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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Ephesians 2



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Verse 2


‘The prince of the power of the air.’

Ephesians 2:2

The New Testament, as it reveals Christ, so also it reveals the Devil. The New Testament depicts Christ’s life as one protracted contest with the Evil One. It was as the Devil’s vanquisher that He became man’s Saviour. We see this throughout.

The Devil is a reality. The text gives Satan’s title. The Prince of the Power of the Air. The very title is a revelation in itself. Take it word by word: Prince—Power—Air.

I. Prince.—What does this word reveal? It is implies lordship, leadership. He is a leader, a ruler. Lordship over what? Ruler over what?

(a) Over this world.

(b) Over his own followers.

II. Power.—There are two words in the original which our English version renders by the same word power. Of these, one answers to our word right, or constituted authority, the other answers to might, or the mere power of force. It is curious that the original here indicates constituted authority. His army is an army, not a crowd. His evil ones obey him with the willingness with which you obey one who has authority, distinguished from the grudgingness with which you obey mere force.

III. Air.—He is a Prince of the Power of the Air. What does this mean? First and most chiefly, the word has a metaphorical meaning. It sets before you the diffusiveness, the penetrating-ness, the universality of the power which Satan exercises. You talk of the velocity of sound as it travels upon the air, or of the velocity of light as it is transmitted by the œther. These analogies will guide us as to what the phrase teaches here. So, again, we speak of a polluted air—of an air laden with infection. If the air is laden with infection, do what you will you cannot bar out the mischief. Door and window are closed in vain against the tainted air. What is in the air will find you, spite of bars and bolts. The tiniest crevice will admit it. So, again, the air gives the idea of universality so far as the earth is concerned. You may go to the Antipodes, but it is the same air you breathe, though under different stars and with a different climate. The air is everywhere. So the phrase tells you that while we are in this sin-laden world we cannot escape the range of Satan’s influence or the presence of his legions. We are ever in their midst.


‘To those of us who are confirmed a text like this is the most solemn “exhortation to Holy Communion” I know of. Here in this House of God you breathe awhile the airs of Heaven. You are in God’s House and Presence. Here from His very Presence you breathe a purer atmosphere. Outside, indeed, Satan may range at will. Here, unless you bring him in your own hearts, he cannot come.’

Verses 8-10


‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.’

Ephesians 2:8-10

Life in Christ enters as an invasion to which you have to surrender absolutely, without reserve. Die to yourself! Let Him have you! You are to become His—His workmanship—to be recreated in the energy of His Manhood. Yield, yield then. Let your will go. Let the self break. Go under! Give in! Let the power of God have its way with you, as the potter with the clay, as the musician with the ear, as the spirit over the flesh.

I. And then the miracle begins.—It is you who become alive. It is you who expand and grow. For what is it that God does in you? He makes you able to become yourself. And how do you know that He is at work? Because you yourself can do so much more than before: because your manhood is stronger; because you, as a man, develop, grow, expand. How do you recognise the stirring of the Spirit? By the purity of the flesh; by the strengthening of all your bodily forces; by the gathering wealth of your human emotions and affections; by the wider reach of your human will; by the gladness that courses through the blood; by the freedom of happy desires; by the quivering thrill in the veins; by the song in the heart; by the joyful lips; by the fuller sympathies that knit you to your kind; by the peace and joy that you find in your home affections, your home tendernesses; by the growing keenness of your love for this dear earth about your feet; and by your passionate longing to share the fate of your fellow-men and to do them some true service before you die.

II. These are your proofs that God through Christ is in you.—You are more of a man. Your humanity is discovering itself. Your nature is being released. Your flesh is being set free. Your body is more your own. Your hindering sins are ceasing to maim and stunt your growth. That is what is happening; and that could only be happening if God were at work. It is only possible because you are His workmanship—in the art of being created Christ Jesus unto good works.

III. ‘His workmanship.’—Is not that our peace? He does it all. Leave everything to Him. Don’t ask why. Don’t trouble to think what will come of it. He is having His will with you. That is enough. Lie still! lie still! Oh! the strong hands that shape and fashion you. Oh! the firmness of the steadfast pressure which points all one way! Lie still! Let it work! Clay in the Potter’s hands! Yet—no dead clay! For this masterful will does not work from without by whirring wheel and biting tool. This workmanship of the Spirit passes into the material through which it works. The material itself becomes possessed of the craft. The passion of the Worker is ensouled in the work. His Purpose, His Imagination, His Desire—all reproduce themselves within it. So you—God’s workmanship—are yourselves the workers according to the law, ‘that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.’ You do it all. You work out your salvation; just because it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do His good pleasure. You put out your force into it. You think, imagine, wish, will whatever is to be done. Nothing can be done without you. Your own faith makes you whole. Your own faith removes the mountains. You can do all that you desire to do through Christ in you That strengtheneth you.

IV. Be up, therefore, and doing.—Be busy; ‘occupy till He comes.’ There is so much to get through, and only twelve hours to do it in—before the night cometh, when no work can be done. Oh, haste! strain! The world, the Church—they need all you can give them. Be urgent! Call upon your whole powers. Press on! God’s work is hard work. It takes all our force to fulfil it.

(a) So keen, so occupied, you must be! Yet still at peace, surrendered, leaving all to God. For remember, you have not ceased to be passive under His strong hand because you are so busy in His service. They are but two sides of the same life. It is by lying passive under His Will that you are fired with passion for His service. You live because He lives in and through you.

(b) And, again, since it is He Who alone lives in you, therefore all your busy service can be left to His care. What does it matter what comes of it? It may all be brought to nought. It may show no result. Why should you mind? It is His, not yours. He will get what He wants out of it. He has other servants than you. You are not necessary. Leave it all to Him. Be busy; serve Him hard and long. Then drop it all, and be at peace.

Rev. Canon Scott Holland.

Verse 19


‘Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow=citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.’

Ephesians 2:19

We maintain that the undenominational principle is wrong, from the standpoint not only of education, but also of religion—nay, that it not only fails to interpret, but it reverses, the method of Christ Himself, the Divine Teacher. Was it His method to lay down certain truths and maxims, and to leave individuals to make of them what they pleased, and afterwards, according to their own taste and temperament, to join themselves with others who shared their opinions? We know that to the ordinary crowd of persons who listened to the teaching of Jesus He could not commit that deeper truth which was to be the salvation of the world. Before He could find an entry for that vital truth He must prepare a body in which it could live and act upon the world, and be preserved through all the fluctuating generations of men.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ was a compact body of men holding together in the midst of the world, and visible to the eyes of all; and it was through membership in this body that they were to realise the great gifts of union with Himself and fellowship with one another. There they were to be united to Him so that together they could share the merits of His atoning death, receive together the grace of His redeeming life, and work together in the one fellowship for the salvation of the world.

I. That great conceptionthat the Christian life can only be realised in fellowshipis the basis of all Apostolic teaching.—From the isolation of merely individual life and opinion, from all the sundering forces of human distinctions of class and creed, men were to be gathered together into the one fellowship, regenerated by its life, fed by its holy food. They were to be no longer ‘aliens and sojourners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.’ Thus, my brethren, it would be true to say that the very object of Christ’s teaching of religion—nay, of His very mission from the Father—was to attach men to a body. May we not even dare to say—you will not misunderstand the words—that Christ came to make a man a Churchman?

II. Why is it that we find it so hard here in England to take to our living experience this essential truth of the Gospel?—It is partly because of our national temperament—so dull to all ideas which make demands upon thought and imagination. But it is also partly due to the circumstances of our national and our religious history. We have exaggerated and misinterpreted the great Protestant conception that a man’s religion is a matter of individual relationship between him and God. In the same way we have exaggerated and misinterpreted our great heritage of political freedom, so that an Englishman comes almost to think that his nation exists for the purpose of advancing his interests, protecting his commerce, and extending his resources. Thank God, we are beginning to outgrow the tendencies of this spirit. We are realising, and trying to teach in our schools, that a man’s life is bound up with his nation, that as he shares its blood, so he must be equal to all the demands for sacrifice which it makes upon him.

III. Now, does religion stand apart from this great principle, that life can only be realised in fellowship?—Nay, rather in religion—in the Christian religion—it is raised to its highest form and to its greatest power, so that we may say that the brotherhood of men with one another in the Church—with one another and with Christ—is to become more and more, in a sense which it has not been in the past, a light set before the eyes of men, from which, in the whole sphere of national and common life, they may learn what brotherhood and fellowship mean. Is this, then, the time in which we can settle the religious education of our children on a principle which entirely neglects and passes over this great conception of the Christian life—which teaches that religion is an affair of man’s own opinion, and that fellowship with Christ with other Christian men in the life of the body is only a matter of subsequent taste and temperament? Rather must we teach our children from the very first that they are related to God and to one another, because they are members of a great body knit together in a living fellowship—‘fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.’ Would God, indeed, that that conception could be realised through the life of one single all-embracing Church. So it was meant to be by the Lord Jesus, Who purchased His Church with His own Blood; but, alas! as it has passed down the ages it has been torn into many fragments, and the vision of one single Christian body is no longer what it was meant to be—a living fact—but only a distant hope. But is the principle itself in abeyance? Has it been withdrawn? Are we to take out great passages of the teaching of the New Testament? Has the principle been suspended until these distant hopes can be fulfilled? Nay, rather we are still called to act upon the principle that our Christian life is impossible without the reality of Christian fellowship.

—Archbishop Lang.


‘I have been the undenominational man. I know the attractions of its convenience, of its plausible liberalism, of its specious charity. But, thank God, I have come to know also how powerless it is to vitalise the religious aspirations of a man’s soul or to strengthen his will; and, once into the life of the Christian there has come the vision of that great fellowship descending from our Lord Himself through all the ages and binding men together into one communion and fellowship with Himself and with the saints, then ever afterwards one of his passwords must be “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.” We cannot be “disobedient to the heavenly vision”; and therefore we cannot, without disloyalty to our Lord Jesus Christ and to His own method of teaching, come to any other principle than this: that the object of the religious teaching of our children in the schools must be to attach them to a religious denomination.’



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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ephesians 2:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
the Second Week after Epiphany
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