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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 Sixth Week after Easter