Love.
I. What is the language in which Christ reveals His love to us but His cross and Passion? The words, deeds, and sufferings of the Son of God are but one act; they make up one whole, one eternal word by which He speaks to us. This is that secret ineffable which has breadth, length, depth, and height. From the Annunciation to the Ascension is one continuous unfolding of His love: His humiliation as God and patience as man, His subjection to authority, His endurance of contradictions, His long suffering of sinners, the burden of the Cross and the sharpness of Calvary, the scorn and desolation, and after this the humiliation of death and the dishonour of the grave. He who bare all this being God, and we for whom He bare it sinners, this is the only tongue mighty to utter that which is beyond the speech of men and angels.
II. But further the language of His love is twofold: both without and within. He not only reveals it by His Passion to us, but also by His presence in us. And this is the Divine capacity by which alone we can understand it. He alone can bring us within His holy place, for there is no other sight which sees love but love; love alone can measure love, can perceive, can feel, it. He has been teaching us His love by making us love Him. There is no other way. Till we love Him, all is dark. When we have turned or inclined towards Him, He has revealed Himself waiting to be gracious, overwhelming us with a consciousness of tender care and of love that nothing can estrange. He reveals this love (1) to those who have faithfully obeyed the grace of their regeneration; (2) to all who habitually and devoutly communicate in the sacrament of His Passion; (3) to all who are truly penitent.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 217.
The deepest thoughts of the heart of a spiritual man are sure to come out in his prayer. Hear a man of God pray, and you hear the real man speaking. And when such an Apostle as Paul prays, we may well be all attention to catch every syllable. His prayer is an ascending one. Each petition rises higher than the preceding, and meditating on this prayer is something like ascending an Alpine peak. (1) You will see that, in order that a man may be filled with all the fulness of God, there must be an inward strengthening. There are spiritual faculties as well as mental, and it is absolutely necessary that these should be strengthened by the Holy Ghost if we are to apprehend anything of Christ in all His fulness. The Spirit of God takes us down, if I may so express it, to the shore of the ocean of redeeming love, and as the soul drinks it in new life and new power flow into every part of the spiritual system. (2) Then following that first petition comes "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith," that is, that, by an ever-acting faith on our part, a whole Christ may be received and a whole Christ may be retained within the soul. How many there are who only know what it is to have a Christ in the Bible. They know what it is to have a portrait of Christ; and they gaze with rapture upon it, and yet know very little of what the Apostle meant when he said, "That Christ may dwell in your hearts," that is, that He may be no mere portrait, no mere bright idea, but that enshrined within your soul there may be a living Lord. Then you see how naturally comes the following petition: "That ye may be filled with all the fulness of God."
I. Consider what it is to be filled with all the fulness of God. I take it that it is to have as much of God within us as our nature will contain, to be as full of God as the Temple of old was full of Jehovah's presence. The Apostle prays that the Ephesians may have God in the chambers of imagery, God in their motives, God in their meditations, God in their contemplations, God filling up their entire manhood.
II. There is a vast difference between the incommunicable fulness of Christ and that fulness which He has on purpose to bestow it upon His people. There is a fulness of God which it were blasphemy for us to think of as our own or to ask for; whilst, on the other hand, there is a fulness in Christ that it is sinful on our part not to expect to receive. The measure of a man's power over others is in proportion to the measure with which he is filled with God.
A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 1096.
These words represent—
I. A large receptive capacity on the part of Christians.
II. God the standard, while the source and cause, of completeness.
III. A degree of approximation to that standard now attainable.
S. Martin, Rain upon the Mown Grass, p. 304.
References: Ephesians 3:19.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 455; vol. xxix., No. 1755; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 88; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii., p. 137; E. Johnson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 305; G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 356; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 346; vol. ix., p. 316; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, pp. 127-129; S. Leathes, Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 337; A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 53; A. Fletcher, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. x., p. 53. Ephesians 3:20.—Parker, City Temple, 1871, p. 105.
I. The central thought in this passage is the ability and willingness of God in Christ Jesus to do according to every possible measure of human need at every possible time. If we realised this, what a changed aspect it would give to this poor life of ours! How small and worthless would be the things that charm us most. How bravely and calmly we should bear the trials of our life. How well we should get rid of all this fear and doubt and gloom about tomorrow which darkens our today. How hard we should be able to work, with a pulse in every finger and a hope in every word, as we tell the young people for whom our heart's desire is that they shall be saved, "God is able."
II. In this remarkable verse we have a wonderful instance of Paul's cumulative way of speaking. The way in which Paul moves upward in his passion struck me once when I was in Wales. I was moving up a high and rocky slope. First of all it led me through a meadow; after the meadow there was an upward pathway through a wood; up a little higher I caught a gleam of the river beyond; higher still I saw the scraggy rocks and tall hills behind; higher still I saw the golden cornfields at their feet; and still higher went I, until right away yonder on the horizon I saw the black-capped mountains higher than them all; and still I had to rise, and rising, at last I stood upon the summit, and said as I looked round, "This is perfection." But it was not, for on turning in one direction I perceived a sight I had not caught before. What do you think it was? It was a glimpse of the infinite sea stretching away beyond all ken, to meet the infinite sky. Paul gets up to that height, and then he wants a pair of wings to fly with. And then I come back again, and I say to myself, "This text is for me.'
J. Jackson Wray, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 297.
References: Ephesians 3:20, Ephesians 3:21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1266; H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 1870, p. 619; J. Duncan, The Pulpit and Communion Table, p. 406; A. Maclaren, The Secret of Power, p. 130. Ephesians 4:1.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii., p. 146; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 145; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. x., p. 36. Ephesians 4:2.—F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 65.
Monday, March 27th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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