The Pulpit Commentaries
SPIRITUAL HISTORY OF THE EPHESIANS. This passage corresponds to Genesis 1:1-31. It is a history of creation, and we note the same great stages.
1. Chaos (Genesis 1:1-3).
2. The dawn—the Spirit of God moving on the face of the waters (Genesis 1:4).
3. The work of creation—in successive stages (Genesis 1:4-10).
You also, who were dead in your trespasses and your sins. The apostle returns from his digression, in which he had shown the marvelous working of the Divine power on Christ, to show the working of the same power on the Ephesian converts themselves. The ὑμἀς is not governed by any verb going before; it manifestly depends on the συνεζωοποίησεν of Ephesians 2:5, but it is separated from it by a new digression (Ephesians 2:2, Ephesians 2:3), on which the apostle immediately starts. While the same quickening power of God was exerted on Christ and on the Ephesians, it was exerted to very different effects: in the case of Christ, raising him literally from the dead and exalting him to heavenly glory; in the case of the Ephesians, raising them from spiritual death and exalting them to high spiritual privileges. We may observe the change from the second to the first person, and vice versa, in this chapter as in Ephesians 1:1-23. Second person (Ephesians 1:1, Ephesians 1:8, Ephesians 1:11); first (Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 1:14); and the two streams brought together (Ephesians 1:18). The chapter closes beautifully with an emblem of the Church as the one temple of which all believers are parts. The death ascribed to the Ephesians in their natural state is evidently spiritual death, and "trespasses and sins," being in the dative ( νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασι καὶ ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις), seems to indicate the cause of death—"dead through your trespasses and your sins" (R.V.); "dead of your trespasses," etc., is suggested by Alford. It is not easy to assign a different meaning to the two nouns here; some suggest acts of transgression for the one, and sinful tendencies or principles for the other, but this distinction cannot be carried out in all other passages. The killing effect of sin is indicated. As sins of sensuality kill truthfulness, industry, integrity, and all virtue, so sin generally, affecting as it does our whole nature, kills, or does not suffer to live, the affections and movements of the spiritual life. A state of "death" implies previous life—the race lived before; it implies also a state of insensibility, of utter powerlessness and helplessness.
Wherein aforetime ye walked according to the course of this world. The idea of a dead creature walking is not altogether incongruous. It implies that a kind of life remained sufficient for walking; but not the true, full, normal life; rather the life of a galvanized corpse, or of one walking in sleep. The figurative use of walking for living, or carrying on our life, is frequent in this Epistle (Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 5:2, etc.). "The course of this world," elsewhere" the world," denotes the present system of things, as conducted by those who have regard only to things seen and temporal, and no regard to God or to the future life. Where there is spiritual death there is insensibility to these things. According to the prince of the power of the air. It is obvious that this is equivalent to "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), but the explanation of the term is difficult. Allusion is made to a corporate body, "the power [or, 'government'] ( ἐξουσία) of the air," and to one who is "prince" of this government. There is no difficulty in identifying the evil one and his host, of whom Milton gives such graphic pictures. But why should they be specially connected with the air? The notion, entertained by some of the Fathers and others, that storms and disturbances of the atmosphere are caused by them, is preposterous; it is unscriptural (Psalms 148:8) and quite unscientific. The term seems to denote that evil spirits, who have some power of influencing us by their temptations, have their abode in the atmosphere, or at least haunt it, being invisible like it, yet exercising a real influence on human souls, and drawing them in worldly directions, and contrary to the will of God. The spirit which is now working hi the sons of disobedience. The fact that this spirit is still working in others makes the escape of the Ephesians from him the more striking. He is not destroyed, but vigorously at work even yet. Though Jesus beheld him fall from heaven as lightning, and though he said that the prince of this world had been judged, these expressions denote a prophetic rather than an actual condition. This spirit energizes in the "sons of disobedience." This designation is striking; it denotes persons born of disobedience, bred by disobedience, having disobedience in their very nature; comp. Romans 8:7, "The carnal mind is enmity against God," and passages where fallen man is called a rebel (Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 63:10; Psalms 68:6; Jeremiah 5:23, etc.). It denotes the essential antagonism of man's will to God's, arising from man's devotion to this world and its interests, and God's regard to what is higher and holier—an antagonism often held in check and suppressed—but bursting out wildly at times in fierce opposition, as at the tower of Babel or the crucifixion of Jesus. The devil inflames man's inherent dislike to God's will, and encourages outbreaks of it.
Among whom we also all once spent our life in the lusts of our flesh. The apostle here brings Jews and Gentiles together. "We also," as well as you—we were all in the same condemnation, all in a miserable plight, not merely occasionally dipping into sin, but spending our very lives in the lusts or desires of our flesh, living fro' no noble ends, but in an element of carnal desire, as if there were nothing higher than to please the carnal nature. Fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. Desires of the flesh, the grosser and more animal propensities (the flesh, in Scripture, has often a wider sense; see Galatians 5:19-21); and of the mind or thoughts, διανοιῶν, the objects that we thought about, whatever they might be,—the waywardness of our thoughts seems to be denoted, the random roaming of the mind hither and thither, towards this pleasure and that, sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, but all marked by the absence of any controlling regard to the will of God. The life indicated is a life of indulgence in whatever natural feelings may arise in us-be they right or be they wrong. And we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. This is a substantive clause, standing on its own basis, a separate fact, not merely an inference from the previous statements. The life described would have exposed us to wrath; but beyond and before this we were by nature children of wrath. "By nature" denotes something in our constitution, in our very being; and "even as the rest" denotes that this was universal, not a peculiarity affecting some, but a general feature applicable to all. "Children of wrath" denotes that we belonged to a race which had incurred the wrath of God; our individuality was so far absorbed by the social body that we shared the lot under which it had come. If there be something in this that seems contrary to justice, that seems to condemn men for the sins of others, we remark
But God, being rich in mercy. The preceding verses convey the idea of a rushing towards inevitable ruin—towards some frightful cataract, when all help from man is hopeless. Man's extremity becomes God's opportunity. The "but" is very emphatic, and wonderfully reverses the picture. The sovereignty of God is very apparent, on its gracious side. It interposes to rescue those who would otherwise plunge into irretrievable ruin. We have here the filling up of that Divine saying, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help." The genesis of salvation is declared to be in two of God's attributes, of which the first is mercy, or compassion. God has a tender, yearning feeling towards men brought to misery by their own sins. And this feeling is not shallow or spare—he is rich in mercy. It is an exuberant, full-flowing feeling in God ("Thy mercy .. is in the heavens," Psalms 36:5), and may therefore be appealed to trustfully. For his great love wherewith he loved us. The other attribute from which the plan of salvation sprang is God's love. Love is more than compassion. Compassion may be confined to the breast, but love goes forth in active beneficence. It makes common cause with its object. It cannot rest till its object is lint right. Two expressions are used intensifying this Divine love:
the verb of love governing the noun of love makes the idea rich and strong. This view of the exuberance of the Divine attributes from which salvation has its rise is in harmony with the whole character of the Epistle.
Even when we were dead in our sins. Repeated from Ephesians 2:1, in order to set in its true light the declaration that follows of what God did for us to make more emphatic the free and sovereign mercy of God. Though sin is the abominable thing which he hates, loathsome to him in the last degree, he did not turn from us when we were immersed in it; nor did he wait till we began to move towards him: he began to influence us even when we were dead. Made us alive together with Christ ( συνεζωοποίησε τῷ χριστῷ). Made us alive with the life which is in Christ and which flows from Christ. A parallel is run between the way in which God's power operated on the body of Christ, and the way in which it operates on the souls of believers in him in respect of
The Father, having "given to the Son to have life in himself," and "the Son quickening whom he will" (John 6:21, John 6:26), by God's decree we were first quickened by him, made partakers of Christ's life (John 11:25; comp. John 14:19; John 15:5; Colossians 3:4; Galatians 2:20, etc.). All the life we had lost was restored—the life forfeited by transgression, the life of a calm and well-ordered heart, the sublime life of fellowship with God. By grace have ye been saved. This is a parenthetical clause, more fully dwelt on in Ephesians 2:8, thrown in here abruptly by the apostle in the fullness of his heart, to throw light on this great wonder—that Christ should impart his own life to souls dead in sin. Grace in opposition to human merit is at the root of the whole arrangement; free, undeserved mercy. It is not anything that God is bound to by the necessity of his nature. It is the result of his will, not of his nature. Had it not been for his good pleasure, salvation had never been. "Saved" is the past participle ( σεσωσμένοι), denoting, not the act of being saved, but the fact of having been saved. Salvation in a real sense is a present possession. When we are one with Christ we are justified freely by God's grace, our trespasses are all forgiven. The spirit of new moral life has been given to us; we are made alive to God. But while salvation is a present attainment in a real sense, its full realization is future, for that includes perfect holiness, and also the glorification of the body. In this sense salvation is to come (Romans 8:24; Romans 13:11).
And hath raised us up with him (comp. Philippians 3:10); so that we no longer walk "according to the course of this world," but according to the life of Christ; we walk "in newness of life." And seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. As God placed Jesus at his right hand in heaven, so he has placed his people with him in heavenly places; i.e. places where the privileges of heaven are dispensed, where the air of heaven is breathed, where the fellowship and the enjoyment of heaven are known, where an elevation of spirit is experienced as if heaven were begun. Such was the case of the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration; of the two on the way to Emmaus, when their heart burned within them; of the beloved disciple when he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day;" of many at the Holy Supper, or in fervent communion with brother and sister believers, when they seem at the very gate of heaven. This is sometimes the experience at conversion, but the vividness of the feeling does not always abide. The repetition of "in Christ Jesus" in this connection emphasizes the fact that this gracious proceeding of God towards us is in immediate connection with the work and person of Christ. It is as being one with Christ Jesus that all this raising up comes to us.
That in the ages to come he might show forth the riches of his grace. A special purpose served by God's free grace bestowed on such persons as the Ephesians. It was intended as a lesson for future ages. "The ages to come" denotes eras to begin from that time, running on now, and to continue hereafter. It would be a profitable lesson for the people of these ages to think of the Ephesians, far as they were by nature from God, receiving his blessing so abundantly. From this they would learn how great are the riches of God's grace. In kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. The particular channel in which the riches of his grace flows is kindness shown to us in Christ Jesus. Kindness in the matter of the blessing, forgiving us freely, and accepting and adopting us in him; kindness in the manner of the blessing, dealing with us as Jesus dealt with the woman that was a sinner, or with the thief on the cross, or with Peter after he had fallen, or with Saul of Tarsus; kindness in the extent of the blessing, providing amply for every want; kindness in the duration of the blessing—for evermore. But again, the Medium or Mediator of blessing is specified—"in Christ Jesus." It is not the kindness of providence, not the natural bountifulness of God, but that kindness and bountifulness which are specially connected with the atoning work of Christ: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself."
For by grace have ye been saved, through faith. He repeats what he had said parenthetically (Ephesians 2:5), in order to open the subject up more fully. On the part of God, salvation is by grace; on the part of man, it is through faith. It does not come to us by an involuntary act, as light falls on our eyes, sounds on our ears, or air enters our lungs. When we are so far enlightened as to understand about it, there must be a personal reception of salvation by us, and that is by faith. Faith at once believes the good news of a free salvation through Christ, and accepts Christ as the Savior. We commit ourselves to him, trust ourselves to him for that salvation of which he is the Author. In the act of thus entrusting ourselves to him for his salvation, we receive the benefit, and are saved. It is not that faith is accepted by God in place of works, but because faith indicates that attitude of men towards Christ in which it pleases God to save them, transferring to him all their guilt, imputing to them all his merit. And that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Which of the two things is meant—salvation or faith? The grammatical structure and the analogy of the passage favor the former view, "Your salvation is not of yourselves," though many able men have taken the latter. The apostle is so anxious to bring out the great distinguishing doctrine of grace that he puts it in all lights, affirms it positively, contrasts it with its opposite, and emphasizes it by repetition. It is a gift, not a purchase; a free gift, without money and without price; what would never have been yours, but for the generosity of God. It is very usual in the New Testament thus to represent salvation; cf. our Lord's words to Nicodemus (John 3:16); to the woman of Samaria (John 4:14); St. Paul's "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15); "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23); and 1 John 5:11, "God gave unto us eternal life, and the life is in his Son." This usage confirms the view that it is not merely faith, but the whole work and person of Christ which faith receives, that is meant here as the "gift of God."
Not of works, lest any man should boast. Exegetical of the last clause, "Not of yourselves; certainly not of your works." The suppression of boasting was a purpose of God in his scheme of salvation; not the chief or final purpose, any more than the manifestation of his grace in coming ages was his chief or final purpose in showing mercy to the Ephesians, but inseparable from the nature of his plan. The spirit of glorying is essentially unsuited to the relations between the creature and the Creator, between the Redeemer and the redeemed. It is the very opposite of the spirit, "Not unto us, O Lord" (Psalms 115:1)—the spirit that casts its crown before the throne, and that breathes in the songs of heaven, "Unto him that loved us .. be glory and dominion forever and ever" (Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:6).
For we are his workmanship. Another illustration and evidence of grace. We have to be fashioned anew by God before we can do anything aright (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Anything right in us is not the cause of grace, but its fruit. There seems to be no special reason for the change from the second to the first person. Created in Christ Jesus for good works. So little inward capacity had we for such works, that we required to be created in Christ Jesus in order that we might do them. The inward new birth of the soul is indicated. When good works were required, this gracious change had to be wrought to secure them. The purpose of the new creation is to produce them. Christ "gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people of his own, zealous of good works." It is not good works first, and grace after; but grace first, and good works after (see Titus 2:11, Titus 2:14). Which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. A further proof of the true origin of good works. They are the subjects of a Divine decree. Before the foundation of the world it was ordained that whoever should be saved by grace should walk in good works. The term "walk," here denotes the habitual tenor of the life; it is to be spent in an atmosphere of good works. Here we have one of the Divine safeguards against the abuse of the doctrine of salvation by grace. When men hear of salvation irrespective of works, they are apt to fancy that works are of little use, and do not need to be carefully attended to. On the contrary, they are part of the Divine decree, and if we are not living a life of good works, we have no reason to believe that we have been saved by grace.
CONTRAST BETWEEN PAST AND THE PRESENT.
Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh. The practical tenor of the apostle's teaching is indicated by his "wherefores." He is always gathering up his views into some lesson. They are to "remember" the change between the past and the present—what they were by nature, and what they had become by grace. This is most useful to all, even though the contrast between the two be not so vivid as in the case of Paul and the Ephesians. The contrast is indicated in various particulars, both of outward condition and of inward privilege and character. First, the old condition. They were "Gentiles in respect of the flesh"—not bearing on their bodies the mark of the Israel of God, therefore not marked out for blessing, not apparently near it. Who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision in the flesh made by hands. Nicknamed, as it were, Uncircumcision by those who in a fleshly or mechanical, but not always in the true spiritual sense (comp. Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11), were called Circumcision; they had a name which denoted the very opposite of that given to God's people—another illustration of their apparent distance from blessing; they revolved round the sun, as it were, not in the nearer orbits of planets warmed, brightened, and beautified by the solar beams, but in the outermost ring of all—like the cold, dark orbit of Uranus or Neptune, which the sunbeams hardly reach to lighten or to warm.
That at that time ye were without Christ. Very comprehensive description, having no knowledge of Christ, no interest in him, no life or blessing from him. Being aliens (or, alienated) from the commonwealth of Israel; the πολιτεία, or citizenship condition, including a country, a constitution, a divinely appointed and divinely administered economy, rich in blessing. And strangers to the covenants of the promise. The promise of Christ, of which circumcision was the seal. The "covenants" (plural) substantially the same, but renewed to various persons and at various times in which God promised, "I will bless him that blesseth thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." In respect of these they were strangers, not embraced in their provisions, not, therefore, in a state of encouragement to expect a great blessing. Having no hope; no ground for looking forward to better times, no reasonable expectation of improvement in your religious condition. And without God in the world; ἄθεοι, atheists; but not in the active sense of denying God, rather in the passive sense of unconnected with God; without any friendly and beneficial relation to him, without any vital nexus that would bring into their soul the fullness of God. The words "in the world" intensify "without God." It were bad enough to be without God (without his holy fellowship and blessed influence) anywhere, but it is worse to be without him in the world, in "this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4), in a world dominated by so subtle and evil a god (Ephesians 2:2 and 2 Corinthians 4:4). The fivefold negative description of this verse has a cumulative effect; the situation becomes graver and more terrible, and the last clause is the climax.
But now; antithesis to ποτὲ in Ephesians 2:11, and τῷ καιρῷ ἐκείνῳ in Ephesians 2:12. Another of the very powerful "buts" of this Epistle, completely reversing the picture going before (see Ephesians 2:4). In Christ Jesus. This expression is the pivot of the Epistle, denoting, not only that Christ Jesus is the Source of blessing, but also that we get the blessing, i.e. by vital union and fellowship with, him. The "without Christ" of Ephesians 2:12 contrasts powerfully with "in Christ Jesus" of this verse; and the addition of "Jesus" to the name is significant, denoting his saving power, denoting One who is not merely an official Savior, but to whom we get linked by all manner of endearing qualities and personal attractions, whose human name is Jesus, because he saves his people from their sins. Ye that once were far off are become near. The apostle has slidden into a new figure; formerly the contrast was between death and life, now it is between distance and nearness. Not merely geographical distance, or remoteness in respect of outward position, but moral distance too: ye were far off from God, i.e. from his favor, his fellowship, his gracious pardoning and renewing grace. In this sense too ye are now brought near. God is become your God and Father. Your orbit is changed to a near and blessed position, where the light of God's countenance falls upon you. In the blood of Christ. This is the particular instrument of the change; not merely Christ manifesting the Father's readiness to receive you, but shedding his blood to make atonement for you (see Ephesians 1:7). The preposition ἐν (not merely διὰ) is again significant, denoting more than the instrumentality, viz. personal connection with the blood, as if sprinkled on us, so that we are symbolically in it. Cleansing us from all sin, it brings us nigh.
For he is our peace. Explanatory of the preceding verse—of the way by which we are brought nigh. Christ is not only our Peacemaker, but our Peace, and that in the fullest sense, the very substance and living spring of it, establishing it at the beginning, keeping it up to the end; and the complex notion of peace is here not only peace between Jew and Gentile, but between God and both. Consult Old Testament predictions of peace in connection with Messiah (Isaiah 9:5, Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:5; Zechariah 9:10, etc.). Who made both one; literally, both things, both elements; so that there is now no ground for separating between a Jewish element and a Gentile; they are unified. And broke down the middle wall of the partition. The general idea is obvious; the particular allusion is less easily seen. Some think it is to the veil that separated the holy of holies from the holy place (Hebrews 10:20); but that could hardly be called a wall. Others the wall that separated the court of the Jew from that of the Gentiles; but that wall was literally standing when the apostle wrote, and besides, the Ephesians could not be supposed to be so familiar with it as to make it a suitable illustration for them. In the absence of any specific allusion, it is best to understand the words generally, "broke down that which served as a middle wall of partition"—what is mentioned immediately in the following verse.
(To wit, the enmity.) It is a moot point whether τὴν ἔχθραν is to be taken as governed by λύσας in Ephesians 2:14, or by καταργήσας in the end of this verse. Both A.V. and R.V. adopt the latter; but the former is more textual and natural. Another question is—What enmity? Some say between Jews and Gentiles; others, between both and God. The latter seems right; where "the enmity" is so emphatically referred to, it must be the great or fundamental enmity, and the whole tenor of the passage is to the effect that in the removal of the enmity of the sinner to God, the abolition of the enmity between Jew and Gentile was provided for. In his flesh. These words are not to be connected with the enmity, for then they would require τὴν before them, but with λύσας (Ephesians 2:14) or καταργήσας (Ephesians 2:15). In his flesh, crucified, broken, for our sins, Christ virtually broke down the enmity (comp. Colossians 1:22). Having abolished the law of commandments in ordinances. Some think that "in ordinances" ( ἐν δόγμασι, doctrines) denotes the means by which the Law was abolished—by means of doctrines, i.e. the doctrines of Christianity. But New Testament δόγμα is not equal to "doctrine." "In ordinances" limits the law of commandments. The law abolished or superseded by Christ was the law of positive requirements embodied in things decreed, evidently the ceremonial law of the Jews; certainly not the moral law (see Romans 3:31). By removing this, Jesus removed that which had become the occasion of bitter feelings between Jew and Gentile; the Jew looking down proudly on the Gentile, and the Gentile despising what he deemed the fantastic rites of the Jews. That he might create the two in himself into one new man. The idea of a corporate body comes here into view. Christ's object was not merely to restore individuals, but to rear a Church, composed of many units incorporated into one body. This idea is prominent in the rest of the Epistle. Hence the strong word κτισῃ, create; not only is every believer a new creation, but the corporate organization into which they are built is also a creation. The two are made "one new man;" the Gentile is not turned into a Jew, nor the Jew into a Gentile, but both into one new man, thus removing all grounds of jealousy. This transformation is "in himself;" in vital union to Christ they are formed into one body. No Church connection of man with man is the true connection, unless it is founded on a mutual connection with Christ. So making peace; that is, between Jew and Gentile. The peacemaking with God, as we have seen, is referred to in the first words of the verse; this at the end is the subordinate peacemaking, the result of the other.
And that he might reconcile both to God in one body by the cross. Exegetical of preceding statements, and making emphatic the fact of reconciliation to God on the same footing and by the same means; both were to be reconciled in, one body (see Ephesians 4:4) and by the cross. No preference was to be given to the Jew facilitating his union to Christ: the Gentile was to be taken into Christ's body as readily as the Jew. In reference to the sense in which reconciliation was effected by the cross of Jesus, some say it was only as the cross demonstrated to men the love of God and his willingness to bless them; while others maintain very strongly that it was as providing a satisfaction to God's justice for their guilt, and thus enabling him to receive and bless the sinner. Not only the analogy of other passages of Scripture as well as of this Epistle justifies the latter view, but preeminently the words, "by the cross." If Christ had only to proclaim God's friendship toward sinners, why should he have suffered on the cross? The cross as a mere pulpit is hideous; as an altar it is glorious. The love of God is ill revealed, if it subjected Jesus to unnecessary agony. The love of both Father and Son is indeed commended, if the agony was voluntarily borne by the Son, and permitted by the Father, as being indispensable for the pardon of the sinner. ' αποκαταλλάξῃ denotes the whole process of reconciliation (see Eadie). Having slain the enmity thereby (or, thereon). "The enmity" is the same as at the beginning of Ephesians 2:15—the enmity of man to God. The destruction of this enmity is one of the effects of the cross, though not the only effect; it is necessary to root out the enmity of the carnal mind. That this is the meaning here seems plain from Romans 5:10, "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." The apostle there makes no allusion to the enmity of Jew and Gentile to each other, but to this wider fact— τὸ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς ἔχθρα εἰς θεόν. If any words can denote the result of a propitiatory sacrifice, it is surely "reconciled to God by the death of his Son."
And having come, he preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to these that were nigh. The coming denoted by ἐλθὼν is subsequent to the transactions of the cross. It cannot denote what Christ did personally, but what he did by sending his Spirit to the apostles and other early preachers. It was only after the cross and after the resurrection that peace could be proclaimed on the footing of faith in a Savior who had died and was alive. And only in the sense of having sent his preachers and given them his Spirit could Jesus be said to have preached to the Ephesians. The repetition of the word "peace" in the R.V. is expressive; if the subject had been merely peace between the two classes of men, we should not have had the repetition; the repetition denotes peace between each of the two classes and a third party, viz. God. It is remarkable that the Gentiles, "those that were far off," are mentioned here before the Jews, "those that were nigh." In point of chronology, the Jews came first; but the order is here transposed, probably to emphasize the offer of the gospel to the Gentries, and to show that spiritually they were as near as the Jews.
For through him both of us have our access by one Spirit unto the Father. Further illustration of identity of position of Jews and Gentiles, and of the work of Christ in bringing it about. Subject of this verse, access to the Father; predicate, this access effected through Christ by the one Spirit. Our having access to the Father is assumed as a matter of spiritual experience; the converted Ephesians knew that in their prayers and other exercises they did really stand before God, and felt as children to a Father. How came this to pass? "Through him." Sinful men have not this privilege by nature; "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God" (Isaiah 59:2). They need a Mediator; Jesus is that Mediator; and through him, both Jews and Gentiles enjoy the privilege. But right of access is not enough; in approaching God and holding fellowship with him there must be some congeniality of soul, a fellow-feeling between God and the worshipper; this is effected through the same Spirit. Some render "in the same spirit, or disposition of mind." This is true, but not all the truth; for the question arises—How do we get this suitable disposition? And the answer is—It is wrought by the Holy Spirit. As the state of the soul in true intercourse with God is substantially the same in all, so it is brought by the same Holy Spirit. In fact, this verse is one of the characteristic texts of Ephesians, in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are brought together.
So then ye are no more strangers and foreigners. "Sojourners" is nearer πάροικοι than "foreigners;" it denotes persons dwelling in a place, but without citizen rights and privileges; but as such persons are usually foreigners, it is immaterial which term is used. But ye are fellow-citizens with the saints. The saints are the chosen ones of all time (comp. Hebrews 12:22, "But ye are come unto Mount Zion," etc.). "Their names are engraven on the same civic roll with all whom ' the Lord shall count when be reckoneth up the people." It is as if they who had dwelt in the waste and howling wilderness, scattered defenseless and in melancholy isolation, had been transplanted, not only into Palestine, but had been appointed to domiciles on Mount Zion, and were located in the metropolis, not to admire its architecture, or gaze upon its battlements, or envy the tribes who had come up to worship in the city which is compact together; but to claim its municipal immunities, experience its protection, obey its laws, live and love in its happy society, and hold communion with its glorious Founder and Guardian" (Eadie). And (members) of the household of God. A nearer relation to God and a higher privilege is denoted here. You are not guests or occasional visitors, but permanent dwellers in the house and members of the family. Compare the Queen of Sheba's words to Solomon (1 Kings 10:8).
Being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. A new figure, the third here introduced to denote the change—that of a temple, of which Christians are stones. There is no contrast in form in this figure, as in the other two; it just expresses directly the privilege attained. There is a real contrast, however, between the first three and the last three verses of the chapter—the lowest degradation expressed in the one, the highest elevation in the ether. Observe, the apostle passes, by association of ideas, from the household (Ephesians 2:19) to the house (Ephesians 2:20), from the domestics to the stones; but by a bold figure he gives life to the stones, otherwise we might be in the same region of lifelessness as in yore. 1-3. Two questions arise here.
1. About this foundation—In what sense is it "of the apostles and prophets"? Certainly not in the sense that they constituted the foundation; for, though this might be warranted grammatically, it would be untrue: "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11). The best meaning seems to be, the foundation which the apostles and prophets laid, which they used for themselves and announced for others. But what was this foundation? Substantially that of 1 Corinthians 3:11; but the mention of Christ as chief Corner-stone at the end of the verse might at first seem to indicate that something different was meant by the foundation. But it is impossible to propose any suitable interpretation which would not make Christ the Foundation too.
2. Who are the prophets? We might naturally suppose the Old Testament prophets, but in that case they would probably have been mentioned before the apostles. In other passages of this Epistle "apostles and prophets" denote New Testament officers (Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 4:11), and it is most suitable to regard that as the meaning. It was the privilege of the Ephesians to use the foundation on which stood the two highest bodies of officers in the new dispensation—the apostles and prophets; nothing better could be found. Jesus Christ himself being the chief Cornerstone. Not as opposed to the foundation, but in addition thereto. Jesus is really both, but there is a reason for specifying him as the chief Cornerstone; comp. Psalms 118:21, "The stone which the builders rejected is become the headstone of the corner;" i.e. the stone which, being placed in the corner, determined the lines of the whole building. The idea of foundation is that of support; the idea of the chief cornerstone is that of regulation, pattern-hood, producing assimilation. Jesus is not only the Origin, Foundation, Support of the Church, but he gives it its shape and form, he determines the place and the office of each stone, he gives life and character to each member.
In whom all the building. Not even the figure of a building can keep the apostle from his favorite idea of vital fellowship with Christ as the soul of all Christianity—"in whom." πᾶσα οἰκοδομὴ is rendered in R.V. "each several building." But surely the want of the article does not make imperative a rendering which is out of keeping with the apostle's object, viz. to illustrate the organic unity of believers, Jewish and Gentile, as one great body (comp. Ephesians 4:4, "There is one body"). If there had been many several or separate buildings in the apostle's view, why not a Jewish building and a Gentile building? Or how could the separate buildings have their lines directed by the one chief Cornerstone? In Acts 2:36 πᾶς οἶκος ισραήλ is not "every house of Israel," but "all the house of Israel." Fitly framed together. There is a jointing and joining of the various parts to each other, forming a symmetrical, compact, well-ordered building. The Church has many members in one body, and all members have not the same office. It is a co-operative body, each aiding in his own way and with his own talent. The Church is not a collection of loose stones and timbers; its members are in vital union with Christ, and ought to be in living and loving and considerate fellowship with each other. Groweth into a holy temple in the Lord. Increase is an essential property of the Church; wherever there is life there is growth. But the growth of the Church is not mere increase of members or size; the growth is towards a temple, of which the character is holy, and it is in the Lord. The world-famed temple of Diana at Ephesus may have been in the apostle's mind—its symmetry, its glory, the relation of each several part to the rest and to the whole, as a suitable external emblem of the spiritual body which is being built up in Christ; but the Christian Church is a holy temple, dedicated to God, purified by his Spirit, entirely foreign to those defilements which disgraced the temple of Diana. The ἐν ᾦ at the beginning of the verse is followed by ἐν κυρίῳ at the end, as if the union of the Church to Christ could not be too often brought out. In him we are born into it; in him we grow in it; in him the whole temple grows towards the final consummation, when the topstone shall be brought out with shouts of "Grace, grace unto it."
In whom ye also are builded together. Once more the vitalizing element—"in whom;" for this is better than "in which," inasmuch as this verse is substantially a reduplication of the preceding one, making special application of the same subject to the Ephesians. The person changes from the third to the second, to make emphatic that the Ephesians shared this great privilege. Their relations towards believing Jews and other believers in the Church were not accidental; they were "builded together," compacted into each other, and ought to work together towards God's great ends. For a habitation of God in the Spirit. Not many habitations, but one. The Church as a temple is the dwelling-place of God. Here he bestows his fullness, so that when the temple is completed it will exhibit, as fully as a created thing can, the manifold glory of God. "In the Spirit" in this verse corresponds to "in the Lord" in the previous one. The actual communication of Divine properties to finite beings is the work of the Third Person. In this verse, again, we find the three Persons of the Trinity: the temple is the habitation of the First Person; the source of its life and growth and symmetry is the Son; the actual up-building and glorifying of it is by the Spirit. This is the climax of privilege, and no contrast could be greater than that between the death in trespasses and sins with which the chapter begins, and this sublime temple, where God dwells and bestows his fullness, with which it ends.
Spiritual history of Ephesians.
I. THE CHAOS, or original state.
1. It is a state of death, implying previous life, but present insensibility and helplessness. The element of death is "trespasses and sins "—their killing power.
2. Yet a state of unholy activity,
3. A state of unholy indulgence; seeking the fulfillment
4. A state of condemnation; "by nature," by our very constitution, we are children of wrath. And this true of all.
II. THE DAWN. "But." Force of contrast. "The darkest hour precedes the dawn."
1. God's work. God says, "Let there be light, and there is light."
(a) his mercy;
(b) his love.
2. Results of God's interposition.
3. Purpose of God in this process—to "show the exceeding riches of his grace."
III. THE NEW CREATION, or salvation by grace.
1. The great change. "Ye are saved."
2. How effected.
3. Relation of salvation to works.
4. Grandeur of this work. Creation was grand; new creation is grander. To bring a world out of nothing was great; to restore a world from chaos is greater. At the first creation, God saw all that he had made, and it was good. At the new creation, he experiences even a deeper emotion of joy. Imperfection of the new creation in this life in human souls. Let us seek that in us it may become continually more complete and more glorious. It is not that we are called to work, but rather to allow God to work—to have all within us open and unobstructed for the full and free exercise of God's almighty renewing power.
Contrast between the past and the present.
The Ephesians are here called to look back, to remember what they were; not, however, with the feeling of a man who has raised himself in the world, and whom such retrospect usually fills with pride, but with the feeling of those whom God has raised, a feeling that ought to produce the deepest humility and gratitude.
I. THE PAST is presented under two aspects—one having respect chiefly to their outward condition, the other chiefly to their inward.
1. Outward condition. They were Gentiles—"the Uncircumcision" (verse 11).
2. Inward condition, denoted by five negatives:
What an accumulation of miseries! Yet men often ignorant of their misery and without desire for change. Need of Holy Spirit to convince us of our sin and misery.
II. THE CHARGE. (Verse 13.) This is one of the brightest verses in the Bible, as verse 12 is one of the darkest. From being "far off," they are "brought nigh."
To be nigh or near to God is to be in a blessed relation to him, to be restored to an orbit in which we get all the blessed influences of his presence, so that the light of his countenance falls richly upon us, and we become changed into the same image, from glory to glory.
III. THE GROUND AND MEDIUM OF THE CHANGE. "In Christ Jesus." "By the blood of Christ." Great difference between God's dealings with us in nature and in grace. The blood of Jesus omnipotent to save. "All hail the power of Jesus' Name!"
Christ and his work of reconciliation. Here we have three topics:
I. CHRIST OUR PEACE. Observe the several statements (Ephesians 2:14-17).
1. He made both Jew and Gentile one (see Exposition).
2. He broke down the middle wall of partition.
3. He abolished the cause of enmity between Jew and Gentile—the Law of commandments in ordinances.
4. He constituted himself a new Man, to which both Jew and Gentile belong.
5. He thereby reconciled both to God.
6. All this he effected by his cross.
7. He not only effected it, but came and preached peace to the far off and the nigh. The idea conveyed is that no single thing was left undone that could contribute to the great double result of reconciling Jew and Gentile, first to God, and thereby to each other. Thus reconciliation to God effects reconciliation between man and man, as sometimes a child, mutually beloved, may effect reconciliation of parents after a difference.
II. CHRIST AS OUR PEACE BRINGING US NIGH (Ephesians 2:18.)
1. True Christians have access to the Father.
2. This is secured meritoriously "through Christ."
3. And efficaciously "by the one Spirit."
How much is implied in having access to the Father! Access to his love, his wisdom, his transforming influence, his capacity of satisfying the soul in all its lawful propensities, and blessing it forever!
III. SUMMING UP. (Ephesians 2:19.) The relation established with God is not a temporary or occasional one, but close, abiding, indestructible. The reconciliation is effected, not for a day, but for evermore (Romans 8:35-39).
The Christian temple.
This the climax of the comparison between past and present pursued in this chapter. Temple of Diana at Ephesus may have suggested the figure. The three persons of the Godhead are concerned in this work of building.
The three are brought together in Ephesians 2:22. Glorious threefold cord, securing the salvation and final glory of the Church! The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost are with her foreverse While all the three are connected with the building, Christ is so pre-eminently. This connection appears in five particulars.
1. Christ is the Foundation of the temple; his Name, the only name given under heaven whereby we must be saved; he the tried and sure Foundation-stone, elect, precious. Are we resting on him?
2. He is the chief Cornerstone, determines the lie and direction of other stones. We must be in harmony with Christ, our wills, notions, taste, habits. There may be secondary cornerstones; comp. Psalms 144:12, "That our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace." Reference here to the high polish as well as true position of a temple cornerstone. Records of Christian Church present many such women. From the Marys of the Gospels, the Priscillas and Lydias of the Acts, the Phoebes and elect ladies of the Epistles, through all the trials and struggles of the Church, down to the present day, in all which none have shown more of the true polish of corner-stones, more sympathy for the lost, more zeal and self-denial and devotion to God and man, than earnest Christian women. Blessed ambition for all young women, to be placed in such a relation to Christ, and vital communion with him, as to help to square and polish others, and thus make their lives likewise beautiful and blessed!
3. In Christ, the whole building is fitly framed together. Every one gets stability and adaptation to his neighbors—angles rubbed off; each gets and gives support. Stones are not all alike; not a brick building. Different talents, gifts, and graces: some Christians excel as speakers, some in prayer, some in praise, others in visiting sick, or in teaching the young, or in collecting contributions, or in speaking to strangers; some can write books, others can translate; some can guide the Church at home, others go to the heathen. In Christ, all work together to a common end. Out of Christ, strifes and divisions arise, ending in schisms and ruptures. Let each try to ascertain his part, and patiently and conscientiously to fulfill it.
4. In the Lord, the building grows to a holy temple. Two ideas.
5. It is a habitation of God through the Spirit. Its collective qualities serve to indicate the presence of the living Spirit; it is a kind of incarnation. Historically this is a delightful view. Bring together all the holy qualities of the Church from first to last—the simple trust of the hundred and twenty in the upper chamber: the warm brotherly love of the Pentecostal converts; the missionary ardor of Paul and his companions; the faith and constancy of the noble army of the martyrs; the seraphic spirit of many a man and woman who has dwelt at the gate of heaven; the steadfast devotion of Waldenses and Culdees, of Lollards and Wickliffites and Hussites, of reformers and Huguenots and confessors of every clime; the consistent godliness of many a humble cottager; the brilliant service of the Christian philanthropists and the glorious struggles of all the champions of freedom who have fought the battle of the cross in evil times;—in all this we have a vision of the glory of the Church as the habitation of God through the Spirit. Alas! there have been so many corruptions that this glory has been sadly tarnished. Let each one resolve by God's grace to fulfill his part, and. so to live that, so far as his life and character are concerned, they may show the result of God dwelling in them through the Spirit.
HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY
The apostle sets forth the greatness of Divine power in man's salvation by setting forth the greatness of his sin and misery, represented under the aspect of spiritual death. Let us understand the nature of this death.
I. MARK THE EXPRESSIVENESS OF THE TERM. It is strange to find it applied to living men. But there are certain suggestive points of similarity between natural and spiritual death.
1. The dealt have all the organs of sense, but no sensibility. As the psalmist said of the idols of the heathen, so are the dead: "Eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not" (Psalms 115:5, Psalms 115:6). So the spiritually dead have no susceptibility in regard to the things of God; they see not the beauties of holiness; they see not God or Christ.
2. The dead drove all the machinery of motion, but the machine is at rest. So the spiritually dead have all the natural faculties of life—judgment, memory, imagination, feeling, conscience—but they are unable to renew themselves into spiritual life. The inability is not natural, but moral, and therefore sinners are responsible for it. They cannot, because they will not. "Ye will not come unto me, that ye may have life" (John 5:40).
3. The dead are cold to the touch. The living body retains its heat very much in the same manner as a fire retains its heat, and, in a very true sense, we are all literally burning out like the fuel that is consumed in our fires. The dead are cold as the grave that covers them. So are the spiritually dead; they have no warmth of Christian love going out either to God or man. Though intellectually alive to all purely worldly interests, they are coldly indifferent, or even hostile, to the interests of the kingdom of grace.
4. The dead go onward to corruption. The process of corruption may be arrested for a time by the skill of man, but it will prevail in the end, and man returns to the dust whence he came, as the spirit has returned to the God who gave it. So the spiritually dead are corrupt, constitutionally, in virtue of the sin of Adam, and they are still more corrupt through temptation to actual transgression. The absence of love to God interposes no check to the progress of corruption in a human heart. What a terrific picture is that of a dead soul!
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OR CONDITIONS OF SPIRITUAL DEATH. We see our dead surrounded successively by the shroud, the coffin, the hearse, the grave. So likewise the spiritually dead are surrounded by "trespasses and sins." These two expressive terms indicate, not simply the cause of death, but its conditions and circumstances.
1. Trespasses. This term is exceedingly expressive as embodying what is involved in the original term.
2. Sins. This term points to the sinful movements of the soul—sins of thought and purpose, as trespasses seem to point to the various developments of a sinful nature. The sins are the fruit of moral corruption which has its seat in the heart, and radiates thence to every department of human conduct. The principle of sin is not merely negative, for it is a positive negation of the Divine will, putting something else in its place. The term "sins" would, more exactly than the other, include sins of omission, which are necessarily much more numerous than sins of commission. It is a solemn thought that men are "dead in sin" by every duty they omit, by every opportunity they neglect, by every blessing they despise, as well as by every positive transgression of the Divine Law. The radical significance of both terms implies a real hostility to God, which is only brought into prominence the moment the sinful spirit comes into sharp and painful collision with the pure Law of God. This dark picture of the sinner's state suggests that
The walk of the dead.
The expression is very significant, "In which ye walked." Superstition tells us that the dead walk in the shades of night. This is mere folly. Yet, day by day, we are really surrounded by the dead—not by spirits of the (lead, walking their hour in the darkness of night, but by living men like ourselves, pursuing their courses of worldly activity with all their wonted energy and zeal, yet "dead while they live," and unconscious of their death. The term "walking" implies the habitual course and tendency of life. Men were dead in sin just as they lived in sin, for the apostle says of the same sins, "In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them"' (Colossians 3:7). The direction of their walking is—away from God, with their backs turned upon him, for unbelief is a departure from the living God; and the end of their walking is death, as it is all through, for "it is the way of death" (Proverbs 2:18), and "their steps take hold on death" (Proverbs 5:5). Well may we pray with David," Lord, search me and know my heart: .. see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalms 139:23).—T.C.
Three fatal guides in this walk.
They are represented as the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are inextricably linked in the common death of men, for "the whole world lieth in the wicked one," and it includes, as its totality of possession, "the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life." There is no schism in this dread conspiracy against man's life.
I. THE WORLD. Sinners walk "according to the course of this world."
1. The world is here to be distinguished from worldly objects and pleasures, or mere "things of the world," which are more definitely included in "the lusts of the flesh" (Ephesians 2:3). It refers to men of the world, as where it is said, "The whole world lieth in the wicked one" (1 John 5:19), and, "The world will love its own" (John 15:19). These are "the children of the world," who are "wiser in their generation than the children of light" (Luke 16:18). The world is a great creator of opinion, sentiment, and habit, and thus becomes an immense obstacle to the Church of God.
2. The course of the world. "Every age hath almost a new dress, though it is the same world, and still carnal men live according to it" Though no age is independent of the ages which go before it, each age has its own-peculiar drift or tendency, which makes it influential for good or evil. We hear of the spirit of the age—the zeitgeist—which is supposed to shape the thought and the action of men; but it cannot command Christian homage, except so far as it works in the line of truth and righteousness. The Ephesians were neither before their time nor after their time, but in their time, living like other Gentiles, in the same errors, delusions, and idolatries; above all, being specially attached to the worship of Diana.
3. It is the duty of Christian people to oppose the course of this world. The apostle solemnly commands us, "Be ye not conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2), and. the reason is because "we have not received the spirit of this world, but we have received the Spirit which is of God" (1 Corinthians 2:12). Let the world be ever so refined, it cannot divest itself of carnal principles and ideas, and the saying of our Lord will always be true, "The things that are in great esteem with men are an abomination unto God" (Luke 16:15). His own mission was "to deliver us from this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4). Therefore, while we use this world, with all its lawful callings and occupations, so as not to abuse it, and honor every true principle that is held by "them that are without," let us resolutely stem the tide of the world's evil tendencies in the strength of that faith which will yet give us the complete conquest of the world (1 John 5:4).
II. THE DEVIL. This enemy, older than the world, has a vast influence in controlling its tendencies and movements.
1. He is described by two names—"the prince of the power of the air," which seems to point to his headship over the fallen angels; and "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience," in relation to his power as the "prince of this world." The moral nature of his influence may be inferred from the character ascribed to him in Scripture: as a sinner from the beginning; as a homicide from the beginning; as an arch-liar—" the father of liars"—as a renegade, who, with the angels under him, fell from his first estate, probably through pride, as the principal cause of his fatal fall. His name is expressly identified with the sin of Adam, the murder of Abel, the treachery of Judas, and with a constant opposition to the kingdom of God. He is accuser, tempter, corrupter, and has, in virtue of sin, a certain power even in death (Hebrews 2:14). The existence of such a being is no more a difficulty than the existence of wicked men, who live to corrupt and destroy their fellow-men.
2. It is not easy to understand the mode in which he acts upon the minds and hearts of men, nor to distinguish a direct temptation of Satan from those which spring from the world or from our own hearts. He works in and through these two things. An evil man or an evil woman can inject an evil thought and suggestion into the nature of another, either by word or by glance. If God, who is a Spirit, can have access to our minds so as to influence us supremely for good, why may not Satan, as an evil spirit, have a similar access for evil? Accordingly he is represented as putting it "into the heart of Judas to betray Christ" (John 13:2). He can, like a bird, pick up the good seed out of the heart (Luke 8:12); he can fill a man's heart so as to instigate falsehood (Acts 5:3); and he can dwell in a man's heart, like a strong man in a castle (Luke 11:1-54.). His action is, indeed, "with all deceivableness of unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:10), as if he were bent upon destroying the moral order of the universe.
3. Though Satan is the tempter of men, the sins of men are not the less their own sins. If the tempter were human, there would be no question about responsibility. They are called "the children of disobedience," because they refuse to obey God, and therefore "the wrath of God" is said to come upon them (Ephesians 5:6). These are they who are "carried away captive by the devil at his will" (1 Timothy 2:1-15 :26). Believers are therefore warned not "to give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:27); "to resist the devil" (James 4:7), as they are led to glorify that grace which originally translated them out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Colossians 1:13).
III. THE FLESH. The spiritually dead find an instigation to sin in "the lusts of the flesh," as well as in the suggestions of Satan and the temptations of the world. The flesh is a large term, which covers more than mere sins of the body, for it includes "hatred, variance, emulation, wrath, strifes, seditions, heresies," as well as "adultery, fornication, murder, drunkenness, and revellings" (Galatians 5:19, Galatians 5:20). There is a "spiritual wickedness" that cannot be traced to the body of man. The reason of the term being thus applied is probably, first, to distinguish it from the spirit; then because "the things of the flesh" are the supreme objects of desire to worldly men, or, as they are differently phrased, "earthly things" (Colossians 3:2); and, thirdly because it comes by birth: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6). Thus the lusts of the flesh have their outlet in the desires at once of the flesh and of the mind. They are described as "ungodly lusts" (Jud Ephesians 1:18), because they are based on a disregard for or on an enmity to God; "worldly lusts" (Titus 2:12), because, in the absence of God, they "run out to all things in the world;" "foolish and hurtful lusts" (1 Timothy 6:9), because they end in shame, disappointment, and ruin; "deceitful lusts" (Ephesians 4:22), because they fail to answer all a sinner's expectations. Therefore we see the glory and fitness of the gospel, which leads us "to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). The Apostle Paul suggests the danger of the flesh in setting forth the grand principle of his life—"The life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God." All life is in this world exposed to risk of some sort. Spiritual life exists in a body with passions prone to evil, as well as in a world with many seductions and cares. Christians must strike the true mean between the sensualism which dishonors the body, and the asceticism which, regarding it as an enemy, denies it those innocent enjoyments which Scripture and nature equally sanction. It is not the body of flesh, but the body of sin in the flesh, that is the real trouble of the Christian. We must learn, by God's grace, to honor the body as the temple of the Holy Ghost; to make it the servant, not the master, of the soul; to dedicate it as a vessel unto honor sanctified and "meet for the Master's use."—T.C.
The true fountain of spiritual death.
"And were by nature children of wrath, even as others." The apostle traces the pedigree of all the elements that enter into this spiritual death up to our birth itself. He does not say that it is on account of "nature" or natural depravity that we are children of wrath, but "by nature;" that is, we are simply born in a state of condemnation. There is no express reference here to Adam or to our relation to his sin, though it is certainly implied that we had our probation in Adam, and are therefore born in a state of condemnation. To say that we are condemned on account of our hereditary depravity is to say that we are condemned without a probation. The doctrine of original sin is one of the" deep things of God." Pascal well says, "Original sin is folly in the sight of man, but this folly is wiser than all the wisdom of man. For without it who could have said what man is? His whole condition depends upon this imperceptible point." The recognition of the doctrine is the starting-point of the doctrines of special revelation, of redemption through Christ's blood, of regeneration through the Holy Spirit. This passage implies—
I. THAT WE NEED REDEMPTION FROM THE MOMENT OF OUR BIRTH The sacrament of baptism is meaningless on any other theory. "The wicked are estranged from the womb." Why do all men certainly sin from the beginning?
II. THAT ALL MEN, JEWS AND GENTILES, ARE BORN IN THIS STATE OF CONDEMNATION. Because "all in Adam die" (1 Corinthians 15:22).
III. THAT GOD'S WRATH IS A REALITY. It is grounded in his essential holiness, as appears from the fact that God swears in his wrath (Hebrews 3:11), and it belongs to the idea of the personal God as he acts in history, who cannot look with equal indifference or equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, piety and impiety, wisdom and folly. It is not to be regarded as a mere modification of Divine love, as either love-sorrow or the anger of love. It is not Biblical to say that a God who has wrath is not a God of love. The objective reality of Divine wrath on account of sin is an axiom of natural theology (Romans 1:32) as well as of revealed; it is presupposed in the atonement, and must be carried into any conception we may form of future retribution.—T.C.
The true origin of salvation.
It is interesting to observe the variety of terms here employed to describe the source of all the blessings of salvation. It is no longer a question of power, as it was in the first chapter (Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20), but of love, mercy, grace, and kindness.
I. OUR SALVATION IS OF GOD'S MERCY. "God who is rich in mercy." There is a distinction between mercy and love, for love is the foundation of mercy. God is called the "Father of mercies" (2 Corinthians 1:3); mercy is his delight, for "he delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18); he betrotheth us to himself in mercies (Hosea 2:19); he begets us again "according to his abundant mercy" (1 Peter 1:3); and we are led to pray, "Lord, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions" (Psalms 51:1). Believers are therefore well described as "vessels of mercy" (Romans 9:23).
II. OUR SALVATION IS OF LOVE. "According to the great love wherewith he hath loved us." The apostolic saying, "God is love," supplies us with the best Christian idea of God, as welt as with the right key to explain all his actions. God's love is more than kindness, which is, indeed, one of his attributes, but love is, properly speaking, the nature of him who unites all these attributes in himself. The incarnation of the only begotten Son is the greatest fact of the Divine love, but is not disjoined from the deep humiliation and suffering to which it enabled him to descend. The love of God to sinners is
III. OUR SALVATION IS OF GRACE. "By grace ye are saved."
1. It is not of works, but of grace (Ephesians 2:8). It is "of faith, that it might be of grace" (Romans 4:16).
2. We are accepted by grace (Ephesians 1:6); our calling is by grace (2 Timothy 1:9).
3. We have a good hope through grace.
4. Our election is of grace (Romans 11:5).
5. The grace of God abounds in faith and love (1 Timothy 1:14).
6. We are under a reign of grace (Romans 6:14); we have our standing in grace (Romans 5:2).
7. It is the greatest of all concerns to establish men's hearts in "the true grace of God" (1 Peter 5:12).
IV. OUR SALVATION IS OF GOD'S KINDNESS. (Ephesians 2:7.) "The word here," says an old writer, "implies all sweetness, and all candidness, and all friendliness, and all heartiness, and all goodness, and goodness of nature." Scripture speaks of God as kind (Psalms 36:5; Luke 6:35), and of his "loving-kindnesses" (Isaiah 64:7). It is made the root of mercy in God (Titus 3:4); for the apostle here speaks of his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Thus our salvation, first and last, is attributed to nothing in ourselves, but to love, mercy, grace, and kindness in God.—T.C.
The believer's union with Christ.
The apostle teaches that, in virtue of the union between Christ and his people, his death was their death, his life their life, his exaltation their exaltation. It is the familiar doctrine of Romans 6:4, "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." These words indicate a bond of connection between the spiritual life of the believer and the resurrection of Christ. The new life is, in fact, a participation in the risen life of the Savior.
I. QUICKENED TOGETHER WITH CHRIST.
1. Consider the nature of this quickening. It implies a previous identification with Christ in his death. "We are buried with Christ by baptism into death." We have, in fact, died unto sin exactly as Christ died unto sin; for "in that he died, he died unto sin once" (Romans 6:10). Christ died unto sin when he underwent death as the wages of sin and exhausted all the woe that sin entails as its punishment. He died for sin that he might become dead to sin; the parties having become dead to each other, taking their own path henceforth, never to meet or cross each other unto eternity again. And we are dead unto sin in precisely the same sense in which Christ is dead unto sin; for the apostle says, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin," because we are exempted from all its curse on the ground of its curse being already executed. How can this be, as we never suffered the curse of sin? Because we have been baptized into Christ. Mere water-baptism cannot accomplish this blessed result. It is the Holy Spirit who is the Baptist, for he engrafts us into Christ and makes us one body with him (1 Corinthians 12:12, 1 Corinthians 12:13). We are united to Christ by faith.
2. Consider the effects of this quickening. This new position involves our seeing what the dead can never see. When we are quickened by the Spirit of God:
II. RAISED TOGETHER WITH CHRIST. For as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life. The connection between the believer's life and the Redeemer's resurrection is one not merely of certainty and similarity, but of participation, and thus we come to know the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10). There was a change in Christ's own relation to God established by his resurrection; "for in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God"—in an entirely new relation to God, which shall endure forever, for when he shall appear the second time, it will be without sin unto salvation. Formerly he was condemned, now is he justified in the Spirit; he liveth now to God with no curse to bear, no sacrifice to offer, no suffering to endure, no service to achieve; and therefore the God of peace, in token of the acceptance of the Surety, brings again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant. So likewise we are to count ourselves "alive unto God through Jesus Christ," in that same relation of irreversible acceptance into which Jesus has entered. The apostle here not only represents believers as ideally raised in Christ, but as actually raised just as Christ actually came forth from his sepulcher, leaving his grave-clothes behind him. Similarly we are not to be as "the living among the dead;" we are to cast from us our grave-clothes, which only impede the free movements of our spiritual life.
III. THE SESSION WITH CHRIST IN THE HEAVENLY PLACES. We are enthroned with Christ. Christ is already represented as "set at God's own right hand in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:20). We sit there representatively, because our Head is there, and therefore we are, though still on earth as to our practical calling and life, citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are guided by the laws of heaven; our hearts are cheered by the hope which, as an anchor, is fastened within the veil, and we now by faith enter the holiest of all by the blood of Jesus. We are even now" kings and priests"( Revelation 1:6). We are justified in regarding our future glorification as only a continuation of our present spiritual life. The guarantee of both is alike in Christ. Meanwhile, though representatively in heaven, we are personally and actually here. Sin is here; we are to watch and fight against it; but "our life is hid with Christ in God," only hereafter to be manifested in full glory.—T.C.
The design of the dispensation of mercy.
The salvation of these Ephesians was to stand out as a remarkable monument of "the exceeding riches of God's grace ' to all succeeding generations. It was in this sense that the apostle regarded himself "as a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting" (1 Timothy 1:16).
I. IT WAS TO ENCOURAGE THE GREATEST SINNERS TO HOPE IN GOD'S MERCY THROUGH CHRIST. Sinners often, when pressed with the urgent calls of the gospel plead that they are too wicked to be reached by it. The examples of salvation in the Scriptures—those of the Ephesians, the dying thief, Lydia, the Philippian jailor, the Apostle Paul himself—are all designed to meet the difficulties that men interpose in the way of their receiving Christ, as if any worthiness could attach to the persons thus described. It is a great comfort that what God did then he does now and will do till the end of the world. His mercy and grace are not exhausted.
II. IT IS IMPLIED THAT SALVATION IS NOT OF WORKS, BUT BY GRACE. This fact cuts up by the roots all theological systems which imply that man has any power to save himself.
III. IT IS IMPLIED THAT THERE WILL BE A CHURCH ON EARTH THROUGH "ALL THE AGES TO COME," in spite of all the malignity, the ungodliness, the unbelief of men.
IV. IT IS IMPLIED THAT THE SCRIPTURES ARE TO CONVEY THE RECORDS OF GOD'S GRACE DOWN TO THE LATEST GENERATIONS. We could not know of God's gracious work at Ephesus but by the Scriptures. How much we ought to prize such records!
V. THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH SINCE THE DAYS OF THE APOSTLES proves how God has fulfilled the design involved in the dispensation of mercy. The stream of grace has flowed more or less freely and fully in every age.
VI. MARK THE TRUE SUBJECT OF PREACHING. Not mere moral counsels, not mere philosophizings, but "the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Jesus Christ." A noble text for the pulpit of all ages!
VII. THE ULTIMATE DESIGN OF GOD IS TO MANIFEST HIS OWN GLORY. Not the mere glory of his power and wisdom, but of his abounding grace and mercy.
VIII. IT IS IMPLIED IN THE TEXT THAT THE APOSTLE DID NOT EXPECT, AS SOME AFFIRM, THAT THE END OF THE WORLD WAS AT HAND. There were ages to come in which the exceeding riches of his grace could he shown forth in the salvation of sinners.—T.C.
Salvation in its completeness: the place of faith and works.
One thought runs through these two verses like a thread of gold. We are not saved by works, but unto works.
I. THE PRIVILEGE OF BELIEVERS. "Ye are saved."
1. It is implied that the salvation is a present reality. It is not, "Ye shall be saved." They were already in an actual state of salvation; they had passed from death unto life; and the life was everlasting.
2. The salvation was more than a deliverance from the guilt of sin, so as to exempt sinners from future punishment. This is, indeed, the first step in salvation. There must be likewise a deliverance from the power of sin. To be saved from sin is the climax, the consummation, the essence of salvation. Holiness is the most essential thing in salvation. Therefore, while believers may rejoice that they have received pardon through the blood of Christ, let them still more rejoice that Jesus "saves them from their sins" by a continuous supply of his living grace.
II. POWER FOR GOOD WORKS IS INCLUDED IN SALVATION. "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." We are saved because we are thus created. This was the Divine purpose in the mission of the Son; God sent Christ to bless us "by turning every one of us away from our iniquities" (Acts 3:26). We have learnt to believe that our works have nothing to do with our pardon—our evil works have not hindered it, our good works have not helped it; our pardon is of pure grace. But the apostle teaches, in the tenth verse, that what is true of pardon through the death of Christ is equally true of power by his life—that if we are delivered from the punishment of sin by the atoning death of Christ, we are also delivered from the power of sin by the loving grace that streams from the fountain of the cross. Salvation, if it be salvation at all, is "unto good works;" good works not being the root on which salvation grows, but the fruit which grows upon the tree of life.
III. HOW IS THIS FULL SALVATION TO BE OBTAINED? "By grace are ye saved, through faith." You are "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works."
1. Grace is the fountain at once of pardon and of holiness. The purpose of God is of grace, for "he hath saved us according to his own purpose and grace" (2 Timothy 1:9); the atonement is of grace, for "ye know the grace of .. Christ, that, though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor" (2 Corinthians 8:9); the application of it is of grace, for it is "grace that bringeth salvation" (Titus 2:11); and it is according to this grace "we are called with an holy calling" (2 Timothy 1:9). Now, we have learned to say of pardon that it is "not of works;" equally true is it of our purification that it is not of works—that is, not of our working—for we are "his workmanship, created… unto good works." The old man cannot work. The new man receives the power in the very structure of his spiritual being; for, having died with Christ, he is risen with him that he should walk in newness of life.
2. Faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation. "By grace are ye saved, through faith;" and thus the gospel becomes "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." Power as well as pardon flows forth from Christ to every one that believeth. We are not to suppose, however, that salvation is given as a kind of reward of faith, for, in a true sense, faith is part of the salvation itself. But the apostle uniformly represents faith as that which apprehends the salvation. It is in no sense the ground of salvation; "the righteousness of God which is by faith of Christ Jesus" is the only ground of it, and it is therefore called "the gift of righteousness" Romans 5:17); but faith is the hand by which it is received. There is thus no merit in faith any more than there is in the hand of the beggar who receives an alms.
3. Good works are the predestined way along which the saved walk. "Which God hath before prepared that we should walk in them." This might be true in a double sense: either that, by the revelation of the moral law, he has fixed the firm and unalterable pathway of the believer's obedience—prepared, as it were, the sphere of our moral action; or that, by creating us in Christ Jesus, he has preordained our disposition and aptitude for this obedience. It is evident from the apostle's doctrine that
But they are necessary, notwithstanding, on the following grounds:—
The uses of remembrance.
"Wherefore remember." The present is built upon the past, and the memory of the past has much to do with the joys and sorrows of the present, as well as with the hopes and achievements of the future. It is well for believers to remember what they have been in view of their present mercies. Remembrance may thus become a means of grace.
I. IT TENDS TO DEEPEN THE HUMILITY OF SAINTS AS WELL AS TO INCREASE THEIR GODLY SORROW FOR SIN.
II. IT TENDS TO MAKE US GRATEFUL FOR OUR MERCIES AND TO MAKE US MAGNIFY THE GREATNESS AND FREENESS OF DIVINE LOVE. Where sin did much abound, we have found that grace did much more abound.
III. IT TENDS TO INSPIRE US WITH A STRONGER LOVE FOR CHRIST, WHO HAS PLACED US SO HIGH IN HEAVENLY PLACES. The woman in the gospel loved much when she remembered how much was forgiven her. "The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant in faith and love" (1 Timothy 1:14) to the Apostle Paul in the remembrance of his old blasphemies and injuries to the gospel.
IV. IT TENDS TO QUICKEN US TO GREATER ZEAL AND ACTIVITY IN THE LORD'S SERVICE. We think sadly of our lost time in the service of sin, and are led now to work with increased energy for the cause of our Redeemer.
V. IT TENDS TO MAKE US MORE HOPEFUL OF THE CONVERSION OF OTHERS WHO ARE NOW WHAT WE ONCE WERE AS SINNERS. Yet this remembrance of our past condition is not to be a rueful, self-accusing thing that will kill hope and heart, but rather that which leads onward to a higher joy and a more complete consecration to the Lord's work.—T.C.
The religious position of the heathen.
The apostle does not speak of the distinguished place of the heathen as to art and science, culture, and worldly civilization in which they far surpassed Israel—but he describes the utter destitution of their religious life by contrast mainly with the privileged superiority of Judaism. The points of contrast are six in number.
I. THEY WERE UNCIRCUMCISED—were "Gentiles in the flesh." Circumcision, according to the apostle, might mean very little or very much. It might mean very much, in so far as it was a "seal of the righteousness of faith" (Romans 4:11) and was a spiritual thing—"the circumcision of the heart" (Romans 2:29), involving "the worship of God in the Spirit, rejoicing in Christ Jesus, and having no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3). But it might mean "the circumcision in the letter," after the habit of those Jews who ascribed objective power to the mere external rite, regarding it as a channel of grace, irrespective of the subjective condition of the recipient. It was only in the spiritual sense of the rite that the Gentiles were disadvantaged by their want of it, not only because it meant the obligation of withdrawing all the relations of life from the dominion of nature, but because it implied a covenant union with God, involving the blessings of redemption itself.
II. THEY WERE WITHOUT CHRIST. The Jews were not without him; for "salvation was of the Jews;" Abraham, the first Jew, saw the day of Christ afar off, "and was glad' (John 8:56); the Jews drank, in the wilderness, of the "Rock which was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:4). But the Gentiles were without him, because
Without pardon, life, grace, hope, and comfort. How dark and cheerless was heathenism even under its reign of culture! It had no experience of the threefold blessing of the gospel—"Christ for us, Christ in us, Christ with us"—the grand totality of Christianity.
III. THEY WERE ALIENS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL. They were so civilly as well as spiritually, for the Jews had no dealings with Gentiles.
1. The word "aliens" points in the original to a lapse from a former unity or fellowship. Universalism characterized the first dispensation of the race of man: deliverance was to come through the Seed of the woman; but when the race took a direction contrary to the will of God and fundamentally wrong, the circle was narrowed into particularism, which in its turn tended toward a universalistic goal, for all nations of the earth are to be blessed in Abraham's seed. Jew and Gentile thus stood apart for ages, till, "in the fullness of times," they met at last round the cross of Christ in an act of supreme rebellion, only to be united in Christ forever in the future development of the kingdom of God.
2. Their estrangement from the Israelitish commonwealth was an immense spiritual loss; for to it belonged the oracles of God (Romans 3:2), and "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises" (Romans 9:4). It was a privilege to belong to a people expecting nothing from their own power or wisdom, but everything from the interposition of their God. It is a great blessing to be born within the pale of the visible Church, so as to partake of her privileges. The Gentiles were outside the whole apparatus of religious instruction provided for the special guidance of the Jews.
IV. THEY WERE STRANGERS TO THE COVENANTS OF PROMISE.
1. The plural reference is to the successive renewals of the covenant with the patriarchs. It was but the one covenant of promise—"the promise made to the fathers" which God fulfilled in "raising up Jesus" (Acts 13:32). The word "covenant" occurs two hundred and thirty-six times in our English Bible, and in more than two hundred instances it is a Divine covenant. The covenant with Abraham was the Magna Charta of Israel; the covenant with David rests upon this earlier covenant, marking out mere clearly the line in which the Divine purpose of blessing would be fulfilled to Jews and eventually to all nations. The new covenant of the New Testament, which has in Christ a Mediator greater than Moses and is "established upon better promises," is no other than the ancient covenant made with Abraham (Galatians 3:14).
2. Thus we can see how the Gentiles were strangers to the covenant in all its historic developments. They had no national covenant with God, and no land of promise in the present world. As Gentiles, the covenant had never been revealed to them, and, except so far as they may have been included in the Israelitish commonwealth, it could bring them no blessing.
V. THEY WERE WITHOUT HOPE. They had no covenanted hope—no hope of the Messiah and of salvation by him, of a future state of eternal life. "Such as are Christless must be hopeless; such as are without faith must needs be without hope; and such as are without the promise must necessarily be without faith; for the promise is the ground of faith, and faith is the ground of hope." It is a miserable state to be without hope. "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." The future to the heathen was a night without a star. In the Roman catacombs hope is the commonest inscription. There is no such word on the tombs of the heathen dead.
VI. THEY WERE WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD. This marks the climax of their misery. They were without God, though they were not atheists, for they had a thousand gods that were no gods. And they were not bold deniers of God, for many of them were "feeling after the Lord." But
They were without God "in the world"—in contrast with the position of the Jews entrenched within their commonwealth privileges—and were thus homeless and forsaken in that world which had Satan for its prince. This is the picture of the heathen world given by the apostle—without Christ, without Church, without covenant, without hope, without God. At the period to which he refers, religion had outlived itself, unbelief mocked at the superstitions of the vulgar, and skepticism gradually became the sole wisdom of the cultured classes. Along with the power of truth the power of morality was irrecoverably lost; and yet there was a deep yearning at the heart of paganism for the God unknown whom it was the high destiny of Christianity to make known to the Gentiles. They were without God, yet were not outcast from his favor, for those Ephesian Gentiles were in due time called by his grace.—T.C.
Nearness to God in the blood of Christ.
This chapter speaks of a double alienation and of a double reconciliation: on the one hand, a deep alienation of mankind from God, dating from birth, subsisting along with a moral separation between Jews and Gentiles; on the other hand, it points to the historic fact of Christ's atone-merit as the divinely instituted method by which both alienations were to be extinguished, and man united to God and to man in a higher unity, so that the two separated elements should henceforth become one new man, one city of God, one temple or habitation of God.
I. THE GENTILES REMOTE FROM GOD. "You that were afar off." They were in a geographical sense far off from Palestine, the center of the true religion. This land was, with a truly providential design, selected as the home of God's chosen people, because it held a central place between Europe, Asia, and Africa. But the nations were still more apart from Palestine, so as to have no share in its theocratic life. In this case, the expression "far from God," or "far off," was a phrase in common use to designate the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:1; Acts 2:39). But there was a moral distance—an alienation of the Gentile heart from God—which was more serious than any geographical remoteness from the seat of theocratic institutions. It is both the sinfulness and the misery of sin that men are at a distance from God. Unbelief is a "departure from the living God." The Gentiles were far from Christ, from the Church, from the covenant, from hope, from God. There is no divider like sin.
II. THE GENTILES MADE NIGH IN THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. Just as Israel at Sinai was by the sprinkling of blood made to be the people of God, brought near to him, kept year by year in covenant, so the blood of Christ was the element or sphere in which the new covenant took its shape with its all-inclusive relations both to Jew and to Gentile. It was the blood that obliterated the interval between the Gentiles and God. They have now communion with God, and are established in their nearness to him. It is not merely in Christ Jesus, but in the blood of Christ, that our nearness is established. It was not the incarnation but the death of the Son of God—the designed complement and issue of the incarnation—that has secured our privilege of access to God. It often happens in the history of grace that these very far from God in character and hope are made nigh by the blood of the cross. There is a marvelous power in the blood of the lifted-up Redeemer: "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:1-50 :82), irrespective of national distinctions.—T.C.
Christ our Peace.
He is so by effecting two reconciliations, and thus obliterating two deep and long-standing alienations. He "hath made both one" Jew and Gentile—and "he hath reconciled both unto God in one body by the cross." Christ is our Peace, not simply as our Peacemaker, but as our Peace objectively considered and with regard to our relation to God; for the apostle represents our nearness to God as grounded in Christ as our Peace. He is therefore our Peace, as he is called our Righteousness and our Redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30), and while thus he is our Peace toward God, he is the ground of peace in every other relation, and especially between man and man. Thus he abides our continual Peace, for he did not make peace and end his relation toward us, but is the Source of our abiding reconciliation with God as well as of the continuous enjoyment of peace. Thus the Old Testament prophecies which connect peace with the Messiah find their just fulfillment (Isaiah 9:5, Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 57:2, Isaiah 57:7). Peace was the legacy which he left to his disciples (John 14:27). It is "the peace to which we are called in one body" (Colossians 3:15). It is that which "keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). Consider—
I. HOW HE HAS MADE PEACE BETWEEN JEW AND GENTILE.
1. He did so by leveling in the dust the middle wall of partition that separated them widely for ages, in a word, by abolishing the narrow particularism of Judaism. The wall in question was the ceremonial law—"the law of commandments contained in ordinances"—given to Israel as a separate people and of positive appointment. The moral law was no part of the partition wail, and contains in itself nothing either to excite enmity or to establish separation between man and man. The death of Christ did not abolish it; it was the law of ceremonies only that was abolished in the cross, for when he died, it disappeared like a shadow when the substance was come. The moral law, as embodied in the Decalogue, was older than the Mosaic institute, and therefore survived its fall. The partition wall that kept Jew and Gentile apart was
2. Consider the grand instrument of reconciliation between Jew and Gentile. "In his flesh." The language refers expressly to the condition of penal curse-bearing to which the atoning Savior spontaneously subjected himself. As the apostle once represents sin as being condemned in Christ's flesh (Romans 8:3), so here our Lord is regarded as having in his flesh taken upon him the sins of his people, as the great cause of enmity and disunion, and having exhausted at once the sin of man and the wrath of God on the cross, he thus at once abolished the law of ceremonies and annihilated the enmity which found its occasion in it. The cross is still the instrument of reconciling man to man. The world has made many efforts to unite men on a basis of liberty, equality, fraternity—often trying to bring about a union even by the most terrible bloodshed; but no principle has yet been discovered to unite man to man save the gospel of Christ, with its doctrine of atonement through the blood of the cross.
3. Consider the ultimate result of the death of Christ. "To make of twain one new man, so making peace." Those previously sundered were by the cross lifted into a higher unity, and placed upon a platform of equal privilege that obliterated all the old causes of division. The reconciling power of the cross ran through all the relations of men and all the relations of life. The person of Christ crucified became henceforth the great Center of unity.
II. HOW CHRIST IS OUR PEACE IN EFFECTING RECONCILIATION BETWEEN GOD AND MAN. "That he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." Nothing can be more explicit than the declaration that Christ's mission was intended to reconcile God and man, who were previously alienated by sin. It is often contended that, as God is essentially a God of love, it becomes us to think only of reconciliation on man's Side. There are, in fact, two reconciliations, the one based on the other—a reconciliation of God to man, and a reconciliation of man to God. The apostle says elsewhere that "God has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:18), and that it pleased "the Father, having made peace through the blood of the cross, to reconcile all things unto himself" (Colossians 1:20). The scheme of salvation, whether we take account of the incarnation or the atonement, emanated from the Divine good pleasure as the supreme source of all blessings. It is always important to emphasize the fact that the atonement is the effect, not the cause, of God's love. The peace here spoken of is peace on a basis of law and justice; for the offering up of Christ so magnified the Law and exhausted all its demands, that, on the ground of that propitiation, God could be at once just and the Justifier of the ungodly. This is according to another passage: "God hath sent forth his Son to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness" (Romans 3:25). If this be so, it is an error to hold that the only purpose of Christ's death was the manifestation of Divine love. It was, in fact, a manifestation of Divine justice as well as of Divine love; and if it was not a manifestation of Divine justice, that is, if there was no righteousness making that death necessary, it is difficult to see how there could be a manifestation of love in his dying. It follows also that it is an error to depreciate the importance of Christ's death, and to lay the main emphasis of his mission upon the virtues of his life. The Bible knows nothing of a gospel without a cross, or of a gospel which makes the cross a mere affecting incident at the close of a sublime career; it rather exhibits the cross as the grand procuring cause of life and redemption to man. If you take away the cross, you dry up the stream of blessing which has flowed down through all Christian ages, you put an end to the abiding peace of God's people, and you paralyze the right arm of the ministry. Therefore we are justified in regarding the reconciliation between God and. man as resting on Christ's work, and this work as charged with reconciling power, not as it moved the human heart or led to a new conduct in man, but as it introduced a new relation in which men were placed before God.—T.C.
The proclamation of peace.
I. HE WHO IS OUR PEACE IS THE PUBLISHER OF PEACE. "And came and preached peace." He came as the Prince of peace, spoke of peace before his death as his parting legacy to the Church, and after his ascension to heaven sent forth his ambassadors with the gospel of peace to say, "We pray you in Christ's stead be ye reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). What Christ does by the apostles he does by himself.
II. THE BURDEN OF THE GOSPEL—PEACE. The first word of the angelic annunciation was, "Peace on earth."
1. It is peace through the blood of Christ, which thus "speaketh better things than that of Abel."
2. It is peace through the righteousness of Christ: "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
3. It is the staple of the gospel, which is a gospel of peace proclaimed by ministers who are the publishers of peace.
4. It introduces sinners into the covenant of peace, which cannot be removed.
5. It has peace for its fruits, for believers have "joy and peace in believing;" "Great peace, have they that love thy Law;" "To be spiritually minded is life and peace;" "They that trust in the Lord are kept in perfect peace;" "They dwell in peaceable habitations, in quiet resting-places."
III. THE PERSONS TO WHOM PEACE IS PREACHED. "To you that are afar off and to them that are nigh." There was peace for both Jew and Gentile. It was peace for the world. There is no restriction upon the message of peace. "The Lord shall bless his people with peace" (Psalms 29:11). "Great shall be the peace of thy children." The proof that the peace has this wide and blessed efficacy is our free access to the Father by Jesus Christ.—T.C.
Our access to the Father.
"For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." If the enmity had not been slain there could not have been access to the Divine presence. Both Jews and Gentiles enjoy this access on a footing of grace and mercy to the throne of God.
I. THE APPROACH IS TO THE FATHER. It is not to a stern Judge or a God wielding terrible power against us, but to a gracious Father, we have access in virtue of Christ's atoning work. It is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is represented in this Epistle as having blessed us with all spiritual blessings; it is the Father who has made known to us his purpose to reconcile all things to himself in Christ; it is the Father who has made peace through the blood of the cross. We must ever seek the true origin of our salvation, not in the suffering of the cross, but in the bosom of the eternal Father.
II. OUR ACCESS TO HIM IS THROUGH CHRIST.
1. We are brought near to God through his blood (Ephesians 2:13).
2. Through his intercession.
Jesus, as Mediator; Advocate, Forerunner, takes us, as it were, by the hand, and presents us to God. This is the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which introduces the era of the better hope, under which we draw nigh to God with true heart, in full assurance of faith, because we have such an High Priest over the house of God. But our Savior is more than High Priest; he is Forerunner; he is not merely Representative of believers, as the high priest of Judaism was representative of the theocratic people, but he is Forerunner, entered within the veil, whither his people can follow him to the very place which he has gone before to prepare for them. There is no longer a restriction upon our access to God. It is a free access, an open access, an access that may well inspire confidence, because it is in Christ: "We have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him" (Ephesians 3:12).
III. THE ACCESS IS BY ONE SPIRIT.
1. It is by his influence we are first brought home to the Father. It is by him we are baptized into one body.
2. The indwelling of the Spirit is necessary to the perpetuation and power of "our fellowship with the Father and the Son."
3. It is the Spirit especially who helps our infirmities in prayer (Romans 8:26). Thus we see how the three Persons of the Trinity are concerned in our salvation.—T.C.
The Church a city.
The Gentiles were now no longer strangers, but fellow-citizens with the saints.
I. THE CITY MAY BE REGARDED EITHER AS THE CHURCH ON EARTH OR THE CHURCH IN HEAVEN. They are equally the city of God "which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." It is a city strongly fortified with the walls and bulwarks of salvation, and is surrounded by a river of love, which ministers to the wants of its citizens. There God dwells in the midst of them. It is a city possessing glorious franchises and ordered government. It is not limited, like the Jewish theocracy, to one nation; it is not bounded by the frontiers of any land; it is the kingdom which is not of this world, and destined ultimately to triumph over all other kingdoms.
II. THE GENTILES ARE NO LONGER STRANGERS IN IT, like those who have no home, no property, no privileges, no interests, in common with its inhabitants. They are now naturalized citizens of the Christian commonwealth, living on terms of perfect equality with all the other members, as to privilege, protection, and government. They are thus brought into relation, not with the Jews either of the present or the past, but with saints of all dispensations and all times; for the Church of God which Jesus "purchased with his own blood" does not date from the day of Pentecost, but covers the whole period of human history since the beginning of time. The abrogation of old theocratic distinctions leaves a new community in which "there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision."
III. THE HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP HAS IMPORTANT ETHICAL BEARINGS. Those whose "citizenship is in heaven" are not to "mind earthly things" (Philippians 3:20), but to think of the Savior who is to be revealed with transforming power in the final resurrection. The laws of heaven are to be our guide on earth. Our calling is, therefore, a "high calling."—T.C.
The Church a family.
The Gentiles were no longer mere inmates of the family without domestic rights, like the guests of the priests in ancient times (Le 22:10), but "members of the household of God."
I. THE CHURCH IS OFTEN LIKENED TO A FAMILY OR HOUSE, which is a much more intimate brotherhood than the city with all its precious franchises. The Church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth, is the house of God (t Timothy Ephesians 3:15); we are Christ's house (Hebrews 3:6), and it is at this house of God that judgment often begins in the dispensations of Divine providence (1 Peter 4:17). This is the house of which Moses was a servant (Hebrews 3:5); therefore it was in existence before Pentecost. This is the true "household of faith" (Galatians 6:5).
1. It has God for a Father. This relation is more tender than that of a civil ruler. And therefore we are more than fellow-citizens of the saints; we are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26).
2. Christ is the Firstborn and eider Brother, "a brother born for adversity," allied to us by the dearest ties of sacrifice and sympathy.
3. It is a large family, for it includes "the whole family in heaven and in earth" (Ephesians 3:15)—saints old and young, of all lands, of all times.
4. We enter this family, not by birth, but by adopting grace.
5. It is a separated family, its members divided by time and space, opinion and feeling; but all the members will be at last brought home to "the house of many mansions," the "holy place not made with hands," which our Savior has gone before to prepare.
II. THE GENTILES ARE NO LONGER SOJOURNERS, BUT MEMBERS OF THIS HOUSEHOLD OF GOD. They are not like guests, abiding for a time, but eventually going forth again. The blessing of Abraham "having come upon the Gentiles" (Galatians 3:14), they have been born again; they have become children of God by faith (Galatians 3:26); they have become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; they are "clothed with the beautiful garments of salvation;" they shall go no more out, for they have received an eternal inheritance.
III. THIS POSITION OF PRIVILEGE ought to make us jealous of our Father's honor, mindful of our Father's guidance, loving in all our relations to the members of the great household, and studiously careful to promote its harmony and prosperity.—T.C.
Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 2:22
The Church a holy temple.
It is elsewhere called" a spiritual house," composed of "living stones," built upon him who is a living Stone laid in Zion, elect, precious, though rejected of men (1 Peter 2:4, 1 Peter 2:5). Each believer is a living stone, dug out of the quarry of nature, hewn by the Word and ministry, laid in the foundation, and built into the heavenly structure. The Church is God's building, not man's. There are four things observable in the apostle's account of this blessed structure.
I. IT HAS A GOOD FOUNDATION. Built on the foundation of "apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Cornerstone." It is built on the foundation that apostles and prophets laid, namely, on Jesus Christ himself, who is at once Foundation and Cornerstone: "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 3:11). This was the Foundation which the apostle was always laying: "I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon" (1 Corinthians 3:10). But it was God himself who laid this stone in Zion: "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief Cornerstone, elect, precious" (1 Peter 2:6). The foundation is not, therefore, in man, but in God, not in Rome, but in heaven. Therefore it is an indestructible building. Jesus Christ is called "the chief Cornerstone,' which has its true supporting-place in the foundation, because it is the binding-stone of the building, holding two walls because it is built into both. Perhaps there is a reference to the union of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, who has made both one, and thus builds the whole number of believers into the glorious temple, and bears the weight of the whole structure.
II. IT IS FITLY FRAMED TOGETHER. It is not a mere heap or mass of heterogeneous materials.
1. The materials must be prepared for their place in the building so as to promote its unity and compactness. All the members of the Church must first be joined to Christ as the Foundation, and then cemented to one another by love. Thus their unity gives beauty as well as strength to the structure. "Happy, indeed, the stones that God chooses to be living stones in this spiritual temple; though they be hammered and hewed to be polished for it by afflictions and the inward work of mortification and repentance."
2. The members are to have each their proper place in the building. Thus only can it become a compact structure. Some have a higher, some a lower place; some are appointed to teach, others to be taught; some to lead, others to be led; some to counsel, some to execute; but all the stones are to keep their due place, and thus grow up into a holy temple, "edifying itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16). The Lord requires stones of all sorts and sizes, the smallest as well as the largest, for his temple; and it ought to reconcile us to our respective positions, that it is the Lord's own hand which not only fits us into our place, but keeps us there.
III. IT IS IMPERFECT BUT STILL GROWING. "It groweth into an holy temple." It is growing by the accession of new stones, or by the addition of new members, and by the addition of new graces in the individual members. Provision is made for a vast increase in its size and height, but as it is fitly framed together in its growing dimensions, it will lose nothing in symmetry and strength by its continuous elevation.
IV. THE END OR DESIGN OF THE BUILDING. "For a habitation of God." When we build houses, it is that men may dwell in them. Thus the Church is the temple of God. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). "I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (2 Corinthians 6:16). Thus "we will be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19). Thus we have the true temple of the Father, built in the Son, inhabited in the Spirit, the offices of the three blessed Persons being distinctly pointed out: God the Father in all his fullness dwells in, fills the Church; that Church is constituted to him a holy temple in the Son; is inhabited by him in the ever-present indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
1. Think of the safety and glory of the church. Christ is its Foundation. All the stones are knit to the Cornerstone. It is well proportioned, because the Holy Spirit is the Architect; it is vast in its proportions, for it is spread over the earth; and it is inviolable, for it is devoted to the Lord.
2. Think of God dwelling in the Church. The Christian is an epitome of the Church. He is himself a temple of the Holy Ghost.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The resurrection and ascension of the soul.
Paul's prayer for the Ephesians was, as we have seen, that they might appreciate the mighty power of God to us-ward who believe. This power was first manifested in the person and experience of Christ in raising him from the dead, in exalting him to the Father's right hand, in putting all things under his feet, and in constituting him Head of his Church. We are now to notice a parallel experience of power in the case of the believer.
I. CONSIDER THE RESURRECTION OF THE SOUL. (Verses 1-5.) In these verses the apostle represents our souls as by nature dead like Christ's body in the tomb. They are not sick through sin, but dead. And the death of the soul is manifested in the corruption of the nature, so that we live as the world lives, according to the devil's desires, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and becoming most deservedly the "children of wrath" like others. All this corruption of the nature is the manifestation of the death in sin. But the Spirit, who raised up Christ's body from the tomb, comes to quicken our dead souls. We are quickened together with Christ. The Father in his wondrous love works this miracle within us, so that we are raised out of death into a new life. Now, just as Jesus entered by resurrection into a new because immortal life, so we by resurrection enter into a new and immortal existence. We feel assured that we cannot die, since we have been raised into the new life with Christ. This idea of the death of the soul is found in the ancient and in the modern classics. In such authors as Plutarch, Cicero, Heraclitus, and Persius, as well as in such a modern as the poet Gautier, it may be found; but in them it is an utterance of despair. It is only Paul who can take it and show how the death can be terminated in the victory of resurrection.
II. CONSIDER THE ASCENSION OF THE SOUL. (Verse 6.) Not only is the soul raised together with Christ, but it is "made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." In other words, we are made to have an ascension experience as well as a resurrection experience. Now, when Christ ascended far above all principality and power, he must have entered a joyful experience such as this world could never afford. He would never have enjoyed such a delight had he lingered in a limited world like this. In the same way the risen soul is enabled to ascend into a seraphic experience, a joy in the Lord such as was never dreamed of. It is to be feared that many have experienced the spiritual resurrection who have not gone on to the experience of the ascension; in other words, they are living lives comparatively joyless. They do not live as if they were already within the golden gates and rejoicing always in the Lord. But the thing is not only possible, it is pre-eminently desirable. The world would be vastly the better of souls that had realized the ascension.
III. CONSIDER THE BELIEVER'S CONSEQUENT REIGN. (Verse 6.) For Jesus ascended that he might occupy a throne. And we ascend in spirit that we may be kings of men. It is Christ's purpose that we should be kings and priests unto God and his Father (Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:6). Now, joyful Christians cannot but influence others for good. They come to their kingdom, and others are glad to submit to their sway. They hold men by the heart and assert a proper sovereignty over others. The reign of Christ is carried out in some measure when we have learned lovingly to reign.
IV. THE PURPOSE OF SUCH SPIRITUAL GIFTS IS THAT THE EXCEEDING RICHES OF GOD'S GRACE MIGHT BE REVEALED. (Verse 7.) For if we had never died in sin, God's mighty power in raising us would never have been appreciated. If the creatures had never fallen, who would have known the wealth of God's love and power in lifting them up again? The physical universe can only illustrate a small part of the power and love of God. It requires the moral universe as a background to set off the brightness of his redeeming mercy. It is out of a sinful world the greatest examples of Divine power shall be forthcoming. God is rich in mercy; how rich only sinners can illustrate and with some fullness appreciate. Every risen, ascended, and reigning soul is intended to be a fresh example of the exceeding riches of God's grace.—R.M.E.
Salvation, its root and its fruit.
Paul now proceeds to put the gospel in a nutshell when he tells us that we are saved by grace, through faith, and unto good works. We have in these three terms the whole plan brought out. Let us look at them in their order.
I. GRACE IS THE ROOT OR CAUSE OF SALVATION. (Ephesians 2:8.) By "grace" is meant the free, undeserved favor of God. It is etymologically the same as "gratis" and "gratuitous;" it occurs in the business phrase, "three days of grace" given in connection with the payment of a bill; it signifies therefore a Divine manifestation to which man has no title. In other words, we do not deserve salvation. We can never deserve it. No works of ours could entitle us to it. Yet we are saved by grace, by the free and sovereign favor of the Lord. It is most important that we should have clear views of the cause of salvation. Its cause is the gracious love of God. Its cause is outside of us, and. we have no part or lot in causing salvation. It is entirely of grace.
II. FAITH IS THE HAND OF THE HEART WHICH RECEIVES SALVATION. (Ephesians 2:8.) God might conceivably save men without asking us to trust him. But would it be worth our while to get emancipated from deserved punishment to live on in perpetual suspicion? The fact is that to have any comfort in our relations with God, we must trust him. But there is no merit in trusting him. If we refuse him our trust we do him grievous wrong. This shows that trusting God is only giving him his due. Besides, the more we know ourselves the more we realize that faith just as well as salvation is his gift. Had not the Spirit come and transformed our suspicion into trust, we should not have ceased suspecting him. It is a blessed change, but the change is God's gift through the Spirit.
III. GOOD WORKS ARE THE FOREORDAINED FRUITS OF SALVATION. (Ephesians 2:10.) A free and gratuitous salvation is supposed by some to be a dangerous and immoral doctrine. But the consequences of salvation have been all provided for. God saves men that we may serve him. Good works constitute the outcome, the dividend, the fruit which God gets from the salvation. "We are his workmanship." Just as a mechanic constructs a machine that he may get a certain amount and kind of work out of it, so God- saves us that he may get a certain amount and kind of work out of us. Nor has he left it to any haphazard, He has foreordained the good works in which we ought to walk. He has planned our lives as believers. Bushnell wrote a famous sermon in which he tried to show that "every man's life is a plan of God." We modify the thought and recognize in every believer's life a plan of God. Every good work is down in God's design, it has its place, and it will exercise its influence. While, therefore, God will save no man for his good works, he saves every soul unto good works. They are the fruit, though they cannot be the root of salvation. Foreordination covers the effects of salvation as well as salvation itself. God's plan embraces the whole problem, and it is thoughtless to rob him of a single element in the glorious result.—R.M.E.
The spiritual temple.
In the apostle's prayer for the Ephesians the power of God to us-ward who believe was illustrated first in the experience of our risen and reigning Head, and secondly in the experience of us as risen and. reigning members of his mystical body. The unity of the members, however, has not been as fully brought out in the preceding verses as Paul desired, and so we have in the section now before us the subject amplified and completed mainly round the figure of a "spiritual temple." It is this main figure which we shall now keep before us. And—
I. CONSIDER THE RAW MATERIAL OUT OF WHICH THE SPIRITUAL TEMPLE IS TO BE BUILT. (Verses 11-17.) This is Gentiles and Jews, the Uncircumcision and the Circumcision, those far off from God and those that were nigh. The Gentiles were "without God" ( ἄθεοι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ), by which we are not to understand "atheists" in the sense of disbelieving the Divine existence, but simply "without God in the world," as men who cling to the world in its corporate capacity, wherein it ignores the Divine sovereignty and lives an alien citizenship. The Jews, on the other hand, were nominally citizens of the sacred commonwealth, and the covenants of promise were in their hands, and they had hope in consequence. Yet the raw material in both cases was rough and unsightly until the Lord undertook its preparation for the temple wall. Both were under sin, both had to be redeemed from evil, taken out of the quarry of nature and fitted by Divine grace for their place in the building.
II. THE FOUNDATION OF THE TEMPLE. (Verse 20.) The spiritual temple is here said to be built on the "foundation of the apostles and prophets." This, of course, signifies that it is upon the revelation God made through apostles and prophets that the edifice is erected. It is not upon speculations or dreams, but upon "the sure Word of prophecy," that the structure rests. Without the witnesses in the inspired Word, we should have no basis for spiritual unity and no foundation for edification. Hence our deep indebtedness to the sacred writers. We cannot do without "the Book;" we should only be building on the sand.
III. THE CORNERSTONES. (Verse 20.) The next consideration here is the cornerstones. Now, Christ is called here the "chief Cornerstone," that without which the two walls could not be bound into one. He lies at the foundation of the structure, the massive stone, so to speak, which unites the two great wails. Above him and. upon him are laid other but minor corner-stones; for every Christian soul who longs to promote unity among men is so far a corner-stone in the great building. Hence the minor honor of being elements of union is given unto Christ-like souls. But Jesus is the indispensable Cornerstone. And the apostle shows how Jesus is the bond of union between Jew and Gentile. Both as under sin needed an atoning Savior; but only one Savior and one blood were provided. The Savior of the Jews was the Savior of the Gentiles also. Thus both Jews and Gentiles were brought of necessity to the one Savior; the one sacrifice on Calvary atoned for both; the one blood blotted out the transgression of both; the one crucifixion reconciled both to God, and. peace produced between both and God secured at the same time peace with each other. Jew and Gentile are united and brought nigh to God by the one blessed Savior.
IV. THE UNITY OF THE TEMPLE. (Verses 18, 19.) The seemingly discordant elements are reduced to real harmony, and the unity of the whole is realized in the Spirit which pervades all hearts. For when the Gentiles and the Jews realize access unto the Father by one Spirit, then the alienation has passed away, and citizenship and. the family feeling have supervened. It thus appears that "Christian prayer is a witness of Christian citizenship." We squabble about differences until we are united at the throne. It is the united prayer which really is felt to unite believers. Alienation cannot survive union at the throne of the heavenly grace.
V. THE AUGUST GUEST WHO INHABITS THE TEMPLE. (Verses 21, 22.) Every temple is erected for some god as guest. It may only enshrine a phantom or an idol, which is nothing in the world, and yet the idea in temple-building always is the enshrining of a god. Now, this temple, whose stones are the souls of religious men, and whose unity is realized in religious exercises, is meant to be the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost. He does not dwell in temples made with hands, but he dwells in those temples which are made without hands. The personalities of saintly men become his glorious home, and he condescends to dwell within us richly and- to fill us with his fullness. It is the unifying power of his presence that moulds all into one. The temple grows from within, like every growth in nature. The guest determines the character of the temple. The Holy Ghost secures a holy temple. To this unity Paul desires the Ephesians to come.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
Association with Christ.
The concluding thought of the first chapter was the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. In order now to bring out how they were benefited thereby, he calls up to them their original condition. He shows them the pit out of which they have been dug, the rock out of which they have been hewn. In the first and second verses he has special reference to Gentile Christians, in the third verse he includes Jewish Christians in his description.
I. GENTILE CHRISTIANS.
1. They were dead. "And you did he quicken, when ye were dead." It is a comprehensive word for the evil of their condition. There is a natural condition for plants, which they lose in their decay. There is a natural condition for animals, which they lose in their death. So there is a natural condition for rational beings, which they lose in what we call spiritual death. And, as there is nothing higher in kind than spiritual life, so there is nothing more dreadful than spiritual death. It is not extinction, but it is a condition against nature, on the ground of an immortal existence. It is not loving God with our whole soul and strength and mind, but living at enmity with him; and how wearing out to contend with our Maker! It is not loving our neighbor as ourselves, but seeking our own selfish ends; and how narrowing is this to our souls!
2. Their deadness was caused by themselves. "Through your trespasses and sins." If there is any difference between these two words, it is that the former refers more to overt transgressions, while the latter is inclusive of evil thoughts that have only been entertained in the heart. When Adam and Eve overtly transgressed in eating of the fruit, death at once passed upon them in the loss of confidence in God, of unconsciousness, of ingenuousness, of devotedness to each other. And the act was not long in bearing bitter fruit in the hate, which led Cain to take a brother's life. Overt transgression makes matters worse, in the evil that is wrought on others in the entanglements to which it leads. At the same time, it is true that evil imaginations that never find expression in words or acts have a deadening effect on the soul. They may indicate daring rebellion against God; and, even though they are only vain thoughts that lodge in the mind, they are not there without the spreading of a baneful influence over the life.
3. They were only causes of deadness. "Wherein aforetime ye walked." In trespasses and sins they walked. Their life was one continual trespassing and sinning. Their fountain was constantly sending forth bitter water. Their tree only brought forth evil fruit. And how could it be otherwise, seeing that they were corrupted at the very center of their being? There were some of their acts that were better than others, but none that were thoroughly right in principle or motive. All their acts had a fatal defect, and many of them, as the first of Romans shows, had a positive vileness.
4. They stood related to this world. "According to the course of this world." This world is opposed to the world as it should be, or the kingdom of God among men. It is the world content with itself, and seeking to be independent of God. And as the kingdom of God has an age or ages for its holy development, so this world, it is implied here, has an age for its unholy development. For the word translated "course" is properly "age." In the mysterious providence of God evil has scope for its development. "The mystery of iniquity doth work." And when it is said here that they once walked according to the course of this world, the meaning is that their characters had not the normal form of the kingdom, but had one or other of those abnormal forms which belong to the world.
5. They stool related to the head of evil. "According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience." He is here called the prince of the power of the air. He is a prince with other evil spirits under him. Evil is divisive; his then must be a mighty, prince-like influence that he keeps them united under him for evil ends. He is dependent on God, a mere instrument in his hand, at his absolute disposal, as it is with every creature; but he is allowed, through his emissaries, to have great power upon earth. The singular epithet is applied to him here in allusion to his surrounding us with temptation as the atmosphere surrounds the earth. As the air borders on the earth, so there is a sphere bordering on our spirits, subtle, invisible like air, through which evil suggestions can readily be conveyed to us. Or it may be that the evil spirits have an affinity to air, which they do not have to grosser matter, so that it is their haunt within this region. There is here what we cannot understand; but we can understand this—temptation being skillfully presented to our minds, against which we must invoke the skill of another, else we are taken in the tempter's meshes. He is further called the prince of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience. It is not usual to connect a spirit, or principle, with its prince. But he is undoubtedly the principal representative of the spirit of disobedience. In him disobedience takes its most virulent form. The object on which he is bent is to spite God, to thwart his holy ends. This is the spirit which he as its original source breathes into his subordinates, and which they in turn under his direction seek to breathe into men. And those in whom it finds a sphere of operation are called the children of disobedience. They stand related to the evil principle as its unclean progeny. It was from heathendom that the description here was taken. It was very much man left to himself. It was the truest representation of what "this world" is. It was Satan having his own way. It was rampant disobedience. For though the heathen world was under the Divine providence, yet it was without special helps, without special checks. Depraved human nature was allowed to bring out its own ignorance of God, its own profanity, its own licentiousness. It was from that heathen world that these Gentile Christians had been taken. There they could see what they once had been. But, lest the Jewish Christians might think that it had been better with them, he proceeds to bring them under the same description in respect of their original condition.
II. JEWISH CHRISTIANS ALSO. (Verse 3.) "Among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." Especially are they classed with Gentile Christians, as having originally been children of disobedience. Among whom we also all once lived. Their disobedience appeared in their living in the lusts of the flesh. Those lusts that had their root in the flesh, or unrenewed nature, they ought to have brought into subjection to reason or the will of God; but, instead of that, they lived in them. This is further described as "doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind." Evil wishes spring from the flesh; but in order to be gratified they require the consent of the mind, and so they become desires, not only of the flesh, but of the mind. And were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest. "By nature" is a qualifying clause. The Jews could not be spoken of in the same terms as the Gentiles without qualification. For they were different in having a covenant position, in having Divine helps vouchsafed to them, in being placed under special training. And though they did testify to depravity in their frequent rebellions, yet was there alongside a work of grace, which showed itself conspicuously in some. It could only be said, then, that by nature, that is, apart from covenant grace, they were the children of wrath, even as the rest. What a testimony is there here to universal depravity! All have the Divine displeasure imprinted on their nature. In the condemning voice of conscience there is an echo, often very faint, of the condemnation of God. Our evil tendencies, which we so soon exhibit, are tokens that God is angry with us. His righteous sentence has gone forth upon us, even in our present condition. This is unpalatable truth, but it agrees with the facts. It is well that we should keep it in mind, in order that we may be humbled by it, and in order that we may realize the forces against which we have to struggle.
III. OUR SALVATION.
1. Its explanation. "But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses." The mercy is mentioned first, as standing in closest connection with the miserable state which has been described. And as their former state was described in strong terms, so now is there set over against it the superlative quality of the mercy. He is not content with the expression," God in his mercy." That language is too bare in view of what they once were. So he applies his common epithet, "rich." "God, being rich in mercy." The mercy is a particular outgoing of the Divine love, viz. toward sinners. So he traces it up to the more general feeling, which leads him to seek the good, and nothing but the good, of all his creatures whatsoever. And to this in turn he applies another common epithet," great." "The great love wherewith he loved us." And the greatness of the Divine love is here presented under a special aspect. In the fifth of Romans it is said, "God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The thought is very similar here. "Even when we were dead through our trespasses he quickened us." Stress is laid upon the moment of the Divine movement. When we were dead and could do nothing for ourselves, that was the time for the going forth of the great love of God in rich mercy toward us. And it is in this connection that we are to bring in the words within brackets, "By grace have ye been saved." For, though he has it in his mind to magnify the Divine grace further on, yet now, having the opportunity to make a point, he cannot let it pass. And the incidental way in which he brings it in shows the great importance which he attached to that doctrine.
2. Its nature. "Quickened us together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus." It is set forth in relation to our previous deadness. And it will be observed that the description here is connected with a certain historical point. The idea is that we were dead up to the time when Christ was quickened. We were dead, even as Christ was dead in the tomb. Nay, more, we were dead with Christ in the tomb. For it was as our Representative that he was lying there. And when he was quickened, it was as our Representative too. He was quickened, not for himself, but for us whom he represented. And therefore it can be said that, when the life-giving power went forth upon him in the grave, we were quickened with him. And it did not stop there; but when he was raised up we were raised up with him, in the whole breadth that language can bear. And not only so, but the consummation applies to us too. It is not indeed said that we were made to sit at the right hand of God, as is said of Christ in the first Chapter and twentieth verse. But it is said that we were made to sit with Christ in the heavenly places. Even here on earth we are sitting with Christ in the heavenly places. We are sitting there in him as our Head. That is no fancy, but the actual language which is applied to us by an inspired apostle. Oh, what a glorious privilege is conferred on us! How does it become us to be thankful, and to be humbled! Let us, in our life, rise to the height of our position. Let us not be as creeping on the earth, but as sitters with Christ in the heavenly places.
3. A purpose served by our salvation. "That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The language is applicable to after ages on earth. There is encouragement to us, even now, in the fact that such kindness was shown to Ephesians who had been dead through trespasses and sins. But the language is also applicable to the eons of which the Scripture speaks beyond this life. For if there is not room there for sinners being encouraged, there certainly is room for the demonstration, the more complete realization, of the Divine grace. It will be one of the lessons of those ages to learn how much in our history on earth we were individually indebted to grace. Here again, in the fullness of emotion, he gives an ample characterization of the grace, the exceeding riches of his grace, in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The latter expression has reference to benefits conferred, viz. our quickening.
Union of Jews and Gentiles in the Christian Church.
"Wherefore remember, that aforetime." The Ephesian Christians are reminded of what they were "aforetime," that is, before they received the gospel. It is a good exercise of memory for us all to go back on what we once were. For we did not all receive the gospel when it was first presented to us. Many of us who now believe were for years in a state of indifference; How well, then, does it become us to "remember" our former unconverted condition! The memory of what we were aforetime should make us humble and thoughtful, and quicken us in present duty.
I. THOSE THAT WERE GENTILES BY NAME. "Ye, the Gentiles in the flesh." The name "Gentiles," both in the Hebrew and in the Greek, is "nations." It was applied by the Jews to all nations except their own, just as we distinguish Christians and heathen. The Jews were one nation over against many; and though Christians are relatively more numerous than were the Jews, still they are the few and the heathen the multitudinous. But the apostle has reference to what the Gentiles were "in the flesh," and so he applies a second name to them.
II. THOSE THAT WERE THE UNCIRCUMCISION. "Who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands." The Jews were distinguished by a bodily mark. It is referred to in the language "in the flesh, made by hands." By this surgical mark on them, they were known as God's. They were therefore properly called "the Circumcision," as all others who had not the mark were properly called "the Uncircumcision." And when the apostle uses the noticeable language here, "Who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision," he is not to be regarded as reflecting on the distinction, or on the names founded on it. He is simply exercising a little caution. Those who called themselves Circumcision, as superior to those whom they called Uncircumcision, should have answered to the name. But he will not say that circumcision in the flesh was also circumcision in the spirit. There is often this distinction to be drawn between what we are called and what we are. We are Christians in name; but are we also Christians in truth? We have many honorable names applied to us as Christians; but do we answer to them? Is there a broad line of distinction between us and men of the world in our characters?
III. THEIR BEARING THE NAME OF THE UNCIRCUMICISION IMPLIED MUCH.
1. Separate from Christ. "That ye were at that time separate front Christ." They were not, indeed, without some connection with Christ. For it is only on the ground of his suretyship and work that men have a lifetime on earth, brief at it is. There was, therefore, indebtedness to Christ, even on the part of the uncircumcised; but they were separate from him in that they did not have him as their Messiah. There were Greeks and Romans that had more culture than Jews; where they came behind was in their having no Messianic privilege. There was no intimation to them of a Savior who was to come into the world. There was no presentation in type to them of the atonement that was to be made for sin. They were, therefore, excluded from such saving relation to Christ as was open to the Jews. The want of Christ is still the greatest want of the heathen world. He is not made known to them for their salvation. The radical defect in an unconverted man's position is that he is out of Christ, and so has none to give him shelter and help.
2. Separate from the Church. "Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel." Israel was a commonwealth, as constituted, not for the good of a section, but for the good of all alike. It was constituted, not for mere political purposes, but for religious purposes principally. It was the Church more than the state. And the great privilege which every member of the commonwealth enjoyed was nearness to God. He was allowed to draw near to him and worship him in his temple, Now, when the Jews were thus constituted into a Divine commonwealth, the Gentiles were kept at an outside. The arrangement we know was for the ultimate benefit of the whole race; but none the less deplorable was their condition as aliens, or persons out of privilege. There is no arrangement now by which any are excluded from the Church of God, and yet it is with many as though such an arrangement existed. There are some, in Christian lands, who are alienated from the Christian Church, it may be, to a certain extent owing to the faults of its members; but can it be wholly put down to that, when there is in the gospel such a representation of goodness as ought to attract all who are not prejudiced against goodness? "Strangers from the covenants of the promise." There were promises to the Gentiles, but they did not pertain to them who lived before the coming of the Messiah. The Jews had the covenants of promise, viz. the covenants made to the patriarchs, founded, not on what had been effected for them, but on what was to be effected for them in the future, and which was promised. These covenants were their charter as a Church; what they could fall back upon as the reason for their existence. To these covenants the Gentiles were strangers; they had no share in them; theirs was an uncovenanted position. The covenant is not founded now on promise; it is founded on accomplished fact, it has been sealed with Christ's blood. None now occupy an uncovenanted position, such as the old heathen world did; and yet it is with many as though no change had taken place.
3. Miserable condition in the world. "Having no hope." Not having the "covenants" to go upon, they had no hope at all. Reason did not suffice to give them a hope beyond the grave. The hereafter was not a certainty, but only a vague conjecture. It was not lightened up as it was to Old Testament saints. We Christians have a rich hope. It is the hope of a glorious resurrection, and of a perfected and. endless life with Christ as our risen Savior. When such a hope has been brought to the world, how sad that there are so many in heathen lands who are looking forward into a dark and cheerless future! And sadder far it is that there are those in Christian lands who place no value on the life and immortality that have been brought to light by the gospel. "Without God in the world." Out of the Church, they were in the world. And the great evil of their being in the self-seeking, God-forgetting world was that there they were unbefriended by God. They could not live in the sunshine of his love, for they did not know him to be the God of love. It was a loss for which nothing could compensate. What a gain would it be to the heathen of our day to conceive of God as having given his Son for them! And yet, of those who have the opportunity, how few enter into the felicity of the enjoyment of God's love!
IV. THEIR ALTERED POSITION. "But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ." God had his earthly dwelling-place in the temple at Jerusalem. The Gentiles were literally far off from this center, compared with the Jews. But the distance in space was only emblematic of the moral distance at which they stood from God. They were at a distance, in their being out of harmony with his character. They were at a distance, in the displeasure with which he regarded their actions. But in Christ, in his becoming the personal historical Jesus, all this was altered. They were brought into a position of nearness to God. Christ ejected this by his blood. The blood which was shed on Jewish altars was only for Jews. The Jewish high priest represented the twelve tribes, but no more. The blood of Christ had a wider reference. It was for Gentiles as well as for Jews. And that being the case, Gentiles were kept no longer at a distance.
V. JEWS AND GENTILES BROUGHT INTO AMICABLE RELATIONS. "For he is our Peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the twain one new man, so making peace." There is a change from "ye" to "our." There is a difference of opinion as to the extent of meaning belonging to the words, "he is our Peace." It is admitted that, in the two verses here, the idea of peace between both receives decided expression. But some think that there is also to be brought in, though subordinately, the idea of the peace of both toward God. The objection to that is, that it is superfluous. For already it has been said of the Gentiles that obstacles have been removed out of their way, and afterward there is the thought of both being reconciled to God, and also of peace, i.e. reconciliation to God, being preached to both. It seems much simpler, then, here to confine the thought to peace between both. Christ is this Peace in his own person. In him there is neither Jew nor Gentile. His work is described as making both (parts) one; and the manner of his doing it as breaking down the middle wall of partition. It seems warrantable to explain this by an intended reference to the arrangement in the temple. There was there a separating of Jews from Gentiles. There was a wall or boundary beyond which Gentiles were forbidden to advance. As by the rending of the veil was signified the opening of the way into the holiest of all, so by what is described as the breaking down of the middle wall of partition we are to understand that Jews and Gentiles are brought into the same nearness to God. The middle wall of partition is explained to be the late of commandments contained in ordinances. The Mosaic Law was, on one side, a system of separation. It was like a wall enclosing the Jews and shutting off the Gentiles. It forbade all familiar intercourse with the Gentiles. As Christ was called Peace, so the Mosaic system is here made synonymous with enmity or estrangement. The Jews were not to hate other nations (for Jehovah was the God of all the earth, and they were told of a time when all nations were to be blessed); but, as things were, they were necessarily separated in feeling from them. And the Gentiles, on their side, were not slow to hate the Jews for their exclusiveness. The Mosaic system, then, in its incidence especially on the Gentiles, was enmity. And this enmity, we are told here, Christ abolished in his flesh. The Jewish Law he fulfilled, and, by fulfilling, abolished, so that it was no more a separation, or cause of estrangement. The rending of the veil pointed to a rending of his flesh. So the breaking down of the wall suggests a breaking in his flesh. It was a breaking, it is further suggested, that, Jew and Gentile perishing, there might rise out of both a new creation, viz. Christian. "That he might create in himself of the twain one new man." The breaking thus resulted in a peacemaking: "So making peace."
VI. HOW THIS WAS SHOWN.
1. In their being placed in one Church as reconciled to God by the same means. "And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." There is an advance from "one new man" to "one body." "Christian" was created; but it was in order that a body of Christians might be formed. In this body Jews and Gentiles might very well be together; for they had the deepest ground of union in their both being reconciled to God. This equality extended even to the instrument of reconciliation, viz. the Cross. When they were thus reconciled to God by the same means, "the enmity was slain;" and there was no need for two Churches—the Jewish Church continuing, and a Gentile Church forming a separate community. But there was the clearest case for one Church, viz. the Christian Church, containing both.
2. In their having the same gospel of peace preached to them. "And he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh." When it is said that Christ came and preached peace, we are to understand that it was under his authority and through his instruments. In comparison with what he himself had to do with it, others might very well be left out of account. There were obvious reasons for the clause in the parting command, "beginning from Jerusalem." But that only, as is implied, indicated the point of departure. And it was the same gospel that was to be proclaimed to all alike: "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his Name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." So here, with a certain emphasis in the repetition of the word "peace," as the purport of the message (to be understood in its God-ward sense)—"peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh." If, then, the gospel was preached to them in the same Name and in the same terms, they might well be "one body."
3. In their having, as reconciled, the same spiritual privileges. (Verse 18.)
VII. PRACTICAL CONCLUSION, IN WHICH THE EPHESIAN CHRISTIANS ARE ADDRESSED IN A THREEFOLD CHARACTER.
1. They are members of the spiritual commonwealth. "So then ye are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints." "Fellow-citizens with the saints." They are citizens in relation to God as Head of the commonwealth. "They are no more strangers and sojourners." There were those who stood in this relation to the Grecian states. They did not live on Grecian soil, or they lived on it without possessing the rights of "citizens." Such had been the relation of the Ephesians to the Jewish commonwealth. But now they were fully enrolled and recognized as citizens in that commonwealth in which were incorporated both Jews and Gentiles. The members of this commonwealth are designated "saints," as were the Ephesians in the opening of the Epistle. It points to their bearing a certain character, and having certain duties to perform. But the leading idea is the privileges of citizens. And these may be particularized.
2. They are members of the household of God. "And of the household of God." The relation in the family is closer than in the state. The theocracy was as a house in relation to which they had been strangers or sojourners; but now they had the full rights of members of the family.
3. They are part of the temple of God. We are really subjects and really sons, but we are only compared to stones. It is a comparison by which are brought out some important truths.
(a) Each several building in its parts. The idea of regulation is brought out in the word which is translated "fitly framed together." "Joint" and "reason" both go into the word. There is not a mere putting of parts together, but there is a jointing as in the human body, and a jointing moreover that displays reason. It is in Christ as Cornerstone that this is done. tie, then, is the reason or thought of God (Logos he is called), according to which the various parts of the building are put together. It is on this thoughtful connecting of the parts that the stability of a building, which is a main excellence, depends. "A noble craft is that of mason: a good building will last longer than most books, than one book out of a million" (Carlyle).
(b) The several buildings as a whole. Regulation here also is pointed to in the word "grows." For there is a type according to which every living thing grows (which is from the Loges, by whom all things are made). So also is there a plan or distinct thought (in the mind of the Architect) according to which the buildings, separately proceeding, are made to "grow" into a holy temple. This also is in the Lord. The whole connecting of the spiritual structure belongs to him, and is shadowed forth by his being Cornerstone.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Gospel reformation great and gracious.
"And you hath he quickened," etc. This passage, though its language is somewhat obscure, sets forth most manifestly the greatness and graciousness of gospel reformation. The gospel is a reformative system; it is revolutionary in its spirit and its aim. It uproots the noxious in life, and plants the wholesome. It pulls down the corrupt and builds up the holy. It burns up man's old moral heavens and creates new ones, "wherein dwelleth righteousness." It reforms society by reforming the individual man; it reforms the individual by regenerating his spirit, and making him a new creature in Christ Jesus. It works from the center to the circumference. Observe—
I. THE GREATNESS OF GOSPEL REFORMATION. The greatness of the change it effects in mankind will be seen if we consider two things which are so prominently set forth in this passage.
1. The state of man preceding its work. There are several striking expressions in this passage indicating the original depraved condition of sinners, their condition before the gospel touches them.
2. The state of man succeeding its work. The passage teaches that they are brought by the gospel into the most vital connection with him who is the embodiment, the standard, and the medium of all human excellence, "the Lord Jesus Christ."
II. THE GRACIOUSNESS OF GOSPEL REFORMATION. What is the great, originating, efficient cause of this glorious moral reformation? The text answers the question. "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ." Instrumental causes, such as the Word of God, gospel ministry, Christian example and influence, are many, but eternal grace is the cause which originates all and blesses all. The passage indicates four things concerning this Divine grace.
1. It is great. It is ascribed to the richness of mercy and the greatness of love. "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love," etc. God's love is the spring of all his activities; it is as deep as his own heart; it is as infinite as himself. "It passeth knowledge."
"O Love! the one sun! O Love! the one sea!
What life has begun that breathes not in thee?
Thy rays have no limit, thy waves have no shore;
Thou giv'st without merit to worlds evermore."
2. It is mighty. It quickens, raises, exalts, recreates human souls. It is as mighty as the power that raised Christ from the dead. How mighty is that power that thoroughly Christianizes even one soul! No power but the power of God can do that. "Not by might, nor by power."
3. It is manifestable. "In the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." The conversion of every one is designed to manifest it. The conversion of the sinner, though a good in itself, is not an ultimate end; the event has remote issues, ulterior points, bearings and relations interminable. "Ages to come;" intelligences that will rise thousands of years in the future will study and adore the infinite grace of God in the spiritual reformation of mankind. "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting" (1 Timothy 1:16).
4. It is unmeritorious. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works." The expression, "not of works," does not mean, of course, that men are to do nothing. This would be contrary to the general teaching of Scripture, contrary also to the constitution of the soul and the nature of the work. Man is so constituted that no moral change can be effected in him irrespective of his own efforts. He must work. All that the expression means is that man's works are not the cause. "By grace are ye saved through faith." But if faith is required, and it is an undoubted necessity, where is the freeness of the grace? Elsewhere Paul says that "it is of faith, that it may be of grace." Two remarks will explain this.
Gospel reconciliation—its subjects, agency, and results.
"Wherefore remember, that ye being in lime past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our Peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." Reconciliation is the grand idea of this passage, and it sets before us the condition of its subjects, the nature of its agency, and the blessedness of its achievement.
I. THE CONDITION OF ITS SUBJECTS. They are here presented in two aspects—aspects in which all men in their unregenerated state are found.
1. As socially disharmonized. Between the Jews and the Gentiles there was no accord; on the contrary, there was a deep, mutual variance in sympathy and soul. There was a "middle wall of partition between them." That wall was built by political prejudices and religious differences, and was cemented by a mutual "enmity." So that they were "aliens," and "strangers," and morally "far off" from each other. There are these social differences between unregenerate men now, the world over. Instead of union, there is division—harmony, there is discord—love, there is enmity. Hence the eternal feuds, domestic, social, ecclesiastical, political. Some "middle wall of partition" divides family from family, class from class, nation from nation, man from man.
2. Is religiously disharmonized. There was not only a mutual variance between Jew and Gentile, but there was a variance between both and God. Religiously the Jew is represented here as being "without Christ," ignorant of him, and uninterested in him; "without hope," without any well-founded hope of future good; "without God" practical atheists. Living every day as if no God existed, Does not this describe the religious condition of all unregenerate men in every part of the world? What a picture of the moral world! Hideous, yet life-like!
II. THE NATURE OF ITS AGENCY. Who is the great Reconciler? Who is he that reconciles men to men, and all to God? There is One, and only One. "Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh." The passage gives three ideas about this reconciling.
1. It is the work of self-sacrifice. Christ does it by his "blood," by his "cross." What is the blood of Christ? Not, of course, the vital fluid which flowed through his corporeal veins—not his mere existence, but the governing moral spirit of his life. The real life of a man is his governing disposition. This is the moral blood that circulates through all his activities. What is the governing spirit of Christ? Self-sacrificing love. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. It is by that self-sacrificing spirit of his in teaching, working, praying, and dying, that he does the work of the world's reconciliation. Love alone can kill enmity. Christ's moral blood is the atoning power.
2. It is the work of abolishment. Christ's mission is destructive as well as constructive. He pulls down as well as builds up. He came to destroy the works of the devil.
3. It is the work of preaching. "Preaching peace." "And came and preached peace to you." Christ preached peace himself both before and after his death. His personal ministry was emphatically a ministry of peace in spirit and in doctrine—in example and in aim. He preached by his servants. This was the grand subject of the apostolic ministry. This is the grand subject of all ministers. The gospel is a gospel of peace; Christ was the Prince of peace.
III. THE BLESSEDNESS OF ITS ACHIEVEMENT. What is the grand result of his reconciling agency?
1. Union of man to man. "To make in himself of twain one new man." Giving all men, however diverse in temperament, circumstances, and education, one moral soul. This is the true union, the union of heart, making men one—one in sympathy, one in purpose, one in Christ.
2. Union of man to God. "And that he might reconcile both unto God." In truth, man can only become truly united to his brother man, by first becoming united to God. He must love the-great Father supremely before he will love his race with the affection of a genuine brotherhood. True philanthropy grows out of piety. Men thus united to God, the passage suggests, are united together:
(a) Beautifully united, "framed together."
(b) Gradually advancing: "groweth," the growth of a living organism, not the mere growth of a building.
(c) Religiously consecrated: "a holy temple." What a glorious temple is this! The temple of Diana these Ephesians originally considered as the glory of the world, hut it would appear to them contemptible by the grand spiritual temple that Paul here pictures to their imagination.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
From death to life.
1. The process. This is a history of spiritual lift. It reverses the order of natural history. Instead of "funeral marches to the grave," we have a resurrection gladness, as the soul grows upward from death to life eternal.
I. THE PROCESS BEGINS WITH DEATH. The death here referred to is not a future penalty, but the past condition of many men and the present state of all others.
1. There is a spiritual death in the midst of natural life. The body is flushed with the glow of health; the intellect is keen in worldly affairs; but the spirit is dead. The busy life of the lower nature may hide the scene of death, but it cannot destroy it, and to right-minded observers this noisy energy is painful and revolting like the revelry of a wake. Spiritual death bears all the hideous marks of real death:
2. Spiritual death is caused by sin. There are positive "trespasses," in which men go beyond the bounds of the lawful and commit what is forbidden; and negative "sins," in which people miss the mark, fail of their duty, and omit what they ought to do. Both have fatal consequences—the one killing with the poison of bad thoughts, imaginations, and affections; and the other with an atrophy of spiritual organs that waste away for want of exercise.
3. Innumerable influences provoke to sin:
II. THE PROCESS RESULTS IN LIFE. The life is described in three stages.
1. A past quickening. "He quickened us." This is accomplished in the Christian. It is what Christ calls being "born from above" (John 3:3), and St. Paul, a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
2. A present exaltation. "Raised us up;" "Made us sit with him in heavenly places." Lazarus comes forth from the tomb. The Christian does not linger long among the scenes of his miserable past. He is not forever sitting on the stool of the penitents. In his new life he walks in God's sunlight, he breathes the free air of heaven, he is called to a high vocation and endued with glorious privileges.
3. A future blessedness. The Divine life is but in the germ on earth. Its fairest flowers will bloom on a happier shore and its sweetest fruits ripen in a sunnier climate. There are "exceeding riches" of grace to be revealed in "the ages to come." The life for which they are preparing is eternal. No disease will blight it, no age bring it decrepitude, no death lay it low. As it develops eternality, so will the riches of Divine love fill it in an ever-increasing abundance.—W.F.A.
From death to life.
2. The secret. What is the secret of the wonderful reversal of the order of nature that is seen in the spiritual transformation from death to life? The power is put forth by the grace of God, and the method of its influence is through union with Christ.
I. THE POWER THAT TRANSFORMS FROM DEATH TO LIFE IS THE GRACE OF GOD.
1. The power is Divine.
2. The power is put forth by the grace of God. He might leave the dead to bury their dead, and concern himself only with fresh new lives. But he has infinite pity even for the dead. Nothing but grace could inspire such pity. For we have no claim upon God after we have become" by nature children of wrath." We must look for the motive in the love of God alone. But that love is so great that it is a very treasure-house of mercy. God is "rich in mercy." Then our very helplessness appeals to his compassion. The more dead we are the more will God desire to quicken us.
II. THE MEANS THROUGH WHICH THE GRACE OF GOD TRANSFORMS FROM' DEATH TO LIFE IS UNION WITH CHRIST.
1. All through the history of the wonderful process, St. Paul traces, step by step, the progress of the Christian, in the very experience through which Christ went.
2. This experience is realized by our union, with Christ in faith. It is vain and hopeless to attempt to follow Christ by painfully attempting an exact imitation while we are going alone and in our own strength. The way is too dark, too steep, too rough. And this is not what is expected of us. But if we trust Christ our faith unites us to him, and by the influence he puts forth over us he carries us along with him; so that through him we receive the gift of life from the grace of God.—W.F.A.
Grace and faith.
These two, grace and faith, are the sheet anchors of the Pauline gospel. The former was preserved in the Augustinian theology, and the latter restored to the Church by the Reformation. In his earlier Epistles, St. Paul establishes their claims by argument. Now, he considers those claims to be settled, and appeals to the doctrines of faith and grace as axioms, quoting the phrase, "By grace have ye been saved," as a sort of proverb. It is plain that the apostle regarded the truths as practically self-evident, though it was not long since they were the mysteries of a new revelation and the conclusions of an original argument. There is no paradox in its changed position, for it is the function of revelation so to open our eyes that we may see for ourselves what was before hidden. Then, having once thus beheld the truth, we may retain it on its own account. So that revelation is most successful when it teaches us how to dispense with itself. But this is only possible on the condition that there is an inherent fitness and reasonableness in the truths it declares. If, therefore, we are to see the axiomatic truth of the doctrines of grace and faith, they must not be an arbitrary association of ideas; they must be truths of inherent reasonableness. In other words, the relation of salvation to grace and faith must not be treated as accidental, and fixed only by the sovereign will of God, but as natural and necessary.
I. SALVATION IS GIVEN BY GRACE. To see the natural reasonableness of this axiom, we must first understand in what salvation consists. In the Bible the word "salvation" is not a technical theological term. It means deliverance generally. Any special import in a particular passage must depend on the context. In the present instance the context clearly shows what kind of salvation St. Paul is thinking of. This is not rescue from earthly poverty and pain—the lower old Jewish salvation, nor escape from future torment—the lower Christian salvation. It is deliverance from a present spiritual death (Ephesians 2:4, Ephesians 2:5). The soul is saved from itself. Such a salvation must be by grace, because we cannot escape from ourselves; because the evil of spiritual death involves the loss of power in spiritual things; because God only can create life; and because the death results from sin, and therefore implies an ill desert that can only appeal to the mercy of God. The facts of the work of Christ and the recovery of dead souls to life by the gospel prove that this salvation exists and is accomplished by grace.
II. GRACE WORKS THROUGH FAITH. This principle, if axiomatic, must be also natural and reasonable. We must not think of faith as a mere assent to the doctrine of grace. Faith is the soul opening out to God. As the flower cannot be quickened into fertility while the bud is closed, the soul' that is self-contained can by no means receive the grace of God. The door is barred, and. Christ will not force an entrance. Faith is a capitulation of the proud soul. It means flinging wide the gates in submissive receptivity, and yielding to the voice of Divine love in obedient activity. When the soul has faith in God, the grace of God streams in with life and healing. As distrust severs souls, faith unites them. Thus faith is like the wire joining earth to heaven, while grace is like the electric current which waits, but only waits, such a connection to hasten to us with light and fire and life.
III. FAITH COMES FROM GRACE. Even faith itself is "the gift of God." Faith is a spiritual act and habit, and. therefore it would be impossible in a soul quite dead spiritually. But he who provides the salvation provides the means wherewith to enjoy it. If faith be ever so feeble we may cry, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief," with the assurance that there is no prayer more certain of an answer.—W.F.A.
I. AS CHRISTIANS, CREATED IN CHRIST, WE ARE GOD'S WORKMANSHIP. It cannot be that our salvation comes by our works, because it is such a quickening from death to life as amounts to nothing short of a new creation, and because God is the only Creator. We only become new creatures through union with Christ, and by the grace of God that is in him. To know if this is our condition, we must see if we bear the traces of the great Worker upon our persons. God's work must have the characteristics of good work.
1. Fitness. God finds us out of joint. He shapes us suitably for our vocation. A house without adaptation to its ends may look handsome, but it is a failure. A true Christian will not only have a saintly bearing, he will have a practical suitability for his mission.
2. Thoroughness. How thorough is God's work in nature as seen in the microscopic organs of the smallest insects! The new creation is as thorough as the old creation. Down to every thought and fancy God shapes the character of his redeemed.
3. Beauty. The best work is graceful and fair to look upon. God's spiritual work is adorned with the beauty of holiness.
II. WE ARE THUS CREATED FOR THE PURPOSE OF DOING GOOD WORKS. Good works are more honored by the doctrine of grace than they are by the scheme of salvation by works; for in the latter they appeal only as means to an end, as stepping-stones to be left behind when the salvation as reached; but in the former they are themselves the ends, and are valued on their own account. Thus we are taught not to perform good works as an only or necessary means for securing some ulterior boon, but are invited to accept that boon just because it will enable us to do our work better. Instead of regarding the gospel as a pleasant message to show us how we may save ourselves the trouble of work, we must hear it as a trumpet-call to service. The Christian is the servant of Christ. In spiritual death we can do nothing. Salvation is quickening to a new life. The object of this life is not bare existence. All life ministers to some other life. Spiritual life is given directly with the object of enabling us to do our work. It fails of its object if it is unfertile. The barren tree must wither, the fruitless branch must be pruned away. Purity and harmlessness are but negative graces, and are not sufficient justification for existence. The great end of being is the doing of positive good. The judgment will turn on the use we have made of our talents.
III. THE WORKS FOR WHICH WE ARE CREATED HAVE BEEN PREARRANGED BY GOD. The road has been made before we have been ready to walk on it. And there is a road for every soul. Each of us has his vocation marked out for him and fixed in the ancient counsels of God. No life need be aimless since every life is provided with a mission. How may we know the mission?
1. From our talents. Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor poetry of commonplace minds, nor heroism of feeble souls. The nature of the tool proclaims its use. The hammer cannot be made to cut, nor the saw to drive nails. God's workmanship bears on its special form the indications of its purpose. To know our work we must pray for light that we may know ourselves, or we shall fall into the common error of mistaking our inclination for our capacity and our ambition for our ability.
2. From our circumstances. God opens providential doors. Let us not refuse to enter them because they are often low and lead to humble paths. If they face us they indicate the work for which we are created, and that should suffice obedient, servants.—W.F.A.
Step by step descending into darker and darker depths, St. Paul describes the awful condition out of which heathens had been rescued when they became Christians. Regarded from a Jewish point of view, this condition is seen to consist in the loss of all the high privileges of Israel, and the salvation of the Gentiles appears as an adoption into the circle of those privileges. But larger things of more general import are covered by the description, so that it applies virtually to all who are outside the pale of the gospel. Let us go through the descending and darkening series and observe the several woeful characteristics.
I. CHRISTLESS. The Gentile world had no Messiah. Worldly interests—business, pleasure, culture—have their advantages; but they bring no Savior, no Physician of sick souls. As Christ is the Foundation-stone of the new temple, to be without Christ is to have nothing on which to erect subsequent Christian blessings. If we have the doctrine and discipline of the New Testament without the Christ, we have nothing of real profit. The dumb, pathetic helplessness of spiritual hunger in the finer inquiring and doubting minds of our day is a proof that to be without the light and life and love of Christ is as great a loss to us as it was to any in old times.
II. CHURCHLESS. "Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel." The Church is now what Israel was in pro-Christian times—the home and family of the people of God. Only it is not marked by the visible boundaries of any "Holy Land." The true Church, the fellowship of kindred followers of Christ, contains many a choice soul that has been accounted a schismatic and cut off from the organized communities of Christendom. Real excommunication comes not by the fulmination of an anathema, but by the breach of spiritual sympathy. Without the union that comes through our relation to Christ we voyage in solitude over lonely seas of thought.
III. UNEVANGELIZED. "Strangers from the covenants of the promise." The Jew had a gospel in Messianic prophecy. The Christian has his in New Testament history. What covenant is there in science? What promise in art? What gospel in commerce? We may discover laws and hers of the universe, and create works of skill and beauty, and accumulate treasures of wealth. But still stricken souls cry, "Is there no balm in Gilead?" for all this brings no peace to the weary and the brokenhearted.
IV. PESSIMIST. "Having no hope." Pagan Rome and Greece were verging towards pessimism in the days of St. Paul, when philosophers advised suicide and historians taught contempt of mankind. Pagan Europe now manifests the same tendency. Culture fails to convert the Philistine. Science dwarfs humanity before nature, and discovers no soul and no heaven. Business, politics, and society drive man to a weariness that sees no rest.
V. ATHEISTIC. Speculative atheism is rare, if it ever exists. Practical atheism is more common and more disastrous. It is worse to believe in God and to live as if there were no God, than to doubt his existence. To be without God is not to look for his help nor to obey his will. This is death, since in God we live and move and have our being. Glorious must be the gospel that redeems us from such a depth of ruin.—W.F.A.
Christ our Peace.
I. CHRIST MAKES PEACE. He was predicted as the Prince of peace. His birth was heralded by the good news, "On earth peace."
1. Peace between man and man. In Christ the enmity between Jew and Gentile ceases. Christianity forbids all envy, jealousy, hatred, and strife. It is cosmopolitan, and will not sanction national selfishness cloaked by the sacred name of patriotism. It is brotherly, and will not favor sectarian animosity sheltering under the mask of loyalty to truth.
2. Peace between man and God. Both Jew and Gentile are reconciled "unto God" (Ephesians 2:16). The discord between man and man is but a symptom and after consequence of the deeper quarrel between man and God, just as the unrestrained war of factions is a result of the overthrow of the central authority in a state.
II. CHRIST'S PEACE IS STABLE. A hollow peace which like an unstable equilibrium is liable to be upset at any moment, and is little better than an armed truce, is only a deception and a snare. But Christ's peace is solid and secure, involving two great safeguards.
1. Reconciliation. A duel may be interrupted by the police, and yet the combatants may still cherish mortal hatred to one another. The forced agreement of Jew with Gentile under the Roman empire was no real peace. The order of a state in which criminals are curbed but not reformed, and the decorum of a society in which only social fear prevents outrageous insults to purity and godliness, are no proof of real peace with God and man. But Christ reconciles, takes away all disposition for quarrelling., and establishes peaceable affections between man and man and between man and God.
2. Union. The old fends between Norman and Saxon can never be revived, simply because the two races have been blended together. So Christ would blend Jew and Gentile, and establish a common family union between Christians and also between the whole Christian brotherhood and our one Father in heaven.
III. CHRIST'S PEACE DEPENDS ON THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CAUSES OF DISCORD. It does not merely heal the surface-symptoms, but it goes to the root of the evil and cuts this out. The Law, which was the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, is abolished. The religion of Law, which provoked constant enmity between man and God, is done away. In the place of rigid, painful exactions, never by any possibility fully satisfied, we have the service of the Spirit, which is the same for all and which is possible to all.
IV. CHRIST'S PEACE IS BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE SACRIFICE OF HIMSELF.
1. In relation to God. Christ makes reconciliation by his great propitiatory offering of himself. As we look at the cross our enmity to God dies down, and we learn in humble penitence to seek for forgiveness.
2. In relation to man. Christ has died for every man. Before that awful tragic event all mutual enmity should be hushed. In the love of our Peacemaker, which is shown in his dying for us, we have the strongest possible motive for a common fervor of love to him that should quench and drown all petty animosities and unite all Christians into one body.—W.F.A.
The Christian temple.
The pride of Ephesus was her world-famed temple, in which the religion, the art, and even the commerce of the city centered and flourished. What the temple of Diana was materially in its visible romp and power, the Church of Christ is to be spiritually, but with a higher splendor and a wider influence. More than once has St. Paul described the Church as a temple. The truths shadowed forth by this name press upon us with weighty importance.
I. THE MATERIALS WITH WHICH THE TEMPLE IS BUILT.
1. The foundation. "The foundation of the apostles and prophets" must be the work of the earliest and leading Christian teachers who laid the first stones of the Church. They preached the fundamental truths on which the Church stands—primarily Christ crucified, for Christ is the real Foundation—and they gathered in the first converts. The Church receives its Divine recognition in being apostolic and. in being founded by inspired men—"prophets."
2. The stones. These are the men and women who compose the Church. A building cannot be all foundation. The Church must be the union of individual Christians. It is not the teachers and authorities, but the several members who constitute the Church. These, therefore, are the rich gifts and the honorable mission of the Church. All classes are here united, and those who were once furthest from God—publicans, Samaritans, Gentiles, heathen, corrupt judicials, the neglected, the ignorant, and the base—are brought in.
3. The Cornerstone. Christ crucified is the foundation laid by apostles and prophets in their preaching; Christ glorified is the crowning completion of the whole structure. We begin with Christ; we end in Christ. The temple starts with Christ, and as it rises tier by tier it is growing up to Christ. Christ, the Head of the body and the chief Cornerstone of the Church, is both the supreme authority and the perfect glory of his people.
II. THE PLAN ON WHICH THE TEMPLE IS DESIGNED.
1. The adjustment of a variety of separate parts. "Each several building" is "fitly framed together." It is as though the vast temple were begun in several distinct centers, and, as the building progressed, these approached one another till they met and combined in one vast harmonious structure. There is variety all through, for the "frozen music," architecture, is a blending of many different notes. In the Church there are necessary differences. The hot imagination of the South must produce a different type of Christianity from that molded by the cool, practical temperament of the North. All parts of the temple are not for the same ends. One is to take a lowly place in the monotonous run of stones in a wall; another, to be carved into the delicate grace of a capital, conspicuous to all eyes. But every one has its place, and the union is dependent on variety. There is no unity in a heap of cannon-balls. The fitting together of the various parts of an elaborate structure constitutes the highest unity.
2. Ultimate unity. To this the harmonizing of the several parts is tending. Do we not see the work progressing now in the cooling of ancient ecclesiastical feuds side by side with an enlarging liberty of thought? The true unity will be oneness of sympathy, brotherly love, and mutual helpfulness. Every Christian should strive to realize his share of this and beware of the selfishness of individualism. Christianity begins with individual faith, but it grows into an enlarged brotherhood and the formation of one temple.
III. THE USE TO WHICH THE TEMPLE IS DEDICATED. A temple is a house in which a god dwells. The spiritual temple is "a habitation of God." "God dwelleth not in temples made with hands." He inhabits the humble and contrite spirit. The real presence of God is in the Church. He does not only bless his children, he visits them and abides with them. He does not confine his presence to a select few—inspired prophets, ordained priests, etc. He fills the whole Church with his presence as the incense spreads through every quarter of the temple.
1. Herein is the true glory of the Church—not in outward magnificence, but in the spiritual presence.
2. From this arises the responsibility of the Church, not to defile the temple of the Holy Ghost, but to let the glory of God shine out through every door and window unsullied by any cloud of sin.—W.F.A.
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017
the Third Week of Lent
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