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The Apostle Paul is not always just the same. He is consistent, but never monotonous. He is a sevenfold man; his Epistles are his truest photograph. Have you ever read the Epistles in the light of that suggestion? not only to find out what the Epistles are, but what their author was. He never wearies us, because he has a great gift of escaping monotony. He is rugged, incoherent, sometimes almost verbally self-contradictory; he is full of parentheses, he makes great use of bracketings and asides and literary diversions, yet all the while there is a wholeness which eyes that love him can perfectly discern. In some Epistles he is argumentative, almost contentious; he is pushing a point upon the attention of his correspondents, and he wants to establish a plea. He is not so enjoyable in such Epistles. He sometimes elicits pity for the other man. He is heroic in his logic and destructive in his conclusions; then I sometimes prefer to turn over a page. To the Colossians, the Ephesians, he is as it were in another sense more vividly and tenderly and approachably the Apostle of the grace of God. In the Galatians he talks to the Galatians; in the Corinthians he talks to the Corinthians; they have their local disputes and matters to adjust and to determine. But to the Ephesians and Colossians he speaks universals, he reveals solar systems; his strides are constellations; they are infinitely wondrous in intellectual conception, in imaginative and ideal colour and emphasis Catholic Epistles in very deed; addressed to one church, but meant for all men and all ages.
I. Take the first verse of this chapter: 'And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins'. That verse is theology in one sentence; you need no more. As we found in Genesis 1:1 all the Bible, so we find in Ephesians 2:1 , the whole scheme of God and the whole revelation of human history. You dead, quickened; you alive, brought from the dead. There are moral resurrections as well as physical.
II. 'Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience' (ver. 2). There is the world for you in one gloomy sentence. This is Paul's reading of moral history. Paul was no fancy lecturer; Paul did not write out a course of dreams and call them a course of lectures: Paul recognised that the air is full of the devil. The devil has hardly left room for the summer in all that air which he breathes and poisons. He would edge out the summer if he could; he tempts the spring; he says to that sweet young thing, the vernal spirit, Blight, O blossoms! Arise, O East Wind, and kill the buds! choke those little birds in their homely nests 1 It is the devil. Do not attempt to argue him out of existence. Never undervalue the enemy; never under-estimate his resources; take it for granted that, whether you are fighting spiritually or physically, you have a great enemy to meet, and prepare yourselves accordingly, or you will lose the battle, and you will deserve to lose it.
III. 'Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others' (ver. 3). That is not modern talk. We have schooled ourselves by false schooling out of these great solemn, bedrock verities. The Apostle never would have suffered for our poor superficial theories; the Apostle would not have endured suffering and gloried in tribulation because he had received into his fancy some cobweb theory of creation, its evolution and its destiny. Not for such things did men preach in sorrow and seal in blood. If we have little conceptions about man and God, we shall have a little crumbling church, always at war with itself, and always losing the sham fights which it challenges and invites. Marvellous master was Paul! What deftness! what magnanimity! what wondrous subtlety of persuasiveness! 'We all had our conversation.'
IV. 'But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus' (ver. 4-6). 'Us,' 'us,' always 'us' a priest who invokes a benediction upon himself as well as his people. That is brotherhood, that is holy masonry. 'God, who is rich in mercy' not rich in thunderbolts only, not rich in lightnings and tempests and great whirlwinds. Mercy is the greater part of Him, if we could but see it. It was 'when we were dead in sins' that God showed the richness of His mercy. It was not when we were partly recovering ourselves, it was actually when we were dead in sins, and, being dead, helpless, lost; it was then that the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in His wings. God makes us now sit in heavenly places; that is, in the heavenlies, in the world above the world, in the unseen kingdom.
V. 'That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God' (vers. 7, 8). Salvation is not by intellect, knowledge; because then heaven would be full, if fall at all, of grammarians. 'Grace,' 'faith,' that is a foreign tongue. It is! it is heaven's tongue; it is the tongue of the Infinite Love. Grace means favour, pleasure, kindness, pure simple love, appreciation; it is a gift, not a bargain; it has no equivalent; the number stands alone, and the sign of equal-to never follows it. It is above algebra, above grammar.
VI. 'Not of works lest any man should boast' (ver. 9). That is the very point There must be no boasting; we must simply stand out, and say, It is the Lord's doing, and marvellous in our eyes. 'Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy hath He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.' We have nothing to do with our own making. We had nothing to do with our physical birth, we have nothing to do with our superior or spiritual birth. For the next verse says:
VII. 'For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them' (ver. 10). Into what beautiful English might this be rendered! Instead of saying 'workmanship,' speak the word that is almost Greek in its very form 'we are God's poems'. God is the Poet, we are the poems.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 176.
References. II. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 127; vol. xxxviii. No. 2267, and vol. xl. No. 2388. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 205. II. 2. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 36. II. 3. Bishop Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 385. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 40. J. Johns, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 409. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 149; ibid. vol. ix. p. 12. II. 4. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 141. II. 4, 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 805, and vol. lii. No. 2968. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 81. II. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2741. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. pp. 201, 203; ibid. vol. x. p. 297.
Ascending with Him ( For Ascension Day )
The great Forty Days of our Lord's Resurrection Life on earth are ended. These days have been a season of waiting, a time of rest and preparation for the great work of the future. Our Lord has appeared again and again to His own, but His appearings have been fitful and mysterious, as though to prepare them little by little for His final farewell. And now He and His Apostles meet together for the last time. How little did they realise that it was so! The veil was still lying on their hearts, and although He had told them plainly that after 'the little while' He would be leaving them to go to the Father, yet the very last question they asked Him a few moments before His Ascension shows us clearly how wide they were still of the mark. 'Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?' They felt that they were standing on the threshold of some tremendous change. The news of Easter Day, and the Resurrection of their Master, had raised their hopes once more of seeing the kingdom established, but our Lord's answer gives no encouragement to such thoughts; 'it is not for them to know the times or seasons.' the poor brain would reel had He drawn but an outline of one century's history of that spiritual kingdom which he was then founding. No! Lift up your hearts, He seems to say the Father Himself loves you, leave the future in His hands you shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you. And then, 'while they beheld,' in the act of blessing them, He was parted from them. There is no grief, strange to say, at what appears to be His final departure from them. They return to Jerusalem with great joy.
I. What was the Secret of this Great Joy? Was there a lingering feeling that this was only a further manifestation of His glory that He had not really left them, but only withdrawn from sight for awhile? Death they knew could not separate them; He had spoiled principalities and powers and triumphed over the long-cherished victory of the grave, and all power is now given unto Him in heaven and earth. Perhaps He has gone to muster His legions of angels and to restore again the kingdom to Israel. Is this the cause of their joy? Nay, but even then an earnest of the Spirit was given them; another Comforter unseen stood near, and their deep but unexplained joy was the fruit of that Spirit which was poured upon them on the Feast of Pentecost without measure; the Divine light of those streams of fire penetrated the darkness of their understanding and showed them the things of God in their due proportion; they walked about Zion and beheld her battlements rising on every side; they saw the living stones hewn and shaped with unseen hands coming from all parts and filling their places in the Spiritual Temple; they counted the towers of that city, which hath the twelve foundations, whose Maker and Builder is God. From that day old things had for ever passed away with them.
II. This is Our Joy too. Little by little the Apostles learnt the full significance of the Lord's Ascension, that in Him and by virtue of His Ascension they were also sitting in the heavenly places; in His Ascension they saw the firstfruits of our race passing beyond angels and archangels, and established on the right hand of God's throne on high. The Lord had gone up with the sound of the trump, and once more the trumpet should sound, and the waiting Church would be caught up to meet Him in the air. This was the comforting thought of those early days, and it shall be ours too. In the hour of trial let us lift up our hearts to our home beyond. On Good Friday, as we gazed on His bleeding figure nailed to the Cross, we smote our breasts and said: 'There I see myself, it is my place'. Today the veil is lifted, and we see heaven open and behold ourselves sitting with Him in the heavenly places. The cross has won for us the throne and crown of glory. Lift up your hearts in praise and thanksgiving for His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and for the coming of the Holy Ghost!
III. Our Life here must be a Life of Heavenliness. In the East the firstfruits of the early figs were called forerunners, they were pledges of the coming harvest; so Christ is our Forerunner, and we must grow up into Him in all things, we must be like Him, our affections must be set on things above, our hearts must be weaned from the world and prepared by self-discipline and by the grace of the Holy Spirit for the life of the world to come.
The text does not speak of a future exaltation, but of one that has already taken place; it does not refer to a rare mood or passing ecstasy, but to a permanent loftiness of soul: it teaches that in the power of the Spirit the Christian habitually realises an ideal life in Christ Jesus. Let no one in the name of the practical despise the mysticism of the text. What would become of literature if a transcendentalist like Emerson or Maeterlinck did not appear every now and then? What would become of art if an idealist like Watts did not occasionally excite our wonder? What would become of ethics if it were not for the intermittent visitation of poets, mystics, and saints fluttering the utilitarians? What we now propose is to insist on the splendid gain of realising to the full this heavenly life, the vital advantage of living with a vivid consciousness of God, in the rich experience of His grace, in the clear, commanding hope of immortality.
I. In heavenly places in Christ Jesus we are most exempt from error. If we mind only earthly things, we must necessarily become the victims of manifold misconceptions, prejudices, superstitions, and illusions. What, then, shall we do that we may retain the sanity of our nature, the truth of vision, and that our verdicts may be reliable? Mount into 'God's own climate, beyond fog, dust, and cloud, beyond the causes and occasions of disturbance and aberration; see life in God's light; test all by the spirit and teaching of the Christ: so shall you "be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding"'.
II. In heavenly places in Christ Jesus we are safest from contamination and peril. Already to many of us certain forms of moral besetment are as though they were not; if we mount to higher ranges, other possibilities of evil of which we are conscious will similarly cease; whilst on the highest summits of all we best deal with whatever assaults of the soul are still inevitable. Yet, live high as we may, we cannot get beyond the range of temptation. 'Heavenly places' are the best places in which to fight the foes of the soul, the choicest coigns of vantage.
III. In heavenly places we realise fulness of peace and blessedness. These radiant altitudes mean perfected felicity. Whymper, the Alpine climber, said of one of his guides that 'he was happy only when upwards of ten thousand feet high'; and no one knows the pure joy of life until he leaves beneath him the eagle's nest and finds the mystic edelweiss of snow-white purity in the blue depths of 'God's own climate' of infinite holiness and love.
W. L. Watkinson, Inspiration in Common Life, p. 23.
References. II. 6. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 159. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 138; ibid. vol. x. p. 340. II. 7. H. Bonar, S hort Sermons for Family Beading, pp. 273 and 282. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1665. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 91. II. 8. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 83. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 221. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1064, and vol. xxvii. No. 1609. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 143. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 98. II. 8, 9. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 327. J. Johns, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 324. II. 8-10. H. S. Holland, Church Times, vol. lix. p. 624. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 195. J. Hannah, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 324. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 291. II. 9. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 338. II. 9, 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2210.
The Redeemed Life God's Workmanship
I. Note, first, The Christian's New Nature. 'We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.' The idea that in believing men a change has been wrought which amounts to a reconstituting of their nature, is here expressed twice over, for the sake of emphasis. To begin with, the word translated 'workmanship' implies that a Christian owes his character and standing to God precisely as a poem owes its conception to the singer's intellect and fancy. The dramas he produced we call the works of Shakespeare, and in like manner men and women are the works of God. God is the author of what they now are. A believer's soul is the Divine poem. Elsewhere in the physical world we may read the Divine prose, but when God writes His name in a human heart, that is His poetry.
Then besides that, the same idea is underlined by the use of a second cognate term; we are created, says the Apostle, in Christ Jesus. Creation is one of those words which distinguish, and form the special glory of, the Bible. Doubtless in other religious books you will find cosmogonies and cosmologies of the most varied kind; half-noble, half-fantastic attempts to explain the origin and genesis of all that is. But it was left for the Bible, as some one has said, 'to inscribe the name of God on all things visible and invisible, and append to it the word create'. The note is struck in its first sentence. 'In the beginning God created.'
II. Note, The Purpose for which the New Nature is Bestowed. We are 'created in Christ Jesus unto good works'.
St. Paul indicates in one brief phrase the right relation of good works to the Christian life. It is 'unto good works' that we are created in Christ. Or, to put it otherwise, good works, holiness, Godlike character, is the aim of God in creating us afresh: it is His ultimate goal; accordingly it cannot be the cause of our being saved, but must be its issue and consequence. It is the fruit of the good tree, not its root or vital sap; and we are said to be created for good works just as a tree is created, or exists, for its fruit. Hence the true relation is altogether distorted and reversed when character and conduct are made preconditions of our obtaining Divine grace, instead of the joyous result of our having accepted it.
III. Note, The Pre-ordained Divine Ideal. These good works, the Apostle adds, 'God has prepared that we should walk in them'. In other words, for each of us a path of spiritual development has been prepared beforehand, our travelling by which will be the realisation of that Divine ideal of our life which has hovered before the mind of God from the beginning.
H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 43.
References. II. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1829. Bishop Sheepshanks, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 295. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 215. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 108. II. 11, 12. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 184.
Sin As Alienation From God
These terrible words form part of the description given by St. Paul of the state of his heathen converts before they accepted the Gospel of Christ But though they were thus originally applied, it is, I think, quite allowable to see in them a description of the effect of sin generally. For the words are used of the heathen because they were sinners; it was as sinners, and in consequence of their sinful state, indeed we might say, as the essence of that state, that they 'had no hope, and were without God in the world'. I take them, therefore, as my text, when I consider the final and most fearful aspect of sin, its power of alienating us from God. 'Without God in the world.' The word translated 'without God,' ἄθεοι , is capable, indeed, of other explanation. It might be taken to mean, as in our word 'atheist,' unbelievers in God. But this rendering is excluded by the qualification ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ in the world, which clearly points to a contrast between the relation of the sinner to God and his relation to the world. He is in the world, and subject to all the influences of the world, and he is 'without God'. Not merely forgetful of God, or without belief in Him, but withdrawn from His life, without knowledge of Him, without His help in the dangers of the worldly life, without any hope of His mercy and love. They had 'no hope, and were without God in the world'.
I. This, then, is the effect of sin on the soul; it alienates the sinner from God, it leaves him in the world and without God. It is not, of course, meant that any man while yet alive on earth is altogether separate from the God 'in whom we live and move and have our being'. He upholds the whole order of creation; not a sparrow falls, and therefore not a man breathes without His will, His help. Withdrawn from God the world would cease to be; there can be no such thing as absolute alienation from God in this life.
Sinners are 'without God' because they lose the power of communing with Him, of 'feeling after Him and finding Him'; and, further, they are 'without God,' because He is hostile to their sin, and to themselves so far as they are identified with their sin. Man is alienated from God, and God is alienated from man by man's sin. That is the twofold aspect of this final result of sin which we have to consider.
II. Man loses by sin the power of communing with God, of relying on His help, of realising His love.
This communion is destroyed by sin. I do not mean repented sin, for that, though it weakens and clouds the soul, is by God's mercy in Christ forgiven, and the sinner is restored to his lost union with God; but I mean sin which the soul will not give up, sin entertained and delighted in, sin which dwells in the memory and controls the will. Whenever a man is living in sin and finds pleasure in it, the thought of God is no comfort or rest, but bitterness and disquiet, and He flies from communion with Him. For sin takes away the very conditions which make the thought of God the stay of the soul. When external troubles or anxieties come upon a man, troubles uncaused by anything he has done, but none the less oppressive, there is no consolation or rest like that of laying the whole before God, and leaving the solution of it in His hands. It is not our own doing, its causes are independent of us; God will accept the burden we lay upon Him, and sooner or later 'unto the godly there ariseth up light in the darkness'. But when our own sin has caused it, and we will not cease from the sin, there is no comfort in appealing to God. The first condition of His help is wanting; we dare not give up the very cause of the trouble that is weighing us down. So the sinner shrinks from the one source of comfort, and cuts himself off from communion with God. For he trembles before the wide and unyielding claims of God on the soul. He wants to keep something back, to retain one 'bosom sin,' to hide a part of himself from the Divine eyes; and God claims the whole or will have none.
III. God Himself is not, cannot by His very nature be passive while man is forsaking Him. He is always hostile to sin, and must therefore hate that which is sinful, in so far as it is identified with sin. The sinner chooses his own pleasure, his own will instead of God's will. He has turned from God, and has chosen himself, and in the pursuit of his own ends has forsaken his Master and Friend; and then when he would return, he finds that his rebellion is also banishment, that God has forsaken him, that sin, which is man's desertion of God, is also punishment, which is God's departure from man. He has preferred himself to God. and God's punishment is to leave him with himself. 'Ephraim has joined himself to idols; let him alone.' Yes, even in this world we see that punishment beginning, as the sinner wakes up to find himself far from the abiding source of happiness, cut off from communion with God, estranged from the Divine life; and yet he cannot forsake his sin, for it has enthralled his will, and has become itself his sharpest penalty. But this is only the partial anticipation of the 'last state of that man,' in that condition which is only conceivable to us as 'eternal sin,' eternal 'alienation from the life of God'.
A. T. Lyttelton. College and University Sermons, p.
References. II. 12. O. Bronson, Sermons, p. 107. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 57. II. 12, 13. H. W. Webb-Peploe, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 396. II. 13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xv. No. 851. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 31; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 223. II. 13-17. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 461. II. 14, 15. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 135. II. 15. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. i. p. 137. II. 16. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 436; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 31. II. 17. C. S. Horne, Daily News, 23rd December, 1907, p. 3. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 373; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 104. II. 18. W. P. Du Bose, The Gospel According to St. Paul, p. 143. II. 19. H. S. Holland, God's City, p. 29. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 123. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 103. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 65. II. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1388. R. Vaughan Pryce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 401. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 27. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ephesians, p. 118. II. 22. C. Gutch, Sermons, p. 124. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 255. Bishop Westcott, Disciplined Life, No. ix. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 267. III. 1-12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 235. III. 3-6. G. F. Pentecost, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 259. III. 4. A. W. Robinson, The Mystery of Christ, No. xi. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 269; ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 362.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ephesians 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany