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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 3:1. The prisoner of Jesus Christ may be regarded as “the prisoner whom the Lord has bound” (so Winer and Meyer), or as “a prisoner belonging to Christ,” or again as “the prisoner for Christ’s sake.” The indignity of an ambassador being “thrown into irons” is lost in the feeling of being, even though bound, the representative of such a Lord.
Ephesians 3:2. If ye have heard.—We have the same form of expression at Ephesians 4:21—“assuming, that is, that ye heard” (cf. Colossians 1:23). Of the grace.—The favour which God conferred on me in appointing me your apostle. The divine “Taskmaster” (to use Milton’s expression) confers honour upon us when He sets us to work. “He is not served by men’s hands as though He needed anything” (Acts 17:25).
Ephesians 3:3. How that by revelation.—The familiar disavowal of any other source than the will of God (cf. Galatians 1:12).
Ephesians 3:4. Ye may understand my knowledge.—You may, as the public reader proceeds to read my letter, discern my insight of the mystery.
Ephesians 3:5. Which in other ages.—R.V. “other generations.” Might possibly refer to those dim ages of the past national history when the Gentiles were thought of only as left to “uncovenanted mercies.” We must note the word for “other”—it means a “different kind.” Was not made known … as it is now revealed.—If any distinction is to be observed, we may say the “revelation” is one of the ways of “making known” (see Ephesians 3:3) the intuitional. Unto His holy apostles and prophets.—“If all saints were holy à fortiori the apostles” (Bishop Alexander).
Ephesians 3:6. Fellow-heirs … the same body … partakers.—“The A.V. loses a point of similarity in the three Gentile privileges by not expressing the force of the Greek compounds by the same English word. Lit. ‘heirs together,’ ‘incorporated together,’ ‘sharers together,’ not heirs after, but together with, the Jews; not attached to the Hebrew body, but incorporated into it together with the element that previously constituted it; not receivers of the promise after others had been satisfied, but partakers of it together with them” (Bishop Alexander). “Co-heirs, and concorporate, and comparticipant. The strange English words may perhaps correspond to the strange Greek words which St. Paul invented to express this newly revealed mystery in the strongest form, as though no words could be too strong to express his conception of the reunion in Christ of those who apart from Him are separate and divided” (Farrar).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 3:1-6
An Enlarged Gospel—
I. Declaring the admission of the Gentiles on the same footing as the Jews to its highest privileges (Ephesians 3:6).—It came as a surprise to the world of the apostle’s day that the gospel he preached offered its blessings on equal terms to Jew and Gentile. The Jew, accustomed to be the sole repository of divine revelation, was staggered at the discovery that heaven extended its favours to the outcast, heathenish Gentile; and the Gentile, proudly trusting to his own intellectual activity in the search after truth, greeted with wonder the ampler and loftier revelations of the new evangel. It seemed too good to be true. A new era was dawning, and men were dazzled and bewildered with the splendour of the vision. It is now authoritatively declared that, on the simple conditions of penitence and faith, the Gentile world is incorporated into the body of Christ. So far from being excluded from the divine favour, the believing Gentiles are reckoned as “fellow-heirs, and of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel”; and the marvel is increased by the discovery that this astounding privilege is no new thought in the divine mind, but was an essential part of the purpose concerning the race that had been developing in the slow march of the ages. The Hebrew Scriptures with their records of extraordinary theophanies, the saintly characters of Old Testament times, the Messianic revelations and the wealth of spiritual blessing which the isolated Jew had selfishly appropriated to himself, are the heaven-given privileges of universal man.
II. Was wrapped in mystery for ages.—“Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men” (Ephesians 3:5). The mystery all centres in Christ. The revelation of Messiah as the hope and salvation of the race was dimly and slowly unveiled in progressive stages. “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing.” Some of His grandest movements are veiled in mystery till the right moment comes, when the obscurity vanishes and the vastness and beauty of the completed work elicit our admiration and praise. We are familiar with this process in the natural world and in the progress of human history. The fruits of the earth do not reach maturity at a bound. Slowly and in secret the bud is rounded, then comes the delicately tinted blossom, and afterwards the tempting, mellow fruit. The same may be said of the growth of human character. It reaches the higher grades of mental and moral excellence by slow and silent stages, and advances in the ratio of the fidelity and energy with which the man carries out the great plan of his life-career. So the revelation of the gospel mystery has been gradual and progressive. The purpose itself is incapable of progress—it has been fixed from eternity; but it has been made known to the world in portions suited to each succeeding period of its history. The law shadowed forth that purpose with more fulness than any previous dispensation, and the prophets went beyond the law, occupying a middle place between it and the gospel, while the gospel in its fuller revelation has gone as far beyond the prophets as they went beyond the law. Thus we see that God “who appears deliberate in all His operations” has unfolded His great purpose to save the race by slow and successive stages. The mystery of yesterday is the sunlit epiphany of to-day.
III. Was specially revealed by the Spirit.—“How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery” (Ephesians 3:3). “As it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:5). Notwithstanding the gradual disclosure of the mystery of the gospel, its full significance could not have been caught without supernatural help. Mere flux of time adds nothing to our knowledge; nor can the most active intelligence decipher the spiritual meaning of truth. The Spirit of God, operating on the alert and awakened mind of the apostle, revealed to him the glory and power of Christ—the hidden mystery of ages—and opened to him the far-reaching provisions of the enlarged gospel of which Christ is the inexhaustible theme. There is still much mystery in the gospel that remains to be fathomed—the problem of the atonement, the origin of sin, the future destiny and eternal state of human souls, and the revelation of Christ and His Church to present-day social and economic questions in their bearing on human development and the future prosperity of the kingdom of God on earth. We are in daily need of the light and teaching of the Holy Spirit.
IV. Was entrusted to man as a stewardship of divine grace.—“The dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward” (Ephesians 3:2). The mystery of the gospel was revealed to Paul that he might dispense its benefits to others. Former generations had received light from heaven; but not sufficiently appreciating it, or wishing to keep it within too narrow a sphere, it grew dim and went out. Where it fell on prepared hearts it was used for the illumination and blessing of others. Paul was divinely prepared for the revelation; he received it in trust for others; he saw the boundless provisions of the gospel, and became a powerful advocate of its universal claims. Every minister is a steward of the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and it is his joy to minister to others whatever of insight into truth and grace of experience the divine Spirit may entrust to him. The gospel is an ever-enlarging gospel to the soul lit up and informed by the revealing Spirit.
1. The gospel is an advance on all previous revelations.
2. It is the grandest revelation of saving truth.
3. It can be known and enjoyed only by the Spirit.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 3:1-21. Riches of Christ.—Many make Christianity something local, temporary, and thus degrade it. Christ is inexhaustible for mind and heart; we find all in Him. Let us never make of this rich Christ a poor one. What Christ has instituted must be something transcendent, and not so common that every intellect can discover it.—Heubner.
Ephesians 3:1-6. The Calling of the Gentiles.
I. Paul calls himself a prisoner of Christ for the Gentiles.—The liberality of his sentiments towards them and the boldness with which he asserted their title to equal privileges with Jews were the principal reasons why the latter persecuted him with such violence, and caused him to be sent a prisoner to Rome. The spring of this bitter enmity in the Jews was their spiritual pride and worldly affection. Liberality of sentiment essentially belongs to true religion. Bigotry, hatred, and envy among Christians debase their character and scandalise their profession. We should entertain exalted thoughts of the divine Goodness. Such thoughts enlarge the mind and liberalise the feelings.
II. The gospel is called a dispensation of the grace of God.—It is a discovery of that method which the wisdom of God has chosen for dispensing His grace and mercy toward fallen men. It is called the gospel of God as it originated in His pleasure; and the gospel of Christ as He is the immediate author of it, and His doctrines and works, His life and death, His resurrection and ascension, and the blessings procured by Him are the subjects on which it principally treats. The grace which the gospel offers is pardon and glory. Under such a dispensation how inexcusable are the impenitent, and how amazing will be the punishment of those who finally perish in their guilt!
III. This dispensation was committed to the apostle for the benefit of mankind.—It was a trust committed to him by the will of God, not a power arrogated by his own presumption. He did not rely on a secret, internal call as what alone would warrant him to commence as a preacher. He carefully conformed to the order which Christ has instituted in His Church. He instructed Timothy and Titus to do likewise. Ministers are not to found their warrant to preach on any immediate revelation. If they should pretend to this, it would be no warrant for them to assume it, unless they can by miracles prove to the world the reality of the pretended revelation.
IV. The knowledge of the gospel was communicated to Paul by revelation.—God did not, at the expense of inspiration, teach the apostles those things which they knew or might know by other means. But where actual knowledge and the means of obtaining it were wanting, there inspiration supplied the defect. It is not necessary for us to know the nature of this inspiration, or the manner in which the apostles were assured of its divinity. If we believe there is an infinite and all-perfect Spirit, who pervades universal nature, we must believe He can reveal His will to men by such an immediate influence as shall carry its own evidence and leave no possible doubt of its reality. If we deny the possibility of a certain inspiration from God, we deny that power to Him which we ourselves possess, for we can speak to men in such a manner that they shall certainly know we speak to them and perfectly understand our meaning.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 3:4; Ephesians 3:6. The Knowledge of Christ intended for All.—It is significant that the inscription on the cross was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
1. Hebrew, the language of religion, of the revelation concerning the one true God.
2. Greek, the language of literature, of arts and culture, the best medium in which to transmit the literature of the New Testament, as Hebrew was for that of the Old. It might be designated as the human language.
3. Latin, the language of the conquerors and masters of the world—also of the Roman Empire, as that kingdom of worldly aggrandisement and power, falsehood and wrong, in opposition to the kingdom of God destined to uproot and replace it. The Roman soldiers stationed throughout Europe became useful factors in the spread of the gospel. Note also the synoptic gospels of
1. Matthew—Hebrew in thought and diction, written to convince Jews.
2. Mark—Latin in thought, and written for the Roman mind.
3. Luke—Greek in thought and style, written for Gentiles.
Ephesians 3:4-5. God known in Christ.—After the death of Pascal there was found in the lining of his coat a parchment which he never parted from, in order to keep in his memory a certain epoch in his life. It contained these words: “Certainty—joy—the God of Jesus Christ, not of the philosophers and savants. Oh that I may never be separated from Him!” The explanation of this is, that on one memorable night, during a holy watching, he had met, not merely the Machinist of the universe, the God who is but the substance or the law of the world, but the God who wills and creates the happiness of His children.
Ephesians 3:5-6. The Comprehensiveness of the Gospel.—
1. God’s purpose to call the Gentiles was not altogether unknown to the ancient Church; but it was not so clearly revealed under the Old Testament as under the New.
2. Though God might easily communicate the knowledge of Himself unto all immediately and without the help of second means, yet He hath chosen so to communicate His mind to some few only who have, at His appointment, set down in sacred writ what they immediately received, by which means the knowledge of God may, in an ordinary way, be conveyed to others.
3. It is a great and glorious privilege to be a part of that mystical body of which Christ is Head, because of the strict union such have with Christ and with all believers in Christ, and because of their interest in all the privileges of that body and in the gifts and graces of every member of it.—Fergusson.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 3:7. Whereof I was made a minister.—A deacon, a runner of errands. A lowly word, which reminds us of his own self-estimate—“not worthy to be called an apostle”—and prepares us for the strange expression in Ephesians 3:8.
Ephesians 3:8. Less than the least of all saints.—“As though we said, ‘Leaster than all Christians’ ” (Bishop Alexander). “The greatest sinner, the greatest saint, are equidistant from the goal where the mind rests in satisfaction with itself. With the growth in goodness grows the sense of sin. One law fulfilled shows a thousand neglected” (Mozley, quoted by Farrar). The unsearchable riches.—“The untrackable wealth” (Farrar), inexplicable by creaturely intelligences, unspeakable therefore by human tongues.
Ephesians 3:9. And to make all men see.—He says to the Galatians (Ephesians 3:1), “Christ was placarded before you”—so here he wants men to see for themselves.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 3:7-9
An Exalted Ministerial Commission—
I. To distribute the unbounded wealth of the gospel—“Unto me … is this grace given, that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). In calling the gospel “the unsearchable riches of Christ” the apostle signifies that Christ, the whole truth about Him and centred in Him, is the theme of his preaching, and that in Christ he finds a mine of inexhaustible wealth, a treasure of truth which cannot be told. He speaks as one who has searched—searched so long, so far, as to have had produced on his mind the impression of unsearchableness. His whole style of writing in this chapter is that of a man overwhelmed with a sense of the infinite grace of God revealed in Christ. The expression “unsearchable riches,” while conveying the same impression of infinitude as the words “breadth,” “length,” “height,” “depth,” suggests a different idea—that of a mine of precious metal, rather than that of a vast continent of great length and breadth with high mountains and deep valleys spread over its surface. Paul speaks as a man digging in a recently discovered gold-field, who finds particles of the precious metal in such abundance that he cannot refrain from exclaiming ever and anon, “What an inexhaustible supply of gold is here!” He speaks further as one who feels it his special business to let all the world know of this goldfield, and invite all to come and get a share of its wealth (A. B. Bruce).
II. To reveal to men the secret mind of God.—
1. The gospel was for long hidden alone in God. “Which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Ephesians 3:9). It was a mystery hid in God, not from God. The idea of the universality of the gospel, though veiled for ages by the limitations of the divine dealings with the Jewish people, was never absent from the mind of God. Down through the rolling years one eternal purpose runs, and now and then the most gifted of the Hebrew seers caught a glimpse of its ever-widening range. This great secret of the ages was revealed to Paul in such clearness and fulness that he regarded it as the one purpose of his life—his heaven-sent commission—to make it known to his fellow-men, of whatever nationality.
2. The purpose of the creation of all things by Christ was also a part of the divine mystery.—“Who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:9). The statement of this fact—thrown in by way of parenthesis—links the whole created things with the development of the divine purpose, and asserts the absolute sovereignty of Jesus over all worlds. In some way yet to be more fully explained as the divine purpose ripens all created beings are to be advantaged by the sublime redemptive work unfolded in the gospel. “For He hath created all things, and by Him all things consist.”
3. The mystery was revealed to one for the benefit of all.—“And to make all men see what is the fellowship [the stewardship] of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9). It was well for us and the race that the revelation and commission were committed to one who by training and gifts was so well qualified to explain and propagate the grand divine idea. The barriers of Jewish prejudice in Paul were swept away by the vastness and universality of the message. He saw it included his Hebrew brethren—and to them the gospel was first preached—but he saw also it included all in its comprehensive sweep. Paul was not alone among the apostles in comprehending the breadth of the gospel; but he was foremost and most resolute and unbending in battling for the right of the Gentiles to be admitted to all its blessed privileges. He thought out the gospel for himself, and he became the fearless and astute champion of the sinning race. What is accepted as a commonplace to-day was not won without argument, suffering, and struggle.
III. Bestowed as an act of divine grace.—
1. As an act of divine grace it was confirmed by the conscious possession of divine power. “Given unto me by the effectual working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7). Paul himself experienced the transforming power of the gospel. He was deeply convinced of its truth, he believed and embraced its provisions, he accepted Christ as the living core of the gospel, and he was thrilled with the divine power that wrought in him a great moral change. He spoke not only with the force and authority of clearly apprehended truth, but with the unfaltering certitude of personal experience. He was henceforth the willing agent of the divine power working within him.
2. As an act of divine grace his commission overwhelmed him with a sense of personal unworthiness.—“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given” (Ephesians 3:8). The immense favour humbles him to the dust. That Saul, the Pharisee and the persecutor, the most unworthy and unlikely of men, should be the chosen vessel to bear Christ’s riches to the Gentile world, how shall he sufficiently give thanks for this! how express his wonder at the unfathomable wisdom and goodness that the choice displays in the mind of God! But we can see that this choice was precisely the fittest. A Hebrew of the Hebrews, steeped in Jewish traditions and glorying in his sacred ancestry, none knew better than the apostle Paul how rich were the treasures stored in the house of Abraham that he had to make over to the Gentiles. A true son of that house, he was the fittest to lead in the aliens, to show them its precious things, and make them at home within its walls (Findlay).
1. The minister of the gospel has a solemn responsibility.
2. Should be faithful and earnest in his work.
3. Should guard against temptations to pride.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 3:7. A God-made Minister.—
1. It is not sufficient warrant for any to meddle with the ministerial office that he hath competent gifts, except he have also ministerial power and authority conveyed to him, either immediately by God, as it was in the calling of the apostles, or mediately according to that order which God has established in His Church, as in the calling of ordinary ministers.
2. As it is required to make a man a minister that he be endued with competent abilities and gifts for that employment, so it is no less requisite that God concur with him. God giveth not to all one and the same gift, or in the same measure, but to some a greater, to others a less, as He hath more or less to do with them.
3. So great and many are the difficulties of ministers before they attain to freedom and boldness in exercising their ministerial gift that no less is required than the power of God, working effectually with a kind of pith and energy. A minister will be always ready to acknowledge his gifts as from God and His powerful working in him, and not to his own dignity, diligence, or parts.—Fergusson.
Ephesians 3:8-9. The Apostle’s View of his Ministry.
I. Consider what a humble opinion the apostle had of himself.—“Who am less than the least of all saints.” In his abilities and gifts he was not a whit behind the chiefest apostles, and in sufferings he was more frequent and in labours more abundant than they all. But in respect of worthiness he esteemed them his superiors; for they had not, like him, persecuted the Church, and they were in Christ and became apostles before him. Good Christians in honour prefer one another. True religion will produce self-abasing thoughts. The true convert forgets not his former character. He reflects often on his past guilty life, that he may be more humble in himself, more thankful, more watchful, more diligent.
II. The apostle expresses his admiring apprehensions of God’s grace in calling him to the ministry.—To the same grace which had called him he ascribes all his furniture for the ministry and all his success. However contemptible some render themselves in the gospel ministry, the office itself is honourable.
III. The apostle’s elevated sentiments concerning the gospel—He calls it “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The blessings of the gospel, being purchased by the blood of Christ, are called His riches. They are called riches on account of their excellency, fulness, and variety. They are undiscoverable by human reason, and made known only by revelation. They were but imperfectly made known in the prophetic revelation. They are of inestimable value.
IV. Consider the grand and enlarged conceptions the apostle entertained of the design and importance of his ministry (Ephesians 3:9).—It was to open to mankind that mighty scheme which the wisdom of God had formed, and which His goodness had for ages been carrying into execution, for the redemption of our fallen race. His ministry was designed for the benefit, not of men only, but of angels too (Ephesians 3:10).—Lathrop.
Ephesians 3:8. Christian Humility illustrated in the Character of Paul.
I. The apostle remembered his past sins.—Wherever there is a quickened conscience, it will prompt the possessor to think of his past sins, and this even when he has reason to believe that they have been forgiven. The apostle continued to remember the natural and deeply seated pride and self-righteousness which he had so long cherished. Allusion is made in every one of his public apologies and in a number of his epistles to the circumstance of his once having been an enemy of the cross of Christ and a persecutor. It is for the benefit of the believer to remember his past sinfulness. The recollection of his infirmities may enable him to guard against their recurrence. Our sins, even when past and forgiven, are apt to leave a prejudicial influence behind. Our sins are like wounds, which even when cured and closed are apt to leave a scar behind. It is most meet and becoming, and in every respect for his own profit and the advantage of the Church and world, that the sinner, and more particularly the man whose former life has been known, should walk humbly before God and his fellow-men all the days of his life. Nor let it be forgotten that the remembrance of past sin is one of the motives impelling the Christian to be “zealously affected in every good thing.” The remembrance of the injury he had done to the Church stimulated him to make greater endeavours to benefit it. The persecution which he had inflicted on others made him more steadfast in bearing the sufferings to which he was now exposed. According to the account handed down from the early Church, the apostle had to suffer a violent death in the reign of Nero, when Christians were covered with pitch and burned as torches, or clothed with the skins of wild beasts and dogs let loose upon them. We can conceive that as he saw the terrible preparations for putting him to death, his memory would go back thirty years, and he would remember how he himself had stood by and consented to the death of the holy martyr Stephen, and he would feel himself thereby the more strengthened to endure what the Lord was now pleased to lay upon him.
II. The apostle mourned over the sin yet cleaving to him.—He had not only a recollection of past sin, he had a sense of present sin. This sense of indwelling sin is one of the elements that conduce to the onward progress of the believer. Why is it that so many professing Christians, ay, and too many true Christians, are not advancing in the spiritual life; are the same this week as they were the previous week; the same this year as they were the last year; and to all appearance, and unless God arouse them, will be the same the next week or next year as they are this? It is because they are contented with themselves and with their condition, they have reached a state of self-complacency, they have “settled upon their lees,” and they do not wish to be disturbed by so much as an allusion to their sin. Very different was the temper of the apostle. Conscious of the sin that still adhered to him, he longed to have it completely exterminated, and sought the heavenly aid which might enable him to reach that after which he was always striving—“unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
III. The apostle acknowledged God to be the Author of all the gifts and graces possessed by him.—Paul on more than one occasion found it necessary to speak of his gifts. And when he follows this train of reflection, he arrests himself to explain that his faults are his own, and to ascribe the glory of his gifts to God. There may be circumstances requiring us to speak of our attainments in the spiritual life; but there can be no excuse for our thinking of them or alluding to them in a spirit of complacency. Of all pride, spiritual pride is the most hateful, and the most lamentably inconsistent. How often does it happen that, when persons are suddenly elevated to places of honour, they see nothing but their own merits, their own talent, their own skill or good management. Elevation of rank thus leads in too many cases to an increase of pride and vanity. This is painfully illustrated in the history of Saul, the son of Kish. Setting out in search of his father’s asses, he received before he returned a kingdom for the discharge of the offices of which he had many qualifications. But his rise seems to have fostered the morbid vanity of his mind; and when this was not fed by constant incense, when the Israelites cried; “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands,” it led to envy and revenge, which goaded him on to deeds of utter infatuation. How different with Saul of Tarsus! At every step of his elevation in the Church he saw the finger of God, and was the more impressed with his own unworthiness.
IV. The apostle took a high standard of excellence: he took as his model the law of God and the character of Jesus.—All actual excellence, whether earthly or spiritual, has been attained by the mind keeping before it and dwelling upon the ideas of the great, the good, the beautiful, the grand, the perfect. The tradesman and mechanic reach the highest eminence by never allowing themselves to rest till they can produce the most finished specimens of their particular craft. The painter and sculptor travel to distant lands that they may see and as it were fill their eye and mind with the sight of the most beautiful models of their arts. Poets have had their yet undiscovered genius awakened into life as they contemplated some of the grandest of nature’s scenes; or as they listened to the strains of other poets the spirit of inspiration has descended upon them, as the spirit of inspiration descended on Elisha while the minstrel played before him. The soldier’s spirit has been aroused even more by the stirring sound of the war-trumpet than by the record of the courage and heroism of other warriors. The fervour of one patriot has been created as he listened to the burning words of another patriot; and many a martyr’s zeal has been kindled at the funeral pile of other martyrs. In this way fathers have handed down their virtues to their children, and those who could leave their offspring no other have in their example left them the very richest legacy; and the deeds of those who perform great achievements have lived far longer than those who do them, and have gone down from one generation to another. Now the believer has such a model set before him in the character of Jesus, which as it were embodies the law and exhibits it in the most attractive and encouraging light. We may copy others in some things; we should copy Christ in all.—Dr. J. McCosh.
Ephesians 3:8. Paul’s Humility.
I. In what it consisted.—
1. In the unreserved submission of his reason to the authority of revelation. He was a great thinker, and he was a great scholar.
2. In the unwavering reliance of his heart on Christ for the salvation of his soul. Self-righteous by constitution and education.
3. In ascribing to God alone the glory of all that he was and of all that he did. He could not but be conscious how far he stood above the ordinary in point of Christian excellence and supernatural gifts and ministerial usefulness. He never took any part of the praise to himself: “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
4. In cherishing a sense of his unworthiness and guilt: “Sinners, of whom I am chief.”
5. In forming a lowly estimate of his own comparative standing: “Less than the least of all saints.”
II. How it was cultivated.—
1. By frequent meditation on the holiness of God.
2. By looking away from self to Christ.
3. By gratitude to God and to Christ for an interest in the blessings of redemption.
4. By a due appreciation of the importance of humility. It is ornamental, but it is also useful. It lies at the very root of all the graces of the Christian character.—G. Brooks.
Humility a Growth.—The progress which St. Paul made in humility has often been given by comparing three expressions in his epistles with the supposed dates when they were written: “Not meet to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9); A.D. 59); “Less than the least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8; A.D. 64); “Sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15; A.D. 65).
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ.—The riches of Christ’s divinity are unsearchable, the riches of His condescension are unsearchable, the riches of His tenderness are unsearchable, the riches of His redeeming love are unsearchable, the riches of His intercession are unsearchable, the riches of His faithfulness are unsearchable, and the riches of His supporting grace are unsearchable. These riches will never be expressed, even to all eternity. No! not by the noble army of martyrs, nor the glorious company of the apostles, nor the goodly fellowship of the prophets, nor the general assembly and Church of the first-born, nor the innumerable company of angels, nor the spirits of just men made perfect, nor by all the ransomed throng of heaven. It will form their most ecstatic employment in heaven. Join, all ye happy throng—join, holy Abel and Enoch, upright Job, perfect Noah, souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, grand souls of Moses, Samuel, and Elijah, pardoned David and Manasseh, soul of Isaiah the prophet. Join, all ye whose souls under the altar cry, “How long, O Lord, wilt Thou not avenge our blood upon the earth?” Join, holy Stephen and Polycarp, holy Latimer, Ridley, Hooper, Rowland Taylor, and Anne Askew. Join, brave Wicklif, gallant Luther, stern John Knox, sweet John Bunyan, and praying George Fox. Join, pious Doddridge and tuneful Watts, noble George Whitefield, holy Fletcher, exhaustless John Wesley, dauntless Rowland Hill, and grand though lowly Robert Hall. Ye sweetest trebles of the eternal choir, ye million million babes who died without actual sin, join all your notes of praise! Pull out every stop of the grand organ of heaven, from the deep swell diapason to the lofty flute and cornet! Gabriel, strike the loftiest note of thy harp of gold. And let all the host of heaven, angels and men, begin the grand anthem, “Worthy is the Lamb.” And let the eternal Amen peal and roll and reverberate through all the arches of heaven! But never through all eternity shall the gathered host be able fully to express the unsearchable riches of Christ.—Thomas Cooper.
Ephesians 3:9. The Fellowship of the Mystery.
I. It is a mystery it should be so long hid; a mystery, because when it was plainly revealed it was not understood by those to whom it was manifested; a mystery, for God was pleased to raise up a special apostle to explain and reveal, to make an epiphany of this great truth—the will of God that all men should be saved, that His gospel should be universally known, should be open to all for acceptance.
II. Our share and fellowship in the work of the gospel is to make all men see their interest in it, to make them understand its true catholicity, to make all men see that it is from the first the will of God that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs. By the Church is to be made known the manifold wisdom of God. Every member of the Church is to have his or her part in doing this work. We are all to take part in it by our lives, our conversation, our example, our good works and words. By availing ourselves of opportunities we are to help to make known this manifold wisdom of God.
III. Think for a moment what is the state of those men who do not know what is their fellowship with this mystery.—I am not speaking of the entirely ignorant. Even religious people do not half understand or appreciate the deep meaning of such words as these. Christianity means expansion, comprehension; it embraces all, and all men must see in it what is the fellowship of the mystery that we have received and that has been made known to us. We must be a light that cannot be hid—Bishop Claughton.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 3:10. To the intent that now … might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.—The Church as it expands from a “little flock” to a “multitude which no man can number” is to declare the multiform wisdom of God, ever fertile in new modes of operation. “Manifold” represents a word used to describe a floral wreath as consisting of “variegated “flowers.
Ephesians 3:12. In whom we have boldness.—Originally meaning as regards speech. In Christ the reconciled child of God has the right of speaking to God without reserve. The same word is translated “confidence” in 1 John 5:14, A.V: “It is the free, joyful mood of those reconciled to God” (Meyer). And access.—As in Ephesians 2:13. With confidence.—Hardly as equal to assurance—certainly never self-assurance, but in quiet leaning on the arm of Christ.
Ephesians 3:13. I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations.—Compare 2 Corinthians 4:1-16, where the same word is used. As an agonised sufferer, heroically suppressing every sign of pain, begs those who wait on him not to give way to grief; as Socrates, having quaffed the poison, rallies his friends, who have broken out into uncontrollable weeping, with the words, “What are you doing, my friends? What! such fine men as you are! Oh, where is virtue?”; so (with a possible reminiscence of Acts 20:36-38) St. Paul begs his readers not to lose heart.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 3:10-13
The Manifold Wisdom of God—
I. Seen in the development of a long-cherished plan.—
1. This plan was carried out by Christ. “According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ” (Ephesians 3:11). The plan is here called the “eternal purpose,” and that purpose was the redemption of man, and the personage selected for its accomplishment was the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the unchanging theme of “the gospel of which the apostle was made a minister,” this the divinely freighted argosy of “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” the veiled and sacred repository of all heavenly mysteries. The plan is significantly called the manifold wisdom of God”—as manifold as mysterious, for there is variety in the mystery and mystery in every part of the variety. The wisdom is seen, not so much in one act as in the masterly combination of a multitude of acts, all marshalled and disposed with consummate skill to the attainment of one grand end; just as the light that fills and irradiates the valley, penetrating every nook and crevice and clothing every object with beauty, is produced, not by a solitary ray, but by manifold rays poured from the central sun, and all uniting in one harmonious illumination. The crowning wisdom of the plan was in God appointing His only Son as the agent in carrying it out. He, the sinless One, must suffer for sin; the Innocent die for the guilty, and by dying conquer sin. Only thus could the righteous claims of the violated law be fully satisfied, the offence of the sinning one condoned, the authority of the divine government maintained, and the character of the Holy One vindicated to the whole universe.
2. That the plan has been accomplished is evident from the attitude assumed towards man and towards God by believers (Ephesians 3:13).—As regards the attitude of the believer towards man, he has now “boldness” in declaring the whole truth, and towards God he has “access with confidence by the faith of Him”—he has confidential fellowship with God. Both these experiences are the result of the redeeming plan, and would have been impossible without it.
II. Seen in the indifference to suffering its revelations inspire.—“I desire that ye faint not [do not lose heart] at my tribulations for you, which is your glory” (Ephesians 3:13). Paul had no anxiety for himself. He almost playfully alludes to his imprisoned state: “The prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1). His soul was too full of heavenly visions and of the practical bearing of the gospel on the destiny of the race to be harassed about his personal suffering. When he thought about it at all it was to rejoice in the honour of being allowed to suffer for such a cause, and in the opportunities afforded of spreading the gospel in quarters that might otherwise have been closed to him. But the Church feared for their champion’s life, and was troubled about his prolonged sufferings and imprisonment. The apostle assures his friends there was more reason for joyous boasting than for pity and dread. The sufferings and misfortunes of the Church have been overruled in promoting her enlargement. The flames of the martyrs have illumined the truth, and the captivity of its professors has prepared the throne of its universal empire. Personal religion has grown stronger by opposition and suffering, and the Church has multiplied by the very means which were intended to destroy her.
III. Seen in making the Church of the redeemed the means of instructing the heavenly intelligences (Ephesians 3:10).—These lofty beings, with their vast knowledge and gigantic powers, learn something from the divine treatment of sinful, rebellious men. They gain new light, fresher and more expansive views, regarding the character and perfections of God; and perhaps the chief point on which their angelic knowledge will be increased is in the glorious revelations the gospel unfolds of the infinite love of God. The Church on earth, with all its contradictions and imperfections, presents a magnificent picture of self-denial, devotion, and praise; but this is only a faint representation of the splendour of the Church above in its more completed state. The Church above is society organised; the Church below is society organising. The heavenly intelligences are watching both processes, and their wondering adoration is being continually excited as they observe the building up and ever-advancing completion of the redeemed community. If there is one thing more than another that amazes “the principalities and powers”—amazes them more than the manifold wisdom of God unfolded to them by the Church—it must surely be the apathy and indifference of men on earth to their redemptive blessings!—that so much has been done to make man wise, and he remains willingly and contentedly ignorant; that God has been so prodigal of His wealth, and man is so slow to appreciate and seize the proffered enrichment; that God offers the abundant bread of eternal life, and man prefers to starve in lean and comfortless poverty, and grumbles against heaven that he is so poor; that salvation is pressed on his acceptance, and man persists in perishing; that “heaven lies about him in his infancy,” and the celestial gate opens before him in every subsequent stage of life, and yet man resists the alluring glory, and stumbles at last into the bottomless chasm of eternal darkness.
1. The wisdom of God is continually presenting new illustrations of its manifoldness.
2. The most signal display of divine wisdom is seen in the redemption of the race.
3. The future history of the Church will reveal new features in the manifold wisdom of God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 3:10. The Manifold Wisdom of God—
I. Seen in the gradual unfolding of His great purpose to save the human race.—
1. This process suited the revelation to men’s nature and condition as finite and sinful beings. Had the revelation been more rapid and brilliant it could not have been so readily appreciated, nor could men have dared to hope they had any share in it. It was adapted to the infantile state of the Church and the world when the mind is most powerfully affected by sensible objects.
2. This method was a training for appreciating the fuller discoveries of the divine will. It has been an education and discipline, has provoked inquiry, and encouraged full submission to the will of God and faith in His wisdom and power.
II. Seen in the means He employed to carry out His saving purpose.—
1. By the gift of His Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. As a subsidiary means, by the institution of preaching, and by selecting men, and not angels, as instruments in spreading the knowledge of gospel redemption.
III. Seen in using the Church of the redeemed as an object-lesson in teaching the heavenly intelligences.—The Church teaches the angels:
1. By its composition.
2. By its marvellous history.
3. By its glorious completion.
1. The dignity and glory of the Church. 2. Let it be your all important concern to become a member of this spiritual community.
Ephesians 3:11-13. Access to God.
I. We have access.—The word signifies an approach to some object. Here it intends a near approach to God in worship, or such a state of peace with God as allows a freedom of intercourse. It is a familiar expression suited to convey the idea of great condescension on God’s part and high privilege on ours.
II. We have boldness of access.—The word signifies a freedom of speaking in opposition to that restraint which we feel when in the presence of one we dread and in whose goodness we can place no confidence. It expresses the fulness of that liberty which under the gospel all Christians enjoy of drawing near to God, and that freedom of spirit with which we should come to God. The disposition of our hearts should correspond with the liberal and gracious dispensation under which we are placed. We should come to God with a spirit of love, in opposition to servile fear. This boldness imports frequency in our approaches to God. Slaves, under fear, stand at a distance. Children, invited by the goodness of a father, come often into his presence.
III. We have access with confidence.—This confidence is elsewhere called a better hope and the full assurance of faith. It is opposed to doubting and distrust. Confidence in prayer is a full reliance on God; but this may be accompanied with a humble diffidence of ourselves.
IV. All our hope of success in prayer must rest upon the mediation of Christ (Ephesians 3:12).—In His name we are to come before God; and in the virtue of His atonement and intercession we may hope for acceptance.
V. Access to God a refuge in trouble (Ephesians 3:13).—Fearing lest his sufferings in the cause of the gospel should dishearten his converts, the apostle sets before them a view of their security under the protection of divine grace. Dangers were before them; but what had they to fear who had boldness of access to God? It was one of the glories of their religion that He who preached it was not ashamed to suffer for it.
1. In the apostle Paul we have a noble example of benevolence.
2. New converts should be assisted and encouraged.
3. Our best support under trouble is boldness of access to God.
4. Let the grace and condescension of God encourage us to come often into His presence.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 3:12. Access to God in Prayer.—Prayer is to be exercised with the greatest caution and exactness, being the most solemn intercourse earth can have with heaven. The distance between God and us, so great by nature and yet greater by sin, makes it fearful to address Him; but Christ has smoothed a way, and we are commanded to come with a good heart, not only in respect of innocence, but also of confidence.
I. There is a certain boldness and confidence very well becoming our humblest addresses to God.—It is the very language of prayer to treat God as our Father. The nature of this confidence is not so easily set forth by positive description as by the opposition it bears to its extremes. It is opposed:
1. To desperation and horror of conscience.
2. To doubtings and groundless scrupulosities.
3. To rashness and precipitation.
4. To impudence.
II. The foundation of this confidence is laid in the mediation of Christ
III. The reason why Christ’s mediation ought to minister such confidence to us.—His incomparable fitness for the performance of that work. Considering Him:
1. In respect to God, with whom He has to mediate. God sustains a double capacity of Father and Judge. Christ appears not only as an Advocate, but as a Surety, paying down the utmost justice can exact.
2. In reference to men for whom He mediates. He is a friend, brother, surety, lord or master.
3. In respect to Himself.
(1) He is perfectly acquainted with all our wants and necessities.
(2) He is heartily sensible of and concerned about them.
(3) He is best able to express and set them before the Father.
IV. Whether there is any other ground that may rationally embolden us in our addresses to Him.—If there is, it must be either:
1. Something within us as the merit of our good actions. But this cannot be—
(1) because none can merit but by doing something absolutely by his own power for the advantage of him from whom he merits;
(2) because to merit is to do something over and above what is due.
2. Something without us. This must be the help and intercession either of angels or saints. Angels cannot mediate for us—
(1) because it is impossible for them to know and perfectly discern the thoughts;
(2) because no angel can know at once all the prayers that are even uttered in words throughout the world. These arguments are still more forcible against the intercession of saints. The invocation of saints supposed to arise:
1. From the solemn meetings used by the primitive Christians at the saints’ sepulchres, and there celebrating the memory of their martyrdom.
2. From those seeds of the Platonic philosophy that so much leavened many of the primitive Christians.
3. From the people being bred in idolatry. But the primitive fathers held no such thing; and the Council of Trent, that pretended to determine the case, put the world off with an ambiguity. Christ is the only true way.—R. South.
Ephesians 3:13. Courage under Suffering.—
1. Affliction and tribulation for the gospel is a trial not only to those under it, but to others who look on, and are in no less hazard to be thereby brangled (made to disagree) in their confidence, blunted in their zeal, and rendered remiss in their forwardness, than the person himself who suffers.
2. A faithful minister suffering for truth will not be so solicitous for his own outward estate as for the Church and people of God, lest they be turned aside, or made to faint by reason of his sufferings. This may guard from discouragement when we consider the excellent worth of truth, and how those who suffer for it have not cast themselves without necessity upon their sufferings, but were necessitated to meet them in the way of their calling.
3. So honourable is it to suffer for Christ and truth that not only the persons who suffer are honoured, but also all such as have interest in them, who should not faint, but rather glory in them and take encouragement from them.—Fergusson.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Ephesians 3:15. The whole family.—R.V. “every family.” The word for “family” is only found in the New Testament in St. Luke 2:4 and Acts 3:25; in one translated “lineage,” in the other “kindreds” in A.V.; consistently as “family” by R.V. Chrysostom, and others who followed him, have surely a special claim to be heard. They translate it “races.” Bishop Alexander contends for the A.V. translation, “the whole.” He says, “A special force and signification in the expression make this translation necessary” (cf. Ephesians 2:19).
Ephesians 3:16. The riches of His glory.—“The whole glorious perfection of God.” To be strengthened with might.—There may be a verbal connection with the “fainting” of Ephesians 3:13, but the thought goes far out beyond that. In the inner man.—We are reminded again of the text quoted above (2 Corinthians 4:16). A mode of expression derived from the Platonic school, not necessarily presupposing any acquaintance with that system of philosophy.
Ephesians 3:17. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.—The condition of this, declared by Christ Himself, is that a man should keep the word of Christ. Being rooted and grounded.—A double metaphor—of a tree that has struck its roots deep into the crevices of the rock, and of a building with a foundation of bed-rock. “Every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7). Love conditions knowledge of things divine (see Ephesians 3:18).
Ephesians 3:18. May be able.—Perfectly able. With all saints.—The highest and most precious knowledge Paul can desire only as a common possession of all Christians. What is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.—“The deeply affected mind with its poetico-imaginative intuition looks upon the metaphysical magnitude as a physical, mathematical one. Every special attempt at interpretation is unpsychological, and only gives scope to that caprice which profanes by dissecting the outpouring of enthusiasm” (Meyer).
Ephesians 3:19. And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.—“An adequate knowledge of the love of Christ transcends human capacity, but the relative knowledge of the same opens up in a higher degree the more the heart is filled with the Spirit of Christ, and thereby is strengthened in loving. This knowledge is not discursive, but based in the consciousness of experience” (Meyer).
Ephesians 3:20. Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly.—After his prayer proper is ended the full heart of the apostle swells out into a solemn doxology The frequent and bold compound expressions of St. Paul (Farrar says twenty of the New Testament twenty-eight with ὑπέρ are St. Paul’s) spring from the endeavours adequately to express his energetic thought. According to the power that worketh in us.—“The measure of a man” or “of an angel” is insufficient here. Things are not achieved by creaturely mensuration where God works (cf. Ephesians 1:19-23).
Ephesians 3:21. To Him be the glory.—“The honour due to His name.” By Christ Jesus.—He that “climbeth up some other way” with his offering courts his own destruction. Throughout all ages, world without end.—R.V. “Unto all generations, for ever and ever.” A good specimen of the “exceeding abundantly above all that we … understand” as regarded under the aspect of time. It carries our thoughts along the vista of the future, till time melts into eternity.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ephesians 3:14-21
A Sublime and Comprehensive Prayer—
I. For spiritual strengthening (Ephesians 3:16).—The first necessity of the new convert is strength. The change from the former life is so new and strange. The spiritual faculties are but recently called into exercise; and though they are thrilled with the vigour of youth, they possess the inherent weakness and are exposed to the temptations of youth. Their newly acquired strength is at once their glory and their danger—their glory in giving them the capacity and impulse for the highest kind of work; their danger because they are tempted to rely upon their own conscious power rather than upon the grace of God within them, which is the source of their best strength. If that strength is once undermined or eaten away, it can never be replaced. The strength of youth, physical or spiritual, belongs only to the period of youth; if lost in youth, it can never be regained in maturer life. Whatever strength we may gain in after-years will never be what it might have been if we had never lost the strength of our first love. The apostle here prays that his converts may be invigorated with a manful courage, the moral strength to meet dangers and to battle with difficulties without quailing.
1. This spiritual strengthening is achieved by the indwelling Christ welcomed and retained in the heart by faith.—“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” (Ephesians 3:17). The source of this strength is not in us; we cannot evoke it by any voluntary effort of our own. It is a divine power working in us (Ephesians 3:20). It is the Christ within us making Himself felt in our otherwise enfeebled powers. We are invested with the strength of Christ by our faith in Christ; and increase of strength comes with increase of faith. The faith that receives Christ into the heart must be constantly exercised to keep Him there, and to derive inspiration and help from Him in attaining spiritual growth and in doing useful work.
2. This spiritual strengthening is cherished by an accession of Christian love.—“That ye, being rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17). The double metaphor gives emphasis to the idea—“rooted,” a tree; “grounded” a building. When Christ is planted and settled in our hearts, love is shed abroad there, and becomes the genial soil in which our graces grow, and the basis of all our thought and action. Love is strength, the most reliable, sustaining, and victorious kind of strength.
II. For a clearer comprehension of the immeasurable love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18-19).—Here the prayer rises in sublimity and comprehensiveness. The apostle prays that we may know the unknowable—“know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” There is nothing so fascinating as the love of Christ, ever leading us on by fresh revelations, and ever leaving the impression that there are unfathomable depths and inaccessible heights yet to be discovered. “Oh that Christ would,” exclaimed the saintly Rutherford, “arrest and comprise my love and my heart for all. I am a bankrupt who have no more free goods in the world for Christ, save that it is both the whole heritage I have, and all my moveables besides. Lord, give the thirsty manna drink. Oh to be over ears in the well! Oh to be swimming over head and ears in Christ’s love! I would not have Christ’s love entering in me, but I would enter into it, and be swallowed up of that love. But I see not myself here, for I fear I make more of His love than of Himself, whereas He Himself is far beyond and much better than His love. Oh, if I had my sinful arms filled with that lovely one Christ! Blessed be my rich Lord Jesus, who sendeth not away beggars from His house with an empty dish. He filleth the vessel of such as will come and seek. We might beg ourselves rich, if we were wise, if we would but hold out our withered hands to Christ, and learn to seek, ask, and knock.” The highest conceptions of the love of Christ are realised by the soul that prays.
III. For the attainment of the most complete endowment of the divine fulness.—“That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). The prayer asks that man may gain the sum-total of God’s gifts, be filled in every capacity of his nature with the whole plenitude (the πλήρωμα) of God. To reach this glorious result, we need, indeed, special spiritual strengthening. New wine bursts old bottles; and a large and sudden inflow of divine grace would be disastrous to the soul unprepared to receive it. What is wanted is strength—strength of the highest and purest kind. Muscular strength—a magnificent healthy physique—is a great gift; but it is one of our lowest endowments, and its abuse sinks us to a worse than brutish sensuality. Intellectual strength is a still higher gift, and if rightly used will lift us into a loftier world of wonders, of beauty, of purity and joy; but if abused will drag us down to the base level of the vapouring, scoffing sceptic, whose attempts to glorify error are instigated by a savage but utterly powerless hatred of truth. Spiritual strength is the highest gift of all. It is the motive-power that gives movement and direction to thought and action. Without it man is the plaything and victim of unrestrained passions. A short time ago I inspected one of the finest ocean-going steamships, a marvellous combination of strength and elegance. Everything seemed as perfect as engineering science could make it. But there was something wanting; it was a fatal defect. The giant shaft and powerful screw, the triple expansion cylinders, the cranks, pistons, and wheels were all there, but the noble vessel was useless, heaving helplessly on the rolling tide. The fires were out, and the active driving-power was lacking. What steam is to that great floating mass of complicated mechanism, giving it life, movement, direction, purpose—that spiritual strength is to our mental and physical organism. To receive the fulness of indwelling Deity the soul must be strengthened with spiritual strength. We cannot pray too earnestly for this.
IV. Uttered with a reverential recognition of the great Giver of all blessing.—
1. Beginning with the submissive awe of a humble suppliant. “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father,” etc. (Ephesians 3:14-15). The apostle is overwhelmed with the contemplation of the rich blessings stored up for man in Christ Jesus, and prostrates himself with lowly homage in the conscious presence of the great Donor of all spiritual good. Nothing humbles us more than a sight of the blessings possible of attainment by the greatest sinner.
2. Ending with an outburst of triumphant praise (Ephesians 3:20-21).—Praise soars higher than prayer. Man’s desires will never overtake God’s bounty. When the apostle desires that God’s praise may resound in the Church “throughout all ages,” he no longer supposes that the mystery of God may be finished speedily as men count years. The history of mankind stretches before his gaze into its dim futurity. The successive generations gather themselves into that consummate age of the kingdom of God, the grand cycle in which all the ages are contained. With its completion time itself is no more. Its swelling current, laden with the tribute of all the worlds and all their histories, reaches the eternal ocean. The end comes; God is all in all. At this furthest horizon of thought, Christ and His own are seen together rendering to God unceasing glory (Findlay).
1. Prayer is the cry of conscious need.
2. Increases in importunity as it is strengthened by faith.
3. Finds its sublimest themes in the culture of the spiritual life.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Ephesians 3:14-15. The Christian Church a Family.
I. The definition here given of the Christian Church.—
1. A society founded upon natural affinities—“a family.” A family is built on affinities which are natural, not artificial; it is not a combination, but a society. In ancient times an association of interest combined men in one guild or corporation for protecting the common persons in that corporation from oppression. In modern times identity of political creed or opinion has bound men together in one league in order to establish those political principles which appeared to them of importance. Similarity of taste has united men together in what is called an association, or a society, in order by this means to attain more completely the ends of that science to which they had devoted themselves. But, as these have been raised artificially, so their end is, inevitably, dissolution. Society passes on, and guilds and corporations die; principles are established, and leagues become dissolved; tastes change, and then the association or society breaks up and comes to nothing. It is upon another principle altogether that that which we call a family, or true society, is formed. It is not built upon similarity of taste nor identity of opinion, but upon affinities of nature. You do not choose who shall be your brother; you cannot exclude your mother or your sister; it does not depend upon choice or arbitrary opinion at all, but is founded upon the eternal nature of things. And precisely in the same way is the Christian Church formed—upon natural affinity, and not upon artificial combination.
2. The Church of Christ is a whole made up of manifold diversities.—We are told here it is “the whole family,” taking into it the great and good of ages past now in heaven, and also the struggling, the humble, and the weak now existing upon earth. Here, again, the analogy holds good between the Church and the family. Never more than in the family is the true entirety of our nature seen. Observe how all the diversities of human condition and character manifest themselves in the family. First of all, there are the two opposite pales of masculine and feminine, which contain within them the entire of our humanity; which together, not separately, make up the whole of man. Then there are the diversities in the degrees and kinds of affection. For, when we speak of family affection, we must remember that it is made up of many diversities. There is nothing more different than the love which the sister bears towards the brother, compared with that which the brother bears towards the sister. The affection which a man bears towards his father is quite distinct from that which he feels towards his mother; it is something quite different towards his sister; totally diverse, again, towards his brother. And then there are diversities of character. First, the mature wisdom and stern integrity of the father, then the exuberant tenderness of the mother. And then one is brave and enthusiastic, another thoughtful, and another tender. One is remarkable for being full of rich humour; another is sad, mournful, even melancholy. Again, besides these, there are diversities of condition in life. First, there is the heir, sustaining the name and honour of the family; then perchance the soldier, in whose career all the anxiety and solicitude of the family is centred; then the man of business, to whom they look up, trusting his advice, expecting his counsel; lastly, perhaps, there is the invalid, from the very cradle trembling between life and death, drawing out all the sympathies and anxieties of each member of the family, and so uniting them all more closely, from their having one common point of sympathy and solicitude. Now, you will observe that these are not accidental, but absolutely essential to the idea of a family; for so far as any one of them is lost, so far the family is incomplete. And precisely in the same way all these diversities of character and condition are necessary to constitute and complete the idea of a Christian Church.
3. The Church of Christ is a society which is for ever shifting its locality and altering its forms.—It is the whole Church, “the whole family in heaven and earth.” So, then, those who were on earth and are now in heaven are members of the same family still. Those who had their home here, now have it there. The Church of Christ is a society ever altering and changing its external forms. “The whole family”—the Church of the patriarchs and of ages before them; and yet the same family. Remember, I pray you, the diversities of form through which, in so many ages and generations, this Church has passed. Consider the difference there was between the patriarchal Church of the time of Abraham and Isaac and its condition under David; or the difference between the Church so existing and its state in the days of the apostles and the marvellous difference between that and the same Church four or five centuries later; or, once again, the difference between that, externally one, and the Church as it exists in the present day, broken into so many fragments. Yet, diversified as these states may be, they are not more so than the various stages of a family.
II. Consider the name by which this Church is named.—“Our Lord Jesus Christ,” the apostle says, of whom “the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”
1. First, the recognition of a common father.—That is the sacred truth proclaimed by the Epiphany. God revealed in Christ—not the Father of the Jew only, but also of the Gentile. The Father of a whole family. Not the partial Father, loving one alone—the elder—but the younger son besides; the outcast prodigal who had spent his living with harlots and sinners, but the child still, and the child of a Father’s love.
2. The recognition of a common humanity.—He from whom the Church is named took upon Him not the nature merely of the noble, of kings, or of the intellectual philosopher, but of the beggar, the slave, the outcast, the infidel, the sinner, and the nature of every one struggling in various ways.
3. The Church of Christ proceeds out of and rests upon the belief in a common Sacrifice.—F. W. Robertson.
The Family in Heaven and Earth.—With the boldness of a true and inspired nature the apostle Paul speaks with incidental ease of one family distributed between heaven and earth. There is, it seems, domesticity that cannot be absorbed by the interval between two spheres of being—a love that cannot be lost amidst the immensity, but finds the surest track across the void—a home affinity that penetrates the skies, and enters as the morning or evening guest. And it is Jesus of Nazareth who has effected this; has entered under the same household name, and formed into the same class, the dwellers above and those beneath. Spirits there, and spirits here, are gathered by Him into one group; and where before was saddest exile, He has made a blest fraternity.
I. Members of the same home cannot dwell together, without either the memory or the expectation of some mutual and mortal farewell.—All we who dwell in this visible scene can think of kindred souls that have vanished from us into the invisible. These, in the first place, does Jesus keep dwelling near our hearts; making still one family of those in heaven and those on earth. This He would do, if by no other means, by the prospect He has opened, of actual restoration. And since the grave can bury no affection now, but only the mortal and familiar shape of their object, death has changed its whole aspect and relation to us; and we may regard it, not with passionate hate, but with quiet reverence. It is a divine message from above, not an invasion from the abyss beneath; not the fiendish hand of darkness thrust up to clutch our gladness enviously away, but a rainbow gleam that descends through Jesus, without which we should not know the various beauties that are woven into the pure light of life. Once let the Christian promise be taken to the heart, and as we walk through the solemn forest of our existence, every leaf of love that falls, while it proclaims the winter near, lets in another patch of God’s sunshine to paint the glade beneath our feet and give a glory to the grass. Tell me that I shall stand face to face with the sainted dead; and, whenever it may be, shall I not desire to be ready, and to meet them with clear eye and spirit unabashed? Such and so much encouragement would Christianity give to the faithful conversation of all true affections, if it only assured us of some distant and undefinable restoration. But it appears to me to assure us of much more than this; to discountenance the idea of any, even the most temporary, extinction of life in the grave; and to sanction our faith in the absolute immortality of the mind. Rightly understood, it teaches not only that the departed will live, but that they do live, and indeed have never died, but simply vanished and passed away.
II. But it is not merely the members of the same literal home that Christ unites in one, whether in earth or heaven. He makes the good of every age into a glorious family of the children of God; and inspires them with a fellow-feeling, whatever the department of service which they fill. Keeping us ever in the mental presence of the divinest wisdom and in veneration of a perfect goodness, it accustoms us to the aspect of every grace that can adorn and consecrate our nature; trains our perceptions instantly to recognise its influence or to feel its want. It looks with an eye of full and clear affection over the wide circle of human excellence. Such hope tends to give us a prompt and large congeniality with them; to cherish the healthful affections which are domestic in every place and obsolete in no time; to prepare us for entering any new scene, and joining any new society where goodness, truth, and beauty dwell.—Martineau.
The Christian Brotherhood of Man.—The brotherhood of man has been the dream of old philosophers, and its attainment the endeavour of modern reformers. Man can only reach his highest life when he forms part of a society bound together by common sympathies and common aims, for by a great law of our nature it is true that he who lives utterly apart from his fellows must lose all true nobleness in selfish degradation. There is no real progress for the individual but through social sympathy. There is no strong and enduring aspiration but in the fellowship of aspiring souls. That conviction which men have so strongly felt and so vainly endeavoured to realise is perpetually asserted in the Book of God.
I. The brotherhood of man in Christ.—
1. The Christian brotherhood is a unity of spirit under a diversity of form. Thus with the Church of the first century. At first it was one band of brotherhood; but as it grew and individual thought expanded and experience deepened there arose infinite diversities. The more men think and the more they grow, the more will they differ.
2. There are spiritual ties in action which in Christ bind man to man.—Paul’s words imply a threefold unity.
1. The fellowship of devotion to a common Father.
2. The fellowship with Christ our common Brother.
3. That fellowship is unbroken by the change of worlds.
II. Results of realising this fact of brotherhood.—
1. Earnestness of life.
2. Power and grandeur of hope.—Some complain that their ideas of heaven are vague and ineffective. Only realise the brotherhood of man, and then the hope of the future will become a power in life.—E. L. Hull.
The One Family.—
1. Believers on earth and saints and angels in heaven spring from the same common parent.
2. Are governed by the same general laws.
3. Share in the same pleasures and enjoyments.
4. Have the same general temper, the same distinguishing complexion.
5. Have one common interest.
6. Look to, rely upon, and are guided by the same Head.
7. Are all objects of God’s love.
8. At the last day will meet in God’s presence, be openly acknowledged as His children, and admitted to dwell in His house for ever.
1. If we estimate the dignity of men from the families with which they are connected, how honourable is the believer!
2. We see our obligations to mutual condescension, peaceableness, and love.
3. Let those who are not of this family be solicitous to obtain a place in it.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 3:16-19. Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians.
I. For spiritual strength.—It was not bodily strength, civil power, or worldly distinction; it was the grace of fortitude and patience.
II. For an indwelling Christ.—As we become united to Christ by faith, so by faith He dwells in our hearts.
III. For establishment in love.—True love is rooted in the heart. It is a spiritual affection towards Christ. Its fruits are love to men, imitation of Christ’s example, obedience to His commands, zeal for His honour, and diligence in His service.
IV. For increase of knowledge in the love of Christ.—The love of Christ passeth all known examples of love. This love passeth our comprehension in respect of its breadth or extent, its length, its depth, as the benefits it has procured exceed all human estimate. Though the love of Christ passeth knowledge, there is a sense in which it is known to the saints. They have an experimental knowledge, an influential knowledge, an assimilating knowledge of the love of Christ.
V. For the fulness of God.—That they may have such a supply of divine influence as would cause them to abound in knowledge, faith, love, and all virtues and good works.—Lathrop.
Ephesians 3:19. The Love of Christ.
I. The love of Christ passeth knowledge.—
1. He Himself furnishes an illustrative instance when He says, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die”—a merely just and righteous man would be admired; but he would not so take hold of the heart of another to produce a willingness to die for him;—“yet peradventure,” in some rare case, “for a good man,” a man of benevolence, adorned with the softer virtues and abounding in the distribution of his favours—for such a one “some would even dare to die”; some one, overcoming even the love of life in the fulness of his gratitude, might venture to give his own life to preserve that of such a one. But we were neither just nor good; we were sinners, and “God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Passes it not, then, all knowledge, all reasonable conception and probability, that this fallen nature should be so sympathised with that these flagrant rebellions should excite, not an inexorable anger, but pity and love? And such love that our Saviour—looking not so much on man as offending, but as His creature, and as His creature still capable of restoration—should melt in compassion and die to effect his redemption; this is indeed love “that passeth knowledge.”
2. The manner in which this love is manifested carries the principle beyond all conception and expression.—It was love to the death. It was death for sinners, death in their stead; death, that the penal claims of law, and that law the unchangeable, unrelaxable law of God, might be fully satisfied. The redemption price was fixed by a spotless justice, and the love of Christ to the sinner was to be tested by the vastness of the claims to be made upon Him. But the wages of sin is death; and His love shrank not from the full and awful satisfaction required. It was death in our stead. Then it must be attended with anxious forebodings. Of what mysteries have I suggested the recollection to you? Can you comprehend them? That feeling with which He spoke of the baptism of blood? That last mysterious agony? That complaint of being forsaken of God? You feel you cannot. They transcend all your thought; and the love which made Him stoop to them is therefore love “which passeth knowledge.”
3. The love of Christ passeth knowledge if we consider it as illustrated by that care for us which signalises His administration.
4. The subject is further illustrated by the nature of the blessings which result to men from the love of Christ.—We usually estimate the strength of love by the blessings it conveys or, at any rate, would convey. And if the benefits be beyond all estimate, neither can we measure the love.
5. The love of Christ passeth knowledge because it is the love of an infinite nature. Love rises with the other qualities and perfections of the being in whom it is found. Among animals the social attachments are slight, and the instinctive affection dies away when its purposes are answered. In man love arises with his intellect. In him it is often only limited by his nature, and when rightly directed shall be eternal. Many that love on earth shall doubtless love for ever. Were Christ merely a man His love could not pass knowledge. What man has felt man can conceive. Love can be measured by the nature which exercises it. But this love passeth all knowledge but that of the divine nature, because itself is divine. Christ is God, and he who would fully know His love must be able to span immensity and to grasp the Infinite Himself.
II. But while it is true that the love of Christ passeth all knowledge, it is equally true that it is to be known by us.—To know the love of Christ is:
1. To recognise it in its various forms and expressions in our constant meditations. And where shall we turn and not be met by this, to us, most important subject? How delightful an occupation, to track all the streams of mercy up to their source. We are surrounded by the proof of the love of Christ. Let us see to it that the blinding veil be not on our heart, that our eyes be not holden that we should not know Him. We are called to know the love of Christ. Let us accustom ourselves to reflect upon it, to see it in its various forms and results; and then shall our meditation of Him be sweet.
2. To know the love of Christ is to perceive it in its adaptation to our own personal condition.
3. To know the love of Christ is to experience it in its practical results. He offers you pardon, and the offer is a proof and manifestation of His love; but properly to know it pardon itself must be accepted and embraced. This is to know His love. Seek it, and you must find it. Rest without it, and you are but “as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.”
4. To know the love of Christ we must put forth those efforts through which that love is appointed to express itself in our daily experience.
1. The rejection of love, especially of redeeming love, involves the deepest guilt.
2. Remember that the grace is common to you all.—R. Watson.
The Unknown and Known Love of Christ.
I. There are some respects in which the love of Christ passeth our knowledge.—
1. In its objects; so unworthy and degraded.
2. In its sufferings; love to the death.
3. In its care.
4. In its blessings.
5. In its degree. It is the love of an infinite nature.
II. There are some respects in which the love of Christ may be known.—
1. Our views of it may be clearer and more consistent.
2. Our views of it may be more confidential and appropriating.
3. Our views of it may be more impressive and more influential.—G. Brooks.
The Transcendent Love of Christ.
I. This representation must be confirmed.—
1. This love is divine.
2. Consider the objects it embraced.
3. The means by which it manifested itself.
4. The blessings it secured.
II. The perception the Christian may acquire of this love, notwithstanding its divine infinitude.—
1. It is the great interpreting principle which he applies to all the tremendous facts of redemption.
2. The sacred element and incentive of all piety—the theme of contemplation, the ground of confidence, the motive of obedience.
3. The impulse and model of all benevolence and zeal.
III. Conclusions from a review of the subject.—
1. It is only natural to expect a transcendent character in Christianity.
2. No better test exists of what is genuine Christianity than the level of the views which it exhibits concerning the person and work of Christ and the tone of the affections which it encourages towards Him.
3. There is much of implicit as well as declarative evidence in support of the Saviour’s supreme divinity.
4. How necessary is it that we should live habitually under the influence of this transcendent love.—R. W. Hamilton.
Ephesians 3:20-21. A Devout Doxology.
I. The acknowledgment the apostle makes of God’s all-sufficiency.—
1. God often does for men those favours which they never thought of asking for themselves.
2. God answers prayers in ways we think not of.
3. The mercies God is pleased to grant often produce consequences far beyond what we asked or thought.
4. The worth of the blessings we ask and God bestows infinitely exceeds all our thought.
II. The ascription of glory the apostle makes to this all-sufficient God.—
1. God is glorified by the increase of His Church. 2. God is glorified in the Church when a devout regard is paid to the ordinances He has instituted.
3. By the observance of good order in the Church, and by the decent attendance of the members on their respective duties.
4. That God may be glorified there must be peace and unity in the Church.—Lathrop.
God’s Infinite Liberality.
I. The object of this doxology.—The God of all grace. Whatever we think we ask. No limit to our asking but our thinking. God gives beyond our thinking. Here, take all this! Ah, poor thing, that transcends thine asking and even thy thinking, but take it. If it transcend all communicated power of mind, I say, “I thank Thee, my God, for it. I know it is exceeding good, but I cannot understand it. Keep it among Thy treasures. My blessedness rests not in my intellect, but in Thy favour. Remember Thou hast given it me. It may come I shall be able to understand it better and appreciate it more.” I shall never have asked too much, I shall never have thought too much, till I have asked beyond God’s ability, till I have thought beyond God’s ability. That ability is not a bare abstraction of the omnipotence of God, but it is the omnipotence of God as working in the Church and in the people of God. He is not omnipotent in heaven, and impotent in thee, or partially powerful in thee.
II. The doxology itself (Ephesians 3:21).—All should glorify God, but all will not. In the Church alone will God get glory. It is as the name of Christ is glorified in us that we are glorified in Him. It is when the glory that God reflects on the creature is by the creature ascribed as due only to God when He is glorified as the Author of it, transcendently and infinitely glorious, it is then that the glory rests. When it is appropriated it is lost, but it is possessed when it is tossed back and fro between God and the creature. When the creature gives it to God, God of His rich grace sends it back in greater measure; but the humble creature, emulous of God’s glory, sends it all back again to Him, and as it reciprocates so it increases. God gives not to end by enriching us—that is an immediate end; but the ultimate end is that He may be glorified. Be ashamed to get little—get all things. Get out of your poverty, not by fancying you are rich, but by coming and getting. The more you get always give glory, and come and ask and receive.—Dr. John Duncan.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ephesians 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter