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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 2:1. And you did He quicken.—The italics in A.V. and R.V. show a broken construction of St. Paul’s meaning, the verb being supplied from Ephesians 2:5, where the broken thread is taken up again. Dead in trespasses and sins.—“Dead through,” etc. (R.V.). “What did they die of?” it might be asked; and the apostle answers, “Of trespasses and sins” (so Alford). “The word for trespasses is one of a mournfully numerous group of words” (Trench). It has sometimes the milder meaning of “faults,” “mitigating circumstances” being considered. It makes special reference “to the subjective passivity and suffering of him who misses or falls short of the enjoined command” (Cremer). Meyer denies any “real distinction between the words for ‘trespasses’ and ‘sins.’ They denote the same thing as a ‘fall’ and a ‘missing.’ ”
Ephesians 2:2.—“Shadows,” says Meyer, “before the light which arises in Ephesians 2:4.” Wherein in time past ye walked.—It is a sombre picture—men walking about “to find themselves dishonourable graves” in the “valley of the shadow of death,” knowing not whither they go because the darkness—the gloom of spiritual death—“hath blinded their eyes” (1 John 2:11). According to the course of this world.—Well translated by our modern “zeit-geist,” or “spirit of the age.” The prince of the power of the air.—However contemptuous St. Paul may be of the creations of the Gnostic fancy, he never dreams of saying there is nothing existent unless it can be seen and felt. The dark realm and its ruler are not myths to the apostle.
Ephesians 2:3. Among whom also we all had our conversation.—St. Paul does not glorify himself at the expense of his readers’ past life. True his had not been a life swayed by animal delights (Acts 26:5), but it had been marked by implacable enmity to the Son of God. And were by nature children of wrath.—“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, … whether it be Jewish or Gentile.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 2:1-3
The Children of Wrath—
I. Are spiritually dead.—“Who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). The only life of which they are conscious, and in which all their activities are displayed, is a life of sin. They have no conception of a higher life. They are capable of a higher life, and know it not. The spiritual, the higher form of life, is entombed and buried under a mass of sin. It is inert, dead, in process of corruption. Dante refers to such as, “These wretched ones who never were alive; I ne’er forsooth could have believed it true, that death had slain such myriads of mankind.” Sin first benumbs, then paralyses, and finally slays our spiritual sensibilities. The soul dead to God shall not be insensible to the reality of the divine wrath.
II. Are under the spell of an unseen evil power (Ephesians 2:2).—“The children of disobedience” are those who are withholding their allegiance from the Lord Jesus Christ, all those who are unconverted; not mere gross sinners and open profligates, but such persons as are strangers to the spiritual life, although they may have many excellencies of nature and disposition. The apostle plainly asserts that before he was brought to the knowledge of Christ he was under the influence of the “prince of the power of the air.” This is a startling statement. It is more startling still if we consider what sort of man Paul was before his conversion—how excellent, how earnest, how devoted to the external duties of a religious life. But startling as it is, it is the apostle who makes it of himself; and the inference is unavoidable, that all that mass of persons who are out of Christ and who are not partakers of His resurrection life, who have given their hearts to the world and not to the Saviour, are just the captives of Satan, and, without knowing it, are doing his lusts and accomplishing his will. The disease is not less deadly because it eats out the life without inflicting pain. The pestilence is not the less awful because it comes without giving notice of its presence, borne on the balmy breezes of the bright, cloudless, summer eve. The vampire does not do its work the less effectually because it fans its victim with its perfumed wings into an unconscious slumber whilst it drains away his life-blood and leaves him a corpse. And Satan is not the less real or the less destructive because he works his fatal work upon our souls without our even being conscious of his approach.
III. Are prompted to sin by the instincts of a depraved nature (Ephesians 2:3).—There is the twofold province of a man’s being, by the lower of which he is allied to the brute creation, and by the higher to the angels, both being under the dominion of sin. There is the corrupt body of flesh, and in a higher sense there is the fleshly mind. Every unregenerate person lives more or less in one or the other of these provinces—either in the sphere of fleshly lusts or in the sphere of the fleshly mind. Either he lives simply an animal life, and is in consequence a fleshly man, whose life consists only in fulfilling the desires of his lower nature; or he lives in the higher province of the mind, but it is nevertheless the mind in darkness, in uncertainty, in doubt—mind and heart alike alienated from God through the unbelief which is in them. It would not do to argue from this that our passions are our sins. Sin is not in appetite, but lies in the insubordination of appetite. There is need of a curbing and governing will, and our discipline consists in subjugating the lower to the higher. A due balance between the two regions must be preserved, and it is when passion becomes master and the lower invades the province of the higher, when the subordinate becomes insubordinate, that appetite and passion become sin. The flesh is the great rival of the Spirit, for it asserts that dominion over a man which the Holy Spirit alone ought to occupy, and these two are constantly opposed to each other. The depravity within, working in the thoughts of the mind and the passions of the flesh, prompts to a course of disobedience and sin.
IV. Are exposed to condemnation.—“And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men.” The apostle shows that even the Jews, who boasted of their birth from Abraham, were by natural birth equally children of wrath, as the Gentiles whom the Jews despised on account of their birth from idolaters. The phrase “children of wrath” is a Hebraism, meaning we are objects of God’s wrath from childhood, in our natural state, as being born in sin, which God hates. Wrath abides on all who disobey the gospel in faith and practice.
1. Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.
2. Your adversary the devil walketh about seeking whom he may devour.
3. Because there is wrath, beware!
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 2:1. A State of Sin a State of Death.
I. There are some respects in which the death of the soul does not resemble the death of the body.—
1. It does not involve the extinction of faculties and affections. The dead body moves not, nor feels, nor acts. The dead soul still thinks and feels and wills.
2. It does not exempt from responsibility. The dead soul is commanded to repent and believe and obey.
3. It is not incapable of restoration on earth. The spiritually dead may become spiritually alive here.
II. There are some respects in which the death of the soul does resemble the death of the body.—
1. In its cause. Sin.
2. In its extent. All men without exception.
3. In its consequences. The dead are utterly insensible, they fulfil none of the functions or duties of the living, they can be reanimated only by divine power. Address:
(1) Those who are spiritually dead.
(2) Those who have reason to believe that they are spiritually alive.—G. Brooks.
Ephesians 2:1-3. The State of Men without the Gospel.
I. The moral state of wicked men resembles a state of natural death (Ephesians 2:1).—From the metaphor used in the text we are not to conclude that all sinners are alike, for though all are in a sense dead some are under a greater death than others. The metaphor is usually applied to sinners of the most vicious character. When we speak of human nature as totally depraved we mean only a total destitution of real holiness, not the highest possible degree of vitiosity. In order to denominate one a sinner it is not necessary that he should be as bad as possible. Though natural death does not, yet spiritual death does, admit of degrees. Evil men wax worse and worse, add sin to sin, and treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.
1. Sinners may be said to be dead in respect of their stupidity.—We read of some who are past feeling, whose conscience is seared, who have eyes which see not, ears which hear not, and a heart which is waxed gross. Their hearts are like a mortified limb which feels no pain under the scarifying knife.
2. They are represented as wanting spiritual senses.—They savour the things of the world, not the things which are of God. They indeed love the effects of God’s goodness to them, but they delight not in His character as a holy, just, and faithful Being. They may feel a natural pleasure in certain mechanical emotions of the passions excited by objects presented to the sight, or by sounds which strike the ear, as the artificial tears from the image of the Virgin Mary will melt down an assembly of Catholics, or as a concert of musical instruments will rapture the hearers; but they relish not the word and ordinances of God, considered as means of holiness and as designed to convince them of their sins and bring them to repentance. If the word dispensed comes home to their conscience, they are offended. They lose the music of the pleasant song, and talk against it by the walls and in the doors of their houses.
3. They resemble the dead in the want of vital warmth.—If they have any fervour in religion, it is about the forms and externals of it, or about some favourite sentiments which they find adapted to soothe their consciences, not about those things in which the power of religion consists. As death deforms the body, so sin destroys the beauty of the soul. It darkens the reason, perverts the judgment, and disorders the affections. To be carnally-minded is death.
4. They may be denominated dead as they are worthy of and exposed to punishment.—This is called death because it is the separation of the soul from God and heaven, from happiness and hope, from all good and unto all evil. This is a death which awaits the impenitent.
II. There is in ungodly men a general disposition to follow the way of the world.—“According to the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2). They, like dead carcasses, swam down the stream of common custom, and were carried away with the general current of vice and corruption.
1. Most men have a general idea that religion is of some importance.—Few can wholly suppress it, or reason themselves out of it. But what religion is and wherein it consists they seldom inquire, and never examine with any degree of attention. Such opinions as flatter their ungodly lusts, or pacify their guilty consciences, they warmly embrace. That scheme of doctrine which will make converts without exacting reformation, and give assurance without putting them to much trouble, they highly approve. The path which will lead men to heaven with little self-denial they readily pursue.
2. There are many who blindly follow the examples of the world.—Whether such a practice is right or wrong they take little pains to examine. It is enough that they see many who adopt it. They would rather incur the censure of their own minds and the displeasure of their God than stand distinguished by a singularity in virtue.
III. They are under the influence of evil spirits.—“According to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). The number of evil spirits is very great, but there is one distinguished from the rest, and called the devil, Satan, the prince of the power of the air. The manner in which he works in the minds of men is by gaining access to their passions and lusts, which he inflames by suggesting evil thoughts or by painting images on the fancy. It was by the avarice of Judas and Ananias that he entered into them and filled their hearts.
IV. The wickedness of men consists not merely in their evil works, but in the corrupt dispositions which prompt them to those works.—“The lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Ephesians 2:3). The lusts of the flesh are the vices of sensuality, as intemperance, uncleanness, debauchery, and excess of riot. The desires of the fleshly mind are the lusts which arise from the corruption of the mind in its connection with flesh, as pride, malice, envy, wrath, hatred, ambition, and covetousness. Though no man indulges every vice, yet every unregenerate man obeys the carnal mind.
V. The indulgence of carnal lusts and passions brings on men the wrath of God.—“The children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). A mind sunk in carnality is incapable of rational felicity; it is miserable in itself and from its own corruption and perverseness. If man subjects his nature to the lusts and passions, the order of nature is inverted, the law of creation violated, and the Creator dishonoured and offended.
1. If you have not abandoned yourselves to the grossest forms of vice, it is because you have been placed under superior light and enjoyed a happier education than the heathen.
2. Though you may not have indulged all the lusts and vices which others have done, yet if you are children of disobedience you can no more be saved without renovation of heart and repentance of sin than they can.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 2:3. The State of Nature.
I. If by human nature you mean nature as seen in this man or that, then unquestionably nature is evil—individual nature, personal nature, is contrary to God’s will. But if by human nature you mean nature as God made it, as it has been once in one man of our species and only one, and as by God’s grace it shall be again; if you mean nature as it is according to the idea of the Creator as shown in Jesus Christ, as it is in the eyes of God imputed not as it is but as it shall be,—then that nature is a noble thing, a thing divine; for the life of the Redeemer Himself, what was it but the one true exhibition of our human nature?
II. Paul says that by nature we fulfil the desires of the flesh and of the mind.—I pray you to observe that it is the second and not in the first sense that he here speaks of nature. The desires of the flesh mean the appetites; those of the mind mean the passions: to fulfil the desires of the flesh is to live the life of the swine; to fulfil those of the mind is to live the life of the devil. But this is the partiality, not the entireness, of human nature. Where is the conscience, where the spirit with which we have communion with God? To live to the flesh and to the mind is not to live to the nature that God gave us. We can no more call that living to our nature than we can say that a watch going by the mere force of the main-spring without a regulator is fulfilling the nature of a watch. To fulfil the desires of the flesh and of the mind is no more to fulfil the nature which God has given us than the soil fulfils its nature when it brings forth thorns and briars. St. Paul, in the epistle to the Romans, draws a distinction between himself and his false nature: “It is not I, but sin that dwelleth in me.” Sin is the dominion of a false nature; it is a usurped dominion.
III. The next thing that Paul tells us is that by nature we are children of wrath.—In the state of nature we are in the way to bear the wrath of God. Yet God is not wrath; He is infinite love. The eternal severity of His nature does not feel our passions, He remains for ever calm; yet such is our nature that we must think of Him as wrath as well as love: to us love itself becomes wrath when we are in a state of sin. God must hate sin and be for ever sin’s enemy. If we sin He must be against us: in sinning we identify ourselves with evil, therefore we must endure the consuming fire. So long as there is evil, so long will there be penalty. Sin, live according to the lusts of the flesh, and you will become the children of God’s wrath; live after the spirit, the higher nature that is in you, and then the law hath hold on you no longer.—F. W. Robertson.
The Worst of Evils.
I. By nature all are the children of wrath.—
1. Because we want that original righteousness in which we were created and which is required to the purity and perfection of our nature.
2. Because all the parts and powers of our soul and body are depraved with original corruption. Our understandings are so bad that they understand not their own badness, our wills which are the queens of our souls become the vassals of sin, our memories like jet good only to draw straws and treasure up trifles of no moment, our consciences through errors in our understandings sometimes accusing us when we are innocent, sometimes acquitting us when we are guilty, our affections all disaffected and out of order.
3. Some may expect that as the master of the feast said to him that wanted the wedding garment, “Friend, how camest thou in hither?” so I should demand of original sin, “Foe, and worst of foes, how camest thou in hither, and by what invisible leaks didst thou soak into our souls?” But I desire, if it be possible, to present you this day a rose without prickles, to declare plain and positive doctrine without thorny disputes or curious speculations, lest, as Abraham’s ram was caught in the thicket, so I embroil you and myself in difficult controversies. Let us not busy our brains so much to know how original sin came into us, as labour in our heart to know how it should be got out of us. But the worst is, most men are sick of the rickets in the soul, their heads swell to a vast proportion, puffed up with the emptiness of airy speculations, whilst their legs and lower parts do waste and consume, their practical parts decay, none more lazy to serve God in their lives and conversations.
II. Ye parents to children, see how, though against your wills, ye have propagated this wrath-deserving on your children unto your children; you are bound, both in honour and honesty, civility and Christianity, to pluck them out of this pit.
1. This you may do by embracing the speediest opportunity to fasten the sacrament of baptism upon them.
2. Let them not want good prayers, which if steeped in tears will grow the better, good precepts, good precedents, and show thy child in thyself what he should follow, in others what he should shun and avoid.
3. In the low countries, where their houses lie buried in the ground, the laying of the foundation is counted as much as the rest of the foundation; so half our badness lies secret and unseen, consisting in original corruption, whereof too few take notice. Witches, they say, say the Lord’s Prayer backward; but concupiscence, this witch in our soul, says all the commandments backward, and makes us cross in our practice what God commands in His precepts. Thus every day we sin, and sorrow after our sin, and sin after our sorrow. The wind of God’s Spirit bloweth us one way, and the tide of our corruption hurrieth us another. These things he that seeth not in himself is sottish, blind; he that seeth and confesseth not is damnably proud; he that confesseth and bewaileth not is desperately profane; he that bewaileth and fighteth not against it is unprofitably pensive: but he that in some weak manner doeth all these is a saint in reversion here, and shall be one in possession hereafter.—T. Fuller.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 2:4. But God, who is rich in mercy.—“Unto all that call upon Him” (Romans 10:12). “He hath shut up all into disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32). For His great love wherewith He loved us.—“A combination only used when the notion of the verb is to be extended” (Winer).
Ephesians 2:5. Even when we were dead in sins.—The phrase which closes Ephesians 2:3, difficult as it is, must receive an interpretation in harmony with this statement. It is the very marrow of the gospel that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” That the wrath of God is real we know, but “God is love.” By grace ye are saved.—“Grace” is as truly characteristic of St. Paul’s writing as his autograph signature; it, too, is the token (“sign-manual”) in every epistle (2 Thessalonians 3:17-18).
Ephesians 2:6. In heavenly places.—As in Ephesians 1:3.
Ephesians 2:7. The exceeding riches of His grace.—The wealth of mercy mentioned in Ephesians 2:4 more fully stated. Grace is condescension to an inferior or kindness to the undeserving. In kindness toward us.—“Kindness” here represents in the original “a beautiful word, as it is the expression of a beautiful grace” (Trench). It is that “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22) called “gentleness” in the A.V., but which would be better named “benignity.”
Ephesians 2:8. For by grace are ye saved through faith.—“ ‘By grace’ expresses the motive, ‘through faith’ the subjective means” (Winer). The emphasis is on “by grace.”
Ephesians 2:9. Not of works, lest any man should boast.—The more beautiful the works achieved the more natural it is for a man to feel his works to be meritorious. One can understand that a man jealous for the honour of God, like Calvin, should speak of the excellencies of those out of Christ as “splendid vices,” even though we prefer another explanation of them.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 2:4-9
Salvation an Act of Divine Grace.
I. Springing from the benevolence of God (Ephesians 2:4; Ephesians 2:7).—A good old saint once said, “There is nothing that affects me more profoundly, or more quickly melts my heart, than to reflect on the goodness of God. It is so vast, so deep, so amazing, so unlike and beyond the most perfect human disposition, that my soul is overwhelmed.” The apostle seems to have been similarly affected as he contemplated the divine beneficence, as the phrases he here employs indicate. He calls it “the great love wherewith He loved us.” God is “rich in mercy”—in irrepressible, unmerited compassion (Ephesians 2:4). Language is too poor to express all he sees and feels, and he takes refuge in the ambiguous yet suggestive expression, “The exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 2:7)—hinting at the sublime benignity of the divine nature longing to express itself through the noblest medium possible. By his rebellion and deliberate sin man had forfeited all claim to the divine favour, and his restoration to that favour, impossible of attainment by any efforts of his own, was an act of sheer divine goodness. Its spontaneity breaks in as a sweet surprise upon the sinning race. The most vicious and abandoned are included in its gracious provisions, and all men are taught that their salvation, if accomplished at all, must be as an act of free and undeserved grace.
II. Salvation has its life and fellowship in Christ (Ephesians 2:5-6).—God has given us as unquestioned a resurrection from the death of sin as the body of Christ had from the grave, and the same divine power achieved both the one and the other. The spiritual life of both Jew and Gentile has its origin in Christ, and the axe is thus laid to the very root of spiritual pride and all glorying in ourselves. We are raised by His resurrection power to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. This we do already by our spiritual fellowship with Him, and by anticipation we share the blessedness which we shall more fully enjoy by our union with Him in the heavenly world. The spiritual resurrection of the soul must precede, and will be the inviolable guarantee of the future glorious resurrection of the body. As the great Head of the Church is already in the heavenlies, so ultimately all the members that make up the body shall be gathered there. We are already seated there in Him as our Head, which is the ground of our hope; and we shall be hereafter seated there by Him, as the conferring cause, when hope shall be swallowed up in fruition. Our life and fellowship in Christ are susceptible of indefinite expansion and enjoyment in the progressive evolutions of the future.
III. Faith, the instrument of salvation, is the gift of divine grace (Ephesians 2:8).—The question whether faith or salvation is the gift of God is decided by the majority of critics in favour of the former. This agrees with the obvious argument of the apostle, that salvation is so absolutely an act of divine grace that the power to realise it individually is also a free gift. Grace, without any respect to human worthiness, confers the glorious gift. Faith, with an empty hand and without any pretence to personal desert, receives the heavenly blessing. Without the grace or power to believe, no man ever did or can believe; but with that power the act of faith is a man’s own. God never believes for any man, no more than He repents for him. The penitent, through this grace enabling him, believes for himself; nor does he believe necessarily or impulsively when he has that power. The power to believe may be present long before it is exercised, else why the solemn warnings which we meet everywhere in the word of God and threatenings against those who do not believe? This is the true state of the case: God gives the power, man uses the power thus given, and brings glory to God. Without the power no man can believe; with it any man may.
IV. Salvation, being unmeritorious, excludes all human boasting.—“Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). Neither salvation nor the faith that brings it is the result of human ingenuity and effort. The grand moral results brought about by saving faith are so extraordinary, and so high above the plane of the loftiest and most gigantic human endeavours, that if man could produce them by his own unaided powers he would have cause indeed for the most extravagant boasting, and he would be in danger of generating a pride which in its uncontrollable excess would work his irretrievable ruin. The least shadow of a ground for pride is however excluded. God protects both Himself and man by the freeness and simplicity of the offer of salvation. It is the complaint of intellectual pride that the reception of the gospel is impossible because it demands a humiliation and self-emptying that degrade and shackle intellectual freedom. Such an objection is a libel on the gospel. It humbles in order to exalt; it binds its claims upon us to lift us to a higher freedom. So completely is salvation a divine act, that the man who refuses to accept it on God’s terms must perish. There is no other way.
V. The glory of divine grace in salvation will be increasingly demonstrated in the future.—“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace” (Ephesians 2:7). The most valuable function of history is not that which deals with the rise and fall of empires, the brutal ravages of war, the biographies of kings, statesmen, and philosophers, but that which treats upon the social and moral condition of the people and the influence of religion in the development of individual and national character. The true history of the world is the history of God’s dealings with it. The ages of the past have been a revelation of God; the ages to come will be an enlargement of that revelation, and its most conspicuous feature will be an ever new development of the riches of divine grace in the redemption of the human race. In all successive ages of the world we are authorised to declare that sinners shall be saved only as they repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Is a revelation of what God does for man.
2. Is absolutely necessary for each. 3. Should be earnestly sought by all.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 2:4-7. The Great Change effected in Man by the Gospel.
I. The happy change which the gospel made in the Ephesians.—A change not peculiar to them, but common to all sincere believers.
1. God hath quickened us.—Made us alive with Christ.
(1) True Christians are alive; they have spiritual senses and appetites.
(2) Spiritual motions.
(3) Spiritual pleasures.
(4) Spiritual powers. The spiritual life comes through Christ, and is conformed to Him.
2. God hath raised us up together with Christ (Ephesians 2:6).—His resurrection is a proof and pattern of that of believers.
3. God hath made us to sit together in heavenly places in Christ.—His entrance into heaven is a proof of the final salvation of believers. He sits there for them, to take care of their interests, and in due time will bring them to sit where He is.
II. Contemplate the mercy of God in this great change.—“God, who is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). The mercies of God are rich in extent, in number, in respect of constancy, in variety, in value. “The great love wherewith He loved us.” He first loved us. His love shines brighter when we consider what a being He is. He is infinitely above us. He is self-sufficient. The gospel gives us the most exalted conceptions of God’s character.
III. The general purpose of God’s particular mercy to the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:7).—God’s mercy in reclaiming one transgressor may operate to the salvation of thousands in ages to come. The gospel dispensation was intended to serve some useful purposes among other intelligences. Not only God’s gracious dispensation to fallen men, but also His righteous severity toward irreclaimable offenders, is designed for extensive beneficial influence.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 2:4-5. The State of Grace.
1. Salvation originates in the love of God.
2. That it consists in emancipation from evil.—“Quickened us together with Christ;” that is, gave life. The love and mercy of God were shown in this—not that He saved from penalty, but from sin. What we want is life, more life, spiritual life, to know in all things the truth of God and to speak it, to feel in all things the will of God and do it.
3. The next word to explain is grace.—It stands opposed to nature and to law. Whenever nature means the dominion of our lower appetites, then nature stands opposed to grace. Grace stands opposed to law. All that law can do is to manifest sin, just as the dam thrown across the river shows its strength; law can arrest sometimes the commission of sin, but never the inward principle. Therefore God has provided another remedy, “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” because ye are under grace.
4. Paul states salvation here as a fact.—“By grace ye are saved.” There are two systems. The one begins with nature, the other with grace: the one treats all Christians as if they were the children of the devil, and tells them that they may perhaps become the children of God; the other declares that the incarnation of Christ is a fact, a universal fact, proclaiming that all the world are called to be the children of the Most High. Let us believe in grace instead of beginning with nature.—F. W. Robertson.
Ephesians 2:4-6. The Believer exalted together with Jesus Christ.
I. The believer is assured he is raised up with Christ by the proofs which assure him of the exaltation of Christ.—These proofs, irresistible as they are, do not produce impressions so lively as they ought.
1. From the abuse of a distinction between mathematical evidence and moral evidence.
2. Because the mind is under the influence of a prejudice, unworthy of a real philosopher, that moral evidence changes its nature according to the nature of the things to which it is applied.
3. Because the necessary discrimination has not been employed in the selection of those proofs on which some have pretended to establish it.
4. Because we are too deeply affected by our inability to resolve certain questions which the enemies of religion are accustomed to put on some circumstances relative to that event.
5. Because we suffer ourselves to be intimidated more than we ought by the comparison instituted between them and certain popular rumours which have no better support than the caprice of the persons who propagate them.
6. Because they are not sufficiently known.
II. The means supplied to satisfy the believer that he is fulfilling the conditions under which he may promise himself that he shall become a partaker of Christ’s exaltation.—Though this knowledge be difficult, it is by no means impossible of attainment. He employs two methods principally to arrive at it:
1. He studies his own heart;
2. He shrinks not from the inspection of the eyes of others.
III. The believer is raised up with Christ by the foretastes which he enjoys on earth of his participation in the exaltation of Christ.—This experience is realised by the believer.
1. When shutting the door of his closet and excluding the world from his heart, he is admitted to communion and fellowship with Deity in retirement and silence.
2. When Providence calls him to undergo some severe trial.
3. When he has been enabled to make some noble and generous sacrifice.
4. When celebrating the sacred mysteries of redeeming love.
5. Finally, in the hour of conflict with the king of terrors.—Saurin.
Ephesians 2:5. Justification by Faith.
I. We hold that we are justified by faith, that is, by believing, and that unless we are justified we cannot be saved. Of all men whoever believed this, those who gave us the Church catechism believed it most strongly. Believing really what they taught, they believed that children were justified. For if a child is not justified in being a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, what is he justified in being? They knew that the children could only keep in this just, right, and proper state by trusting in God and looking up to Him daily in faith and love and obedience.
II. These old reformers were practical men and took the practical way.—They knew the old proverb, “A man need not be a builder to live in a house.” At least they acted on it; and instead of trying to make the children understand what faith was made up of, they tried to make them live in faith itself. Instead of puzzling and fretting the children’s minds with any of the controversies then going on between Papists and Protestants, or afterwards between Calvinists and Arminians, they taught the children simply about God, who He was, and what He had done for them and all mankind, that so they might learn to love Him, look up to Him in faith, and trust utterly to Him, and so remain justified and right, saved and safe for ever. By doing which they showed that they knew more about faith and about God than if they had written books on books of doctrinal arguments.
III. The Church catechism, where it is really and honestly taught, gives the children an honest, frank, sober, English temper of mind which no other training I have seen gives.—I warn you frankly that, if you expect to make the average of English children good children on any other ground than the Church catechism takes, you will fail. If it be not enough for your children to know all the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, and on the strength thereof to trust God utterly and so be justified and saved, then they must go elsewhere, for I have nothing more to offer them, and trust in God that I never shall have.—C. Kingsley.
Ephesians 2:8. Salvation by Faith.
I. What faith it is through which we are saved.—
1. It is not barely the faith of a heathen.
2. Nor is it the faith of a devil, though this goes much further than that of a heathen.
3. It is not barely that the apostles had while Christ was yet upon earth.
4. In general it is faith in Christ: Christ and God through Christ are the proper objects of it.
5. It is not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ, a trust in the merits of His life, death, and resurrection, a recumbency upon Him as our atonement and our life, as given for us and living in us, and in consequence hereof, a closing with Him and cleaving to Him as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, or, in one word, our salvation.
II. What is the salvation which is through faith?—
1. It is a present salvation.
2. A salvation from sin.
3. From the guilt of all past sin.
4. From fear.
5. From the power of sin.
6. A salvation often expressed in the word “justification,” which taken in the largest sense implies a deliverance from guilt and punishment by the atonement of Christ actually applied to the soul of the sinner now believing on Him, and a deliverance from the power of sin, through Christ formed in his heart.
III. The importance of the doctrine.—Never was the maintaining this doctrine more seasonable than it is at this day. Nothing but this can effectually prevent the increase of the Romish delusion among us. It is endless to attack one by one all the errors of that Church. But salvation by faith strikes at the root, and all fall at once where this is established.—Wesley.
Ephesians 2:8-9. Our Salvation is of Grace.
I. Consider how we are saved through faith.—
1. Without faith we cannot be saved.
2. All who have faith will be saved.
II. What place and influence works have in our salvation.—
1. In what sense our salvation is not of works.
(1) We are not saved by works considered as a fulfilment of the original law of nature.
(2) We are not saved by virtue of any works done before faith in Christ, for none of these are properly good.
2. There is a sense in which good works are of absolute necessity to salvation.
(1) They are necessary as being radically included in that faith by which we are saved.
(2) A temper disposing us to good works is a necessary qualification for heaven.
(3) Works are necessary as evidences of our faith in Christ and of our title to heaven.
(4) Good works essentially belong to religion.
(5) Works are necessary to adorn our professions and honour our religion before men.
(6) By them we are to be judged in the great day of the Lord.
III. The necessity of works does not diminish the grace of God in our salvation nor afford us any pretence for boasting.—
1. Humility essentially belongs to the Christian temper.
2. The mighty preparation God has made for our recovery teaches that the human race is of great importance in the scale of rational beings and in the scheme of God’s universal government.
3. It infinitely concerns us to comply with the proposals of the gospel.
4. Let no man flatter himself that he is in a state of salvation as long as he lives in the neglect of good works.
5. Let us be careful that we mistake not the nature of good works.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 2:8. True Justifying Faith is not of Ourselves.—It is through grace that we believe in the grace of God. God’s grace and love, the source; faith, the instrument; both His gift. The origin of our coming to Christ is of God. Justifying faith, not human assent, but a powerful, vivifying thing which immediately works a change in the man and makes him a new creature, and leads him to an entirely new and altered mode of life and conduct. Hence justifying faith is a divine work.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 2:10. For we are His workmanship.—We get our word “poem” from that which we here translate workmanship, lit. “something made.” Every Christian belongs to those of whom God says, “This people have I formed for Myself, that they should show forth My praise” (Isaiah 43:21). The archetype of all our goodness lies in the divine thought, as the slow uprising of a stately cathedral is the embodiment of the conception of the architect’s brain.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 2:10
The Christian Life a Divine Creation.
I. The true Christian a specimen of the divine handiwork.—“We are His workmanship.” So far is man from being the author of his own salvation, or from procuring salvation for the sake of any works of his own, that not only was his first creation as a man the work of God, but his new spiritual creation is wholly the result of divine power. Man, in the marvellous mechanism of his body, and in his unique mental and spiritual endowments, is the noblest work of God. He is the lord and high priest of nature, and has such dominion over it as to be able to combine and utilise its forces. But the creation of the new spiritual man in Christ Jesus is a far grander work, and a more perfect and exalted specimen of the divine handiwork. It is a nearer approach to a more perfect image of the divine character and perfections. As the best work of the most gifted genius is a reflection of his loftiest powers, so the new spiritual creation is a fuller revelation of the infinite resources of the divine Worker.
II. The Christian life is eminently practical.—“Created in Christ Jesus for good works” (R.V.). The apostle never calls the works of the law good works. We are not saved by, but created unto, good works. Works do not justify, but the justified man works, and thus demonstrates the reality of his new creation. “I should have thought mowers very idle people,” said John Newton, “but they work while they whet the scythe. Now devotedness to God, whether it mows or whets the scythe, still goes on with the work. A Christian should never plead spirituality for being a sloven; if he be but a shoe-cleaner, he should be the best in the parish.”
III. The opportunities and motives for Christian usefulness are divinely provided.—“Which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Every man has his daily work of body or mind appointed him. There is not a moment without a duty. Each one has a vineyard; let him see that he till it, and not say, “No man hath hired us.” “The situation,” says Carlyle, “that has not its duty, its ideal, was never yet occupied by man. Yes, here in this poor, miserable, hampered, despicable Actual wherein thou even now standest, here or nowhere is thy ideal. Work it out therefrom, and working, believe, live, and be free.” There is no romance in a minister’s proposing and hoping to forward a great moral revolution on the earth, for the religion he is appointed to preach was intended and is adapted to work deeply and widely and to change the face of society. Christianity was not ushered into the world with such a stupendous preparation, it was not foreshown through so many ages by enraptured prophets, it was not proclaimed so joyfully through the songs of angels, it was not preached by such holy lips and sealed by such precious blood, to be only a pageant, a form, a sound, a show. Oh no! It has come from heaven, with heaven’s life and power—come to make all things new, to make the wilderness glad, and the desert blossom as the rose, to break the stony heart, to set free the guilt-burdened and earth-bound spirit, and to present it faultless before God’s glory with exceeding joy.
1. Christianity is not a creed, but a life.
2. The Christian life has a manifest divine origin.
3. The Christian life must be practically developed in harmony with the divine mind.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSE
Ephesians 2:10. Interruptions in our Work, and the Way to deal with Them.—In proportion to the seriousness with which a Christian does his work will be his sensitiveness to interruptions, and this sensitiveness is apt to disturb his peace. The remedy is a closer study of the mind that was in Christ, as that mind transpires in His recorded conduct. The point in the life of our Lord is the apparent want of what may be called method or plan. His good works were not in pursuance of some scheme laid down by Himself, but such as entered into God’s scheme for Him, such as the Father had prepared for Him to walk in.
I. Notice His discourses both in their occasions and their contexture.—
1. His discourses often take their rise from some object which is thrown across His path in nature, from some occurrence which takes place under His eyes, or from some question which is put to Him.
2. The contexture of His discourses are not systematic in the usual sense of the word. There is the intellectual method, and the method of a full mind and loving heart. The only plan observable in our Lord’s discourses is that of a loving heart pouring itself out as occasion serves for the edification of mankind.
II. Study the life of Christ.—The absence of mere human plan, or rather strict faithfulness to the plan of God as hourly developed by the movements of His providence, characterises the life of our Lord even more than His discourses. Illustrated from Matthew 9:0. God has a plan of life for each one of us, and occasions of doing or receiving good are mapped out for each in His eternal counsels. Little incidents, as well as great crises of life, are under the control of God’s providence. Events have a voice for us if we will listen to it. Let us view our interruptions as part of God’s plan for us. We may receive good, even when we cannot do good. It is self-will which weds us to our own plans and makes us resent interference with them. In the providence of God there seems to be entanglements, perplexities, interruptions, confusions, contradictions, without end; but you may be sure there is one ruling thought, one master-design, to which all these are subordinate. Be not clamorous for another or more dignified character than that which is allotted to you. Be it your sole aim to conspire with the Author, and to subserve His grand and wise conception. Thus shall you find peace in submitting yourself to the wisdom which is of God.—E. M. Goulburn.
The New Spiritual Creation.—God has kindled in us a new spiritual life by baptism and the influence of the Holy Spirit connected therewith. He has laid the foundation of recreating us into His image. He has made us other men in a far more essential sense than it was once said to Saul—“Thou shalt be turned into another man.” What is the principal fruit and end of this new creation? A living hope. Its object is not only our future resurrection, but the whole plenitude of the salvation still to be revealed by Jesus Christ, even until the new heavens and the new earth shall appear. Birth implies life; so is it with the hope of believers, which is the very opposite of the vain, lost, and powerless hope of the worldly-minded. It is powerful, and quickens the heart by comforting, strengthening, and encouraging it, by making it joyous and cheerful in God. Its quickening influence enters even into our physical life. Hope is not only the fulfilment of the new life created in regeneration, but also the innermost kernel of the same.—Weiss.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 2:11. Wherefore remember, that ye, etc.—All that follows in the verse serves to define the “ye,” the verb following in Ephesians 2:12 after the repeated “ye”—“ye were without Christ.” “Called Uncircumcision … called the Circumcision.” As much rancour lies in these words as generally is carried by terms of arrogance on the part of those only nominally religious, and the scornful epithets flung in return. They can be matched by our modern use of “The world” and “Other-worldliness.”
Ephesians 2:12. Without Christ.—Not so much “not in possession of Christ” as “outside Christ,” or, as R.V., “separate from Christ.” The true commentary is John 15:4-5. The branch “severed from” the trunk by knife or storm bears no fruit thenceforth; disciples “apart from Christ can do nothing.” Being aliens from the commonwealth.—What memories might start at this word! Did St. Paul think of the separation from the Jewish synagogue in Ephesus or of the fanatical outburst created in Jerusalem when “the Jews from Asia” saw Trophimus the Ephesian in company with the apostle? To such Jews the Gentiles were nothing but massa perditionis. Like Ephesians 2:2-3, this is a reminder of the dark past, the misery of which did not consist in a Jewish taunt so much as in a life of heathenish vices. Having no hope, and without God in the world.—To be godless—not sure that there is any God—this is to take the “master-light of all our seeing” from us; to live regardless of Him, or wishing there were no God—“that way madness lies.” To be “God-forsaken” with a house full of idols—that is the irony of idolatrous heathenism.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 2:11-12
The Forlorn State of the Gentile World.
I. Outcast.—“Gentiles, … called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision” (Ephesians 2:11). The circumcised Jew regarded himself as a special favourite of Heaven, and superior to all other men. He hardly felt himself a member of the human family. He was accustomed to speak of himself as chosen of God, and as holy and clean; whilst the Gentiles were treated as sinners, dogs, polluted, unclean, outcast, and God-abandoned. Between Jew and Gentile there was constant hatred and antagonism, as there is now between the Church and the world. On the one hand, the old religion, with its time-honoured teachings, its ancient traditions, the Church of the Fathers, the guardian of revelation, the depositary of the faith, the staunchness that tends to degenerate into bigotry—here is the Jew. On the other hand, the intellectual searchings, the political aspirations and mechanical contrivings—science, art, literature, commerce, sociology, the liberty which threatens to luxuriate into licence—here is the Gentile. Ever and again the old feud breaks out. Ever and again there is a crack and a rent. The gulf widens, and disruption is threatened. The majority is outside the circle of the Church.
II. Christless.—“That at that time ye were without Christ.” The promises of a coming Deliverer were made to the Jews, and they were slow to see that any other people had any right to the blessings of the Messiah, or that it was their duty to instruct the world concerning Him. They drew a hard line between the sons of Abraham and the dogs of Greeks. They erected a middle wall of partition, thrusting out the Gentiles into the outer court. Christ has broken down the barrier. On the area thus cleared He has erected a larger, loftier, holier temple, a universal brotherhood which acknowledges no preferences and knows no distinctions. In Christ Jesus now there is neither Jew nor Greek, but Christ is all and in all—a vivid contrast to the Christlessness of a former age.
III. Hopeless.—“Being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope” (Ephesians 2:12). Where there is no promise there is no hope. Cut off from any knowledge of the promises revealed to the Jews, the Gentiles were sinking into despair.
IV. Godless.—“Without God in the world.” With numberless deities the Gentiles had no God. They had everything else, but this one thing they lacked—knowledge of God their Father; and without this all their magnificent gifts could not satisfy, could not save, them. Culture and civilisation, arts and commerce, institutions and laws, no nation can afford to undervalue these; but not only do all these things soon fade, but the people themselves fall into corruption and decay, if the Breath of Life is wanting. As with nations, so is it with individuals. Man cannot with impunity ignore or deny the Father of earth and heaven.
1. Man left to himself inevitably degenerates.
2. When man abandons God his case is desperate.
3. The rescue of man from utter ruin is an act of divine mercy.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 2:11-12. The Condition of the Ephesians before their Conversion descriptive of the State of Sinners under the Gospel.
I. They were in time past Gentiles in the flesh.—He admonishes them not to forget the dismal state of heathenism out of which they had been called, and often to reflect upon it, that they might ever maintain a sense of their unworthiness and awaken thankful and admiring apprehensions of that grace which had wrought in them so glorious a change.
II. Reminds them of the contempt with which they had been treated by the Jews.—The Jews, instead of improving the distinction of their circumcision to gratitude and obedience, perverted it to pride, self-confidence, and contempt of mankind. They not only excluded other nations from the benefit of religious communion, but even denied them the common offices of humanity. One of their greatest objections to the gospel was that it offered salvation to the Gentiles.
III. They were without Christ.—To the Jews were chiefly confined the discoveries which God made of a Saviour to come. From them in their captivities and dispersions the Gentiles obtained the knowledge they had of this glorious Person. This knowledge was imperfect, mixed with error and uncertainty, and at best extended only to a few. The Gentiles, contemplating the Messiah as a temporal prince, regarded His appearance as a calamity rather than a blessing.
IV. They were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.—To the forms of worship instituted in the Mosaic law none was admitted but Jews and such as were proselyted to the Jewish religion. All uncircumcised heathens were excluded as aliens.
V. They were strangers from the covenants of promise.—The discovery of the covenants of promise until the Saviour came was almost wholly confined to the Jews. How unhappy was the condition of the Gentile world in the dark, benighted ages which preceded the gospel!
VI. They had no clear hope of a future existence.—Many of them scarcely believed or thought of a life beyond this. They had no apprehension, hardly the idea of a restoration of the body. Those who believed in a future state had but obscure and some of them very absurd conceptions of it. Still more ignorant were they of the qualifications necessary for happiness after death.
VII. They were atheists in a world in which God was manifest.—The heathens generally had some apprehension of a Deity; but they were without a knowledge of the one true God and without a just idea of His character. There are more atheists in the world than profess themselves such. Many who profess to know God in works deny Him.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 2:12. Hopeless and Godless.—The soul that has no God has no hope. The character of the God we love and worship will determine the character of our hope.
1. The heathen religion was the seeking religion. Their search arose out of a deeply felt want. They felt the need of something they did not possess; and the finest intellects the world has ever known bravely and anxiously devoted all their colossal powers to the task of fathoming the mysteries of life. The hope of discovery buoyed them up and urged them onwards; but their united endeavours brought them only to the borderland of the unseen and the unknown, where they caught but glimmerings of a truth that ever receded into the great beyond. “The world by wisdom knew not God,” and therefore had no hope.
2. The Hebrew religion was the hoping religion. Favoured with a revelation of the only true God, their hope expanded with every advancing step of the progressive revelation. Their hope was based on faith, as all true hope must be—faith in the promises of God. They had the promise of a Deliverer whose wisdom should excel that of Moses and Solomon, and whose power should surpass that of Joshua and of his heroic successors in the most brilliant period of their military career; and, through the centuries of prosperity and decline, of scattering and captivity, and amid unparalleled sufferings which would have extinguished any other nation, hope fastened and fed upon the promises till the true Messiah came, whom St. Paul justly described as “the Hope of Israel, the Hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers.”
3. The Christian religion is the complement and perfection of all previously existing systems; it is the grand realisation of what the heathen sought and the Hebrew hoped for. It is in Jesus we have the clearest, fullest, and most authoritative revelation of God, and it is in Him, and in Him alone, that the loftiest hope of man finds its restful and all-sufficient realisation. The apostle Paul refers to Jesus specifically as our Hope—“Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is our Hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
4. In the light of this great and indubitable truth the words of our text may be clearly and unmistakably interpreted, and they assume a terrible significance. To be without Christ is to be without God and without hope.
(1) Hope is not simply expectation. We expect many things we do not hope for. In the natural course of things we expect difficulties, we expect opposition and misrepresentation—“black wounding calumny the whitest virtue strikes”—we expect affliction and suffering, we expect the infirmities and disabilities of age; but we are none of us so fond of trouble for trouble’s sake as to hope for any of these things.
(2) Hope is not simply desire. Our desires are as thick and plentiful as apple blossoms, few of which ever ripen into the fruit they promise. We desire uninterrupted health, we desire wealth—the most dangerous and disappointing of all human wishes—we desire pleasure, success in life, and the realisation of the most ambitious dreams; but we have no reasonable ground for hoping that all our desires will ever be attained.
(3) Hope is the expectation of the desirable, and it must have a foundation on which the expectation rests and an object to which the desire can rise. The foundation of hope is Christ, and the object of hope is to live with Him in eternal glory. To be without hope and without God does not mean that hope and God do not exist. The world is full of both; they are among you, they surround you, the very air vibrates with the ever-active presence of these grand realities; but they are as though they did not exist for you unless you know and feel they do exist within you.
(4) Hope presupposes faith; they cannot exist apart. Faith discovers “the only foundation which is laid, which is Christ Jesus,” fastens the soul to and settles it on this foundation, and faith and hope rouse all the activities of the soul to build on this foundation a superstructure which shall grow in solidity, in symmetry, and in beauty, until it becomes a perfect marvel of moral architecture, richly ornamented with the most delicate tracery and shimmering and flashing with the resplendent glory of God.
(5) Hope is the balloon of the soul, soaring majestically into the heavens, scanning scenes of beauty and grandeur never beheld by our earth-bound senses, and faithfully reporting to the soul the state of affairs in the skies; but it is a captive balloon, and the connecting cords are firmly held in the hand of faith. The loftiest flights and the swing of what might seem the most eccentric gyrations of hope are held in check by the friendly, the sympathetic, but unswerving grasp of faith. “My dear Hope,” Faith says, “it is very nice for you to be up there, basking in the cloudless sunshine and drinking in the melody of the ascending lark as it ripples up the heights; and I like you to be there. I could never get there myself; and you tell me of things I should never otherwise know, and they do me good. But, remember, I cannot let you go. We are linked together in the sacred bonds of a holy wedlock. We are necessary to each other, and cannot do without each other. If you were to break away from me, you would vanish like vapour into space, and I should be left forlorn and powerless” And Hope replies: “I know it, my dear Faith. Divorce would be fatal to us both, and our union is too sweet and precious ever to dream of separation. I live in these upper regions purely for your sake. You know I have cheered you up many a time and will do so again. My joy is to brighten your life of toil and conflict down there. When the soul has done with you it will have done with me, and when my work is finished I shall be content to die.” Thus faith and hope are essentially united, and both are wedded together by the soul’s living union with Christ.
(6) A false hope is really no hope. It rests on no solid foundation; it is not justified by sound reason. It is but the blue light of a frantic conjecture generated amid the restless tumults of a soul in the last stages of despair. At the best a false hope is but a beautiful dream spun from the gossamer threads of a busy and excited fancy, a dream of what we wish might be, and, like all other dreams having no substantial basis, it dissolves into space under the first touch of reality. A false hope lures its victims on to destruction, as the flickering lights of the marsh gases seduce the belated traveller into the dismal swamps from which there is no release.
A State of Sin a State of Ungodliness.—
1. Men do not recognise the existence of God.
2. They do not acknowledge His moral government.
3. They do not seek His favour as their chief good.
4. They do not delight in His communion.
5. They do not anticipate their final reckoning with Him.
6. They do not accept His own disclosures concerning the attributes of His nature and the principles of His administration.—G. Brooks.
Man without God.—He is like a ship tossed about on a stormy sea without chart or compass. The ship drifts as the waves carry it. The night is dark. The pilot knows not which way to steer. He may be close to rocks and quicksands. Perhaps a flash of lightning falls on a rock, or he hears the waves breaking over it. But how shall he escape, or how prepare to meet the danger? Shall he trust in providence? What providence has he to trust in? Poor man! He is without God. Shall he throw out an anchor? But he has no anchor. He wants the best and only safe anchor, hope—the anchor of the soul. Such is the state of man when he is far off, without a God to trust in, without hope to comfort and support him. But give the man a true and lively faith in Christ, tell him of a merciful and loving Father who careth for us and would have us cast all our care upon Him, show him that hope which is firm to the end, and straightway you make a happy man of him. You give him a course to steer, a chart and compass to guide him, an anchor which will enable him to withstand the buffeting of every storm. You insure him against shipwreck, and you assure him of a blessed haven where at length he will arrive and be at rest.—A. W. Hare.
Practical Atheism.—If it had been without friends, without shelter, without food, that would have made a gloomy sound; but without God! That there should be men who can survey the creation with a scientific enlargement of intelligence and then say there is no God is one of the most hideous phenomena in the world.
I. The text is applicable to those who have no solemn recognition of God’s all-disposing government and providence—who have no thought of the course of things but just as going on, going on some way or other, just as it can be; to whom it appears abandoned to a strife and competition of various mortal powers, or surrendered to something they call general laws, and these blended with chance.
II. Is a description of all those who are forming or pursuing their scheme of life and happiness independent of Him.—They do not consult His counsel or will as to what that scheme should be in its ends or means. His favour, His blessing are not absolutely indispensable. We can be happy leaving Him out of the account.
III. Is a description of those who have but a slight sense of universal accountableness to God as the supreme authority—who have not a conscience constantly looking and listening to Him and testifying for Him. This insensibility of accountableness exists almost entire—a stupefaction of conscience—in very many minds. In others there is a disturbed yet inefficacious feeling. To be thus with God is in the most emphatical sense to be without Him—without Him as a friend, approver, and patron. Each thought of Him tells the soul who it is that it is without, and who it is that in a very fearful sense it never can be without.
IV. The description belongs to that state of mind in which there is no communion with Him maintained or even sought with cordial aspiration. How lamentable to be thus without God! Consider it in one single view only, that of the loneliness of a human soul in this destitution.
V. A description of the state of mind in which there is no habitual anticipation of the great event of going at length into the presence of God; in which there is an absence of the thought of being with Him in another world, of being with Him in judgment, and whether to be with Him for ever.
VI. A description of those who, professing to retain God in their thoughts, frame the religion in which they are to acknowledge Him according to their own speculation and fancy.—Will the Almighty acknowledge your feigned God for Himself, and admit your religion as equivalent to that which He has declared and defined? If He should not, you are without God in the world. Let us implore Him not to permit our spirits to be detached from Him, abandoned, exposed, and lost; not to let them be trying to feed their immortal fires on transitory sustenance, but to attract them, exalt them, and hold them in His communion for ever.—John Foster.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 2:13. Ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh.—The Gentile may sing his hymn in Jewish words: “Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer; from everlasting is Thy name.” “Lo-ammi” (“not My people”) is no longer their name (Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:24-25).
Ephesians 2:14. For He is our peace, who hath made both one.—“Not the Peacemaker merely, for indeed at His own great cost He procured peace, and is Himself the bond of union of both” (Jew and Gentile). The middle wall of partition.—M. Ganneau, the discoverer of the Moabite Stone, found built into the wall of a ruined Moslem convent a stone, believed to be from the Temple, with this inscription: “No stranger-born (non-Jew) may enter within the circuit of the barrier and enclosure that is around the sacred court; and whoever shall be caught [intruding] there, upon himself be the blame of the death that will consequently follow.” Josephus describes this fence and its warning inscription (Wars of the Jews, Bk. V., ch. v., § 2). It is rather the spirit of exclusiveness which Christ threw down. The stone wall Titus threw down and made all a common field, afterwards.
Ephesians 2:15. Having abolished in His flesh the enmity.—The enmity of Jew and Gentile; the abolition of their enmity to God is mentioned later. “First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift,” for reconciliation to God. The law of commandments contained in ordinances.—The slave whose duty it was to take the child to his teacher might say, “Don’t do that.” St. Paul does not regard the function of the law as more than that (Galatians 3:23-25). One new man.—Trench, in an admirable section, distinguishes between the new in time (recens) and the new in quality (novum). The word here means new in quality, “as set over against that which has seen service, the outworn.” “It is not an amalgam of Jew and Gentile” (Meyer).
Ephesians 2:16. That He might reconcile both unto God.—The word “reconcile” implies “a restitution to a state from which they had fallen, or which was potentially theirs, or for which they were destined” (Lightfoot, Colossians 1:20). The cross having slain the enmity.—Gentile authority and Jewish malevolence met in the sentence to that painful death; and both Gentile and Jew, acknowledging the Son of God, shall cease their strife, and love as brethren.
Ephesians 2:17. Came and preached peace.—By means of His messengers, as St. Paul tells the Galatians that Christ was “evidently set forth crucified amongst them.” To you afar off, and to them that were nigh.—Isaiah’s phrase (Isaiah 57:19). The Christ uplifted “out of the earth” draws all men to Him.
Ephesians 2:18. For through Him we both have access.—St. Paul’s way of proclaiming His Master’s saying, “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved”; including the other equally precious, “I am the way: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” “Access” here means “introduction.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 2:13-18
Christ the Great Peacemaker.
I. His mission on earth was one of peace.—“And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh” (Ephesians 2:17). His advent was heralded by the angelic song, “Peace on earth, and goodwill toward men.” The world is racked with moral discord; He is constantly striving to introduce the music of a heavenly harmony. It is distracted with war; He is propagating principles that will by-and-by make war impossible. The work of the peacemaker is Christ-like. Shenkyn, one of whose anomalies was that with all his burning passions he was a notorious peacemaker, and had means of pouring oil upon troubled waters, once upon a time was deputed to try his well-known skill upon a Church whose strife of tongues had become quite notorious. He reluctantly complied, and attended a meeting which soon proved to his satisfaction that the people were possessed by a demon that could not easily be expelled. The peacemaker got up, staff in hand, paced the little chapel, and with his spirit deeply moved, cried out, “Lord, is this Thy spouse?” Faster and faster he walked, thumping his huge stick on the floor, and still crying out, “Lord, is this Thy spouse? Slay her!” Then there came, as it were from another, a response, “No, I will not.” “Sell her, then!” “No, I will not.” “Deny her, then!” Still the answer came, “I will not.” Then he lifted up his voice, saying, “I have bought her with My precious blood; how can I give her up? How can I forsake her?” The strife had now ceased, and the people looked on with amazement, crying out for pardon.
II. He made peace between man and man.—“For He is our peace, who hath made both one; … to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:14-15). The hostility of Jew and Gentile was conquered; the new spritual nature created in both formed a bond of brotherhood and harmony. The Jew no longer despised the Gentile; the Gentile no longer hated and persecuted the Jew. Where the Christian spirit predominates personal quarrels are speedily adjusted.
III. He made peace between man and God.—“That He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross” (Ephesians 2:16). The enmity of man against God is disarmed and conquered by the voluntary suffering of Jesus in man’s stead, and by His thus opening up the way of reconciliation of man with God. God can now be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. The violated law is now atoned for, and the violater may obtain forgiveness and regain the forfeited favour of the offended God. There is peace only through forgiveness.
IV. His death removed the great barrier to peace.—This paragraph is very rich and suggestive in the phrases used to explain this blessed result: “Ye are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). “By the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Ephesians 2:16). “Hath broken down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in His flesh the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14-15). It is not the calm, silent, featureless, helpless, forceless peace of death, but a living, active, aggressive, ever-conquering peace. The death was the result of agonising struggle and intense suffering, and the peace purchased is a powerfully operating influence in the believing soul.
“A peace is of the nature of a conquest;
For there both parties nobly are subdued,
And neither party losers.”
V. True peace is realised only in Christ.—“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). “For He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). “Christ takes us by the hand, and eads us to the Father.” Men seek peace in the excitements of worldly pleasures, or in the pursuit of ambitious aims, but in vain. They only stimulate the malady they seek to cure. Christ is the restful centre of the universe, and the sin-tossed soul gains peace only as it converges towards Him. The efforts of men to find rest independent of Christ only reveal their need of Him, and it is a mercy when this revelation and consciousness of need does not come too late.
1. Sin is the instigator of quarrels and strife.
2. Only as sin is conquered does peace become possible.
3. Christ introduces peace by abolishing sin.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 2:13-18. Nearness to God.
I. They were brought into the Church of God, and admitted to equal privileges with His ancient people the Jews.
II. They were brought near to God as they were admitted to enjoy the gospel, which is a dispensation of grace and peace.
III. They were brought near to God by the renovation of their souls after His image.
IV. This nearness to God implies a state of peace with Him.
V. Another circumstance of the nearness is access to God in prayer.
VI. Another is the presence of His Holy Spirit.—Let us be afraid of everything that tends to draw us away from God, and love everything which brings us nearer to Him. Let us seek Him with our whole heart, preserve daily communion with Him, choose His favour as our happiness, His service as our employment, His word as our guide, His ordinances as our refreshment, His house as the gate of heaven, and heaven as our eternal home.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 2:13. Our State by Nature and by Grace.
I. Our state by nature.—The distance from God here spoken of is not a local distance, neither is it that which separates us from Him as an infinite Being.
1. It is legal. Banished by a righteous sentence and by a sense of guilt and unworthiness.
2. It is moral. Estrangement. Absence of sympathy. Want of harmony.
3. In both these respects it is ever-widening.
4. It is miserable and dangerous.
II. Our state by grace.—
1. The legal barriers are removed by the blood of Christ shed on the cross.
2. The moral alienation is removed by the blood of Christ as applied to the believer by the Holy Spirit.
3. The nearness to God thus effected is a valuable privilege. It includes reconciliation, friendship, communion. Sinner, apply now to be made nigh. Believer, remember thy obligations.—G. Brooks.
Ephesians 2:14-15. Death a Peacemaker.—The struggle between the Northern and Southern States of America closed for ever at the funeral of General Grant. The armies of rebellion surrendered twenty years before; but the solemn and memorable pageant at the tomb of the great Union soldier, where the leading generals of the living Union and of the dead Confederacy stood shoulder to shoulder and mingled their tears in a common grief—this historical event marked the absolute conclusion of sectional animosity in America.
Ephesians 2:16. The Power of the Gospel to dissolve the Enmity of the Human Heart against God.—
1. The goodness of God destroys the enmity of the human mind. When every other argument fails, this, if perceived by the eye of faith, finds its powerful and persuasive way through every barrier of resistance. Try to approach the heart of man by the instruments of terror and of authority, and it will disdainfully repel you. There is not one of you skilled in the management of human nature who does not perceive that, though this may be a way of working on the other principles of our constitution—of working on the fears of man, or on his sense of interest—this is not the way of gaining by a single hair-breadth on the attachments of his heart. Such a way may force, or it may terrify, but it never, never can endear; and after all the threatening array of such an influence as this is brought to bear upon man, there is not one particle of service it can extort from him but what is all rendered in the spirit of a painful and reluctant bondage. Now this is not the service which prepares for heaven. This is not the service which assimilates men to angels. This is not the obedience of those glorified spirits, whose every affection harmonises with their every performance, and the very essence of whose piety consists of delight in God and the love they bear to Him. To bring up man to such an obedience as this, his heart behoved to be approached in a peculiar way; and no such way is to be found but within the limits of the Christian revelation. There alone you see God, without injury to His other attributes, plying the heart of man with the irresistible argument of kindness. There alone do you see the great Lord of heaven and of earth, setting Himself forth to the most worthless and the most wandering of His children—putting forth His own hand to the work of healing the breach which sin had made between them—telling them that His word could not be mocked, and His justice could not be defied and trampled on, and that it was not possible for His perfections to receive the slightest taint in the eyes of the creation He had thrown around them; but that all this was provided for, and not a single creature within the compass of the universe He had formed could now say that forgiveness to man was degrading to the authority of God, and that by the very act of atonement, which poured a glory over all the high attributes of His character, His mercy might now burst forth without limit and without control upon a guilty world, and the broad flag of invitation be unfurled in the sight of all its families.
2. Let the sinner, then, look to God through the medium of such a revelation, and the sight which meets him there may well tame the obstinacy of that heart which had wrapped itself up in impenetrable hardness against the force of every other consideration. Now that the storm of the Almighty’s wrath has been discharged upon Him who bore the burden of the world’s atonement, He has turned His throne of glory into a throne of grace, and cleared away from the pavilion of His residence all the darkness which encompassed it. The God who dwelleth there is God in Christ; and the voice He sends from it to this dark and rebellious province of His mighty empire is a voice of the most beseeching tenderness. Goodwill to men is the announcement with which His messengers come fraught to a guilty world; and, since the moment in which it burst upon mortal ears from the peaceful canopy of heaven, may the ministers of salvation take it up, and go round with it among all the tribes and individuals of the species. Such is the real aspect of God towards you. He cannot bear that His alienated children should be finally and everlastingly away from Him. He feels for you all the longing of a parent bereaved of his offspring. To woo you back again unto Himself He scatters among you the largest and the most liberal assurances, and with a tone of imploring tenderness does He say to one and all of you, “Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die?” He has no pleasure in your death. He does not wish to glorify Himself by the destruction of any one of you. “Look to Me, all ye ends of the earth, and be saved,” is the wide and generous announcement by which He would recall, from the outermost limits of His sinful creation, the most worthless and polluted of those who have wandered away from Him.
3. Now give us a man who perceives, with the eye of his mind, the reality of all this, and you give us a man in possession of the principle of faith. Give us a man in possession of this faith; and his heart, shielded as it were against the terrors of a menacing Deity, is softened and subdued, and resigns its every affection at the moving spectacle of a beseeching Deity; and thus it is that faith manifests the attribute which the Bible assigns to it, of working by love. Give us a man in possession of this love; and, animated as he is with the living principle of that obedience, where the willing and delighted consent of the inner man goes along with the performance of the outer man, his love manifests the attribute which the Bible assigns to it when it says, “This is the love of God, that ye keep His commandments.” And thus it is, amid the fruitfulness of every other expedient, when power threatened to crush the heart which it could not soften—when authority lifted its voice, and laid on man an enactment of love which it could not carry—when terror shot its arrows, and they dropped ineffectual from that citadel of the human affections, which stood proof against the impression of every one of them—when wrath mustered up its appalling severities, and filled that bosom with despair which it could not fill with the warmth of a confiding attachment—then the kindness of an inviting God was brought to bear on the heart of man, and got an opening through all its mysterious avenues. Goodness did what the nakedness of power could not do. It found its way through all intricacies of the human constitution, and there, depositing the right principle of repentance, did it establish the alone effectual security for the right purposes and the right fruits of repentance.—Dr. T. Chalmers.
Ephesians 2:18. The Privilege of Access to the Father.—In the Temple service of the Jews all did not enjoy equal privileges. The court of the Gentiles was outside that of the Jews and separated from it by “a marble screen or enclosure three cubits in height, beautifully ornamented with carving, but bearing inscriptions, in Greek and Roman characters, forbidding any Gentile to pass within its boundary.” Such restricted access to God the new dispensation was designed to abolish. The middle wall of partition is now broken down, and through Christ we, both Jews and Gentiles—all mankind—have equal access by one Spirit unto the Father. Observe:—
I. The privilege of access unto the Father.—That God is the proper object of worship is implied in our text, and more explicitly declared in other portions of the sacred writings. According to the nature of the blessings desired, prayer may be addressed to any one of the three Persons in the God-head; but the Bible teaches that prayer generally is to be presented to the Father through Christ and by the Holy Spirit. And so appropriate are the offices of the Persons in the Trinity that we cannot speak otherwise. We cannot say that through the Spirit and by the Father we have access to Christ, or through the Father and by Christ we have access to the Spirit. We must observe the apostle’s order—through Christ and by the Spirit we have access to the Father. Access unto the Father implies:—
1. His sympathy with us.—God is our Creator and Sovereign, but His authority is not harsh or arbitrary. He does not even deal with us according to the stern dictates of untempered justice. On the contrary, in love and sympathy He has for our benefit made His throne accessible. He will listen to our penitential confessions, our vows of obedience, our statements of want. He has sympathy with us.
2. His ability to help us.—That access is permitted to us, taken in connection with God’s perfections, prove this. He raises no hope to disappoint, does not encourage that He may repel, but permits access that He may help and bless.
3. His permission to speak freely.—There is nothing contracted in God’s method of blessing. We are introduced to His presence not to stand dumb before Him, nor to speak under the influence of slavish fear. We have such liberty as those enjoy who are introduced to the presence of a prince by a distinguished favourite, or such freedom as children have in addressing a father. We are brought into the presence of our King by His own Son; to our heavenly Father by Christ, our elder Brother. The results of this access to ourselves:
1. It teaches dependence;
2. Excites gratitude;
3. Produces comfort;
4. Promotes growth in grace.
II. The medium of access.—Under the law the high priest was the mediator through whom the people drew near to God. He went into the “holiest of all, once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people” (Hebrews 9:7). Under the new covenant “boldness to enter into the holiest” is “by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). But as the mediation of the Jewish high priest, though “done away in Christ,” was typical, it may serve to teach us how we are to come to God. He sprinkled the blood of the sin-offering on the mercy-seat, and burnt incense within the veil (Leviticus 16:0), thus symbolising the sacrifice and intercession of Christ.
1. We, then, have access to God through Christ as a sacrifice.—“Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). But, “that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” we could never, as suppliants, have found acceptance with God.
2. Through Christ as an intercessor.—“But this man,” etc. (Hebrews 10:12). A disciple in temptation cries for deliverance from evil, and Christ prays, “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me” (John 17:11). A dying saint asks for “an entrance into the heavenly kingdom,” and Christ pleads, “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am” (John 17:24). None need deem himself too unworthy to call on God who comes to Him through Christ’s sacrifice and intercession.
III. The assistance afforded by the Holy Spirit.—As we have access unto the Father through Christ pleading for us, so we have access unto the Father by the Spirit pleading in us.
1. The Spirit kindles holy desire.—It is the work of the Spirit to draw off the hearts of men from the world and raise them to God in prayer. As in playing on a musical instrument no string sounds untouched, so without this influence of the Spirit man would never look heavenward, or his heart fill with desire toward God.
2. Prompts to immediate application.—Blessings are often desired but feebly. The Spirit rebukes this hesitancy, and urges on to immediate application.
3. Aids in that application.—“Without the Spirit we know not what we should pray for” (Romans 8:26). Our thoughts wander, our affections chill, the fervour of our importunity flags, unless the Spirit “helpeth our infirmities.”
1. Those who do not enjoy this privilege are highly culpable.
2. Those who do enjoy this privilege are indeed happy.—The Lay Preacher.
Access to God, revealing the Trinity in Unity.
I. The end of human salvation is access to the Father.—That is the first truth of our religion—that the source of all is meant to be the end of all, that as we all came forth from a divine Creator, so it is into divinity that we are to return and to find our final rest and satisfaction, not in ourselves, not in one another, but in the omnipotence, the omniscience, the perfectness, and the love of God. Now we are very apt to take it for granted that, however we may differ in our definitions and our belief of the deity of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are all at one, there can be and there is no hesitation, about the deity of the Father. God is divine. God is God. And no doubt we do all assent in words to such a belief; but when we think what we mean by that word “God”; when we remember what we mean by “Father,” namely, the first source and the final satisfaction of a dependent nature; and then when we look around and see such multitudes of people living as if there were no higher source for their being than accident and no higher satisfaction for their being than selfishness, do we not feel that there is need of a continual and most earnest preaching by word and act, from every pulpit of influence to which we can mount, of the divinity of the Father. The divinity of the Father needs assertion first of all. Let men once feel it, and then nature and their own hearts will come in with their sweet and solemn confirmations of it. But nature and the human heart do not teach it of themselves. The truest teaching of it must come from souls that are always going in and out before the divine Fatherhood themselves. By the sight of such souls others must come to seek the satisfaction that comes only from a divine end of life—must come to crave access to the Father. So we believe, and so we tempt other men to believe, in God the Father.
II. And now pass to the divinity of the method.—“Through Jesus Christ.” Man is separated from God. That fact, testified to by broken associations, by alienated affections, by conflicting wills, stands written in the whole history of our race. And equally clear is it to him who reads the gospels, and enters into sympathy with their wonderful Person, that in Him, in Jesus of Nazareth, appeared the Mediator by whom was to be the Atonement. His was the life and nature which, standing between the Godhood and the manhood, was to bridge the gulf and make the firm bright road over which blessing and prayer might pass and repass with confident golden feet for ever. And then the question is—and when we ask it thus it becomes so much more than a dry problem of theology; it is a question for live, anxious men to ask with faces full of eagerness—Out of which nature came that Mediator? Out of which side of the chasm sprang the bridge leaping forth toward the other? Evidently on both sides that bridge is bedded deep and clings with a tenacity which shows how it belongs there. He is both human and divine. But from which side did the bridge spring? It is the most precious part of our belief that it was with God that the activity began. It is the very soul of the gospel, as I read it, that the Father’s heart, sitting above us in His holiness, yearned for us as we lay down here in our sin. And when there was no man to make an intercession, He sent His Son to tell us of His love, to live with us, to die for us, to lay His life like a strong bridge out from the divine side of existence, over which we might walk fearfully but safely, but into the divinity where we belonged. Through Him we have access to the Father. As the end was divine, so the method is divine. As it is to God that we come, so it is God who brings us there. I can think nothing else without dishonouring the tireless, quenchless love of God.
III. The power of the act of man’s salvation is the Holy Spirit.—“Through Christ Jesus we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” What do we mean by the Holy Spirit being the power of salvation? I think we are often deluded and misled by carrying out too far some of the figurative forms in which the Bible and the religious experience of men express the saving of the soul. For instance, salvation is described as the lifting of the soul out of a pit and putting it upon a pinnacle, or on a safe high platform of grace. The figure is strong and clear. Nothing can overstate the utter dependence of the soul on God for its deliverance; but if we let the figure leave in our minds an impression of the human soul as a dead, passive thing, to be lifted from one place to the other like a torpid log that makes no effort of its own either for co-operation or resistance, then the figure has misled us. The soul is a live thing. Everything that is done with it must be done in and through its own essential life. If a soul is saved, it must be by the salvation, the sanctification, of its essential life; if a soul is lost, it must be by perdition of its life, by the degradation of its affections and desires and hopes. Let there be nothing merely mechanical in the conception of the way God treats these souls of ours. He works upon them in the vitality of thought, passion, and will that He put into them. And so when a soul comes to the Father through the Saviour, its whole essential vitality moves in the act. When this experience is reached, then see what Godhood the soul has come to recognise in the world. First, there is the creative Deity from which it sprang, and to which it is struggling to return—“the divine End, God the Father.” Then there is the incarnate Deity, which makes that return possible by the exhibition of God’s love—the divine Power of salvation, God the Holy Spirit. To the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. This appears to be the truth of the Deity as it relates to us. I say again, “as it relates to us.” What it may be in itself; how Father, Son, and Spirit meet in the perfect Godhood; what infinite truth more there may, there must, be in that Godhood, no man can dare to guess. But, to us, God is the end, the method, and the power of salvation; so He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is in the perfect harmony of these sacred personalities that the precious unity of the Deity consists. I look at the theologies, and so often it seems as if the harmony of Father, Son, and Spirit has been lost, both by those that own and by those that disown the Trinity. One theology makes the Father hard and cruel, longing as it were for man’s punishment, extorting from the Son the last drops of life-blood which man’s sin had incurred as penalty. Another theology makes the Son merely one of the multitude of sinning men, with somewhat bolder aspirations laying hold on a forgiveness which God might give but which no mortal might assume. Still another theology can find no God in the human heart at all; merely a fermentation of human naturo is this desire after goodness, this reaching out towards Divinity. The end is not worthy of the method. I do not want to come to such a Father as some of the theologians have painted. Or the method is not worthy of the end. No man could come to the perfect God through such a Jesus as some men have described. Or the power is too weak for both; and all that Christ has done lies useless, and all the Father’s welcome waits in vain for the soul that has in it no Holy Ghost. But let each be real and each be worthy of the others, and the salvation is complete. But each cannot be worthy of the others unless each is perfect. But each cannot be perfect unless each is divine; that is, our faith is in the Trinity—three Persons and one God.—Philips Brooks.
The Christian Law of Prayer—
I. To the Father.—
1. How honourable! Right of entry to an earthly sovereign.
2. How delightful! Our pleasures may be graduated according to the part of our nature in which they have their rise. The pleasures of devotion are the highest taste for devotion.
3. How profitable! God is able to bestow all temporal and spiritual blessings.
4. How solemn! The intercourse of our spirit with the Father of our spirits. Heart to heart.
II. Through the Son.—
1. Through His atonement. Legal barriers to our access must be removed. Have been removed by the death of Christ as a satisfaction to divine Justice. He has demolished the wall, He has constructed a bridge across the chasm, He has laid down His own body as the medium of approach. 2. Through His intercession. It perpetuates His sacrifice. The Jewish high priest entering the holy of holies on the Great Day of Atonement. Amyntas, mother of Coriolanus; Philippa after the siege of Calais.
III. By the Spirit.—
1. He teaches us what are our wants. For the most part we are likely to be aware of our temporal wants. In spiritual things the greater our need the less our sense of need.
2. He makes us willing to ask the supply of our wants. Aversion to beg. Aversion to lay bare the symptoms of humiliating disease.
3. He gives us power to spread our wants before God. One person employed to write a letter or a petition for another.
4. He inspires us with confidence to plead with importunity and faith. Confidence in the Father, in the Son, in the power of prayer.—G. Brooks.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 2:19. So then.—Inference of Ephesians 2:14-18. Strangers and foreigners.—By the latter word is meant those who temporarily abide in a place, but are without the privileges of it. There is a verb “to parish” in certain parts of England which shows how a word can entirely reverse its original meaning. It not only means “to adjoin,” but “to belong to.” Fellow-citizens with the saints.—Enjoying all civic liberties, and able to say, “This is my own, my native land,” when he finds “Mount Zion and the city of the living God” (cf. Hebrews 11:13-14). And of the household of God.—The association grows more intimate. The words might possibly mean “domestics of God” (Revelation 22:3-4); but when we think of the “Father’s house” we must interpret “of the family circle of God.”
Ephesians 2:20. Being built upon the foundation.—From the figure of a household St. Paul passes easily to the structure, based on “the Church’s One Foundation.” The chief corner-stone.—“The historic Christ, to whom all Christian belief and life have reference, as necessarily conditions through Himself the existence and endurance of each Christian commonwealth, as the existence and steadiness of a building are dependent on the indispensable cornerstone, which upholds the whole structure” (Meyer). The difference between our passage and 1 Corinthians 3:11 is one of figure only.
Ephesians 2:21. All the building.—R.V. “each several building.” Fitly-framed-together.—One word in the original, found again only in Ephesians 4:16 in this form.
Ephesians 2:22. For a habitation.—The word so translated is found again only in Revelation 18:2, a sharp contrast to this verse.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 2:19-22
The Church the Temple of God.
I. Enjoying special privileges.—
1. A saintly citizenship. “No more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:19). The apostle has spoken of the separation and enmity existing between Jew and Gentile. The Jew, trained to believe in the one invisible and only true God, who could not be imagined by any material form, learned to look with hatred and contempt on the outcast, lawless Gentile, with his idol deities in every valley and on every hill; and the intellectual Gentile looked with philosophic pride on the stern land of the Hebrew and in philosophic scorn on his strange, exclusive loneliness. They were not only at enmity with each other, but both were at enmity with God. Now the writer is showing that by the provisions of the gospel both Greek and Jew are united as citizens of one divine kingdom. They enjoy the same privileges, and are in actual fellowship with prophets and apostles and all holy souls in all ages, and are sanctified subjects of a kingdom that can never be moved.
2. A family life.—“And of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). The Church is a family having one Father in God, one Brother in Christ, one life in the Spirit, and one home in heaven. As in earthly families, there are diversities of character, tastes, gifts, tendencies, and manifestations, but all the members of the heavenly household are bound together by the one common bond of love to God and to each other.
II. Resting on a sure foundation (Ephesians 2:20).—The materials composing the foundation of the Church are living stones—teachers and confessors of the truth, “apostles and prophets”; but Christ, as the one foundation, is the “chief corner-stone.” The foundation of the Church is not so much in the witnesses of the truth as in the truth itself, and in propagating which truth the first teachers and confessors sacrificed their all. The truth which produced and sustained the martyrs is itself immovable. The apostles and prophets—teachers in the apostolic times—laid the first course in the foundation of the Church, and were careful to recognise and build only one foundation, united and held together by the one corner-stone—Christ Jesus. They fixed the pattern and standard of Christian doctrine and practice. The Christian Church is sure because the foundation is deep and broad, and can never be removed and replaced by any human structure.
III. Ever rising to a higher perfection (Ephesians 2:21).—The image is that of an extensive pile of buildings, such as the ancient temples commonly were, in process of construction at different points over a wide area. The builders work in concert upon a common plan. The several parts of the work are adjusted to each other, and the various operations in process are so harmonised that the entire construction preserves the unity of the architect’s design. Such an edifice was the apostolic Church—one but of many parts—in its diverse gifts and multiplied activities animated by one Spirit and directed towards one divine purpose (Findlay). Since the Day of Pentecost, when three thousand living stones were laid on the foundation, the Church has been growing in symmetry, beauty, and vastness, and it is constantly advancing towards perfection. The building, though apparently disjoined and working in separate parts, is growing into a final unity.
IV. Made by the Spirit His glorious dwelling-place (Ephesians 2:22).—The Holy Spirit is the supreme Builder as He is the supreme Witness to Jesus Christ (John 15:26-27). The words “in the Spirit” denote not the mode of God’s habitation—that is self-evident—but the agency engaged in building this new house of God. With one chief corner-stone to rest upon, and one Spirit to inspire and control them, the apostles and prophets laid their foundation, and the Church was builded together for a habitation of God. Hence its unity. But for this sovereign influence the primitive founders of Christianity, like later Church leaders, would have fallen into fatal discord (Findlay). The Church is a spiritual organisation, pervaded and made vital and progressive by the presence and operation of the Spirit of God. An organ is composed of several instruments—the choir, the swell, the pedal, the great; and many stops—the diapason, the flute, the trumpet; and yet it is one. And the Church of God is one. One Spirit—one breath of wind turned on by one living Hand—makes all the organ vocal.
1. The Church is the depositary of great religious privileges.
2. God dwells in the Church by dwelling in the heart of every member of it.
3. The Church provides every facility for worship and service.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 2:19-22. The Church of God a Spiritual Building.
I. The apostle represents the Church of God under the figure of a city and a household.—
1. A Church must resemble a family or city in respect of order and government; for without these a religious society can no more subsist than a civil community or a household.
2. In a city or household all the members have a mutual relation and partake in the common privileges; and though they are placed in different stations and conditions, they must all contribute to the general happiness.
3. In a city and also in a family there is a common interest.
4. In a well-ordered city or household there will be peace and unity; so there ought to be in a Christian Church.
II. The manner in which the Church is founded.—The mediation of Christ is the foundation of our faith and hope. The apostles and prophets are a foundation only as they describe and exhibit to us the doctrines and works, the atonement and intercession, of the Redeemer. In Him all the doctrines of the apostles and prophets meet and unite, as the stones in the foundation are fixed and bound together by the corner-stone.
III. The Church must be united with and framed into the foundation.—Thus it may stand secure. Christ is the chief corner-stone in which all the building is framed. That only is true faith in Christ which regards Him as the foundation of our present hope and final acceptance.
IV. As the Church must rest on the foundation, so the several parts of it must be framed and inserted into each other.—As it is faith which fixes the saints on Christ the foundation, so it is love which binds them together among themselves. If we would preserve the beauty, strength, and dignity of the spiritual house, we must be watchful to repair breaches as soon as they appear, and to remove those materials which are become too corrupt to be repaired, lest they communicate their own corruption to sounder parts.
V. The Church is to grow into a holy temple for God through the Spirit.—We must not content ourselves with having built on the true foundation, but must bring the structure to a more finished and beautiful condition. The Church may grow and make increase both by the progress of its present members in knowledge and holiness and by the addition of new members who become fellow-workers in the spiritual building. God dwells in His Church, not only by His word and ordinances, but also by the influence of His Spirit which He affords to assist His people in the duties of His worship and to open their hearts for the reception of His word.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 2:19. Christian Prayer a Witness of Christian Citizenship.
I. The foundation of the citizenship of the Christian.—In access to the Father—in the power of approaching Him in full, free, trustful prayer.
1. Christian prayer is the approach of the individual soul to God as its Father.—Until a man utterly believes in Christ he can never pray aright. There are veils around the unbelieving spirit which hinder this free, confiding approach. The touch of God startles memories, rouses ghosts of the past in the soul’s secret chambers; they flutter fearfully in the strange divine light, and the man shudders and dare not pray. A man bathed in the life of God in prayer feels he is no more a stranger and a foreigner, but has entered into God’s kingdom, for God is his Father.
2. That prayer of the individual soul must lead to the united worship of God’s Church.—We cannot always pray alone. The men who stand most aloof from social worship are not the men who manifest the highest spiritual life. Our highest prayers are our most universal. I do not say we don’t feel their individuality, we do—but in and through their universality.
II. The nature of Christian citizenship.—
1. Prayer a witness to our fellowship with the Church of all time. Realising the Fatherhood of God in the holy converse of prayer, we are nearer men. Our selfishness, our narrow, isolating peculiarities begin to fade. In our highest prayers we realise common wants.
2. Prayer a witness to our fellowship with the Church of eternity.—All emotions of eternity catch the tone of prayer. Sometimes in the evening, when the sounds of the world are still and the sense of eternity breaks in upon us, is not that feeling a prayer? We know that we are right, that in worship we have taken no earthly posture, but an attitude from higher regions.
1. Live as members of the kingdom.
2. Expect the signs of citizenship—the crown of thorns, the cross.
3. Live in hope of the final ingathering.—E. L. Hull.
The Communion of Saints.
I. Society becomes possible only through religion.—Men might be gregarious without it, but not social. Instinct which unites them in detail prevents their wider combination. Intellect affords light to show the elements of union, but no heat to give them crystalline form. Self-will is prevailingly a repulsive power, and often disintegrates the most solid of human masses. Some sense of a divine Presence, some consciousness of a higher law, some pressure of a solemn necessity, will be found to have preceded the organisation of every human community and to have gone out and perished before its death.
II. Worship exhibits its uniting principle under the simplest form, in the sympathies it diffuses among the members of the same religious assembly.—There is, however, no necessary fellowship, as of saints, in the mere assembling of ourselves together; but only in the true and simple spirit of worship. Where a pure devotion really exists, the fellowship it produces spreads far beyond the separate circle of each Christian assembly. Surely it is a glorious thing to call up, while we worship, the wide image of Christendom this day. Could we be lifted up above this sphere and look down as it rolls beneath this day’s sun, and catch its murmurs as they rise, should we not behold land after land turned into a Christian shrine? In how many tongues, by what various voices, with what measureless intensity of love, is the name of Christ breathed forth to-day!
III. But our worship here brings us into yet nobler connections.—It unites us by a chain of closest sympathy with past generations. In our helps to faith and devotion we avail ourselves of the thought and piety of many extinct ages. Do not we, the living, take up in adoration and prayer the thoughts of the dead and find them divinely true? What an impressive testimony is this to the sameness of our nature through every age and the immortal perseverance of its holier affections!
IV. And soon we too shall drop the note of earthly aspiration and join that upper anthem of diviner love.—The communion of saints brings us to their conflict first, their blessings afterwards. Those who will not with much patience strive with the evil can have no dear fellowship with the good; we must weep their tears ere we can win their peace.—Martineau.
Characteristics of Believers.
I. Believers are here described as having been strangers and foreigners.—
1. There are relative expressions, meaning that natural men are strangers to the household of God and foreigners as respects the city of Zion.
2. Consider the natural man with reference to the city of Zion, and the truth of this representation will appear.
(1) He is a stranger and foreigner—(a) By a sentence of exile (Genesis 3:0). (b) By birth (Genesis 5:3; John 3:6).
(2) He is proved to be a stranger and foreigner—(a) By features (Galatians 5:19-21). (b) By manners (1 Peter 4:3). (c) By language. As such he is under another ruler (Ephesians 2:2), he is at war (Galatians 4:29).
3. Though “strangers and foreigners” in relation to Zion, yet men are naturalised in another country.
4. This does not imply living beyond the pale of the visible Church. The Parable of the Tares. An alien to the saints and a stranger to God may be in the visible Church. 5. That there are “strangers and foreigners” in the Church seems a calamity.
(1) They are thereby deceived.
(2) They injure Christians.
(3) They betray Christ.
II. Believers are described as being fellow-citizens with the saints.—
1. They are citizens.
(1) Their sentence of exile is cancelled (Ephesians 2:13).
(2) They are naturalised by birth (John 3:5).
(3) They are reconciled to God and believers.
(4) They are under Zion’s government.
2. They are “fellow-citizens with the saints.”
(1) They have intercourse—holy.
(2) They are united by mutual love.
(3) They have reciprocal duties.
(4) They have common rights and privileges.
(5) They have common honour and reputation.
(6) They have common prosperity and adversity.
(7) They have common enemies.
(8) They have common defence and safety.
(9) They have a common history.
3. As a congregation we are professedly a section of this peculiar and spiritual community.
(1) Do we seek each other’s welfare?
(2) Is our intercourse the communion of saints?
(3) Are we careful of each other’s reputation?
4. Are we as a congregation isolating ourselves from each other? Are we “fellow-citizens with the saints”?
5. The city is above.
III. Believers are here described as belonging to the household of God.—
1. Believers as citizens are God’s subjects.
2. As belonging to God’s household they are His children.
3. As in God’s household—
(1) They are like Him.
(2) They are near to Him.
(3) They see His face.
(4) They enjoy His fellowship.
(5) They are provided for by Him.
(6) They are under His protection.
(7) They serve Him.
(8) They worship Him—His house is a temple.
4. These are very tangible privileges, and belong to this present life.
5. Many may suppose that they are “fellow-citizens with the saints” whose experience does not prove that they are “of the household of God.”
6. For this “household” God has “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”—Stewart.
Ephesians 2:20-21. The Church a Divine Edifice.—
1. Though God Himself be the principal Author and Builder of this spiritual edifice, yet He employs His called ministers and servants as instruments, among whom He made special use of the prophets and apostles for laying the foundation in so far as they first did reveal and preach Jesus Christ, and commit to writings such truths concerning Him as are necessary for salvation, while other ministers are employed in preaching Christ to build up the elect on the foundation laid by them.
2. There is a sweet harmony and full agreement between the doctrines and writings of the prophets and apostles in holding forth Christ for a foundation and rock of salvation, the latter having taught and written nothing but what was prefigured in types and foretold in prophecies by the former.
3. As growth in grace is a privilege which appertains to all parts of this spiritual building who are yet on earth, so this growth of theirs flows from their union and communion with Christ; and the more their union is improved by daily extracting renewed influence from Him, they cannot choose but thrive the better in spiritual growth.—Fergusson.
Ephesians 2:22. The Church the Habitation of God.—
1. Jesus Christ differs from the foundation of other buildings in this, that every particular believer is not only laid upon Him and supported by Him as in material buildings, but they are also indented in Him, and hid, as it were, in the clefts of the rock by saving faith.
2. As all believers, however far soever removed by distance, are yet more strictly tied and joined together, so by taking band with Christ the foundation, they are fastened one to another as the stones of a building.
3. So inseparable is the union among the persons of the Trinity that the presence and indwelling of One is sufficient to prove the indwelling of all; for believers are a habitation to God the Father and Son, because the Spirit dwells in and sanctifies them.—Ibid.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ephesians 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent