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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 3

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-21

Ephesians 3:1 . Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ. He was indeed the prisoner of Caesar, but a greater than Cæsar had said to him in the castle at Jerusalem, “Be of good cheer, Paul, for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” Acts 23:11. My bonds therefore prove that Jesus is the Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. The kings of the earth, who thought to do me harm, are overruled to be my protectors.

Ephesians 3:2 . If ye have heard of the dispensation [economy] of the grace of God which is given to me, to call the gentiles, though uncircumcised, into the fold and family of Christ. He doubted not but they had heard, having long preached in Ephesus, and the provinces of proconsular Asia. But the words imply, if you have fully been informed and believed in this economy of the grace of God; and as multitudes were now crowding into the church, the more recent christians had need to be reminded of it.

Ephesians 3:3-4 . How that by revelation he made known to me the mystery, as I wrote afore in few words. He wrote the same to the Galatians: Galatians 1:12. But though many short letters of the apostle may possibly be lost, the holy scriptures give us this mystery without impairs.

Ephesians 3:5 . Which in other ages was not made known as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. He here avows that the Hebrew prophets were inspired by the Spirit to speak of Christ, and preach the doctrines of the gospel to the ancient church; but that God, in conformity to the scheme of gradual revelation, had now made known the truth in more luminous characters; truths of unspeakable value, as regarding the full birthright of the gentiles to the glorious liberty of the children of God. Romans 8:21.

Ephesians 3:8 . Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints. The apostle speaks of himself with similar sentiments of self-abasement in other passages. 1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Timothy 1:11-15. Grotius remarks the ελαχστερον is a comparison made of the superlative degree, and he quotes seven examples of the use of the word from the poets. Paul’s heart was ever touched, that he should be selected as the first of apostles, to publish this enlarged revelation, and to preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; the riches of divine wisdom and knowledge, which none of the princes of this world knew, neither the philosophers of Grecian schools. The mysteries and purposes of grace were indeed hidden in the Father’s bosom before the foundation of the world, to give his Son as an atoning sacrifice, to reconcile us to God. These are not the devices of human wisdom, but the doctrines of the gospel of the blessed God, publishing full forgiveness to rebels of every class, adoption for aliens, the glory of sanctifying grace to supersede all the impurity of our nature, the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit conferred according to the riches of his glory, thrones for sinners raised from the dust, eternal life in the enjoyment of the kingdom that cannot be moved.

Ephesians 3:10 . Principalities and powers in heavenly places. The Greek, epourania, is translated by Tertullian, supercœlestibus, and followed by Jerome. It occurs also in Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:6. It is here understood of angels who fill the thrones of heaven. It is a mistake to apply the text to princes, for their souls are not better than the poor, and they were the last to listen to the gospel. Saints are by the redemption raised to angelic rank, and have the promise of thrones and crowns in the kingdom of their Father.

Ephesians 3:12-13 . In whom we have boldness and access. Freedom of speech in prayer, and the privilege to enjoy all the blessings consequent on embracing the Saviour. And I give you, as if the apostle had said, this cup of consolation, while weeping for my bonds, that you faint not.

Ephesians 3:14-15 . For this cause, and that you may enjoy the plenitude of sanctifying grace, the best support under afflictions, I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fountain of deity and the source of love. Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, for he is Lord of all: Ephesians 1:20-23. This form of speech teaches us that God cannot be invoked except through Jesus Christ, as is often noted by the fathers. Christ is here understood, in whom the Godhead is adored. Believers are called by his name, angels are his worshippers, and thrones, dominions, and powers are put under him.

Ephesians 3:16 . That he would grant you according to the riches of his glory. Other forms are used of equivalent import, as, according to his mercy, to his abundant mercy, and according to the fulness of the promises, which we are authorized to interpret in the largest sense; for “as is his majesty, so is his mercy.”

Ephesians 3:17 . That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. Dwell in you as his living temple, conformably to the promise in John 14:23, where the Father and Son engage to come and make his abode with those that keep his word. The religion of such shall be constant as a stream, firm as a building, or flourishing as a tree rooted in a genial soil; for “they who are planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God.” Christ in all his graces, and in all the habitudes of the christian temper, is formed in the heart, the hope of glory.

Ephesians 3:18 . Able to comprehend [apprehend, as the same word is rendered in Philippians 3:12 ] with all saints. Jehovah comprehends all, but none can comprehend him. The soul of Paul was so expanded here, that he looked on the horizon above, the depths below, the ocean without a shore; but he recovered himself by the admission, that man can only know the love of Christ so as to be filled with the fulness of God. He viewed the Saviour on the throne, uncircumscribed in charity, from whom the emanations of grace incessantly flow.

Ephesians 3:20-21 . Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think be glory throughout all ages. The apostle closes this full view of sanctifying grace as he ought to close it, in doxologies, unceasing doxologies of praise, through every age of the church, world without end. Amen. Who now, that calmly reads these words, can doubt that we may attain in this life to the whole christian temper, and a growing perfection in every virtue. Who can scruple to use that prayer, “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name.”

Such indeed has been the profession of the Greek fathers, and of all the more eminent saints of the Roman catholic communion, through all the dark ages of the church. And is it not infinitely better to preach this doctrine, and set heights and depths of religion before the church, to which they have not as yet attained, than bitterly to detail the quotations on Romans 7:24. That St. Paul, while groveling here on earth, never ceased to be loaded with much of the defilement and ordure of sin.

Ostervald, in his book on the ministry, apologizes for Calvin’s institutes, as the work of his younger years. But those institutes contain dogmas to which every student, in some sort, is obliged to subscribe; and hence arise a thousand sneers and reproaches on holy men, who preach the whole truth as it is in Jesus. Hence also believers are checked and chilled with maxims which freeze the warmer ardours of the heart.

Jeremiah Burroughs, who in 1600 was father to the ministers of London, says, “My soul longs for perfection: it is already washed and perfect, as to its justification, and I look for a time when it shall be perfect in respect of its sanctification. Oh that the time were now come.” Sermon on Matthew 5:8. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Page 389.


St. Paul having enlarged on the glory of Christ, justly accounts it the highest honour any creature could enjoy to be made a minister of his gospel. Hence fainting not himself at his chain, he prayed that the saints might not faint, it being their glory to have a minister endued with a martyr’s constancy. And especially as one grand branch of his ministry was a manifestation of the mystery hid in ages past, that the gentiles, without circumcision, should be fellow heirs with the jews of the promises in Christ. This was a recent subject of divine revelation to the holy apostles and prophets.

Divine favours conferred on the regenerate do not puff up, but humble the soul in the sight of God. St. Paul magnified his ministry, but abused himself on the other hand, as less than the least of all saints, and classed himself with the chief of sinners, because he had persecuted and wasted the church. A conscious mind prefers a suppliant condition, and makes all filial acknowledgment to God the giver of all good.

St. Paul was not only the first of men in knowledge, but the best of men in piety. He had prayed, in Ephesians 1:15, for the illumination of the Ephesians: and here he prays for their entire sanctification, as the best support against fainting at afflictions. He could not deliver a dry cold discourse, nor talk of grace without breaking out in prayer or praise. What a model of imitation both in our sermons, and in our addresses to the throne of grace.

His prayer has every character of reverential invocation, propriety, and fervour. He bended the knee, for standing is allowable only where it is inconvenient to kneel. His invocation exalts the deity as the Father of glory, and the source of redemption by Jesus Christ. The subject of his prayer is all propriety. It is that God would bless the church, according to the riches of his glory; and if a poor man give a little, and a rich man much, what may we expect from God? Wishing the perfection of the saints, he prays for the might of the Holy Ghost to strengthen them, and for Christ to dwell in the heart by faith, as the source of righteousness, purity, and eternal life.

The grand point of christian perfection is love, enrooted, habitual love, as the source of all obedience, and good fruits. We must dwell in love, and then we shall dwell in God, and the fragrance is paradise shed abroad on earth. The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart. Christian perfection especially consists in knowing the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. All men have admired the beauty and sublimity of this passage. Here is the perfection of wisdom attained, not by human teaching, but by divine experience. The breadth of Christ’s love is omnipotence encircling all mankind with mercy. The length is eternity, ever flowing with grace and goodness to man. The height of his love is the sublime majesty, elevating the victorious to thrones in heaven. The depth of it regards the abyss of wisdom stooping to death for man, and his profound ways in turning evils to the advantage of his people.

To know this love so as to be filled with all the fulness of God, is to be filled with all the wisdom, the virtue, and perfection of the divine nature. To him therefore be glory throughout all ages, Amen. How just is this doxology! Eternity can never repay our still encreasing debt. If this therefore be the sum and substance of the christian religion, what God is like unto our God? What religion is so gracious, holy and happy as ours? And who can boast of a Redeemer like the Lord of glory? And if these be his perfections, we will hear no more talk against his being one substance with the Father, and coëval in existence. May we all enter into the apostle’s piety and views of real religion.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/ephesians-3.html. 1835.
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