Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
THANKS TO GOD FOR HIS SOVEREIGN GRACE AND MERCY
Ephesians 1:3-12. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
IN our progress through the Holy Scriptures, we are necessitated to investigate, in its turn, every doctrine of our holy religion. There are indeed some doctrines which appear to be almost wholly proscribed: but we do not conceive ourselves at liberty to pass over any part of the sacred records as improper for discussion, provided we enter into it with the humility and modesty that become us. It is undeniable that the Apostles mention occasionally, and without the smallest appearance of hesitation, the doctrines of predestination and election: and therefore we are bound to explore the meaning of the inspired writers in reference to these passages, as well as to any others. We are aware that great difficulties attend the explanation of these doctrines; (though certainly not greater than attend the denial of them:) and we are aware also, that they are open to abuse: but there is no doctrine which has not its difficulties; nor any which has not been abused: and, that we may not be supposed to entertain an undue partiality for these obnoxious tenets, or to wish to establish them on inadequate grounds, we have selected a large portion of Scripture which cannot easily be perverted; and which is indeed so plain, that it speaks for itself. We shall be careful also to bring them forward precisely in the way in which they are declared by the Apostles themselves, that is, not in a speculative and controversial way, but in a practical manner, as incentives to holy gratitude and obedience.
St. Paul, under a deep sense of the mercies vouchsafed to himself and to the whole Church at Ephesus, breaks forth into the devoutest acknowledgments to that God from whom they had flowed, and to whom all possible thanks and praise were due.
In considering his words, we shall shew,
I. What are those blessings which we have received from our God—
“He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings”—
[The Ephesian Church, though chiefly composed of Gentiles,) consisted in part of Jews also [Note: Acts 18:19-20; Acts 18:24; Acts 18:28. with ver. 11, 12, 13. of our text, where the distinction is made between “we” Jews “who first trusted in Christ,” and “ye” Gentiles who believed afterwards. See also Galatians 2:16-18.]. And, though it is possible there might be some hypocrites there, as well as in other Churches, St. Paul does not stop to make distinctions of that kind, but speaks of them all in the judgment of charity, as real Christians, and partakers of all the blessings which by their profession they were supposed to possess. As believers, they had been blessed with “spiritual blessings in heavenly things [Note: See the margin.],” widely different from those which were possessed by any “natural man,” and from those which the earthly and carnal Jews expected their Messiah to bestow. Of these, some of the principal are here enumerated.
God has adopted us into his family—dealt with us as children—and given to us the inheritance of children.
Once the believer was “afar off” from God, being an “alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:” but by an act of rich mercy and grace he has been adopted by God, and made to stand in the relation to him of a child to a father. Though he neither has any thing, nor ever can have any thing, that can recommend him to God, yet “is he accepted” to the Divine favour, having all Ins past iniquities “forgiven,” and his soul washed from all its stains, in “the Redeemer’s blood.” Being thus brought into the nearest relation to God, he is treated, “not as a servant, who knows not what his lord doeth; but as a son,” who may fitly be made acquainted with all his Father’s will. To him is that stupendous mystery made known, that, in the time appointed of the Father, the whole intelligent creation of men and angels, who were once of one family, but were separated by the fall of man, shall be brought once more under the same Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who at first created them, and to whom originally they paid all due allegiance. As to men, there should be no difference between them in this respect: the common Father of all would equally receive all, whether Jews or Gentiles, and incorporate them all into one body, who should equally and without any distinction be partakers of his grace, and heirs of his glory. For all of them without exception, provided only they believe in him, he has provided an inheritance, to which, on the instant that they believe in him, they become entitled, and which, after the period fixed for their abode on earth, they shall possess to all eternity.]
These spiritual blessings are given to us “in Christ”—
[All of them without exception are the purchase of his blood, the fruit of his intercession, and the gifts of his grace. They are all treasured up in him; and when He is given to us, they are made over to us, as the ore in the mine. They were all given to Him, in the first instance, as our head and representative, and can be possessed by us only as we are found in him. Are we chosen? it is “in him.” Are we predestinated to the adoption of children? it is “in him.”) Are we accepted? it is “in him.” Are we forgiven? it is “in him.” Are we brought into one body? it is “in him.” Have we obtained an inheritance? it is “in him.” Are we “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, as the earnest of that inheritance?” it is “in him.” Are we blessed with all spiritual blessings? it is “in him,” and in him alone. O that we were more sensible of our obligations to Christ in reference to these things! Is it not surprising, that any one can read the passage before us, and overlook Christ, who throughout the whole of it is represented as the “All in all?” Let this be borne in mind: that, whilst all is traced to the Father as the original source, all must be referred to Christ as the procuring cause, and be received from Christ as the fountain-head: and it is only by receiving Christ himself that we can ever partake of any one of his benefits.]
Having noticed the benefits given to us in Christ, we proceed to shew,
II. In what way he has communicated them to us—
On this depends, in a great measure, the debt of gratitude we owe him. If in the bestowment of them he has been forestalled by earnest solicitations on our part, and been prevailed upon only by the great and meritorious services which we have rendered to him, then, though we have reason to bless him, we have also reason to bless ourselves, and may justly claim for ourselves some part of the honour of our own salvation. But he has communicated these blessings to us,
1. In a way of sovereignty—
[He is a Sovereign; and it is only of his own will and pleasure that he has formed any creature whatsoever. We feel his sovereignty in this respect. Let any man ask himself, ‘Why was I created at all? Why formed a man, and not a beast? Why was I born of Christian, and not of heathen, parents? Why under the meridian splendour of Gospel light, and not in the darker ages of the Church? Why was I preserved in life, whilst millions have closed their eyes upon this world as soon as they were brought into it? Why was I endued with intelligence, whilst so many are in a state of idiotcy, and devoid of reason?’ To all such questions there is but one answer; “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” And this is the true answer that must be given to all inquiries respecting the spiritual blessings which he has bestowed upon us: they are all the fruit of his free and sovereign grace: “He has chosen us from before the foundation of the world,” and “predestinated us to the enjoyment of them.” He has done this purely “of his own will and pleasure:” and in doing it, he has consulted nothing but his own glory: it has been “according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace [Note: ver. 5, 6.].” Yet, whilst his predestination of us is the result of “his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself,” and can be referred to nothing but “his own purpose and grace,” we are not to imagine that he is actuated by a mere arbitrary volition; for it is a volition founded in “counsel [Note: ver. 9, 11. with 2 Timothy 1:9.],” though the reasons by which he is actuated are unknown to us. Were this doctrine dependent only on a single expression, we should speak of it with the more diffidence: but, in the passage before us, it is as the warp, which pervades the whole piece: it cannot, like the woof, be separated, and made to give way to some more palatable sentiment: it is impossible for any man to read the passage with an unprejudiced mind, and not to acknowledge, that this is its obvious import; and that nothing but the most determined efforts of ingenious and laboured criticism can extract from it any other meaning.]
2. In a way of holiness—
[One ground on which many object to the doctrines of election and predestination is, that these doctrines are hostile to the interests of morality. But for such an objection there is no real foundation. On the contrary, they are the greatest security of a life of holiness, seeing that they have insured to us the attainment of holiness as a preparation for the ultimate possession of glory. God, we are told, has “chosen us:” but to what has he chosen us? to salvation independent of holiness? No; but to salvation in the way of holiness: He has chosen us, “that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love.” Here it deserves particular attention, that God has not chosen us because we were holy, or because he foresaw we should become holy, but in order that we might be holy: he has chosen us to holiness as the means, as well as to glory as the end. He has ordained both the means and the end; and the end solely by the means. Hence, wherever election and predestination are spoken of, they are spoken of in this view, as having respect to holiness, and as assuring to us the attainment of holiness: God has chosen us “through sanctification of the Spirit, as well as through the belief of the truth [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13. 1 Peter 1:2.],” and has “predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son [Note: Romans 8:29.].”
Let this be duly considered, and it will remove the greatest obstruction in our minds to the reception of these deep mysterious truths. When once we see, that they secure infallibly the attainment of holiness in the way to glory, and that no man is entitled to think himself one of God’s elect, any farther than the holiness of his life bears testimony to him, we shall soon renounce our prejudices, and willingly concede to sovereign grace the whole glory of our salvation.]
3. In a way of wisdom and prudence—
[Truly this great salvation is the most stupendous effort both of wisdom and prudence; of wisdom, in its contrivance, and of prudence, in its administration. How wonderfully does it mark Grod’s indignation against sin, even at the moment that it extends mercy to the sinner; since it shews the sinner, and constrains him to acknowledge, that, if the wrath due to him had not been borne by his Surety, he never could have been saved at all. It shews him farther, that in this way of salvation through the sacrifice of the Son of God, all the Divine perfections are glorified; insomuch that, whilst the claims of justice and mercy appear to oppose each other, they so harmonize together, that justice is exercised in a way of mercy, and mercy in a way of justice. Further, in this way of salvation the soul of the believer is so penetrated with wonder and with love, that he cannot but yield himself up unreservedly to God, and count a thousand lives too little to consecrate to his service, or to sacrifice for his glory. Nor is there less of prudence in the administration of it, than there is of wisdom in its contrivance: for, notwithstanding it is dispensed in a sovereign way altogether according to God’s good pleasure, he never interferes with the liberty of the human will, nor ever draws any one but by “the cords of a man.” It is by presenting truth to the mind, and motives to the heart, that he overcomes men, and “makes them willing in the day of his power.” Infinitely various are the ways in which he dispenses his blessings: and even at this time his people are able to see most unsearchable wisdom in the way in which he has dealt with them, so as to make them see in the clearest light the extent of their obligations to him, and to furnish them with songs of praise, which each is ready to think he shall sing the loudest of any in the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, so infallible are the means he uses, that he never failed in any one instance to accomplish in any soul the purposes of his grace, or to carry on and perfect the work he had begun. Well then may it he said, in reference to “the riches of his grace” which he has dispensed to us, that “he hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence.”]
1. Those who are not able to receive these mysterious truths—
[We are far from thinking that the doctrines of election and predestination are of primary and fundamental importance. We well know that many eminently pious persons have not been able to receive them: and we have no doubt but that a person may serve God most acceptably, though he should not have an insight into these mysterious truths. We only ask, that you will be content to wave them for the present, and not set yourselves against them, as too many are apt to do. If you have not a preparation of mind for the reception of them, you will only perplex yourselves by dwelling upon them, and give advantage to Satan to distress your minds. Be content to receive for the present the fundamental doctrines of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; and seek to experience them in their full extent. Contemplate the blessings with which God the Father hath blessed you through the mediation of his Son; and ever bear in mind, that you are indebted for them all to the Father, as the original source of all; to the Son, as procuring them for you by the virtue of his death; and to the Holy Spirit, as the great agent by whom they are communicated to your souls. Enjoy them in this view, and bless God for them in this view, and “what else you know not now, you shall know hereafter.”]
2. Those who have embraced them, and found delight in them—
[Enjoy them for yourselves; but do not unnecessarily obtrude them upon others. Give milk to babes, and strong meat to those only who are of age to digest it. Be careful too that you do not in any respect abuse them, as the habit of too many is. The decrees of God do not supersede the necessity of fear and watchfulness on your part. The hour that you begin to relax your diligence, from an idea that God will carry on his work in you at all events, you provoke God to abandon you to yourselves, and to give you up to the delusions of your own hearts. It is by your lives only that you can know your election of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4.]: and if you are not making advancement in holiness, you have no reason whatever to hope that you shall ever attain to glory; seeing it is by the means only that you can ever attain the end. If you would make a legitimate improvement of these doctrines, use them as means of exciting the deeper gratitude to God. Trace up to God’s electing love and predestinating grace every blessing you either enjoy or hope for: and get your hearts more in unison with that of the Apostle, when he burst forth into that song of praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ!” Then shall you find that these truths, which are a stumbling-block to many, shall to you be as marrow and fatness to your souls.]
THE WISDOM OF GOD IN REDEMPTION
Ephesians 1:7-8. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.
IN no part of the inspired volume are the wonders of redemption more fully opened, than in the passage before us. The pardon of sin, adoption into God’s family, and a participation of eternal glory, are all distinctly specified as blessings which under the Gospel we enjoy: and all are traced to Christ as the procuring cause, and to the Father as the prime source, from the riches of whose grace they flow, and to the praise of whose glory they are all ordained — — — But as the subject would be endless if we entered into it in this general view, we shall limit our observations to the words which we have just read, and notice from them,
I. The substance of the Gospel—
“In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” Here notice,
1. What is implied in this declaration—
[It is here supposed that we are in a state of bondage to sin and Satan, and under guilt and condemnation on account of sin. And this but too justly describes the condition of every child of man. We are in a state of bondage to sin and Satan — — — And we are under guilt and condemnation on account of sin — — — We cannot more truly mark the state of man, than by comparing it with that of the fallen angels. They fell; and for their sins were cast out of heaven, and consigned over to merited punishment in hell, where they are “reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day. “The difference between them and us is this: they are actually suffering the punishment of their sins; we are respited for a season: they are irremediably doomed to perdition; for us a remedy is provided, so that we may yet have redemption and forgiveness, if we seek it in God’s appointed way.
Labour, I pray you, to realize this idea in your minds: for it is only by apprehending justly your condition without the Gospel, that you can be prepared for a participation of its blessings.]
2. What is expressed—
[“Redemption” is provided for us, and “forgiveness” is offered to us, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and “through the blood” of his cross. The Lord Jesus Christ has, by his own obedience unto death, “obtained eternal redemption for us,” having suffered in his own person all that was due to our sins, and having so fulfilled the law in our stead, as to bring in an everlasting righteousness, whereby we may be justified. In Him are these blessings treasured up for us, and “out of his fulness may be received by us.” By believing in him, we become interested in all that he has done and suffered for us, and attain the actual possession of the blessings he has purchased for us — — —
This is, in few words, the sum and substance of the Gospel; as St. John has plainly told us; “This is the record, (the Gospel record,) that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: he that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.].”]
The point to which we would more particularly turn your attention, is,
II. The character of the Gospel—
It is a dispensation,
1. “Rich in grace”—
[All “the glorious riches of God’s grace” are here displayed. Consider the means by which this redemption is procured; even by the incarnation and death of God’s only-begotten Son — — — Consider the persons for whom it is provided: not for angels, (they are left to reap for ever the bitter consequences of their sin;) but for men, who were an order of beings far inferior to them — — — Consider how it is that any become interested in this redemption: it is in consequence of their having been from all eternity elected and predestinated to it by the sovereign and unmerited grace of God — — — From first to last it is all of grace; and designed of God to exhibit to the whole universe, through all ages, “the exceeding riches of his grace [Note: Ephesians 2:7.].” Let any one compare the state of the fallen angels in the lake of fire, and of the redeemed saints that are around the throne of God, and view the wonders of grace which have been wrought in favour of the redeemed; and then he will be able in some measure to comprehend the character of the Gospel, as a dispensation of grace.]
2. “Abundant in wisdom and prudence”—
[In order to render the salvation of man consistent with the perfections of the Deity, justice must be satisfied, and truth be kept inviolate, by the punishment of sin. But if sin be punished, how could the sinner be saved? This was a problem which not all the angels in heaven could solve. But God, by sending his own Son to be our substitute and surety, has removed the difficulty. Sin has been punished to the full in him: and the law, both in its penalties and requirements, has been fulfilled in him: so that mercy may flow down to us in perfect consistency both with law and justice; and “God may be just, and yet the justifier” of sinful man — — — Indeed the law is the more magnified, in having executed its sentence against a person of such infinite dignity; and mercy is the more exalted, in being exercised at such a cost as the blood of God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son — — — Here is indeed “the wisdom of God in a mystery:” and well may Christ be called in this view, “The wisdom of God, and the power of God.”]
1. Seek to appreciate this blessed Gospel—
[We are grievously negligent in relation to this matter. Men will labour with indefatigable industry to comprehend the laws of nature; but are shamefully remiss in exploring the mysteries of grace, which are revealed to us in the Gospel — — — Let your minds be intent on this subject, which can never be adequately comprehended, either by men or angels — — —]
2. Labour to adorn it—
[Let the character of the Gospel be exemplified in you. Is it full of grace? Be ye full of praise and thanksgiving; ever cleaving to him by whom your redemption has been wrought, and adoring him by whom the Saviour himself was sent into the world — — — And is it full of wisdom? Do ye shew how harmoniously every grace may be exercised by you; and how perfectly all the attributes of the Deity, as far as they can be communicated to so frail a creature, may be transferred to, and illustrated by, his redeemed people — — —]
THE SEALING OF THE SPIRIT
Ephesians 1:13-14. In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
THE blessings which we receive through Christ are innumerable. Many are mentioned in the preceding part of this chapter. One of the last and greatest blessings which we receive in this life, is the sealing of the Holy Spirit. This was vouchsafed to many of the saints at Ephesus.
We shall shew,
I. What the sealing of the Spirit is—
The metaphor of sealing conveys no inadequate idea of the Spirit’s operations—
[A seal stamps its own image on the wax that is impressed by it; and marks the thing sealed to be the property of him that sealed it: and the Holy Spirit forms all the lineaments of the Divine image on the soul that is sealed by him; and shews that it belongs to God.]
But the text itself affords us the best explanation of this term—
[The future inheritance of the saints consists in a perfect conformity to God’s image, and a perfect enjoyment of his love. The sealing of the Spirit is an “earnest of that inheritance,” or, in other words, a part of that inheritance already vouchsafed to the soul, and a pledge that the remainder shall in due time be given to it. This gift of the Spirit is to be continued to the church till the final consummation of all things [Note: The Church is Christ’s “purchased possession,” Acts 20:28 And its complete “redemption” from all the penal effects of sin will be at the day of judgment, Romans 8:23.]. The experience of individuals may vary with respect to it; but there shall always be some in the Church who possess and enjoy it.]
We are also informed respecting,
II. The manner in which it is effected—
The agent is none other than the Holy Ghost—
[It is not in man’s power to sanctify his own soul: nor can any one assure himself that he is the Lord’s. To impart these blessings is the prerogative of God alone [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.].]
The subjects of this work are true believers—
[An unbeliever cannot possibly be sealed; because the Holy Spirit would never mark those as God’s property, who do not really belong to him: nor are persons usually sealed on their first believing in Christ. This higher state of sanctification and assurance is reserved for those, who, “after having believed,” have maintained a close walk with God. They must first be “in Christ,” and then for Christ’s sake this benefit shall be vouchsafed unto them.]
The means by which it is effected, are the promises—
[We do not presume to limit the Spirit’s operations; but his usual method of sealing is by applying the “promises” to the soul [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:5.]. Of themselves, the promises can accomplish nothing; but, through his divine power, they have a comforting and transforming efficacy [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.].]
The Apostle further specifies,
III. Its proper tendency and operation—
The sealing of the Spirit will never elate a man with pride—
[It may seem indeed that such distinguishing mercies would puff us up; but their invariable effect is to humble those who receive them. All the saints of old abased themselves in proportion as they were favoured of God [Note: Job 42:5-6 and Isaiah 6:5.]. Nor can there be any stronger evidence that a work is not of God, than its producing a contrary effect upon us.]
It is intended solely to honour and glorify God—
Every work of grace should lead the mind to God as the author of it; and the more exalted the mercy, the more powerful should this effect be. Now this, above all, administers to us the greatest cause of thankfulness, and will certainly incline us to love and serve him from whom it has been derived.]
1. To those who are ignorant of this sublime subject—
[To many, alas! the sealing of the Spirit is mere foolishness; but those who account it so, “speak evil of things that they understand not.” Let us seek to experience it ourselves, instead of censuring those who do.]
2. To those who desire to be sealed—
[God is willing to bestow this blessing on all who seek it. If we possess it not, we should inquire what there is in us which has occasioned God to withhold it from us. We should beg of God to take away from us that hardness of heart which incapacitates us for it, and should live more on the promises, that by them it may be imparted to our souls.]
3. To those who are sealed—
[What a mercy is it, that you, who might long since have been sealed for condemnation, have, according to the good pleasure of God, been sealed for heaven! He thankful to God for this unspeakable gift: be careful too that you grieve not him by whom you have been sealed [Note: Ephesians 4:30.]; but improve the promises yet further for your progressive advancement in true holiness [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].]
THE SPIRIT’S INFLUENCES AS A SPIRIT OF WISDOM
Ephesians 1:15-20. Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, way give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.
WE are told by our blessed Lord, that however great the pains of parturition may be, a woman remembereth no more her anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. Yet if the mother, watching the child from month to month, should see no growth in his bodily stature, nor any improvement in his intellectual Faculties, her joy would soon be turned into grief, and she would account the death of the child a greater blessing than its birth. Somewhat similar to these are the feelings of a minister towards those who have been born to God through his ministrations. Like “the angels in heaven, he rejoices over every sinner that is brought to repentance:” but if his subsequent care and labour be attended with no benefit to his converts, he will feel much pain and sorrow on their account: he will “travail, as it were, in birth a second time, till he see Christ completely formed in them.” To see them walking in the truth, is the one object of his desire, and the summit of his joy [Note: 3 John, ver. 4.]: and it is only when they stand fast in the faith, that he has a real enjoyment of his life [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.]. How full of complaints was the Apostle Paul, when the people to whom he had ministered did not make their profiting to appear [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. Galatians 3:1; Galatians 4:11; Galatians 4:19-20. Hebrews 5:12.]. On the contrary, he quite exulted when he heard of their growth in faith and love [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4.]. But in nothing did he shew his anxiety for their welfare more, than in his unwearied intercessions in their behalf.
The prayer which he offered for the Church at Ephesus, evinces clearly,
I. That the Spirit, as a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, may be obtained by all—
What was sought on behalf of all the Christians at Ephesus, may certainly be expected by Christians in every age and place—
1. We need the Spirit as much as they did in the Apostles’ days—
[If we are unconverted, our eyes are blind [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.], our souls are dead [Note: Ephesians 2:1.], yea we are incapable of receiving or knowing the things of the Spirit, because we have not that spiritual discernment, whereby alone they can be discerned [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.] — — — If we are converted, still we are in need of fresh supplies of the Spirit, as much as the Ephesian converts were. It is “by the Spirit only that we can know the things which have been freely given to us of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:12.].” The Apostles not only had been converted, but had enjoyed the public and private instructions of their Divine Master for nearly four years: yet after his resurrection he “opened their understandings to understand the Scriptures [Note: Luke 24:45.],” and on the day of Pentecost gave them his Spirit in a more abundant measure, “to guide them into all truth [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:11. with 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27.].” It is by repeated communications of the same Spirit that we also are to obtain a deeper insight into the things of God. We find oftentimes, even after we have been enlightened, that the written word is only to us as “a dead letter;” and that unless the Spirit shine upon it, we learn no more from it than from a dial when the sun is hid behind a cloud.
If then we need the Spirit as much as they did of old, we may expect it as well as they.]
2. The promises relating to the communications of the Spirit, are made to us, as much as to any persons whatever—
[Those of the Old Testament extend to the Church in every age. Shall we confine to the apostolic age such declarations as those; “Turn you at my reproof, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you [Note: Proverbs 1:23.]:” “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord [Note: Isaiah 54:13. with John 6:45.]:” “This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them [Note: Jeremiah 31:33-34.]:” “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes [Note: Ezekiel 36:27.]?” To deny our interest in such passages as these, were to rob us of half the Scriptures.
And what shall we say to the promises of the New Testament? Shall we limit those also to the Apostles’ days? Hear what our Lord says; “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask him [Note: Luke 11:13.]?” “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink; and out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water: This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive [Note: John 7:37-39.].” “I will send you another Comforter, who shall abide with you for ever [Note: John 14:16.].” Hear what his Apostles also say: “Believe on Christ for the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost: for the promise is to you, and to your children, and to as many as are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call [Note: Acts 2:38-39.].” “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Note: Romans 8:9.].”
Language has neither force nor certainty, if such declarations as these be not to be applied to us.]
3. In the Liturgy of our Church we pray continually for the communications of the Spirit to our souls—
[If we do not intend to mock God in our supplications, we must not only acknowledge our need of the Spirit’s influence, but we must really feel it every time that we join in our public services [Note: In the Prayer for the King we say, “Replenish him with the grace of thy Holy Spirit.” In the Litany, “That it may please thee to illuminate all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy word.” [Mark this well.] See also the Collects for 1st Sunday after Epiphany—5th Sunday after Easter—Whit-Sunday—9th Sunday after Trinity—19th ditto. Compare these with the text; and see whether, in the judgment of our reformers, the best and most learned of men do not still need to have the Spirit, as a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, given unto them.] — — —]
But, to prevent misapprehension, we shall proceed to state distinctly,
II. What discoveries the Spirit will make to our souls—
This is certain, that no new revelation is to be expected by us: the canon of Scripture is closed: and if any man pretend to new revelations, let him con-firm his pretensions, by clear and undoubted miracles; or else let him be rejected as an enthusiast and deceiver. The Spirit now enlightens men only by shining upon the written word, and opening their understandings to understand it. But in this way he will make wonderful discoveries to the soul. He will give us just views,
1. Of God himself—
[Somewhat of God may be known from books, without any supernatural aid: but the knowledge gained in that way will be merely theoretical; it will have no suitable influence upon the heart and life. But the very same truths, when applied by the Spirit to the soul, make a deep impression on the mind; they fill it with wonder and with love; and constrain the enraptured soul to exclaim, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee [Note: Job 42:5.]!” How precious does Christ appear at such seasons! how “unsearchable the length and breadth and depth and height of his incomprehensible love [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]!” These are the manifestations of himself which our blessed Lord promised to his Church [Note: John 14:21-23; John 16:14-15.]; and without which we cannot know aright either him or his Father [Note: Matthew 11:27.].
Let us pray then for “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, in, and for, the knowledge of him.”]
2. Of the hope to which he has called us—
[How low are our apprehensions of the Christian’s portion, when no particular revelation of it is made to the soul! We can speak of pardon and acceptance, of grace and glory; but we speak of them with no more feeling than if they were mere fictions. But O what a “gloriously rich inheritance” does ours appear, when our eyes are opened by the Spirit to behold it! One Pisgah-view of the promised land, how does it transport the soul to heaven, and make us long to be dissolved, that we may be with Christ! As for the inheritances of princes, they then appear as worthless as the toys that amuse a child. The realities of the eternal world surpass all sublunary things, as the splendour of the sun exceeds the glimmering of a taper. “These things, which no carnal eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived, these things, I say, God now reveals to us by his Spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.];” yea, he gives us an earnest of them in our hearts [Note: Ephesians 1:13-14.].]
3. Of the work he has wrought in us—
[We are apt to undervalue the work that is already wrought in us, because so much remains to be done. But when God shines upon his own work, we entertain very different thoughts respecting it. It is no light matter then in our eyes to have been quickened from the dead, and “created anew in Christ Jesus.” It seems no less a work than that which was “wrought for Christ, when God raised him from the dead,” and “set him at his own right hand, above all the principalities and powers,” whether of heaven or hell. We were dead and buried; and Satan set, as it were, the stone, the seal, the watch, to keep us securely under the power of the grave. But our God came “by the mighty working of his power.” and made us triumphant over all the powers of darkness, and still “always causeth us to triumph in Christ.” Truly the believer, when he views these things, is a wonder to himself: he is a burning bush [Note: Exodus 3:2.], a captive ruling over his oppressors [Note: Isaiah 14:2.], a worm threshing the mountains [Note: Isaiah 41:15.].]
1. Let us seek to attain the Christian’s character—
[The Ephesians were already Christians: they possessed the two distinctive marks of the Christian character, “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and love unto all the saints.” These marks we must possess. It is in vain to hope for the higher manifestations of the Spirit, till we have received those communications which are of prime and indispensable necessity. Till these evidences of true religion appear, neither can ministers have any joy over you, nor you any scriptural hope for yourselves. Come then to Christ as perishing sinners, and cast in your lot with his people, that you may have your portion with them in a better world.]
2. Let us seek to enjoy the Christian’s privileges—
[We would not that any of you should live below your privileges. “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,” is willing to bestow on you the richest gifts, and to exalt you to the sublimest happiness. He is ready to make all his glory pass before your eyes, and to proclaim in your hearing all his goodness [Note: Exodus 33:18-19.]. Though he will not catch you up to Paradise, as he did the Apostle Paul, or make the heavens open to you, as he did to the dying Stephen, yet will he shine into your hearts, to give you light and knowledge, of which you have at present scarcely any conception [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.]. Seek then these sublime attainments, which will at once enhance your present happiness, and increase your meetness for your heavenly inheritance.]
CHRIST THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH
Ephesians 1:20-23. He raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
LITTLE do men imagine what power is necessary to effect the salvation of their souls. They are ready to suppose that they can repent, and turn to God, of themselves, by the force of their own resolutions. But the creation itself was not more the product of a Divine power, than the new creation is in the souls of men. Yea, if we can conceive that any one thing needs a greater exertion of omnipotence than another, it is this. The Apostle strongly expresses this idea in the passage before us. He is praying for the Ephesian converts, that they may have just and adequate notions of the power that has been exercised towards them, in bringing them to their present state. Overwhelmed, as it were, with the thought, he accumulates all the most forcible terms that language could afford him, in order to convey some faint idea of the subject: and then he illustrates the point by the most stupendous effort of omnipotence that ever was exhibited since the foundation of the world; namely, by the raising of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and the investing of him with all power, both in heaven and earth.
In contemplating this work of omnipotence, the exaltation of Christ upon his Father’s throne, we shall fix our attention upon two things:
I. His supremacy above all creatures—
The death, the resurrection, and the ascension of our Lord Jesus, we pass over in silence. It is not the act of our Saviour’s elevation, but the state to which he is elevated, which we propose for your present consideration. This includes,
1. A state of dignity—
[“The right hand of God” is a metaphorical expression for the place of the highest dignity and glory in the heavenly world. There Jesus sits, exalted “far above all” creatures in earth, in hell, or in heaven. The phrase, “principalities and powers,” is applied in Scripture to men [Note: Titus 3:1.], to devils [Note: Ephesians 6:12.], and to the holy angels [Note: Ephesians 3:10.]. And the Apostle evidently intended to comprehend them all, because he specified yet further “every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” Now it should seem, that as, on earth, there are different ranks and orders of magistrates, from the king, who is supreme, to those who exercise the most limited jurisdiction, so there is a gradation of beings both in heaven and hell. We read of Michael, the archangel; and of Beelzebub, the prince of the devils; and to them we ascribe a pre-eminence among their fellows. But however exalted any creature may be, Jesus Christ is raised “far above” him. The lustre of the whole universe, in comparison of his, would be only like that of the twinkling stars before the meridian sun; they may have a splendour in his absence; but before him they are constrained to hide their inglorious heads: they are eclipsed, they vanish at his presence. If he but suffer one ray of his majesty to appear, men fall, as dead, at his feet; devils tremble; and “angels worship him” with profoundest adoration.]
2. A state of power—
[While Jesus yet hanged upon the cross, “he spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them openly in it.” From that time “all things were put under his feet;” and more especially from the moment that he was seated on his mediatorial throne. It is true that “we see not yet (as the Apostle says) all things put under him.” But though they are not visibly, they are in fact. All his enemies are like the live kings of Canaan, when Joshua and all the elders of Israel put their feet upon their necks. They are living indeed; but their power is broken: and they are doomed to a speedy and ignominious death. Devils are more aware of this than men: when they saw Jesus in the days of his flesh, they asked, “Art thou come to torment us before our time?” Still however they combine with men, and stimulate them to oppose his will. But when they are consulting together, saying, “Let us break his bands asunder, and cast away his cords from us,” he “laughs them to scorn, and has them in derision.” He suffers them to accomplish their own will, as far as it may subserve his purposes; and “the remainder of their wrath he restrains.” Full of pride and blasphemy, they boast what great things they will do: but “he puts his hook in their nose, and his bridle in their jaws,” and in a moment brings all their boasted projects to an end [Note: Isaiah 37:29. Job 5:12-13.]. Whatever they may effect, they are his instruments, to “do what his hand, and his counsel, had determined before to be done.” In all things “his counsel stands, and he does all his pleasure.”]
By means of this supremacy, he is enabled to carry on,
II. His government of his Church—
In investing his Son with “all power in heaven and in earth,” God had especial respect to the welfare of his Church. He constituted his Son,
1. The Head of the Church—
[The Church is called “his body,” and “his fulness.” The body, we know, consists of many members: and it is the whole aggregate of members that constitutes the body: and the body, joined to the head, forms the complete man. This is the precise idea in the text. Every believer is a member of Christ: the whole collective number of believers form his entire body: and, by their union with him, Christ himself is represented as complete. The body would not be complete, if any member were wanting; nor is the Head complete without the body: but the body united to the Head is “the fulness,” the completion of Christ himself [Note: πλήρωμα.].
The head however exercises a controul over the whole body. As being the residence of the soul, it may be said to actuate all the members: it moves in the limbs, sees in the eyes, hears in the ears, speaks in the tongue, and imparts a vital energy to the whole. Thus does Christ “fill all in all.” There is not a member of his mystical body which does not derive all his strength from him. From him the understanding receives its comprehension; the will, its activity; the affections, their power. It is by him that we live; or rather, as the Apostle speaks, “he is our life.” In all persons, there is the same absolute dependence on him: “in all” circumstances, his agency is wanted: (It is as much wanted to produce a good thought, as to carry it into execution.) “In all” ages, he is equally the true and only source of good to man. None in any place or period of the world have any thing which they did not first “receive out of his fulness [Note: John 1:16.]:” so true is it, in the strongest sense of the words, that “he filleth all in all.” Thus is Christ, in his present exalted state, the living, and life-giving Head of all his Church, his Church militant, and his Church triumphant.]
2. The Head over all things for his Church’s good—
[In the management of the universe, Jesus consults the best interests of his Church. If he permit evil to befall his people, it is with a view to their deeper humiliation. It, on the contrary, he fill them with peace and joy, it is for the purpose of quickening them to more Holy ardour in his ways. Nothing is further from the intention of their enemies than to do them good: but they are all under his controul; and when they desire nothing so much as to frustrate his purposes, they ignorantly and unwittingly fulfil them [Note: Genesis 50:20.]. As, in his own case, the envy of the priests, the treachery of Judas, the cowardice of Pilate, and the blind fury of the populace, conspired to bring him to that death, which was to fulfil the Scriptures and to redeem the world, and which was of necessity to precede his exaltation to glory; so every creature, whatever be its aim, is executing his gracious purposes with respect to his Church, and is doing that very thing, which every member of the Church, if he could foresee the final issue of events, would actually wish to be done.]
We may learn from hence,
1. Our duty towards him—
[Is he the supreme Governor of the universe? then we should obey his voice—and submit to his will—and seek in all things his glory. Is he in a more especial manner our Head? then we should look to him for direction, and depend on him for every thing we may stand in need of.]
2. Our security in him—
[Who shall overcome him, when “all things are under his feet?” or, “Who shall pluck us out of his hands,” provided we belong to him? We may, with St. Paul, defy all the principalities and powers both of earth and hell [Note: Romans 8:38-39.]. Neither the Church at large [Note: Matthew 16:18.], nor the smallest member of it [Note: Amos 9:9. Matthew 18:14.], has any thing to fear. “If he be for us, none can be successfully against us [Note: Romans 8:31.].”]
3. Our happiness through him—
[The principal subject of the Apostle’s prayer is, that we may know what mighty power God exercises towards his believing people. The exaltation of Christ is introduced by him quite incidentally, and merely for the purpose of illustrating his main point. But, having introduced the subject, he draws a parallel between the believer’s exaltation, and that of Christ. Behold then the Lord Jesus raised from the dead, and seated at his Father’s right hand, far above all principalities and powers: such is the honour, and such the happiness, that is imparted to the believing soul [Note: Compare ver. 19–22. with 2:5–7.]: and even that which he now enjoys, is but a shadow of what he will enjoy to all eternity. Believer, let your expectations be enlarged: the felicity of the Head is the felicity prepared for the members: “Such honour have all his saints.”]
Monday, March 27th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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