The Pulpit Commentaries
DIGRESSION ON THE ADMISSION OF THE GENTILES TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
For this cause. The reference is not merely to the last statement or illustration, but to the whole view of the purpose of God toward the Gentiles unfolded in Ephesians it. The apodosis does not come in till verse 14, at the beginning of which this conjunctive clause is repeated. I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles. He introduces himself in order to make known the feelings which were roused in his soul towards them by the consideration of the privileges just enlarged on—especially to acquaint them with the prayers he offered for them (see verses 14-19), and apparently with the indirect object of getting them to offer similar prayers for themselves. To justify this introduction of himself, he delicately introduces the fact of his being a prisoner on their behalf. What had brought him to Rome, what had made him appeal to Caesar, was his preaching the gospel to the Gentiles; indeed, the immediate occasion of his arrest at Jerusalem was the suspicion that he had taken Trophimus, an Ephesian, one of themselves, into the temple (Acts 21:29). By this allusion to the condition into which his regard for them had brought him, be conciliates sympathetic consideration of what is to follow.
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God. Here begins the digression. The words, "if ye have heard," etc., do not denote an uncertainty, but are a delicate reminder. Doubtless they had heard of the matter when he was at Ephesus, and, as he remarks in Ephesians 3:3, he had already written briefly on it. Grace is here used in a more restricted sense than in Ephesians 1:2—in the sense of Divine favor, honor, privilege—the same as in Ephesians 1:8, "To me... is this favor given." Which is given me to you-ward. The grace or favor meant is that whereby Paul was constituted the apostle of the Gentiles. Deeply though he felt his being sent away from preaching to his countrymen (Acts 22:18), he took kindly to the new sphere allotted to him, and magnified his office (Romans 11:13).
How that, by revelation, was made known unto me the mystery. The mystery, as is explained afterwards (Ephesians 3:6), was not the gospel itself, but its destination to the Gentiles as much as to the Jews; although, as appears afterwards, this fullness of blessing is really the great glory of the gospel. Mystery, that which is known only to the initiated, does not denote here a thing obscure in its own nature, but only something that had been concealed from view. It was only the initiated that now knew that God designed the gospel for Gentile and Jew alike. Paul had been initiated "by revelation"—not by his own reflecting power, not by his study of Scripture, not by communication from ether men, but by a special communication from God (Galatians 1:12). As I wrote before in few words. Where? In another Epistle? No; but in the earlier part of this Epistle (see Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 2:18, etc.). If it be said the allusions in these places to the topic in question are rather vague and general, the apostle virtually admits it—he wrote of it "in few words;" but, as it is a great and glorious truth, he returns to it to amplify it and place it in a brighter light.
In accordance with which, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ. προς ὂ, with reference to which, i.e. to what I wrote afore: to make that more intelligible I write on the subject more fully now, so that you shall see that your instructor is thoroughly informed in this matter of the mystery in Christ—this once concealed but now revealed purpose of his grace.
Which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations. Though not a new purpose, the knowledge of it is new. Abraham, David, and the prophets, however much they knew of Christ and the fullness of blessing in him for all the families of the earth, did not know the full extent of God's grace to the Gentries—did not know that the middle wall was to be wholly broken down, and all inequality removed. This might seem to throw some doubt on the reality of this doctrine; but it was on purpose that God kept it secret, and those by whom he has now revealed it are worthy of all regard. As it has now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit. It is not revealed to Paul only, although he has got the privilege of announcing it to the Gentiles, but to the whole body of "holy apostles and prophets." The designation, "holy apostles," is rare; it is used here to magnify the office, to show that those whom the Head of the Church had set apart for himself were fit instruments to receive so important a revelation. "Prophets" here are undoubtedly New Testament prophets (see Ephesians 2:20), the contrast being with "sons of men in other generations." Reference may be made to the experience and decree of the Council of Jerusalem, guided by the Holy Spirit (see Acts 15:28).
That the Gentiles are fellow-heirs—heirs with the Jews of the same inheritance (see Ephesians 1:11)—and fellow-members of the body (this figure is repeated and applied in Ephesians 4:4, Ephesians 4:16, Ephesians 4:25), and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel—the promise to Abraham, "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." They do not get this blessing indirectly through the Jews, or by becoming Jews, but directly, as Gentiles; and they become fellow-heirs, fellow-members, and fellow-partakers "in Christ Jesus," enjoying all privileges in him, in a state of union and fellowship with him. To this state they are invited and admitted through the gospel; by receiving the glad tidings they enter on these blessings (comp. Romans 10:15, Romans 10:18). This statement of religious equality between Jews and Gentiles is strong, clear, complete; the more remarkable that Paul himself had bad so strong Jewish prejudices; only one of dearest insight and highest courage could proclaim the truth so emphatically; it is little wonder if many believing Jews, less enlightened and less courageous, shrank from his statements as too strong.
Of which I became a minister; did not gradually grow up to the office, but became, at a given time and place, a minister, a διάκονος, a servant. According to the gift of the grace of God. The office of serving Christ was a gift, most undeserved on Paul's part, who had been a persecutor and injurious, but flowing from the free grace of God, his sovereign, unmerited mercy. Which was given me according to the working of his power. This denotes the manner of the gift; the gift itself, apostleship to the Gentiles, would have been little had it not been accompanied with Divine power. Spiritual office without spiritual power is miserable; but in Paul's case there was the power as well as the office; not merely the power of working miracles, as some have held, but besides this, the power of spiritual insight into the meaning of Scripture—power of exposition, power of demonstration, power of persuasion. Paul gratefully acknowledged that all the power of his ministry was God's, not his own (1 Corinthians 3:6, 1 Corinthians 3:7).
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints; not only of apostles and prophets, but even of all believers—a profound expression of humility, founded not only on his persecuting career, but on his consciousness of sin, of inborn rebellion against God's Law, of fountains of unlawful desire in his flesh (Romans 7:18; 1 Timothy 1:13-15), making him feel himself to be, in heart and essence, the chief of sinners. The sense of sin is not usually in proportion to the acts of outward transgression, but to the insight into the springs of evil in one's heart, and the true nature of sin as direct antagonism to the holy God. Was this grace given. The third time in this chapter that he speaks of his office as a fruit of grace, showing that, notwithstanding his being a prisoner on account of it, and all the perils it involved (2 Corinthians 11:24-27), he was overwhelmed with God's unmerited goodness in conferring it on him. It was substantially the post of a foreign missionary, with hardly one human comfort! To preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; εὐγγελίσασθαι, to evangelize, to proclaim good tidings. The force of the ευ) is not given in "preach," but the idea is amply conveyed by the words that follow. The balance of authority for τοῖς ἔθνεσι, "to the Gentiles," and ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσι, "among the Gentiles," is about equal; the meaning really the same. ἔθνος, heathen, was almost an offensive name; yet with that name the apostle associates the highest blessings of God. The unsearchable riches of Christ; two attractive words, riches and unsearchable, conveying the idea of the things that are most precious being infinitely abundant. Usually precious things are rare; their very rarity increases their price; but here that which is most precious is also boundless—riches of compassion and love, of merit, of sanctifying, comforting, and transforming power, all without limit, and capable of satisfying every want, craving, and yearning of the heart, now and evermore. The thought of his having such riches to offer to all made him regard his office as most glorious, raised him far above the point of view from which the world would despise it, and filled him with adoring gratitude to God for having conferred it on him.
And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery. Another branch of his office, and another fruit of God's grace in conferring it. He was not only to benefit man, but also to vindicate God. For "fellowship of the mystery" (A.V.), the R.V. has "dispensation of the mystery," founded on the preference of the reading οἰκονομια, for which there is a great preponderance of authority over κοινωνία. It was the apostle's function to show how this mystery had been dispensed—concealed for a long time and at last revealed. Which from the beginning of the ages hath been hid in God. The counsel itself was πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων, before the foundation of the world; the concealment of it ἀπό τῶν αἰώνων, from the beginning of the ages, when there were intelligent beings capable of understanding it—whether angels or men. Whatever the angels may have known of the Divine plans, this feature of them was not known till revealed to the New Testament Church. Who created all things. The reason for adding this particular designation of God is not obvious; probably it is to indicate the relation of the matter in hand to the mightiest works of God. This is no trifling matter; it connects itself with God's grandest operations; it has supremely glorious bearings. It might be supposed to have relations only to one race and to one period of time; but it has relations to "all things;" it is an integral element in God's plan. The words, by Jesus Christ (A.V.), are not found in a great preponderance of textual authorities.
To the intent—indicative of the purpose of the remarkable arrangement or dispensation according to which the eternal Divine purpose, which had been concealed from the beginning of the ages, was now made known—that there might b e made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places; that a lesson might be given to the unfallen angels. Their interest in the scheme of man's redemption is often referred to (1 Peter 1:12). Even the highest powers of heaven have yet much to learn respecting God. The dispensation of God's grace to man is one of their lesson-books. Dr. Chalmers shows ('Astronomical Discourses') how this meets the objection that so dread a sacrifice as the life of God's Son could not have been made for one poor planet; in its indirect bearings we do not know what other orders of beings have derived most vital lessons from this manifestation of the attributes of God. However men may scorn the salvation of Christ and all that belongs to it, the highest intelligences regard it with profound interest. By the Church the manifold wisdom of God. Through the Church, now constituted, according' to the revealed mystery, of Jew and Gentile, all redeemed by Christ's blood and renewed by his Spirit, there is exhibited to the angels the manifold wisdom of God. The precise line of thought is this: God from eternity, had a purpose to put Jew anti Gentile on precisely the same footing, but concealed it for many ages, until he revealed it in the apostolic age, when he appointed Paul his minister to announce it. The purpose of this whole arrangement was to enlighten the principalities and powers of heaven in the manifold wisdom of God. How in his manifold wisdom? In this way. During these preparatory ages, when God's gracious dealings were with the Jews only, all kinds of false religions were developing among the heathen, and their diversified influence and effects were becoming apparent in many ways—the divergent tendencies of men, especially in religious matters, were being developed; but in the new turn given to things by the breaking down of the middle wall in Christ, the manifold wisdom of God was shown in transforming many of these most diverse elements, unifying them, building them up into a great spiritual body, into a holy, most beautiful, most symmetrical temple. When all things seem to be flying asunder into the most diverse and antagonistic elements, God gives a new turn, as it were, to providence, and lo! a glorious symmetrical and harmonious structure begins to rise.
According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. The apostle is ever anxious that we should connect these operations, of God with the profundity, deliberation, and awfulness of an eternal decree, and that we should thus contrast them in our minds with many even of the most important works of man which are often determined, on his part, by a passing event or other trivial cause. The verb in this clause is ἐποίησε, which he made, and it has been debated whether it denotes the original formation of the purpose, or the execution of it under Christ. With A.V. and R.V., we prefer the former. The object of the apostle is to indicate that the purpose existed from eternity; but, besides, the meaning of "fulfilled" or "executed" can hardly be sustained by &retype. The closing formula, "in Christ Jesus," is perfectly applicable to the eternal formation of the purpose; it is the constantly returning indication of the element in which the whole scheme of grace had its beginning, its progress, and its end.
In whom we have our boldness and access. παῤῥησία literally means "boldness" or "freedom of speech," but is used here in a more ample sense for want of restraint, ease of feeling, comfortable self-possession, in our access to God. Contrast with Adam hiding himself among the trees of the garden, and the lost calling on the mountains to fall on them, and the rocks to cover them. The "we" in this verse includes both Jews and Gentiles. The "access," or introduction (see Ephesians 2:18), is like that of the high priest into the holy of holies—we have boldness to enter into the holiest of all (Hebrews 10:19). In confidence through the faith of him. The confidence of being welcomed and accepted when we go into God's presence springs from our faith in him. We believe in him as the Propitiation, as our Peace, as the Reconciler, and we go before God with confidence. The clause, "through faith in him," influences the whole verse. And, as before, we have at the beginning of the verse, "in whom"—an express-ion denoting generally our union with Christ, and at the end, "through the faith of him"—a specification of the instrument by which flint union is formed and by which it operates.
Wherefore I beg that ye faint not at my tribulations for you. A very delicate and touching request, that they would not be too much distressed by what he was suffering for them (comp. Epaphroditus, Philippians 2:26). Paul knew that the sympathy was so strong that what was suffered by him was endured sympathetically by them. Two expressions denote that the sufferings were great: "My tribulations for you"—a word expressing intense and protracted suffering; "that ye faint not," or that ye do not lose heart, as if the power of evil had got the upper hand. Which is your glory. That is, the character or capacity of the apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, in which I suffer tribulation, is one of such exalted dignity as to reflect glory on you. Take that view of my sufferings; I suffer because I hold so glorious an office, and the glory of that office is reflected on you.
PRAYER FOR THEIR SPIRITUAL ENRICHMENT.
For this cause. The digression being ended, the apostle takes up the thread broken at ver.
1. We must seek the "cause" in Ephesians
2. Seeing that the Gentiles have now equal privileges with the Jews; seeing that by faith in Christ Gentile Christians have been brought as near to God, and have as good a right to the good things of the covenant;—I take the steps now to be specified for enabling them actually to possess these good things. On the one hand, the apostle saw the believing Ephesians still comparatively poor and needy; on the other hand, he saw all spiritual stores provided for them: the question was how to get the one into contact with the other. For this cause, he says, I bow my knees unto the Father. An emphatic way of denoting prayer; but not incidental, occasional prayer, inspired by some passing feeling; the attitude "bow my knees" denotes deliberate prayer (comp. Daniel 6:10), making a business of it, approaching God with reverence and holy fear, with all the solemnities suitable to the occasion of making a specific and important request. In the A.V. it is "unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." The R.V., some of the oldest manuscripts, and most recent commentators omit the latter words, which are supposed to have been taken from Ephesians 1:3. On internal grounds, the omission of the wends seems to yield the best sense, for in Ephesians 2:18 our having access to "the Father" is spoken of, and when the apostle proceeded to show how he availed himself of that privilege, he is not likely to have used more than that expression. Further, there is such a close connection between πατέρα and πατριὰ in Ephesians 2:15, that they are not likely to have been far separated as the apostle used them.
From whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named. So A.V., but R.V. has "every family," holding, doubtless, that the want of the article— πᾶσα πατριὰ not πᾶσαἡπατριὰ—requires this sense. But as in Matthew 2:3; Luke 4:13; Acts 2:1-47.36; Acts 7:22, and Ephesians 2:21; so here, πᾶσα without the article may denote the totality of the thing; πᾶσα πατριὰ corresponding to πᾶσα οἰκοδομὴ.;And this seems more in accord with the scope of the passage, for here the apostle is not distributing into groups, but gathering into one. But what is the precise import of the statement, and for what reason is it introduced? The apostle recognizes all saints, whether in heaven or on earth, as forming one family, and as the whole family derives its name from God, so God may ha expected and appealed to to make full and corresponding provision for the wants of its various sections. The implied appeal is not to the fact that the family is God's family, but to the fact, less important in itself but really including the other, that it is named after him. Among men, one would be held emphatically bound to take an interest in those who are not only his relations but bear his very name. Now, that part of the family which is housed in heaven is gloriously provided for; the apostle proceeds to intercede for the portion still on earth. As the whole family is named after the same Father, is conspicuous before the eyes of all as God's, so it may well be expected that the more needy, feeble, exposed, and tempted part of the family will be treated in every way worthy of its Father.
"Let saints on earth unite to sing
With those to glory gone;
For all the servants of our King,
In earth and heaven, are one.
"One family we dwell in him,
One Church above, beneath;
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream, of death."
That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory. The standard or measure of the Divine giving is brought into view. "Riches of his glory" is a more emphatic expression than "glorious riches," though substantially the same in meaning. God's standard of giving is liberal, bountiful, overflowing. An image of the riches of his glory is seen in the starry heavens, which proclaim at once the vast riches and surpassing glory of God. Or in the beautiful appearance of an autumn sunset, where the whole sky is flecked with clouds brightened into a sea of glory. In prayer, it is both useful for ourselves and glorifying to God to recognize his bountifulness—to remember that he gives us a King (2 Samuel 24:23). To be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man. The inner man is the seat of influence, but with us it is the scat of spiritual feebleness. Most men may contrive to order their outward conduct suitably; but who has control of the inner man? Faith, trust, humility, love, patience, and the like graces which belong to the inner man, are what we are weakest in, and what we have least power to make strong. In this very region it is sought that the Ephesians might be strengthened with might by the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is available for this very purpose for all that ask him.
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. Reversing the usual order, the prayer begins (Ephesians 3:16) by asking the blessing of the Third Person of the Godhead; now we have a cluster of petitions connected with the Second Person. The first of these is for the indwelling of Christ in their hearts, as opposed to mere occasional visits or influences from Christ; the instrument by which this blessing is attained being their faith. Christ exercising a constant power within them, both in the active and passive movements of the heart, giving the sense of pardon and acceptance, molding the will, sweetening the emotions, enlightening and confirming the conscience, purifying the whole springs and principles of action. This to be secured by their faith, opening the door, receiving Christ in all his fullness, resting and living on him, believing his promises, and longing for his appearing the second time. In order that ye, having been rooted and grounded in love. Two images are combined to make the idea emphatic—that of a tree and that of a building; denoting what is both the starting-point and the support of the Christian's life, viz. love. In what sense? The love of Christ is specified afterwards (Ephesians 3:19), but this may be as a pre-eminent branch of that manifold love which bears on the Christian life—the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the love of the brethren to one another; and the reciprocal love evoked from the believer by the reception of this love. Evidently it is implied that the Christian life can begin and flourish only in such an atmosphere of love; as warm sunshine is needed to start and advance the life of a plant, so love is needed to start and carry on the life of the soul. Experience of Divine love is a great quickening and propelling power. "One glance of God, a touch of his love, will free and enlarge the heart, so that it can deny all and part with all and make an entire renunciation of all to follow him" (Archbishop Leighton).
May be made strong to comprehend with all the saints. The subject to be comprehended is not only beyond man's natural capacity, but beyond the ordinary force of his spiritual capacity. The tiring to be grasped needs a special strength of heart and soul; the heart needs to be enlarged, the mental "hands of the arms" need to be made strong (Genesis 49:24). But the attainment is not impossible—it is the experience of "all the saints;" all God's children are enabled to grasp something of this. What is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. No genitive being given, it has been a difficult point to settle to what these dimensions must be held to be applicable. Some think that the love of Christ in the following clause must be meant; but surely when that is made the subject of a separate part of the prayer, and is not in the genitive but the objective case, governed by a verb of its own, this explanation is not to be enter-rained. Others, with more reason, think that the idea of a temple was in the mind of the writer, as it certainly was in Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 2:22, and that it is the dimensions of the temple he had here in his eye, the prayer being that the Ephesians might comprehend the vastness and glory of that spiritual temple which is constituted by all believers, and in which God dwells by the Spirit. Even this, however, would not divest the construction of abruptness, and it would fit in but poorly with the context, in which the tenor o f the apostle's prayer is that a profusion of Divine blessing might be enjoyed by the Ephesians. If a genitive must be supplied, may we not conceive the apostle to have had in his view the entire provision God has made in Christ for the good of his people, so that the dimensions would be those of the gospel storehouse, the vast reservoir out of which the Church is filled? "Breadth" might denote the manifoldness of that provision; "length," its eternal duration; its "depth" might be represented by the profundity of Christ's humiliation; and its "height" by the loftiness of the condition to which his people are to be raised. To comprehend this, to understand its existence and its richness, is to get our faith enlarged, our expectations expanded; it is through this comprehension that "all the saints" have got their wants supplied, and their souls filled as with marrow and fatness.
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. The love here is evidently the love of Christ to us, and this may well be specified as a special matter of prayer. Knowledge of Christ's love, in the sense of an inward personal experience of it—its freeness, its tenderness, its depth, its patience—is the great dynamic of the gospel. This love is transmuted into spiritual force. As the breeze fills the sails and bears forward the ship, so the love of Christ fills the soul and moves it in the direction of God's will. But in its fullness it passeth knowledge; it is infinite, not to be grasped by mortal man, and therefore always presenting new fields to be explored, new depths to be fathomed. That ye may be filled with all the fullness of God; that is, that ye may be filled with spiritual grace and blessing to an extent corresponding to all the fullness of God. Though the finite cannot compare with the infinite, there may be a correspondence between them according to the capacity of each. There is a fullness of gracious attainment in every advanced believer that corresponds to all the fullness of God; every part of his nature is supplied from the Divine fountain, and, so far as a creature can, he presents the image of the Divine fullness. In the human nature of Christ this correspondence was perfect: "In him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;" in the soul of the believer there may be a progressive movement towards this fullness. No higher view can be conceived of the dignity of man's nature, and the glorious privileges conferred on him by the gospel, than that he is susceptible of such conformity to God. Who can conceive that man should have attained to such a capacity by a mere process of evolution? "So God made man in his own image;" and in Christ man is "renewed in righteousness and holiness after the image of him who created him."
Ephesians 3:20, Ephesians 3:21
DOXOLOGY. The study and exposition of the amazing riches of the grace of God gives birth to an outburst of praise toward the Divine Source of all this mercy, past, present, and to come. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. In thinking of God it is as if we thought of space—however far our conceptions may travel, there is still infinity beyond. Paul had asked much in this prayer, and thoughts can always travel beyond words, yet the excess of God's power beyond both was infinite. This excess is denoted by a double term of abundance ( ποιῆσαι ὑπὲρ πάντα and ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ), as if the apostle wished to fill our minds with the idea of absolute infinity of gracious power in God. According to the power that worketh in us, which is none other than the power "which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead" (Ephesians 1:20). The power that is actually at work in us has only to be exerted a little more to accomplish wonders of sanctification, and confer on us immense spiritual strength. Unto him be the glory in the Church in Christ Jesus, world without end. Amen. To God the whole credit of the scheme of grace and the work of grace as carried out in his people is due ("Not of works, lest any man should boast"); therefore let the Church acknowledge this, and cordially and openly ascribe to God his due. Let this feeling be universally encouraged and cherished in the Church, and let it find in the Church services suitable occasions of breaking forth in song and prayer. Again the apostle's favorite formula comes in" in Christ Jesus," to denote that this act of adoration is to be done in immediate connection with the work and person of Christ; for it is he who has brought about the whole condition of things from which the act of adoration springs. And this ascription of praise is not transitory; this view of the Divine character and actings will never become obsolete or be superseded by other views; it will claim their cordial ascriptions forever—literally, to all the generations of the age of the ages.
God's purpose as to the Gentiles.
This passage a parenthesis after Ephesians 3:1—a reference to Paul's personal history. It contains the explanation of his whole career, the secret of his wonderful zeal. Why was he a prisoner? Generally, for the Gentiles. Why for them? Because the Divine purpose regarding them had been revealed to him, and through him to the world, and the enmity of the Jews to that purpose had brought Paul into captivity. Looking at the passage as a whole, it may show us how Paul found compensation for his captivity in the privileges connected with his office as apostle of the Gentiles. This compensation lay chiefly in three things.
I. The precious insight he obtained into the glory of the Divine purpose in reference to the Gentiles, giving him a high conception of the far-reaching generosity of God.
1. There is a high intellectual pleasure in the discovery of any great truth.
2. A profound emotional pleasure in discovering a truth of vast benefit to mankind.
3. A still higher pleasure in receiving such a truth direct from God. This truth did not involve a case of leveling down, but of leveling up. Though the Jews, as a nation, were no longer to occupy a higher platform than the Gentiles, yet all were to be invited to equal nearness to God, and if any should reject the invitation, the blame and the loss would be all their own.
II. The remarkably high qualifications given to him for his office (see Ephesians 3:7)—great love, faith, courage, perseverance, hope; great intellectual insight; great spiritual power. Others got frightened (Mark, Demas, etc.); Paul went on. The human spirit was often depressed, but God comforted him. The thorn in the side was annoying, but "my grace is sufficient for thee."
III. The great honor and privilege of being called to so blessed a work. The work had a glory on earth and a glory in heaven.
1. On earth. He preached to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. He proclaimed his riches of grace, and showed them to be unsearchable. He not only proclaimed them, but in a sense imparted them—brought them into contact with the Ephesians, so that they got the good of them, through the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
2. In heaven. The gospel has aspects of blessing beyond this world. It carries important lessons to the principalities and powers. It shows the manifold wisdom of God, shows how all classes and varieties of mankind are brought to God by the cross of Christ, assimilating all characters, overcoming all alienations, demolishing all wails of separation, and building up all together in Christ Jesus. One great conclusion. In every sense the success of the gospel is very glorifying to God; it illustrates his perfections; it glorifies his Son; it educates the very angels; and thus it carries forward the grand purpose of God in the creation of the worlds. "To him be glory forever. Amen."
The unsearchable riches of Christ.
"Riches" an attractive word. Human heart leaps towards them. Ceaseless disappointments of most who follow after them. Here the riches that moth and rust do not corrupt, nor thieves break through to steal.
1. There are in Christ unsearchable riches of compassion. Case of the lost, proper object of pity. Christ's pity boundless. Human pity often quenched by great wickedness, troublesomeness, loathsomeness. Not so Christ's! Pity for thief on cross, Saul, Corinthians, and other gross sinners.
2. Unsearchable riches of merit. His blood cleanseth us from all sin. He is "able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him"—Augustine, Bunyan, Lord Rochester, John Newton, and such like.
3. Unsearchable riches of sanctifying grace. Great change needed to make men meet for kingdom of heaven. This includes grace to enlighten, guide, strengthen, and to restore from declension.
4. Unsearchable riches of comforting grace. No sorrow to which we are liable for which the gospel has not a comfort; no wound for which there is no balm. The Third Person, "the Comforter," is sent by Christ.
5. Unsearchable riches of glorifying grace. Can make provision for the full satisfaction and infinite enjoyment of every soul forever and ever. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; .. for the Lamb in the midst of the throne shall feed them;" "He that hath the Son hath life;" "He that overcometh shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son."
Prayer for spiritual enrichment. qualities already noted as belonging to Paul's prayer.
This prayer remarkable for Three parts in this prayer—
1. The attitude: "I bow my knees;" humility, earnestness.
2. The designation of God: "the Father;" the character in which Christ taught us to approach God in prayer, and which gives us most encouragement.
3. The name of the family is derived from God, constituting an additional plea. That which bears God's Name must be an object of special interest to him.
II. THE PETITIONS. Three centers of petition, according as the grace
I., Ephesians 3:16 : connected with the Spirit.
2., Ephesians 3:17-19 : connected with the Son.
3., Ephesians 3:19 : connected with the Father. "Filled with all the fullness of God." The renewed heart has a capacity to receive the things of God—to be plunged, as it were, into his fullness and filled there from. This can never be fully reached; as our capacities increase there is more to be enjoyed.
III. THE DOXOLOGY.
1. The Being praised. "Him that is able," etc. View of Divine infinity, for much has been asked and more thought about; yet, like space and time, God's ability to bless extends infinitely beyond. The blessing is in the direction of what has been already conferred: "According to the power that worketh in us."
2. The ascription offered.
HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY
"The prisoner of Jesus Christ."
The apostle often refers to his prison-life, and here presents himself to the Churches as "an ambassador in bonds" (Ephesians 6:20).
I. HE WAS A MOST CELEBRATED PRISONER. Perhaps he was regarded as of no great account by his Roman jailors, who could have known nothing of the secret of his greatness; but viewed in the light of Christian history, Paul is the most distinguished of men. He did more than any other apostle to shape the theology of Western Christendom, which, in its turn, has left the deepest imprint on the civilization of the world. The world would not be today what it is if Paul of Tarsus had not lived. His influence has long survived the empire of Rome, which held him captive. We sympathize with the prison-sorrows of the great. Alas! that the best of men, "of whom the world was not worthy," have spent so many weary days and years in prison!
II. HE WAS NOT A PRISONER FOR CRIME OR FOR THE BREACH OF THE ROMAN LAWS, BUT AS THE EFFECT OF THE UNSLEEPING HATRED OF THE JEWS. It was his ministry to the Gentiles which brought down upon him the vindictive anger of his countrymen, and led them to accuse him before the Roman magistrates. The suspicion that he had taken Trophimus, an Ephesian, into the temple at Jerusalem had, indeed, an immediate connection with his first arrest. "He was at once Christ's prisoner, the Jews' prisoner, the Romans' prisoner, the Gentiles' prisoner: Christ's prisoner, as suffering for his gospel; the Jews' prisoner, as suffering by their accusation; the Romans' prisoner, as suffering by their sentence; the Gentiles' prisoner, as suffering for his labor's unto their salvation." His imprisonment was thus a higher honor than his rapture into the third Heavens.
III. HIS IMPRISONMENT HAD ITS PROVIDENTIAL ADVANTAGES. Just as John Huss had leisure during his imprisonment in the fortress on the Rhine to write words that fired the hearts of his countrymen ages after his martyrdom at Constance, and as Martin Luther's one year's imprisonment in the Wartburg enabled him to give the Scriptures to Germany in the tongue of the people, so the Apostle Paul was enabled in the leisure of his Roman imprisonment to throw off those beautiful Epistles of the captivity—to the Philippians, to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, to Philemon—which have s, largely contributed to the edification and comfort of the Church. He still held the threads of a hundred interests in his hands, and felt in his prison at Rome the throbbing of thousands of Christian hearts in all parts of Asia and Europe.
IV. PRISON-LIFE IS ALMOST NECESSARILY SAD, BECAUSE OF ITS ISOLATION FROM HUMAN RELATIONS, ITS SOLITUDE, ITS SUSPENSION OF ACTIVE AND ACCUSTOMED LABOR, AND ITS USUALLY HARD CONDITIONS. It must have been a sore trial to the apostle to submit to an enforced inactivity, while the world was everywhere, in so sad a sense, "ripe for the harvest." It would seem as if, at a certain point, the sympathy of Asiatic Christians failed him (2 Timothy 1:15); and there was an unaccountable indifference to his wants marking the relations of the Roman Christians themselves, which argued that much was not to be expected from their affection. So his prison-experience must have had its dark moments.
V. MARK THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THE APOSTLE LIVED THROUGH THIS PRISON-EXPERIENCE. The solitude of such a life often breeds a morbid spirit, which throws a darker coloring into the thoughts of the prisoner. Yet the Epistles of the captivity breathe a beautiful spirit of Christian courage and resignation, not to speak of absolute rejoicing. Compare the letters of the apostle with those of Cicero, Seneca, and Ovid in their exile, and we see at a glance the different effects of Christianity and paganism upon the happiness of man. As the prisoner of Jesus Christ, he abounded in the consolations of his Divine Master, while he must have been greatly encouraged by the visits of disciples like Epaphroditus, Epaphras, and others, who carried to him the prayers and benefactions of the Churches.
VI. WE OUGHT TO REMEMBER PRISONERS IN OUR PRAYERS, AS "BOUND WITH THEM." Most prisoners in our day are in jail for crime, but we ought to remember that they are men, that they are our brothers, that they must feel their separation from wife and children and home as keenly as we should. Perhaps, but for restraining grace, we should have been in their position. But we are bound specially to remember in our prayers those suffering for the cause of Christ, and especially those occupied with great service for the Lord.—T.C.
Dispensational privileges of the Gentiles.
The apostle recurs to a subject already treated in few words" in the first chapter—words which he requests them to read, that they may fully understand his meaning—respecting the new position of the Gentiles in the kingdom of God. Their position was determined by a dispensation, that is, by an arrangement organized in all its parts in relation to space and time; for God works by order in grace as well as in nature. Consider—
I. THE ORIGIN OF THIS DISPENSATION. "The grace of God given to me to you-ward." It was an act of Divine favor to select the apostle as the person through whom "the mystery" of the dispensation was to be, not only revealed, but applied in its redeeming effects to the Ephesian heathens. It was not the honor or the authority involved in it that made it precious in his eyes; it was the privilege of making known the unsearchable riches of Christ. Thus, as a good steward of the mysteries of God, it was the delight of his life to dispense them in all their gracious manifoldness to the family of God.
II. THE MYSTERY THAT SHROUDED THE DISPENSATION' FOR AGES.
1. It is called "the mystery of Christ," not because he is its Author, but because he is the Center or Subject of it; for it included far more than the truth that the Gentiles were fellow-citizens of the saints. Christ is the Mystery of godliness, as he is God manifest in the flesh, but he is emphatically so as "Christ the Hope of glory" for the Gentiles (Colossians 1:27).
2. It was hidden for ages from the sons of men, both Jew and Gentile. A mystery is either something which has been concealed, perhaps for ages, and which probably would never have been discovered unless the voice of revelation had proclaimed it; or something which, even when revealed, transcends the power of the human faculties to comprehend it. Now, the Incarnation is a mystery in this double sense; but the call of the Gentiles, as part of "the mystery of Christ," is a mystery only in the first-named sense. It was known to the Jews for ages that the Gentiles would share in the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom—and the Apostle Paul quotes Old Testament predictions to prove the fact (Romans 9:25-33); but it was not known that the Gentiles would be included within the circle of religious privilege by the complete sacrifice of the Hebrew theocracy and the reconstitution of religion on a perfectly new basis, designed equally for all mankind, under which the old distinctions of Jew and. Gentile would be done away. There was to be no further room for Jewish particularism. The dispensation which was to carry the world to its last destinies was to be as universal as that embodied in the first promise made to our first parents.
3. The revelation of the mystery. So far as it involved a mission to the Gentiles, it was revealed first to the Apostle Paul at his conversion; for when Christ appeared to him on his journey to Damascus, he said, "I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness... delivering thee from the people, and. from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26:16-18). But the fuller exhibition of Gentile privilege is made in this glorious Epistle as well as elsewhere. It was a revelation made by the Lord himself (Galatians 1:12). But it was made especially to "apostles and prophets," both of them belonging to the new dispensation the only class of inspired men connected with it who received special information from the Holy Spirit, who searches the deep things of God, respecting the new development of the kingdom. The revelation was, indeed, one of facts as well as of truths. The calling of the Gentiles was made manifest in the Spirit's falling upon Cornelius, and in the widespread success of the gospel among the Gentiles, so that the logic of facts beautifully reinforced the more formal revelations of "apostles and prophets."
4. The substance of the revelation. "That the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." These are the three points of Gentile privilege. They were not to receive the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom by being merged as proselytes into the old theocracy, which was to abide in all its narrow ritualism.
Ephesians 3:8, Ephesians 3:9
The apostle's high privilege.
Very often does he refer, with a sort of grateful humility, to the Divine favor in attaching him to the service of the gospel.
I. MARK THE CONTRAST BETWEEN HIS CALL AND HIS SENSE OF PERSONAL NOTHINGNESS. "Less than the least of all saints." The expression is exceedingly emphatic, being a comparative formed upon a superlative. He could never forget his share in the death of Stephen, and his fierce persecutions of the Church of God. This was the sin which, though forgiven by God, could never be forgiven by himself. But he was likewise conscious of his own weakness and sinfulness, as we know by the very forcible phrase, "of sinners I am chief," which he uses as a presently believing man. Such language of self abasement is a mark of true saintship. The highest saints are usually the most distinguished by their humility. The term by which he describes himself implies that there are saints in Christ's kingdom—little, less, least; not that there is any difference in their title, but a difference at once in their realization of their own unworthiness and in the degree of their conformity to him who was at once "meek and lowly." Now, while the consciousness of his own unworthiness steed out in marked contrast to the high function to which he was called in God's grace, he does not shrink from asserting his authority as an ambassador of Christ in the strongest terms, but always with the conviction of one who ascribes all his success, not to his own merits, but to "the gift of the grace of God? His call to the apostleship involved his conversion, and his conversion was "by the effectual working of God's power."
II. CONSIDER HIS MESSAGE TO THE GENTILES. "The unsearchable riches of Christ." We read of riches of grace and riches of glory, but the plenitude of all Divine blessings is in him.
1. The apostle does not specify what is included in the riches of Christ." He who was rich for our sakes became poor that "ye through his poverty might be made rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). We see the source of all the riches—it is in himself. But Scripture shows that, while in him there was all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, with the real design of his filling us eventually with all the fullness of God, "the riches of Christ" are scattered over the whole path of a believer, from its starting-point in conversion till it is lost in the glories of the eternal inheritance. He is rich in love, rich in compassion, rich in mercy, rich in grace, rich in peace, rich in promise, rich in reward, rich in all the blessings of the new and better covenant, as he must be because he is "made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption."
2. The riches of Christ are "unsearchable." The word suggests the idea of the difficulty of tracing footsteps. Who can trace the footsteps of God? Whatever of power is infinite power; whatever of wisdom is infinite wisdom; whatever of love is infinite love.
3. Consider his larger message to the whole world of man. "And to make all men see the dispensation of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God." The apostle's object was to enlighten the Jew as well as the Gentile upon the true nature of the dispensation which displaced so much that was dear to the Jewish heart in order that the true glory of the Lord might shine forth, not as a mere minister of the circumcision, but as the uniter of Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female, in his own body. The mystery was hid for ages, but was now made known by apostles and prophets. We see how revelation was an historical movement, subject to the usual laws of historical development; for the redemptive purpose," hid for ages," was evolved by a gradual process of growth, till in Christianity it became a full-grown fact. It was part of the discipline of man to go through all these stages of imperfect knowledge till "the perfect day" dawned upon the world. But it was through all the ages "the mystery of redemption," going back to the ages that date from creation—"creation building the platform on which the strange mystery of redemption was disclosed."—T.C.
Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 3:11
The Church the means of angelic enlightenment.
The Divine purpose in the dispensation already described was to make known to the angels the manifold wisdom of God.
I. THE ANGELS RECEIVE INSTRUCTION THROUGH THE CHURCH. This implies:
1. That the angels are not omniscient, for they have something still to learn.
2. That the angels are in communication with the Church on earth as well as in heaven. They rejoice over the conversion of sinners; they minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14); they stand in immediate relation to the individual man (Matthew 18:10; Luke 15:10; Luke 16:22). The apostles regard themselves as "spectacles to angels" as well as men, in the insults heaped upon them by an ungrateful world (1 Corinthians 4:9). The Apostle Peter was liberated from prison by an angel. Angels are present in the assembly of the saints (1 Corinthians 11:10). They are associated with the redeemed in heaven (Hebrews 12:22), so as to derive much information concerning the kingdom of God.
3. The angels desire increased knowledge of the ways of God with man. This might be inferred from the fact that they come specially into the foreground at great turning-points in the history of the kingdom of God, such as the founding of the old and new covenants, and the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. But they are expressly represented as desiring "to look into" the great realities of redemption (1 Peter 1:12), and here they are instructed in the manifold wisdom of God by means of the Church.
II. THE INSTRUCTION CONVEYED BY THE CHURCH IS "THE GREATLY DIVERSIFIED WISDOM OF GOD." It is a curious fact that the interest of the angels is not in the power or the goodness of God, but in his wisdom, as if to imply that the work of redemption represents the highest order of intelligence. It is also a high honor to man that he should first receive the knowledge which the angels are to receive through man. But the angels, by their great age—for they may be thousands of years old—have advantages that short-lived man does not possess for comparing the wisdom of God as manifest in widely distant ages. But the wisdom here referred to centers in the Church—the spiritual body constituted in Christ, and its variety is manifest in the original plan of salvation, in the selection of a Redeemer, in the incarnation, in the atonement, in the application of salvation to Gentile and Jew, in the spread el the Greek language, in the triumph of the Roman law, and in all the dispensations by which the Church has been led onward to her final destiny. Thus our earth, though a mere speck in space, becomes, in the eyes of angels, the brightest of stars; for it is the platform of that Church which mirrors forth "the manifold wisdom of God."
III. IT IS THE CHURCH WHICH IS THE MEDIUM OF ANGELIC INSTRUCTION. Not specifically the preaching of apostles, nor human preaching, but the Church as the exhibition in its long and checkered history of the wisdom of God.
IV. THIS EXHIBITION OF THE MANIFOLD WISDOM WAS INVOLVED IN THE ORIGINAL PLAN OF SALVATION. "According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." The scheme was fixed in the counsel of peace; it was executed in all its parts in and through Jesus Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; and it found historical realization in the progress and kingdom of God, apart from all dispensational limitations.—T.C.
The new spirit of a approach to God.
As the effect of the work of redemption, we stand in a new relation to God, which entitles us to a continuous access to him, free, unrestricted, and confiding.
1. WE HAVE BOLDNESS AND ACCESS TO GOD. There is an open, intrepid speaking which springs from a mind confident in itself and strong in the justice of the cause it espouses; but the freedom of speech here referred to is based upon a true appreciation of our relation to Christ and the security enjoyed by the believer in the midst of all his tremors and dubieties. Our God is indeed a consuming fire, yet the believer can approach him without servile fear, simply because Christ is the way of access, and the heart has been sprinkled from an evil conscience through his blood.
II. IT IS IN CHRIST WE HAVE THIS CHANGED DISPOSITION IN PRAYER. He died that we might have "boldness to enter into the holiest." We see in his atonement, not a means of deliverance out of the bands of God, but the strongest of all reasons for casting ourselves into the bands of God as the very best Friend we have in all the universe. Our security from the wrath of God is in the bosom of God. It is Jesus who gives us audience with God, dispelling at the same time from the mind of the worshipper those suggestions which would restrict or narrow the riches of God's love.
III. IT IS BY FAITH IN CHRIST WE REACH THIS NEW TEMPER OF BOLDNESS. It is by the faith of which Christ is both the Object and the Author, discovering to us the dignity of his person, the efficacy of his work, the security of his love, that we are enabled joyfully to approach God. It is thus we have confidence in our approaches to God. Christ's sacrifice, as it has given infinite satisfaction to God, is fitted to inspire the soul of the believer with perfect confidence. He sees that nothing more is needed to, ensure his everlasting acceptance, and is thus led to tread with boldness the entrance into the sanctuary of God's presence. He has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has confidence in regard to his interest in God's love, in regard to the power and faithfulness of God to fulfill his promises, and in regard to the continuousness of the supply of grace necessary to his final salvation.
IV. THE EFFECTS OF THIS BOLDNESS AND ACCESS TO GOD ARE TO MAKE US SUPERIOR TO ALL THE AFFLICTIONS OF LIFE. The apostle beseeches the Ephesians, on this ground, not to lose heart on account of the afflictions that had come to himself on their account. The cynical philosopher represents most as easily reconciled to the misfortunes of their friends, but Christianity not only enjoins but sustains a nobler temper. So close was the relationship that existed between the apostle and the saints at Ephesus, that his afflictions had fallen upon them like almost the reality of a personal experience. They were not to be discouraged by his tribulations, which were, after all, the price paid for his uncompromising assertion of their rights as Gentiles.—T.C.
"The family in heaven and in earth."
The prayer of the apostle, which includes a reference to the whole family interest of the universe under the blessed Father, is one of the most fervent, comprehensive, and sublime to be found in all Scripture. Let us consider the force and beauty of the expression, "the family in heaven and in earth." The primary reference is to the Church of God, brat it likewise includes the angels, who merge with the saints into one family; for "all they are brethren." The Church is the family of God in many respects.
I. IT IS SO IN THE TIE THAT BINDS ALL THE MEMBERS TOGETHER. A family has its constitution in nature, not in similarity of opinion, or interest, or taste. We cannot choose who shall be our brothers or sisters. There are relationships in human life into which we can enter or not enter at will, such as political associations, literary fellowships, social bonds of various kinds. The family is not of this character. Now, the Church is a family unlike these merely voluntary associations, for it is founded by God himself, in which we have our place by his own adopting grace, and once we are there, our relations to everything internal and external are determined, not by ourselves, but by the laws of family life. We become "children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26). There may be members in this family who may not recognize us as fellow-members at all, but we are members notwithstanding, by ties which they have done nothing to create and which they cannot undo by their exclusiveness or their bigotry. Yet all the members are really bound to each other by the tie of a common life, for they live by faith in Christ Jesus, and of a common love; for faith worketh by love, and never works without it. Jesus says, "Love one another, as I have loved you." That is, we are to love with a love practical, humble, bountiful, patient, gentle, all-embracing, and lasting as Christ's own love.
II. THE CHURCH IS A FAMILY BY ITS UNITY. There is but one Father in the Divine family, who unites in himself the perfection of fatherly and motherly affection. There is but one Church on earth, "one body," as there is but one faith, one baptism, one hope. Wherever there is union with Christ, there is membership in his body the Church. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the bond of unity in the Church. It follows, therefore, that believers must be one in faith, love, and obedience.
III. THE CHURCH AS A FAMILY ADMITS OF GREAT DIVERSITIES. There are great diversities of affection, of temperament, of character, in the same family, contributing, indeed, to the fullness and happiness of its life. The completeness of the family depends, indeed, on the beautiful fusion of its masculine and feminine elements. Now, the Church similarly, though one, exists under great diversities of form and condition. There are, first, the two great divisions of the Church into the heavenly and the earthly membership. It is a mistake to say, as some do, that the Church consists only of living saints, as if the dead ceased to he in its unity. God does not set members in the body that they may die out of it again; he is the God, not of the dead, but of the living; and if such members are not in the body, they are without a Head, that is, without Jesus Christ, who is the only Head of the body. Can "the whole body" grow to the measure of the stature of a perfect man without including the growth of the entire Church of God? Then, again, there are the diversities of dispensations. Believers of every age, no matter under what dispensation they lived, are members of the Divine family. The way of salvation was always the same (Romans 4:1-25.). The one Lamb of God who took away the sin of man was "slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 8:8). The variety of dispensations marks the onward stages of the family life. Then, again, there are the diversities of opinion which have existed within the Church of God without destroying its unity; and endless diversities of character and temperament, all governed more or less by the subduing grace of God; and the diversities of lot, service, and event, illustrated in the career of the members of this family.
IV. THE CHURCH IS A FAMILY WITH A FINAL GATHERING AND A HOME FOR ALL ITS SEPARATED MEMBERS. There is a house of" many mansions," which our Savior has gone before to prepare (John 14:2)—"the holy places made without hands;" the grand metropolis of God's moral rule, "whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord," from every realm of earth, from every age of time. There angels will mingle with saints, and interchange experiences of the love of God. The fatherhood of God is thus seen to connect different orders of beings by a new and loving tie. Happy family, whose names are written in heaven! Happy family, whose ranks are unbroken, whose hearts are one! Gathered home at last, to be forever with the Lord, and forever with one another!—T.C.
A prayer for spiritual strength.
This beautiful supplication suggests several interesting points.
I. IT IS A PRAYER FOR THE SAINTS. It is not for their conversion, but that they might have life still more abundantly. The apostle's desire was to make men eminent Christians, to quicken them in the heavenly race, to promote in them a growth in grace and knowledge which would contribute to their spiritual robustness.
II. THE BLESSING SOUGHT IS REGARDED AS A FREE GIFT, "That he would grant you... to be strengthened." All true prayer proceeds upon the supposition that we can expect nothing from God but as a free gift through Jesus Christ. There must be a sense of want along with a spirit of entire dependence on the Lord, so that the believer may realize the sweetness of the promise, "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
III. THE BLESSING IS SPIRITUAL STRENGTH. "Strengthened with might… in the inner man." It is not a prayer for physical strength, which is a matter of slight moment in God's sight, though it is often made the subject of foolish boasting among men; nor for intellectual strength, which is a much more important factor in human life; but for "strength in the inner man." This is not to be confounded with "the new man." It is rather "the hidden man of the heart" (1 Peter 3:4); the man "created after God" (Ephesians 4:24) in righteousness and holiness; the interior principle of spiritual life; the personification of out' intellectual and spiritual life, with its impulses, its feelings, its struggles. This is the sphere, the direction, the destination, of the strength prayed for. It is a prayer that God would make us eminent in grace and goodness, that our souls may prosper and. be in health like our bodies, that we may be able to grapple with all our spiritual enemies, to resist temptation, to endure afflictions, to perform the duties of our Christian calling. If we have strength, we shall be able to run in the way of God's commandments (Isaiah 40:31). Our physical strength is renewed from day to day by food and rest. So is our spiritual strength daily renewed by the Bread of life; and thus the apostle could say of himself, "I can do all things through Christ; which strengtheneth me."
IV. THE SOURCE OF THIS STRENGTH IS THE SPIRIT OF GOD. "By the Spirit." Here is the Fountain of spiritual energy. The Spirit strengthens the believer by leading him to the fullness of grace that is in Christ, by shedding abroad the love of God in his heart, by applying the promises of the gospel, by making the Scriptures sources of that "joy of the Lord which is our strength," and thus causing us to go from strength to strength till at last we stand before God in Zion. It is easy to see, indeed, that the Fountain of strength is in the Spirit; for all the nine graces of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22)—are so many factors of this inward power. They promote the freedom and efficiency of life.
V. THE MEASURE OF THIS STRENGTH. "According to the riches of his glory." The apostle asks it in no limited measures; he asks it in the measure of the riches of that glory which is seen in his blended and harmonious attributes. God will act up to the dignity of his infinite perfections. "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it, saith the Lord;" "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." There is an inexhaustible source of mercy upon which we may draw at pleasure in the supreme exigencies of our life.
VI. CONSIDER THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BLESSING ASKED FOR. There is happiness in strength, there is misery in weakness; there is efficiency in strength, there is futility in weakness.
1. Our usefulness depends on large supplies of spiritual strength. If we are weak, what good can we do in the world? "Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing."
2. We glorify God by this fuller strength. It is not enough to have grace enough to carry us to heaven; we must abound in the fruits of righteousness to the praise and glory of God, Let us, then, pray earnestly that we may become "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might," and that our inward man may be renewed day by day, even though our outward man show signs of weakness and decay.—T.C.
The indwelling of Christ in believers.
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." Whether we regard this clause of the prayer as representing the result, or the purpose, or the source of the spiritual strength spoken of in the previous clause, it is in very close relationship with it. Its own meaning is perfectly clear.
I. THE INDWELLER—CHRIST. There is a threefold idea suggested by the term.
1. The believer is regarded as a temple or house to be divinely inhabited. It is originally a house in ruins, to be restored as a beautiful temple of the Lord. Judging by the analogy of restoring a ruined house, the first operation is a cleansing out of the rubbish; the second, an opening of the windows to admit the pure air of heaven, and a kindling of a fire on the hearth; the third is a closing up or all the cracks or openings in the walls by which the wind or air finds access; and the fourth is the furnishing of the rooms with such articles of convenience as our taste and our means may enable us to procure. Similarly, when the Lord takes up his abode in the sinner's heart, the process, though not successive in point of time, includes, first, the application of the blood of Christ to "the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience;" second, the opening of the windows of the understanding to displace the tainted atmosphere of man's thoughts, and the kindling of the fire of love Divine in the heart; third, the watchful closing up of those avenues in the soul through which sin so easily finds access; and fourth, the furnishing of the soul with the needed graces of the Spirit.
2. The indwelling is here ascribed to Christ. It is elsewhere ascribed to the Holy Spirit: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). It is likewise ascribed to the Father: "He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). These varying forms of expression find their solution in the doctrine of the Trinity. He that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father, and be that hath the Son hath the Father; then, again, he that hath the Son hath the Spirit of Christ: "The Spirit of God dwelleth in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you .. the Spirit is life because of righteousness" (Romans 8:9, Romans 8:10). Therefore, when the apostle speaks of Christ dwelling in our hearts, he refers to the Spirit's indwelling, for Christ dwells in his people by his Spirit. But there is a distinction in the modes of this indwelling: the Father dwells in us by love (1 John 4:16); the Son by faith (Ephesians 3:17); the Spirit lies hid in the heart, working the faith in the one case anti the love in the other.
3. It implies an abiding habit of life. Christ does not come as a sojourner or as a wayfaring man, that turneth aside to tarry for the night, but as a constant dweller. Herein lies our security for the continuance, the power, the comfort, of this life.
II. THE SEAT OF INDWELLING—THE HEART. This is the true shrine. The word signifies the seat of religious knowledge as well as feeling. Thus Christ sits at the very center of spiritual life, himself the very Life of that life (Galatians 2:20), controlling all its impulses and movements. The objects we most desire we treasure in the heart. The heart wearies of many things, but can never weary of this Divine Visitant, who can speak with commanding voice when the soul is disturbed by suggestions of sin. "If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart" (1 John 3:20). The Lord is the supreme Possessor of the heart "now sprinkled from an evil conscience."
III. THE SUBJECTIVE MEANS OF THE INDWELLING—FAITH. This is not to be regarded merely as the means of our justification, or as the root of our spiritual life, but as its continuously sustaining principle, according to the apostle's teaching: "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and. the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). This is the faith that worketh by love, that purifies the heart, that overcometh the world. It is the principle of spiritual communion; it is that by which we realize the presence, the excellence, the power, of Christ in us; it is that which radiates all grace and peace through the believer's heart.—T.C.
Love, the root and foundation of spiritual knowledge.
"That ye, being rooted and grounded in love," may comprehend and know the love of Christ. The effect of Christ's indwelling in believers is to root them and found them deeply in love—love being the root of the tree of life in the one case, and the foundation of the temple or house in the other; for the soul, ever contemplating Christ within it, is changed into his very likeness. The apostle means that the Ephesian saints would grow in the knowledge of that love by growing into the likeness of that love. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God; the meek will he guide in judgment, the meek will he teach his way." The truths of God are by them spiritually discerned. There is a deep philosophy in this matter. Men cannot understand each other except so far as they have the radical elements of the same experiences in themselves. I understand what you mean when you say you are hot or cold, because I have had sensations of heat and cold in myself. Thus people of dissimilar tempers, or culture, or opportunities are apt to misunderstand each other. A vulgar man cannot understand a man of high refinement. A practical man of the world, who is today what he was yesterday, and will be tomorrow what he is today, can never understand the man of poetic genius, whose spirits come and go like the tides, today in the height of sentimental ecstasy, tomorrow in the depths of despair. There must, therefore, be similarity of temper or experience to promote a real understanding. Thus we can see how only love can understand love. Even in our worldly intimacies, it is not quickness of perception but the force of sympathy or affection that enables us to understand our friends. "Love's quick eye can pierce through disguises impenetrable to a colder scrutiny." Thus it is that the knowledge of God is not to be compassed by a mere exercise of the intellect; it is to be attained through love: "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:8). Thus it comes to pass that we can know the love of Christ realizingly just in proportion as we have that which resembles it in our own hearts, and that love is there in virtue of his own indwelling by the Spirit. "The Christ of the Bible manifests himself, and, by the laws of human nature, can manifest himself only to his own image formed in the heart." Thus it is possible to read a new meaning into the beautiful sentence of inspiration, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Our Lord has suggestively said, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." There are moral as well as intellectual conditions in the pathway of all extended knowledge.—T.C.
Ephesians 3:18, Ephesians 3:19
The comprehension of the love of Christ.
The true science for saints is "Christ's love."
I. CONSIDER THIS LOVE AS REPRESENTED IN THE PASSAGE as to length, breadth, height, and depth.
1. These dimensions seem to imply infinity. It has been suggested that the apostle speaks as if standing in a center, himself the object of this love, enveloped by an atmosphere of love which stretches away illimitably above, beneath, around. He prays that all saints may stand, as it were, in the focus of the same enveloping love. What is that which has thus its center wherever a saint is to be found? The center of infinite space is wherever we stand; for we carry this center with us, no matter where we go. So it is with the infinite love of Christ, which surrounds the saints with its vast and limitless expanse. Each saint ought to feel that he is in the very center of that love, as if the sole object of its guiding, purifying, comforting care. Human affection has it's limits, for it cannot lavish its richest treasures upon several beings at the same time. Not so the heart of Jesus, which has room for millions upon millions of saints.
2. But the love of Christ way be seen in its pre-eminence from the standpoint of time. Not only does he love millions, but there is a wonderful duration in his affection for us. We think gratefully of the parental affection that shone upon our life before any time that our memory can recall, and long before we were conscious of its existence. We value most the friendships that have lasted longest. But what is all earthly love to the everlasting love of Christ, which had us in his heart ages before our birth, and had a kingdom prepared for us before the foundation of the world? But his love is as lasting as it is ancient. Human affection often fails through misunderstandings, collisions of interests, variations of pursuit, so that there is often a painful sense of uncertainty as to the future; but even that affection can hardly fallow us, as to any real succor or comfort, throughout the unknown life that awaits us beyond the grave. There is One, however, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever; on the continuance of whose love we can securely count in time and throughout eternity. If he love us now, he will love us to the end. What, then, shall separate us from such a love?
3. But this love might be regarded from another standpoint : think of its intensity. We measure its intensity by its sacrifices, its sufferings, its burdens; yet we must remember that there was more than a mere human sensibility beating in the heart of Christ. He plants himself in the very heart of this world's ingratitude and rebellion and unbelief, exposed to all its hatred, revenge, impurity, profanity; and dies for this very world, "the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God."
II. IT IS A LOVE DESIGNED TO BE THE OBJECT ALIKE OF COMPREHENSION AND OF KNOWLEDGE. The apostle prays that the Ephesian saints may comprehend the dimensions of it and "know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." There is a difference between the two terms. We do not want simply to know about Christ's love, of which the absolute understanding is beyond our reach, but to know it, to realize it as a possession of our own, to have an experimental knowledge of its preciousness. Such love may be darkness to the intellect, but it is sunshine to the heart; too marvelous for us to comprehend, but not too rich for us to enjoy. "In a word, to know the love of Christ—it is might in weakness; it is patience in tribulation; it is strength for living; it is hope in dying; it is heaven brought clown to earth; it is heaven dwelling within the soul."
III. THE GRAND PURPOSE AND RESULT OF THIS REALIZED LOVE. "That ye may be filled with all the fullness of God."
1. The fullness of God is the tidiness which God possesses, and therefore incapable of being contracted to the dimensions of a human heart. Yet that fullness—the plenitude of the Divine perfection, which is said to dwell in Christ bodily—is the very measure unto which we are to he filled. We are to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect; we are to come "to the perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;" we are actually predestinated to be conformed to the image of that Son of God who is the Brightness of the Father's glory, and the express Image of his person.
2. We are to be filled unto that fullness. The apostle does not say that we shall reach it in this life, or that, if we reach it in the life beyond, the distance between God and us will not still be less than infinite. Plunge an empty vessel into the ocean, it is filled out of and filled with the fullness of the waters that surround it on every side. That empty vessel is our soul. It can take in the fullness of God in its own measure of self-containment. The comparison, to be more exact, demands that the vessel in question should be of expansible material, like a sponge, which, lying withered upon the rock, becomes larger and larger as it is sunk in the deep, till it is merged in the very fullness of the sea. Thus our dry and withered souls, filled with the love of Christ, expand gradually into the very fullness of God.
3. Effects of this filling unto God's fullness. One is that, with a well so full and overflowing, our vessels need never be empty. You may ask too little; you cannot ask too much: for the very fullness of God is ever flowing into you. You cannot exhaust it by any frequency of resort to it. Study ever more and more the love of Christ, which, like an arch, stands all the firmer from every additional stone with which it is weighted. Another effect is that, in proportion as you are being filled with God's fullness, there is loss room in the heart for sin, or fear, or doubt, or pain. The fullness, like the perfect love, "casteth out fear." As in an exhausted receiver, the more the air is drawn off the more firmly will the machine clasp the surface upon which it stands, so the more that guilt and fen; are drawn off from the believer's heart, the more will it cleave to the almighty strength on which it rests. Let our hearts rejoice, therefore, in the fullness of God.—T.C.
Ephesians 3:20, Ephesians 3:21
A great doxology.
The apostle had exhausted all the forms of supplication, and now he casts himself upon the very infinitude of God, which was able to supply more than the thoughts or desires of men could suggest in the sphere of prayer.
I. THE THEME OF THE DOXOLOGY. It is no abstract ascription of glory to God; it is one full of hope and cheer to the Church—the ability of God to do great things for his people. There is a sort of climax in the language employed: God is able to do what we ask or think; he is able to do above all we ask or think; nay, abundantly above it; nay, exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think; and our thinking is very much wider than our asking. Two things make us strong in prayer—a deep sense of need and a strong hope of supply. Perhaps we shall hardly venture to ask some blessings, but we ought to consider that we are either to approach God on our own merits or on the merits of Christ. If we pray for blessing on our own merits, we can hardly be too stinted in our asking; but if on the merits of Christ, we ought not to disgrace God by asking little things on such a wide basis of encouragement. We have, in fact, got a carte-blanche put into our hands by Christ, saying, "Ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." We are to ask up to our power of thinking, and far beyond it; for "God giveth liberally and upbraideth not?" "Prove me now... if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it." But Paul says merely that God is "able" to do so; what about his will to do so? We remember, when speaking of God's ultimate restoration of the Jews, Paul says, "And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again." That is, they shall be, because God is able to do it. Therefore, we shall never have asked too much till we have asked beyond God's ability.
II. THE MEASURE OF THE POWER REFERRED TO. "According to the power that worketh in us." It is not abstract or intrinsic omnipotence, such as merely suggests a possibility that may never pass into a reality. It is a power in actual exercise for the benefit of the Church of God. It is in actual operation even before we have begun to ask or think; it is "the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe;" it is the glorious and surpassing power of God, not only irreversibly pledged, but irrevocably in operation. The principal thing that God does for us is what he does in us. "According to the power that worketh in us." There is a power that worketh for us, in virtue of whose supreme disposal "all things work together for good to them that love God;" but there is a power that worketh in us, to will and to do of his good pleasure, that perfecteth that which concerneth us, keeping us from falling, so that we may be presented blameless before the presence of his glory.
III. THE DEBT OF GLORY DUE TO SUCH A GOD. "Unto him … be the glory." What shall we not render unto him? Is it not a glorious work he has done? We cannot make him glorious, but we can tell how glorious he is in his gracious and mighty administration. "Thine is the glory," said Christ. All glory belongs to him. Many glorious things exist in creation. The sun is glorious, the stars are glorious, even one star differing from another star in glory; but it is God who feeds their wonderful fires. They belong unto Jehovah. "No flesh must glory in his presence;" and the only way not to glory before him is to glory in him. "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
IV. THE SPHERE OR SCENE OF THIS GLORY. "Unto him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus." "The locality or sphere is the Church, the outward theatre on which this glory is manifested before men;" and "Christ Jesus is" the Minister of this glory to God, the Minister of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man, by whom the glory in question is presented with acceptance. In fact, it is in him God manifests the glory of his perfections as the God of grace and salvation; it is through him he shines into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. Thus the blessings descend through Christ to the Church, just as all the Church's service goes up to God through the hands of Jesus Christ.
V. THE PERIOD OF THIS GLORY. "To all the generations of the age of the ages." A cumulative expression of great force. This glory is to be given to God during all the ages of time. "His Name shall endure forever; men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed;" "I will make thy Name to be remembered in all generations." The stream of time rolls on world without end, but the glory is to continue through all the ages of eternity. "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be to him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. Amen."
VI. LESSONS TO BE DRAWN FROM THIS DOXOLOGY. Let us not be poor any more in cur supplications; let us not be stinted in asking to the dishonor of his abounding grace. Let us be encouraged to ask by the recollection of the blessings we have already received. Let us show a more signal gratitude for all our mercies. Are not the extent of our obligations and the perfection of the holiness to which they bind us, far beyond our powers of apprehending or appreciating them? and ought they not to leave us with the similar question of bewildered gratitude, "What manner of persons ought we to be?"—T.C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
The death of the tribal spirit.
The apostle, having stated the unity between Jews and Gentiles in the one spiritual temple, proceeds in this parenthesis to state the aspect of the gospel which is thus presented. It amounts, in fact, to the death of the tribal feeling, and to the encouragement of that broad cosmopolitanism which has been fostered by the Christian system. Paul, of course, rejoiced in his Jewish origin and in all the privileges which he had thus inherited. But since his conversion unto Christ, the narrowness had disappeared, and he took his stand before the world as the apostle and apologist of the Gentiles, hoping for the same elevation of character for them as for himself.
I. LET US NOTICE HOW PAUL WAS PREPARED FOR THIS CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE GENTILES. (Ephesians 3:8.) He had come to entertain a deep humility of spirit. He deemed himself "less than the least of all saints." In Paul's experience it has been observed there is a progress. First he speaks of himself as "the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God" (1 Corinthians 15:9). Secondly, as in this passage before us, he regards himself not only as hardly worthy of the name of an apostle, but as less than the least of all saints. Having ranked all apostles above himself in the first instance, he now ranks all the saints above him. Then, thirdly, he puts himself below all other sinners, and declares, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15). Now, this expresses a complete revolution in Pharisaic thought. Unquestionably Paul had learned to judge himself severely when he comes to conclusions such as these. Now, Christianity secures this apparent moral paradox of esteeming each the other better than himself (Philippians 2:3). "By humility," as A. Monod has said in his 'Explication,' "the Christian is led to judge himself severely, while charity comes to his aid in making him judge favorably of another. Each one, besides, reading in his own heart and not that of others, perceives only in himself that depth of sin which is the worst aspect of it, although least visible, and he can always hope that with others, whatever the appearances may be, this depth, hidden from his eyes, is better than with him." This personal humiliation, then, is the preparation Paul receives for his great role as elevator of the Gentiles. It is when personally abased that we are exalted in heart and hope, and become the willing servants of mankind.
II. PAUL'S ESTIMATE OF HIS OFFICE. (Ephesians 3:8.) It was a "grace" given to him to be allowed by God to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. His notion was that it was the crown and summit of human privilege to be thus placed in charge of such a commission. He magnified his office. He saw nothing to be compared with it in the privileges of men. He would have endorsed the words of a great modern preacher when he declared to students for the ministerial office, "There is no career that can compare with it for a moment in the rich and satisfying relations into which it brings a man with his fellow-men, in the deep and interesting insight which it gives him into human nature, and in the chance of the best culture for his own character.... Let us rejoice with one another that in a world where there are a great many good and happy things for men to do, God has given us the best and happiest, and made us preachers of his truth."
III. THE MORAL ELEVATION WHICH THE GOSPEL PROPOSES TO BESTOW UPON THE GENTILES. (Ephesians 3:6.) Up to out Lord's time the tribal idea prevailed. The Jews were a tribe, and their policy was, as their policy would still be, the supremacy of the tribe. But Christ proposed not to carry the Jewish tribe up to proud supremacy, but, on the contrary, to bring all other tribes up to their level of privilege, and to weld the world's peoples into one. It was he who first touched the key of cosmopolitan comprehensiveness and bade the narrow tribal spirit to cease. He talked of many coining from east and west to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11). He talked of drawing "all men" unto himself once he was lifted on the cross (John 12:32). He spoke of Jerusalem ceasing to be the single center of true worship, and of true worshippers worshipping the Father anywhere (John 4:21-24). All nations were to be discipled by his servants (Matthew 28:20). Into these broad and noble views for mankind the eleven did not very rapidly or fully enter. Doubtless Peter had inaugurated the Gentile Pentecost in the house of Cornelius; but he relapsed into narrowness a few years later at Antioch. It was reserved, therefore, for Paul, the most powerful mind of the apostolic band, to catch the cosmopolitan spirit of his Master, and to champion the Gentile against all the prejudice of the Jewish world. It has been suggested that he would not have chosen the appointment had it been left to himself. But, as far as we can judge, he showed no narrowness once he had humbled himself at Christ's feet on the way to Damascus. He there ceased to be the patriot of a tribe, and became, in the widest and worthiest sense, a citizen of the world and a champion of the rights of universal man. There is surely something grand in this idea of lifting outcast communities into the highest and holiest associations. There is no casting of contempt on any tribe, but extending pity and. compassion unto all. The golden gate of privilege is opened wide for every one. The missionary enterprise is the best and noblest policy which men have set themselves in earnest to carry through!
IV. THE LESSON THUS AFFORDED TO THE HEAVENLY WORLD. (Ephesians 3:10-12.) The idea of Paul is that the angels on high look down with rapt interest and profit upon what is taking place in the Church. The movements of men outside the Church have, of course, their interest; but it is the bringing of the different peoples of the earth into the glorious unity of the Church of God which so strikes the attention of the heavenly world. The Divine society which is gathering round Jesus is the most instructive exhibition of God's purposes which the heavenly world can contemplate. As Jonathan Edwards put it in his sermon upon Ephesians 3:10, the angels are benefited by the salvation of men,
The Christian brotherhood—Paul's second prayer.
From the noble idea of the elevation of the heathen to equal privileges with the Jews, the apostle proceeds to a second prayer for the Ephesian converts, in which he rises to still greater elevation of thought. Prostrating himself before the Father of all, he contemplates a family unity embracing both heaven and earth, and he prays that his friends at Ephesus may experience such inward illumination and strength as to be fitting members of the mighty family. The leading thought is, then, Christian brotherhood, which embraces angels as well as men. The following thoughts are suggested by the prayer:—
I. CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD IS TO BE REALIZED IN DEVOTION BEFORE A COMMON FATHER. (Ephesians 3:14.) The words "of our Lord Jesus Christ" are not in the most ancient manuscripts, and are rightly omitted in the Revised Version. This clears the ground for the understanding of the family name. The word for "family" ( πατριὰ) is etymologically connected with πατὴρ, so that it is God the Father who supplies the patronymic to "every family in heaven and on earth." All gather round the feet of a common Father, and realize in their devotion the true brotherhood. We do not sufficiently think of how much is accomplished when we get men everywhere on their knees with the Lord's Prayer upon their lips. As we say from the heart, "Our Father, which art in heaven," our hearts have become really one. However much we may squabble before we proceed to prayer, if our prayer to the infinite Father be true, we have entered by it into real brotherhood. Contention cannot stand "the light of the countenance" of the great "Peace-maker."
II. CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD IS SECURED THROUGH THE INDWELLING OF A COMMON SAVIOR. (Ephesians 3:16, Ephesians 3:17.) For the Holy Spirit, entering into the hearts of God's children, enables them to entertain the elder Brother as a Guest. Christ dwells within each of us. He comes to sup with us and to enable us to sup with him (John 14:21; Revelation 3:20). Christ within us becomes the unifying element. He is the Guest of each and of all. As a Divine Being, he can pervade all the hearts and ensure the brotherhood. The brotherhood is brought about and sustained by an indwelling Christ. Taking possession of our natures, Jesus moulds them to his own gracious purposes and secures the essential brotherhood all round.
III. CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD IS INTENSIFIED THROUGH THE GRADUAL COMPREHENSION OF CHRIST'S WONDROUS LOVE. (Ephesians 3:18, Ephesians 3:19.) Jesus by his indwelling becomes the object as well as instigator of our love. We get "rooted and grounded in love." The selfish, loveless life has ceased, and the loving and devoted life has begun. This is essential to the comprehension of another's love. As Robertson says, "You must love in order to understand love One act of charity will teach us more of the love of God than a thousand sermons." Only loving hearts, then, can appreciate the wondrous love of Christ. It passeth the knowledge of natural and unloving men. Love is a revelation only unto love. But now, supposing that the love of Christ has begun within us, then his wondrous love becomes a subject of endless contemplation. Its breadth and length, its depth and height, present a problem for our holy comprehension, which can never be exhausted. "The believer," says A. Monod, "who has been represented just now as rooted and grounded in the love of the Lord, is here represented as enveloped on all sides by this love, which extends itself in all directions around him beyond the limits of vision. Suspended in the very bosom of the infinite love, like the earth in the bosom of space, be looks before him, behind him, above him, below him, to seize the just measure of this love which has saved him, but all ends in demonstrating the impossibility of measuring it. The breadth? On his right and on his left, immensity. The length? Before him and behind him, immensity. The depth? Under his feet, immensity. The height? Over his head, still immensity." Here, then, in the infinite love of Christ there is material for eternal study, and the brotherhood realizes that it has begun an everlasting progress towards "the fullness of God." As we comprehend Christ's love, we find ourselves proportionally "partakers of the Divine nature" and filled with the Divine fullness. This is the infinitely distant goal; this is the straight line to which our hyperbolic orbit is continually making approach, though destined never actually to reach it. And as we approach the perfection and fullness of God, we become the more united in Christian brotherhood.
IV. CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD REMAINS UNBROKEN BY THE CHANGE OF WORLDS. (Ephesians 3:15.) The family of love, who are gathering regularly round the feet of the heavenly Father, cannot be broken up by death or change of worlds. Heaven with its saints add angels, earth with its suffering and saintly souls, these constitute but one family circle, and are pervaded by the one Christ and the one Christian spirit. It is this thought which robs death of its sting and makes it appear but a sublime emigration. The majority are in the Father's house above; it is the minority that are left on earth; and our sainted dead have simply passed over to the majority and are awaiting us amid more perfect associations. "Death, in short," says Martineau, "under the Christian aspect, is but God's method of colonization; the transition from this mother-country of our race to the hirer and newer world of our emigration. What though no other passage thither is permitted to all the living, and by neither eye nor ear we can discover any trace of that unknown receptacle of vivid and more glorious life? So might the dwellers in any other sphere make complaint respecting our poor world. Intensely as it burns with life, dizzy as our thought becomes with the din of its eager passions and the cries of its many woes, yet from the nearest station that God's universe affords—nay, at a few miles beyond its own confines, all its strong force, its crowded cities, the breathless hurry and ferment of its nations, the whole apparition and chorus of humanity, is still and motionless as death; gathered all and lost within the circumference of a dark or illumined disc. And silent as those midnight heavens appear, well may there be, among their points of light, some one that thrills with the glow of our lost and immortal generations; busy with the fleet movements and happy energies of existence more vivid than our own; where, as we approach, we might catch the awful voices of the mighty dead, and the sweeter tones, lately heard in the last pain and sorrow, of our own departed ones."
V. THE CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD IS SUSTAINED BY THE ASSURANCE OF GOD'S SURPASSING POWER. (Ephesians 3:20, Ephesians 3:21.) In the doxology the apostle adds one other thought to round and complete his glorious theme. He wishes to ascribe glory unto God; but what attribute shall form the substance of the doxology? The attribute of power. Not, however, the physical power which obtains in the universe of sense, but the spiritual power which obtains in the "world of mind." And so he looks upward and pronounces the mighty God as "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." In the world of sense he does not work up to his full strength, nor is there any reason why he should. The physical universe speaks of his "eternal," but not necessarily of his "infinite" power (Romans 1:20). It is in the domain of the spirit that he performs his chefs-de'ouvre. And such a thought is surely fitted to sustain the aspirations of the Christian brotherhood!—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
Paul's apostleship to the Gentiles: introduction.
The apostle has it in his mind to pray for the Ephesian Christians. There is a twofold ground upon which he proceeds.
1. What has been said about them. "For this cause." He has described them in three ways as incorporated in the Church. His last statement pointed to their being built in. They were, therefore, objects for intercession, such as their heathen ancestors had not been.
2. His relation to them. He did not stand at an outside, but in the closest relation to them, such as brought with it the obligation on his part to pray for them.
I. HIS APOSTLESHIP WAS OF DIVINE ARRANGEMENT. "Of the dispensation." It was not of his own ordering, but was the dispensation of God. It was arranged that he should be a minister to preach unto the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:7, Ephesians 3:8). This is in accordance with his manner of viewing things in the first chapter. He who has the administration of the eons has also the appointment of all who serve in his house, whether ordinary or extraordinary.
II. FOR HIS APOSTLESHIP HE WAS FAVORED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF A MYSTERY. "Of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward." He had no reason to look fur such a thing, but with a view to his acting as their apostle he was so favored.
1. It was a mystery which was communicated to him by revelation. "How that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery." tie did not receive it at secondhand, nor was it a discovery of his own; but it was immediately and supernaturally communicated to him. That was guarantee for the knowledge being certain and thorough. The fact revealed to him at Ms conversion, that he was to bear Christ's Name before the Gentiles, may only have given rise to perplexities as to the mode. We can think of the revelation referred to here as coming to him, not without preparation of reflection on his part, during his retirement in Arabia. And it must have been a great help to him in his perplexities to know confidently and timeously the principles on which God was to proceed with the Gentiles.
2. It was a mystery of his knowledge of which he had already given them evidence. "As I wrote afore in few words." The reference is evidently to this same Epistle, especially to the first chapter, in which it is part of the "mystery" of summing up all things in Christ, that Gentiles are put on an equality with Jews in being made "heirs" on trusting in Christ. It was the mystery of Christ, viz. as the great Reconciler. He had written in brief; but their interest would make up for his brevity, and he claims that, in what he had said, he had given them the opportunity, when they should "read," of perceiving his understanding of the mystery. And thus, through his communication to them of what he had got immediately from God, they would have the satisfaction of seeing for themselves what the truth was.
3. It was a time when others were favored with revelation of the mystery as well as he. "Which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit." "Sons of men" has a certain association of incapacity. Being only sons of men, they could not be expected to know the mystery of themselves. And the former generations of them had stood at a disadvantage. They had not been absolutely excluded from the benefit of revelation. But still, in all that they had been favored with, in promises connected with the admission of the Gentiles, it had remained very much of a mystery, until the then Christian period. And the Apostle Paul, with an evident enthusiasm, thinks of himself as in the company of apostles and prophets, upon whom in that ago the inflatus of the Spirit had come, and who were privileged to make communications of blessed import to the Gentiles.
4. What the contents of the mystery were. "To wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fallow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." There is a catching up of a previous thread here, for which we were prepared by his reference to what he had written before. "They were made a heritage." They had the "earnest" of an "inheritance." They were "God's own possession." There was something new (or matter for revelation) in their thus being fellow-heirs. For this was something beyond the extension of grace to them. It indicated their relation to ancient Israel The Jews (or believers among them) were not the only successors of Israel. But the Gentile believers were served heirs as well. They were in the true theocratic line. The prestige of that people, the great things the Lord had done for them, were theirs. And theirs, too, were even the lessons of their apostasies. Theirs were their Scriptures. "Fellow-members of the body" is also a catching up of a previous thread. For he has before written of the "one body" (Ephesians 2:16). This had not been clear to the former generations. They had not contemplated such a close commingling of Gentile and Jewish elements. Was there to be no partition wall whatever? Was their identity as Jews completely to be lost? Yes, that was the form that mercy to the Gentiles was to take. And there were they in the Ephesian Church, some of them Jews and some of them Gentiles, but all members of the body of Christ. "And fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." "Fellow-partakers of the promise" is properly the parallel phrase. But there is a reason for connecting the remaining words specially, if not exclusively, with this. For the promise (that is, to former generations) refers to the same blessings offered (since the coming of Christ) in the gospel. There is thus a catching up of a previous thread from the second chapter, where it is said that Christ came and preached the gospel (of peace) to Gentiles as well as to Jews. And there was much for apostles and prophets to reveal of the mystery here. For it was by so completely "filling up" the types, and presenting the real all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, that all former restrictions could be done away. Men no longer needed to be circumcised or to go up to Jerusalem, but could freely participate in the blessings of salvation simply as believing on Christ.
III. HIS BEING A MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL TO THE GENTILES FILLED HIM WITH A SENSE OF HIS OWN UNWORTHINESS. "Whereof I was made a minister according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles." Paul fakes the lowly title of "minister" (literally, "one who runs at the call of another," but used generally of a servant). He was a servant in a particular order. Grace was given him to preach unto the Gentiles. That was where he found his work, where he was appointed to follow the Master. Anti the gift of this grace (thus defined) was given him in a particular way—"according to the working of his power." "The mention of the power of God is founded on the circumstance that Paul sees in his change of heart, from a foe to a friend of Christ, an act of omnipotence." It is an exercise of power that calls for our adoration. Grander than the flash of the lightning, the roll of the thunder, was the power which turned Saul into Paul, the persecutor into the preacher. It is power which has been exercised after the same example, notably in the case of Bunyan. It is power to which the Church can constantly look for the raising up of men to do its work. It is power to which the greatest sinners may be pointed for their conversion to God. In magnifying the Divine power, Paul humbles himself. But not thus does his feeling of humility (which none need to cultivate more than ministers) find adequate expression. But in view of the greatness of his calling he humbles himself still further. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints." There is employed, to express his meaning, what is both a comparative and a superlative. There was no exaggeration in this to the apostle who, though he could warmly vindicate his apostolic position when there was occasion, yet had a feeling of his own nothingness (2 Corinthians 12:11). It belongs to a shallower Christian experience than his was, to make such comparisons. To one who has felt his own utter vileness before God, to think of instituting a comparison in personal worth, in spiritual standing between himself and his fellow-Christians, is utterly abhorrent to him. He repudiates the thought; he is less than the least of all saints. There can be no doubt that those who have (without feigning) the deepest feeling of humility are really the best saints and the best champions of the faith. It is not the case that a career of wandering such as the apostle had (in his case it was wandering in self-righteousness for thirty years) is necessary to the deepest feeling of humility. For we have all enough of evil in our hearts to lead to humiliation. But it may be said that those who have had such wanderings and subsequent struggles are the most likely (in respect of their opportunity) to excel in a knowledge of the corruption of their hearts. The apostle supplies us with a rich expression here, "tell saints." Who are they that form this order? Certainly none of mankind who have not the blood of Christ sprinkled upon them. Certainly more than those who have been specially "sainted" of men. They include many "hidden ones" on earth.
"But sure from many a hidden dell,
From many a rural nook unthought of, there
Rises for that proud world the saints' prevailing prayer."
They include the "eider saints" in heaven, both angels and men. They have all their circle of influence in the universe of God. We are to look unto "Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith;" but we are also to get strengthening, incitement, catholicity, from "the communion of saints."
IV. THE SUBJECT OF HIS PREACHING TO THE GENTILES WAS THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST. The blessings of the gospel are compared by our Lord to gold: "I counsel thee to buy of me gold." And, in agreement with that, is this description of those blessings as "the unsearchable riches of Christ." There are none higher (as there is nothing higher in metals than gold), and, if we count them as men count gold, they are inestimably precious. What are the blessings of the gospel? There is first of all peace, not the peace of unfallen beings, but the peace of those who Lave been sinners and are now reconciled—the sweet sense of sin forgiven, the blessed feeling that the guilt which was resting on us is removed, and that there is now nothing between us and a holy God. And who can tell the preciousness of this blessing? The man who has this peace can feel richer than Croesus. It is a peace which makes us independent of the world, which the world cannot give and which the world cannot take away. It is a peace which passeth all understanding, which has a mysterious, unspeakable sweetness about it, so that he who has once felt what it is would never like to lose it. Another blessing is spiritual understanding. The man who knows is on a different footing from the man who does not know. Think of one who has all the light of modern science, compared with the Chinaman who is only where his ancestors were two or three thousand years ago. Think of one who has all the light which Christianity has shed on the highest matters, compared with the fetishist whose dim object of reverence is some unconscious stone. How dark the world would have been at this day but for the dayspring from on high which hath visited us! But, along with that outward light which shines widely, there is to all who seek and embrace it an inward light of the Holy Ghost. Blind Bartimaeuses, we believe in Christ, and we receive our sight. And what riches it is to have spiritual insight, to have the veil taken off God and truth, to be under no delusion, to be delivered from every error, and to see things clearly in the light of God! A third blessing, but a very comprehensive one, is holy feeling. What a cage of unclean birds does sin make of our hearts! But the gospel introduces a radical change of feeling. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." And is it not golden to have fine feeling—feeling in which there is no sinful element, but only the fine grain of holiness; to have devoutest reverence and tenderest love towards God; to have due respect and tender love toward our fellow-men? The man who feels aright all round has his wealth in his soul, there a perpetual feast. These blessings we may regard as summed up in Christ. For as Christ is said not only to have the bread of life, but to be himself the Bread of life, so we may say he has not only unsearchable riches to bestow, but he is himself the unsearchable Riches. He is the true Gold, he is precious in every quality of his being as gold, and, in having him as the Portion of our souls, we must needs have unsearchable riches.
V. AN OBJECT AIMED AT BY THE APOSTLE IN HIS PREACHING TO THE GENTILES. "And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery." He himself understood the mystery, having got it by revelation. And he had given them the means of perceiving his understanding of it, and therefore of understanding it for themselves. But so precious a truth was not to be confined within so narrow an area. He had a certain unbounded ambition in preaching the gospel. It was to make all men see the gracious arrangement which had been newly introduced, and see it so as to be induced to take advantage of it. On another occasion his language was, "That all the Gentiles might hear." In both cases it is the language of enthusiasm. It was the burning desire of his heart, to make all men see, that made him go (not without hardships) from land to land. He was not free to settle down in any one place. When he had established a center of gospel light in Ephesus, he must go elsewhere. The world was a dark place, and he must establish as many centers of light at suitable points in it as God would enable him to establish during his appointed course.
VI. A TWOFOLD ULTERIOR OBJECT SERVED BY THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL TO THE GENTILES.
1. More immediately men having demonstrated to them the Divine sovereignty. "Which from all ages hath been hid in God who created all things." It is because he has created all things that he has the disposal of all things. There is nothing whatever which he cannot bend to his will. It was in the exercise of his sovereignty that, at the beginning of the ages, he did not reveal the whole breadth of his purpose. It lay hid in himself. And for ages his ways were dark, in the great majority of men being left to their own natural ignorance and inability. During these ages he rested in his own thoughts regarding men, in his own reasons of procedure, in his own ways of working. But there was mystery. The largeness of his purpose was sovereignly hid under a cloud until, with the coming of Christ and the preaching of the gospel to all men, it clearly burst forth.
2. Angels seeing by the Church the manifold wisdom of God. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." The Church is the community of which, as is said in the first chapter, Christ is the Head. The interest in this community is here represented as extending to the angels. They are here designated on the side of their power and rank as the principalities and the powers. In the hundred and third psalm it is said, "He his angels, that excel in strength." In what relation rank or dominion is ascribed to them, we have not the means of knowing, as we have not the survey of the heavenly world which they, it is here implied, have of the earthly world. But we are to understand the apostle, in the loftiness of his thought, seizing upon this as being to the honor of the Church, that it attracts the attention of the inhabitants of "the heavenly places"—those who have never known any other habitation, who, from the first moment of their being, have lived in the presence of God. They have been contemporaries of man during all his history. For when the earth was framed "the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy." We are to think of them as witnessing man's innocence and fall, and as being made acquainted with the introduction of grace in the promise. And the Law was by the "disposition of angels." And angels very signally heralded the Savior's birth. But it was not for our sakes alone that they were thus connected with our history. It would seem that, though in the heavenly places, they had but a limited knowledge of redemption. They had not foreknowledge; they had to wait like us for the evolution of events. What was mystery to us (as to the including of the Gentiles) was mystery to them also, being hidden to both in God. They were at a loss to understand what the development of things under the gospel was to be. But they were taught by the events. Now through the Church was made known the manifold wisdom of God. The Church was not to be instructress, but rather material for instruction by God in the subject of his manifold wisdom. There was material to be found elsewhere, in which the angels delighted to study the manifold wisdom of God. It was when the worlds were brought forth into space that they shouted for joy. What a field was that opened up for their contemplation! "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all." The simple idea of a house is that which has walls, and door, and windows, and roof; but into what manifoldness, what richness of structure, may that be drawn out by the creative mind of the architect! An architect's work is manifold in proportion to the multiplicity of the parts, and to the variety he can introduce into these; and his skill is seen in his combining these parts, in all their multiplicity and variety, into a unity. What multiplicity of parts has God to deal with in the material structure of things! and what variety he introduces, so that no leaf is exactly like another! and how there are not only adaptations which can be made a study of by themselves, but these are comprehended in wider adaptations, and so all-comprehensive is the Divine thought that there is in the result no confusion but the highest simplicity! That is one sphere for the display of manifold wisdom. We may expect greater manifoldness as we rise higher. What a manifoldness in the life of rational beings! "And God," says Leibnitz, "has the qualities of a good Governor as well as of a great Architect." It may be supposed that the angels will first contemplate the manifold wisdom of God in themselves, in their high and varied endowments, in the way in which their eternal well-being has been secured to them without their having to pass through the experience of sin, and in the part assigned to each and to all in the great plan. Is he not called the Lord of hosts, as marshalling the innumerable army of angels? They have a manifoldness far beyond our conception, and yet he can dispose of them as easily as an officer can do with a small section of an army. He calls them, as he calls the stars, by their names; not one is overlooked, not one out of place. The manifold wisdom of God is also to be seen in the way in which the twelve hundred millions of men on the earth are dealt with at one moment. The problem here has been complicated by the entrance of sin. Manifold are the phases of sin, and manifold are the methods by which he seeks to dislodge men out of their sin. But this manifold problem of the world of mankind is mastered by him more easily than the problem of a single household is mastered by us. But it is in the Church that there is to be seen conspicuously the manifold wisdom of God. And, in the first place, it is to he seen in that general point regarding the Church which the apostle has been considering, viz. the including of the Gentiles after they had been so long excluded. It may seem that the exclusion of any from the privileges of the Church was a reflection on the Divine wisdom. Was it not sacrificing their interests that an effort was not made for their salvation along with that of others? But the problem was far more manifold than that. If there had been a comprehension of all nations all along, the result would probably have been the extinction of religion. We are not to think that Christ could have come, and his gospel be promulgated, at any time. If the gospel dispensation had been introduced at the time of the election of Abraham, we may suppose it would have been thrown away. He with whom a thousand years are as one day had to look to, not the greatest good of men then, but to the greatest good of men to all time. And so he ordained a long period of preparation, both negative in bringing out what men could not do, and positive in the way of teaching by type and providential dealing. And he did not bring Christ into the world until he saw how his truth could get a firm hold, and be proclaimed wide to the nations. And though the gospel has yet much to do, it is in such a position that it cannot now be lost. But this was only part of a wider purpose. "According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." We have to bring in the whole purpose of God regarding the Church. This purpose he purposed in eternity. It was a purpose running through the ages. In Christ he saw the Church in the completeness of its idea, in the whole of its development. And, with this clear before his mind, he could patiently wait through the ages for the fuller unfolding of his purpose. As Christ is called the Wisdom of God, so we may expect to see in his Church a wisdom manifold as himself. What an element in the scheme of redemption, that the Redeemer was a Divine Being in human nature! How justice and mercy are reconciled in his cross! How sin is forgiven while God at the same time manifests his detestation of it! How manifold are the ways by which men are brought into the Church! What the final adjustment of things is to be is very much a mystery to us, as it is doubtless to the angels. But we stand in this position that, in what has been exhibited to us already of the manifold wisdom of God, we can look hopefully forward to the final reconciliation.
VII. RETURN TO PRIVILEGE OF CHRISTIAN POSITION. "In whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him." Christ was the Object of their faith. Realizing by faith what he was, the provision made by him, the great love he bore to them, they had the spirit of sons. In Galatians 3:26 it is said, "Ye are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." That is, we have the position of children. Here the thought is, we have the disposition of children.
1. The spirit of boldness. They had a free, joyous mood, as having an interest in Christ. They were delivered from the fear of wrath. They were not of the number of those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
2. In nearness to God (in the God-Man) they had the spirit of confidence. They had that confidence restored to them which Adam lost. They had the confidence to which Paul elsewhere gives lofty expression: "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
VIII. EXHORTATION LOOKING BACK TO FIRST VERSE. "Wherefore I ask that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which are your glory." He supposes that they would be concerned for his tribulations, as endured for them. How was the cause of Christ to be carried forward, when so principal an instrument was lying a prisoner in Rome? But he would have them not to faint, bringing forward the consideration that these tribulations of his were their glory. If he had proved unfaithful to their interests, and withdrawn from persecutions, that would have been a discrediting of him as a discrediting of the Founder of the Church, and they might in that case have been tempted to despair of Christianity. But, as he had stood true to them in the face of persecutions, that brought them honor, and was fitted to have a confirming, elevating effect on them as a Church.—R.F.
A prayer on behalf of the Ephesian Christians.
I. THE SUPPLIANT. "For this cause I bow my knees." He has explained who he, Paul, was, in the remarkable parenthesis which concludes with the thirteenth verse. In resuming his sentence, so long interrupted, he naturally falls back on the first words, "For this cause." Thus taken up, it has only the meaning which it had before, the thought in the parenthesis being carried forward into the word, "I." He describes himself as a suppliant from the natural posture in prayer. The only reason there can be for a standing posture in prayer has a narrow reference. There is justification in standing in prayer at a bedside or before a congregation, if kneeling interferes with edification (which is the higher consideration). Solomon was able to combine the kneeling posture with edification in his prayer of the dedication; for, placed on a brazen pulpit, "he kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven." Kneeling is the posture of humility, and we have reason to humble ourselves before God as creatures before our Creator, as sinners before our Judge. It is the posture of earnest entreaty. "And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet and besought him." So should we, as though pleading for our life, bend the knee before God.
II. HOW GOD IS ADDRESSED. "Unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named." In the Greek there is a transition as from Father to fatherhood, only the transition in thought is not to the abstract idea of fatherhood, but to the concrete representation of it in a family. God has instituted the relationship of father and son among men. And though the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage, it would seem from the language here that there is a certain grouping of them in families too. How far this may descend we have not the moans of knowing. But into a family there enters the idea of a head with a certain subordination to the head. There also enters the idea of a special affection existing between the members of the same family. Now, the whole of this conception has its origination in Godhead. It is from God that every family in heaven and on earth is named. We find Father and Son existing from eternity. "I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was When he appointed the foundations of the earth, then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him." And angels and men have been constituted after this pattern, in order that they may be familiarized with the truth of God's fatherhood, and in order that they may know in what close relationship he would have them stand to him. And where the family is thus "named" after God, how becoming to worship him as the God of families, and specially as the God of our family!
III. THE MEASURE ACCORDING TO WHICH BLESSING IS ASKED. "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory." There is a certain expectation of favors and donations from people according to their rank and wealth. There is a style of giving which is known as princely. The apostle supposes that the glory of God, which infinitely transcends all human glory, which is infinitely rich in the meeting of all perfections,—that all this glory means infinite power to bless, to which his creatures may look. His conception of God is sublime, that he grants according to the riches of his glory. He grants, not like a being of limited powers, but like himself. He is glorified in bestowing large blessings upon his people. He who came forth from God and knew the glory of God, said, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing."
"Thou art coming to a King;
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much."
IV. THE PRAYER IN FIVE PETITIONS. These petitions follow each other in natural order, and we are carried forward from the point where our need begins to the point where it is all filled up. It is a suitable prayer for Christians, to be used often, even as the Lord's Prayer.
First petition—"That ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man." The destination of the strength is the inward man. As it were, it goes past the outward man, and reaches to the inward man. The outward man "decays;" the inward man needs to be "renewed day by day." The apostle touches where our need begins, viz. in an inertness in the inward man. We are not disposed to exert ourselves spiritually. The outward has too much influence in our life, and works to our inward weakening. We need strength to counteract our inertness, and to deliver us from too outward a life. Now, there is all strength in God. This is part of the riches of his glory. And his Spirit is the mediating agent between his strength and our weakness. And what we have to ask God to do for us is, that, through his Spirit, he would infuse strength into our weak inner nature.
Second petition—"That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." The supplies of strength which we get from God through the Spirit find their way into our faith to its greater activity. This faith is an exorcise of the mind specially directed toward Christ for us—Christ in what he was and still is as our Surety. The result is the indwelling of Christ in our hearts. We dwell within (as is suggested by "inward man"); but within us (far in as we are) dwells Christ. He dwells in our hearts (the inward man viewed from the side of the affections), where he receives our love and adoration. As dwelling within, we are present in every outward motion; and so Christ, as dwelling within us, is at the very center of our being, and becomes so interlaced with it as to be present in all our life, to think in our thoughts, to speak in our words, to act in our actions. "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." And we ask from God new supplies of strength that, with new faith, we may have new experience of Christ's indwelling in our hearts, and presence in our life.
Third petition—"That ye, being rooted and grounded in love." If love is "creation's final law," it is also its first principle. If it is the end for which all things exist, it is also the principle from which all things have sprung. Love may be defined as the desire to bestow. It was in the desire to bestow that we were created, with all our capacity for enjoyment. If, then, our being is thus to be traced back to love, it is clearly necessary that we should be rooted and grounded in love. And this, we are taught here, is only possible by our believing in Christ. For love is in Christ, as Christ in us. As believing, then, is rooting and grounding ourselves in Christ, so it must mean rooting and grounding in love—getting down into the eternal substratum of all being. And we ask for supplies of the Divine strength that, through a vigorous faith, this rooting and grounding in love may go forward in our life.
Fourth petition—"May be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth, arid to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." The rooting and grounding in love is our qualification for apprehending its greatest manifestation. Cold hearts can do nothing here. The apostle's own heart is in such a glow that the love of Christ rises before him as though it were a body in space having dimensions of breadth, and length, and height, and depth. We are not to suppose that he was so mathematical as to associate different ideas with these dimensions. The use that they serve is to fix and detain the mind over the magnitude of the love of Christ. The magnitude of the love of Christ appears in two things.
1. It is bestowed on the undeserving. How was it possible for Christ to love us? It was not that there was any goodness in us with which he could have sympathy. For we were the opposite of what he was. As described in this Epistle, we walked according to the course of this world; we lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind. It was not that he underrated what we were; for he saw our depravity in all its breadth, and length, and height, and depth. It can only be stated as a great inexplicable fact that, in the full view of what we were, he was irresistibly drawn toward us in saving love.
2. It is bestowed in the sacrifice of himself. In order to gratify his love in our salvation, he bad not only to lay aside his Divine glory, but to come down into our nature, and, in that nature, to suffer shame and death. It is no ordinary love that is needed to impel one to sacrifice his life for another. "Skin for skin," said the arch-deceiver, "yea, all that a man hath will he give for His life." "Love," said the Spouse to her Beloved, "love is strong as death, many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; though a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned." And Christ falsified the base insinuation of his adversary, and verified the loving declaration of his Spouse. His love was proved stronger than death, though that death was ten thousand deaths in one, in having in it the curse of the broken Law. This is the love of our Beloved; and say not then any more, "What is thy Beloved more than any other beloved?"
"For fainter than the pale star's ray
Before the noontide blaze of day
Is all of love that man can know,—
All that in angel breast can glow,—
Compar'd, O blessed Lord, with thine,
Eternal, infinite, Divine."
We are to seek to apprehend with all the saints the magnitude of this love. For this is saintship, according to the apostle, to have the mind opened to some sense of its magnitude, and we must not make it narrower than that. We are to seek to "apprehend," along with others, the dimensions of this love; but we are also to seek to know it by ourselves, that is to say, to have it in our own experience. We can have a certain "apprehension" of its infinitude; but our experimental knowledge of it is necessarily finite. The reality, being infinite, always passeth our knowledge. But we are to ask of God, that, being rooted and grounded in love, we may know more of this wonderful love of Christ.
Fifth petition—"That ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God." The apostle here indicates the goal toward which we are to be blessed. We have now some of the fullness of God. Through the agency of the Spirit, we have poured into us out of the Divine fullness, strength, light, purity, love, peace, joy; and these in us are the same in kind that they are in God. We look forward to the time when we shall be filled out of this fountain even up to our capacity. Meantime we would have more of the knowledge of Christ's love, which unseals the fountain of the Divine fullness.—R.F.
Ephesians 3:20, Ephesians 3:21
I. HOW GOD IS GLORIFIED. "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." We adore God as able to do for us in answer to our prayers. It is expected of us that we ask, that is, actually desire the blessing, and express the desire. But, beyond all that we ask, there is what we think, that is, what comes into our mind as to what we should desire and express. Now, God is able to do above all that we ask or think. And not only so, but the apostle is so struck with the disproportion between our asking and thinking, and the Divine ability, that he has to add the expression, "exceeding abundantly." And then he would have us look to our being answered, not according to our own poor asking and thinking, but according to the power that worketh in us, all our experience of which is fitted to raise our expectation.
II. IN WHAT SPHERE HE IS GLORIFIED. "Unto him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus." We are to praise God for what has been done for the Church and for what is gifted to the Church. "And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me. Father, that which thou hast given me, I will that, where I am, they also may be with me; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." It is only in Christ that there is the Church, and that it is what it is (being the receptacle of Christ's glory), and therefore it is only in him that we can praise God for the Church.
III. THE TIME DURING WHICH HE IS TO BE GLORIFIED. "Unto all generations forever and ever." Literally it is, "unto all the generations of the age of the ages." There are generations which make up an age; then there are ages which make up the grand age. There is suggested the length of time (beyond our narrow conception) which God has for completing his purpose regarding the Church; and also the length of time thereafter, during which the full-volumed doxology will be chanted to God. It becomes us each to arid our "Amen."
"Through all eternity to thee
A joyful song I'll raise;
For oh, eternity's too short
To utter all thy praise."
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Aspects of the true gospel ministry.
"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and. prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory." Homiletically, this whole passage, in which there are many digressions and involved utterances, may be regarded as exhibiting a true gospel minister in three aspects—as the subject of vicarious suffering, the recipient of Divine ideas, and as the messenger of redemptive mercy.
I. THE SUBJECT OF VICARIOUS SUFFERING. Paul speaks of himself as a "prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles," and in the thirteenth verse he says, "my tribulations for you." As an apostle, Paul's sufferings were great; elsewhere he gives a brief catalogue of them (Corinthians, etc.); but all his great sufferings as an apostle were vicarious—they were for the men he endeavored to help. "All for you Gentiles." We offer three remarks concerning his vicarious sufferings, as a true gospel minister.
1. They were intense. What agony of mind is involved in the expression, "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh"! According to Dean Alford, Dr. Wordsworth, Professor Plumptre, Jowett, and our best critics, this means such an agonizing desire for the salvation of men as would prompt the most terrible sacrifices to accomplish it. In another place he represents his state of mind as a parturition distress. "I travail in birth again." Again, "I suffer trouble, as an evil-doer, even unto bonds." And again he says, "I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:9). Every true gospel minister knows something of this intense spiritual suffering for others. What solicitudes, disappointments, wrestlings of soul has he! So intense was the desire even of Moses for the good of others, that he said, "If thou wilt forgive their sins—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written" (Exodus 32:32).
2. They were voluntary. Human society is so organized that a certain amount of vicarious suffering comes on all men, irrespective of their choice, and even contrary to their choice. The innocent suffer for the guilty, children suffer on account of the sins of their parents. The present generation groans under the burdens of the past. But the vicarious sufferings of Paul, as a minister, were voluntary, he entered into them freely. The love of Christ "constrained" him to put himself in the place of suffering men, and to feel with them and for them. Hence he says, "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? "(2 Corinthians 11:29).
3. They were Christ-like. Whilst there are points which mark the vicarious sufferings of Christ, both in their nature and amount, from the vicarious sufferings of those of his ministers, yet there are points of agreement which are worthy of our notice. That such correspondence exists is suggested by the similarity of Scripture-language by which both are set forth. Both are represented as endured for sinners and in order to effect their salvation. Indeed, Paul speaks of his whole life as a sacrifice (Philippians 2:17). Two points of analogy are especially worthy of remark.
II. THE RECIPIENT OF DIVINE IDEAS. "By revelation he hath made known to me the mystery," etc. The gospel truths which Paul had to proclaim to the Gentiles were not derived from any human source. They were not the deductions of his own reason or the intuitions of his own soul, but they were revealed to him by God. "I never received it of man," said he, "neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (see Acts 16:1-40.). We have an account of this revelation given by Patti himself. It is the glory of man that he can receive ideas from the great God himself. He has what no other creature under heaven has—the capacity to take in the thoughts of the Infinite. It is essential to a true minister that he does this. He cannot offer any spiritual help to humanity unless he does so. His own ideas have no power to help his race. The ideas to enlighten, elevate, and bless souls must come from God. Hence what Paul gave to the Gentiles, he tells us, came by revelation. Two remarks are suggested by the passage in relation to the idea.
1. It had been long hidden. He calls it the mystery: "The mystery which in other ages was not made known." It was a mystery not in the sense of incomprehensibility, but in the sense of undiscoveredness. It had been unrevealed, and therefore unknown to past generations. The whole gospel was once a mystery; it was in the mind of God as an idea unrevealed to the universe.
2. It was very grand. The particular idea to which the apostle here refers is this, that the Gentiles were to partake of the salvation of the gospel, and to be united in one body with the Jews. "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." Grand idea this! That the poor Gentiles should become "heirs" of the same inheritance as the Jews—members of the same great spiritual "body" as the Jews—partakers of the same great "promise" as the Jews. The idea that Paul had from God was the uniting of all the races in the world in one great spiritual confederation.
3. It was exceedingly ancient. "From the beginning of the world it hath been hidden in God." Such was the idea that Paul tells us had been revealed to him and to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Every true gospel minister is the recipient of Divine ideas.
III. THE MESSENGER OF REDEMPTIVE MERCY. Paul speaks of himself here as the "minister" of the things that have been revealed to him. "Whereof I was made a minister," etc. What he received he had to communicate. The passage indicates several things concerning a true messenger of redemptive mercy.
1. The Divine designation to the office. "I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power." The office of a true minister is a gift of grace—a gift of grace, which comes to the soul by the effectual working of God's power. Paul felt that he became a messenger of these truths, not by his own seeking or merit, but by the grace of God. Nor by his own native inclination, but by the effectual working of God's power, referring, undoubtedly, to the Divine energy in his conversion. Every man must experience this Divine energy before he can become a true messenger of redemptive mercy. God must work in him before he can work by him.
2. The humble spirit of the office. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given." The expression means, who am incomparably the least of all the saints, who am not worthy to be reckoned amongst them. The memory of his past conduct and the solemn grandeur of the work to which he was called deeply impressed him with the sense of his own unworthiness. Humility is essential to this great work; it is when a man feels his weakness that he is truly strong in the ministry of truth. A deep sense of our own insufficiency is essential to make us sufficient for this of all offices the most grand and momentous. He who feels himself the "least of all saints" will become the greatest of all preachers.
3. The grand subject of the office. What is the great theme of the gospel preacher? Scientific facts, philosophic speculations, theological theories? No; "the unsearchable riches of Christ." The word" unsearchable" occurs in only one other place in the New Testament (Romans 11:33), where it is rendered "past finding out." Past finding out, not so much in the sense of mystery, as in the sense of inexhaustibleness. It is an ocean whose depths are unfathomable, and whose breadth and length stretch into the infinite. These "unsearchable riches" of Christ, unlike material riches, are soul-satisfying, man-ennobling, ever-enduring.
4. The enlightening character of the office. "To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery." The idea is to enlighten all in respect to God's redemptive mercy, the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The work of a true gospel minister is to make men see Divine things, to bring them before their eyes, and to induce them to look earnestly and steadily upon them.
5. The angelic bearing of the office. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." Several thoughts are implied in this passage.
6. The high privileges of the office. "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him." "The accumulation of substantives in this sentence," says Hedge, "boldness, access, confidence, shows that there was no word which could express what Paul felt in view of the complete reconciliation of men to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ." The privileges of a true gospel minister, as indicated in verses 12, 13, are:
"Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory" Paul was now a prisoner at Rome, and. yet he felt that inward support which enabled him to exhort the saints at Ephesus not to faint or be disheartened on his account. Such in brief is the view which this passage presents of a true gospel minister. He is a man of vicarious suffering, a recipient of Divine ideas, a messenger of redemptive mercy. Where are the preachers that answer to this sketch? Let such men fill our pulpits, and the conversion of our England will not be far distant; and when all England becomes a true Church, the whole world will speedily be won to Christ.—D.T.
"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." In the whole passage we have Christian philanthropy and prayer. The apostle, who was a philanthropist of the highest type, here prays, not for himself, but for others; and prays, not for mere secondary and non- essential blessings, but for blessings paramount and vital. Let us attend to this intercessory prayer of his. A true minister is a true philanthropist, and will, like Christ, not only vicariously suffer for others, as we have seen, but will ever make intercessions for others. Intercessory prayer is the rarest and highest type of prayer. In answer to objections that are raised against it, four facts are ever to be kept in view.
1. It is an instinct of social love. Self-love urges a man to pray for himself, social love prompts the soul to address Heaven on behalf of others. What more natural than for a loving mother to pray for a suffering child, a loving pastor for his people, a loving citizen for his country? What is natural is Divine.
2. It is a soul discipline. Nothing exerts a higher influence upon the soul than the realization of the Divine presence in prayer; this quickens and hallows it. In intercessory prayer, however, there is this, and some- thing more; there is the taking of the soul out of the circle of itself, and expanding it with earnest, loving sympathies for others. Intercession lifts the spirit into fellow- ship with that God who careth for all.
3. It is a manifest Christian duty. We are not only commanded in Scripture to pray for others, but we have the highest examples—Moses, Abraham, Paul, Christ.
4. It has been crowned with wonderful success. The Bible abounds with examples. "Peter .. was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod ... And he came to the house of Mary .. where many were gathered together praying." This is only a specimen,
"For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer,
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?"
Observe in this intercession—
I. THE GOD INVOKED. Who is he?
1. He is a Father. "I bow my knees unto the Father." In the New Testament the fatherhood of God is revealed. Christ speaks of him as the Father, and in his ideal prayer he is addressed as "Our Father." In this character Paul here addresses him. We see good reason for this.
2. He is the Father of all holy intelligences. "Of whom the whole family." Or every family, every race in heaven or on earth. The expression must be limited to the intelligent creation, for he could not with propriety be called the Father of the irrational; we must go further, and say that the expression must be limited to the holy races of his intelligent creation, for he would not be the Father of the rebellious and the profane. A family relationship exists between all the holy intelligences, and God is the Father of all—Father of all unfallen angels and redeemed men. And although "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" may be out of its place in this passage, still it expresses a fact everywhere else revealed, that God is the Father of man's Redeemer, as well as of all other holy ones in the universe. What a family is God's!—loving, immense, ever-multiplying, harmonious, and ever-blest.
3. He is the Father possessing boundless bountihood. Paul speaks of the "riches of his glory." What is the glory of God? Not his power, not his wisdom, not his wealth, not his dominion, but his goodness. When Moses prayed, "I beseech thee show me thy glory," what was the answer? "I will cause all my goodness to pass before thee," as if he had said, "My goodness is my glory." And this goodness of his is inexhaustible. "The riches." It is higher than all heavens; it is deeper than all hells. Its majestic billows roll under all Gehennas.
II. THE GOOD INVOKED. What blessings did he seek?
1. Divine strength of soul. "To be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man."
2. The indwelling of Christ. "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." There is no mystery about the indwelling of Christ. The heart that loves him supremely holds him as its constant Guest. As the author lives in the loving student, as the parent lives in the loving child, so in the same way, but in a higher degree, Christ lives in his loving disciples. His thoughts are their thoughts, his Spirit is their inspiration, his character is the very sun that quickens, lightens, and beautifies their being.
3. Stability of love. "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love." There is a love for Christ which is not rooted nor grounded; it is a passing sentiment, which, like a bubble, is thrown up on the stream of circumstances. The love of genuine Christianity is a rooted love. Rooted, not in something that can change and decay, but in the immutable excellence of God. Oh, to have all the fibers of the inner man struck into the Divine character, and rooted in God! Then, and not till then, will the soul be as the tree "planted by the rivers of water," etc. A religion whose love is not rooted is without
4. The comprehending of love. "That ye may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to, know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." Christ's love is intellectually immeasurable; "Who by searching can find it out?" And yet, though it passeth the knowledge of the intellect, there is a sense in which it can and must be known—known as a matter of consciousness, known as an all-controlling power. "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge," etc.
5. The reaching of Divine perfection. "That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God"—that ye might be filled up with the fullness of God. The idea is that you may "be perfect even as God is perfect." This is the standard set before us; we are to be holy, even as God is holy. Infinitely high as this is, nothing lower will meet the cravings of our moral nature or the full unfoldment of our endlessly advancing being. Heaven has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of God (Romans 8:29). Such was Paul's intercessory prayer. Let us seek that Divine philanthropy which made him such a mediator between God and man. The priesthood of this philanthropy is what we want. Avaunt to all others! They are impious impostors, profane intruders. The priesthood of Christian philanthropy is the only Divine priesthood in the universe.—D.T.
Ephesians 3:20, Ephesians 3:21
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." The passage leads us to consider the subject of exultant praise. Worship is praise; it is a higher service than prayer. It is in truth the highest end and. the completest answer to prayer. In the preceding verses Paul prays; here he praises. He passes from asking to adoring. The passage leads us to consider religious praise in relation to the Object, the Church, the Redeemer, and the ages.
I. In relation to the OBJECT. He is here represented in his absolute and relative capacity for helping man.
1. In his absolute capacity. "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think."
2. In his relative capacity. "According to the power that worketh in us." Infinite as is his capability to help, his power to help us is determined by the nature and measure of those spiritual aspirations and cravings which the power of his grace within us has produced. Unless we desire knowledge, he cannot enlighten us; purity, he cannot purify us; pardon, he cannot pardon us; spiritual strength, he cannot strengthen us. Our moral contractedness limits his power to help us. His communications will be according to our receptivity. As the indolence of the farmer limits those fructifying influences of nature that would yield to him a golden harvest; as the stolid ignorance and base sensuality of the people limit the influence of the genuine reformer to raise the millions in the social and political scale; as the dullness or idleness of the pupil limits the power of a great teacher to enrich him with the treasures of knowledge; so the moral contracted-ness of the heart limits the power of the Holy One. He cannot do many mighty works for us, because of our unbelief. It is "according to the power that worketh in us" that God's power to help us is determined.
II. In relation to the CHURCH. "In the Church," etc. The Church is a company of redeemed men, part of which is in heaven and part in various portions of the earth. Why does Paul single out the Church to praise and. adore the great God? Because the Church is under special obligations to do so. All things in heaven and on earth, from the lowest to the highest creature, should praise their Maker. "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord." But the duty of redeemed souls to do so transcends in urgency that of all others. He has not only created them and preserved them, but he has redeemed them, and redeemed them not with "corruptible things"—such as silver and gold—but with the "precious blood of Jesus Christ." For them his only begotten Son became incarnate, suffered, bled, and died. For them the Holy Spirit is in constant operation. "All things work together for their good." None have engaged so much of the Divine attention as they; none have been recipients of such Divine mercies as they; none are so deep in debt as they. Their hallelujahs ought to be more fervid, more enthusiastic, more incessant than any that echo through the hierarchies of heaven.
III. In relation to the REDEEMER. "By Christ Jesus." Why should Paul identify the work of the Church with Christ? Why does he ascribe glory to the Eternal by him or in him? Two reasons may be suggested.
1. Through Christ man is made to see the glory of God. He is the Revealer of the moral glory of God to the soul. "We beheld his glory," says the apostle, "the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." He himself is "the Brightness of the Father's glory." Where but in Christ can man see the moral glory of God; the glory not of mere intellect, power, or outward goodness which you have in nature, but the glory of tenderness, mercy, forbearance, purity, rectitude, faithfulness, boundless compassion? Where Christ is not, God's glory is not seen.
2. Through Christ man is brought into sympathy with the glory of God. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." He it is that inspires, enamors, and transports the soul with the glory of God. Human worship must ever be in connection with Christ. "He loved us, and gave himself for us."
IV. In relation to the AGES. "Throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." This implies:
1. That God will be forever. Were he not to be forever, worship would not be forever. He is eternal. "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God? "He inhabiteth eternity." "One day with him is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
2. That the Church will be forever. The redeemed will never cease to exist. They are to live from generation to generation, through endless ages.
3. That the reasons for praise will be forever. God's infinite excellence, his redemptive and fatherly relation to the Church, and the communications of his love are the grand reasons for praise, and these will be forever.
CONCLUSION. What a sublime destiny is that of the redeemed! Genuine religious praise is the heaven of the soul. It is that in which all the "powers find sweet employ." It is that which brings the whole spiritual man within the glow and the sunshine of the fatherhood of God. Praise is not the "service of song," as it is called; it is the spirit of life. It is not until all the activities of our being chime in one triumphant and succeeding psalm that our destiny is realized.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENY
"The prisoner of Christ Jesus."
St. Paul writes from his Roman dungeon, with the galling constraints of his confinement constantly about him. There is a pathos in the situation that must move the sympathy of the reader; and yet there is a dignity and even a glory in it that make us feel the apostle's occasional reference to his bonds chiefly a motive for giving the greater weight and solemnity to his persuasive exhortations.
I. THE FAITHFUL SERVANT OF CHRIST MAY BECOME A PRISONER IN HIS CAUSE. St. Paul was called into the apostleship from a worldly position of great influence and brilliant prospects. He was the most gifted and the most devoted man in the Christian Church. No one labored more assiduously, and no one met with more marked success. Yet it has all come to this, that the great, honored apostle lies chained in a Roman prison, his life at the mercy of the "mad boy" Nero. The end might have been expected in this form. "A disciple is not above his master, nor a servant above his lord." If the Lord was crucified, shall we be surprised that the servant is imprisoned? Still some are perplexed and disappointed, not at suffering these great hardships, but at having to bear any cross for Christ. Christianity is the religion of the cross for the Christian as truly as for Christ.
II. LIBERAL CHRISTIANITY MAY ENDANGER THE LIBERTY OF ITS ADVOCATE. St. Paul was a prisoner "in behalf of you Gentiles." We know, from the history in the Acts, that it was through the enmity of Jews that the apostle was accused before the Roman government, and that this enmity was roused by the jealousy they felt at his preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, and advocating the Gentile right to an equality with the Jew. St. Paul was the preacher of the more liberal Christianity of his day and therefore he was most grievously misunderstood and most bitterly opposed. They who feel called to preach more liberal views than are sanctioned by the prevailing opinions of the age may expect opposition, but may learn the duty of courage and fidelity to truth, and may be cheered by thinking of the lonely sufferers in the same cause in bygone days, when the larger views and the freer doctrines were more vigorously opposed than they can be now. The noble champions of liberal Christianity, from St. Paul to Maurice, have won substantial victories from which we profit.
III. IT IS BETTER TO BE A PRISONER FOR CHRIST AND LIBERAL TRUTH THAN TO BE AT LIBERTY WITHOUT CHRIST AND IN UNCHARITABLE NARROWNESS, After all, the prisoner at Rome is more to be envied than pitied. He was the prisoner of Christ, and Christ was with him in his bondage. His was the real blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. St. Paul was the champion of freedom as opposed to the restraints of Judaism, and this real, spiritual freedom could not be destroyed by bolts and bars.
"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage."
The immortal dreamer had large liberty in Bedford jail when he traveled to the Beulah heights and almost as far as the gates of the celestial city.
IV. THE PRISONER WHO SUFFERS FOR A GOOD CAUSE LAYS GREAT OBLIGATIONS UPON ALL WHO BENEFIT FROM IT. St. Paul quietly appeals to his imprisonment as a ground for prayer (verse 14) and exhortation (Ephesians 4:1). The sufferings of the great martyrs of liberty in the past urge us, who have entered into the heritage won by their toil and death, to be faithful to so great a trust, to walk worthy of it by using our liberty as an opportunity for the highest service of love, and to preserve it from all encroachments and hand it down to our children unfettered by new restraints of theological dogma or of official domination.—W.F.A.
"Less than the least of all saints."
I. HE WHO IS MOST HIGHLY GIFTED WITH DIVINE GRACE WILL THINK MOST LOWLY OF HIMSELF. St. Paul, the most gifted apostle, is most deeply conscious of his own unworthiness. We must distinguish between the endowment of grace and the acquisition of merit. To have much grace is only to be much favored. As a man grows in grace he grows in power of spiritual insight; and the result is twofold—he has more knowledge of his own true state and a better understanding of the claims of righteousness. Thus the standard is ever rising above his head in greater heights of holiness, while he is constantly seeing more clearly, freed from all hypocrisy and self-deception, the miserable weakness and sinfulness of his own character.
II. HE WHO THINKS MOST LOWLY OF HIMSELF WILL BE MOST FITTED FOR THE SERVICE OF CHRIST. It is not that unworthiness is itself a fitness for service. Both to be unworthy and to think one's self worthy are to be doubly unfit. But as Socrates thought he might be accounted wise only because he knew he was ignorant while all other Athenians were unconscious of their ignorance, the true servant of Christ is aware of the sinfulness which is common to him and to all others, but others are not so deeply conscious of it. This humble consciousness of unworthiness is helpful for service,
"The unsearchable riches of Christ."
Some riches are unsearchable because they are inaccessible, like jewels guarded by jealous sentinels, and pearls in sea-caves, and the gold-mines of remote stars. Some riches are unsearchable because they are secret, like treasure hid in a field, and ancient records in undeciphered hieroglyphics; in this sense an illiterate man finds the wealth of a library, and an unscientific man the stores of a museum, unsearchable. No doubt there are wonderful graces in Christ that are as yet above and beyond our grasp, and deep mysteries that we cannot fathom, and a spiritual worth in all his blessings that cannot be discovered by the unspiritual. But it is not in these senses that the riches of Christ are called unsearchable. The doors of his treasure-chamber are flung wide that the poorest may enter. There is no veil of mystery to prevent a little child from seeing the beauty within. The riches of Christ are unsearchable simply because they are so abundant and so various that no man can ever measure the extent, or count the number, or distinguish all the forms of them. For near upon nineteen centuries this great treasury has been ransacked by friends and foes, by hungering inquirers and by keen-eyed critics, with the result that, like the infinite wealth of nature—which is felt to be more immeasurable in our own day, after the fruitful labors of the most indefatigable naturalists, than ever it was when not one-tenth of what we now know was discovered—these riches of Christ amaze and fascinate and overwhelm us with an ever-growing sense of their magnificent unsearchableness.
I. THE RICHES OF THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST ARE UNSEARCHABLE.
1. They have been searched into by uncompromising foes, at first by bitter Pharisees and scoffing Sadducees, later by clever philosophical opponents, such as Celsus and Porphyry, down to the times of Voltaire's sparkling sarcasm and Strauss's dry criticism. And the verdict of mankind is distinctly against the fault-finders, confessing with Pilate, "I find no fault in him."
2. These riches have also been searched into by adoring disciples, some with the profundity of St. Augustine, others with the simplicity of St. Frances; and all types of Christians in every succeeding age unhesitatingly declare that they never weary of worshipping fresh wonders in that life of unearthly loveliness. The more our eyes are opened to discern spiritual worth, and the more the character of Christ is studied, the more are we astonished and delighted by the vision of infinite perfection.
II. THE RICHES OF THE TRUTH OF CHRIST ARE UNSEARCHABLE. Christ is the Truth and the Light of the world. The ideas of Plato may be measured—the truth of Christ never. Yet two classes of people deny the unsearchable nature of the riches of this truth.
1. Those who say the world has outgrown Christianity. Perhaps they mistake the dogmas of the creeds for the truth as it is in Jesus. The former are necessarily limited, and some of them may have to break up and give place to larger ideas. But the latter is living, infinite, and eternal.
2. Those who are satisfied that they know everything. They are usually the people who know least. A smooth and rounded scheme of doctrine comprehends their universe. Because they have shaped it into logical consistency, they assume that no truth can lie outside it. They have yet to learn that the Word made flesh, like the Word in nature, is infinite.
III. THE RICHES OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST ARE UNSEARCHABLE. Human love commonly diminishes in intensity in proportion to the extent of the area over which it is spread; family affection being warmer than our interest in the wider circle of friends, and this than general philanthropy, just as the river is deep where it is narrow, but becomes shallow as its banks open out in width. But the grace of Christ, in depth and breadth like the sea, has a vast comprehensiveness for all, together with a strong intensity for each. So that in the last great assembly, when some come from distant isles and some from hidden valleys, some from populous cities and some from lonesome deserts, to confess that the grace of Christ has reached them in the fullness of its power, none will be found so remote as to have been beyond reach, so undeserving as to have been past mercy, or so needy as not to have been able to find the supply of every real want in his great riches of love.
IV. THE RICHES OF THE BLESSINGS GIVEN BY CHRIST ARE UNSEARCHABLE. There is still an unhappy habit among some of listening only to the evil report of the spies who tell of the giants, and turning a deaf ear to the spies who bring the grapes and pomegranates, No wonder that this habit leads to the painting of the blessings of Christianity with very dull shades. Rightly understood, the gospel offers a pearl of great price, reveals hidden treasures, strips off the rags and brings forth the best robe and the ring. From the first grace of forgiveness to the last grace of peace in death, Christ is breathing benedictions on the Christian's life, so that when he reflects, he is astonished at what he has already received, and yet learns to accept all this as only the earnest of the blessings of light, and strength, and purity, and peace, that are reserved for his future inheritance.—W.F.A.
"The manifold wisdom of God."
I. THE MANIFOLD WISDOM OF GOD IS PUT FORTH IN THE REDEMPTION OF THE WORLD. God is the great Thinker. All our philosophy is the attempt of man to spell out some of the ideas of God. What wisdom was requisite for the creation of the world and the ordering of all things, from the movements of a star down to the life of a cell! What wisdom is involved in the government of the world, maintaining life and gladness, developing the latent resources of the universe, making all things work together for good, ruling great kingdoms and individual lives in justice and mercy! But a higher wisdom is required for redemption. It is more difficult to regenerate than to create, to regain Paradise than to form it at the first.
1. Not only are the power and goodness of God needed for this work, but also his wisdom. Preaching may be foolish, but the gospel preached is the wisdom of God. The highest intellectuality has been exercised in working out the world's redemption.
2. St. Paul sees this especially in the breadth of the results—in the inclusion of Gentile with Jew. High wisdom is broad, and liberal charity requires much intelligence. Comprehensiveness should not be a matter of vague sentiment. To be effective it must be fortified by ripe wisdom.
3. This wisdom is manifold. God has many interests to consider, many conflicting forces to deal with, and many issues to provide for. Therefore
II. THE MANIFOLD WISDOM OF GOD IS MADE KNOWN THROUGH THE CHURCH TO THE HIGHEST INTELLIGENCES. The Church is the manifestation of a wisdom that was hidden before Christianity appeared. Truth is explained by illustration, and the Church is a concrete illustration of Divine wisdom. It is not in the thinking and teaching of Divine wisdom by Christians, but in their very existence as such, that the wisdom of God is revealed. To be a redeemed soul is to be a proof of that wisdom, just as for one who had been incurably sick to be a healthy man was to be a living proof of the healing power of Christ. This revelation was made to other worlds and higher intelligences.
1. God cares for other worlds than our own; elsewhere processes of education are being carried on with creatures in whom God takes interest.
2. We are called to minister instruction to other worlds. The service is mutual; angels are ministering spirits to men, men are instructive witnesses of redemptive wisdom to angels. Thus the lowest can help the highest. An angel can learn lessons from a man, as a man can find instruction in an insect. Our lives, then, are linked to other worlds. What happens to us has bearings elsewhere. This thought may help us to face some mystery of life. As in the case of Job, what is humanly unintelligible may be explained when it is seen that the beings of another sphere are being instructed through our experience.
3. If the highest intelligences "desire to look into" these things, and see the manifold wisdom of God in them, surely we men should treat the works of redemption with profound reverence, and regard the study of them as worthy of our highest thought.—W.F.A.
I. BOLDNESS IS A CHRISTIAN GRACE. The gospel destroys the gloomy old religions of terror. It dispels even the natural fear of guilty souls in the presence of the holy God. It brings liberty and courage. It is essentially the manly faith of the world's adult age.
II. THIS BOLDNESS IS MANIFEST IN OUR CONFIDENT ACCESS TO GOD. The Christian is not to approach God under the circumstances which made the courageous entrance of Queen Esther into the presence of King Ahasuerus so nobly patriotic. We see God as our Father waiting to be gracious. It is unworthy to fear. Our prayer should not be the cry of the captive for mercy, but the glad request of the child. Note:
1. Christian boldness is wasted unless we use it in coming nearer to God.
2. This boldness is no excuse for irreverence.
III. CHRISTIAN BOLDNESS IS EXPLAINED BY OUR RELATION TO CHRIST.
1. Christ dispels our ignorant terrors by revealing the fatherhood of God. We have but to acquaint ourselves with him to he at peace (Job 22:21).
2. Christ gives to us the perfect love that casts out fear.
3. Christ reconciles us with God, and so removes all ground of reasonable alarm. For while we are unreconciled and unforgiven, courage is madness, and the wildest terror the reasonable condition of those whose conscience is roused and who realize their frightful peril. But through Christ we are forgiven and reconciled to God. It is ungrateful, after being thus blessed, to cherish the old fears.
IV. CHRISTIAN BOLDNESS IS ENJOYED THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST.
1. Faith is necessary in order to bring us into those relations with Christ which make our boldness right and justifiable. Without faith we are not redeemed, and while unredeemed we have no ground for being bold in Christ.
2. Faith is necessary in order to enable us to realize our free and safe condition through Christ. Until we trust Christ we shall not dare to approach God with a confidence that is grounded on our relations with Christ. Thus spiritual cowardice is a mark of unbelief. He who trusts most strongly will enjoy most freedom of access to God.—W.F.A.
The universal fatherhood of God.
I. THE NATURE OF THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD.
1. God is the Source of our being. He has not only created us as he has created the rocks. We are not manufactured, but begotten by God. He has breathed his life into us.
2. God has formed us in his own image. There is a similarity of nature in child and parent. All spirits belong to the same family and have a common likeness to God.
3. God is closely related to us. Throughout life the father is most nearly connected with his children by nature and consequent claims and duties. God is our Father now; he has not merely called us into being in the past. He always and necessarily bears the fatherly relation to us.
II. THE EXTENT OF THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD. From God "every family in heaven and earth is named;" then God is the Father of every family. His fatherhood is universal.
1. It reaches to all spiritual beings. Of what orders, how many, and how various they are, are wholly beyond our speculation. But none are so remote, so peculiar, so lofty, or so low as not to come within God's fatherly relationship.
2. It is individually concerned with each separate order of beings. "Every family." The families are distinguished and so are their homes. God regards his children with personal interest.
3. It is not destroyed by evil conduct. There are fallen beings, orders, and families that are degraded in sin. But these make no exception to the universal fatherhood. In spite of the shameful corruption of some of the families, God is still Father of all. David did not cease to be the father of the rebel Absalom. The prodigal son could arise and go unto his father. The worst sinner, when he comes to himself, may say, "My Father." This necessarily results from the very nature of fatherhood. The three facts of origination of life, community of nature, and close relationship can never be annihilated. For a father to ignore them is for him to become an unnatural parent.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD.
1. In God.
2. In us.
The great mystery of the love of Christ.
The special object of St. Paul's prayer for the Ephesians is that their knowledge may be enlarged, and the one direction in which he desires for them the increase of knowledge is in regard to the love of Christ. That is the most wonderful and the most vital theme of Christian meditation; it can only be rightly contemplated under spiritual aid; but the true understanding of it will be fruitful in rich blessings.
I. THE GREAT MYSTERY OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST. Everything in Christ is wonderful, but nothing more so than his love. The multitude were astonished at his miraculous powers. Keen antagonists were confounded before his superlative wisdom; but his friends and disciples were above all and growingly touched by the gentleness, the goodness, the sympathy, the self-sacrifice, and the love which filled his life. This "passeth knowledge" in many respects.
3. Objects. These are the highest and purest. A low love indulges, pampers, and spoils in weakly trying to please its objects. Christ's love often gives pain, demands sac, trice, perplexes and troubles us. It seeks the redemption, the purification, and the highest glory of men.
II. THE WAY TO KNOW THE LOVE OF CHRIST. It "passeth knowledge." Nevertheless, though we cannot comprehend, we may apprehend it, as one who cannot see the mountain's cloud-capped towers may explore its base, as one who can never define an illimitable ocean may grow familiar with its home waters and neighboring bays. Now, such knowledge as we may have of the supreme mystery of the love of Christ is not to be got by merely reading the New Testament history, nor by any amount of theological discussion. It is spiritual, sympathetic, inward, and attained through Divine grace. St. Paul prays for the means of acquiring it. They are three, in successive gradations—one leading on to the other.
1. Spiritual strength. This is to have life, vigor, and energy in the inner nature. For so long as the spiritual faculties are dead, or slumbering, or only move languidly, they cannot rise to grasp great, Divine things. An inspiration of God's Spirit, to be measured only "by the riches of his glory," will supply this strength.
2. The indwelling Christ. The first act of the awakened, energized spiritual nature is to receive Christ through faith. While he is only outside us we can neither know hint nor love him.
3. Our love to Christ. When we by faith receive Christ into our hearts we learn to love him. Then only can we understand his love. It is true that "we love him because he first loved us;" still, the vague, wondering sense of Christ's love that wins our hearts to him is a poor perception compared with what we shall experience when we look at him with the enlightened eyes of love. Only love can understand love.
III. THE SPIRITUAL BLESSEDNESS THAT FLOWS FROM KNOWING THE LOVE OF CHRIST. This is to "be filled unto all the fullness of God." Men have sought union with God by ascetic devotion, by mystic contemplation, by sacramental grace; for all spiritually awakened souls have felt a void which only God can fill. The secret which priest and pietist have searched after in vain is here revealed. By understanding the love of Christ we are brought into sympathetic connection with him in whom dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and through his mediation we receive the graces and glories of the Divine nature (John 17:21).—W.F.A.
The real presence.
No great delusion could attain wide influence unless it were the counterfeit or perversion of a valuable truth, and unless it promised to satisfy some deep, natural desire. The doctrine of the real presence is a pathetic witness to the yearning of the soul for personal fellowship with Christ, and to the truth that he does come into the lives of his pestle.
I. CHRIST'S PRESENCE IS REAL. It is not enough that he should be with us only as "the choir invisible" of the departed great are near; i.e. in our memory and in his influence. We are not satisfied with having his spirit among us in the sense in which the spirit of Plato and the spirit of Shakespeare are still with those who read 'Phaedo' and 'Hamlet.' Christ promised to be personally present with his disciples (Matthew 28:20). He ascended up into heaven, not that he might be removed from us, but that, passing from the material to the spiritual world, he might come into the closer contact with our souls.
II. CHRIST'S PRESENCE IS IN OUR HEARTS. He touches us through our thoughts and affections. There lies our true self, and it is to our true self that he comes. He makes his presence felt by the truths he inspires, the love he rouses, and the strength he infuses, just as the sun's presence is felt in the seed when it begins to germinate in its dark tomb beneath the earth. In this way Christ is even more near to us than he was to Zacchaeus when he sat at the publican's table, or to John when the beloved disciple leaned on his Master's bosom.
III. CHRIST'S PRESENCE IS ABIDING. He comes "not to sojourn;" he abides with us. He is with us when, busy in doing his will, we are not thinking of the Lord himself, as the master is among the workmen who for the moment are too diligent to look at him. He is with us in hours of spiritual night when we are not enjoying communion with him, as a friend may be by our side in the dark, near though undiscovered. He is with us in our weariness when we have not strength and heart to pray, as the mother watches her sick child while he lies moaning and quite unconscious of her gentle nursing.
IV. CHRIST'S PRESENCE IS ENJOYED THROUGH FAITH. He is not in every heart; for there are Christless souls. Nor is he fully present with each one of his own people; for it is on behalf of true Christians that St. Paul prays for the strength to receive Christ. He is near to us just in proportion as our faith is vigorous to lay hold of him. We cannot put our fingers in the nail-prints. We must trust the unseen presence. We must not look for any second sense, any mystical intuition; for that is as much walking by sight as if we saw our Lord with our bodily eyes. Faith is pure trust in that of which we have no direct apprehension. By this faith we receive Christ.—W.F.A.
Sunday, March 26th, 2017
the Fourth Sunday of Lent
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