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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Ephesians 1

Verses 1-23

Ephesians 1:7

Forgiveness of sins lies at the very heart of the Christian religion. That title of our Lord which appeals most to the heart of mankind is the title which is His as Saviour. It is proclaimed in that fact which of all facts in history has most impressed itself upon the imagination of mankind, the Sacrifice of Christ. In the Apostles' Creed we say, 'I believe in the forgiveness of sins'. It is a petition in that prayer which is the model of all prayer the Lord's Prayer, we pray, 'Forgive us our trespasses'. And it is the experience of a multitude of souls fallen into Bin, but raised from the dust of sin to new life, endowed with new spirit, inspired with new hopes, and all because they believe in the forgiveness of sins.

I. What is Forgiveness? What does it mean, this forgiveness of sins? It is easy to see that forgiveness is something more than the remission of penalties. A great French writer, Victor Hugo, tells a story of a convict who had been doing penal servitude for nineteen years, and who was released on ticket of leave, and he found on every hand that men's doors were closed to him; how he comes to the door of a French bishop, and there he begs for food and shelter. And the food and the shelter are granted him; but he sees the bishop's silver plate and when he cannot sleep at night the temptation comes to him, and he yields to it, to take the silver, and he goes. A few hours afterwards he is brought back by the police, and they are admitted into the presence of the bishop. 'Ah,' he says, 'I am glad to see you. I gave you the candlesticks too. They are worth ten pounds. Why did you not take them with the rest?' And he turns to the police, explains that a mistake has been made, that the captive must be let go free. The police go, and then the bishop turns to the man and says to him, 'My brother, never forget that you have promised to employ this money in learning to be an honest man. You no longer belong to evil, but to good. I withdraw your heart from the spirit of perdition, and I give you to God.' Now to treat a guilty man as though he were not guilty, is that forgiveness? Certainly in some cases to do so would be an intolerable wrong. Here is a man who makes a livelihood out of vice. To treat that man as innocent would be sinful. But here is this man treated by his friend just as though he was innocent, and to the onlookers such action seems to be what someone has called an inspiration of wisdom, the surpassing wisdom of love which is like the love of God. Where does the principle come in? It lies in the possibility of restoring the man to righteousness. But it is only so long as this restoration is a possibility that such forgiveness can be said to be really forgiveness, and find justification.

II. The Justification of Forgiveness. But there must be something in the man which justifies the treatment. The consciousness of guilt, the turning away from sin, the self-identification once more with righteousness there must be these things in the man. And then forgiveness is the embrace of Divine love, the receiving back again into favour, the return of the penitent Let me ask how is this possible? Men are so far below the ideal of righteousness by which God purposes they should live; again and again they fall; and the best of men, the saints, are just men and women who are most tormented with the consciousness of sin. It is St Paul who sets himself down as the chief of sinners. The cry of Job is the pathetic cry of mankind, How should man be just with God? and the answer to that cry came from God. It is proclaimed in the life and death and resurrection of Him Who is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. The mind of man can see but a little way into these secrets, but he sees that there is a close bond of union between Christ and the men that He came to save; mankind is made one with Him by His Incarnation. He came, and what by His Incarnation was made possible to mankind is made actual by baptism. Then we are made members of the Body of Christ, then we are made one in Him and He in us. It is this oneness with Christ, this union of humanity with Him, which inspires St Paul's words, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus'.

III. The Essentials of Forgiveness. The first thing in penitence is the consciousness of guilt, and the guilt of sin is manifested in its penalties, and its penalties are suffering and sorrow and death. Man never knew the greatness of the guilt which attached to sin until he saw our Lord accept it and bear its burdens. That suffering of the body, that darkness, that cry of desolation, 'My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?' these things taught men as no words uttered by the most eloquent lips could ever have taught these things, taught men as no experience of their own dull natures could ever have taught, God's detestation of sin. As men learned God's estimate of it, so the realisation of His indignation against sin was forced upon their hearts. Then the second essential to true penitence is contrition. There must be genuine sorrow for sin, and that contrition our Lord offered for us. He is the Beloved in Whom we have our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. He is the propitiation for our sins. Our oneness with Christ, the infinite potency of sacrifice, the fulfilment by our Lord on man's behalf of the necessary conditions of forgiveness from these things a little light is thrown on that deep enigma, how sinful man can be made just before God.

References. I. 7. D. L. Moody, The Fulness of the Gospel, p. 11. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 295; vol. xxvi. No. 1555; vol. xxxvii. No. 2207; vol. xlix. No. 2863. G. Campbell Morgan, The Bible and the Cross, p. 57. James Orr, Mundesley Conference Report, 1910, p. 342. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 26.

The Energy of Grace

Ephesians 1:7-8

Grace is too commonly regarded as a pleasing sentiment, a welcome feeling of cosy favour entertained toward us by our God. The interpretation is ineffective, and inevitably cripples the life in which it prevails. Grace is more than a smile of good nature. It is not the shimmering of an illumined lake; it is the sun-lit majesty of an advancing sea. It is a transcendant and ineffable force, the outgoing energies of the redeeming personality of God washing against the polluted shores of human need.

I. In the text the energies of grace are more particularly discovered in their relationship to sin. 'Forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace.' The word 'grace' is not a prevalent word in modern speech, and its rare occurrence may be explained by the partial disappearance of the word 'sin' from our vocabulary. If we exile the one we shall not long retain the other. What philosophy and personal inclination are disposed to extenuate, the Christian religion seeks to deepen and revive.

II. What is the ministry of the heavenly energy? The inspiring evangel of the text gathers itself round about three emphases. Let us feast our eyes on the wealthy programme. (1) Grace flows round about the life in powers of liberation. It sets itself to deal both with the guilt and the power of sin, and it removes the one, and subdues the other. (2) The grace that liberates also illuminates. The grace that brings 'redemption' also confers 'wisdom'. (3) Grace brings 'prudence,' power of fruitful application; power to apply the eternal to the transient; power to bring the vision to the task, the revelation to the duty, the truth to the trifle.

III. How do we come into the sweep of the marvellous effluence of the grace of God? 'In whom we have.' That is the standing ground. To be in Him, in the Christ, is to be in the abiding-place of this superlative energy.

J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 111.

References. I. 7-10. E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 34. I. 9, 10. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 140; ibid. vol. vi. p. 421; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 136. I. 9, 20. Ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 148. I. 10. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 181; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 347. I. 11-14. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 35. I. 12, 13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1978. I. 13. Ibid. vol. x. No. 592. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 268. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 10. I. 14. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 274. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 43. I. 13, 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 358; vol. xxii. No. 1284. H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 87. I. 15. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 363; ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 407. I. 15-23. E. J. Kennedy, Old Theology Restated, p. 55. I. 16. Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 165.

Progressive Revelation

Ephesians 1:17-19

The Apostle prays that the Ephesians may have supernatural light shed upon the gold of their supernatural wealth.

I. It is our great privilege to grow in clearness of understanding, beholding with more open vision the beauty and preciousness of the truth as it is in Jesus. The first light that falls upon our spiritual understanding is marvellous light; but whilst we continue obedient unto the heavenly vision, it will shine ever more brightly. The vision of a faithful soul grows in comprehensiveness and penetration, realising with infinite delight the great and beautiful doctrines of the spiritual universe. The biographer of the late Dr. Dale, of Birmingham, says of him: 'He lived under the benignant sway of a succession of great truths, following one another like the constellations of the heavens'. In successive periods of his life familiar truths in succession became extraordinary, captivating him, filling him with wonder, thrilling him with delight. Is not this the ideal life? First one and then another article of the creed glowing into light, dawning on the soul, seizing it, occupying it, delighting it, leaving it with special enrichment and perfection! A true course is one of progressive illumination. No Christian life is altogether right and satisfactory except more light, and more, is shining upon it out of God's Word except uninteresting bits of the raiment of the truth are continually being transfigured; except passages which resemble darkened glass are becoming telescopic; unless commonplace chapters of historian, Prophet, and Apostle suffer a strange change into streets of gold whose stones are like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal; and unless starless spaces in the firmament of revelation are being sown with galaxies, and irradiated with the glory of the Lord.

II. Note that the sources of illumination are within. 'Having the eyes of your heart enlightened.' It is insight rather than reflected light; it springs up in the depths of the soul. This is not the instruction gained by intellectual study; it is rather experimental, coming through the inner powers of affection, thought, and will.

W. L. Watkinson, The Ashes of Roses, p. 79.

References. I. 17-23. Bishop Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 358. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 251, I. 18. J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 148. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 52; ibid. p. 62.

In the Heavenly Places

Ephesians 1:18-20

The phrase 'in the heavenly places' is peculiar to the Epistle to the Ephesians, where it occurs no less than five times. It is one of many marks of the unique character of this Epistle, in which St. Paul again and again employs it; and yet never once does the expression seem to occur to him in that other letter which Tychicus carried the letter to Colossae which (as we have seen) is so closely bound, by ties of subject-matter, time, and place, to this Epistle.

The word translated 'heavenly' occurs about twenty times in the New Testament, including other Epistles of St. Paul, but the expression 'in the heavenly (places)' is found in no other known writing. No substantive is attached to the adjective, and we might render it 'among the heavenly things (or blessings),' if that gave a better meaning. But it does not do so; the familiar phrase 'in the heavenly (places)' is best, and brings us into relation with that unseen world where the risen Master is, where we are blessed 'in Him,' and in which lie those spiritual powers which on the one hand oppose us, and on the other hand rejoice to learn the mysteries of man's redemption. We shall find that it is impossible too severely to Locate the phrase; 'it is a region of ideas, rather than a locality,' says Dean Armitage Robinson; although the thought of place cannot, as we shall see, be wholly eliminated from it.

I. There can be no doubt that chapter 1:20 comes first in order of thought. It brings us face to face with the common theme of both Epistles the supremacy of Christ over all rivals. In the spiritual realm, here described as 'the heavenlies,' lie all the forces that rule the universe. There is the throne of God; there Christ sits 'at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father'; thither He has been raised, above every conceivable rank and order of celestial beings, the sharer of the throne of God.

II. The next context (II. 6) takes us a step farther. This verse states a fresh truth, and reveals the almost startling fact that, our Lord being thus 'raised' and 'seated' 'in the heavenly places,' we too are raised and seated there 'with Him'. In other words, the present abode of Christ (I. 20) is the present abode of the Church (II. 6). All who 'believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the cross for them, and shed His blood for their redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits they have thereby, and giving Him hearty thanks therefore,' are in actual present possession of these blessings, because they are ' in Christ'. In other words, this life in the heavenlies is a present reality, an anticipation, as well as a pledge, of future glory. The Christian can even here on earth 'lay hold on the life which is life indeed'.

III. In chapter 1:3 a still further stage is reached. Every spiritual blessing which we receive depends upon the first two stages of the argument. Our Lord is 'in the heavenly places'; we are 'in Him' in a real and present sense, and so are ourselves in the same 'heavenly places'. What follows? Being thus united to Him, all His fulness flows to us, we are in contact with the sole fount of every blessing, so that we have thus reached the very summit of St. Paul's great argument. We are 'blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places'; but mark how all this is so! 'in Him.'

Our standing 'in the heavenly places' depends upon our union with 'the Lord,' and every conceivable blessing that we can enjoy depends upon this contact there with Him.

IV. In chapter 3:10 St. Paul is speaking of the great 'mystery' or secret, once hidden but now revealed, of 'preaching unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.' All men are destined in this Gospel age to learn God's purpose in history, which is, in St. Paul's language, 'the dispensation of the mystery'. But not only are all men to understand this progress of the Divine purpose; there are celestial intelligences who love to learn more of the gracious outcomes of God's love. 'Which things,' says St. Peter, 'angels desire to look into' (1 Peter 1:12 ).

V. The last context in which we find the words (VI. 12) is a surprising and a startling one. The same words which are used to describe the abode of Christ, our own position of blessing in Him, and the home of the holy angels, are here used to describe the scene of our conflict with 'the spiritual hosts of wickedness'. 'Our wrestling' with them is described as taking place 'in the heavenly places,' just as in this same Epistle Satan is described as 'the prince of the power of the air'. The common use of this word 'air' in Scripture is of the atmosphere which surrounds the earth; and we must remember that the word 'heaven' has a wide range of meaning, for there is 'the heaven of heavens,' and St. Paul speaks of being caught up into 'the third heaven'. We may, therefore, think of 'a heavenly place' which corresponds to the region of 'the air,' no less than of one which is the abode of the holy angels and of God Himself. But it is foolish to attempt to localise too closely; the term is designedly vague, so as to include the realm and abode of all spiritual forces and powers. There reigns the Father in His supreme majesty, there the Son of God reigns in His mediatorial kingdom, there the Holy Spirit pours 'blessed unction from above,' and there we are the object, not only of watchful interest to those ministers that do God's pleasure, but also of never-ceasing attack from the ministers of Satan.

Thus, if our life 'in the heavenly places' involves great privileges, it also involves serious conflict. We are 'in the heavenly places,' but so too are our foes; or, at least, they can reach us there, and disturb our peace. But, thank God, we can face the fact without fear.

Bishop Drury, The Prison Ministry of St. Paul, p. 157.

The Standard Miracle

Ephesians 1:18-20

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the New Testament standard of power. It is the sample and pledge of what God can do for man.

I. The uniqueness of Christ's resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead reveals the might of God working at the fulness of its strength. When we want to know what God is able to do, we go back to the Resurrection of His Son. This crowning miracle is inclusive of all others. It demonstrates conquest over every dominion that affects human life. Of the unique significance of the resurrection the Scriptures leave no room for doubt. It is God's crowning testimony to His Son, and the essential witness of the Christian Church. Spiritual identification is the end for which Christ died and rose again. Salvation becomes a personal possession to all who, by personal faith, accept Jesus as their Representative and Lord.

II. Spiritual Resurrection. Regeneration is the spiritual counterpart of the resurrection. It is a birth out of death. Conversion is the standing miracle of the power of God. Like the resurrection, the miracle of conversion includes in one act the salvation of the whole man. Regeneration secures all elements of reform. The spiritual resurrection inaugurates a new life. The man who lives in the power of Christ's resurrection is raised to a plane of life beyond the imitations of the natural man. The life which began in a miracle is miraculously sustained.

III. The power of the Spirit (1) This resurrection power is the power of the spirit, which is the efficient course in all Christian service. 'Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you.' The spirit of Pentecost is the spirit of power. (2) Christ's resurrection is the pattern and pledge of our own final resurrection. The ultimate demonstration of this power 'will fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory, according to the working whereby He is able to subject all things unto Himself.

S. Chadwick, Humanity and God, p. 137.

References. 1.18, 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1466. 1.19. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 157. 1.19, 20. Bishop Alexander, The Great Question, p. 129. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 72. I. 19-23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 534. F. D. Maurice, ibid. vol. ii. p. 85. I. 20. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 297; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 248. I. 20, 21. Ibid. vol. vi. p. 249. I. 23. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. v. p. 31. I. 22, 23. G. Packer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 392. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 136.

Ephesians 1:22-23

Anthony Froude 'is as delighted with Arnold as I am; on his remarking to Dr. Pusey on the beauty of Arnold's comparing the Church and State to the Soul and Body, Pusey quietly but most solemnly said, "I consider the Church belongs to a much higher Body".'

Caroline Fox's Journals.

Reference. I. 23. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 241.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ephesians 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/ephesians-1.html. 1910.