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Paul dictated this letter to Luke, his faithful amanuensis, while preaching in his “hired house” in Rome, whither he arrived in the chains of his Jerusalem imprisonment in February, A.D. 61. He spent two years preaching in his city mission; meanwhile he wrote this epistle and those to Colossians and Philemon.
2-4. The word “mystery” leads the revelation in these verses. God’s work, like himself, is all a profound mystery, utterly inscrutable to aliens, however gifted and cultured. No sinner can have the vaguest conception of regeneration till he gets it; while sanctification is equally indissoluble mystery to all the unsanctified, even though they be clergymen of the highest rank. No living man has the slightest conception of what transfiguration is experimentally. We must content ourselves in utter ignorance of that transcendent grace till this mortal puts on immortality. Hence, the logical inconsistency of unsanctified people having the audacity to criticize that sweet grace of which they are ignorant as baboons.
5-7. Here we learn that this mystery can be revealed even to the holy apostles and prophets of the new dispensation only by the Holy Ghost. The omnipotent Spirit, the successor and revealer of the glorified Christ, alone is competent to reveal the unfathomable mysteries of regeneration to a sinner, and sanctification to a Christian. No human power nor ingenuity could ever eradicate the deep-seated prejudices alienating races, colors, sex, and nationalities, such as the impassable chasm between Jews and Samaritans. But the deep illuminations and radical revolutions of the Holy Ghost opened the Gentile world to Jewish evangelism.
THE CHURCH HOUSE OF THE HOLY GHOST
19,20. “ Built upon the foundation of the apostle and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone. ” These are the New Testament prophets; i.e., the fire-baptized preachers who, along with the apostles, under God became the custodians of the apostolic Church. As we are living in the New Testament dispensation, Old Testament symbolism, types, and shadows, all fulfilled in Christ, having evanesced, are superseded by the glorious spiritual entities and transcendent experimental holiness of the full-orbed gospel dispensation.
21. “ In whom the whole house jointed together groweth into a holy temple in the Lord.
22. “ In whom you also are built up into a habitation of God in the Spirit. ” The Pauline eloquence here is sublime as he floats out on the wing of inspiration in his vivid and glorious description of the Divine Ekklesia; i.e., the gospel Church, built upon the inspired Word of the New Testament writers, Jesus Christ, the central pillar, supporting the grand superstructure, destined to tower forever, the admiration of angels and archangels, the inspiring theme of cherubim and seraphim, the contemplative glory of God, to the eternal bewilderment of the heavenly hierarchies. This is the glorified Church of the First Born, “without spot or wrinkle.”
The members of this Church are not joined in, but born into it by the supernatural intervention of the Holy Ghost.
This is none of your worldly Churches, as the very word for Church, Ekklesia, means the called out of the world; while hagiadzoo, sanctify, means to take the world out of you. Hence, all the members of the New Testament Church have a double reason for being unworldly; the one because they have come out of the world, and left it; and the other, because the world has been taken out of them. Hence, there is a double divorcement between them and the world. Good Lord, open your eyes to see the difference between the devil’s worldly Churches and God’s Church outside of the world, and the world all taken out of it. The ostensible and universal peculiarity of this Church is, as Paul here says: “It is the habitation of God in the Spirit; i.e., it is the house of the Holy Ghost, in which he constantly dwells. It is our privilege to enjoy that spiritual gift, denominated (1 Corinthians 12:0) “Discernment of spirits.” How awfully blind the masses of the Churches, and even preachers, at the present day! In these striking fulfillments of the latter-day prophecies, when the world is filled with fallen Churches, no honest soul enjoying spiritual discernment can fail to recognize the lamentable absence of the Holy Ghost in the Churches. No wonder; for he alone has a right to rule his own Church, his house, as you rule your own house. Hence, the rule is taken out of his hands when it is committed to a giggling choir and an unconverted Official Board, who insult God by refusing to bow the knee in his house.
Of course, amid those sad environments the Holy Ghost quietly retreats away, leaving the devil, whose servants they are, to run the machinery on the ad libium line of socials, frolics, festivals, and fandangoes. The children of God are horrified at the hollow hypocrisy, dead formality, and worldly flippancy of the so-called Churchism of the present day. When you go to a church, and do not find the Holy Ghost, by his mournful absence you know of a surety it is not the Church of God; from the simple fact here stated that the Church of God is his “habitation in the spirit.” If you are walking in the light of God, and the merest tyro in the kingdom, you can not fail to recognize his presence or his absence in these meetings. The holiness movement represents the Church of God on the earth at the present day, pursuant to the test of the spiritual presence and rulership as here specified in the infallible Word. It is beautiful to contemplate the universal Church of the Triune God, this day “girdling the globe with salvation and holiness unto the Lord.” I have traveled in forty States in the Union, and in Europe, Asia, and Africa, everywhere recognizing the beautiful identity of God’s Church, simple, spiritual, Scriptural, winning victories for Christ on her knees, and shouting the battle-cry. Satan’s counterfeit Churches exhibit an endless diversity of creeds, forms, and ceremonies. God’s Church is one and the same beneath every sky, from the icy poles to the equatorial deserts; everywhere recognizable for New Testament simplicity, and the presence of the Holy Ghost. Lord, shine on us from above, that we may ever discern between God’s genuine and Satan’s counterfeit!
PAUL LESS THAN THE LEAST
8. This statement of the apostle, involving the widest hyperbole, is to be understood purely experimentally. While Paul was doubtless intellectually, spiritually, educationally, heroically, and experimentally, the greatest saint on the earth, why did he say he was less than the least? He was not speaking exegetically, but experimentally. Humility is the fundamental and most important Christian grace. When John Fletcher was asked, “What is the most important grace?” he responded, “Humility.” Then they asked him what was next in importance. He answered, “Humility;” and likewise to the third question, he still said, “Humility.” Fletcher was so meek and lowly that he seemed more like an angel than a man. When John Wesley preached his funeral, he said: “There lies in that coffin the most saintly man I ever saw, neither expect to meet another such till I go to glory.” While Paul was great in learning, experience, labors, persecutions, and sufferings, he was proportionately great in humility, feeling as every truly humble saint that he was the least of all, and indulging the quaint Oriental hyperbole, “less than the least.”
9-12. Christ himself is the incarnation of the entire plan of salvation. His birth in Bethlehem is regeneration incarnate, and his death on the cross is sanctification.
11. “ According to the plan of the ages, which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord. ”
Eden was the first age, followed by the Antediluvian, the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, the Messianic, and, finally, the Apostolic, all consecutively preparing the world for the millennial kingdom and the endless reign of Christ, unanimously illustrating the universally patent fact of man’s redemption under the most encouraging circumstances, and indisputably confirming the sad conclusion of man’s hopeless failure under most auspicious omens, and establishing beyond all possible controversy his absolute dependence on God. While man’s hopeless failure sends a mournful wail around the world, reverberating down the ages from Eden to the millennium, echo takes up the glad refrain, and roars round the world, “God is a success, and has never known failure.”
12. “ In whom we have boldness and access in confidence through the faith of himself. ” In the justified experience we have faith in God more or less encumbered by doubt. In the sanctified experience, we have the faith of God perfectly free from doubt; i.e., the faith of Jesus himself, which was never contaminated.
13. Paul here certifies that all of his persecutions and tribulations only added richer luster and glory to the Church of Christ.
14. We here see that Paul was a stickler for genuflection indefatigable in the knee-drill. In Hebrews 12:11, Apollos exhorts the people to bend their “paralyzed knees.” Satan’s knee-paralysis has just about robbed the popular Churches of the last vestige of Christian devotion. The angels in heaven not only bow the knee, but fall prostrate in delectable devotion to the great Jehovah. All whoever shall go up to live with God in heaven must reach the heavenly state in this life, which makes us worship, not like proud Pharisees, but adoring angels.
15. Here we find that the same cognomen designates God’s people in heaven and in earth, one unbroken family temporarily partitioned by the starry firmament. That name is given (Isaiah 62:10): “ They shall be called the holy people. ” It is wonderful how this blind, wicked world pertinaciously, though ignorantly, fulfills the prophecies. It is a significant fact that the “second-blessing people” alone are denominated in worldly parlance, the holiness people. Others may claim to be holy, but the world stubbornly refuses to call them “holy.” It is a striking and universal fulfillment of prophecy.
16. “ In order that he may grant unto you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with dynamite by his Spirit in the inner man. ”
This “inner man” is created in the heart by the Holy Ghost in regeneration, the rival of the carnal man born in you by natural regeneration transmitted from Adam. God’s wonderful dynamite not only gives the “inner man” dominion over his old rival, but when utilized by sanctifying faith actually explodes him into smithereens.
HAVING BEEN ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN DIVINE LOVE
17,18. Here we have a double metaphor, involving the two most common scenes of life; i.e., trees and houses. The frugiculturist supplies his nurseries with seedlings, whose fruit is utterly worthless. In due time he cuts off the seedling, and grafts into the trunk the valuable fruit-bearing
twig. After a time of development, he spades up the tree out of the nursery, trims it excessively, both branch and root, and plants it out in his orchard forty feet from its nearest comrade. In the nursery it only had lateral roots; now the tap root penetrates down into the deep interior of the earth, ‘winds around the great rocks, and holds the tree secure amid the raging storms, which only bend it hither and thither, circulating the sap and keeping it from getting bark-bound, bringing in contact with its leaves an abundance of carbonic acid, so essential to its rapid growth and healthy development, till soon it bends beneath its load of delicious fruits as the years go by. We are born of Adam’s race mere seedlings, bearing only the bitter crab-apples of depravity. The Holy Ghost cuts us down, and grafts in the Divine nature in regeneration, thus giving us a new heart. If we spend our lives crowded up in a nursery, we will never do any good, but all prove failures. The glorious work of entire sanctification must thoroughly trim us root and branch, take us out of the old nursery, and transplant us in the open field, where we will have ample room to grow and bear fruit forever. When I responded to the call of Brother N.H. Harriman, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Tacoma, Washington, and preached for him eighteen days amid the wonderful sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost; when I bade them adieu, he said “Brothers and sisters, we had a house before this brother came, but the foundation was indifferent and quite superficial; during the ministry of this brother we have gone down deep to the bedrock, and laid a great solid foundation on the eternal strata, which neither men nor devils will ever be able to shake. On this foundation, by the grace of God, we will build a superstructure which shall tower forever, the admiration of angels unfallen and the “spirits of just men made perfect.” In the language of the Holy Ghost, deep and high are synonymous and interchangeable. When Charlie Tillman, he sweet singer of the Sunny South, got sanctified, he shouted aloud, “I have sunk to the top of Pisgab.”
THE HYPERBOLE ECLIPSED
“ In order that you may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height:
19. “ And to know the love of Christ which transcendeth knowledge, in order that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. ” “Rooted and grounded” describe entire sanctification in a powerful double metaphor. Here a wonderful impetus of inspired eloquence fires the soul of Luke’s enraptured dictator. Rapt in heavenly visions, filled and thrilled with the Holy Ghost, he soars beyond the range of sun, moon, and stars; amid the bewilderment of Divine communion and contemplation he gives utterance to these transcendent hyperboles, and basks in the ineffable glory of the unseen world. Well does John Fletcher say that “filled with all the fullness of God” describes a state of grace infinitesimally beyond entire sanctification. We enter the sanctified experience from the negative hemisphere, realizing the utter elimination of the sin principle through the cleansing blood. Having passed the sin side of the experience, we enter the glorious hemisphere of incoming and super-abounding grace, which is illimitable in this life, and, superseded by the glory of heaven, sweeps on in a geometrical ratio through all eternity, ever and anon flooding the soul with fruitions, amplifications, beatifications, and rhapsodies, eclipsing the most ecstatic hyperboles. while ages and cycles wheel their precipitate flight.
20. “ But to Him who is able exceedingly above all things which we ask or think, according to the dynamite which worketh in us. ” You may ask what you will, and lay under contribution all of your thinking powers, yet your omnipotent Sanctifier will flood you with ineffable surprises, doing for you infinitely beyond your asking or thinking. No wonder he surprises you when he has his own dynamite in you, which he manipulates ad libitum, blowing you up ever and anon into a higher, richer, and sweeter heavenly communion. The Lord inspire your faith to appropriate these wonderful promises, and get on shouting ground, world without end!
1. Paul keeps us reminded of the chain on his hands and the soldier by his side, while he dictated this wonderful truth which is free as a bird of paradise.
2. Here we have humility, meekness, and long-suffering these three bottom-rock graces, all in the superlative degree, forever fortifying their possessor against the liability of falling. When you are down on the bottom, there is no place into which you can fall. Hence, the Calvinistic dogma is right if you put it where it belongs, and apply it to a soul invested with graces of perfect humility, meekness, and longsuffering.
So long as you there abide, you can never fall. You must first imbibe Satan’s egotism, and climb up before you can fall and break your neck.
3. “ Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. ” Here we see that it is our imperative duty to make the needed effort to perpetuate the unity of the Christian brotherhood, which is in the Spirit. Hence, we must allow perfect liberty in non-essentials, such as creeds, forms, and ceremonies, seeking unification only in the Holy Ghost. A Baptist preacher, during a long run in the car, assaulted me for my heresies on sanctification, dealing his sledgehammer blows right and left without distinction or mercy; meanwhile I antagonized him not a word, but ever and anon endorsed his orthodox utterances. Finally, he desisted from his arguments, and requested me to speak. I told him my experience of a glorious conversion in a Baptist revival when sixteen years old, praising the goodness of God which had kept me from falling forty-six years. Then I alluded to the terrible spiritual conflict involving the new life in a desolating civil war with Adam, the first through a period of nineteen years, fifteen of which in my humble way I endeavored to preach the gospel; but culminating in such a victory as I never had dreamed of when the Savior baptized my soul with the Holy Ghost and fire; filling, thrilling, and flooding me, soul, mind, and body; taking me out of college, of which I was president, suddenly, unexpectedly, and forever; radically revolutionizing my ministerial character in every respect, and transforming me into a flaming revivalist, preparing me every minute to preach and to die. The shout came into my soul, and staid there twenty-seven years, getting sweeter and better.
He broke down and wept, saying, “That is just what I have always wanted, and I will have it or die;” from that moment, while we rode together, becoming an earnest and appreciative inquirer after the experience against which he had hurled his logical thunderbolts. Lord, help us all to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace!
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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25