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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Ephesians 3

 

 

Verse 1

Ephesians 3:1

For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles.

St. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles a Divine grace to himself

If not wholly singular, there is something very characteristic, in this view which the Apostle of the Gentiles took of his vocation. So strong a hold had it taken of his imagination and feelings that he may be said positively to have revelled in it. It is alluded to again and again in his Epistles (Romans 1:5; Romans 11:13; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Galatians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:25; and Ephesians 4:7). How did it come about that this aspect of his work should have so impressed him?

I. It originated in the revelation of a Divine mystery (Ephesians 3:3-4). At Christ’s appearance to him when he was on his way to Damascus, he had been told that he was to preach to the heathen (Acts 26:17-18). As to how far “revelation” of the calling of the Gentiles was absolutely required we can never fully know. Prophets had foretold the universal enjoyment of the Messianic blessing and the universal sway of the Messiah. Christ Himself frequently enough disclosed the wider horizon that stretched before His vision (Matthew 8:11; Matthew 25:31-34; Matthew 28:20; John 12:32; John 4:21; John 4:24). But we know that the Jewish prejudices of the apostles were but slowly overcome. Peter required a vision to remove his (Acts 10:28). And there can be no doubt that such a mind as Paul’s, with its antecedents of exclusiveness and caste, could only have received an adequate sense of the pressing needs of the Gentile world and of his own obligation with respect to these in some such special way. Revelation as a proof of Divine condescension to human infirmity would in this ease remove the temptation natural illuminati in all ages have felt to consider themselves of a “finer clay” than others.

II. He felt it to be a great privilege to be engaged in it (verses 8, 9). His glowing language about “the unsearchable wealth of Christ” shows how exalted was his enthusiasm. He speaks of it as a dignified responsibility--a Divine “economy” or “dispensation.” And he was ever conscious of the spiritual possibilities of his work among the millions of Europe and Asia through the ages that were to follow. A vocation such as this could not but awaken emotions at once exalting and humbling to a generous, high strung nature. It was a grace to be the minister of such a grace.

III. It called forth within him a larger sense of spiritual life and power (verse 7; cf. Colossians 1:29; Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:20). God was consciously working through him, with a force, a directness, and a constancy never felt before. He could say, “I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). And in all his allusions to this experience he is careful to distinguish the Divine from the human.

IV. His previous conduct had given him no claim to such an honour (verse 8; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:12-16). His language has seemed exaggerated to many, but it is the honest and natural outcome of a profound sense of his past wrong-doing, against which the mercy of Christ stood out in such emphatic relief. The heart knows best its own depravity, and the depths from which it has been rescued. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

St. Paul a sufferer for the Gentiles

Had he been narrow and exclusive in his spirit, he would have been honoured and beloved. For his impartiality, he was hated of his countrymen. Had he shown a strong bias in their favour, and been prejudiced against men of other nations, they would have borne with him, and his Christianity too. He is writing to the Gentiles, and he reminds them that he is in prison, as their apostle. He had not only given to all men the gospel, but he had given it to them, free from Jewish associations. “I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles.” There is too much reason to fear, that, even in our own day, the grand offence of many a noble servant of Jesus Christ, is the breadth of his Christianity. Let a man sell himself to some one Church, or party, warmly plead for his own party, exhibit the errors and defects of all other Churches, and he will live and die in the affections of his people. On the other hand, a man who declines specially to own this Church, or disown the other, who looks with an evil eye on none, but embraces all in the broad spirit of his impartial love, will certainly find that there are grave charges still against the Spirit of Christ, as distinct from the spirit of party. He may calculate on the cold suspicions and hard judgments of the self-loving Churches. Let him count the cost, and, if he can, declare himself for Christ and humanity; or, if he be not able, then for Christ and his own party. It is no small praise to say that Jesus is the King, whose subjects have always found positive pleasure in suffering for Him. To be disowned and set at nought for His sake are their honour and joy. In their esteem, no distinction could equal that of being partakers of Christ’s sufferings. “We glory in tribulation.” While suffering for His sake, the spirit of glory and of God rests upon them. What are the honours and rewards of party zeal compared with this? (J. Pulsford.)

Suffering in God’s cause

1. The pains of ministers with and for the Lord’s people are so far from being at an end when people are brought to Christ and built upon Him by faith, that even their being brought this length doth lay a new tie upon their ministers, both to deal with God on their behalf, and to labour with themselves so much the more earnestly, that, not only they do not lose those things which are already wrought (2 John 1:8), but also they may make progress answerable unto their fair beginnings; lest otherwise they mar their own comfort (Psalms 51:12), make the name of God to be evil spoken of (2 Samuel 12:14).

2. Such powerful influence hath God upon hearts, that He can make those who for the time are cruel persecutors of truth, prove afterwards famous martyrs and sufferers for it; for Paul was once a bloody persecutor (Galatians 1:13), but is now a famous sufferer.

3. Sufferings for Christ and truth are so far from being cause of just reproach to those who suffer from others, or from being matter of shame and blushing to themselves, that they are rather a glory unto them, yea, and sometimes will be gloried in by them, as that wherein their chiefest honour standeth; for Paul, after the example of kings and nobles, who design themselves by their most honourable styles, doth in place of all take this one, of a prisoner for truth, unto himself; “I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ.”

4. So far ought people to be from stumbling at truth, because of the oppressed and suffering lot of those who preach it, that even their sufferings for truth should make their pains the more acceptable, and add a weight unto the word of truth in their mouth; for Paul describeth himself from his present suffering lot, that both his person and pains might have the more weight and efficacy with them; “I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ.”

5. The Lord doth sometimes give so far way to the rage of persecutors, as that the choicest instruments for carrying on His work may be, for a season, restrained in their liberty, and so laid aside as useless, even in a time when there is greatest need of their pains and diligence; far Paul, an eminent instrument (1 Corinthians 15:10), was at such a time cast in prison; “I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ.”

6. No afflictions or sufferings do loose a pastor from his duty towards the Lord’s people, over whom he is set; but when he is restrained in his liberty from preaching to them, he ought even then endeavour their edification by writing to them, and praying for them. (J. Fergusson.)

Persecution for the gospel

1. The effectual working of the gospel procures persecution to the ministers of it. The devil cannot endure with patience to see himself dispossessed and dislodged out of the hearts in which he has rested, and therefore spits his venom against them. This is the true reason, though other things are often pretended.

2. God can make the persecutors of His gospel become martyrs for it (Galatians 1:13-23).

3. God’s faithful servants are subject to persecution.

4. We must not be ashamed of our sufferings for Christ, but rather rejoice in them. Soldiers will tell of the wounds, the shot, and all hard measure they have suffered from the hand of the enemy under their colours; so must we esteem it our chief honour, when God allows us to suffer anything for His sake.

5. The sufferings of faithful ministers benefit their people. As the captain’s resolution rescues the whole army from discomfiture, so it sometimes happens that the ministers’ casting themselves upon the pikes, is the security of the people depending on them.

Suffering a stimulus

A certain amount of persecution rouses a man’s defiance, stirs his blood for magnificent battle, and makes him fifty times more a man than he would have been without the persecution. So it was with the great reformer when he said, “I will not be put down; I will be heard.” And so it was with Millard, the preacher, in the time of Louis XI. When Louis XI sent word to him that unless he stopped preaching in that style he would throw him into the river, he replied, “Tell the king that I will reach heaven sooner by water than he will reach it by fast horses.” (Dr. Talmage.)

Benefit of trial

I have somewhere read the following incident in the life of a distinguished botanist. Being exiled from his native land, he obtained employment as an under gardener in the service of a nobleman. While he was in this situation, his master received a valuable plant, the nature and habits of which were unknown to him. It was given to the gardener to be taken care of, and he, fancying it to be a tropical production, put it into the hothouse (for it was winter), and dealt with it as with the others under the glass. But it began to decay,…when the strange under gardener asked permission to examine it. As soon as he looked at it he said, “This is an arctic plant: you are killing it by the tropical heat into which you have introduced it.” So he took it outside, and exposed it to the frost, and, to the dismay of the upper gardener, heaped pieces of ice around the flower pot; but the result vindicated his wisdom, for straightway it began to recover, and was soon as strong as ever. Now, such a plant is Christian character. It is not difficulty that is dangerous to it, but ease. Put it into a hothouse, separate it from the world, surround it with luxury, hedge it in from every opposition, and you take the surest means of killing it. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Christ’s prisoners

Guy de Brez, a French minister, was prisoner in the castle of Tournay. A lady who visited him said she wondered how he could eat, or drink, or sleep in quiet. “Madam,” said he, “my chains do not terrify me or break my sleep; on the contrary, I glory and take delight therein, esteeming them at a higher rate than chains and rings of gold, or jewels at any price whatever. The rattling of my chains is like the effect of an instrument of music in my ears--not that such an effect comes merely from my chains, but it is because I am bound therewith for maintaining the truth of the gospel.”


Verses 1-9

Verse 2

Ephesians 3:2

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward.

God’s dispensation of grace

The ministerial calling is termed grace, because the designing to it is of grace, and the faculty qualifying us for it is from the free favour of God.

1. This assures ministers that their sufferings are for the good of the people, if they know they have a calling from God.

2. God distributes callings for the good of His Church.

3. As God gives ministers their calling, so also their people toward whom He will bless their labours. Every minister must be

When the Lord lights candles, He finds candlesticks on which to set them, and when He gives a calling, He gives a people amongst whom this function should be exercised.

4. People are specially to depend on their own pastor. (Paul Bayne.)

The dispensation of grace

“If” here might very well be read “since,” as in Colossians 1:23; Galatians 3:4; 2 Corinthians 5:2, where the thing spoken of is not doubtful, but taken for granted. The connection is this: “You know then, dear brethren, that I am the Lord’s prisoner for your sake, since, or forasmuch as, you know the cause of it in my miraculous conversion, and my being called to the apostolic office. For your sakes, too, I have received this grace of God, that I should be the econome or steward of the heavenly house. Here it is the grace; in Colossians 1:25 it is the dispensation which is given, and the meaning is nearly the same. The office and the qualification are both from God. What is this economy or dispensation? It is the “law of the house,” the principle and mode of housekeeping--the Haushaltung Gottes, according to the Germans. The idea is beautiful. The house, the household, the father, the family, are the holiest things on the earth. There all sorts of varieties and diversities meet in unity, rule, and obedience, rewards and punishments, hopes and fears. There are varieties of ages, sexes, characters, conditions, temperaments, etc., and the scheme of disciplining and ruling the whole is economy, the house law or dispensation, and the person to whom this is committed is the economist of the house, as Joseph was (Genesis 39:4), or the heir, as Eliezer (Genesis 15:2; Genesis 24:2). (W. Graham, D. D.)


Verse 3

Ephesians 3:3

How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery.

Revelation of God’s mystery

1. Those whom God sends, He also teaches.

2. We have by nature a veil before our eyes, that we cannot see spiritual matters till they be revealed.

3. The doctrine of salvation is a hidden thing to the world. Things are lightsome or obscure in themselves, or to us. To be made lightsome in themselves, there needs but the light of the sun to shine upon them; but to make them lightsome to us, we must have inward light in the eye whereby to discern them: thus the counsel of God is for the nature of it light itself.

4. It is made sensible or visible, the light of revelation shining on it.

5. It is so discerned where there is the supernatural eye of the Spirit, by benefit of this external light to discern it. We need to pray with David, “Lord, open our eyes, that we may see the wonders or hidden things of Thy law.” You see, we are all of us men of clay, and living here as it were in the bottom of the ship, walking upon clay; and therefore, if we would know the will of God, concerning us men here below, either God must be revealed from heaven extraordinarily, whereof we have no warrant, or ordinarily, and that is by these books written and indited by the Spirit of God, to be seen, read, and understood. Now this must stand by great reason, for if a man were in a mineral or coal pit, infinite fathoms toward the centre of the earth, it were impossible he should know the will of us men here above, unless we either descend ourselves, or send, or at least throw in a letter of our mind, which notwithstanding will be never the nearer unless we convey light to read the same: so I say, either God must call to us in an audible voice, or send His angels, or raise up afresh some extraordinary means of revealing His will, or else send His letter of His mind to us His loving friends, redeemed by the blood of Christ, yea, and reach us light also for the perusing of the same, or surely we shall never as long as we live attain to the knowledge of His will. Now I grant that the books of Scripture contain the Divine will of God, but such is the darkness of our understanding, that we cannot conceive thereof unless the outward means of the preaching of the Word be joined with the inward working of the Spirit, as fire to enlighten the whole house. Not that the Word in itself is obscure and dark, but that it lighteth into those hands of such blind expositors, in whom is nothing but darkness, as the bright silver lying in a dark chest. (Paul Bayne.)

Revelation

No revelation can be adequately given by the address of man to man, whether by writing or orally, even if he be put in possession of the truth itself. For all such revelation must be made through words: and words are but counters--the coins of intellectual exchange. There is as little resemblance between the silver coin and the bread it purchases, as between the word and the thing it stands for. Looking at the coin the form of the loaf does not suggest itself. Listening to the word, you do not perceive the idea for which it stands, unless you are already in possession of it. Speak of ice to an inhabitant of the torrid zone, the word does not give him any idea, or if it does, it must be a false one. Talk of redness to one who cannot distinguish colours, what can your most eloquent description present to him resembling the truth of your sensation? Similarly in matters spiritual, no verbal revelation can give a single simple idea: for instance, what means justice to the unjust--or purity to the man whose heart is steeped in licentiousness? What does infinitude mean to a being who has never stirred from infancy beyond a cell, never seen the sky or the sea, or any of those occasions of thought, which, leaving vagueness on the mind, suggest the idea of the illimitable? It means, explain it as you will, nothing to him but a room: vastly larger than his own, but still a room terminated by four walls. Talk of God to a thousand ears, each has his own different conception of the Almighty Being who rules all. The sensual man hears of God, and conceives one idea; the pure man hears, and pictures another. Whether you speak in metaphysical or metaphorical language; in the purest words of inspiration, or the grossest images of materialism; the conceptions conveyed by the same word are essentially different, according to the soul which receives them. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Accepting the mysteries of God

The decree of God is a sealed book, and the names in it are secret; therefore thy part is to look to God’s revealed will--namely, to “make thy calling and election sure” by making thy regeneration sure. Dost thou not know that secret things belong to God, but revealed things, to us and to our children? Oh ‘tis dangerous to meddle with the secrets of princes! (G. Swinnock.)

The gospel a revelation

It is an historical fact which has not been sufficiently noticed, that human nature is always below revelation. This fact indicates the Divine origin of revelation. Great discoveries are usually the product of preceding ages of thought. One mind develops the idea; but it is the fruit of the age ripened in that mind. A pearl is found, but the location had been indicated by previous researches. But revealed religion is something different from this. It is separate from and superior to the thought of the age. It calls the wisdom of the world foolishness, and introduces a new standpoint, and starting point, around which it gathers what was valuable in the old, and destroys the remainder. (J. B. Walker.)

Few words

Very wisely does an American writer say, “There is a mighty difference between preaching the everlasting gospel and preaching the gospel everlastingly.” There is no end to the truth, but there should be an end to the sermon, or else it will answer no end but that of wearying the hearer. A friend who occasionally visits the continent always prefers the passage from Dover to Calais, for a reason which we commend to the notice of certain prosy speakers--it is short. If you speak well, you will not be long; if you speak ill, you ought not to be so. We commend to the verbose brother the counsel of a costermonger to an open-air preacher--it was rather rude, but peculiarly sensible--“I say, old fellow, cut it short.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 4

Ephesians 3:4; Ephesians 3:6

Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge In the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles.

The reserve of God in relation to His grace

I. Its bearing on the Divine character. We must bear in mind--

1. That it was a reserve of grace. What belongs to grace can never be demanded by justice.

2. That the proper appreciation of Divine grace required a preliminary education of the race.

3. That the Author of universal salvation could alone judge of the fitting time for declaring it.

4. Although new in manifestation, God’s saving purpose was eternal.

II. Its justification by results. Religious exclusiveness, race hatred, etc., had done their work, and men were weary of the evils they entailed. A distinctly new interest and attraction was given to the gospel by this element in its proclamations. By the very contradiction and dishonour to human nature which had accrued from their rivalries and contempts, men were enabled to appreciate the grandeur and blessing of a universal religion, given, not in word merely, but in a distinctly new experience, to man as man. And to all who heard it it came with a peculiar authority from the very fact that it had not grown out of experience or speculation as a word of man, but had had to be revealed as the word of God. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

The reserve of God

The reserve which God used for thousand years after thousand years, should suggest to us caution in limiting the purpose of God. God has doubtless unspeakable things still in reserve. The Jewish people were made to feel that there was an awful distance and separation between them and God; but of His nearness to them, under their distance and darkness, they had little suspicion. That the condemning power of sin was the condition of their own nature, that God’s whole heart was towards all nations, that He was resolved, by the Sun of His love, to break through the sin cloud between Himself and them, and to establish with them direct relationship, were more than they could imagine. That, before the foundation of the world, the Son of God had made the difficulty of sin His own, that in the fulness of time, He would come in human nature, to be made sin for men, purge away their sin by His death, and by His glorification become wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption unto all who should receive Him, were impossible conceptions to them. But the special conceit of their self-love was, that they, of all men, were the favourites of God. When, therefore, God disclosed the fact that He is “no respecter of persons”--that the Gentile world is as dear to Him as the Jewish--that the gospel of His heart is equally for all nations, the Jew took offence, and refused to enter a kingdom, which gave to him no distinction above other men. (J. Pulsford.)

Scripture reading

Seeing that reading is so beneficial, we must be exhorted to set apart some time to spend this way. We are so affected to the writings of our friends, that if a letter come in when we are about to sit down, we will not taste anything till we have read it. These writings are the letter of God to us. If we have anything bequeathed as in some will, we will have, if not all the will, yet the clause of it perfectly in memory and at our fingers’ ends. These things written are God’s testament, which we cannot without great indignity neglect. Again, why do you desire gold and silver, but because it is so valuable that it will purchase any earthly commodity? Yet what is that in comparison of the Word, which together with the Spirit worketh unto life everlasting? If any of you should this day, walking by himself, hear the voice of God break out of heaven, he would be astonished at the hearing, and perhaps he would easily be persuaded that he should ponder every syllable. But this Word is as great and as much. In this thou hast God speaking by Himself, by men, by angels, by all means to draw thee unto Him. Wherefore, if thou art desirous to hear God speak (as I think some curious spirits are), thou hast Moses and the prophets, the written will of God, which convey God speaking to thee daily. Again, is there any that hopes to gain lands and possessions, and will not acquaint himself with the evidences which may lead him thereunto? In the written Word lies the great grant of that blessed land promised to Abraham and his seed, and from thence how it is entailed unto us of the Gentiles. Naturally we all desire knowledge, as the blind man deprived of his sight; how from the Word flows all knowledge as the river from the seas, and enriches the mind with a quick and sharp capacity. Lastly, we desire to hear tell of strange things: what more strange than to read of that celestial palace beyond the stars, called Paradise, and of the glory thereof? What more strange than to hear tell of the Father of spirits, and all the host of heaven, angels and saints? to hear tell in like manner of the place of darkness and shadow of death, of the prince thereof and his attendants? If all this will not provoke thee to this duty, humble thyself, suspect thyself of some gross iniquity which fills thy stomach to the full. (Paul Bayne.)

Deep spiritual knowledge is conditional

We know not Christ aright till we are conformed to what we know of Him. The pure in heart see the pure and holy God. When the lady said to Mr. Turner (the painter), “Sir, I have seen that spot many times, but I never saw that which you have pictured.” “No, ma’am,” he replied, “I dare say you have not; but don’t you wish you could?” The artist’s eye sees what another eye cannot, and the pure in heart can see in God what no one else can see, because they are like to God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Spiritual insight

My own experience is that the Bible is dull when I am dull. When I am really alive, and set in upon the text with a tidal pressure of living affinities, it opens, it multiplies discoveries, and reveals depths even faster than I can note them. The worldly spirit shuts the Bible; the Spirit of God makes it a fire, flaming out all meanings and glorious truths. (Horace Bushnell, D. D.)

Progressive revelation

1. God does not in all ages give the same measure of light to His Church.

2. By degrees He revealed the Messiah to His people.

3. The whole will of God is made known to us.

4. Since Christ came to declare to us the will of God, we have the mystery of salvation more fully opened; we must therefore yield the greater obedience.

5. The things of God are revealed to us by the Spirit. Let us then seek His aid--

Need of Divine revelation

Varro, a Roman writer of the first century B.C. states, that, in his day, he had been at the pains to collect the various opinions on the question, “What is the true object of human life?” in other words, “What is the supreme good?” He had reckoned up as many as three hundred and twenty answers. How needful is Divine revelation l And how essential to those who are starting in life, that a heavenly guide should teach them the true end and purpose of earthly existence! (Biblical Treasury.)

Christ partially revealed to the prophets

I was visited by a very distinguished young Israelite who had seen me distributing the sacred volume, and I proposed that we should read a portion of Scripture together. He agreed, on the condition that it should be from the Old Testament, and I read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. “But,” said he, “that is in the New Testament.” “No, no,” I replied. “There, take the book. Read it with that true heart which I perceive in you, and you will find what you seek.” He has found his Saviour, has accepted Him, and confesses Him with joy. (Pasteur Hirsch.)

The Holy Spirit and preaching

Charles G. Finney used to discover that sometimes his preaching was mighty in its influence to convict and convert sinners. At other times he seemed to be firing only blank cartridges. The results depended entirely upon his own spiritual condition, upon his nearness to or his absence from God. When he was in close communion with God the currents of power were mighty and irresistible. When his connection with the Lord ceased, either through unbelief or unworthy living, his lifting power was gone. Drawing nigh to God was invariably the most effectual way to draw the impenitent. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

The gospel inheritance

1. The condition to which it is God’s intention that the Gentiles should be brought.

2. The means. “By the gospel.” It is the gospel which brings us to faith, and to our heavenly inheritance.

(a) either by the unworthiness of the preachers;

(b) or by the consciousness of our own unworthiness;

(c) or by our not profiting to our mind.

(a) either upon conceit of their ignorance;

(b) or of the small good they see come of it;

(c) or for want of feeling in themselves the power of what they preach;

(d) or upon sense of temptations contrary to it. (Paul Bayne.)

Sharing the privileges

One incident gives high proof of the native generosity of Turner’s nature. He was one of the Hanging Committee, as the phrase goes, of the Royal Academy. The walls were full when Turner’s attention was attracted by a picture sent in by an unknown provincial artist by the name of Bird. “A good picture!” he exclaimed; “it must be hung up and exhibited.” “Impossible!” responded the committee of academicians. “The arrangement cannot be disturbed. Quite impossible!” “A good picture,” iterated Turner; “it must be hung up”; and finding his colleagues to be as obstinate as himself, he hitched down one of his own pictures, and hung up Bird’s in its place. Would to God that in far more instances the like spirit ruled among servants of the Lord Jesus. The desire to honour others and to give others a fair opportunity to rise should lead ministers of distinction to give place to less eminent men to whom it may be of essential service to become better known. We are not to look every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The union of Jews and believing Gentiles in Christ

The topic of the early portion of the first chapter of this Epistle, is that good men have been the subjects of Divine thought and predestination in Christ from everlasting ages. The topic of the latter portion of the first chapter is, that their future destiny runs parallel throughout eternity with that of the Son of God, raised from the dead and glorified. The subject of the second chapter and the early portion of the third, is the close union of believing Jews and Gentiles in all this grace and glory forever. It is worth while to describe the state of things between Jews and heathen in the days of the apostles, and to show the bearing of those facts on the present and future position of the Israelites in the world.

1. Let us, then, note first, that in former ages God had established a discipline of marvellous complexity for the separation of the Abrahamic people.

2. The next point to notice is that the Hebrew prophets, ages before the coming of Christ, had foretold that when the Messiah appeared this “middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles” would be broken down, so that all who served God would be brought into one church of the true worshippers (see Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 51:5; Jeremiah 3:17; Zechariah 8:22).

3. But this mystery of the future worship of Jehovah to be rendered by united Jews and Gentiles was hidden from the eyes of the Jewish people until it was proclaimed and asserted by Christ (John 10:16).

4. Although the gospel of Jesus has established the spiritual union of all believing Jews and believing Gentiles in one spiritual Church, so that they form one body in Christ, still so long as the earth lasts, this spiritual union of Jew and Gentile has not abolished the nationality of the Jews, any more than it has annihilated the nationality of the Englishman, the Spaniard, the German, or the Dane. (E. White.)


Verse 6

Ephesians 3:4; Ephesians 3:6

Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge In the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles.

The reserve of God in relation to His grace

I. Its bearing on the Divine character. We must bear in mind--

1. That it was a reserve of grace. What belongs to grace can never be demanded by justice.

2. That the proper appreciation of Divine grace required a preliminary education of the race.

3. That the Author of universal salvation could alone judge of the fitting time for declaring it.

4. Although new in manifestation, God’s saving purpose was eternal.

II. Its justification by results. Religious exclusiveness, race hatred, etc., had done their work, and men were weary of the evils they entailed. A distinctly new interest and attraction was given to the gospel by this element in its proclamations. By the very contradiction and dishonour to human nature which had accrued from their rivalries and contempts, men were enabled to appreciate the grandeur and blessing of a universal religion, given, not in word merely, but in a distinctly new experience, to man as man. And to all who heard it it came with a peculiar authority from the very fact that it had not grown out of experience or speculation as a word of man, but had had to be revealed as the word of God. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

The reserve of God

The reserve which God used for thousand years after thousand years, should suggest to us caution in limiting the purpose of God. God has doubtless unspeakable things still in reserve. The Jewish people were made to feel that there was an awful distance and separation between them and God; but of His nearness to them, under their distance and darkness, they had little suspicion. That the condemning power of sin was the condition of their own nature, that God’s whole heart was towards all nations, that He was resolved, by the Sun of His love, to break through the sin cloud between Himself and them, and to establish with them direct relationship, were more than they could imagine. That, before the foundation of the world, the Son of God had made the difficulty of sin His own, that in the fulness of time, He would come in human nature, to be made sin for men, purge away their sin by His death, and by His glorification become wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption unto all who should receive Him, were impossible conceptions to them. But the special conceit of their self-love was, that they, of all men, were the favourites of God. When, therefore, God disclosed the fact that He is “no respecter of persons”--that the Gentile world is as dear to Him as the Jewish--that the gospel of His heart is equally for all nations, the Jew took offence, and refused to enter a kingdom, which gave to him no distinction above other men. (J. Pulsford.)

Scripture reading

Seeing that reading is so beneficial, we must be exhorted to set apart some time to spend this way. We are so affected to the writings of our friends, that if a letter come in when we are about to sit down, we will not taste anything till we have read it. These writings are the letter of God to us. If we have anything bequeathed as in some will, we will have, if not all the will, yet the clause of it perfectly in memory and at our fingers’ ends. These things written are God’s testament, which we cannot without great indignity neglect. Again, why do you desire gold and silver, but because it is so valuable that it will purchase any earthly commodity? Yet what is that in comparison of the Word, which together with the Spirit worketh unto life everlasting? If any of you should this day, walking by himself, hear the voice of God break out of heaven, he would be astonished at the hearing, and perhaps he would easily be persuaded that he should ponder every syllable. But this Word is as great and as much. In this thou hast God speaking by Himself, by men, by angels, by all means to draw thee unto Him. Wherefore, if thou art desirous to hear God speak (as I think some curious spirits are), thou hast Moses and the prophets, the written will of God, which convey God speaking to thee daily. Again, is there any that hopes to gain lands and possessions, and will not acquaint himself with the evidences which may lead him thereunto? In the written Word lies the great grant of that blessed land promised to Abraham and his seed, and from thence how it is entailed unto us of the Gentiles. Naturally we all desire knowledge, as the blind man deprived of his sight; how from the Word flows all knowledge as the river from the seas, and enriches the mind with a quick and sharp capacity. Lastly, we desire to hear tell of strange things: what more strange than to read of that celestial palace beyond the stars, called Paradise, and of the glory thereof? What more strange than to hear tell of the Father of spirits, and all the host of heaven, angels and saints? to hear tell in like manner of the place of darkness and shadow of death, of the prince thereof and his attendants? If all this will not provoke thee to this duty, humble thyself, suspect thyself of some gross iniquity which fills thy stomach to the full. (Paul Bayne.)

Deep spiritual knowledge is conditional

We know not Christ aright till we are conformed to what we know of Him. The pure in heart see the pure and holy God. When the lady said to Mr. Turner (the painter), “Sir, I have seen that spot many times, but I never saw that which you have pictured.” “No, ma’am,” he replied, “I dare say you have not; but don’t you wish you could?” The artist’s eye sees what another eye cannot, and the pure in heart can see in God what no one else can see, because they are like to God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Spiritual insight

My own experience is that the Bible is dull when I am dull. When I am really alive, and set in upon the text with a tidal pressure of living affinities, it opens, it multiplies discoveries, and reveals depths even faster than I can note them. The worldly spirit shuts the Bible; the Spirit of God makes it a fire, flaming out all meanings and glorious truths. (Horace Bushnell, D. D.)

Progressive revelation

1. God does not in all ages give the same measure of light to His Church.

2. By degrees He revealed the Messiah to His people.

3. The whole will of God is made known to us.

4. Since Christ came to declare to us the will of God, we have the mystery of salvation more fully opened; we must therefore yield the greater obedience.

5. The things of God are revealed to us by the Spirit. Let us then seek His aid--

Need of Divine revelation

Varro, a Roman writer of the first century B.C. states, that, in his day, he had been at the pains to collect the various opinions on the question, “What is the true object of human life?” in other words, “What is the supreme good?” He had reckoned up as many as three hundred and twenty answers. How needful is Divine revelation l And how essential to those who are starting in life, that a heavenly guide should teach them the true end and purpose of earthly existence! (Biblical Treasury.)

Christ partially revealed to the prophets

I was visited by a very distinguished young Israelite who had seen me distributing the sacred volume, and I proposed that we should read a portion of Scripture together. He agreed, on the condition that it should be from the Old Testament, and I read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. “But,” said he, “that is in the New Testament.” “No, no,” I replied. “There, take the book. Read it with that true heart which I perceive in you, and you will find what you seek.” He has found his Saviour, has accepted Him, and confesses Him with joy. (Pasteur Hirsch.)

The Holy Spirit and preaching

Charles G. Finney used to discover that sometimes his preaching was mighty in its influence to convict and convert sinners. At other times he seemed to be firing only blank cartridges. The results depended entirely upon his own spiritual condition, upon his nearness to or his absence from God. When he was in close communion with God the currents of power were mighty and irresistible. When his connection with the Lord ceased, either through unbelief or unworthy living, his lifting power was gone. Drawing nigh to God was invariably the most effectual way to draw the impenitent. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

The gospel inheritance

1. The condition to which it is God’s intention that the Gentiles should be brought.

2. The means. “By the gospel.” It is the gospel which brings us to faith, and to our heavenly inheritance.

(a) either by the unworthiness of the preachers;

(b) or by the consciousness of our own unworthiness;

(c) or by our not profiting to our mind.

(a) either upon conceit of their ignorance;

(b) or of the small good they see come of it;

(c) or for want of feeling in themselves the power of what they preach;

(d) or upon sense of temptations contrary to it. (Paul Bayne.)

Sharing the privileges

One incident gives high proof of the native generosity of Turner’s nature. He was one of the Hanging Committee, as the phrase goes, of the Royal Academy. The walls were full when Turner’s attention was attracted by a picture sent in by an unknown provincial artist by the name of Bird. “A good picture!” he exclaimed; “it must be hung up and exhibited.” “Impossible!” responded the committee of academicians. “The arrangement cannot be disturbed. Quite impossible!” “A good picture,” iterated Turner; “it must be hung up”; and finding his colleagues to be as obstinate as himself, he hitched down one of his own pictures, and hung up Bird’s in its place. Would to God that in far more instances the like spirit ruled among servants of the Lord Jesus. The desire to honour others and to give others a fair opportunity to rise should lead ministers of distinction to give place to less eminent men to whom it may be of essential service to become better known. We are not to look every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The union of Jews and believing Gentiles in Christ

The topic of the early portion of the first chapter of this Epistle, is that good men have been the subjects of Divine thought and predestination in Christ from everlasting ages. The topic of the latter portion of the first chapter is, that their future destiny runs parallel throughout eternity with that of the Son of God, raised from the dead and glorified. The subject of the second chapter and the early portion of the third, is the close union of believing Jews and Gentiles in all this grace and glory forever. It is worth while to describe the state of things between Jews and heathen in the days of the apostles, and to show the bearing of those facts on the present and future position of the Israelites in the world.

1. Let us, then, note first, that in former ages God had established a discipline of marvellous complexity for the separation of the Abrahamic people.

2. The next point to notice is that the Hebrew prophets, ages before the coming of Christ, had foretold that when the Messiah appeared this “middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles” would be broken down, so that all who served God would be brought into one church of the true worshippers (see Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 51:5; Jeremiah 3:17; Zechariah 8:22).

3. But this mystery of the future worship of Jehovah to be rendered by united Jews and Gentiles was hidden from the eyes of the Jewish people until it was proclaimed and asserted by Christ (John 10:16).

4. Although the gospel of Jesus has established the spiritual union of all believing Jews and believing Gentiles in one spiritual Church, so that they form one body in Christ, still so long as the earth lasts, this spiritual union of Jew and Gentile has not abolished the nationality of the Jews, any more than it has annihilated the nationality of the Englishman, the Spaniard, the German, or the Dane. (E. White.)


Verse 7

Ephesians 3:7

Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power.

The ministerial gift

1. The ministerial gift, which God of grace giveth, makes a minister.

2. Ministers differ in their gifts and qualifications.

3. God’s power accompanies the gift of the ministry. (Paul Bayne.)

A true minister

The Rev. S. Pearce, being one week day evening in London, asked a friend where he could hear a good sermon. Two places were mentioned. “Well,” said he, “tell me the characters of the preachers, that I may choose.” “Mr. D--,” said his friend, “exhibits the orator, and is much admired for his pulpit eloquence.” “And what is the other?” “Why, I hardly know what to say of Mr. C--; he always throws himself in the background, and you see his Master only.” “That’s the man for me, then,” said the amiable Pearce; “let us go and hear him.” (W. Baxendale.)

Gifts differ

A violet shed its modest beauties at the turfy foot of an old oak. It lived there many days during the kind summer in obscurity. The winds and the rains came and fell, but they did not hurt the violet. Storms often crashed among the boughs of the oak. And one day said the oak, “Are you not ashamed of yourself when you look up at me, you little thing down there, when you see now large I am and how small you are; when you see how small a space you fill, and how widely my branches are spread?” “No,” said the violet; “we are both where God has placed us; and God has given us both something. He has given to you strength, to me sweetness; and I offer Him back my fragrance, and I am thankful!” “Sweetness is all nonsense,” said the oak; “a few days--a month at most--where and what will you be? You will die, and the place of your grave will not lift the ground higher by a blade of grass. I hope to stand some time--ages perhaps; and then, when I am cut down, I shall be a ship, to bear men over the sea, or a coffin to hold the dust of a prince. What is your lot to mine?” “But,” cheerfully breathed the violet back, “we are both what God made us, and we are both where He placed us. I suppose I shall die soon. I hope to die fragrantly, as I have lived fragrantly. You must be cut down at last; it does not matter, that I see, a few days or a few ages, my littleness or your largeness; it comes to the same thing at last. We are what God made us. We are where God placed us. God gave you strength; God gave me sweetness.” (W. Baxendale.)

All gifts come from God

In the year 1808, a grand performance of the “Creation” took place at Vienna. Haydn was present, but he was so old and feeble that he had to be wheeled in a chair into the theatre, where a princess of the house of Esterhazy took her seat by his side. This was the last time that Haydn appeared in public, and a very impressive sight it must have been to see the aged father of music listening to the “Creation” of his younger days, but too old to take any active share in the performance. The presence of the old man roused intense enthusiasm among the audience, which could no longer be suppressed as the chorus and orchestra burst in fall power upon the superb passage, “And there was light.” Amid the tumult of the enraptured audience the old composer was seen striving to raise himself. Once on his feet, he mustered up all his strength, and in reply to the applause of the audience, he cried out as loud as he was able. “No, no! not from me, but,” pointing to heaven, “from thence--from heaven above--comes all!” saying which, he fell back in his chair, faint and exhausted, and had to be carried out of the room. (Frederick Crowest.)

The Christian’s personal duty towards the gospel

Every Christian hath his talent given him, his service enjoined him. The gospel is a depositum, a public treasure, committed to the keeping of every Christian; each man having, as it were, a several key of the Church, a several trust for the honour of this kingdom delivered unto him. As, in the solemn coronation of the prince, every peer of the realm hath his station about the throne, and with touch of his hand upon the royal crown, declareth the personal duty of that honour, which he is called unto, namely, to hold on the crown on the head of his sovereign; to make it the main end of his greatness, to study, and by all means endeavour, the establishment of his prince’s throne; so every Christian, as soon as he hath the honour to be called unto the kingdom and presence of Christ, hath immediately no meaner a depositum committed to his care than the very throne and crown of his Saviour, than the public honour, peace, victory, and stability of his Master’s kingdom. (Bishop Reynolds.)


Verse 8

Ephesians 3:8

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Unsearchable riches offered to the Gentiles

It is evident from Scripture that God never intended that the privileges of adoption into His family and kingdom should be permanently confined to any particular nation. It is evident that the promise was originally given to Abraham, as the father of all them that believe, and not as a promise to be restricted to those who should be his posterity according to the flesh. And, although our Saviour’s personal ministry was limited almost entirely to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He Himself expressly asserted that He had “other sheep” who were “not of that fold”--that “them also He must bring” within the sacred enclosure--and that, after a time, there would thus be but “one fold and one Shepherd.”

I. How humble He was. He considered himself “less than the least of all saints.” There was no affectation of humility here; the apostle felt as he wrote. Once he made his boast of the law, and relied on his own righteousness; now he felt that the law condemned him, and that the righteousness of Christ must be his only plea. Brethren, have you never persecuted Jesus in the persons of His saints? Have you never sneered at what the world calls the over strictness of His true disciples? Have you never treated individuals among them with scorn and derision? Have you never espoused the cause and followed the example of Christ’s enemies?

II. How catholic he was. “Unto me is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles.” He rejoiced that God had given him this grace, conferred upon him this favour, distinguished him by this honour. He was, par excellence, the apostle of the Gentiles, and he gloried in the distinction. His Jewish prejudices had melted away like wreaths of night mist at the rising of the sun. His Christian sympathies now embraced the whole family of man; he was now as catholic as he had formerly been bigoted. Whether among the philosophers of Athens, or the sensualists of Corinth whether among the worshippers of Diana at Ephesus, or the worshippers of Jupiter at Lystra--whether among Jews in their synagogues, or among Gentiles in their market places--Paul preached a free and full gospel, declaring that it was the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believed, and that now God called on all men everywhere to repent. One effect of the Holy Spirit’s teaching was, to enable him to contemplate mankind from a higher point of view, and with a wider range of vision, as all the offspring of one heavenly Father, against whom they had rebelled, and to whom now they might be reconciled. Brethren, let us beware against cherishing in the Christian Church a spirit of Jewish exclusiveness. It is begotten of ignorance and pride, and kept alive by a spurious zeal “not according to knowledge.”

III. How he valued the gospel. He calls it “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” If men believed that the gospel could lead to “unsearchable riches,” how anxious they would be to inquire into it, and to appropriate its benefits! See how St. Paul valued the gospel. He valued it because he had experienced the blessedness of being at peace with God through Christ; he valued it because it gave him a foretaste of heaven here, and the sure prospect of heaven hereafter; he valued it because he had found in it what a sinner ought to prize more than ten thousand worlds--“the unsearchable riches of Christ,” a treasury of wisdom, a bank of merit, a storehouse of rewards, from which the soul may continue to draw throughout eternity, without exhausting, or even diminishing the supply; for in Christ there is infinite “fulness,” in Him “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead. (J. Mackay, B. D.)

Paul’s humility and zeal a pattern for Christians

I. Let us observe what he says of himself. “I am less than the least of all saints.” However high religion may rise in the superstructure, it always lays the foundation very low, in the deepest self-abasement. And those of you who have passed through the process, well know that the day of conviction is a day of self-annihilation. I believe, that if there be one word that will comprehend more than another the substance of genuine religion, it will be found to be “humility.” For which reason, we presume, our great reformer, Luther, when he was asked, “What is the first step in religion?” replied, “Humility.” “What is the second?” he replied, “Humility.” “What is the third?” he replied, “Humility.” And does not the language of the Apostle Peter correspond with this, when he says, “Be ye clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Abraham said, “I am but dust and ashes”; Jacob--“I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies”; Job--“Behold I am vile, what shall I answer thee?” Isaiah--“Woe is me, for I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips”; Peter--“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”; John, the forerunner of the Saviour--“Whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” A few words, however, will be here necessary, by way of elucidation, or rather qualification.

1. I hope you will not consider this character of Paul, as the offspring of falsehood and affectation. Christians have often been ridiculed for depreciating themselves. The case is this: where show is a substitute for reality it is always excessive. Actors always surpass the original characters. Some people angle for praise with the bait of humility; I hope you will never be caught by it. Adams, in his “Private Thoughts,” with that searchingness of spirit so peculiar to him, says, “O Lord, I want more humility. And why do I want it? To be noticed and admired for it. Ah, my God, I see that my humility is very little better than pride.” Baxter observes that he had always considered Judge Hale defective with regard to experimental religion; “But,” says he, “the cause was, he had witnessed so much pretence and hypocrisy during the Commonwealth, that he rushed into the opposite extreme.” Remember that Paul here speaks from his real views and feelings, when he says, “I am less than the least of all saints?” And you will observe also on what he fixes his eye in this comparative depreciation of himself. “I am less,” says he, “than the least of all saints.” “Saints” means “holy ones”; it is therefore of holiness of which he speaks; not of his condition, not of his natural talents, not of his learning, not of his knowledge, but of holiness. “Let each esteem other better than himself.” The maxim will not apply universally; to use it in some cases would be folly. It would be absurdity, not humility, for a strong and healthy man to esteem a weak, sick one, as more able to do many things than himself; or for a wealthy man to suppose that a poor man is richer than himself; or a scholar to suppose that an illiterate man is wiser than himself. But it is otherwise with regard to holiness: there you never should presume in your own favour; never suppose that another exercises less self-denial or conscientiousness than yourselves. He may have imperfections, but those imperfections may have extenuations which may not attach to your deficiencies. In a word, you only see the actions of another; whereas you may feed upon your own motives and principles.

II. Observe what he says of his office. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach.” Augustine calls Paul “the herald of grace.” He well deserves the name; he is always magnifying it; never loses sight of it for a moment. He connects it, you see, with everything. He connects it with his conversion, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was exceeding abundant to me-ward.” He connects it with his conversation in the world, “Not by fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God we have our conversation in the world.” He connects it with his unparalleled exertions: “I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” He connects it with his functions: “Unto me, who am less than the least; of all saints, is this grace given.” What grace is there here? What do princes when they want ministers, or masters when they want servants? They will be sure to take those who seem the most meritorious, and who already possess the qualities and excellences they require in them. Why? Because if they have them not, they cannot impart them. God can; and therefore, in calling His servants He also qualifies them; and therefore frequently takes the most unsuitable and the most inadequate, in order to show that the excellency of the power is of God, and not of man. When the apostle says, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given,” he shows the estimation in which he held the work in which he was engaged. And, my brethren, though the ministry has been degraded and rendered despicable by many who have been attached to it; yet; in itself the work is honourable and glorious; and they who properly discharge it, as the apostle says, ought to be “highly esteemed in love, for their works’ sake.”

III. Let us observe what he says of his audience. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles”; not exclusively, but immediately, extensively, and peculiarly. And there is something remarkable and worthy of notice in this. And here you see in the apostle’s case the nature of the Christian dispensation. You will observe that the Christian dispensation did not properly commence till the death of Christ. Accordingly during His abode on earth He was the Minister of the circumcision only. And when He sent forth the apostles and the seventy, He said, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But upon His resurrection from the dead, when this glorious economy had actually commenced, His language and His commission was conformable to it; then said He to them, “Go into all the world, and teach the gospel to every creature.” There is nothing, therefore, in the Christian dispensation like that of Judaism. Judaism was of Divine origin: but then it was exclusive; it was confined, and it was necessarily confined, to a particular nation. In the nature of the case it never could have become a universal religion. How could all the males in all the countries of the earth have repaired three times a your to Jerusalem, to appear before the Lord and to worship there? Christianity has no localities; our Saviour said to the woman, “The hour cometh, yea, now is, when neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem (exclusively) shall men worship the Father; but all shall worship Him in spirit and in truth.” The gospel therefore overlooks everything that is external and adventitious in men’s condition, and regards them as men only.

IV. Observe what he says of his subject. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;” the model after which all ministers should be conformed; all of us should be able to make use of the same language with them. They could say, “We preach not heathen virtues, not Jewish economies, not moral systems, not worldly politics, not Church discipline, not the difference in forms and modes of worship; we have a noble theme. We leave nature to the philosophers; our philosophy is to know ‘God manifest in the flesh.’ We leave the planets to astronomers; our astronomy is to teach people to adore ‘the bright and morning Star,’ to adore ‘the Sun of Righteousness,’ rising with healing under His wings. We leave geometry to the mathematicians; our geometry is to teach people ‘to comprehend with all saints, what is the height, and depth, and length, and breadth, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge’; our arithmetics to teach men ‘so to number their days, as to apply their hearts unto wisdom.’ We leave criticism and language to the rhetoricians, concerned only to be skilled in the language of Canaan, and to speak according to the living oracles of God. ‘We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord’; ‘We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them which are called both Jew and Greek, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.’“ The world has its riches, but they are easily comprehended; and Solomon summed them all up when he said, “Vanity of vanities; vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.” All the wealth of the world, all the world calls good and great, is infinitely inferior to mind. I say to mind. The riches of the Saviour are for the soul, and for eternity; they are therefore invisible as to the senses; and they are boundless too, so that no creature in heaven or earth can ever fully explore them. (W. Jay.)

The ministry of the Apostle Paul

I. Let us cursorily glance at the character of St. Paul as here described. “Me, who am less than the least of all saints.”

1. The description which the apostle here gives us of his character must not, on any account, encourage the idea that personal piety can be dispensed with in a Christian minister.

2. The description which St. Paul here gives us of his character may teach us that, even where an individual is a decided and distinguished saint, the level which he occupies as a religious man may be, in some sense, comparatively low. The circumstance which may be regarded as having mainly contributed to lower the apostle’s place in the catalogue of the saints was this, that he spent so large and important a portion of his life in pursuits that were not only alien from the gospel of Christ, but fiercely opposed to His kingdom and His cause. But there is also another principle which determines the comparative place which a particular believer occupies in the scale of Christian saintship, namely, the amount of his actual attainments. And oh, to whatever extent St. Paul may have able to abide this searching test, what a humiliating view might it give, if fairly applied, of a multitude of saints! How many of those who obtain the character, and with sufficient reason, of enlightened and devoted Christians, are, if contemplated in the light of their religious advantages, but faint and feeble after all!

3. The description which St. Paul here gives of himself, as “less than the least of all saints,” may serve as a model of humility.

II. Let us glance at the functions which St. Paul was called to execute. “That I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God.”

1. St. Paul was called to “preach.” The original word here rendered “preach,” means to be the messenger of good tidings. It is a verb corresponding to the substantive translated “gospel.” The apostle, then, was to announce the gospel--a message to which the name of good tidings may be attached, both because of its essential character as a record of God’s pardoning and saving mercy, and because of its relative character as “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” O blessed and delightful view of the apostle’s ministry! He had a gospel to declare.

2. St. Paul was called to “preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The expression, “riches of Christ,” comprehensively denotes the personal excellence and mediatorial sufficiency of Jesus. There are seven constituent elements more especially in “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” which, in the name and by the authority of God, the apostle preached.

3. St. Paul was called to preach these riches “among the Gentiles.”

4. The apostle was commissioned “to make all men see what was the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God.”

III. Let us very briefly notice the source to which St. Paul attributes his possession of the ministerial office. “Unto me is this grace given.”

1. To his God and Saviour the apostle attributes his possession of the ministerial office; and well might he do so. From them he received his commission to preach the gospel (Acts 9:15; Acts 13:2).

2. The apostle’s words suggest that to hold the office of the ministry is a privilege. (A. S. Patterson.)

The apostle and his ministry

I. consider what an humble opinion the apostle had of himself. True religion in the heart will produce self-abasing thoughts.

II. The apostle expresses his admiring apprehensions of God’s grace in calling him to the ministry.

III. The apostle’s elevated sentiments concerning the gospel which he preached.

1. The blessings of the gospel, being purchased by the blood of Christ, are called “riches.”

2. They have called “riches” on account of their excellency, fulness, and variety.

3. They are called “unsearchable riches,” because undiscoverable by human wisdom, and made known only by revelation.

IV. Consider what grand and enlarged conceptions the apostle entertained of the design and importance of his ministry. Concluding reflections.

1. This subject may serve to enlarge our views of the Divine government.

2. This subject suggests to us, that heaven is a place of improvement.

3. We see the humility of angels. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

The ministry and message of St. Paul

I. The man. His humility! The bird that sings sweetest, and soars highest, builds upon the ground. The flower of richest fragrance is the lowly violet. So humility is the fairest of Christian graces. Notice St. Paul’s growth in this. He calls himself successively--

1. The least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9).

2. Less than the least of all saints (Ephesians 3:8).

3. The chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

II. The ministry he had received. Its excellence in contrast with his own conscious unworthiness. The treasure on the one hand--the earthen vessel on the other,

1. This ministry a grace given to him. All work for Christ should be so regarded. Accepted as a privilege it ceases to be a task.

2. The grace given. St. Paul’s special work as the apostle of the Gentiles. The gathering in of the Jews the difficulty in many minds now; the gathering in of the Gentiles the difficulty then. Duty of the Church as regards missions.

III. The message. Good tidings.

1. Christ: the substance and life of all true preaching.

2. The riches of Christ. Favourite expression of the apostle. Riches of Christ’s grace (Ephesians 1:7). Riches of Christ’s glory (Ephesians 3:16).

3. Unsearchable riches. Not traced out (Greek); but now revealed. (F. Dobbin, M. A.)

St. Paul’s lowly estimate of himself

I am sure Paul was never guilty of mock modesty, and never pretended to be humbler than he really was. At suitable times he could vindicate himself, and claim his position among his fellow men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Self-knowledge humiliates

Was Paul really less than the least of all saints? Was not this too low an estimate of himself? Brethren, I suppose he meant that he felt this to be the case when he looked at himself from certain aspects. He was one of the late converts, many of his comrades were in Christ before him, and he yielded precedence to the older ones. He had been aforetime a persecutor and injurious, and, though God had forgiven him, he had never forgiven himself; and when he recollected his share in the sufferings and martyrdom of the saints, he felt that, though now numbered among them, he could only dare to sit in the lowliest place. Besides, any devout man, however eminent he may be in most respects, will find that there are certain other points in which he falls short; and the apostle, instead of looking at the points in which he excelled, singled out with modest eye those qualities in which he felt he failed, and in those respects he put himself down as “less than the least of all saints.” This strikes us as being a very different mode of speech from that which is adopted by certain brethren. One friend asserts that he has ceased from known sin for some months; and then another brother, to go a little further, asserts that the very being of sin in him has been destroyed, root and branch; of which I believe in both cases not one single word. If those brethren had said that they were sixteen feet high, that their eyes were solid diamonds, and that their hair was Prussian blue, I should feel towards them very much as I do now. They simply do not know themselves, and the best article of furniture they could have in their houses would be a looking glass which would let them see their own selves; if they had once had such a sight, I warrant you they would sing another tune, pitched to a far lower key. Many who now shine in the highest places of self-estimation, will one day be glad enough to sit at the feet of the poorest of the saints, unless I am greatly mistaken; for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The humility of St. Paul

I. In what did the humility of St. Paul consist? How did it manifest itself? The slightest acquaintance with his character leaves us no room to suspect that it consisted in words only. There is such an appearance of simplicity and honesty in his writings, that they give us at once a full conviction that the humility which appears in his language, was to be found also in his heart and life.

1. We cannot take even the most hasty glance at these, without at once noticing the entire submission of his mind to the gospel of Christ, the simple and full reception which he gave to every Divine truth.

2. The writings of St. Paul prove the greatness of his humility by showing us also, that the highest spiritual attainments could not make him forget his meanness and guilt.

3. The sense which the apostle had of his own sinfulness, did not however prevent him from seeing and acknowledging what Divine grace had done for his soul, and what it had enabled him to do for God. He sometimes mentions these things, but he never mentions them without affording us another proof of his lowliness of heart--a marked anxiety to give all the glory of all his labours and attainments to God.

4. His humility was manifested also in the low opinion which he had of himself, when compared with his Christian brethren. He speaks not, in the text, the unmeaning language of compliment, but the language of godly sincerity.

5. The humility of St. Paul consisted, lastly, in his simple dependence on Christ.

II. By what means that spirit of self-abasement which reigned in his heart may be habitually maintained in our own. Now let us never forget that we have no power in ourselves to do anything as of ourselves. We are not able to plant a single grace within us; and when any spiritual seed has been planted there, we have no power to keep it alive, and cause it to bring forth fruit. But though we are thus impotent in ourselves, the Holy Spirit generally works His purposes of grace by the use of means, and through these means He allows, yea, He commands, us to seek His grace.

1. One of these means must immediately occur to us; it is this--a frequent remembrance of our former iniquities, and an abiding sense of our present corruptions. Remember, Christian brethren, what you once were.

2. If we would habitually maintain an humble frame of mind, we must have a lively sense of the freeness and fulness of Divine mercy. Think of its beginning in the councils of eternity. Think of its freeness, its greatness, its unchangeableness. Think of that depth of misery from which it has raised you, and of that height of blessedness to which it is gradually lifting you. If such thoughts as these never humble you, write bitter things against yourselves, and deem yourselves strangers to the grace of Christ.

3. The Christian will also find his humility increased by frequently meditating on the infinite purity and majesty of the living God (see Isaiah 6:5; Job 42:6; Job 42:6).

4. A due sense of the great importance of an humble spirit will also have a tendency to keep us low in our own eyes. The grace of humility is not a merely ornamental grace, a something which it is desirable, but not absolutely necessary, to possess. It lies at the very root of all true religion. It is the source from which almost every spiritual grace must spring. Where this is wanting, everything is wanting.

5. If we would become more lowly in heart, we must, finally, look more to Christ than we have hitherto looked to Him. We must look to Him for humility. “We must regard Him as our only Sanctifier, as well as our only Saviour. We must apply to Him to subdue the pride of our hearts, as well as to blot out their sins. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

The subject and spirit of the Christian ministry

This passage is an humble, grateful, and exulting recognition of the sovereign, distinguishing grace of God, which had called, commissioned, and qualified him for the ministry of the gospel, for the defence of which he was now set, and on account of which he was then in bonds; and it presents a statement of the wondrous theme, the grand design, and the appropriate character of the Christian ministry.

I. The distinguishing and comprehensive theme of the Christian ministry--“the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The phraseology is singularly expressive and affluent. The sentiment is in perfect accord with every avowal of the apostle, and with other statements of the Word of God. The Lord Jesus Christ in His person and work--His attributes and offices--His sufferings and glory--His cross and crown--what He is in Himself and what He is to us, and to the whole universe of God, is the one all-absorbing and exhaustless topic of Divine revelation and apostolic discourse. The expression “riches of Christ” is a peculiar Pauline phrase, indicating the most exuberant and exhaustless profusion. It denotes whatever is grand and abundant, substantial and permanent, admirable and desirable; and may be applied either to the personal glories pertaining to Christ, or to official blessings bestowed by Him. All spiritual riches are His, and ours only in Him. They flow from Him as their source, and through Him as their channel. Purchased by His blood, obtained by His intercession, supplied by His Spirit, they become ours only as we are united to Him by a living faith.

II. The high character and humble spirit of the Christian ministry. In view of the momentous mysterious truths, the grand comprehensive design, and the wonderful inconceivable results of the gospel of Christ, we are constrained to ask who is worthy to open the book and break the seal of such a Divine mystery. Not one of the shining seraphs before the throne would dare self-impelled to say, “Let me fly”; yet it has pleased the God of all wisdom and grace to entrust the Divine mission to human agency, to put the treasure into earthen vessels. It is through the sanctified agency of human sympathy, and the earnestness of human conviction, “testifying of the gospel of the grace of God,” and proclaiming in simplicity and sincerity “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” that the world is to be enlightened and saved. The Christian minister must be saved and sent.

1. Saved. The first and indispensable qualification of a minister of the gospel is, that he be personally a subject of its saving power, a saint, though in his own estimation one of the least.

2. Sent--grace given; made a minister. The manner of the apostle’s call was as strikingly supernatural as his work was distinctively peculiar; and no minister can expect such a personal commission, or such a Divine revelation. Yet to all, as to him, the commission and necessity to preach comes from the Lord--the authority and ability are both imparted. The man who feels he has a message from God to deliver, full of meaning as it is full of power, is fearless as a prophet, and brave as an apostle. He has comfort in his work, is confident of its success, and assured of its triumph. (W. Ormiston, D. D.)

Humility of greatness

On his way to Sweden the celebrated Grotius was overtaken by mortal sickness; and when the clergyman, Quinstorp, reminded him of his sins on the one hand, and on the other, not of his services and worldwide reputation, but the grace of God in Christ Jesus, with a reference to the publican--“I am that publican,” replied Grotius, and then expired. Hooker, the author of the “Ecclesiastical Polity,” one of the noblest books in the language, after he had been made preacher at the Temple Church, besought Archbishop Whitgift, who had given him that position, to remove him to a lowlier sphere of labour.

Great saints are lowly

When Mr. Morrison, the Missionary to China, needed an assistant, Mr. Milne, afterwards the celebrated Dr. Milne, offered himself. As soon as the examiners had talked with him, they saw that his heart was right enough, but he had a clownish look, and a dullness of expression; when the youth was gone out of the room, one of the examiners said, “He is scarcely a proper person to send, we need a man of greater intellect.” At last they agreed that they had better send him as a servant, the servant of the mission, to do the work of the household, clean Dr. Morrison’s boots, and such like things, I suppose. So Dr. Phillip was requested to communicate this to him, and he told him that the committee did not feel he was qualified to go as a missionary, would he mind going as a servant? The youth’s eye sparkled, and he said, “It is too much honour for me even if I am but a hewer of wood and a drawer of water for the Lord my God.” And thus he went forth, and afterwards, as you know, became one of the most useful of missionaries. How many a man would have said, “Gentle, men, I did not come for that; this is treating me with a want of respect. Surely you do not know who I am, or else you would not suppose for a moment that I would be willing to be a mere drudge and menial servant!” They know not the Lord who only desire His service for the honour which it brings; but they have their hearts right before Him who want no honour for themselves, but only desire that His name may be extolled above the hills, that He may be made famous. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The missionary calling

Few men are so great as St. Paul. Few know even the names of other men of his time. Emperors and great men, their kingdoms and languages, are all perished. But his name and his power is as fresh as ever. The science of today lowers all human power, but raises the intellect and the spirit. It raises the kings of the spirit rather than the body, and amongst these St. Paul. The more a man can grasp, the more important becomes his fate. Not the body, so small. Not the earthly life, so short. But the being which can see further than the eye, and look on, and back, and before, and beyond even the earth itself. Wisdom for this life is a goad thing, and well rewarded. Wisdom that sees through nature is a great thing, and we are proud of those who have it. There is a wisdom beyond either. Of what use is it to grow rich and die? to know all things, and be the victim of remorse, or of evil passions that will not let the soul rest? Our perfections are the reflections of God’s perfections. He is Almighty and Omniscient, and the strong and knowing are good. He is all Good and all Merciful, and the reflection of these attributes is better than knowledge or strength. He is a benefactor to mankind who makes grass grow where it never grew before. He was, who made the first almanac. But he is much more so who first declared “the unsearchable riches” of God.

I. The highest calling is that of a missionary. St. Paul is the great pattern missionary, and, therefore, the greatest figure in history. It is necessary thus to raise our thoughts, in order to think rightly of missionary work. I do not ask your charity to give a trifle to a poor missionary or to a poor heathen. But I ask you to consider what is the greatest and noblest work in the world, and in charity to yourselves to take a part in it. It was the greatest glory of St. Paul that he was called to take a part in it. He did not condescend to it, but it to him. We know how hopelessly it tangles a work to begin at the wrong end. So it is, if we look upon missions as what we benefit, and not as what benefit us.

II. Duties come to us in many shapes and with many sanctions.

1. This comes to us as a “grace.” St. Paul accepted the duty as a grace, a gift, and using it as such is great. So accepting our duties we turn them to our profit.

2. And this grace comes to us as Christians. Christ has given Himself to us, that we should share His character and His work.

3. It comes to us peculiarly as Englishmen. The nation whose rule is so wide, that other nations come to evangelize our possessions, and reap a part of our reward. The question before us is, how is the highest work of man to be done? It is God’s work, and in His own time will be done. But, by us? or, by whom?

III. Here are both honour and profit that are our own.

1. The honour to work God’s own work, who is the true fountain of honour.

2. The profit, which transcends the profit that fills men’s minds, as heaven does earth, and eternity does a man’s life. What is there more noble than to give one’s whole power and life to pure benevolence? And what reward greater than the eternal company of those who owe these blessings to us? To us all is this grace given. Take your part--if you cannot in body, at least in heart; if not your life, at least offer of your gains for this greatest and holiest of callings. (Bishop E. Steere.)

The grace given to Paul

The enthusiasm with which the apostle speaks of preaching the gospel to the heathen is contagious. His words burn on the page, and our hearts take fire as we read them. What was the secret of this exultation in the gospel and in his commission to make the gospel known to all mankind?

1. Paul had a vivid intellectual interest in the Christian gospel. To him it was a real revelation of the most wonderful and surprising truths concerning God and the relations of God to the human race. It urged his intellectual posers to their most strenuous activity. It never lost its freshness. It was never exhausted. Its boundaries were always advancing. In all the great movements of religious reform that have permanently elevated the religious life of Christendom, there has been a renewal of intellectual interest in the Christian revelation. Some forgotten aspects of the gospel have been recovered; the theological definitions which had for a generation or two been a sufficient expression of the results at which human speculation had arrived concerning the great facts of revelation have been challenged and discredited, and the mind of the Church has been brought into immediate contact with the facts themselves; the methods which had determined the construction of theological systems have become obsolete, and the work of reconstruction has tasked the genius and the learning of the leaders of Christian thought; the central principles of the gospel have received new applications to individual conduct and to the organization of social life; in all these ways a fresh and keen intellectual interest has been excited in Christian truth, and the intellectual interest has deepened moral and spiritual earnestness.

2. The heart and imagination of Paul were filled with the infinite and eternal blessings which were the inheritance of the human race in Christ. For human sin there was the Divine forgiveness. For human weakness in its baffled attempts to emancipate itself from the tyranny of evil habits and evil passions there was Divine redemption. For human uncertainty and doubt in the presence of the great problems of life and death there was the illumination of the Spirit and free access to God. For restless discontent at the limitations of human virtue there was the possibility of a transcendent righteousness through union with the life of the eternal Son of God. Paul believed in “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” We shall never recover his enthusiasm as long as we dwell chiefly on the external and incidental benefits which follow the acceptance of the Christian gospel. As a Christian minister at home I decline to have the value of my work estimated by the extent to which it lightens the work of the police, and diminishes the cost to the ratepayers and the nation of maintaining workhouses and jails. As an advocate of Christian missions to the heathen, I decline to have the value of missionary faith and heroism measured by the annual value of the new markets in Africa and the Pacific for English hardware and cotton goods. Give to every cluster of miserable huts in Central Africa and in the islands of the South Pacific, the material wealth and splendour of the foremost cities of Europe; transform their savage chiefs into cultivated statesmen; let their people be trained to discuss the philosophy of Plato and to admire the majesty of the genius of AEschylus; let them become famous for their brilliant discoveries in science, let them create a literature with an original grace, beauty, and dignity; and all this would be as nothing compared with what you have done for them, in bringing them home to God, in assuring them of the tenderness and strength of the love of the Father whom they had forgotten, in opening to them the fountains of eternal life and eternal righteousness, in making them the heirs of eternal glory. This was Paul’s faith, and this faith was, in fact, the source of his invincible energy and his passionate enthusiasm. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Ministerial humility and zeal

How the apostle could say he was the least of all saints. Because for Christ a servant of all saints; also because of his base intreaty from men. Moreover, he saw more clearly his own corruption than that of others; and the true speech follows the true apprehension. Boughs most ]laden with fruit bow more than the empty.

1. The most excellent men must think submissively of themselves.

2. A great favour of God to be called to the ministry.

3. To abase ourselves is the way to extol God’s grace.

4. Ministers of the gospel bring good tidings to men.

5. Ministers must principally preach Christ Jesus.

6. None are able to come to the full knowledge of Christ. “Unsearchable riches.” The veins of this mine are never worked out. (Paul Bayne.)

Humility of a minister

Doctor Durham, of the Scottish Presbyterians, and a popular young minister, were walking together to their several places of worship, situated near to each other, into one of which multitudes crowded, while but few entered the other. “Brother,” said the Doctor to his young friend, “You will have a crowded church today.” The other replied, “They are to blame who leave you and come to us.” “Not so,” replied the Doctor, “for a minister can receive no such honour and success in his ministry, except it be given him from heaven. I rejoice that Christ is preached, and that His kingdom is gaining ground, though my estimation in people’s hearts should decrease; for I am content to be anything, so that Christ may be all in all.”

The unsearchable riches of Christ.

The unsearchable riches of Christ

The Apostle Paul felt it to be a great privilege to be allowed to preach the gospel. He did not look upon his calling as a drudgery, or a servitude, but he entered upon it with intense delight. If a herald were sent to a besieged city with the tidings that no terms of capitulation would be offered, but that every rebel without exception should be put to death, methinks he would go with lingering footsteps; but if instead thereof, he were commissioned to go to the gates with the white flag to proclaim a free pardon, a general act of amnesty and oblivion, surely he would run as though he had wings to his heels, with a joyful alacrity, to tell to his fellow citizens the good pleasure of their merciful king. Heralds of salvation, ye carry the most joyful of all messages to the sons of men.

I. The person mentioned--Jesus Christ. Do not many preachers make a great mistake by preaching doctrine instead of preaching the Saviour? Certainly the doctrines are to be preached, but they ought to be looked upon as the robes and vestments of the man Christ Jesus, and not as complete in themselves. The doctrines of the gospel are a golden throne upon which Jesus sits, as king. In the old romance, they tell us that at the gate of a certain noble hall there hung a horn, and none could blow that horn but the true heir to the castle and its wide domains. Many tried it. They could make sweet music on other instruments; they could wake the echoes by other bugles; but that horn was mute, let them blow as they might. At last, the true heir came, and when he set his lips to the horn, shrill was the sound and indisputable his claim. He who can preach Christ is the true minister. Brethren, the Christian minister should be like these golden spring flowers which we are so glad to see. Have you observed them when the sun is shining? How they open their golden cups, and each one whispers to the great sun, “Fill me with thy beams!” but when the sun is hidden behind a cloud, where are they? They close their cups and droop their heads. So should the Christian feel the sweet influences of Jesus; so especially should the Christian minister be subject to his Lord. Jesus must be his sun, and he must be the flower which yields itself to the Sun of Righteousness. Happy would it be for us if our hearts and our lips could become like Anacreon’s harp, which was wedded to one subject, and would learn no ether. He wished to sing of the sons of Atreus, and the mighty deeds of Hercules, but his harp resounded love alone; and when he would have sung of Cadmus, his harp refused it would sing of love alone. Oh! to speak of Christ alone--to be tied and bound to this one theme forever; to speak alone of Jesus, and of the amazing love of the glorious Son of God, who, “though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor.” This is the subject which is both “seed for the sower, and bread for the eater.” This is the live coal for the lip of the preacher, and the master key to the heart of the hearer.

II. The unsearchable riches spoken of in the text. In what respects may we ascribe to our Lord Jesus the possession of unsearchable riches?

1. He has unsearchable riches of love for sinners as they are. Jesus so loved the souls of men that we can only use the “so,” but we cannot find the word to match with it. In the French Revolution, there was a young man condemned to the guillotine, and shut up in one of the prisons. He was greatly loved by many, but there was one who loved him more than all put together. How know we this? It was his own father; and the love he bore his son was proved in this way: when the lists were called, the father, whose name was exactly the same as his son’s, answered to the name, and the father rode in the gloomy tumbril out to the place of execution, and his head rolled beneath the axe instead of his son’s, a victim to mighty love. An image of the love of Christ to sinners; thus Jesus died for the ungodly, viewed as such.

2. Jesus has riches of pardon for those who repent of their sins. No guiltiness can possibly transcend the efficacy of His precious blood. The gospel of Christ is meant for the lowest of the low. There is no den where the Saviour cannot work; there is no loathsome haunt of sin too foul for Him to cleanse. The heathen fabled of their Hercules that he cleansed the Augean stables by turning a river through them, and so washing away the filth of ages; if your heart be such a stable, Christ is greater than the mightiest Hercules--He can cause the river of His cleansing blood to flow right through your heart, and your iniquities, though they are a heap of abominations, shall be put away forever. Riches of love to sinners as such, and riches of pardon to sinners who repent, are stored up in the Lord Jesus.

3. Christ has riches of comfort for all who mourn.

4. He has riches of wisdom. The desire to know has sent men roving over all the world, but he who finds Jesus may stay at home and be wise. If you sit at His feet, you shall know what Plato could not teach you, and what Socrates never learned. When the old schoolmen could not answer and defend a proposition, they were wont to say, “I will go to Aristotle: he shall help me out.” If you do but learn of Christ, He shall help you out of all difficulties; and that which is most useful for your soul to know, the knowledge, which will last you in eternity, Christ shall teach to you.

5. My Master has riches of happiness to bestow upon you. After all, he is the rich man who wears heart’s ease in his button hole. The man who can say, “I have enough,” is richer than the peer of the realm who is discontented. Believe me, my Lord can make you to lie down in green pastures, and lead you beside still waters. There is no music like the music of His pipe, when He is the Shepherd and you are the sheep, and: you lie down at His feet. There is no love like His, neither earth nor heaven can match it.

6. The unsearchable riches of Christ will be best known in eternity.

III. Lastly, there must have been a royal intention in the heart of Christ in sending out Paul to preach of His unsearchable riches, because every man must have a motive for what he does, and beyond all question, Jesus Christ has a motive. Did you ever hear of a man who employed a number of persons to go about to proclaim his riches, and call hundreds of people together, and thousands, as on this occasion, simply to tell them that So-and-so was very rich? Why, the crowds would say, “What is that to us?” But if at the conclusion, the messenger could say, “But all these riches he presents to you, and whoever among you shall desire to be made rich, can be enriched now by him.” Ah! then you would say, “Now we see the sense of it. Now we perceive the gracious drift of it all.” Now, my Lord Jesus Christ is very strong, but all that strength is pledged to help a poor weak sinner to enter into heaven.

1. How rich must those be who have Christ for a friend! They who get Christ to be their own property are like the man who, having long eaten of fruit from a certain tree, was no longer satisfied with having the fruit, but he must needs take up the tree and plant it in his own garden. Happy those who have Christ planted as the tree of life in the soil of their hearts! You not only have His grace, and His love, and His merit, but you have Himself.

2. How transcendently foolish, on the other hand, must those be who will not have Christ when He is to be had for the asking! who prefer the baubles and the bubbles of this world, and let the solid gold of eternity go by! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The true riches

I. One of the gifts which Christ bestows upon us out of the unsearchable riches of His grace and love, is the forgiveness of our sins.

II. Another gift which Christ bestows, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” “To be spiritually minded” means to have our thoughts and affections, our hearts and minds, changed by the Holy Spirit of God. Rich, then, is he with the truest riches, in whose heart God’s Holy Spirit dwells and is not driven away.

III. Nor are these all the gifts out of Christ’s unsearchable riches. He promises to His people enough to carry them through this world, where they are but strangers and travellers; and He plainly tells us, that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, other things, as far as is good for us, shall be added.

IV. But Christ keeps his richest gifts to the last. It is after death that He bestows on them that love Him the full cup of salvation, the everlasting blessedness of heaven (1 John 3:2). (E. Blencowe, M. A.)

The unsearchable riches of Christ

I. Paul preached “riches.” This word represents three things--value, abundance, and supply. Let us look briefly at these three things.

1. He exhibited to the Gentiles that which is truly and supremely valuable--valuable to a man’s whole nature--valuable for the life which now is, and for that which is to come--that which God by everything that He has said concerning it, and by all that He has done concerning it, recognizes as supremely valuable.

2. He preached also abundance--not something valuable, but much--not competency, but wealth--as much as a man needs--more than we could ask or think--such abundance as that it does not diminish with scattering--such abundance as that it does not perish with using--water, it is true, but not water in cisterns which may become leaky, or a short supply which will soon be exhausted; but water in fountains, even living water, everlasting water, outflowing water.

3. Now you may have value without abundance; you may have abundance without value; you may have value and abundance without supply: but here, brethren, is value, abundance, and supply. The value, the precious thing existing in abundance, is abundantly supplied. Paul preached therefore not only that which he knew to be supremely valuable and fully abundant, but that which was as freely given--subjective riches--that which is wealth to the man who hath it. I do not know much about earthly wealth, and I dare say some of you, when you hear me talking about it, say that I know very little about it; and therefore should perhaps scarcely speak of wealth, but so far as I can understand this matter, there does not seem to be such a thing as subjective riches to the men who are trying to get rich in this world’s goods. Let me just explain myself. A man is starting in business, and he says to himself, Well, I will try to make, if I can, £20,000 or £30,000, and when I have this in store I shall never need or wish to add to it a farthing. He aims after this £30,000, and he gets it; but when he has it does he feel rich? No such thing. In order to feel rich he must have £30,000 more; and he starts again for that goal. Now his aim is £60,000. He gets £60,000; but does he now feel rich? No, there is somebody else who has £120,000; and he starts for the third goal; and he reaches it. And now there is somebody else--some fellow merchant, or some neighbour--who has twice £120,000; and you find the man again striving after that twice £120,000. So that, as far as I understand it (and I admit that I know very little about it), rich men do not feel rich--they never have enough. You who have only your daily bread put upon your table think men rich when they have in store some ten thousands of pounds, and very rich if some hundreds of thousands of pounds; but the possessors do not feel rich. How often do we find them, even with these large resources, complaining of poverty; and how often do these rich men live in far more dread of dying in the workhouse than those of us have who receive from heaven day by day our daily bread! You see, therefore, that earthly riches are not in every case subjective wealth; for a man may have a very large amount of treasure upon earth, and yet not feel to be a rich man. But now, brethren, look at this. The man who has “the unsearchable riches of Christ” feels to be enriched by those unsearchable riches.

II. Unsearchable riches; that is, value not traced by inquiry and investigation. Who can set a price upon truth? Who can tell what a right idea about anything is worth? The thing is too good to have a price set upon it. You cannot tell what one right thought may be to you, or what one right thought might do for you. Now look at the thoughts that cluster around this word “riches” as representing value, abundance, and supply. Unsearchable riches--value not fixed, not traced out by investigation--abundance inexplorable by want and by desire--supply inexhaustible by enjoyment and by use--“the unsearchable riches of Christ;” that is, inconceivable value in Christ Himself. He is of inconceivable value as the manifestation of God. Then look at abundance in gifts which Christ has ready for men--pardon, acquittal, restoration to the position of children, regeneration, and the entire purification and spiritual elevation of our nature, the lost Paradise restored and regained--all these things in His hand, mark, ready, so that we have only to ask and to have. Marvellous is all this, but it is true. Then, mark also, Christ’s freedom of bestowal. Everyone that asketh receiveth. Everyone. There is not an exception. I know that men try to make exceptions; and I do not wonder at it. We are such niggardly, selfish, hard-hearted, close-fisted, stingy creatures ourselves, and so unwilling to make sacrifices, that we cannot believe that Christ gives so freely. A man’s faith is very much influenced by his own disposition. You see this continually. And our dispositions make us unbelievers in God’s loving words. (S. Martin, D. D.)

The unsearchable riches of Christ

1. Here, then, in the very outset, is unsearchable mercy; the immensity of the Divine Redeemer’s condescension and love! Who can search, who can understand it? “It is higher than heaven, what canst thou know” of it? Admire thou mayest, and adore and love; but it is beyond the stretch of thy created powers to conceive, beyond the capacity of any creature.

2. We may consider, in the next place, the preciousness, the value, the efficacy of the incarnation and sufferings of our Redeemer. All the attributes of the Godhead are perfect and infinite; His holiness and justice, as well as His mercy.

3. Intimately connected with this consideration is the recollection of God’s exceeding love towards us, in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Every believing soul must be overpowered by the contemplation of such a mystery of Divine goodness; must be lost in wonder, love, and praise.

4. Nor can we learn the manner or degree in which our merciful Lord is at this moment bestowing blessings upon His Church, and upon every individual believer.

5. And what are the privileges of Christ’s redeemed people? What their present state, what their glorious inheritance? How unsearchable both the one and the other? (J. Slade, M. A.)

Unsearchable riches

I. What St. Paul says of himself. Humility is one leading mark of all the most eminent saints of God in every age. The more real grace men have in their hearts, the deeper is their sense of sin. The more light the Holy Ghost pours into their souls, the more do they discern their own infirmities, defilements, and darkness. The dead soul feels and sees nothing; with life comes clear vision, a tender conscience, and spiritual sensibility. Depend on it, the nearer men draw to heaven, the more humble do they become. In the hour of death, with one foot in the grave, with something of the light of heaven shining down upon them, hundreds of great saints and Church dignitaries--such men as Selden, Bishop Butler, Archbishop Longley--have left on record their confession, that never till that hour did they see their sins so clearly, and feel so deeply their debt to mercy and grace. Heaven alone, I suppose, will fully teach us how humble we ought to be. Then only, when we stand within the veil, and look back on all the way of life by which we were led, then only shall we completely understand the need and beauty of humility.

II. What St. Paul says of his ministerial office. The meaning of the sentence is plain: “To me is granted the privilege of being a messenger of good news. I have been commissioned to be a herald of glad tidings.” Of course we cannot doubt that St. Paul’s conception of the minister’s office included the administration of the sacraments, and the doing all other things needful for the edifying of the body of Christ.

1. The ministerial office is a ministerial institution.

2. A most wise and useful provision of God.

3. An honourable privilege.

It is an honour to bear the tidings of a victory such as Trafalgar and Waterloo: before the invention of telegraphs it was a highly coveted distinction. But how much greater honour is it to be the ambassador of the King of kings, and to proclaim the good news of the conquest achieved on Calvary!

III. What St. Paul says of the great subject of his preaching. That the converted man of Tarsus should preach “Christ,” is no more than we might expect from his antecedents. Having found peace through the blood of the Cross himself, we may be sure he would always tell the story of the Cross to others. That he should preach Christ among “the Gentiles,” again, is in keeping with all we know of his line of action in all places and among all people. Varying his mode of address according to his audience, as he wisely did, the pith and heart of his preaching was Christ crucified. But in the text before us, you will observe, he uses a peculiar expression, an expression which unquestionably stands alone in his writings, “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” It is the strong burning language of one who always remembered his debt to Christ’s mercy and grace, and loved to show how intensely he felt it by his words.

1. There are unsearchable riches in Christ’s person. That miraculous union of perfect man and perfect God in our Lord Jesus Christ is a great mystery, no doubt, which we have no line to fathom. It is a high thing; and we cannot attain to it. But, mysterious as that union may be, it is a mine of comfort and consolation to all who can rightly regard it. Infinite power and infinite sympathy are met together and combined in our Saviour.

2. There are unsearchable riches in the work which Christ accomplished for us, when He lived on earth, died, and rose again.

3. There are unsearchable riches in the offices which Christ at this moment fills, as He lives for us at the right hand of God. He is at once our Mediator, our Advocate, our Priest, our Intercessor, our Shepherd, our Bishop, our Physician, our Captain, our King, our Master, our Head, our Forerunner, our Elder Brother, the Bridegroom of our souls.

4. There are unsearchable riches in the names and titles which are applied to Christ in the Scriptures. Their number is very great, every careful Bible reader knows, and I cannot of course pretend to do more than select a few of them. Think for a moment of such titles as the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, the Fountain of Living Waters, the Light of the World, the Door, the Way, the Vine, the Rock, the Cornerstone, the Christian’s Robe, the Christian’s Altar. Think of all these names, I say, and consider how much they contain.

5. There are unsearchable riches in the characteristic qualities, attributes, dispositions, and intentions of Christ’s mind towards man, as we find them revealed in the New Testament. In Him there are riches of mercy, love, and compassion for sinners; riches of power to cleanse, pardon, forgive, and to save to the uttermost; riches of willingness to receive all who come to Him repenting and believing; riches of ability to change by His Spirit the hardest hearts and worst characters; riches of tender patience to bear with the weakest believer; riches of strength to help His people to the end, notwithstanding every foe without and within; riches of sympathy for all who are cast down and bring their troubles to Him; and last, but not least, riches of glory to reward, when He comes again to raise the dead and gather His people to be with Him in His kingdom. Who can estimate these riches? The children of this world may regard them with indifference, or turn away from them with disdain; but those who feel the value of their souls know better. They will say with one voice, “There are no riches like those which are laid up in Christ for His people.” For, best of all, these riches are unsearchable. They are a mine which, however long it may be worked, is never exhausted. They are a fountain which, however many draw its waters, never runs dry. The sun in heaven above us has been shining for 6,000 years, and giving light, and life, and warmth, and fertility to the whole surface of the globe. There is not a tree or a flower in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America which is not a debtor to the sun. And still the sun shines on for generation after generation, and season after season, rising and setting with unbroken regularity, giving to all, taking from none, and to all ordinary eyes the same in light and heat that it was in the day of creation, the great common benefactor of mankind. Just so it is--if any illustration can approach the reality--just so it is with Christ. (Bishop Ryle.)

Christ’s unsearchable riches

I. That the riches of Christ’s pardoning mercy are unsearchable. There can be no searching out of the riches of His pardoning mercy, any more than of the value of that mysterious work which secures our pardon, or of the breadth and length, and depth and height, of that love which led Him to undertake and accomplish the work. The stream that issues from it, like that which Ezekiel saw in vision, flows on till it expands into a river that cannot be passed over--waters to swim in--an ocean whose vast extent we can never traverse, whose hidden depths we can never sound. In this gospel field, wherein lie hid unsearchable riches, He has opened for the poor and needy an exhaustless mine of heavenly treasure.

II. That the riches of Christ’s sanctifying grace are unsearchable. By His obedience unto death, our Lord Jesus Christ has fully merited for sinners, not only mercy to pardon, but grace to sanctify, and to help them in every time of need. And He accomplishes this by the power of His risen life, working in all who accept His offered mercy, according to the working of the mighty power which was wrought in Him, when He was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, that they may be raised to a holy and truly heavenly life, seeking the things which are above, where He is, and imitating His blessed example.

III. That the riches of His rewarding glory are unsearchable. By His obedience unto death, our Lord Jesus Christ merited for His people, not only mercy to pardon and grace to sanctify in the life that now is, but a glorious reward, an exceeding weight of glory, in the life to come. Indeed, the latter is the end to which the former are the means--or rather, it is the fulness and perfection of that higher life, of which the former are the earnests and first-fruits. The life of glory is the crown and complement of the life of grace. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him; but God hath revealed them unto us by His spirit. He hath given us, in His indwelling, an earnest and foretaste of them; and, by images borrowed from things temporal and material, He hath dimly shadowed forth, in Holy Scripture, the glory of those new heavens and the new earth for which we look. (A. F. Mitchell, D. D.)

Preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ

I. “The unsearchable riches of Christ.”

1. They are riches of heavenly knowledge.

2. Riches of redeeming love.

3. Riches of pardoning mercy.

4. Riches of sanctifying grace.

5. Riches of consolation and hope.

6. Riches of immortality and glory.

7. All of them “riches of Christ”; and all of them “unsearchable.”

II. Among whom are they to be preached?

1. Paul’s commission, and that of the other apostles, was to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15); and to bring all nations to the obedience of the faith.

2. St. Paul thoroughly understood that the gospel he preached was emphatically the gospel of the Gentiles.

3. The manner in which St. Paul speaks of the calling of the Gentiles is highly worthy of observation. He calls it a mystery--“the mystery of Christ--revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, etc.

III. I proceed to observe on the dignified idea St. Paul had of the apostolic mission--“Unto me is this grace given.” Let us cast our eye--

1. On the labours and sufferings of the mission.

2. On the grounds of St. Paul’s triumph.

IV. The forcible admonition given to ministers and missionaries, to think humbly and soberly of themselves, as they ought to think.

1. When the Lord will make a man a chosen vessel, eminently serviceable in the Church, it is the method of His grace to humble that man in the dust, and to remove from him every ground of vain-glory. This is necessary to secure all the glory to the Lord, to whom alone it is justly due.

2. That it is impossible a missionary should engage in his work in a better spirit than of that humility of which St. Paul is the example. (J. Burns, D. D.)

The unsearchable riches of Christ

I. In what do the riches of Christ consist? Natural to ask this; but a complete answer cannot be expected. Whatever these riches are, in whatever they may consist, they are unsearchable, unspeakable, inconceivable. We can only give a hint, take a glimpse.

1. They are the riches of Christ’s glory (John 17:5; 2 Corinthians 8:8).

2. The riches of His merit. The merit of His obedience and sacrifice, His service and His sufferings, as our substitute and surety, in His obedience on earth and His intercession in heaven.

3. The riches of His grace.

All the grace we can require, in order to assure us, in the face of a thousand obstacles and perils, of arrival at home, triumph over every foe, and ultimate possession of every enjoyment in the promised land.

II. In what respects are these riches unsearchable?

1. They cannot be discovered. They are beyond the utmost reach of human penetration and sagacity; they defy the most laborious and persevering research. They are alike unknown to the speculations and philosophy and the investigations of science. Yet God has revealed them unto babes.

2. They cannot be fathomed, measured, grasped, calculated. Boundless as infinity, high as heaven, deep as hell. The measure of them is rounder than the earth, and broader than the sea.

3. They cannot be described. That which the mind cannot grasp, the tongue cannot tell, the pen cannot write--our imagination is all too weak to deal with such a theme. They are a hope, and that hope is of immortality; they are a peace, and that peace passeth understanding; they are a joy, but it is unspeakable and full of glory; they are a knowledge, but it is life eternal; they are a well of water, but it is in the man’s bosom, springing up to everlasting life. In short, they are riches that fill their possessor with all the fulness of God.

4. They cannot be exhausted, diminished, impaired. What countless millions have they enriched through the long succession of ages that are past, who are now before the throne of God and the Lamb; and they are as ample as at first, and shall continue to be so to the last, though myriads more shall be enriched by them in the ages yet to come. Like the sun that shines so gloriously with a splendour so bright--bright as when the beams of the first morning were shed upon the darkness that brooded over the face of the deep--just like that sun these riches remain in all their plenty. And when that material orb is but a spark of fire, they shall yet remain; they shall survive in all their fulness when that sun is plucked from the firmament, and the universe is wrapped in flame. (T. Raffles, D. D.)

The unsearchable riches of Christ

I. The riches of Christ’s person. Underived, independent, everlasting, Lord of all.

II. The riches of Christ’s dominion. “All power is given unto Me.”

III. The riches of Christ’s work. Through His intervention God is just, and yet man may be saved.

IV. The riches of Christ’s promises. Vast, comprehensive, abundant, sufficient in all the exigencies of life; sufficient in all the solemnity of death; and then, beyond, the crown of glory, the purity, the fellowship, the joy of the saints in heaven. (F. Tucker, B. A.)

The riches of the gospel of Christ

There was a very eloquent and able minister of our Church, who went to labour among his flock, ignorant of the gospel of Christ, but at the same time very zealous and devoted in his own way of religion. He was sedulously endeavouring to deliver them from their sins, and to promote morality and virtue among them by every means in his power; and you may suppose with the same success that must always attend such vain efforts as these, to make the law do “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.” Whitewashing the sepulchre can never purify the corruption within. Outward reformation can never renew the heart and save the soul, or bring the sinner nearer to his God. But this clergyman was reading this chapter one day, and when he came to this verse, he began to consider what this doctrine was which St. Paul was preaching--“the unsearchable riches of Christ.” “What is that?” said he. “Is this what I preach? I am preaching virtue, amiability, goodness, devotedness to God, attendance on ordinances, I am preaching against all sorts of sins; St. Paul was preaching ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ!’ what is that? what can he mean?” See how the Holy Ghost is pleased to use various means in bringing sinners into the light of truth! The blessed Spirit fastened that word on that man’s mind--“the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and led him to see that that was not the doctrine what he taught, that he did not even understand the meaning of the expression. This led him to inquire into what the meaning was, and the same blessed Spirit satisfied the inquiry, and led him to discover the treasure hid in the field, even “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and then he went forth and preached those unsearchable riches, and the blessing of God attended his labours. (R. J. McGhee, M. A.)

Christ’s unsearchable riches

The unsearchable riches of Christ:” what are they? Go to a man in an arid desert, lying on the ground gasping with thirst, at the gate of death, beneath a burning sun; take to him gold and jewels; offer them to him; promise him a kingdom; and what do you bestow on him? There is that for which, if he had it, he would barter them all. A cup of water--one draught from the stream--for this he pants; this would be wealth and a kingdom for him. Go again to another in the jaws of famine, dying from hunger; pour out silver and gold, the wealth of a world, at his feet; and what do you confer upon him? He would give a world, or a thousand worlds, for a single morsel of bread. Again, take a man gasping on the field of battle, mortally wounded, writhing in agony; offer him riches, offer him a crown; will he thank you? No. If you could heal his wounds, if you could raise him up from the cold bed of death, if you could restore him to the life and health he enjoyed an hour before; that would be wealth and riches for the dying man. Take a poor criminal, led out to execution; offer him all that earth could give; what could he do with it? what is the earth to him? But procure a pardon for him; gain for him a reprieve; there is a world, and more than a world for him. Well then, if you knew your own actual state, you would see that your spiritual condition before God is just as hopeless, just as miserable, just as desperate, as the temporal condition of any one of those sufferers I have described; you are spiritually the poor wretch in the burning desert without a drop of water, and if you die in your unconverted state you must be without a drop of water to cool your tongue for eternity. You are worse than the poor creature who is famishing with hunger--worse, far worse than him writhing in agony on the field of battle--worse than the criminal about to be led to execution; these, however agonizing their state, are merely suffering for time; considered in reference to man’s mere animal existence, their pangs soon must terminate; but the misery in which your immortal soul is sunk, unless you are delivered, must endure for eternity. Now Christ is the Water to the soul that is dying of thirst (John 4:10; John 7:37). Christ is the Bread of Life to the sinner, perishing for hunger (John 6:32-33; John 6:35). Christ is the Great Physician that can heal the dying man (Mark 2:10-11). Christ is the King that extends His pardon to the criminal led forth to execution (Luke 23:43). These serve as a partial illustration of the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” You understand the application, if you know Christ as the Deliverer, the Healer, the Saviour of your immortal souls. (R. J. McGhee, M. A.)

Wealth in Christ

The apostle does not intend to discourage examination of these riches which he describes as unsearchable, but he does tell us that, search as we may, we shall never be able to fathom that ocean in which are concealed the riches of Christ. And in order to appreciate the riches we do not know of, let us look at those we have actually in possession. So long as men stand on the sea shore, and praise the riches of the sea, they do not gain much impression of the reality of what they are talking about. It is only as we dive under the surface that we get a distinct impression of the wealth that lies hid under the rolling waves that break musically at our feet. So, then, let us this morning make an effort to appreciate the resources open to us in the unsearchable riches of Christ. I think that Christ has enriched us beyond all our powers of imagination to conceive the value of our wealth.

I. I think He has enriched us by His manner towards men, and His treatment of them. He has taught us what men are--that they are not merely the crown of creation, not simply intelligent, and clever, and enterprising, and powerful--He has made men feel, made us realize that we are the children of God. The way we treat men is the sign of what we think of them. The world has a very sorry opinion of itself. It would treat itself better if it had higher appreciation of its value. And nowhere does Christ show His power more clearly than in His treatment of those around Him. He sees in every man the promise of something that might be, infinitely transcending all that is and was. I want you to feel your value in the eyes of Christ. None in your own family circle appreciate you and treat you as Christ does. He has a standard of your value higher and grander than any possessed by your friends. Oh! how has Christ enriched this world by telling us what we are by His constant treatment of us! He has taken our poor humanity as it lay dead at His feet, and, taken by the hand and lifted up by His love, the world has risen into a new conception of its nature. Never let us again lose the consciousness of our real nature. Moving in the midst of human society, and taking men at their very worst, Christ has turned the light of His love upon the outcast, the selfish, the mean, and the unlovely, and in the splendid inspiration which burns in His eyes, flows from His tongue, and radiates from His life, we are enriched with the glad and thrilling hope that there is a way for man to rise out of the dust and grossness of his present life, till, by the power of Christ, he shall be established forever in the glory of a new heart, and character, and life. Well may the apostle preach the unsearchable riches of Christ when we call to mind how He has lifted us into a more blessed and hopeful thought of the character and destiny of man.

II. Further, Christ has enriched the world by His conduct and teaching in relation to our sinfulness. When a man has his attention drawn to one of his neighbour’s notorious wickednesses, and forthwith begins to pray, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” that is Pharisaism. When another, either by act or speech, hides or attempts to obscure the awful and eternal distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, that is practical Atheism; and between these two extremes the public opinion of the world oscillated from age to age, till Christ began to teach and preach. But Christ has enriched the world by the mighty blows He dealt against the Pharisee, and by the splendid rebuke He administered to shameless sin. One of the grand fruits of His life is this, that by it men are convinced of sin. The practical question for us all today is--are we appropriating any of these riches of Christ? Are we content to hear about them, and talk about them, and never take them for our soul’s life? Riches there are; we may be rich in health, rich in intelligence, rich in friends and in opportunity; yea, we may have those riches that soonest flee away, but have you any of the riches of Christ? Without these riches, you are and must be poor. (E. Aston.)

Unsearchable riches

Grace not to be traced out. Should not ministers be made welcome that come on such golden messages. In Christ are riches of justification (Titus 2:14), sanctification (Philippians 4:12), consolation (2 Corinthians 12:9), glorification (1 Peter 1:5). (John Trapp.)

Christ above all praise

When Mr. Dawson was preaching in South Lambeth on the offices of Christ, he presented Him as Prophet and Priest, and then as the King of saints. He marshalled patriarchs, kings, prophets and apostles, martyrs and confessors of every age and clime, to place the insignia of royalty upon the head of the King of kings. The audience was wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement, and, as if waiting to hear the anthem peal out the coronation hymn, the preacher commenced singing, “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name.” The audience, rising as one man, sang the hymn as perhaps it was never sung before. (Fosters Cyclopaedia.)

Further riches in Christ

It is said that in the “Green Room” at Dresden, where for centuries the Saxon princes have gathered their gems and treasures, may be seen a silver egg, a present to one of the Saxon queens, which, when you touch a spring, opens and reveals a golden yolk. Within the yolk is a chicken. Press the wing, and the chicken flies open, disclosing a splendid gold crown studded with jewels. Nor is this all. Touch another secret spring, and you find hid in the centre a magnificent diamond ring! It is even so with those who know Jesus; they are always finding new wonders, fresh delights, and further glories in Him. And it will be so forever, for Jesus is infinitely full of all bliss.

The riches of Christ

The wealth of all worlds, the agency of all elements, and the energies of all creatures in existence, are under His control; while the illimitable possibilities which lie hid in the undisclosed treasures of infinite fulness, and the unknown powers of unwearied omnipotence, are the fertile resources ever at His command. By Him all things were made--by Him all things consist. He rules over all; all are His servants. All worlds pay Him tribute, and all creatures do Him homage. All nature, animate and inanimate, draw their supply out of His perennial fulness, and spend their powers in fulfilling His behests. The sons of the mighty who surround the eternal throne, however illustrious in rank or elevated in character, owe their existence, powers, position, and continuance to Him, who is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. All peoples upon the face of the whole earth ceaselessly receive from His hand the full supply of their recurring wants--physical, mental, and spiritual. Being and all its blessings, life and all its joys, our souls and all their hopes, we own to Him. All things are for Him as well as by Him. The sovereignty of the universe, the dispensations of providence, the government of the Church, the salvation of His people, the judgment of the world, and the throne of heaven, are His. The loftiest hierarchies of heaven cast their crowns at His feet, and unite in celebrating His praise. His power supreme, His resources exhaustless, His goodness unbounded, His felicity ineffable, who can count His “unsearchable riches,” or unveil the brightness of His glory? To whom shall He be compared, and with what can He be likened? The greatest, and wisest, and purest, and best. The Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. Emanuel, God with us--God manifest in the flesh, Creator, Saviour, Sovereign, Redeemer. Nor in viewing His personal excellence can we overlook the fact that He is the Son of man as well as the Son of God. Fairest of the children of men--“the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely.” All the virtues that ennoble, the graces that adorn, the gifts that elevate our nature, are complete in Him. His character a radiant exhibition of moral grandeur and, beauty--His life the symmetrical embodiment of the holiest affection, the most self-denying love, the broadest and kindliest sympathies--His example the purest, most perfect, heroic, and inspiring model for the race. His love so strong, His sympathies so tender, His forbearance so great, His grace so rich and free--to believers He is unspeakably precious. There is none like Christ. By the tongues of angels even one half could not be told of what He is, and what He has, and what He has done for us. He loved us and gave Himself for us. The story of His wondrous birth, His suffering life, His cruel death, His victorious resurrection, His glorious ascension--Bethlehem and Nazareth, Gethsemane and Calvary, Tabor and Olivet--with their thrilling associations, hallowed memories, and spiritual meaning, will never lose their power to charm while tongues can speak or hearts can feel. The power of His words, the grandeur of His deeds, the greatness of His sorrows, the light of His teaching, the merit of His sacrifice, the efficacy of His intercession, the work of His Spirit, and the glory of His coming and kingdom are each exhaustless as His own fulness, and fresh as the wants and woes of every needy, burdened soul. Of the truth He taught, the blood He shed, the promises He left, the Spirit He sent, the inheritance He secured, the riches are unsearchable. Unsearchable in their source, in everlasting love, their origin and power far transcend our feeble ken--in their extent, which embraces all possible blessings for our souls through an endless duration--in their manifestation, application, and enjoyment, which are shrouded in mystery--in their permanence, for they endure forever. The latest ages will find these riches unimpaired in value and undiminished in supply. Nor dimmed by age, nor worn by use, nor lessened by distribution, and throughout eternity, though more amply displayed, more extensively enjoyed, and more fully appreciated, they will remain as inscrutable and unsearchable as ever. (W. Ormiston, D. D.)

The riches of Christ’s redeeming acts

1. Of these, we notice, His incarnation. I need not prove to you that the apostle preached this, and bore continual testimony that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” etc. (John 1:14); that “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16); that “forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself took part of the same” (Hebrews 2:14). Now in this is contained unsearchable riches. That we should have God’s incarnate Wisdom and Word for our instructor in matters the most important, of infinite because everlasting concern to us; that He should teach us such things in a most condescending, free, and familiar way, as one of ourselves, is an unspeakable advantage and blessing. That we should be permitted to behold in Him a perfect and suitable example of humility, meekness, benevolence, patience, purity, etc., is equally an inestimable privilege. But what is yet more, by His incarnation He became God and man in one person, was qualified to be a Mediator between God and man, etc.

2. His enduring temptation. In this also are contained unsearchable riches. Hereby He worsted our grand adversary, Satan.

3. His obedience unto death. By this He fulfilled all righteousness, obeying the precepts, and suffering the penalty of the law for us.

4. His resurrection from the dead. That unsearchable riches are included herein appears from hence, that we are hereby assured He is the Son of God (Romans 1:4).

5. His ascension is the next in order of His redeeming acts. This is not to be overlooked, as it was not overlooked by our Lord and His apostles (John 20:17; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 8:1). It contains unsearchable riches; for hereby also, as well as by His resurrection, we are assured He “hath purged our sins,” as the Father would not have received Him to His bosom to speak on our behalf, if he had not been well pleased with His atonement. Hereby He triumphed over His and our enemies, and “made a show of them openly”; over Satan, sin, and death, which all stood in the way, and opposed the ascension and exaltation of bur common human nature to heaven (Psalms 68:18; Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 53:12; Philippians 2:8-10). Since He ascended as our Forerunner, and is at the right hand of God, and has “all power in heaven and on earth,” being “Head over all things to the Church,” we shall ascend also (John 14:2; Hebrews 6:18; Hebrews 6:20).

6. His intercession and advocateship come next to be considered. The prophets and apostles have laid great stress on this (Isaiah 53:12; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1). What a treasure, then, have we in the advocateship of Christi The cause we have depending in the court above, involves our all to all eternity. Our property: how poor shall we be if we lose this cause! how rich if we carry it! Our liberty: what slaves in hell if we lose it! how free in heaven if we carry it! Our life: we must suffer death of body and soul forever, if we lose it! and shall obtain life if we gain it! Christ is a skilful, able, kind, and faithful counsellor, and is infallible in every cause He undertakes!

7. The final judgment is the last and finishing act of our redemption. This is insisted on frequently and largely by the apostles (Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31). It implies unsearchable riches; for how desirable to use and what an advantage if we must be judged, to be judged by One who is a friend, kinsman, brother, husband; by One who assumed our nature, with all its infirmities; who feels for us, died in our stead, will excuse our failings, manifest our virtues, judge between us and our enemies and persecutors I Being accused, what a blessing to be tried and acquitted, which God’s people shall be, before men and angels; yea, and applauded. As our Judges He will assign to us a reward in proportion to our holiness, labours, and sufferings in His service. (J. Benson.)

The riches of Christ’s saving benefits

1. Divine illumination (see Isaiah 9:2; Luke 1:78; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Peter 2:9). This Divine illumination implies unsearchable riches; for it includes the understanding the Scriptures in all essential points, the necessity and worth of which are great indeed; the knowledge of ourselves, which is the foundation of all religion; the knowledge of God and Christ, occasioning us peace and good unspeakable (Job 22:21), and even eternal life (John 17:3); the knowledge of the “truth as it is in Jesus,” or the way of salvation (John 8:32; John 16:13-14). And consider the vast importance of this (Romans 9:30-31; Romans 10:2); the knowledge of God’s will (Colossians 1:9); the necessity and usefulness of which appears from hence, that we cannot enter heaven without “doing the will” of God (Matthew 7:21); and cannot do it unless we know it.

2. Justification. This is the same with the remission of sins, or imputed righteousness (Romans 4:2-8). This is enjoined to be preached by Christ (Luke 24:47), and was preached by His evangelists and apostles (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38). The value of this appears--from our great want of it: we are guilty and condemned, and have need to be acquitted (Romans 3:23):--from a consideration of the great and eternal misery from which it rescues us: a condemned malefactor knows the worth of a pardon; it is as valuable to him as his life, because it saves him from death:--from a consideration of the blessed and eternal life, to which it entitles us (Titus 3:7). It is as valuable, and contains riches as unsearchably great, as that everlasting felicity which is the consequence of it. How immense a treasure is a free and full justification!

3. The peculiar favour and friendship of God. This is the never-failing fruit of justification (Romans 5:1), and was continually preached by the apostle (2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 2:13-19). Think of the infinite and eternal riches, honour, and felicity, implied in the favour and friendship of an all-wise, all-mighty, and all-gracious, infinite, and everlasting Being.

4. Adoption into His family. This is insisted on by the apostles as one important end of the incarnation, life, and death of Christ (Galatians 4:4), and the never-failing fruit of faith in Him (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26). Adoption is an unspeakable honour and happiness. To be so nearly related to God, so peculiarly dear to Him, as children to a father; to be under His peculiar direction, protection, and care, having liberty of access to Him as children to a father, and intercourse with Him, being provided with everything needful and useful (Matthew 6:33; Psalms 84:11); to be chastised when and as far as necessary, and to have this, with every other dispensation, made to work for our good (Hebrews 12:10-11; Romans 8:28); to be His heirs, heirs of all He is, and of all He hath: in each of these particulars is comprehended unsearchable riches.

5. The Holy Spirit. This is the fruit of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension (John 16:7; Psalms 68:18), given only through Him (Titus 3:6; John 1:16), and by Him (Matthew 3:11; John 4:10; John 4:14; John 7:37-38); and is therefore a branch of His unsearchable riches. Hereby our minds are enlightened, we are enabled to understand and relish Divine things; we are prepared, by conviction of sin and of righteousness (John 16:8-10), by repentance and faith, for justification; we are assured of it, as also of God’s favour and of our adoption (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15-16); we are regenerated (John 1:13; John 3:5-6); are led, assisted in prayer and every duty, and comforted (Jude 1:20; Romans 8:14; Romans 8:26; Romans 15:13; John 14:16-20); we are sanctified, viz., delivered from the power and being of sin, and consecrated to God in heart and life (Romans 8:2; Titus 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2); we are enriched with all gifts and graces (Galatians 5:22). How unspeakable then the necessity and worth of this blessing! how unsearchable the riches contained in it!

6. This leads me to notice another unspeakable benefit, implied indeed in the last mentioned, but, because of its magnitude, deserving of more particular notice, viz., the restoration of God’s image to the soul. Man having been created in this (Genesis 1:27), lost it by the Fall; so that he is naturally earthly, sensual, and devilish. The restoration of it is one principal end of our redemption (Ephesians 5:25-27; Romans 8:3-4; Ephesians 4:20-24; 2 Peter 1:4). (J. Benson.)

The riches implied in the methods by which Christ brings us to enjoy salvation

I. The properties and powers exerted.

1. The wisdom of our Lord. St. Paul informs us, that “in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), and that He “hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence” (Ephesians 1:8). As His knowledge and His wisdom are unsearchable, so they are an unsearchable treasure to His Church in general, and to every individual member of it in particular.

2. His almighty power. What a treasure subjects have in the power of a just and good king, or children in the power of a wise and kind father! What an advantage it is to the Church that Christ “has all power in heaven and on earth,” is “Head over all things,” can make the temptations of devils, and the enmity of sinners, as well as the ministry of angels, and the advice and prayers of saints, yea, and absolutely “all things work together for the good” of her members; can at all times defend, strengthen, support, and comfort them, and execute every scheme His wisdom has devised for their present and eternal good.

3. His infinite love (Ephesians 3:18-19). His wisdom and power would be nothing to us, without this; this sets them to work, and keeps them employed continually for our benefit. This, therefore, is an inestimable blessing to His people, and a source of unsearchable riches. “Who gave His life, what gift can He deny?”

4. His unwearied patience, or His forbearance and long suffering (2 Corinthians 10:1). How much need had we all of this in our state of ignorance and sin! What need have we of it still! How is it exercised towards us from day to day! What a treasure is it to us! our present and eternal salvation depending upon it.

II. The means and ordinances appointed.

1. Affliction. Without this, probably we should never have been brought to Christ. Without this, we should not have continued in His ways; without this, we should not have made progress in holiness or usefulness: therefore, without this we should not have attained “an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory.”

2. The Word of God. He, by Christ’s unsearchable riches are revealed, displayed, offered, and, as it were, bequeathed to us. Christ’s redeeming acts are unfolded one after another, as in the writings of the prophets and evangelists, with the unsearchable riches they contain, and we are offered an interest in them. The Word of God is a bill of spiritual and heavenly rights, a charter of sacred and Divine privileges, or an attested deed of conveyance, making over to us an immense property; or it may be considered as the last will and testament of our Redeemer, bequeathing to us legacies and inheritances without end.

3. The ordinances.

4. The fellowship of saints. Here Jesus Himself, with all His unsearchable riches of grace and glory, is always present (Matthew 18:20). This is an emblem and earnest of heaven, and a preparation for it.--Prayer. In this also we have an unspeakable treasure. For it is the key with which we open the Divine storehouse, and take as much of the riches of Christ as we need.

III. The inward graces which are to be exercised. These also include unsearchable riches, because by these Christ’s redeeming acts and saving benefits become our own. These form a third particular to be considered. Faith, having for its object the doctrines of His Word, which display His acts and benefits: the invitations and promises which make them over to us; Jesus Himself, the source and centre of both, in whom the doctrines and promises “are yea and amen.” By this we obtain an interest in His redeeming acts, and become entitled to, or have a foretaste of, all His saving benefits. Hope: Those benefits, which we cannot here partake of, we expect and desire, and hereby we both anticipate the enjoyment of them. Reflect on the vast worth of a well grounded and lively hope. It is the source of patience (Romans 8:25; 1 Thessalonians 1:3), gratitude (1 Peter 1:3), joy (Romans 5:2), purity (1 John 3:3), and even of good works (1 Corinthians 15:1-58 ult.; Hebrews 6:11). Hence arise the unsearchable riches of an eternal reward. Love: Hereby we embrace both Christ and His riches, nay, and associate with angels and saints, and “sit in heavenly places.” (J. Benson.)

Our spiritual treasury

The riches of Christ are not simply “riches of grace”--“riches of glory”--“riches of inheritance,” as some are inclined to restrict them, but the treasury of spiritual blessing which is Christ’s--so vast that the comprehension of its limits and the exhaustion of its contents are alike impossible. What the apostle wishes to characterize as grand in itself, or in its abundance, adaptation, and substantial permanence, he terms “riches.” The riches of Christ are the true wealth of men and nations. And those riches are “unsearchable,” Even the value of the portion already possessed cannot be told by any symbols of numeration, for such riches can have no adequate exponent or representative. Their source is in eternity, and in a love whose fervour and origin are above our ken, and whose duration shall be for ages of ages beyond compute. Their extent is boundless, for they stretch into infinitude, and the mode in which they have been wrought out reveals a spiritual mechanism whose results astonish and satisfy us, but whose inner springs and movements lie beyond our keenest inspection. And our appropriation of these riches, though it be a matter of consciousness, shrouds itself from our scrutiny, for it indicates the presence of the Divine spirit in His power--a power exerted upon man, beyond resistance, but without compulsion; and in its mighty and gracious operation neither wounding his moral freedom nor impinging on his perfect and undeniable responsibility. The latest periods of time shall find these riches unimpaired, and eternity shall behold the same wealth neither worn by use nor dimmed by age, nor yet diminished by the myriads of its happy participants. (J. Eadie, D. D.)

The unsearchable riches of Christ

The word “unsearchable” properly carries with it the metaphor (latent in our word “investigate”) of tracking the footsteps, but not tracking them completely to their source or issue--thus gaining an evidence of a living power, but “not knowing whence it cometh or whither it goeth.” In this proper sense it is used in Romans 11:33, “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (as also in Job 5:9; Job 9:10). Here it is used in a slightly different sense--applied to that “wealth” or fulness of Christ on which this Epistle lays such especial stress, as a wealth of truth which we can see in part but cannot wholly measure, and a wealth of grace which we can enjoy but cannot exhaust. (A. Barry, D. D.)

Christ’s riches

We may realize something of the unsearchable riches of Christ by glancing at--

I. His character. The vast and the little, the awful and the attractive, meet in His person in wonderful harmony and beauty.

II. Only a few words on the riches of his work, for the theme is so vast that we cannot enter upon it particularly.

III. His dominion. Jesus Christ is the Lord and Redeemer of the human soul. (W. Graham, D. D.)

Unsearchable riches for men of all nations

God proposes to make man rich in wisdom, rich in goodness, rich in joy, rich in beauty, rich in influence; and to make him essentially and unchangeably rich, by making his wealth inseparable from his being. The world is but a false answer to man’s desire for wealth. God warns him of the temptation, and reveals to Him the infinite mine where all the gold is human and eternal. As all material gold, before it came into the possession of men, was first in the earth, so were all the spiritual riches of the angels derived from the Son of God. The Maker of all things must be unsearchably rich. There must be more in His nature than in all things which He has made. There must be worlds on worlds of undiscovered wealth in Him who made the worlds. /iii lovely and precious things are but hints of the riches of the Son of God. Floral loveliness, the fruits of the earth, the splendour of metals, the lights in precious stones, and the glories of the firmament, are the material shadows of His wealth. The beauties of Paradise, and the wonders of the heavens, are higher manifestations of His riches. How can one help being ambitious “to win Christ, and be found in Him”? to exchange the straitness of one’s own nature, and the thinness and poverty of one’s own righteousness, for the resources of His nature, and the riches of His righteousness! (J. Pulsford.)

Variety of riches

All the members of Christ will inherit and dispense His riches, but diversely; no one possessing precisely the same measure, or the same combination of virtues as another. The endless variety of glorified men will be an open, and ever opening, manifestation of the riches of God. (J. Pulsford.)

The gospel message

I. First, for the subject of the ministry. “The unsearchable riches of Christ.” I might advert at once to His Divine nature and perfections. In Christ, then, I observe, first, there are “unsearchable riches” of wisdom and knowledge. “Unsearchable riches” of expiation and sacrifice. “Unsearchable riches” of grace. We read, it is the intention of God to magnify “the exceeding riches of His grace.” “Riches,” further, of power and energy. We value power; we think highly of energy; even if it be power of body--physical strength--as David did, when he said, “A bow of steel is broken by mine arms,” and Samson, when he bore aloft the gates of Gaza upon his shoulders. But especially mental power--the bright, clear understanding--the radiant, sparkling intellect--the flashes of pure, strong genius. And what is physical power, or mental power, in comparison with moral strength--the strength of immaculacy, the strength to sustain innocence and virtue, in the face of all temptation, and as conquering all difficulties? What strength had the Lord Jesus! How He vanquished temptation, maintained His purity and perfection! So that He could say, when the conquest was complete, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth!” “Riches” of power! So He is said to be exalted to the throne of power, and to have made manifest His power in His Word. “The Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword.” And here I notice, again, His power for our use--energy for our succour--strength that will make us strong in the evil day, in the reception of which we may “mount up with wings as eagles.” Once more, “riches” of glory. His own glory, His essential glory; as He is “the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person”--as He is the uncreated and the eternal light, to which it is said “no man can approach”--the unaccessible glory, as well as the glory which shines and is revealed. And if Christ be a participator of the Divine nature, if He be God, then, we say, here is original and essential glory unsearchable. Can you get to the bottom of it? Can you enter into its depths? Can you explore and fathom them? Rut the mediatorial glory. He is ascended into glory; He is invested with glory; when He comes again it will be in glory. There is the glory which He has to bestow--which He does bestow. He has glorified “the spirits of just men made perfect” already; they are with Him, and see His glory. He will glorify the redeemed and restored Church in body and in soul, and unto perfection. And finally, “unsearchable riches” of happiness. How happy He is! “God over all, blessed forever”--which means, happy forever. The gospel is “the glorious gospel of the blessed God”--the glorious gospel of the happy Christ. Now, we say, in relation to all human riches, and every form and variety of earthly wealth, that it can be searched into and explored--that a catalogue of it can be given, and the exact amount of it certified. You can tell how rich you are; you can know exactly what you possess, or most men can. If not, you can search into it, and it can be known. It can be known what money there is in the Bank of England; the wealth of England may be known. It is possible to make a computation and a calculation. So of other forms of wealth. Suppose it be a granary of food indispensable to sustenance of a nation; the sacks could be counted, and brought out and told. So in relation to human knowledge and wisdom. Give me the most learned man alive; in a very few minutes he can tell me all the subjects with which he is acquainted; but the innumerable subjects with which he is not acquainted he cannot tell me. He has light as far as it goes, and it is light; but it is encompassed by a boundary of darkness, into which he cannot see. On the other hand, it is said, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” There is no boundary of darkness to intercept the view. Human virtue and goodness, how soon you are at the bottom of it! How searchable it is! How insignificant it is! How small it is! There seems to me to be nothing unsearchable about man except his sinfulness. There may be things not unsearchable in their own nature, but unsearchable by us; there may be beings who can get to the bottom of them, though you and I cannot. The ocean, for example, has not been searched by man; man does not know what there is at the bottom--what precious stones, what coral reefs, what beauty, what vastness, what monstrosity; he has not searched, he cannot search it. Man has net searched into the centre of the globe; he does not know whether it is a prodigious furnace of fire, or rolling, tossing, tempestuous water; he has not gone in his geology more than half a mile perpendicularly downwards. Will you tell me there is no eye that can see, and no being that can search? And going up aloft, can you tell me if there are inhabitants in the moon? Can you give me any account of the population of the planets? Can you tell me who are the creatures that inhabit and adorn the wide and beautiful universe? You cannot; it is unknown and unsearchable at present by you. Do you mean to say there is none that can search--no beings that do know? So even in respect to human science. You or I may be overpowered by numbers; are there not loftier intellects that can carry the process of numbers immeasurably beyond your mind and mine? So with the piles of reasoning upon reasoning, demonstration upon demonstration, in mathematics--you and I may be overcome presently; are there not minds stronger than ours that can soar into the illimitable fields? Yet I am prepared to say, with regard to these riches of Christ, searched into by the loftiest minds--let Gabriel, if you will, take his loftiest flight--that the unsearchableness is absolute and infinite. “The unsearchable riches of Christ.”

II. Now, then, briefly, for the ministry of these, or the ministry which respects these “unsearchable riches.” It is simply, as it seems to me, for two purposes. The first is, to make known the existence of the riches--to testify to the facts and principles, because they might sleep in the world, or be unnoticed, or unrecognized, or unrealized, as they are near us and in existence and exercise in the universe. The ministry is to assert and affirm, to bring to knowledge and recollection, and to present to the understanding and the conscience the reality respecting Christ--what I have been endeavouring most inadequately and imperfectly to do. And the second point is, to make it manifest--to make all men see that, as I have said, the riches of Christ are available for our use. Take the wisdom and the knowledge, as you find them in the Scriptures, and make them your own. The atonement and expiation; what is it presented to your attention for? That by faith you may bring it home. There is the Priest; let Him do His work; He will take the sacrifice, and sprinkle your conscience, and purify your soul and mine, if believingly we come to Him for that purpose. He is able to do it, and will. With respect to the ministry I just observe, further, it is a ministry of ineffable grace on the part of God, in respect to those whom He calls into it. It was deemed a great privilege and favour, and so it was, to be a Levite, or a priest under the old law, to burn the incense and offer sacrifice; it was a great privilege and favour to be called as a prophet, though in evil times, as Jeremiah and Isaiah were. They were honoured by God as His ministers; and then Saul the persecutor was called and made an apostle, and he said, “To me is this grace given”--ineffable, unspeakable, unsearchable grace. He was conscious of it. Notwithstanding this, a ministry of holiness. “Less than the least of all saints.” And then a happy ministry. The word “preach” implies this to do the office of a herald--to publish and proclaim glad tidings. “Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!” Blessed is the man who has to make “the joyful sound”!

III. Finally, to whom is his ministry exercised? “The Gentiles.” Christ’s own ministry was to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”; and He said to the apostles, “Into the way of the Gentiles and any city of the Samaritans enter ye not.” But in Christ’s ministry there were indications of peace to the Gentiles. The Syro-Phoenician woman was a Greek, and though repulsed with the inquiry, “Is it lawful to give the children’s food unto dogs?” she yet eventually obtained mercy. The parable of the prodigal son is another indication of this; and our Lord Himself said, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold.” Yet on the day of Pentecost there was not a single Gentile present--“devout men from every nation under heaven,” out of all the provinces, but every one of them Jews. It was not till after Peter’s vision and the incoming of the Holy Ghost in the house of Cornelius, as on the day of Pentecost, that the door was fully opened and the doctrine adequately revealed. And there seems to have been an impulse of new joy, arising from the entrance of new light, when the apostolic college resounded with the cry, “Then hath God also granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life!” We are Gentiles, and the Gentiles are now to be divided into two classes. The Gentiles who believe--the Gentiles who have received Christ the Gentiles who are confederated in Churches, and have ministered in the midst of them the ordinances of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And in respect to these Gentiles, let me say, that although we have not at present, as all ministers of all sections and communities do deplore, awakening signal manifestations of the power of God for the conversion of unbelievers, yet we have a perpetual edification, instruction, and improvement of those who do believe. The Spirit has not gone from the Churches; the arm of God in the other form may yet be mightily revealed. There is another class of Gentiles--the ignorant, the vicious, the stupid, the sleepy, the irreligious--those who pray not, read not, think not, keep no Sabbath, visit no sanctuary. Oh! we would desire that “the unsearchable riches of Christ” should be made known among them, that there should be a shaking among the “dry bones,” and as it were a resurrection from the dead! (J. Stratten.)


Verse 9

Ephesians 3:9

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.

Creation not hitherto complete

Whatever creatures may have thought, it is clear that God has never yet regarded the creation as in a final or completed condition. It is natural that men should look upon their heavens and earth as finished; and as a constitution of things appointed to serve for a time, they are finished; but in relation to God’s original design, they will yet have to undergo marvellous changes. It is probable that, prior to the great angel fall, the angels looked upon their heaven as finished and perfect; but God knew otherwise. He carried in Himself a purpose which no angel knew. That purpose is at length somewhat opened, both to men and angels, but it is by no means carried out. It is both worthy of God and advantageous to His creatures, that the universe should be perfected by their cooperation, and the future processes of ages. Myriads of myriads of ages could be occupied in no better way than in enriching, maturing, and harmonizing the whole house, which God and all His children are to inhabit and enjoy forever. Indeed it is incomprehensible that a house which is composed of countless orders of creatures, each one of whom has a separate, individual will, should hastily, or soon, realize its finally balanced relationships. It is surely the praise and glory of God’s plan, that it requires cycle after cycle, and dispensation after dispensation, for its development. In Himself, the plan was perfect, but apart from the long and manifold experiences of His creatures it could not be fulfilled. To be wrought in His Son was one thing, but to be wrought out in the wills and thoughts of His children, and in the condition of the creation, was a very different thing. He knew that only through failure, and out of failure, the finally steadfast and harmonious condition of things (the kingdom which cannot be moved) would grow. The failure and misery of self-will, and all the mistakes of creatures, will contribute both to the strength and the joy of the final house of God. The craving of infinite love will be satisfied. In the incarnation, conflict, and victory, of the Logos, the beginning of the end has come, and His reign (being the reign of all things in unity) will bring in the Father’s first idea, namely, the absolute perfectness and enduring order of His creation. In proportion to the magnitude of a work, very considerable progress must be made, before persons who are looking on from without, are able to form any idea of the design. Till a comparatively recent date, no one on earth, nor anyone in heaven, had the slightest conjecture of the work which God has set Himself to do. “No one in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.” Jesus, the Firstborn from the dead, is the Opener of the book. (J. Pulsford.)

We must make known the gospel

Huber, the great naturalist, tells us that if a single wasp discovers a deposit of honey or other food, he will return to his nest and impart the good news to his companions, who will sally forth in great numbers to partake of the fare which has been discovered for them. Shall we who have found honey in the rock Christ Jesus be less considerate of our fellow men than wasps are of their fellow insects? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Teaching is the Church’s duty

To make all men see, that is, to teach all men the fellowship of the mystery, which, from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. That is the duty of the Church. She is the teacher, the educator, the civilizer, the regenerator of the nations. Our text in this 9th verse reads “fellowship,” but the better reading is “dispensation.” Paul would teach all men to know something of the dispensation of the hidden mystery, and he asserts it was hidden in God from the beginning of the world. This 9th verse, then, teaches the following facts and truths:--

1. It is a great thing to be a preacher of the gospel.

2. Paul was the preacher and apostle of the Gentiles.

3. The union of the Jews and Gentiles in one body is a great mystery.

4. This mystery was hidden in God from the beginning of the world.

5. God created the world through the agency of Jesus Christ.

These things the Church is to teach. Her duty is to teach all men, to make all men see the glories of the economy of grace. (W. Graham, D. D.)

God the Creator

When Napoleon was returning to France from the expedition to Egypt, a group of French officers one evening entered into a discussion concerning the existence of a God; they were standing on the deck of the vessel as she was bearing them over the Mediterranean Sea. Thoroughly imbued with the infidel and atheistical spirit of the times, they were unanimous in their denial of this truth. It was at length proposed to ask the opinion of Napoleon on the subject, who was standing alone, wrapt in silent thought. On hearing the question, “Is there a God?” he raised his hand, and pointing to the starry firmament, simply responded, “Gentlemen, Who made all that?”


Verse 10-11

Ephesians 3:10-11

To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The purpose of redemption

I. Let us consider who are meant by the Church. Paul sometimes uses this appellation to denote a single society of Christians; but he more commonly uses the term to denote the whole number of the elect, or all who shall finally be sanctified and saved. This portion of mankind he considers as composing the Church universal, which is a spiritual body, of which Christ is the spiritual Head. In this comprehensive sense the apostle uses the term Church in the text. He means to signify by it the whole Church of the firstborn in heaven, or all who shall be set up as monuments to display the riches of Divine grace to the whole intelligent creation.

II. When the Deity formed His purpose of redeeming the Church from among men. The text tells us it was in eternity: “According to the eternal purpose, which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” All the elect are said to have been “chasen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Christ is called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” And St. John tells us, he “saw an angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth.” These are plain declarations that the gospel scheme of salvation was formed in eternity; which perfectly accords with every just idea of the Divine character. God was self existent, independent, and absolutely perfect from eternity. He was infinitely able to form His whole plan of operation before He began to operate; and no good reason could possibly exist for His neglecting, a single moment, to fix all future events.

III. Why God was graciously pleased to devise and adopt, from eternity, the great scheme of man’s redemption. To this inquiry the apostle gives a general answer in the text. He says, it was “to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God.” Moved by infinite benevolence, the Deity determined to make Himself known through the medium of His works; and, among all possible works, He saw the work of redemption to be the best adapted to answer this glorious and important purpose. He knew that His creatures could not see the natural and moral excellency of His nature, unless He actually displayed Himself in His works.

1. God chose the work of redemption, because it was the only one in which He could display all His perfections before the minds of His intelligent creatures.

2. Another reason why God devised and adopted the work of redemption, was, because there was no other way by which He could so clearly and fully manifest any of His perfections. We have just observed that there was no other way by which He could discover all His perfections; but we now farther observe, that there was no other by which He could display any of His perfections, in their highest beauty and glory.

3. There was another important reason why God determined to make: Himself known by the work of redemption. He saw it was necessary, not only to display all His perfections, and to display them all in the clearest manner, but also, to prepare the minds of all moral beings to view them with the greatest attention and sensibility. He meant not only to give them an opportunity to see Himself, but to awaken their attention, and fix it upon His great and amiable character. And nothing could be better adapted to this end than to place them in a situation which would render all the displays of His glory highly interesting to themselves. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

God’s purpose in the ultimate revelation of His grace

I. To create a society in which His wisdom should be illustrated and reelected.

1. By the manner in which the Church was called into existence. The self-exclusion of the Jew bringing about a universal comprehension of all who believe. The production and discovery of a motive power to which “all sorts and conditions of men” would respond, viz., the gospel. The foolishness of preaching contrasted with the mighty results achieved (comp. the whole passage-- 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). “By the triumph of the Divine love over the divisions, the sorrows, and the sins of mankind.”

2. By the relation of the Church to preceding ages.

II. Through the Church to display His wisdom to the spiritual universe. It is a manifestation to the highest intelligences--the angels. They are represented as having a special interest in the spiritual history of mankind. That which from its complexity and the vastness of the space and time in which it realized itself might be for the most part inscrutable to men, these great beings, with clearer insight and vaster spiritual range, would be able to trace and appreciate. Their greater moral refinement would also fit them the better for this review. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

Angelic studies

The sublime plan of the gospel of the grace of God, which is so entirely beyond the compass of our natural faculties that we could never by searching have found it out, appears to have been equally beyond the grasp of angelic intelligence--a mystery that excited their wistful inquiry--until by the Church (that is to say, by the Divine counsel and conduct in forming and perfecting the Church) there is made known unto them the manifold wisdom of God, as they have never learned it before. They are appointed to exercise some sort of power over various parts of God’s creation, hence they are called “principalities and powers.” They are never represented as indifferent spectators of anything which our mortal race can do or suffer, but their sympathy with men is constant. Do they not watch over the saints? Is it not written, that they “encamp round about them that fear the Lord”?

I. The subject of our meditation resolves itself into a question, how exclusively through the Church do angels come to see the manifold wisdom of God? Some other matters in connection with this we shall have to speak of afterwards.

1. Who can doubt that the angels had seen much of the wisdom of God in creation? With faculties keener and more elevated than ours, faculties that have never been blunted by sin, they can perceive the various contrivances of God’s skill both in the animate and the inanimate world. What a scale of survey must a seraph have! How readily can we imagine an eye that takes in at once the landscape of the world! He need not confine himself to one single spot in God’s universe, but with rapid wings he can steer far and wide over the infinity of space. Yet with all that facility of observation, it seems that the angels have some parts of the wisdom of God to learn, and some lessons of heavenly science to study which creation cannot unfold to their view, to be ascertained and certified by them only through the transcendent work of redemption which the Lord has carried on in His Church.

2. The wisdom of God is clearly seen by angels in this, that though God was dishonoured in this world by sin, that sin has redounded to His greater honour. Satan, when he led men astray and tempted men to rebel, thought he had marred the glory of God, but he never did more palpably outwit himself. The serpent was exceeding wise, but God was wiser far. Satan’s craft was dexterous, but God’s wisdom was infinite in its prescience. Wisdom has outmatched craft. Is it not glorious to think that this world where God was dishonoured most, is the world where He shall be most revered? There is no such display of the attributes and perfections of Godhead in the whole universe beside as there is here.

3. This wisdom of God is to be seen in the way that our redemption was wrought. The doctrine of substitution is a marvel which, if God had never revealed, none of us could by any possibility have discovered. How could God be gracious and yet be just? How could He keep His law and yet at the same time show His mercy towards us? Angels could not have conjectured this, but when it was made known to them, how could they refrain to chant fresh songs to the praise of Him who could undertake so loving a responsibility?

4. The wisdom of God is seen through the Church in the Holy Spirit’s work as well as in the work of Christ. It is “manifold wisdom.” You know the children’s toy, the kaleidoscope. Every time you turn it there is some fresh form of beauty. You seldom see the same form twice. So it is with nature, each time and season has its special beauty. There is always variety in its scenery; diversities of form and colour are strewn throughout the world. You never saw two hills moulded to the same pattern, or two rivers that wound after the same fashion from their source down to the sea; nature is full of variety. So is the work of the Holy Spirit. In calling sinners to Christ, there is singleness of purpose but no uniformity of means. God’s wisdom is displayed equally in bringing you in that way, and in bringing me in another way. I believe there will be found evidence at the last of the wisdom of God in the very date, the very place, the very means in and by which every soul is brought to believe in Jesus; and angels will, no doubt, be able to perceive in every conversion some singular marks of beautiful originality proceeding from the inexhaustible Artist of Grace, the Holy Spirit.

5. That same wisdom will be seen in the biography of every convert--how the Lord afflicts, or how He comforts; how He upholds us, how He keeps back that which cannot yet be endured, how He gently leads us, how He makes us to lie down. We find fault sometimes with the way of Providence, because we do not understand it; when we shall get a clearer sight of it we shall see that every mark and line was dictated by His love, and ordered by His infinite counsel.

6. As each Christian shall be conformed to the likeness of Christ, angels will see in the products of grace fresh displays of the manifold wisdom of God. I could suppose that the death of a martyr must be such a spectacle as those holy watchers regard with extraordinary interest. Would they not have gathered around such a woman as Blandina, for instance, who was made to sit in a red-hot chair, after having been tossed upon the horns of a wild bull, yet constant to the last she maintained her faith in Christ while passing through the torture.

II. But ask you now, do angels gain anything by the Church of god? I think they do.

1. Certainly they acquire increased knowledge. With us knowledge is sometimes sorrow. Knowledge increases the joy of the angels, and I will tell you why, because it makes them take a greater delight in God when they see how wise and gracious He is. If it is possible for the angels to be happier than natural innocence and honourable service can render them, they must be happier through knowing and seeing more of God, as His attributes are reflected, and His perfections mirrored forth, in the Church.

2. Angels will be enriched by the society of the saints in heaven. Commerce always enriches, and commerce between angelic and human natures will be enriching to them both.

3. Again, to my imagining (can it he illusive?) angels are gainers by the Church because they get nearer to the throne of God than they were before. Another order of beings, our own to wit, is advanced. Surely when one creature gets near to God, all unfallen creatures are promoted.

4. Do you not think, too, that perhaps they can see God better in Christ than even they did before? Is it not possible that even they who erst did veil their faces with their wings in the presence of the Almighty, because the brightness of glory was excessive, may now stand with unveiled faces and worship God in Christ? I think it is so. They never saw much of God before until they saw God veiled in human flesh. There was too dazzling a splendour for them till the interposing medium of the manhood of Christ came in between them and the absolute Deity. It may be so.

III. What is all this to us?

1. Ought it not to make us prize the gospel? If the angels think so much of it, oh! what should we think?

2. How, too, should we study it, if it be the research of angelic intellects! Is the Church their schoolbook whence they learn lessons of the Divine wisdom, because no science is equal to that of the wisdom of God in Christ revealed in His Church? O do apply every faculty you have to acquire increasing knowledge of that which angels love to study.

3. And now take courage, ye feeble-minded ones, and never fear again the sneer of the man who calls the gospel folly. Account him to be the victim of folly who despises this manifold wisdom. Shall I set the judgment of a poor puny mortal against the judgment of an angel? I suppose that even Newton, and Kepler, and Locke, and those mighty master spirits, would be mere infants compared with seraphs. Ah! ye sceptics, sciolists, and scoffers, we can well afford to let you rail; but you can ill afford to rail when angels are awed into wonder, and so would you be if there were anything angelic about your temper, or anything of right wisdom in your attainments.

4. Last of all; if this be so, how we ought to love Christ who have a saving interest in it, and how they ought to tremble who have it not! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The teaching of angels by the Church

Our text is one of the most remarkable of those intimations which lead to the belief, that this earth, in place of being detached from other portions of creation, is a scene for the development of God’s attributes, and centres on itself the eager regards of the superior orders of spiritual agency. We leave it to the philosopher to use this earth as the home of material for scientific pursuit; we leave it to the poet to admire it as covered with varieties of glorious scenery; here the earth is represented as the school of angels; principalities and powers are described as clustering over its assemblies, that they may learn the wisdom of the Almighty.

I. The indirect testimony which is given by the text to the superiority of the wisdom manifested in the work of redemption, as compared with the work of creation; for we may well suppose that the material fabric of the universe is subjected to the ken and the scrutiny of angels, in all the grandeur of its magnificent and in all the delicacy of its minuter portions. We may believe that when at the word of the Creator the army of worlds came forth from nothingness, angels looked admiringly on, as globe after globe took place amongst the ranks of the starry host; and ever since we may suppose they have been free to pass through the spreadings of space, to search into all that our Maker has fashioned, measuring the grandeur of His productions, and prying into the nicest contrivances of His creative skill. Yet we may conclude from the text, that all God’s wisdom in the works of creation is, as it were, cast aside by the angelic company, and they come and sit with the docility of children at the feet of the Church, and derive their lessons from the mighty interposition of which she is the subject. Does it not, then, follow in the way of consequence, that redemption must far surpass creation in the lessons which it teaches of the wisdom of God; that in the interference of the Redeemer for the salvation of our fallen race there is the greatest manifestation of that attribute whose name is sometimes used for that of the Eternal Son Himself? A redeemed sinner must be the wonder of wonders--if indeed angels return from traversing the circuits of the universe, and congregate upon this lowly globe, and find in the transactions of which it is the scene that preeminent teaching which they have elsewhere sought in vain; and that such is the case must be concluded from the statement of our text--“That now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.”

II. That the Church on earth instructs the angels in heaven with regard to “the manifold wisdom of God.” In order to this we should observe, that God’s purpose may be as much attained from the spirits which surround His throne, as from ourselves who sojourn in a distant corner of His empire. When Daniel had applied himself by fasting and prayer to understand the mystery of the restoration of his people, the angel Gabriel was commissioned to clear up to him the mystery. Then it is evident the angel was divinely instructed for this special occasion; that of himself he could have known little more than Daniel of God’s counsels respecting Jerusalem. And in like manner it may fairly be questioned, whether angels were more conversant than men with God’s plan of mercy towards this fallen creation; whether they were not left, like the Jews themselves, to read out from types and figures the scheme of human salvation. Our text seems to require us to suppose cherubim and seraphim bending over the earth, as under the Jewish law their golden emblems bent over the ark, and searching with intense earnestness into the display of the Divine wisdom there presented. The ark of the covenant was an abiding symbol of God’s gracious presence with His people, and typified those peculiar benefits which belonged to the covenants of peace mediated by Christ on behalf of the spiritual Israel. The covering of this ark, you will remember, was of massive gold, denominated the mercy seat. At each end of this mercy seat was a golden cherubim, placed in such an attitude that it seemed to bend over the ark, as if eagerly desirous to pry into its mysteries; and as if to assure us we are not wrong in thus interpreting the emblem, St. Peter expressly says of the things of redemption, that they are the things which the angels desire to look into, The Greek is still more emphatic than the English--“Things which the angels desire to bend over”; thus making the reference to the cherubim on the mercy seat both undeniable and explicit. But if angels are represented as bending over the ark if they are spoken of as desiring to look, rather than as actually looking, sure]y you may suppose, that previously to the Incarnation the mysteries of redemption were no more discovered to them than to men, but that they, as well as the Jews, were required to decipher a vast assemblage of types, and to gather from Divine intimations the splendid appointments of mercy. If there be justice in this supposition, then our text opens before you with beautiful clearness; for angels must have estimated far better than men the difficulties to be overcome, ere this earth could be restored to the favour of the Lord. They knew from near inspection the uncompromising character of every attribute of God, and perceiving that mercy was yet to be extended to the children of Adam, the problem which must have engaged their attention, whilst they clustered together in shining groups, would naturally be how God could punish the guilt, and yet pardon the guilty. Now if you combine the statements advanced--the first, that up to the period of the Incarnation angels, like men, had only partial glimpses of the scheme of redemption; the second, that God’s wisdom is extraordinarily manifested in human salvation: what conclusion can you reach, but that which is announced in our text? We think that no sooner had the High Priest in the Christian Church entered on His earthly sojourning, than the mystery which had for ages been hid in the eternal mind, of which only dim and shadowy notices had been vouchsafed to any finite intelligence--this mystery, we say, broke suddenly forth; a wave of delighted anthem went out from the thousand times ten thousand squadrons; with one accord the countless multitude of spirits swept their harp strings, and so loud was the minstrelsy and so wide the waving of the chorus, that the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plains caught the echo of the one, and the magi in the distant East caught the reverberation of the other. The very syllables of the chant which the shepherds heard proved that it was God’s wisdom at which the angels became suddenly enraptured. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men,” these were the very things which it was difficult to combine. This was the problem on which angelic wisdom had been vainly expended. Glory in heaven and peace on earth--these had appeared always utterly irreconcilable; and now that it was made evident that they could be reconciled, now that God had developed His purpose, and it was found that through this purpose “Mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace embraced each other”--oh! it must have been the display of wisdom which preeminently shone forth. It was not the love, for they knew long ago that infinite love had moved God to the planning redemption; it was not the justice, for in their debates they had always calculated on a justice which could never pass by iniquity; it was not the holiness, for it would have been to undeify Deity to suppose Him capable of admitting the unclean into communion with Himself; but it was the wisdom that amazed them--“the manifold wisdom”--“manifold,” for it had reconciled every opposing interest; it had provided for every possible emergency; it had left no point neglected, whether in the attributes of the Creator or the necessities of the creature. This wisdom manifested in the Church, whose foundation was just laid upon earth, we believe to have filled with ecstasy the angelic company--yea, to have made such a new epoch in the heavenly annals, that an apostle might be warranted in declaring the gospel to have been published for this very intent--“That now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” But enough on the general scheme of redemption: let us turn to its particular and individual application, and see whether we cannot equally find the teaching of angels by the Church. If you consult the context you will find, that our text had a primary reference to the calling of the Gentiles, and their admission into privileges which had hitherto been confined to the Jews; and if you contrast the legal and Christian dispensations, you will find a great manifestation of wisdom in that process of extension which made the Gentiles fellow heirs with the Israelites. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The reciprocal duties of Church members

The passage naturally leads us to consider, first, the end for which Churches are formed; and, secondly, the means by which that end may be best accomplished. In looking at the end for which Churches are formed, we shall find in this passage very full information.

I. They were formed “to the intent” that “all men might see what is the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” The intention, therefore, for which Churches were formed, beyond the salvation of the members of those Churches, was, you perceive, two-fold. It had reference, in the first place to men, in the second to angels. The two objects which Christ had in view were, the instruction of the world, and the instruction of angels.

II. Let us, then, consider how these things were to be accomplished.

1. In order to “show the manifold wisdom of God” in the fellowship of the Church, first to men and then to angels, or we may say at once both to men and to angels, it is necessary that the Church should be instructed. If the Churches of Christ are without instruction, we cannot expect that either men or angels will learn anything of the wisdom of God from them. The darker the Churches are, the more impressive will be the indications of Divine wisdom working in them, and Divine wisdom formed in them. If the angels, who see God and are like Him--if the angels who understood the glory of His character and the splendour of His works--on turning from it to look into the Churches of Christ, find in them a vagueness of vision which would seem to indicate that the light has scarcely ever shone upon them, can they learn anything from such a spectacle? Ignorant Churches are a reproach in the earth, and ignorant Churches are a reproach among the angels in heaven. Angels know the light contained in the oracles of truth; they know its wide diffusion--they see Churches formed upon a pretended acceptance of that truth; and they do not behold the light which those Churches profess to have received.

2. But not only must there be mutual instruction, there must also be mutual charity. In carrying out the end for which God formed Churches, the members ought mutually to cultivate the spirit Of Christian charity.

3. But, in the next place, among the reciprocal duties of Church members for the purpose of carrying out the end for which Churches were formed, we must place that of mutual encouragement to appear together in every good work. Another thing which we think belongs to the mutual and reciprocal duties of Church members is a constant and ready acknowledgment of one another. Now bear in mind these duties as the reciprocal duties of Church members, so far as the exhibition of their case to the world and to angels is concerned.

4. Let us now look at the duty that devolves upon Church members to support and maintain one another’s characters. If all were to act as they ought to do in this matter, Churches would stand out in strength; they would appear like so many families, the spirit of Christian love would bind them together and produce the outward aspect of inward unity, and both angels and men would learn the nature of Christian feeling, and see the manifold wisdom of God in the Church. But what is there, it may be asked, to oppose the exercise of these duties. We answer, generally, the depravity of the human mind. Were we to go into details we should occupy more time than we can appropriate to the subject. All we shall say is, that there is pride in the mind of man, and that the unity of the Church is injured by the indulgence of that pride; there is jealousy in the mind of man, and the unity of the Church is injured by the indulgence of that jealousy; there is selfishness in the mind of man, and the unity of the Church is injured by the indulgence of that selfishness; there is worldliness in the mind of man, and the Church is kept back by that worldliness: a variety of features of mind and character will occur to yourselves, all of which operate against the right discharge of the reciprocal duties of Church members. (J. Burnet.)

The noblest exhibition

What an idea does this give us of the importance of the Church! Brethren, never let us despise any more the meanest member of it, since there is more to be beheld in the Church than in creation in its utmost breadth.

I. The grand object of attention in the Church to the principalities and powers, is the scheme and plan of saving the Church. It is this that they so much admire and wonder at. They understand how God so hated sin that He laid vengeance on His only begotten, and yet, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” As in the crowns of Oriental princes the most precious jewels shone in clusters, so as in one wonderful corona all the infinite attributes of God shine out at once in all their combined glory around Thy cross, O Jesu, earth’s wonder and heaven’s prodigy! But, further, when the angels see that by this great plan all the ruin that sin brought upon mankind is removed, they again wonder at the wisdom of God.

II. The wisdom of God is made known to angels and principalities in the various dispensations through which the Church has passed. Oh! brethren, the angels, when they compare the past with the present, and again, the present with the past, the choosing of the Jewish olive, and the leaving out of the rest of the trees, and anon, the grafting in of the Gentiles from the wild olive, and the casting out of the natural branches, how much they must have admired the singular variety of God’s dispensations, when they know, as certainly they do, that His grace remains the same! In climbing or in descending a lofty mountain, one is struck with the sudden change of views. You looked on the right just now, and you saw a populous city in the plain; but you turn a corner, and looking through a break in the forest you see a broad lake; and in a moment or two your road winds again, and you will see a narrow valley and another range of mountains beyond. Every time you turn, there is a new scene presented to you. So it would seem to the angelic spirits.

III. They mainly see the wisdom of God in His Church, in the Church’s covenant head and representative. Oh! when first they heard that the Lord of life and glory was to be made flesh and to dwell among us, how they must have admired the plan of heaven’s going down to earth that earth might come up to heaven!

IV. The manifold wisdom of God is made known to principalities and powers in the conversion of every child of God. That ingenious toy called the kaleidoscope at every turn presents some new form of beauty, so the different converts who are brought to Christ by the preaching of the Word are every one unlike the other; there is something to distinguish each case; hence by them to the very letter our text is proved, the manifold wisdom, the much varied wisdom of God is displayed. I have sometimes understood the word “manifold,” as comparing grace to a precious treasure that is wrapped up in many folds, first this, then the next, then the next must be unfolded, and as you unwrap fold after fold, you find something precious each time; but it will be long ere you and I shall have unwrapped the last fold and shall have found the wisdom of God in its pure glittering lustre, lying stored within as the angels behold it in the Church of the living God.

V. The principalities and powers to this day find great opportunities for studying the wisdom of God in the trials and experience of believers, in the wisdom which subjects them to trial, in the grace which sustains them in it, in the power which brings them out of it, in the wisdom which overrules the trial for their good, in the grace which makes the trial fit the back or strengthens the back for the burden.

VI. And lastly, beyond all controversy, when the last of God’s people shall be brought in, and the bright angels shall begin to wander through the heavenly plains and converse with all the redeemed spirits, they will then see “the manifold wisdom of God.” Two questions in conclusion: First, to the children of God. Do you think you and I have sufficiently considered that we are always looked upon by angels, and that they desire to learn by us the wisdom of God? And, lastly, what, think some of you, would angels say of your walk and conversation? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Angels--scholars of the kingdom of Christ

Angels are students here, earnestly bent on learning, if possible, the notes of the ultimate chorus, not simply of heaven and earth, but of all things and God. They are more than willing to enter into the human school of Divine mysteries. Even under the old typical dispensation, the cherubim were represented with heads inclined downward,--suggesting that it was already known in the Heavenly Court, that God is preparing His chief work below. He is not redeeming men for their sakes only, but for His own sake, and for heaven’s sake also. To all principalities and powers, the peculiar dominion of Jesus Christ, is to be the mirror of mirrors for reflecting the manifoldness of the Divine Nature. Paul says: The mystery which from the beginning hath been hid in God, is revealed unto men “to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” Hitherto they have known but little of the richly various ( πολυποίκιλος) wisdom of God. The Son of Man draws together the elders of heaven and the children of time. His work, as the Restitutor of all things (because of its centrality and universal bearings), mightily attracts all spirits, not only the unfallen, but the fallen. From the death and ascension of Christ, the universe has been dated anew. From that great crisis of spiritual wrath, from that great triumph of eternal love, all things in heaven, and all things in earth, and all things in hell, are advancing towards a new issue. The ascension of Christ has made heaven higher and greater than it was before. The new height, as a new centre, is making a new circumference. Heaven is intensely interested in this new opening of God’s wonders, and diligently cooperating with Christ in His work. (J. Pulsford.)

Twilight ages changed to sunlight

I have seen, in the early hours of the morning twilight, the Alps appear under a sky still dark, their summits livid and frozen. The lake which bathed their feet stretched out a grey, motionless surface, and the pale rays of a setting moon seemed but to light up the dread kingdom of death. Some hours have passed away, when suddenly these same peaks become resplendent with life; the glittering snow on the background of dazzling azure, the glaciers erect towards the east their bright ridges, the foaming torrents cutting with their cataracts the green mountain brows, and the dark forest trembles in the morning wind, The lake, quivering in its turn, faithfully retraces in its blue mirror the incomparable picture. Nature had not changed, but the sun had arisen. (E. Bersier, D. D.)

Example of God’s manifold wisdom and power

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.” There is a meaning in these sublime words which is seldom noticed. Innumerable millions of animalculae are found in water, which are never noticed by the unaided sight from their minuteness. Eminent naturalists have discovered not less than 30,000 in a single drop! How inconceivably small must each be; and yet each a perfect animal, furnished with the whole apparatus of bones, muscles, nerves, heart, arteries, veins, lungs, viscera in general, etc. What a proof is this of the manifold wisdom of God! But the fruitfulness of fishes is another point intended in the text; no creatures are so prolific as these. A tench lays 1,000 eggs, a carp 20,000, and Lewenhock counted in a middle-sized cod, 9,384,000! Thus, according to the good purpose of God, “the waters bring forth abundantly.” And what a merciful provision is this for the necessities of man! Many hundreds of thousands of the earth’s inhabitants live for a great part of the year on fish only. Fish afford, not only a wholesome, but a very nutritive diet: they are liable to few diseases, and generally come in vast quantities to our shores, when in their greatest perfection. In this also we may see that the kind providence of God goes hand in hand with His creative energy; while He manifests His wisdom and His power, He makes provision for the sustenance of man through all his generations. (Clarke.)

God manifests Himself

Alexander of Russia used often to ride in a plain carriage, incognito. A man on the road asked if he might ride with him. He got into the carriage, and after a while was inquisitive as to the name of the man with whom he was riding. He said, “Are you a lieutenant?” “No,” said the king. “Are you a major?” “No,” said the king. “Are you a general?” “No,” said the king; “but I am something higher than that.” The man said, “Then you must be the emperor,” and was overwhelmed with his company. In this world God appears to us in strange ways. He takes us up in the chariot of His providence to ride with Him, and we know Him not. At death the disguise will be gone, and for the first time it will be known to us that we have been riding with the King. (Dr. Talmage.)

The pursuit of wisdom

“How shall we describe you to others?” asked a disciple of Confucius. He answered, “Say that I am one who, in his thirst for knowledge, forbears to eat, who forgets sorrow in the joy of attainment, and who hardly has time to notice the advance of old age.” At another time he said, “My only merit is to study wisdom without satiety, and to teach others without weariness.” “These things trouble me, not to live virtuously enough, not to discuss questions thoroughly enough, not to conform practice to doctrine sufficiently, not to reform the bad entirely.” (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)

Manifold wisdom

A blind tortoise lived in a well. Another tortoise, a native of the ocean, in its inland travels happened to tumble into this well. The blind one asked of his new comrade whence he came. “From the sea.” Hearing of the sea, he of the well swam round a little circle, and asked, “Is the water of the ocean as large as this?” “Larger,” replied he of the sea. The well tortoise then swam round two thirds of the well, and asked it the sea was as big as that. “Much larger than that,” said the sea tortoise. “Well, then,” asked the blind tortoise, “is the sea as large as this whole well?” “Larger,” said the sea tortoise. “If that is so,” said the other, “how big, then, is the sea?” The sea tortoise replied, “You having never seen any other water than that of your well, your capability of understanding is small. As to the ocean, though you spent many years in it, you would never be able to explore the half of it, nor to reach the limit, and it is utterly impossible to compare it with this well of yours. The tortoise replied, “It is impossible that there can be a larger water than this well; you are simply praising up your native place in vain words.” (J. Gilmour, M. A.)


Verses 10-13

Verse 12-13

Ephesians 3:12-13

In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him.

Access to God through Christ

I. We have access. Approach to God in worship. Such a state of peace with God as allows a freedom of intercourse.

II. We have boldness of access. Fulness of liberty to draw near to God. The word also expresses 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.

III. We have access with confidence (see 1 John 3:21-22; 1 John 5:14-15). To confidence of success in prayer it is necessary that we “ask according to God’s will”--for such things as He allows us, and in such a manner as He requires us to ask. What God has absolutely promised, He will certainly bestow. What He has promised conditionally, will follow our compliance with the conditions.

IV. All our hope of success in prayer must rest upon the mediation of Jesus Christ. In His flame we are to come before God; and in the virtue of His atonement and intercession we may hope for acceptance. Concluding reflections:

1. In the Apostle Paul we have a noble example of benevolence. He was joyful in his tribulation, finding that it conduced to the happiness of others. It is the glory of the religion of Jesus, that, where it comes with power, it enlarges the mind, purifies the affections, subdues the passions, sweetens the temper, softens the heart to sensibility and love, and excites to every good work.

2. We are taught that new converts should be assisted and encouraged in religion.

3. We farther learn, that our best support under the troubles of the world, is that boldness of access to God, which we enjoy in Christ Jesus.

4. How great a thing it is to pray as we ought to pray in such a manner, that we can truly say, “We have had access to God”!

5. Let the grace and condescension of God encourage us, unworthy as we are, to come often into His presence. He is rich in mercy to them who call upon Him. Our wants are great and numerous, and He only can supply them. Let us attend to our wants, and we shall find matter for prayer, and know what to say when we stand before Him. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

Access by Christ

1. In Christ only is our conscience able to plead its righteousness before God.

2. In Christ we may securely come into God’s presence. Two things which breed confidence.

3. Wicked men are deceived who are persuaded of their security to Godward.

4. To have benefit by Christ we must believe on Him.

the thing assented to.

Filial boldness, through Christ, in approaching the Father

The apostle here tells us of an exalted privilege. Let us consider--

I. The matter of the privilege--“Access.” But access to whom? The apostle does not mention this: it was needless. God was the Being necessarily implied. For, “it is with Him we have to do” mainly and principally in the concerns of the soul and eternity. He is not only the greatest and the best of Beings, but we are most perfectly related to Him. We may view man in three states with regard to God.

1. We may view him before the fall, and in his original condition. Then, he was one altogether with God. He wore His image. He lived in His presence. He enjoyed His smiles, and carried on continual intercourse with Him, and he was no more afraid to meet Him than a child was afraid to meet the tenderest of fathers, or the most endeared of mothers. But, alas! this condition was broken up by sin. We must, therefore, view him--

2. In his fall. Alienated: far from God. Sin separates. Hence results our degradation and wretchedness.

3. We may view man, again, in his renewed state. He now feels his need of God, and returns to Him with weeping and supplication. And he not only seeks, but finds Him, and is in a state of access to God.

Let us observe some of the characters under which we have access to God.

1. We have access to Him as a pardoning God. Everything must begin here.

2. We have access to Him as a supplying God. We need not only forgiveness, but supplies. We are poor. I mean now spiritually poor. We are as poor as poverty itself. We have no righteousness; we have no strength; we have no wisdom of our own.

3. We have access to Him, also, as a communing God. We have access, not only to tits door, but into His house; and not only to His house but to His table, and even to His pavilion--we can come, “even to His seat.” We have access to His ear, and can pour out our hearts before Him. We can speak familiarly with Him and hold converse with Him. We can lean upon His arm. We can rest on His bosom: we can “rejoice in Him with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” So much for the matter of this privilege.

II. Observe the manner. We have boldness and access with confidence.

1. Consider it as an exclusion of that despair and that despondency which very naturally arises from conviction of sin.

2. We may view it in opposition to the bondage of Judaism.

3. As distinguished from the usual access and modes of approach among men. Now, look at earthly monarchs they cannot give you real access to them at all times, it would lower their dignity. For as they have no real greatness, they must substitute the show of it; and this is very difficult, for real meanness underneath will often break through all external greatness; and if they were easy of access, they would be, unquestionably, invaded and incommoded. They are obliged, therefore, to have modes of distance and reserve. There must be guards and established rules of etiquette, and the sovereign can only be approached at particular times, seen only on particular occasions, and heard only on things of importance. Then, too, the interview is short, and frequently is the subject full of intimidation. Such is the impression of external greatness, that Madame Guion, though accustomed to a court, tells us, she “was always breathless when in the presence of Napoleon.” But you, brethren, are not breathless in approaching the King of kings, and the Lord of lords--“who only hath immortality”--“before whom all nations are nothing, yea, less than nothing, and vanity.” You can approach Him at all times; you can have access to Him on all occasions!

III. The medium of all this. “We have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him.” Here we see that He is the object of faith; and that, as faith can only, as exercised upon Him, bring the relief we need; thus we see your faith is as necessary in one sense, as Christ is in another. Yes, the one is necessarily meritorious; and the other instrumental. But the faith is as necessary as the Saviour Himself. That is, here is the remedy; but the application of that remedy is necessarily to be procured as well as the remedy itself. As, for instance, eating is as necessary to our support, as the food we partake of. Now, faith takes in three views of it, each of which is perfectly encouraging: and the more we exercise faith in Christ, the more freedom shall we find in drawing near to God. First, we have “boldness and access with confidence through the faith of Him,” as the gift of God. Then, secondly, “We have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him,” as a sacrifice for sin. Thirdly, we have “boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him,” as our risen and exalted Saviour. (W. Jay.)

The mediation of Christ a motive to confidence in prayer

I. That there is a certain boldness and confidence very well consisting with and becoming of our humblest addresses to God. This is evident; for it is the very language of prayer to treat God with the appellation of “father”; and surely every son may own a decent confidence before his father, without any entrenchment either upon paternal authority or filial reverence. As for the nature of this confidence, it is not so easily set forth by any positive description, as by the opposition that it bears to its extremes; which are of two sorts:

1. And for those of the first sort, that consist in defect.

2. This confidence is opposed also to doubting and groundless scrupulosities. “I will,” says Paul, “that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8). Why? Suppose they should doubt and waver in presenting their prayers to God. “Let not such an one,” says St. James, “think that he shall receive anything of the Lord” (James 1:7). And the reason is plain, for no man is to pray for anything but what God both allows and commands him to pray for. Is it not clear that his suspicion upbraids either God’s power, that He cannot, or His truth, that He will not make good the effects of His promise? But it will perhaps be pleaded in defence and excuse of such doubting, that it arises not from any unbecoming thoughts of God, but from the sense of the unworthiness of him that prays; which makes him question the success of his petition, notwithstanding all the Divine mercy and liberality. But to this I answer, that by the plea of unworthiness is meant, either an unworthiness in point of merit; and so the argument would keep a man from praying forever, forasmuch as none can ever pretend a claim of merit to the thing he prays for, as shall be more fully observed hereafter. Or, secondly, it is meant of an unworthiness in point of fitness to receive the thing prayed for; which fitness consists in that evangelical sincerity, that makes a man walk with that uprightness, as not to allow himself in any sin.

2. Having thus shown the two extremes to which the confidence spoken of in the text is opposed in point of defect, I come now to treat of those to which it is opposed in point of excess, and to show, that as it excludes despair and doubting on the one hand, so it banishes all rashness and irreverence on the other. It is indeed hard for the weak and unsteady hearts of men to carry themselves in such an equal poise between both, as not to make the shunning of one inconvenience the falling into another; but the greater the danger is, the greater must be our attention to the rule.

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 in our access to God. He that is confident in any action grounds his confidence upon the great probability of the happy issue and success of that action; and that probability of success is grounded upon the fitness of the person entrusted with the management of it. The incomparable, singular fitness of Christ for the performance of that work; which fitness will appear by considering Him under a three-fold relation or respect.

1. And first we shall consider Him in relation to God, with whom He is to mediate; who also in this business may sustain a double capacity in relation to Christ:

2. In the next place we are to consider His fitness for this work in reference to men, for whom He mediates; which will appear from that fourfold relation that He bears to them.

3. I come now in the third and last place, to demonstrate the fitness of Christ to he a mediator for us, by considering Him in respect of Himself, and those qualifications inherent in Him, which so particularly qualify and dispose Him for this work: His acquaintance with our condition: we need not spend much time or labour to inform our advocate of our case: for His omniscience is beforehand with us: He knows all our affairs, and what is more, our hearts, better than we ourselves. And it is our happiness that He does so: for by this means He is able to supply the defects of our prayers, and to beg those things for us that our ignorance was not aware of.

IV. Whether there be another means to give efficacy and success to them. If there is, it must be either--

As for anything within us that may thus prevail with God, it must be presumed to be the merit of our good actions, which by their intrinsic worth and value may lay claim to His acceptance. It cannot, I confess, be the direct business of this discourse to treat of the merit of good works. But for our direction, so far as may concern the present subject and occasion, I affirm, that it is impossible, not only for sinful men, but for any mere creature, though of never so excellent and exalted a nature, properly to merit anything from God, and that briefly for these two reasons.

1. Because none can merit of another but by doing something of himself and absolutely by his own power, for the advantage of him from whom he merits, without that person’s help or assistance. But what can anything that the creature can do advantage God?

2. To merit is to do something over and above what is due, no two things in the world being more directly contrary than debt and merit. But now it is impossible for any created agent to do anything above its duty, forasmuch as its duty obliges it to do the utmost that it can. It remains therefore that if there be any other ground of this confidence, it must be something without us. And if so, it must be the help and intercession either--

I. And first for the angels: that they cannot be presumed to mediate for us and present our prayers before God, I suppose may be made evident by these reasons.

2. I come now to see whether we have any greater ground of confidence from anything that the saints are like to do for us in this particular. Concerning which we must observe, that the foregoing arguments brought against the angels interceding for us, by reason of their unacquaintance with our spiritual affairs, proceed much more forcibly against the intercession of the saints, who are of much more limited and restrained faculties than the angels, and know fewer things, and even those that they do know in a much lesser degree of clearness than angelical knowledge rises to. But yet for the further proof of the saints’ unacquaintedness with what is done here below, these reasons may be added over and above. As first, it is clear that God sometimes takes His saints out of the world for this very cause, that they may not see and know what happens in the world. For so says God to king Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:28), “Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and the inhabitants thereof.” Which discourse would have been hugely absurd and inconsequent, if so be the saints’ separation from the body gave them a fuller and a clearer prospect into all the particular affairs and occurrences that happen here upon earth. But secondly, we have yet further an express declaration of the saints’ ignorance of the state of things here below in those words in Isaiah 63:16, where the Church thus utters itself to God, “Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not.” Abraham and Jacob surely were saints, and those too none of the lowest rank; yet it seems they knew nothing of the condition of their posterity, understood none of their wants and necessities. Now in order to any man’s establishing a rational confidence upon the intercession of the saints for us, these three things are required.

1. That they be able thus to intercede for us.

2. That they accordingly will.

3. And lastly, that a man certainly know so much.

A failure in any of which conditions renders all such hope and reliance upon them most absurd and unreasonable. For what foundation of hope can there be where there is no power to help? And what help can he afford me who knows not whether I need help or no? But suppose that he does fully know my condition, yet knowledge is not the immediate principle of action, but will; and no man goes about the doing of anything because he knows it may be done, but because in his mind he has resolved to do it. And then as for the saints’ will to pray for us, since the measure of their will is the will of God calling and commanding them to undertake such or such a work, where there is no such call or command to the thing we are speaking of, we are to presume also, that neither have they any will to it. But lastly, admitting that there is in them really both a knowledge, and an actual will fitting the saints for this office of interceding, yet unless we are sure of it by certain infallible arguments, we cannot build our practice upon it, which is itself to be built upon faith, that is a firm persuasion of both the reasonableness and the fitness of the thing we are to do. (R. South, D. D.)

Confidence towards God realized in Christ

I. How it displays itself.

1. In boldness before the throne of grace (Comp. Hebrews 4:14-16). “The boldness (of speech),”--it was well known and characteristic, Never had men asked for such great things, or with such conviction that they would be granted.

2. In nearness to God and intimate fellowship with Him. All “veils,” earthly priests, etc., were discarded. Theirs was the “perfect love” that “casteth out fear.”

II. How it is produced.

1. In the person of Christ. He is the Mediator through whom they are reconciled to God, and in whose Divine-human nature the unity of men to God is perfected.

2. Through faith. “The faith of Him,” i.e., faith that is awakened by Him, and that rests upon Him. He transfers the affection and trust of men to the Father. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

Freedom of access to God

One of the most distinguished privileges enjoyed under the Christian dispensation. God is willing to hold communion with us, and ready to do us all possible good.

I. The important privilege here asserted.

1. This blessing does not belong to

2. It belongs to the experimentalist in religion: the man who has felt the force of Divine truth--who has sincerely repented of his sins--who has exercised faith in Christ as the only Saviour--who is adopted into the family of heaven--who can look up to God as his reconciled Father.

3. The blessing itself consists of--

II. The ground on which this privilege rests. Not on any speculations of philosophy, or exercises of morality; but on ground peculiar to revelation. It is “by the faith of Christ.” This faith has to do with--

1. The dignity of Christ’s Person.

2. The greatness of His work.

3. The prevalency of His intercession.

4. The richness of His promises.

III. The uses to which it may be applied.

1. In a way of caution.

2. In a way of exhortation. Ye who have taken refuge in Christ, cultivate this confidence; it is your privilege. Let it animate your prayers, assist you in obedience, produce sweet resignation, strengthen, invigorate, elevate you. And oh! if you have this confidence, be careful not to cast it away.

3. In a way of instruction. Let the feeble minded not despair because they have not this confidence, but labour in hope. (The Pulpit.)

The Christian longs for fellowship with God

I was struck with what a little girl said lately. She knocked at the door of her father’s study, and he asked, “What do you want, my dear?” “Nothing, papa, but to be with you.” Does not this answer express the longing of a Christian for the presence of God, to feel His power, to know by personal experience that He is beside us? (J. Munro.)

Boldness of access

When a poor trembling Roman approached the Emperor Augustus, he was in some fear: “What,” says the emperor, “take you me for an elephant that will tear you?” So we should come with boldness to Christ. He encourages the worst of sinners. (Ralph Erskine.)

Access with confidence

Even in our own days great men are not readily to be come at. There are so many back stairs to be climbed before you can reach the official who might have helped you, so many subalterns to be parleyed with, and servants to be passed by, that there is no coming at your object. The good men may be affable enough themselves, but they remind us of the old Russian fable of the hospitable householder in a village, who was willing enough to help all the poor who came to his door, but he kept so many big dogs loose in his yard that nobody was able to get up to the threshold, and therefore his personal affability was of no service to the wanderers. It is not so with our Master. Though He is greater than the greatest, and higher than the highest, He has been pleased to put out of the way everything which might keep the sinner from entering into His halls of gracious entertainment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 13

Ephesians 3:13

Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

Exhortation to steadfastness

1. We are prone, when ministers of the gospel are troubled, to forsake them and their gospel (Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 26:56).

2. We must be ready to suffer in the afflictions of the gospel with the ministers thereof.

Tribulation, the Church’s glory

Leonard Keyser, a friend and disciple of Luther, having been condemned by the bishop, had his head shaved, and being dressed in a smock frock, was placed on horseback. As the executioners were cursing and swearing because they could not disentangle the ropes with which his limbs were to be tied, he said to them mildly, “Dear friends, your bonds are not necessary; my Lord Christ has already bound me.” When he drew near the stake, Keyser looked at the crowd and exclaimed, “Behold the harvest! O Master, send forth Thy labourers!” And then ascending the scaffold, he cried, “O Jesus, save me!” These were his last words. “What am I, a wordy preacher,” said Luther, when he received the news of his death, “in comparison with this great doer of the Word?” (J. H. M. DAubigne, D. D.)

Joy through tribulation

It is related that in Germany there stood two vast towers, far apart, on the extremes of a castle; and that the old baron to whom this castle belonged stretched huge wires across from one to the other, thus constructing an AEolian harp. Ordinary winds produced no effect upon the mighty instrument; but when fierce storms and wild tempests came rushing down the sides of the mountains and through the valleys, and hurled themselves against those wires, then they began to roll out the most majestic strains of music that can be conceived. It is thus with many of the deepest and grandest emotions of the human soul. The soft and balmy zephyrs that fan the brows of ease and cheer the hours of prosperity and repose give no token of the inward strength and blessing which the tempest’s wrath discloses. But when storms and hurricanes assault the soul, the bursting wail of anguish rises with the swells of jubilant grandeur, and sweeps upward to the throne of God as a song of triumph, victory, and praise. (Biblical Treasury.)

Tribulations of the believer

The very word “tribulation” is full of significance in regard to the Christian’s trials. Tribulatio is the Latin for the winnowing or thrashing out of the corn from the husk. The early Christians, seeing that God intended sorrow as a holy discipline, gave to the word a high and spiritual import, which was, to its original meaning, as the soul of man is to his body. When sorrow came to them they called it tribulatio, the separation of the chaff that was in them from the wheat. And the Christian will so look at afflictions. They come to him as they did before he was brought to Christ. Now, however, he has a strength to bear them which he had not before. They sometimes come like a flood; sometimes in the small worries of his daily life. As when the sculptor, working on the marble block, with heavy strokes brings off large pieces of the stone, and again with nice and delicate touches develops the folds of the robe and the beauty of the form, so does God at one time bring upon us great afflictions, at another smaller griefs, but always in him who receives them rightly is He bringing out the character of Christ. He first makes the heart plastic in the fires of tribulation, and then, as with a royal signet, imprints upon it the image of His Son. (J. G. Pilkington.)


Verses 14-18

Verses 14-21

Ephesians 3:14-21

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.

A pattern of prayer

The worldly proverb is, “Every man for himself and God for us all”; the true Christian practice is, to follow Christ:--“I have prayed for thee, that thy strength fall not”; “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” And in following the Lord, to follow St. Paul’s advice and example:--“For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What an intercession this is which St. Paul makes for the Ephesians! It is a pattern of intercessory prayer; it is rightly grounded; it seeks the most precious gifts on behalf of his brethren; it has the highest designs in view in asking their bestowment.

I. The faith on which his prayer was founded.

1. The Fatherhood of God. This is the foundation thought of the Lord’s prayer--“Our Father.” The Father will not fail us.

2. The brotherhood of the saints in Christ. Heaven and earth are knit into one in Jesus. “Of whom the whole family,” every race, “in heaven and earth is named.” The sense is that all the classes and communities of heaven and earth own a common paternity.

II. The great gifts St. Paul sought for others in this prayer.

1. The infusion of spiritual strength--“to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.”

2. The indwelling of Christ--“that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”

3. The establishment of their hearts in the love of God “rooted and grounded in love.”

III. The design of his prayer for the bestowment on them of these gifts. Such spiritual strength, and such an indwelling, were to lead to--

1. Their comprehension of the love of Christ. This is St. Paul’s paradox; to know the unknowable, to know the nature, if we cannot know the extent, of the love of Christ.

2. Their being “filled with the fulness of God.” Where the Son of God dwells, there is the fulness of God. Such is a brief outline of an exposition of this most precious of prayers. (Canon Vernon Hutton.)

St. Paul’s prayer for Gentile Christians

A great prayer all through. This may be seen from--

I. The ideal it presents. The loftiest possibilities of the Christian life are conceived of as open to Gentile equally with Jew.

II. The petition it embodies.

1. Spiritual life as a whole is besought of God as His gift.

2. It is through the continuous operation of the Divine Being that spiritual life is sustained and advanced.

3. Yet is the growth of the spiritual life conceived of as involving the activity of the subject in whom it is manifested. Faith, love, and hope, are active principles in every child of God.

III. The plea it urges. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

Christian prayer

1. Our prayers should be addressed to God the Father.

2. Our prayers should be addressed to God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. Our prayers should be addressed to God with deep humility.

4. Our prayers should be addressed to God for Christian eminence.

5. Prayers should be addressed to God both by ministers and people. (G. Brooks.)

The ladder of prayer

1. You see that the prayer begins with the gracious petition that we may be strengthened--“strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, according to the riches of His glory”; the object being, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith. Before the Lord can dwell in us we must be strengthened--mentally and spiritually strengthened. To entertain the high and holy one--to receive into our soul the indwelling Christ--it is necessary that the temple be strengthened, that there be more power put into every pillar and into every stone of the edifice. It is taken for granted that we have already been washed and cleansed, and so made fit for Christ to come and dwell within us. But we need also to be strengthened; for, unless we become stronger in all spiritual life, how is Christ to dwell in our hearts by faith? Unless we become stronger in love, and in all the graces of the Spirit, how can we worthily entertain such a guest as the Lord Jesus? Ay, and we even need that our spiritual perception should be strengthened, that we may be able to know Him when He does come and dwell in us. We must be strengthened into stability of mind, that so Christ may dwell, abide, reside in our hearts by faith.

2. Now, having stood on the first step of the ladder, Paul goes on to pray that, when we are strengthened, we may be inhabited: that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith. When the house is ready to receive Him, and strong enough for such a wondrous inhabitant, may Jesus come, not to look about Him as He did when He went into the temple, but to abide with us--to “dwell in our hearts by faith.”

3. This third step is a broad one, and it has three parts to it.

The top of the ladder

“To know the love of Christ.”

I. What it is to know the love of Christ.

1. The way in which we come by our knowledge. Personal acquaintance, by having Christ dwelling in you so that you see Him, hear Him, feel His touch, and enjoy His blessed company.

2. The certainty there is in it. “We cannot be certain of anything,” says someone. Well, perhaps you cannot. But the man who has Christ dwelling in him says, “There is one thing I am certain of, and that is the love of Christ to me. I am assured of the loveliness of His character and the affection of His heart. He would not cheer and encourage me; He would not rebuke and chasten me, as He does, if He did not love me. He gives me every proof of His love, and therefore I am sure of it.”

3. What a blessed knowledge this is! Talk they of science? No science can rival the science of Christ crucified. Knowledge? No knowledge can compare with the knowledge of the love that passeth knowledge. How sweet it is to know love! Who wants a better subject to exercise his mind upon? Who would not be a scholar, when the book he reads in is the heart of Christ?

II. To know so as to be filled. It is not every kind of knowledge that will fill a man. Many forms of knowledge make a man more empty than he was before. But if you get a knowledge of Christ’s love, it is a filling knowledge, for it contents the soul. Imagination itself is content with Jesus. Hope cannot conceive anything more lovely; she gives up all attempts to paint a fairer than He; and she cries, “Yea, He is altogether lovely.” Once more, when the love of Christ comes to work upon the soul, when it brings with it all its choice treasures, then the mind of the believer is filled with the fulness of God. Christ does not long dwell in an unfurnished house. Oh, the blessedness of knowing the love of Christ! It fills the spirit to the full.

III. What it is to be filled with all the fulness of God. Does it not mean that self is banished; for if the fulness of God has filled you, where is room for self? Does it not mean that the soul is perfectly charmed with all that God does for it? “Filled with all the fulness of God.” Does it not mean that every power of the entire nature is solaced and satisfied?

IV. Wherever Christ dwells in the heart by faith we receive the fulness of God into our spirit, with the design that we may overflow. If you go forth filled with God, you are provided for every emergency. Come calamity or prosperity, whatever shape the temptation may assume, if the love of Christ has filled you with the fulness of God you are ready for it. If you are full with a Divine fulness, your lips scatter gems more precious than pearls and diamonds. Filled with all the fulness of God, your paths, like God’s paths, drop fatness. Do you not know Christian men of that sort? They are millionaire Christians who make others rich. If the Lord has brought us to His fulness, it is a very high state to be in. Oh, that the Holy Ghost would fill us also according to our capacity! If the water carts go along the road in dusty weather with nothing in them, they will not lay the dust; and if you Christians go about the world empty, you will not lay the dust of sin which blinds and defiles society. If you go to a fountain and find no water flowing, that fountain mocks your thirst; it is worse than useless: therefore do not forget that if you ever become empty of grace, you mock those who look to you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians

I. It was his desire that they might be strong-minded men and women. There exists a prejudice against strong-minded men, and a still greater prejudice against strong-minded women. This may be attributable to the circumstance that many strong-minded men and women are also strong-willed, and somewhat disposed to domineer. There exists, also, a prejudice, for which expression has been found in the assertion, that “ignorance is the mother of devotion.” With none of these prejudices had the apostle any sympathy. He considered nothing so likely to awaken true worship as far-reaching, clear, comprehensive, and correct views of truth; and it was his desire that they to whom he wrote might have all the intellectual vigour necessary to the full enjoying of all the blessings of Christianity. Of “James Wait, the Pious Shepherd”--I quote from memory the title of his memoir, published many years ago, by Mr. Maclaurin of Coldingham--it is stated, that when seated at the Lord’s table at Stitchel Brae, and subsequently at Kelso, there was vouchsafed to him an overpowering revelation of the glory of the Lord, and of His love to mankind sinners. He said, “I was no sooner set down at the table, than I found such a flood of the Spirit’s consolation poured in upon my soul, that I was obliged to cover myself with my plaid, to keep it from the eyes of others. I found myself obliged to plead that the Lord would strengthen the vessel or hold His hand; for I found that I could not bear up.” He felt that it was becoming more than he could stand, and that if carried further, he must expire in an agony of bliss. Thus would I illustrate what I mean. Yes I there are needed strong-minded men and women to sustain the conceptions which may be formed of infinite and eternal verities! Mark the phraseology employed by the apostle: “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” When the ship by which he sailed from Myra was in peril at Clauda, they undergirded the ship. The expression before us is suggestive of strengthening by bracings within, as well as by girdings without; and it is expressive of a desire, that they to whom he wrote might be strong-minded men and women. But this exhausts not the expression of the apostle’s desire on behalf of his brethren.

II. It was his desire that they might be strong-minded men and women, thoroughly imbued with a Christ-like spirit. Mark his expression! “Strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man: that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” What is it that is meant, when it is said, as sometimes it is, by persons who do not hesitate to speak profanely, “The devil is in the man”? Is it not this: the man acts as if the devil had taken possession of his heart, and was influencing him in his every act? Corresponding to this seems the import of the expression employed--“that Christ may dwell in your hearts”--that you may be strong-minded men and women, thoroughly imbued with a Christ-like spirit--strengthened with all might in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.

III. That they might be strong-minded men and women, thoroughly imbued with a Christ-like spirit, and understanding how comprehensive religion is. The views entertained by many in regard to what is comprehended in religion, are very narrow indeed. What is the love of Christ? Our love to Christ may be called the love of Christ: thus do we speak of the love of gold. Christ’s love to us may be called the love of Christ: thus do we speak of a mother’s love to her child. But there is yet another idea which may be expressed by the phrase, “the love of Christ;” and to express this idea, does it appear to me, that the phrase is employed by the apostle here. That idea I would illustrate thus: one doctrine of the apostle was, that the whole duty of man to man was comprehended in love. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” To this love, apparently, the apostle refers--the love inculcated by Christ, and manifested by Christ--a love embracing every duty of man, to himself, to his fellowmen, and to his God. It was his desire that they might be strong-minded men and women, thoroughly imbued with a Christ-like spirit; that they, being rooted and grounded in love, might be able to comprehend how all-comprehensive religion is, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, extending, as it did, far far beyond what they knew or dreamed of. He says not, as many seem to suppose, that it cannot be known--on the contrary, he wished and prayed that it might be known by them. His wish was: Oh that they but knew how all-comprehensive religion is, and would live up to the conception which they attained! or, as I have expressed it, that they might be--

IV. Strong-minded men and women, thoroughly imbued with a Christ-like spirit, understanding how comprehensive religion is, and maintaining a corresponding God-like walk and conversation. It is to such a manifestation of godliness that we are destined and called. A captious objector, or a careless unconcerned reader, may say, How can man be filled with all the fulness of God?--how can the finite comprehend the infinite? In a volume entitled, “The Tongue of Fire,” there was given a beautiful illustration of the import of the apostle’s figure. The illustration was double. The phraseology employed has long since escaped me, but the effect produced upon my mind remains. In substance the illustration was as follows:--There is a dewdrop hanging suspended from a blade of grass bent and pendent with its weight. While we are yet gazing on it, there falls upon it the slanting rays of the morning sun, and it shines as if it were itself a thing of light. It contains not, nor can it contain, the whole of the rays streaming from the orb of day. These illumine the whole hemisphere, and penetrate far on all sides into the depths of space--creating a sphere of light, sustained by successive rays, which it may require thousands of years to traverse, with all the velocity for which light is famous, the radius from the centre to the circumference, so vast the sphere; but that little dewdrop is filled with that fulness of light--to the full extent of its limited capacity full! Again: There is a marble cistern, filled to overflowing with the pellucid water of a perennial spring. It contains not, nor can it contain, all the waters of the fountain; it has been overflowing for years; but it is itself full--to its limited capacity filled--filled to overflowing--filled with the fulness of the fountain! Such is the illustration employed by the apostle: “filled with all the fulness of God.” It is an illustration or expression suggestive, at least, of two ideas, both of them calling for consideration. “That ye might be filled,” every faculty and affection of the soul sanctified--“filled.” “Filled with all the fulness of God”--every Divine perfection having its counterpart in the life and spirit of the man; the justice of God having its counterpart in the justice of the man; the holiness of God its counterpart in the holiness of the man; the truthfulness of God in the truthfulness of the man; the long suffering of God its counterpart in long suffering manifested by the man. Every faculty and affection sanctified, and every perfection of God having its counterpart in the life and spirit of the man--the result of all being a God-like walk and conversation. (J. C. Brown, LL. D.)

The Christian temple: its material and magnitude

I. The peculiar fitness requested for them as forming the material of the spiritual temple (verses 16, 17). It is very clear that the “building” idea pervades this passage throughout. The reference to the dwelling of Christ in the heart decides this. The apostle’s mind was so engrossed by this figure of a temple--the knowledge that he was writing to people who were familiar with temple architecture having possibly something to do with it--that each individual Christian presents himself to his mind as a stone in a glorious temple. And all his thoughts assume a corresponding form and colouring. He asks that they “might be strengthened with might in the inner man.” In this he shows his anxiety that they might prove true stones, possessing qualities befitting the glory and the character of the building; that they might be subjected to such a process as would impart to them the quality of soundness, a most desirable quality in a stone. Upon its soundness depends its capability of bearing strain, of carrying weight, and resisting the ravages of the elements. The quality of the stones composing a building determines the strength and stability of the building itself. Two things are declared respecting this process, namely, its manner and means.

1. The manner of it--“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” The strengthening is secured by the indwelling of Christ. This is not a literal or physical indwelling. The nature of the indwelling is implied by the expression “by faith.” Contact of Christians with Him by faith results in the transmission to them of His qualities.

2. The text describes the means of the indwelling--by faith” and “by the Spirit.” Here we have both the agent and the instrument employed to secure the indwelling. There is a beautiful interblending of the human and Divine in this transaction. The Spirit promotes faith; faith receives Christ; and Christ constitutes the strengthening. The strengthening consists in the transfusion of the soul with Christ’s characteristic traits of strength and firmness. This process is effected by the operation of faith; faith, again, is a mental act prompted by the spirit. If we adhere to the figure of a house, as the term “dwell” seems to suggest, the whole process may be represented thus--Christ comes to “dwell in the heart” with a view to impart strength to it, but He must be admitted into it through the door, which is “faith”; then, again, this door must be opened by the porter, the Spirit, as in the example of Lydia, whose heart, we are expressly told, the Lord opened to the reception of the things spoken by Paul.

II. We notice the second request of this prayer, that they might have enlarged and Christ-honouring conceptions of the magnitude of the temple of which they formed a part. Most people connect the words in verse 18 with the love of Christ referred to in the following verse. The structure of the Greek seems opposed to this interpretation; also the logic of the passage. Can it be true that the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of which we are so definitely to comprehend, is beyond our knowledge? We must look, then, for some other reference to fit the words. What had the apostle uppermost in his mind? Was it not the Christian temple so beautifully described in the last words of chapter 2 as being in course of building? The purport of the thought would seem to be this temple. The apostle knew how narrow and contracted the thoughts of many Jewish Christians, especially, were respecting this glorious institution. He is, therefore, anxious to lift their minds cut of the narrow rut of their traditional exclusiveness. He wants them to rise to a truer and nobler conception of this glorious spiritual temple--“to comprehend its breadth, and length, and depth, and height.” By its breadth and length he describes its area as covering the whole earth, as contemplating all nations within its scope. By its depth and height he measures its elevation; it includes the whole family on earth and in heaven, the Church militant and the Church triumphant. In a word, then, we have the area and elevation of the spiritual temple, the Church, in the one ease covering the earth, in the other reaching to the heavens.

1. The source of it. The comprehension indicated comes as the result of being “rooted and grounded in love.” A strange interblending of figures. Not only has the heart penetrated into the love, but the love penetrates into the heart, transfusing it with its own qualities. What is the result? It is that the heart, so affected, so wrought upon, possesses in its new instinct of love a key to all God’s ways and operations.

2. The universality of its comprehension. It is implied that to comprehend the magnitude of the aim of the Christian Church was a matter which the Ephesian Christians were to attain to in common with all saints. It is the duty of every Christian to attain to clear views on this important matter. It is men who have comprehended this most clearly and appreciated it most fully who have succeeded best in doing great things for God. It is only by the inspiration and enthusiasm born of this great fact that such heroes of the faith as Wesley in England, Carey in India, and Livingstone in Africa, were stimulated and emboldened to attempt the mighty things they achieved in their day.

3. The use of it--“And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” Here the apostle tells us that one of the advantages of the realization of the wide-reaching aims and benevolent purposes of the Church was the help it gives to realize the transcendent love of Christ. It sounds paradoxical to speak of knowing that which passeth knowledge. There is a sense, nevertheless, in which it is consistent. The fact of the love being Divine at once places it beyond the utmost stretch of the human mind to measure its force, to fathom its depth, or to scale its height. He to whom, both by reason of sympathy of nature and power of inspiration, was given more than to any other human being the power of fathoming its depth, and measuring its height, represents it as of the very essence of God. Yet this knowledge-defying love, the text tells us, we may know.

This knowledge consists of two things.

1. In being convinced of it as a fact. As Intimated, this conviction, the apostle tells us, comes of duly comprehending the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the Church. The Church, in the magnitude of its conception and comprehensive benevolence, is a standing monument of Christ’s love, a proof indisputable of its existence and operative force. This much we know of the love of Christ. The sun far surpasses our power of comprehension. We can form no idea of its bulk, of the extent of its forces, of the influence it exerts upon myriad objects embraced by its light and heat. Nevertheless, there is nothing of the existence of which we are more convinced, or with the power of which we are more impressed. Thus it is with the love of Christ.

2. To know the love of Christ means also an assurance of a personal interest in it. It means the conviction that, however it may defy the utmost power of our imagination to measure its magnitude, we are, nevertheless, embraced by it; that it is our moral atmosphere in which we breathe inspiration and power; the spiritual light which infuses, sunlike, gladness and joy into the very core of our life, giving serene rest, and creating unflinching confidence in the midst of universal unrest, and of myriads of turbulent and conflicting elements.

3. The knowledge of Christ’s love is a qualification for the reception of all the fulness of God. The love of Christ, apprehended in the sense explained, unlocks the soul for the entrance into it of all God’s fulness. This is the apostle’s climax thought. Here he describes the highest point of spiritual attainment the believing soul is capable of reaching, that is, becoming a depository for all the fulness of God. The love of Christ, apprehended in this deeper manner, brings the whole man under the complete sway of God. For this being filled with all the fulness of God means--

An ascending prayer

You will see that this prayer is an ascending one. Each petition rises higher than the preceding. Meditating on this prayer is something like ascending an Alpine peak. The first hour or so is comparatively easy work. The giant flanks of the mountain are steep, but still their ascent is not over difficult; but the higher you go, the steeper it becomes, until at last there is just that one glittering pinnacle towering above your head, and it seems to say, “Thus far, but no farther! Scale me if you can.” With the aid, though, of a trusty guide, who cuts steps in the very ice for us, and who lends us the strength of his arm, we are able to gain the summit, and drink in with our eyes the grandeur of the scene. Oh that the Spirit of God might come upon us, and, taking us by the hand, help us by His own mighty power to reach the very topmost pinnacle of the apostle’s prayer, and understand in some measure what it is to be filled with all the fulness of God.

1. There must be an inward strengthening. Spiritual power must be developed to qualify us for attaining to eminence in the knowledge and service of Christ. Not life only, but vitality.

2. There must be an ever-acting faith on your part, so that a whole Christ may be received, and a whole Christ retained within the soul. A glorious realization of the person of the Lord Jesus, and by faith a living Christ dwelling within the breast. Not a portrait merely, but Christ Himself enshrined in the soul.

3. Then, you see, how naturally comes the next petition, “That ye may be filled with all the fulness of God.” Ah! I am certain of this, that if I am filled with a living Christ, I am not far off being filled with all the fulness of God. If I am strengthened with all might by the Holy Ghost, and have a living Jesus within the soul, only one step higher and the pinnacle of the prayer is reached.

(a) Fulness of joy (John 15:11; John 16:24; John 17:13). No piety in being miserable. It is no token of grace to be depressed or disconsolate. It rather shows there is something wrong somewhere, because, included in the all-fulness that Christ has to supply His saints, there is the fulness of joy.

(b) Fulness of peace (Romans 15:13). Joy is peace singing; peace is joy reposing.

(c) Fulness of hope.

(d) The fruits of righteousness (Philippians 1:2). Not just a stray fruit here and there upon your boughs, but all your boughs filled with fruit, until through the very weight of their load they bend down and kiss the ground. The more fruitful the branch, the lower it will hang; and the more fruit there is upon a believer, the less conceit and pride there will be about him.

(e) The knowledge of God’s will (Colossians 1:9).

All these are but a few items of the different things with which the Lord is willing to fill us. Would you lead a calm, restful life? Then you must know the meaning of being filled. To use a very simple illustration--take a water bottle, and if that water bottle be only half full, every time you move the bottle the water in it washes to and fro. Why? How is it that it feels every motion? Because it is not full. But if you fill that water bottle right up until it cannot hold another drop, and then cork it in, you may turn the bottle which way you like, and the water within it will not move. There is no movement, no washing about. Why? Because it is too full to be agitated. The reason why you and I live such poor restless lives is that we are not filled up with the fulness of God. Do you also want to live a life of power? Then remember that the measure of any man’s power is in proportion to the measure with which he is filled with God. (A. G. Brown.)

Prayer a self-revelation

The deepest thoughts of the heart of a spiritual man are sure to come out in his prayer. Hear a man of God pray, and you hear the real man speaking. I suppose there are none of us here who have not often had cause to confess with shame that we should not like to be judged by our converse with man. How often in society and amongst friends we are led to talk and chat in a way quite sufficient to mislead those who are with us, and make them think we are very different men from what we really are. But when after such a season we have gone to our own home, and dropped down on our knees before God, and begun to speak to Him, then, perhaps with bitter tears, we have told Him that it was not the true self speaking a few hours back. If you could only overhear the talk which a saintly heart has with its God, then you would know the man himself. And you may also rest assured that that which a man prays for, for his friends, is in his estimation the choicest blessing they can receive. Only know what your dearest friend asks God to give you, and you know what, in his opinion, is your greatest need. Oh, if we could but sometimes hear those who love us best, and those who know us best, pray for us, it would be a revelation to us. We should then see what, in their judgment, was our deficiency--what, in their estimation, our greatest requirement. Now, if there be so deep an interest attaching itself to the prayers of all, surely, without fear of contradiction, we may say that when it is an apostle who bends the knee, and when it is such an apostle as Paul who prays, we may well be all attention to catch every syllable. If the deepest thoughts of the heart come out in prayer, let there be a holy hush as we hear the apostle of the Gentiles pray. What, in his mind, is the chiefest thing to be desired for a saint? What, according to his judgment, is the choicest blessing that a believer can receive? We have only to listen to his prayer, and we shall discover. (A. G. Brown.)

St. Paul’s example as to prayer

1. Ministers must pray for their people as well as teach them.

2. In prayer we must compose our outward man to due reverance, for the body as well as the soul has been redeemed.

3. Kneeling is the most fitting attitude.

4. Yet there are some cautions to which we must pay attention.

Kneeling in prayer

There was an old clergyman who was much troubled because his wife would sit in church instead of kneeling. He spoke about it to her, but she gave no heed. No; she was more comfortable sitting, and she thought she could pray just as well in one position as another. “You may pray as well,” he said, “but I doubt you’re being heard as well.” However, it was no good; he might just as well have spoken to a stone wall. So then he went one day to his wife’s old servant, and said to her, “Hannah, I will give you a crown if you will go to my wife, and sit down on the sofa at her side, and ask her to give you a holiday tomorrow, because you want to go home to your friends.” Hannah was shy. However, the prospect of the crown encouraged her, and she opened the door timidly, went in, and walking up to the sofa, where her mistress was knitting, sat down at her side. The old lady looked up in great astonishment, and asked what in the world she wanted. “A holiday tomorrow, ma’am.” “Leave the room instantly, you impudent woman,” exclaimed the old lady, “and if you want to have a request granted, learn to ask it in a proper manner.” Then the husband put his head in and said, “My dear! is not this preaching to Hannah the lesson I have been preaching to you for years? If you want to have a request granted, learn to ask it in a proper manner.” Next Sunday, and ever after, the old lady knelt in church. She saw it would not do to treat Jesus Christ in that way in which she did not like at all to be treated herself.

Kneeling

Philip the Third of Spain would never be addressed but on the knees, for which he gave the excuse, that as he was of low stature everyone would have appeared too high for him. And if men claim to be approached in this way, how shall we draw near to the living God, the Maker of heaven and earth?


Verse 15

Ephesians 3:15

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.

The Christian Church a family

I. In the first place, let us consider the definition given by the apostle paul of the Christian Church, taken in its entirety. It is this, “the whole family in heaven and earth.” But in order to understand this fully, it will be necessary for us to break it up into its different terms.

1. First of all it is taught by this definition that the Church of Christ is 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. Another thing which is taught by this definition is this, that 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 poles 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. And then there are diversities of character. And so it is also in the Church, In the Church of God there is a place--and that the noblest--for Dorcas making garments for the poor, and for Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, just as truly as there is for Elijah confounding a false religion by his noble opposition; for John the Baptist making a king tremble on his throne; or for the Apostle Paul “compassing sea and land” by his wisdom and his heroic deeds.

3. The last thing which is taught us by this definition is, that the Church of Christ is a society which is forever 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 yet members of the same family still. Those who had their home here, now have it there. Let us see what it is that we should learn from this doctrine. It is this, that the dead are not lost to us. There is a sense in which the departed are ours more than they were before. There is a sense in which the Apostles Paul or John, the good and great of ages past, belong to this age more than to that in which they lived, but in which they were not understood; in which the commonplace and everyday part of their lives hindered the brightness and glory and beauty of their character from shining forth. So it is in the family. It is possible for men to live in the same house, and partake of the same meal from day to day, and from year to year, and yet remain strangers to each other, mistaking each other’s feelings, not comprehending each other’s character; and it is only when the Atlantic rolls between, and half a hemisphere is interposed, that we learn how dear they are to us, how all our life is bound up in deep anxiety with their existence. Therefore it is the Christian feels that the family is not broken.

II. Pass we on now, in the second place, to 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.” Now, everyone familiar with the Jewish modes of thought and expression, will allow here, that “name” is but another word to express being, actuality, and existence. When the apostle here says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,” it is but another way of saying that it is He on whom the Church depends--who has given it substantive existence--without whom it could not be at all. It is but another way of saying what he has expressed elsewhere--“that there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we may be saved.” Let us not lose ourselves in vague generalities. Separate from Christ, there is no salvation; there can be no Christianity. Let us understand what we mean by this. Let us clearly define and enter into the meaning of the words we use. When we say that our Lord Jesus Christ is He “of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,” we mean that the very being of the Church depends on Christ--that it could not be without Him. Now, the Church of Christ depends upon these three things--first, the recognition of a common Father; secondly, of a common humanity; and thirdly, of a common sacrifice. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Saints in heaven and earth one family

I invite you to consider the ties which bind us to those who have gone before, and the indissoluble kinship in Christ which holds us as much as ever in one sacred unity.

I. First, let us think of the points of this great family union. In what respects are the people of our God in heaven and earth one family?

1. Let us note, first, concerning those in heaven and earth whom the Lord loves that their names are all written in one family register. That mystical roll which eye hath not seen containeth all the names of His chosen. Let us gaze by faith upon that great Book of Life where all the names of the redeemed stand indelibly written by the hand of everlasting love, and as we read those beloved names let us remember that they make but one record.

2. The saints above and below are also one family in the covenant made in Christ. Fellow citizens with the glorified, but strangers and foreigners among worldlings.

3. All the saints in heaven and earth have the covenant promises secured to them by the self-same seal, viz., the sacrifice of the bleeding Lamb.

4. The family in heaven and earth, again, will be plainly seen to be one, if you remember that they are all born of the same Father, each one in process of time.

5. The nature of all regenerate powers is the same, for in all it is the living and incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth forever. The same nature is in the saints above as in the saints below. They are called the sons of God, and so are we; they delight in holiness, and so also do we; they are of the Church of the first born, and so are we; their life is the life of God, and so is ours; immortality pulses through our spirits as well as through theirs. The new life in heaven is more developed and mature; it has also shaken off its dust, and has put on its beautiful garments, yet it is the same. Oh, it needs but little alteration in the true saint below to make him a saint above. So slight the change, that in an instant it is accomplished. “Absent from the body and present with the Lord.”

6. We are one yet further, brethren, because all saints, whether in heaven or earth, are partakers in the same Divine love. “The Lord knoweth them that are His” not merely those in heaven, but those below.

7. Heirs of the same promises, and the same blessed inheritance. Think of this, you who are little in Israel.

8. All members of one body, and necessary to the completion of one another. We are the lower limbs, as it were, of the body, but the body must have its inferior as well as its superior members. It cannot be a perfect body should the least part of it be destroyed. The saints above with all their bliss must wait for their resurrection until we also shall have come out of great tribulation; like ourselves they are waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.

II. Let us now speak upon the inseparableness of this union. “The whole family in heaven and earth,” not the two families nor the divided family, but the whole family in heaven and earth. It appears at first sight as if we were very effectually divided by the hand of death. There was a great truth in the sentence which Wordsworth put into the mouth of the little child when she said, “O master, we are seven.” You cannot conceive of our heavenly Father’s being bereaved. Our Father which art in heaven, Thou hast lost none of Thy children. There is no break towards the Father, and no break towards the Elder Brother, and therefore it must be our mistake to fancy there is any break at all.

1. Space makes no inroads into the wholeness of the Lord’s family. Space is but the House of God; nay, God comprehends all space, and space, therefore, is but the bosom of the Eternal.

2. And what a mercy it is that greatest of all separators, does not now divide us, for we are “made nigh by the blood of Christ.”

3. Neither do errors and failures of understanding divide the family of God; if, indeed, they did, who among us could be of the same family as those who know even as they are known? The little child makes a thousand mistakes, and his elder brethren smile sometimes, but they do not deny that he is their brother because he is so ignorant and childish.

4. Neither can sorrow separate us. To deny that your warring soldier is a part of the host would be a great mistake; to say that he is not of the army because he is in the midst of the conflict would be cruel and false. The saints militant are of the same host as the triumphant; those who are suffering are of the same company as the beatified.

III. A topic of deep interest now comes before us--the present display of this union.

1. The service of those who have departed blends with ours. They, being dead, yet speak; their service projects itself beyond this life. Do not let the living think that they are the sole champions in the holy war, for, to all intents and purposes, the spirits of the just made perfect stand side by side with them; and the battle is being carried on in no small measure by cannon which they cast, and weapons which they forged. Though the builders be absent in body, yet the gold, silver, and precious stones which they builded, their Lord will establish forever.

2. The influence of the prayers of those in heaven still abides with us. Many a mother dies with her children unsaved, but the prayers she continually offered for them will prevail after her death.

3. Further, the unity of the Church will be seen in this, that their testimony from above blends with ours. The Church is ordained to be a witness. My brethren, we try to witness as God helps us to the truth as it is in Jesus, even as those who are above once witnessed with us here in life and in death. But now that these spirits have entered within the veil do they cease their testimony? No. Hear them. They bear witness to the Lamb, saying, “For Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.” Ye are comrades with us, ye shining ones; ye are fellow witnesses for Jesus, and therefore ye are one with us.

4. The main employment of saints above is praise. Beloved, what is ours but praise too? Their music is sweeter than ours, freer from discord, and from all that is cold or wandering, but still the theme is the same, and the song springs from the same motive, and was wrought in the heart by the same grace.

5. Towering over all is the fact that the Well-beloved is the common joy of saints in heaven and on earth. What makes their heaven? Who is the object of all their worship? Beloved, He is as much all in all to us as He is to them. Jesus, we know Thee and they know Thee; Jesus, we love Thee and they love Thee.

IV. Last of all, there is to come, before long, a future manifestation of this family union, much brighter than anything we have as yet seen. We are one family, and we shall meet again. If they cannot come to us we shall go to them by and by. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The royal family

I. Let us understand the language of the text.

1. The key word is “family.” A building sets forth the unity of the builder’s design. A flock, unity of the shepherd’s possession. The title of citizen implies unity of privilege. The idea of an army displays unity of object and pursuit. Here we have something closer and more instructive still: “family.”

2. The link-word is “whole.” “Whole family in heaven and earth.” There is but one family, and it is a whole.

(a) Sinning and repenting: not yet made perfect.

(b) Suffering and despised: strangers and foreigners among men.

(c) Dying and groaning, because yet in the body.

(a) Serving and rejoicing. Sinless and free from all infirmity.

(b) Honouring God, and honoured by Him.

(c) Free from sighing, and engrossed in singing. The militant and the triumphant are one undivided family.

3. The crowning word is “named.” We are named after the first-born, even Jesus Christ.

II. Let us catch the spirit of the text. Let us now endeavour to feel and display a family feeling.

1. As members of one family let us enjoy the things we have in common. We all have--

2. As members of one family, let us be familiar with each other.

3. As members of one family, let us practically help each other.

4. As members of one family, let us lay aside all dividing names, aims, feelings, ambitions, and beliefs.

5. As members of one family, let us strive for the honour and kingdom of our Father who is in heaven.

No part in the family

Thomas Brooks mentions a woman who lived near Lewes, in Sussex, who was ill, and therefore was visited by one of her neighbours, who to cheer her, told her that if she died she would go to heaven, and be with God, and Jesus Christ, and the saints and angels. To this the sick woman in all simplicity replied, “Ah, mistress, I have no relations there! Nay, not so much as a gossip, or acquaintance; and as I know nobody, I had a great deal sooner stop with you and the other neighbours, than go and live amongst strangers.” It is to be feared that if a good many were to speak their thoughts they would say much the same. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Father and the family

There is a connection between the word for “Father,” and that for “family” in the Greek which we cannot reproduce in translation, but which may be illustrated by the analogous connection which exists in English between “Creator” and “creature.” Every family ( πατριά) derives its name from the Father ( πατήρ).

I. I find here a remarkable and most interesting statement of the Fatherhood of God. It is this: that the prototype of all human fatherhood is found in the Divine. God is the true and perfect Father, of whom all other fathers are but faint likenesses. As one of the old divines has it, “Not from us did this name and the relation it expresses ascend to heaven, but from heaven it came down to us.” Let me illustrate. Far off beyond the Rocky Mountains, in the valley of the Humboldt River, the traveller sometimes sees, in certain conditions of the atmosphere, some earthly object--even an entire landscape--painted as if by an angel’s hand upon the clouds. Not thus is this word “Father” applied to God--an earthly image upon a heavenly ground. Ah, then, dear as it is to the ear of man, it were no better than a cruel mirage mocking poor travellers through this desert of time I But no: it is a heavenly image reflected in earthly relations; the application of the word “father” to man is borrowed from its Divine and heavenly meaning. It is a dewdrop fallen from the skies, which mirrors in its tiny surface the whole “scope of heaven.”

II. The next thought suggested by the text, relates to the fatherhood of man. Behold the dignity and glory of the family! It is heavenly and Divine in its origin. Great reason is there, then, that men should take heed how they exercise their relationship--how they fulfil the holy office of “father.” Let us stint neither prayer nor care, that our families here on earth may be, at least in some faint degree, a reflex of the family in heaven. There is a little sheet of water at the eastern end of the Yosemite valley, in which one may see, if we visit it before the sun has touched it, a most wonderful and entrancing sight. In the surface of that tiny lake, polished to an almost preternatural smoothness by the hand of God Himself, is mirrored the whole grand amphitheatre of gigantic walls and towering cliffs, varying from two thousand to five thousand feet in height; the entire valley of the Yosemite, some eight miles in length, and with it the over-arching sky, reflected with absolute exactness, and with such vividness that every tint of the forest, and every crevice and stain in the cliffs, and every hue of the floating clouds, is distinctly reproduced. We may not hope even to see an earthly family which shall be such a mirror as that, which shall reflect the family in heaven with any such perfectness as that. But surely our earthly families may reflect something of heaven--something of the peace and joy and love which reign there. Surely we may at least by God’s blessing, so order our homes that they need not always be like a turbid lake, so tossed and so unquiet as never to show any reflection of heaven.

III. The perpetuity of the family. Follow for a little distance the fortunes of a family. They gather, we will suppose, in a bright country home--father and mother, sons and daughters, all bright and hopeful and happy; the young full of enthusiasm for the untried voyage before them, the old full of joy in the happiness and hope of the young. A few years pass, and again we see them gathered, it may be, in the same scene; but how changed already! Lines--the well known lines of care--traced on the brow, and gray hairs here and there, tell the story of battle and bereavement in the experience of life. There is a vacant chair or more, and the tears on more than one cheek bear silent witness to the sad associations that the family reunion recalls. Years roll on; and one after the other is missed, till the number up there is greater than the number here, and the home centre must be sought beyond the river. At length only one is left, a lonely pilgrim, tottering under the weight of years, and steadily approaching the brink of the cold, dark stream. To such a one, how sweet the gospel message about the family in heaven I to know that, fast as the Christian family breaks up here, it is reforming in a better home there; and to be assured that the life there shall not be an utterly new and strange one--that this at least will remain, the family. (B. H. McKim, D. D.)

The Divine family

I. Of whom the Divine family is composed.

1. The family in heaven embraces--

We feel satisfied of the happiness of these;

2. The Divine family on earth is composed of all true believers. They may differ materially in knowledge, talents, gracious attainments, etc.; “but to as many as received Him, gave He power to become the sons of God,” etc. (John 1:12).

II. In what respects the two branches in heaven and earth are but one family.

1. They have only one head. Jesus is the Head of the body, the Church. So He is the Head of principalities and powers; He is Lord of all (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 2:10).

2. They have one distinguishing nature. And that is holiness; with this difference, that those in heaven are made perfect, while those on earth are advancing towards it (Revelation 7:13).

3. They have one employment. To bless and adore Him who sitteth on the throne, and the Lamb forever. To obey the Divine commands, and to exhibit His spirit, whose they are and whom they serve.

4. They are one in interest and affection.

III. Make some remarks on its future union and consummation. Both branches shall be joined, and in one holy place they shall spend an eternity together. Notice--

1. The time of this union and consummation. After the termination of Christ’s reign upon earth; the judgment, etc. (see whole of Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 22:1-21).

2. The great number of this family.

3. The moral and intellectual character of this family. All bright and unerring in knowledge; burning with love--without spot or wrinkle, etc. (Revelation 21:27). Notice--

4. Its perfect happiness. Every cause of grief and misery removed--presence of all good--pleasures for evermore (Revelation 22:1-5). Notice--

5. Its eternal permanence.

The unity of heaven and earth in God

Paul’s description of God as “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,” is unique. Unfortunately the charm and the force of it cannot be represented in an English translation. The Greek word represented by “family” is used to denote not only a family, but a clan, a tribe, a nation, a race--any number of men who are thought of as the descendants of one father. We have no analogous word in our own language, and therefore the felicity of Paul’s expression cannot be transferred into English. What he means is this:--You have a name for those who belong to the same family, the same tribe, the same nation, the same race, by which you describe them as the descendants of a common ancestor; a name which implies that their unity is not the artificial creation of human law, but consists in their relationship to a common father; this name bears witness to the relationship of all the families and tribes of men, and of all ranks and orders of angels, to the eternal Fountain of all created life. God is the true Father of all races in heaven and on earth; and the unity of a family, a tribe, a nation, in its common ancestor, has its original and archetype in the unity of angels and men in Him. This great and noble conception of the unity of heaven and earth in God is characteristic of that form of Christian theology which is illustrated in this Epistle and in the Epistle to the Colossians. As yet, according to Paul’s conception, the Divine idea is unfulfilled. Its orderly development has been troubled, thwarted, and delayed by sin, by sin in this world and in other worlds. But it will be fulfilled at last (Colossians 1:16). In union with Christ, the Eternal Son, heaven and earth will be restored to the Eternal Father. (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

The family in heaven and earth

It may be useful to contemplate the relation between believers on earth, and saints and angels in heaven.

1. They all spring from the same common parent.

2. They are all governed by the same general laws.

3. As children of the same family, they share in the same pleasures and enjoyments.

4. They have all the same general temper; the same distinguishing complexion.

5. They have all one common interest.

6. The members of a family, however diversified in age, condition, abilities, and improvements, agree in this, that they look to, rely upon, and are guided by the same head. It is so in God’s great family.

7. They are all objects of God’s love.

8. At the last day, all the saints, those who are now on earth, and those who are in heaven, will meet in God’s presence, be openly acknowledged as His children, and admitted to dwell together in His house forever.

Concluding reflections:

1. If we estimate the dignity of men from the families with which they are connected, how honourable is the believer! He belongs to the family in heaven. He is a son of the Most High God.

2. We see our obligations to mutual condescension, peaceableness, and love. The family in heaven are all of one heart and one soul. They are united in the worship and service of God, and in the designs of benevolence toward one another. If we profess to belong to that noble family, let us learn to imitate their temper and manners.

3. If we are God’s family, how careful should we be to attend on the orders of His house!

4. Let those who are not of this family be solicitous to obtain a place in it.

5. Let such as profess to be of God’s family, walk as becomes so honourable a relation. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

One family in heaven and earth

The word rendered “family” is from the same root as the word rendered “Father.” The Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of all who by Him attain sonship. His Father is our Father. His God is our God. The “whole family” or kindred. It is a collective term for the descendants of the same father, nearer or more remote; as in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel we read of the “house and family of David.” What, now, is the extent of its meaning here? Is it confined to those who are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ? to the redeemed from among men both on earth and in heaven? Or is it to be understood as comprehending the celestial and angelic worlds, and all the ranks of heavenly creatures? I prefer this latter interpretation. The meaning is, that the whole circle of holy and intelligent creatures take the name of a family, after God as their Father. “Of Him”--the Universal Father--“the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” He is Father to them all. They all feel the comfort of His love. He is not only the fountain of law, and preserver of order, but also fountain of tenderness and grace. And we may be sure that whatever needs to be done in those heavenly worlds, in sustaining weakness, in guiding inexperience, in admonishing what would be waywardness if not corrected in time, in the leading of younger spirits, or in the comforting of those that are discouraged by the mysteries of the universe--all will be done by the Universal Father, who cannot be one Being here and another there, one Being today and another tomorrow, but who, like the Eternal Son, who manifests and represents Him, is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Having thus drawn out the meaning of the text, and having found it be a very large and a very tender one, let us now see what uses we ought to make of it.

I. These views ought somewhat to overcome the depressing effect naturally produced on us by the vastness and grandeur of the material universe.

II. This passage will do us good if it confirms our faith (a faith which is sometimes wavering enough) in the actual objective existence of heaven as a place--a chosen, favoured place, where God and His children meet and dwell. It is spoken of in such a way in the Scriptures that we might call it the paternal house and home; we might almost say the old ancestral home, although of course these earthly analogies may easily mislead us, and at the best are very meagre and poor. But clearly, if this passage is to have any honest and practical meaning for us at all, it must be regarded as telling us that there is a real heaven, as there is a real earth, and that if there be God’s children, named and nourished in the earth, there are also God’s children named and nourished in heaven. Heaven is assuredly a place, with sure foundations, somewhere in space. It is often necessary to insist on the complemental or correlative truth, that heaven is a state even more than a place. We can, without difficulty, conceive the place being changed, if there were need: God could build a city anywhere in space. But we cannot conceive the state being essentially changed and heaven left. There is but one moral condition that can make heaven. It may be anywhere as to locality, but it must always consist of knowledge, sanctity, and love. All this granted, it yet is true that we shall suffer a most depressing loss if we cease to think of it as a local habitation--a world, or worlds; as real--probably far more real and permanent than any of the worlds we see. We cannot afford to lose anything of the definiteness and firmness of the Scriptural language. Our faith holds fast to the “place” which Jesus has prepared for His people; where He shows forth His own glory.

III. Heaven has great priority and preeminence over earth. Heaven stands first, not only in the order of the phrase, but as being intrinsically and immensely superior. Earth, too, is a mansion of the Father’s house, or a room of it, or an outlying field connected with it; but how far inferior to heaven! The children go from earth into heaven. They don’t come from heaven into the earth. Angels do, for brief moments, when they come to minister to the heirs of salvation. The ministration rendered, they go up again like flames of fire or beams of light, to renew their strength by “beholding the face of their Father who is in heaven.” Not an angel, of high or low degree, is ever born into this world. But men are being continually born into heaven--into heaven as a moral kingdom here, by regeneration; into heaven as a place, by death. Thus at every deathbed of one of the family, and at every grave, the less is bowing down to the greater. Earth is worshipping heaven: yielding up her best fruits to that high garnerage; consenting (ah! sometimes only with a struggle) that her deepest questions and dearest hopes shall have solution and fruition only there. If, in traversing a country, you saw many rills and brooks flowing down many hillsides and along many valleys, and evidently converging towards some distant point, you might be sure that beyond that point you would find the deep river, and that beyond the river you would come to the sea. Well, the children of the family in this world are all going one way. They make a ceaseless procession. None of them turn back. They all disappear through the death gate. Some are feeble through very age, and some are helpless in their infancy--carried in their mothers’ arms along the heavenward road; while now and again one in the prime of life and in the flush of untried strength will head the procession and enter in at the gate. And what does it all signify to the Christian thought but this, that Heaven is far greater and in every way better than earth, and that we may well yield up our best and dearest to swell its numbers and enhance its glories and felicities?

IV. If we thus regard heaven as greater and better than earth, we shall certainly find it by so much easier to bear some of our heaviest sorrows, and to understand some of the deepest mysteries of life. Death is but a momentary shadow. Life has unbroken continuity. Loss, in the long reckoning, is impossible. Gain is necessary and certain. When to live in Christ, then to die must be gain.

V. It surely ought, with each one of us, to be the great ambition of our life, and the very chief of all our cares, to belong, heart and soul, to this great family of God. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The Christian brotherhood of man

The brotherhood of man has been the dream of old philosophers, and its attainment the endeavour of modern reformers. Like a memory of some lost Paradise it has floated down the ages, and, failing in one generation, it has ever been revived by its successors. And if we inquire into the meaning of this deep conviction, we shall find that, like all such beliefs, it is founded on a great truth--the truth that 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. Thus the belief in brotherhood, and the yearning after its attainment, spring from the image of God in which humanity was made. But strong as that conviction has been, all human endeavours to reach it have failed. It can be found only in Christ.

I. The brotherhood of man in Christ. You can scarcely fail to observe that Paul speaks of this as an actually existing fact. He does not say that there shall be, he asserts that there is a family named in the one name of the Father and the Son. It is the unity of spirit and life underneath the external differences which constitutes the brotherhood of man. Paul’s words imply a three-fold unity: the Fatherhood of God: the Brotherhood of Christ: the union between the seen and the unseen worlds.

1. The fellowship of devotion to a common Father. This, at first sight, may seem to be a very feeble bond of union between men. We all join in this devotion; we all join in saying “Our Father, which art it heaven”; and yet are we any nearer our fellows? But in reality it destroys the grandest source of disunion, for the absence of fellowship with God is the great cause of separation between man and man. If you consider it, you will find that all the strong bars of disunion have here the secret of their power. All forms of selfishness rise from separation from God. On the other hand, by devotion to a common Father all separating walls are broken down, and a real brotherhood arises. Through the earnest consecration to our Father in heaven, pride and selfishness dissolve, for we are our own gods no more. No man can live in the love of God, because God first loved him, and then yield to bigotry, for bigotry is the love of an opinion, not the love of the Father. Here, then, is a real and actual ground of unity.

2. The fellowship with Christ, our common Brother. In the words, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul implies this second ground of unity as an existing fact. What does he mean by it? What power is there in that? Evidently, in one broad and true sense, the humanity of Christ makes all men brethren. The fellowship of the Saviour’s obedience and conflict is the great bond of unity. Distinctions vanish here. Varieties of creed and culture become of little consequence. The poor man in his ignorance, and the rich man in his temptations; the preacher and the hearer; the student and the man engaged in the toils of commerce--are all one. Again I say, this unity is real and actual. Men are nearer to each other than they seem to be; and the more they realize this life, the more they struggle to reach the Christ-like life, the more will they feel this essential unity amid all diversities.

3. That fellowship unbroken by the change of worlds. “In heaven and earth.” In conclusion, glance at the results of realizing this fact of brotherhood.

The whole family in heaven

I. The first characteristic of the celestial family is holiness. Now, we would not insinuate the absence of genuine uprightness from the hearts and the homes of men on earth. But we would broadly assert the infinite inferiority of the holiness which even here commands the homage of the sinful to the holiness which shall reign in glory--its superiority in respect of beauty and perfection. For, no worldly temptations, no fleshly lusts, no wiles of the seducer shall mar the purity of the Paradise of God.

II. The second characteristic of the celestial family is love. Now love is of two kinds, general and special. General love extends to every member of the household of God. Special love is limited to certain individuals in the same.

1. With regard to the former, it is evident that where there is true love to God, there will be true love to all His children. For

2. But the love of the heavenly world will be special and individual. The happy company of the saints at rest is described as a “family.” Surely then, there will be mutual recognition among the several members, especially among those who were known and endeared on earth. Let us endeavour to make good this thought--so full of consolation to the sorrowing.

The Christian family

The Church of Christ is a family. No analogy better sets forth the connection which one believer sustains to his fellow.

1. All the members of the family have one Father.

2. In this family there is one name.

3. There is the family resemblance.

4. There is also diversity of character in this family. God has not made us all alike, but differently, because we have different works to do.

5. There is one home for this family. (E. Henderson.)

The whole family in heaven and earth

I. Notice the head of this family. He is the great and everlasting God. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the family is named, after whom it is named--the great originator of it, the great compactor together of it. In various passages of Scripture, as I need scarcely remind you, God presents Himself in the character of a parent--the head of a numerous offspring, all entirely dependent upon Him.

II. Let us next proceed to observe its members. They are numerous and varied. The language of our text speaks of a “family in heaven and in earth.” Here are comprehended the inhabitants of regions visible and invisible; and they must now, as each is presented here, briefly pass under our review. There are those, who compose the family in heaven--for we take the term “heaven” without debate or controversy, as signifying really and truly the celestial world. And these, my brethren, are the holy angels--those lofty and dignified spirits, who were the first handiwork of the glorious Creator, possessing vast capacities, sustained in perfect holiness, and endowed with deathless existence. According to the language of inspiration, we find that they reside constantly in the celestial regions, in hosts bright and innumerable, all depending on God, and all owning God as being their Father. There are also other beings, who were once the inhabitants of our own world, but who reside with the angels in those celestial mansions--“the spirits of just men that are made perfect”; men whose spirits rose at death to that higher state, and men who in that higher state are made perfect in holiness and in felicity. By these, “the family in heaven” has been constantly multiplied and augmented, from the commencement of time until now; and these must be regarded as the most precious trophies which the infinite love of the Father has made, or can make, His own. As to the members of this “family on earth,” the persons who compose this department are men now living, who have been redeemed from their original corruption and depravity, and who have been brought into a state of reconciliation and acceptance before God. They are constituted the children of God by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit on their hearts.

III. From noticing the head of this family, and its members, we proceed now to notice its duties. We can form no idea of a family, without an associated idea of duties: one is indispensable in its connection with the other. These duties are owing to God, and they are owing to each other. As to the duties which are owing to God: the great Head of the household has demanded a certain tribute from His children, which it is their obligation cheerfully and unreservedly to pay. They are to adore His majesty; they are to be grateful for their goodness; they are to obey and perform His will: these are His unchanging and eternal obligations. As to the duties which are owing to each other: there are reciprocal obligations, extending throughout the whole of the family; and these obligations may be regarded as comprehended and summed up under the one noble impulse of love.

IV. From this notice of the duties belonging to the family, let us proceed now to notice their privileges--the privileges of this family. We have already, from the statements we have made, indicated those privileges as numerous and eminent: and we now must enumerate them more distinctly. We do not now direct your attention to those privileges which are enjoyed by the “family in heaven”--these will be noticed subsequently; we merely remark now, that they are made partakers of perfect and inviolable felicity; our attention is to be pointed towards the privileges possessed by the “family” of God yet dwelling “on the earth.”

1. And we observe there is the privilege of instruction. As a wise parent administers instruction to his household in all matters which are right and important for the welfare of those who compose it, so is it in the family, of which God Himself is the Head. He administers instruction to His children upon all the great matters on which it is essential for them to be informed.

2. Again, there is also the privilege of communion--we mean, that the children have intercourse, fellowship, or communion with God. They see not His glory, and they hear not His voice; but through His written word, and through the ordinances and means of grace He has been pleased to appoint, there is an interchange of mind--their minds go forth and ascend to Him, and His mind comes forth and descends to them. There is a special intercourse of mind between the children and the Parent.

3. And there is the privilege of discipline. God has placed in action a certain order of administration, which is intended for the subjugation of what in the character of His children is impure and unholy, and also for the growing assimilation of their attributes and state to the moral purity and grandeur of His own likeness. Here, brethren, of course we refer to that order of administration which is comprehended under the title of afflictions--events which transpire in the course of our earthly probation, from time to time, and which, in themselves, are painful and distressing to endure. But how, it may be asked, can such an order of dispensations as these be numbered among our privileges? Is it not a solecism, a contradiction in fact, as well as in terms? No, brethren, when we consider the design of our Father, in imposing this order of administration, and when we consider the results which invariably follow under His grace, it must be secure.

4. And yet, once more, there is the privilege of protection. Many, ingenious, and malignant are the enemies with which we are surrounded; constantly at work, in order to retard our progress, and to prevent out attainment of happiness. Against these God has been pleased to provide an ample protection. He stands as by our side in time of conflict and peril, and says, “Fear not, for I am with you!” He protects us against sin; He permits not the “law in the members” to gain the victory over the “law of the mind.” Sin “has no dominion over us.” He makes us “free from sin, and servants unto righteousness, bringing forth fruit unto holiness, that the end may be everlasting life.” He protects us against the world. The world in its blandishments and attractions is emasculated and paralyzed--for “greater is He that is for us than he that is in the world.” He protects us against Satan--his wiles and his fiery darts are alike impotent and harmless, and “the very God of peace shall bruise Satan under our feet shortly.” He protects us against death. Death to us is no more the king of terrors.

5. And then, and more especially, the whole family will be united in the enjoyment of final and imperishable happiness.

It will he the happiness arising from holiness, from mutual recognition and intercourse, from the vision of God, from pure and dignified employments, and from the consciousness of security and immortality.

1. Let us be grateful for having been introduced into this family. There is no position like that, brethren, which is occupied by us. From what evils are we relieved, to what blessings are we entitled, by being rendered “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus”! Nothing in the honours of earth can be compared to it.

2. Let us rejoice over those, who from “the family on earth,” have gone to unite with the “family in heaven.” Multitudes of men have already been transferred from the probationary to the permanent state; and not a few of those who are present now, have had friends once dear to them in the flesh and in the Lord, who have also made the step of transit, and are now before the throne on high.

3. And then, finally, let us anticipate the various events, through which we are to unite with the “family in heaven” ourselves. We are all brethren and sisters in Christ. We are all tending towards our home. Our march is constantly in rapid progress. And when the last enemy rears himself before us, we shall find that, though he may come in harsh costume, and with a rugged accent, he can but administer to us one message--“Child of God, I am sent by thy Parent to summon thee to His home.” How, then, shall we not welcome him and tell him to strike, knowing, that “when the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”? It will be but the sigh, or, it may be, the convulsion and agony of a moment, and then all is past, and the child of God has gone from the “family on earth,” and is numbered with the “family in heaven.” (J. Parsons.)

Home relations--What is home

St. Paul tells us that it is a society which has God for its founder, and we have only to add to this that it is a society of which each individual father is the human centre. The parental presence is the home. Place is no part of it. We may speak of the home of our childhood, or the home of our youth, and mean by this the particular house in which days full of delightful memories were spent, and from which to have been uprooted by circumstances adverse or prosperous, was a trouble and a sorrow never to be compensated--but, after all, the home itself moves with the parents, and the essence of it is still, amidst all change, the parental presence. Now the home, thus defined, may be of various, even of opposite characters. There are good homes and bad homes--homes of beautiful example, tender affection, and entirely beneficent influence. There are homes of mere self-indulgence, teaching no better lesson than that of the utter unsatisfactoriness of a life lived to itself. There are homes of pitiable discord, where the best hope of the best of sons is that he may be the gentle and persuasive mediator, determined to veil what he cannot honour, and to do his difficult duty alike and equally towards two incongruous characters whose one chance of harmony lies in him. We have seen such instances--we have seen the painful task nobly accomplished, whatever the final issue in success or failure. These last words show us that home does not cease to be home because its characteristics are not home-like. Home is the parental presence, and neither unworthiness, nor ungodliness, nor open evil can either abrogate its rights or destroy its responsibilities. “Home” has its “relations” still, even where pain and grief are the sum of them. Most true and certain it is, that the state of the homes is the state of the population. If you would know what society is, you must examine the family. The terrible thing is, when you find in the lower classes of the national life an early abandonment of the home, or a stay within it on the footing of an absolute and avowed independence. In many of our great towns the daughter, as well as the son, is a lodger: the contribution, which is her bounden duty, to the family resources, takes the form of a rent for board and lodging, which, on the first word of rebuke or restraint, she can, with or without notice, simply carry elsewhere. The religion of the family, such as it is, is not a family religion: each member of the family goes his or her own way, on the day of rest, to the church or chapel, to this or that church, to this or that chapel, in absolute disregard of the wish of the parent or of the companionship of brother or sister. The family life is a rope of sand, without recognition and without cohesion. Is not that a true word, a divine insight, which traces all the faults, and all the sins, and all the crimes of that nation, to its root and source here? Is it not the estrangement of fathers from sons, and of children from parents, which makes the world, our world, the wilderness it is? Is it not at this point that the Elijah must begin his restoring, that the Elisha must throw in his healing salt, if the restoration is to be thorough, if the cure is to be vital? But now we must say a word or two as to what home is--in God’s intention, and in the experience of His children.

1. Home is our haven. In early years it is a place of safe keeping. What should we have been without that safeguard? Have we ever stopped to commiserate and to feel for the homeless? Those poor children, baptized in tears, who never had a home--what must it be for them? No sweet memories--of gentle nurture, of kind smiles and loving words, of the presence of all good and the absence of all evil--can we wonder that they fell into bad ways and vile habits? What was there to warn them off from them? What was there to win them another way? What was there so much as to distinguish for them between good and evil? God’s holy ordinance, above and before all services or sacraments, of a tender and loving home, this was wanting to them--and, with it, all that “preventing with the blessings of goodness” of which a Psalmist tells, and of which we, the worst of us, have all had experience!

2. Home is our confessional. Yes; before there was altar or shrine, ministry or priesthood, home was. The father of the household was its priest. God modelled upon that exemplar all priesthood that was ever His institution. Priesthood itself replaced not the home, still less that Christian ministry which leaves all Christians priests. How many soever be the presbyters of the Church of England, still the confessional, as God ordained it, is the home. Thither carry your secrets--there unbosom, and there leave them.

3. Yet one word more. Home is our friend. Very delightful is other friendship--ask not of me any depreciation of it. “There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” The mere fact that I have chosen Him partly proves and partly ensures the congeniality and the sympathy. But yet, I say it--home is the friend. It is the dear ones of birth and nature who will go through life with us. Friends may he severed beyond the reach of voice or sign--friends may form their own new ties, or their own life tie, and be partially lost to us. The home and its belongings change not. We go back to them, as to our own, after the longest separations, after the widest wanderings. Hold fast by your home. Even its relics and fragments are precious. Even upon the “broken pieces of that ship” we can “escape safe to land”! Nothing is like it. Cling to it. It is your life. (Dean Vaughan.)

The source of fatherhood

The stream of fatherhood leads up your thoughts to the source of fatherhood. You cannot think of a flowing stream, without also thinking of its origin and source. You cannot think of a branch without thinking of its root. You cannot think of an eternal nature, as separate from His own procession, or Only Begotten Son. And how could the Son of the Infinitely prolific Ground, or Father, be anything but the Beginning and Fountain of innumerable fathers of families? (J. Pulsford.)

Paternal government

Monarchical-paternal government is universal. No other form of government would represent God, nor would any other be concentric and harmonic with His government. That which is central to all, namely, the Fatherhood of God, repeats itself throughout all orderly creations. If this were not the law of God’s whole creation, the generations of heaven and earth could with no propriety be called “every paternity in heaven and earth.” The Eternal Father is represented by innumerable fathers; and every kingdom of every governmental father derives its name from a distinction which he inherits from the Father of all. Every race, whether in heaven or on earth, brings into manifestation some new principle, affection, or aspect of the Divine nature. Families are not isolated individuals, but the descendants of their fathers, and therefore essentially members one of another: God Himself being the Father of all the families of the universe. What can be more interesting than to contemplate the intelligent universe, as consisting of endlessly multiplied bonds of fatherhood and childhood; and all these held in the strong unity of one Divine Father and one Divine Sonship? (J. Pulsford.)

Family relationship

Family relationship is therefore a very sacred thing. Its root being not in the creation, but in God. And though we shall not find on earth any development worthy of its holy root, nevertheless, the flower which fills the world with choicest fragrance is family affection. It is capable of becoming most heavenly, since the Eternal Father is Himself the spring of parental; as His Eternal Son is of filial love. Therefore, also, family affections are capable of ceaseless cultivation. There is nothing to hinder family love from becoming evermore deeper, stronger, and lovelier. If it be so strong and so precious among fallen creatures, what must it be among the perfect? If family life on the earth gives rise, as it often does, to a very paradise of courtesies and tender sanctities, what must family life be in the immediate presence, and under the direct influence, of the infinite Father and His only begotten Son? (J. Pulsford.)

The family bond

Immediately before the battle of Verona he (Theodoric) visited the tent of his mother and sister, and requested them on a day, the most illustrious festival of his life, they would adorn him with the rich garments they had worked with their own hands. “Our glory,” said he, “is mutual and inseparable. You are known to the world as the mother of Theodoric; and it becomes me to prove that I am the genuine offspring of those heroes from whom I claim my descent.” (Gibbon.)

The Christian family

Fellowship of souls does not consist in the proximity of persons. There are millions who live in close personal contact, dwell under the same roof, board at the same table, and work in the same shop, between whose minds there is scarcely a point of contact, whose souls are as far asunder as the poles. Whilst, contrariwise, there are those separated by oceans and continents, aye, by the mysterious gulf that divides time from eternity, between whom there is a constant intercourse, a delightful fellowship. In truth we have often more communion with the distant than the near. (Dr. Thomas.)

The communion of saints

Sometimes the Church is called God’s family. St. Paul says, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Now, you know that in an earthly family there are several members, but they all form one body--the family. And there must be a head to the family. Well, the Church is God’s family, and Jesus Christ is “the Head of the body, the Church.” Yes, Jesus is the Head of the family of God, and we are the members. In your baptism each one of you was made a member of Christ. Now a member is part of a body. Your legs and arms are members, your eyes, your ears, your feet, and your hands are members, and you call all those members together your body. So each one of us in holy baptism becomes a member, a part, of a body which, because it belongs to Christ, is called Christ’s Body, that is the Church. Every living body must have a head, so the Church, which is a living body, has Jesus for its Head. When we speak of the Universal Church we do not mean only the Church on earth. St. Paul speaks of the whole family in heaven and earth. Some of you have relations abroad, in New Zealand and Australia. But if I ask you how many you are in family you will always include those who are thousands of miles beyond the sea: you are one family, although so widely divided. Some of you have seen brothers and sisters die, some of you wear mourning for father or mother, whom you remember as worshipping God in church. Well, do you suppose that the brothers and sisters and parents are no longer members of God’s Church, that they dropped out of His family when they died? Surely not. We are baptized into a faith which tells us to believe in the resurrection of the dead and everlasting life after death. You have read in your Bible what holy men and women did in the Church on earth: how St. Paul and the other apostles preached the gospel, and many of them died for Christ’s sake. Well, St. Paul and the other holy people are still in the Church, still worshipping God, only in another place. If you were to watch a long procession of people climbing up a mountain by a winding path, part of the procession would be in sight, and another part would be out of sight high up on the mountain. I want you to understand, my children, that God’s family, the Church, is one united body, and that even death cannot even separate us from it. We say something about this in the Creed. Directly we have said that we believe in the Holy Catholic Church, we go on to say that we believe in the Communion of Saints. These two, the Church and the Communion of Saints, are very closely connected, in fact, we may almost say that they are one and the same thing. If we are to understand what the Communion of Saints means (and a great many people do not understand) we must get at the exact meaning of the words. What does Communion mean? It means common union, or fellowship, or oneness. Two friends who are very fond of each other are in communion. They understand each other, they enter into each other’s feelings, they have “two hearts that beat as one.” The organist in church and the person who blows the bellows are in communion--one cannot do without the other. The musician cannot play a tune unless the organ blower fills the bellows, and the blower cannot produce any result unless the organist touches the keys. Have you ever seen a boat race? Well, the boat’s crew are in communion, each member of the crew depends on his companions; unless the crew keep together, and row in the same time and stroke, the boat cannot go properly through the water. It is the same with soldiers marching--they must keep step, they must be as one. You see, then, that communion means fellowship, oneness with another. Next, what do we mean by the Communion of Saints? The name saints simply means holy people; so when we say that we believe in the Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints, we mean that all the members of Christ’s holy Church are in fellowship, or communion, with God and with each other. First, then, all members of the Church who are trying to lead holy lives have fellowship with God. Do you remember what St. John says in his first Epistle, “Our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ”? You know, too, that the words with which we end so many services are, “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all.” But is it possible for us poor weak people to have fellowship with God? Yes, when we try to keep God’s commandments we are in communion with Him, His will and our will are at one. Next, all members of the Church who are trying to lead holy lives have fellowship, or communion, with each other. They may belong to different nations or countries, they may be separated by thousands of miles of sea or land, and yet they have fellowship. They are all members of one body--the Church. They have one and the same Spirit, Lord, Faith, Baptism, etc. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)

The unity of the family of God

There are few more beautiful sights in this fallen world,” than that of a happy and harmonious family, where there are no secret heartburnings, no jealousies, no envyings, no covert mistrusts; but where the good of one is regarded as the good of all, the sorrow of one as the sorrow of all, the happiness of each as the happiness of all; where the strife is not so much who shall be first, as who shall be last; who shall be ministered unto, as who shall minister. Few scenes as there are on earth so lovely as this, the text directs us to a family unspeakably more lovely, as well as infinitely more exalted, than any that earth alone can display.

I. The whole family in heaven and earth are knit in one, because they have but one everlasting father.

II. The whole family in heaven and earth is knit together also in the love and sympathy of one common mother--the Church.

III. The whole family in heaven and earth are still more knit in one, in that they have one common spirit.

IV. The whole family in heaven and earth are bound together still further, and, if possible, even more endearingly, in that they have one elder brother--the Lord Jesus Christ.

V. They have one family likeness. “The beauty of the Lord their God is upon them.”

VI. One common affection. The love which is in Christ Jesus constrains them to love one another.

VII. One eternal home. (Hugh Stowell, M. A.)

The whole family in heaven

1. Divine.

2. Holy.

3. Opulent.

4. Numerous.

5. United.

The whole family on earth

1. The Father.

2. The members.

3. The duties.

4. The privileges.

5. The inheritance. (G. Brooks.)

The Christian family

The family is one, though divided into two parts. Some have passed over the Jordan, and enjoy the glories of the New Jerusalem and the promised land; they have conquered and received their crown; they lived and died in faith, and their robes are made white in the blood of the Lamb; they know the reality of the Divine love which centres in the person of the Redeemer, on earth hidden, veiled in the vestments of our mortal nature, but now radiating in the splendour of resurrection glory. His presence fills all hearts with joy; angels, saints, cherubim, and seraphim are around His throne; the unfallen and the redeemed are alike sharers of His beneficence. They are in the kingdom of glory no hunger, no thirst, no weariness, no weakness, no wants; no more sins to lament over, no more temptations to resist, no more enemies to overcome. There is no more death, and sorrow and sighing have fled away. The long alienated are now reconciled, the long divided have met at last in their Father’s house. This is heaven, and this is the believer’s home. But we are still in the flesh. They are triumphing with their King, and we are fighting His battles; they are in Canaan, and we are in the wilderness. We have the manna, the guiding pillar, and the frail tabernacles; they the corn, and the wine, and the fixed temple of the New Jerusalem. We are following in their train, and our faith is quickened and strengthened by the cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded. Stand fast, brother! Do not yield! Thou art not alone in the fight! Jesus is with thee, the apostles and the prophets in heaven are before thee, the glorious army of the martyrs sees thee, the eye that met Stephen’s in his trials is upon thee! And oh, consider the reward! (W. Graham, D. D.)

The family in heaven and earth

Many of you remember those touching verses, in which a great poet tells us how he met a little girl of eight years old, and asked her how many brothers and sisters she had. She answered, “There are seven of us: two brothers gone to sea; two of us living at a place a long way off; two of us lying in the churchyard; and not far from them,” she said, “I live with my mother.” The good man tells us how he went on to say to the child, that if two out of the seven brothers and sisters were dead, then there were only five in the family now. But he tells how the little girl resisted such a thought: how she would count in the number of her brothers and sisters the brother and sister that were in heaven. “How many are there of you,” once more said the kind poet, “if there are two in heaven, and only five left in this world?” But you remember how she still answered, “Seven.” When she counted up the number of her brothers and sisters, she counted the dead ones too: she could not think that though her brother and her sister had gone away, they were not her brother and her sister yet. Quite true, they no longer lived in her home, nor played with her on the green: quite true, that now for many a day she had not seen them, nor talked with them: quite true, they were living now in heaven, with One who was so kind to little children when on earth. But for all this, the wise little girl knew that they had been her brother and her sister once, and she was sure that wherever they were, her brother and her sister they would be. St. Paul would have said she was right. If you had asked him how many there were in a Christian family, of which five were in this world and two with our Blessed Redeemer, he would have said, “Seven.” He would have sided with the little girl who, in reckoning up her brothers and sisters, did not forget the dead ones. See how, in my text, the great apostle speaks of the Church of Christ, the great company of all redeemed and sanctified souls. He calls it, “the whole family in heaven and earth.” Nothing can be plainer. All Christians, whether in heaven or on earth, make one great family. The stream of death runs through this family, indeed: part of the family is on one side, and part on the other: but that does not make two families of it; it remains one family still. And yet, plain as this is, it startles us at first: for it conflicts with one of those large vague half-conscious beliefs, which do us a great deal of harm. We have come to feel as if death breaks all ties. If we had lost two out of a family of seven, and if anyone had asked how many there were in the family, we should be ready to say, “Once there were seven: now there are only five.” But it is not thus that St. Paul reckons. All Christians, he says: all pardoned through Him who bade us rather show forth His death than remember even His blessed birth; all sanctified by the Holy Spirit He sends us: however divided they may be--even though divided by that most complete of all severances we know, death--are yet so closely united as to make but one family. Death may divide the family; but only into two companies, not into two families. And first, a word may fitly be said as to the propriety of this imagery: as to the resemblance between the company of all believing people, and our idea of a family. Not that any good will follow of our pushing figure into fact, or trying to carry out the resemblance into too minute details. Let us remember that all there is to be traced between the earthly and the heavenly is an analogy; and an analogy, as we all know, is a resemblance in some respects between things which markedly differ in other respects.

I. Now the first idea which commonly enters our mind when we speak of a family, is, that the members of it have all one father. And you know that this is emphatically so with the great family of which St. Paul speaks in the text. Each member of that great community, the Christian Church, is taught to look up to God in that kind relation: He is “Our Father which is in heaven.”

II. Then, we know a family by the common name all its members bear. And who needs to be told that Name, above every name, into which we are baptized, which we bear, on which we call, which we fear and glorify?

III. Next, it is an interesting thought, that among all true Christians there is a strong family resemblance. You know that between the members of an earthly family, amid all the great differences of look and bearing we see, we can still make out a certain likeness: an indescribable something in feature and gesture, which makes a felt resemblance amid real great diversity. And just in that way, amid all the differences of age, temperament, character, advancedness in the divine life, there are yet strong and marked features of family resemblance among all Christians who are Christians indeed. The grand feature of renunciation of self, and of simple trust in Christ for salvation, is there in all. All look for strength and holiness and comfort to the same Blessed and Holy Spirit. All can testify to the needfulness and power of prayer. All have known, more or less, what it is to be convinced of sin: what it is to repent: what it is to commit the soul to our Saviour: what it is to strive after holiness, and to resist the law in the members by the law of the mind.

IV. A further note of this great family is this: that all its members have one home. Of course, looking even to that little portion of the Church of Christ which is still on earth--for by far its larger part is in heaven, the harvest of many generations is gathered there--we see that this one home of all believers is not as yet inhabited by all the family together. But still, every member of the family looks to the same home at last; and though we may live long elsewhere, and grow attached to other places and form ties to them, yet, till we enter that home never to leave it, we are no more than strangers and pilgrims everywhere. This is not our rest: our rest is beyond the grave. By the make of our being, we never shall be right, never quite as we would be, till we enter our Redeemer’s beatific presence; till we enter forever that peaceful and happy place, of which it has pleased God we should know so little, yet whose name is so familiar on our lips--heaven. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)

The Divine family

Pride of family--the assumption of consequence because of descent from eminent progenitors, is a feeling by which the bosoms of many are very powerfully influenced. If a man is worthy himself, a lineage of worthy ancestry invests him with additional honour. A wicked Jew appears only more odious when we reflect how degenerated he is, as descended from Abraham; but in the same proportion does a believing Jew appear venerable, as being a son of the father of the faithful. Alas! that there should be so many, assuming the Christian name who have no inward consciousness of any nobility, in the strength of which they may take their stand and vindicate their claim to respect. So felt Nathan before David, so felt Elijah before Ahab, so felt Daniel before the king of Babylon, so felt Peter before the Sanhedrim, so felt Paul before Felix, and so felt Luther, and Knox, and Melville, and all the noble company of martyrs, before their respective judges. The consciousness of their being members of the family of God inspired them with courage and intrepidity in bearing witness for truth and right.

I. Brethren, reflect: the family of God! How august the parentage! How great the honour, to be hailed as a son or daughter of the King of kings! The Indians of Mexico, alive to this deep debasement of the human family, looked upwards for an ancestry of which they might boast, and dignified themselves with the appellation of “the children of the sun.” What a rebuke the idolatry of those noble-minded savages administers to many among ourselves, who are satisfied with a birth so mean as that on account of which they assume such airs of consequence!

II. The question, therefore, now arises, how is this happy sentiment of filial interest in God to be produced and cherished in the soul? One might suppose it would be effected easily. Is not God our Creator? Is not every movement of life sustained by His providence? What, then, is so natural for man as that he should regard Him with filial affection and interest? Nevertheless, there is nothing on all the earth so rare. Yes; the wide experience of the soul of man proves, that solid peace and delight in God are attainable, only when He is contemplated as the giver of His Son, constituted under whom as our Mediatorial Head, it is consistent for the Divine government to manifest for us a Father’s affection.

III. Having thus considered the constitution of the family, I proceed to state and illustrate briefly a few of its characteristics.

1. Reflect, then, on the largeness of this family. The multitude and power of their kindred usually form a subject of boasting among worldly men. How much greater reason has the Christian to felicitate himself on this head! Our text distinguishes two departments of the family, to be ultimately consolidated into one. The first is that part which at present resides in heaven. It consists, primarily, of thousands of thousands of angels. Whether you have no friends on earth, or whether those whom you have be of such a character, that you are ashamed to acknowledge them, let the thought of your angel-brethren animate you with a feeling of family consequence. Next to the angels, the heavenly department of the family is composed of the departed saints. What an innumerable company! When thy spirit is ready to grow faint with the thought of the wickedness of thy neighbours, and to complain as if thou wert left alone, and that the reward of the travail of His soul had failed the Redeemer, look on high, and behold that multitude, which, without needing that any more be added to it, is already so great that no man can number it! Whatever may be thy suspicions of the present generation, suspect not the history of the past, as if it were all a fable, when it records the achievements of the spirit of God; but, especially, suspect not the faithfulness to his memorial of Him who is the Blesser of children.

2. Reflect on the fairness and beauty of the family of God. A family may be large, when it is yet a disgrace, instead of an honour, to be a member of it, from its being so ill-favoured and ill-conditioned. But all God’s children are fair. I speak of Divine beauty--the beauty of holiness. But I make the claim also on behalf of the department of the family on earth, and that universally. Some are fairer than others; and the fairest have some remains of the bad complexion, the sinister looks, and the deformed person of their original nature. Nevertheless, generally, all are fair. There is not an ugly, unlovely child in all God’s family. If there be in anyone something offensive, there is more that is attractive. All of them have been born anew, and bear the lineaments of their heavenly parentage.

3. Reflect that this family is one of great prospects and high destiny. Oh! your worldling--your nobleman, your wealthy merchant, your philosopher, your fine singer, your fine dancer, your favourite of the beautiful face and elegant form--what and where shall they all be but a few years hence? What a foolish loss it is to lavish your admiration, respect, and favour on what is so evanescent! There is no loss like the losing of love: to expend years of affection on objects which pass away from you and perish. Love that which will be to you an object of love forever: and such objects you will find in the members of the family of God. (W. Anderson, LL. D.)

Glorification

Notice, first, the members of the heavenly family; secondly, the unity of this family; thirdly, the glorious characteristics of this family.

I. The members of this family. In this place, “not made with hands,” there is--

1. The Head of the family. The glory of God will be conspicuous there--it will shine through every part of the wide-spread heaven.

2. There is an innumerable company of angels. These are called “morning stars,” “sons of God,” “Jehovah’s hosts,” His “ministering servants.”

3. The whole body of collected believers will be there. Heaven is not a place of solitary, but of social joy. The inhabitants will hold sweet converse with each other.

II. Observe the unity of this family: “The whole family.”

1. There is one family house. This cannot be on earth. Diversity of sentiment and worship renders it desirable that in separate companies we should go up to the heavenly Zion. Besides, no house on earth could hold the congregation of the faithful. But there is “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” where all will assemble. All the descriptions given to us in the Bible go to prove that heaven is not only a state, but a place--a material place where the bodies of the saints will dwell forever.

2. All this family have the same employment. They worship God and the Lamb. “His servants shall serve Him.”

3. All have the same enjoyment. They see God, enjoy God; the Lamb leads them to “living fountains of water, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” But let us inquire more particularly in what the happiness of heaven consists.

III. The glorious characteristics of this family. We have already trespassed upon this part of our subject, and need therefore only mention that--

1. They are absolutely pure--no spot or infirmity there; not one envious, or angry member.

2. They are perfectly blessed. Nothing that disturbs or grieves will be there.

3. There will be glorious permanency. Immutability is engraven upon the walls and pavements of the celestial city; there can be no change. (Dr. Jarbo.)


Verse 16

Ephesians 3:16

That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.

The measure of God’s power

The man of the world is full of what he can do; the Christian of what he cannot do. Here, we have the inward power for which we may ask to supply our deficiency.

I. The measure of this power.

1. Measured by Himself. His perfection, His excellence. Man measures by his imperfection and poverty.

2. Measured by the extent of Himself. Man measures by his own ideas of his own need. God, who forgives “according to the riches of His grace,” makes known upon the forgiven the “riches of His glory.”

II. The nature of the supply, culminating in the indwelling of Christ.

1. The character of the indwelling (Colossians 2:7).

2. The effects of the indwelling. Able to comprehend or grasp (see Philippians 3:12-13)--

Spiritual strength

There are five significant terms here--keys by which we may partly unlock this divine casket, so that its precious contents, the riches of the Father’s glory, may be set free and shed abroad.

I. Faith. You are to be strengthened with might. The seat of the strength imparted is the inner man; it is the strength, not of outward propping, but of inward peace and power. The agency by which it is imparted is that of the Holy Spirit; for He alone has access directly and immediately into the inner man; He alone, the Spirit of God, can deal effectually with spirits of men. The essence of it is Christ dwelling in your hearts; Christ living in you; Christ in you, the Lord your righteousness, the Lord your strength; Christ in you, the hope of glory. And the means or instrument of your receiving it is your simple heart’s faith.

II. To faith succeeds love. “You are to be rooted and grounded in love. These images or figures suggest the ideas of a grove and a building. You are to be rooted as the trees that constitute a grove, and grounded as the stones and pillars of a building. Love is the soil, rich, deep, and generous, and withal, homogeneous all through, in which all the trees are rooted. It is also the soft and tender lime or mortar, the close-drawing and close-fixing cement, in which, through successive layers, the stones are deposited or imbedded.

III. Faith and love lead on to comprehension, or taking in; a comprehensive survey of something very vast; and vast in all directions. I find myself mow, first strengthened as a believer, so as to be fit for standing alone; but at the same time, secondly, having all over me, and all through me, love; love being my soil and cement. I find myself thus introduced into a grand hall; a glorious amphitheatre, a temple of immeasurable dimensions; thronged and crowded with all the saints, all the holy ones, angels and men, into whose society I am strangely and of grace admitted. In company with them, and in full sympathy with them, I look behind, before, below, above; and see nought but one well-nigh boundless room and home for all the elect, all the saved. I comprehend its breadth and length and depth and height.

IV. Through this process of faith, love, and comprehension, we reach a marvellous knowledge; the knowledge of the unknowable--“to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”

V. There remains one other great and final consummation which the apostle’s prayer would fain have you to reach: “that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The Spirit’s gift of strength

I. The Christian’s need of strength.

1. The region where strength is required: “the inner man.” It is in the moral and spiritual nature that reinforcement is required--to do the duty, to withstand the temptation, to stand steadfast although outwardly alone. To this end he wants stronger convictions and motives, clearer principles of action, and confirmed habits of well-doing.

2. Why does the inward man require this?

II. The source whence this strength is derived. It is the gift of God: not by growth and development within itself, or adaptation to its circumstances merely, but through the direct influence of the Holy Spirit.

III. The law of its bestowment. “Through faith,” i.e., the exercise of faith.

1. Directly towards God.

2. Indirectly through the believer obeying the impulses and directions of the Holy Spirit. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

Christian strength

1. The Christian needs to be strengthened with might in the inner man.

2. The might which the Christian needs is conveyed through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

3. This might is obtained in answer to prayer.

4. This might should be sought as from an inexhaustible source. (G. Brooks.)

Spiritual weakness prejudicial

It was an amusing distortion of a good hymn, but there was not a little sound philosophy in it, when the old negro preacher said--

“Judge not the Lord by feeble saints.”

And yet this is precisely what the great majority of unconverted men are doing all the time. They will not go to the Bible and give heed to what God Himself says. They have no ear for His voice of mercy that offers them salvation for the taking. They do not pay any attention to the solemn warnings that the Scriptures utter. They judge the Lord by “feeble saints.” They attempt to feed their starving souls on the imperfections of Christians--poor feed enough they find it! Because God’s people are not all they ought to be, therefore these cavillers will keep aloof from the religion which they confess. (American.)

Strength by feeding upon Christ

Now this lamb they were to eat, and the whole of it. Oh! that you and I would never cut and divide Christ so as to choose one part of Him and leave another. Let not a bone of Him be broken, but let us take in a whole Christ, up to the full measure of our capacity. Prophet, Priest, and King, Christ Divine and Christ Human. Christ loving and living, Christ dying, Christ risen, Christ ascended, Christ coming again, Christ triumphant over all His foes--the whole Lord Jesus Christ is ours. We must not reject a single particle of what is revealed concerning Him, but must feed upon it all as we are able. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Strength through the Spirit

When I was a student at Princeton, Professor Henry had so constructed a huge bar of iron, bent into the form of a horseshoe, that it used to hang suspended from another iron bar above it. Not only did it hang there, but it upheld four thousand pounds’ weight attached to it! That horseshoe magnet was not welded or glued to the metal above it; but through the iron wire coiled round it there ran a subtle current of electricity from a galvanic battery. Stop the flow of the current for one instant, and the huge horseshoe dropped. So does all the lifting power of a Christian come from the currents of spiritual influence which flow into his heart from the Living Jesus. The strength of the Almighty One enters into the believer. If his connection with Christ is cut off, in an instant he becomes as weak as any other man. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

Vigorous spiritual life

By the “inward man” Paul means our central and highest life; and he prays that the life itself--not any particular portion of it--may be strengthened. Life is a mystery in its lowest as well as in its loftiest forms; but I suppose that we all attach a more or less definite conception to words which describe life as vigorous or feeble. When we say that a man’s physical life is energetic we do not mean to say that any particular organ is strong, that he has great muscular force, can lift heavy weights and walk long distances; we mean to describe something which appears to us to lie within and beneath the physical organization, and which inspires the whole. When we speak of a man’s intellectual life as strong or weak, we do not mean that some particular faculty is admirable or the reverse of admirable; a particular faculty may be singularly vigorous, and yet the man may give us the impression of intellectual feebleness; a particular faculty may be very deficient in vigour, and yet he may give us the impression of intellectual strength. If we say that a man is remarkable for his intellectual energy, we think of him as having in the very centre of his intellectual life a free and inexhaustible fountain of force and activity. It is the same in the spiritual life. There is a certain imperfection in many of us which I do not know how to describe except by saying that, though at times particular spiritual faculties may appear to be vigorous, the central life is weak. There are men whose zeal for the evangelization of the world is often very real and very fervent, but who give us no impression of spiritual strength. There are others who are often inspired with a passion for Christian perfection, but in them, too, there appears to be no real vigour. There are others who seem spiritually weak, though their vision of spiritual truth is very keen and penetrating. There are others who seem capable of very lofty devotion of awe, of vehement religious emotion, of rapture in the Divine love, and in the hope, of glory, honour, and immortality--and who yet give us the impression that they are wanting in those elements of life which constitute spiritual energy. In every one of these cases, to use language which suggests rather than expresses the truth, the vigour is not derived from the central fountains of life, but from springs that are more or less distant from the centre. The man himself is wanting in force, though there are spiritual forces at work in him. Those of us who are conscious that this is our condition should pray to God that we “may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man.” (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Strength of character

To those who have the misery of weakness--who never keep their better resolves, whose hearts are so divided, who are not really happy, because they have no concentration--to such it may be of immense comfort to know that real religion always gives strength--strength of character. It embraces, it unites, it consolidates, it makes real, it makes a man a man, it makes a Christian a Christian. How comforting, how apposite, how true, how deep, how full the words to those who feel their weakness--“strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” Let us look at them a little more accurately.

I. Notice, first, that it is all “in the inner man.” You have been trying often to change the outer man, your conduct, your way of speaking, your appearance in people’s eyes! some sin you endeavour to overcome, some outward inconsistency, some habit that you contracted. That won’t do. You must go deeper, much deeper. It must be “the inner man.” And what is “the inner man”? I look first to conscience. You must take care that your conscience is a true conscience, an active conscience, and a conscience rooted. Next, motives. These must be pure. Then, thoughts--those little springs that swell into oceans, those germs of everything. Think reasonably, accurately, scripturally, thoughtfully. And affections--the likes and dislikes; those excellent servants, but horridly bad masters. And, above all, the inner working of the Holy Spirit, which goes on low down in the innermost chambers secret communion with God, intercourse with the Invisible. These make “the inner man,” the real essence of a man’s being; and all the rest--all we do and all we say, all we suffer and all we enjoy--these are only the outsides, only the reflections of that “inner man.” In that “inner man” the “strength,” then, must be found--conscience, motives, thoughts, affections, silent teachings, spiritual converse, and the trafficking of the soul with God. In secret, there the “strength” must be found.

II. And how? By the Spirit; by the Holy Spirit. Nothing more we need, nothing less can do it. It must be a supernatural power. The Holy Ghost must enter, and He will do it. Everything will go to give “strength.”

III. And what will be the result? “Might,” true might, ever increasing might; might in prayer; commanding prayers; might in the spiritual battle, might in the battle with that wicked heart; might with the devil; might over daily self, might, might in work. Do your work, whatever your work may be, patiently, thoroughly, trustfully, effectually. Might in power, that great power, holiness; that silent witness, that most eloquent of all things, holiness. And, in union the hidden mystic union of God, which is the secret of it all; in which He is, who makes life, the essence of all which is worth the living; a real life, the life of your being. Oh that we might all know the strength that gives that might. How is it to be attained? What must I do? Begin at the centre, not at the circumference; not with outsides. Do not begin by trying to change the life outside; change the motive spring. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The wealth of God--rich in glory

In the very title of such a subject it is already proclaimed to be inexhaustible. Other topics may be compassed and disposed of in a certain way, but who shall grasp and estimate this? It is a sea of glory, and we have no line to fathom it. It is a mountain of gold, and we have no arithmetic to compute its value. It is a domain of beauty, and we have no adequate language in which to speak of it. It is a field of truth, and the end of all our searching is to discover that it is unsearchable. Happy are they who receive a few crumbs from this rich table, or a few glimpses of this glory! The riches of His glory. The glory of God is the forthshining of His being, the necessary splendour of His revelation of Himself. The glory of an object is that bright medium in which it stands revealed. The glory of the sun is the effulgence of light which it pours forth from its golden urn, revealing itself and all the worlds around. Painters seek to represent the glory of a saint by drawing a circle of light around the head. The glory of a king is seen when he sits upon his throne, crowned and sceptred, surrounded by his nobles, and canopied with banners, that speak of his victories. God is revealed in nature, and therefore the heavens declare the glory of God. God is revealed in providence, and therefore He is said to lead His people with His glorious arm. God is revealed in redemption, and therefore Jesus Christ is the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person. The riches of His glory. How rich the expression! Language labours to utter all that is implied here. God is not only glorious, He is rich in glory. Notwithstanding all that He has revealed of Himself in the past, there still remain in Him for evermore depths of splendour unrevealed. All that we know of God, as compares with that which lies hid, is but as the first yellow streak of dawn which breaks the darkness of night to the full brightness of noonday. We may speak of the riches of God under three aspects--first, the riches of His power; second, the riches of His wisdom: and, third, the riches of His goodness; and, as it is the blended and harmonious attributes of God that make up His highest glory, the view of His riches under these three aspects may enable us to see something of the riches of His glory.

I. The riches of his power.

1. This is seen in the power to create. If a man could create in the highest sense of the word, how rich he would soon become! For his own wants he would have an immediate supply. When he was hungry he would create bread. When he wanted money he could turn everything he touched into gold. It is in the ability to produce that the source of wealth is found. The rich gift lies in the possession of the faculty to invent or make. Now, God has the power to create. He alone has that mysterious energy which called everything we see out of nothing. From all eternity God was sufficient for Himself, full of life and joy, and under no obligation, either from without or from within, to create a single world. His great and inconceivable act of creation, then, was a demonstration of His perfect freedom and His boundless power. It was the overflowing of the riches of His power.

2. But the riches of God are seen in the preservation of all things in existence as well as in their creation. The sublime act of creation did not exhaust or weary God. From day to day, from year to year, and from century to century, the whole universe is upheld in its primeval freshness and power.

3. The riches of the Divine power are seen not only in creation and preservation, but in recreation. We are taught in Scripture that a wondrous transformation must pass over the present world--that forms of being now around us will be dissolved in a deluge of fire, and that from this second deluge will emerge a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. We are also taught that the bodies of men will be raised from the dust of the ground in a new and higher form. What marvellous exhibitions, then, has the future still in store of the riches of the power of God!

II. The riches of his wisdom. Wisdom is commonly said to lie in the use of the best means in order to the best ends; and many things might be said as to the adaptation of means to ends in nature. We can scarcely look at any work of God with an intelligent eye, but we begin to discover uses and harmonies and proofs of design in it. From what we already know in this direction we may conclude that the whole of nature is one vast and intricate design manifesting the wisdom and goodness of God; and we are expressly told that all things are working together for good. How manifest the traces of His wisdom in the way in which the earth has been fitted to develop and support man, and in the manifold provision made for man’s education and comfort. But what we have to notice more particularly here is, not merely the wisdom of God, but the riches of His wisdom; and these are seen, not only in the original adaptation of means to ends, but in the way by which God can bring good out of evil. The machinist would be wise who could invent and construct a machine which, by the simplest movements, could produce mighty results; but he would be rich in wisdom, who, out of that same machine, when marred and broken, could produce still mightier results. A general is wise who can conduct a great campaign to a successful issue; but he is rich in wisdom who has always in his mind a plan beyond the last stratagem of the enemy, and can therefore turn the tide of battle when all seems to be lost, and pluck from the heart of widespread disaster a glorious victory. It is from this point of view that the riches of the Divine wisdom are seen--not merely in producing good, but in bringing good out of evil; not merely in producing beauty, but in bringing beauty out of deformity; not merely in producing harmony, but in bringing harmony out of discord; not merely in producing life, but in bringing life out of death. If the power of God is seen in the creation and preservation of all things, His wisdom is seen in making all things work together for good; and what a wealth of wisdom is implied in bringing out of the most contradictory and deleterious elements a vast, harmonious, and unspeakably valuable result! In a machine, a great variety of movements and powers contribute to one result. Wheels of different sizes revolve in different directions. There are perpendicular movements and horizontal movements; zig-zag movements and elliptical movements;--a swift and bewildering involution and evolution of forces, and a warring multitude of sounds--hissing and hammering, grinding and thumping; and yet there is the utmost harmony, and the most delicate and precise balance of action throughout the whole.

III. The riches of his goodness. We use the term goodness as a general expression to embrace the mercy, the compassion, the benignity, and the love of God. All the attributes of God culminate in love. God is first and last a God of love. The whole universe and the plan of redemption is summed up in love. It is the want of love, it is the selfishness and hatred, that is the curse and woe of the world. God comes to fill up the sorrowful void with His own rich heart. Think of the love of God in creation. He needed not to create anything in order to consummate His own happiness; but, if we may so speak, the joy and love of God’s being were so great that He could not keep them to Himself. He was rich in love; and His goodness overflowed. He created other beings that He might lavish upon them the grandeurs of His mind and the felicities of His heart. He created them, too, although He foresaw their fall, rebellion, and ingratitude. He created them, because He saw beyond the dark sin of man, and knew that His love could snatch from sorrow and the grave a new creation still. It is to the riches of the love of God, therefore, that we owe our very existence. Think of God’s love in providence. God would have been rich in love had He done nothing more than created man, and after that, when man had sinned, displayed the glory of His justice in crushing him forever. But God has not only created us; He has also preserved us, even in the midst of our deep depravity and alienation. But preeminently in the work of redemption do we see the riches of His goodness. There we behold God not only working and waiting, but making a great sacrifice for the salvation of man. How little do we know of the greatness of that gift, and of the depth of that sacrifice! How little do we know of that mystery of sorrow that seems to enter into the very Godhead, and all to save such a creature as man! Rich as is the power of God, man could not be saved by mere power. Rich as is the patience of God, man could not be saved by the mere lapse of time. God might have given away everything He had made; He might have emptied the exchequer of heaven; but the price would not have purchased the redemption of a single soul. He might have waited and pleaded with man for ages, explaining to man his sin and ingratitude; and yet man might not have relented. Something more had to be given, something more had to be done, and God gave that--God did that. He delivered up His only begotten Son, the Son of His love, that eternal One in comparison with whom the universe itself is worthless. Measure, then, God’s love to man by His regard for His own Son! By all that is beautiful and holy, by all that is deep and rapturous in the relation of Father and Son, measure the sacrifice involved in the death of Christi

1. God alone is rich. He alone is absolutely self-sufficient. He alone is the true possessor of everything. He alone can create. He alone can hold forever that which He now possesses. He alone has enough and to spare.

2. Every man in himself is poor. Sin reduces the soul to utter destitution, and all have sinned. It matters not that many say, “We are rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing”; not knowing that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. Let a man labour ever so hard, let him pile his earthly treasures ever so high, he can never with his own puny hand fill the dark and sad abyss within himself.

3. He who was rich became poor for us (2 Corinthians 8:9).

4. It is a blessed thing to know that we are poor (Matthew 5:3). The discovery of our own poverty implies some apprehension of the wealth of God, and hence its blessedness. We have, then, an ear for the word which says, “I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich.” So great is the capacity of the soul, that if a man had the whole universe he would still be poor, being destitute of God. But with God he has all, and abounds; for the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.

5. Beware of despising the riches of God (Romans 2:5). (F. Ferguson, D. D.)

Strengthened with might

Let us consider that great thought of the Divine strength-giving power which may be bestowed upon every Christian soul.

I. First, then, I remark that God means, and wishes, that all Christians should be strong by the possession of the Spirit of might. I do not know what Christianity means, unless it means that you and I are forgiven for a purpose; that the purpose, if I may so say, is something in advance of the means towards the purpose, the purpose being that we should be filled with all the strength and righteousness and supernatural life granted to us by the Spirit of God. It is all well that we should enter into the vestibule; there is no other path unto the Throne but through the vestibule; but do not let us forget that the good news of forgiveness, though we need it day by day, and perpetually repeated, is but the introduction to, and porch of the Temple, and that beyond it there towers, if I cannot say a loftier, yet I may say a further gift, even the gift of a Divine life like His, from whom it comes, and of which it is in reality an effluence and a spark. The true characteristic gift of the gospel is the gift of a new power to a sinful weak world; a power which makes the feeble strong, and the strongest as an angel of God. I would maintain, in opposition to many modern conceptions, the actual supernatural character of the gift that is bestowed upon every Christian soul. My reading of the New Testament is that as distinctly above the order of material nature as is any miracle is the gift that flows into a believing heart. There is a direct passage between God and my spirit. It lies open to His touch; all the paths of its deep things can be trodden by Him. You and I act upon one another from without, He acts upon us within. We wish one another blessings; He gives the blessings.

II. Now notice, next, that this Divine strength has its seat in, and is intended to influence the whole of the inner life. As my text puts it, “Strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” That, I suppose, does not mean the new creation through faith in Jesus Christ; what the apostle calls “the new man,” but it means simply what another apostle calls the “hidden man of the heart,” and only refers to the distinction which we all draw between the outward, visible, material frame, and the unseen self that animates and informs it. It is this inner self, then, in which the Spirit of God is to dwell, and into which He is to breathe strength. The leaven is hid deep in three measures of meal until the whole be leavened. And the point to mark is that the whole inward region which makes up the true man is the field upon which this Divine Spirit is to work. It is not a bit of your inward life that is to be hallowed. It is not any one aspect of it that is to be strengthened, but it is the whole intellect, affections, desires, tastes, powers of attention, combination, memory, will. The whole inner man in all its corners is to be filled, and to come under the influence of this power, “until there be no part dark, as when the bright shining of a candle giveth thee light.” So for this Divine Indweller there is no part of my life that is not patent to His tread. There are no rooms of the house of my spirit into which He is not to go. Let Him come with the master key in His hand into all the dim chambers of your feeble nature; and as life is light in the eye, and colour in the cheek, and deftness in the fingers, and strength in the arm, and pulsation in the heart, so He will come and strengthen your understandings, and make you able for loftier tasks of intellect and of reason, than you can face in your unaided strength; and He will dwell in your affections and make them vigorous to lay hold upon the holier things that are above their natural inclination, and will make it certain that “their reach shall not be beyond their grasp,” as alas! it so often is in the sadness and disappointments of human loves. And He will come into that feeble, vacillating, wayward will of yours, that is only obstinate in its adherence to the low and the evil, as some foul creature, that one may try to wrench away, digs its claws into corruption and holds on by that, He will lift your will and make it fix upon the good and abominate the evil, and through the whole being He will pour a great tide of strength which shall cover all the weakness. He will be like some subtle elixir which, taken into the lips, steals through a pallid and wasted frame, and brings back a glow to the cheek and a lustre to the eye and a swiftness to the brain, and power to the whole nature. Or as some plant, drooping and flagging beneath the hot rays of the sun, when it has the scent of water given to it, will, in all its parts, stiffen and erect itself, so this Divine Spirit will go searching every corner of the inner man illuminating and invigorating all.

III. And now, lastly, let me point you still further to the measure of this power. It is limitless with the boundlessness of God Himself. “That He would grant you,” is the daring petition of the apostle, “according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened.” There is the measure. There is no limit except the uncounted wealth of His own self-manifestation, the flashing light of a revealed Divinity. Whatsoever there is of splendour in that, whatsoever there is of power there, in these and in nothing this side of them, lies the limit of the possibilities of a Christian life. Of course there is a working limit at each moment, and that is our capacity to receive, but that capacity varies, may vary indefinitely, may become greater and greater beyond our count or measurement. Our hearts may be made more and more capable of God; and in the measure in which they are capable of Him they shall be filled by Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The strengthening of the inner man

We are beings of a complex nature. We testify this fact in our common talk. We speak of body, soul, and spirit belonging to us. We describe our body by its various limbs and organs. We describe our mind as possessing emotional parts, intellectual parts, volitional parts. Each of these parts we describe in various ways, according to the numerous feelings and motions our inward nature is accustomed to. So complex is our nature that it is hardly possible to give an account of it sufficiently simplified to be plain to an unobservant man.

I. The text speaks of “the inner man.” It gives no definition of what the term includes. Does it mean by “the inner man” all the parts of our being which are not bodily? Or does it mean especially the part which we call the spirit, by which, when it is made active within us, we discern hidden and eternal realities? Or are both these meanings embraced by the term? Probably, I should say, both. The thinking and feeling faculties, the marvellous soul which perceives, searches, imagines, desires, loves, hates, resolves, and so forth--is not to be omitted from “the inner man,” which the Spirit of God visits and renews, inhabits and ennobles. Yet “the spirit” has a special place in “the inner man,” for it is the crown and glory of our being. Having our spirit “born from above,” endowed by the Spirit of God with its proper life and power, and applying ourselves to its exalted exercises, we live in connection with two worlds--the world of sense, and the world of spirit. This, then, is the first care for us--not only that our body be living in health, however congenial and helpful this may be; not only that our mind be alive to all our earthly concerns, and strong to attend to them, however lofty and important they may be: but that our spirit be alive, active, and enthroned in the world within us, having some conception of, and some participation in, the share which God would give us with Himself, in His own thoughts and purposes, His own joys and griefs, His own ways and works. This is our prime concern. This ought to be our prime passion. This is, for us, “the glory that excelleth.” This is our way to the priesthood and princeliness which the redeeming God bids us come up to and exercise. Be it our first care that we are born of the Spirit, and living in the Spirit.

II. The life of our spirit, however, being begun, may be in the feebleness of infancy. It may be enfeebled when it ought to be maturing through disorders preying upon it from our inferior desires. Indeed, we cannot be “strong in spirit” if we divide the supremacy between higher, and lower interests. All wilful sin injures our spiritual life, enfeebles its conceptions of God, dulls its sense of His presence. The confusion of soul into which we may fall by having received the vivifying and enlightening of the Holy Ghost, and having afterwards overruled the spiritual life within us by the lower life it was beginning to reduce and subject, is indescribable. We say, “What shall we do?” We are tempted to doubt God’s power to restore us with the imagination that He has cast us off. We may even come to look down tremblingly into the horrible abyss of despair. And all this misery and confusion of soul is often aggravated by a misinterpretation of those dark words of Scripture which are written concerning backsliders who have utterly fallen away, and have eschewed the blessing of the life they once entered. And I ask anyone who has ever fallen into such misery and confusion of inward strife after he had tasted the peace of Christ’s salvation, whether he did not learn in it his powerlessness to recover himself, and did not perceive that the best resolve and effort he could make would be no more than the galvanising of a dead limb unless another strength should be given him, and given him by the same Divine Spirit who before quickened him into a spiritual birth, unless God would hear the prayer which is no more than a broken wail of wretchedness and a struggling desire for healing? If the apostle wrote for any hearts thus fallen he might well write that he prayed for them. The text is a prayer. What else could it be to be sufficient? It is an intercessory prayer we should pray for one another in the gloomy hours of our brother’s fall. It is a prayer to “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,” who is the only Father who has riches enough in His glory to be able to strengthen us with might in our inner man when we have sapped its power by infidelity to His gift of the Spirit. If in any of us the spiritual power has ebbed and fallen, let this prayer be ours. And let us humbly believe that it is the prayer Christ prays with us, moved by a consistency in love, and hope, and saving energy which we so sorely lack.

III. Having dwelt thus far on the supreme importance of spiritual life, and of the extreme need of its Divine strengthening which is occasioned and evinced by falls, let us in the next place seize a truth which we have barely touched yet. Let it be certain to us that this gift of strength to our spirits by the Spirit of God is our perpetual need. It is our need not only in that extremity of which we have spoken, but it is a need inherent in our nature, which was in us at birth, which will abide with us through death. Our inner man, our innermost man, wants a life and a strength which is not human but Divine. It wants a strength which is not ethereal but real. It wants a strength which will not lie idle, but will be diffused through our whole man, and be available for our whole life. It wants power of spiritual thought, spiritual perception, spiritual emotion, spiritual control, spiritual activity, spiritual endurance, spiritual influence, such as we see pervading and flowing from the whole character and conduct of Christ. The prayer of the text must be our prayer, because it asks for the power which is our perpetual need, which is the perpetual need of our children and brethren.

IV. Let our attention dwell next on this--the apostle’s prayer for his fellow Christians at Ephesus is a prayer for a gift of power from the Spirit of God to the spirit of man. It supposes a communication with us when we are spiritual which is no less than God’s own communion with us. There is a spiritual Divine touch, which is such as Christ’s touch that healed leprosy and raised the dead. There is a supernatural influence, and energy of the Divine Spirit in our spirits, which may become so real and manifest within us that the physical miracles of Christ rank beneath it. (J. E. Gibbert.)

The inner man

Everyone has an inner man, a better self, a potential perfection within him, which will awake and begin to flower when he feels in his soul the touch of God. There is laid down in the being of each man, or deposited there in germ, an ideal, a Divine ideal, which ought to become, under the nourishing powers of redemption and providence, the real. But there are so many outer men put on by some--one, another, and another yet--that the real inner man might seem to be hopelessly buried.

I. Let us look, now, at some of these outer men put on, worn from year to year, so as effectually to enclose, imprison, bury out of sight, the inner man which God and angels wait for, and would bring to the light with rejoicing.

1. Dress. The first thing one human being sees of another, when they are approaching each other, is the dress. A man is known--a woman is known--by the dress. But the sad thing is that in some instances that is all that you will see, even when you meet, nothing but the dress. All the active powers of the man, the woman, are concerned chiefly about that--the dress of life--what to wear on the person, in the house as furniture, in the garden as adornment, on the road as equipage. Exterior show is with them life, and they are always dressing. They are never away from the glass. The whole surrounding world is to them a mirror in which they see only themselves.

2. Manners. The manners are beneath the dress, come through the dress, make the dress more or less expressive, impressive, and beautiful. Nothing of an exterior nature can be more charming than graceful, polished, easy manners. Now, the Christian teaching nowhere leads us to despise manners. Quite the contrary. But we are regarding manners just now not as an expression of the Christian principle of feeling, but as a substitute for it. Not as a beautiful clothing by which the inner man speaks and makes itself known, but as one complete outer man, which muffles, hides, and sometimes buries out of sight, the glorious inner man of God. Just as life is to some all dress, so it is to some all manners.

3. Mind. Go deeper still, and you will find another outer man, which may go by this denomination--mind; indicating strong intellectual life, love of truth, i.e., natural truth; which presents itself to us in the form of fact and law--the scientific spirit. All this may be with a slumbering inner man. Knowledge is power. But it is not in the deepest sense life.

4. Morals. We are still going inwards in search of that great something of which our text is the name. Now we come into the great ethical region of human nature. Now we look at a moral man--a man who distinctly recognizes the great moral law of God, that stretches over the world and runs through and through it. He recognizes it distinctly, but of course very imperfectly, if yet the inner man, under all this moral action going on above it, lies in the main asleep. Asleep; by fits and starts perhaps awaking, and then falling into slumber again. This, too, as in the other cases, is the sad possibility.

II. The inner man. How is this to be discovered? How does a man reach the centre and fountain of his own being? find himself? recover himself? bring himself home again to God? There are great varieties of experience. But perhaps these things, or something like them, will be found in all.

1. First--what may be called a soul consciousness--a consciousness of having, or being, a soul. Not merely an animated something, to be covered with dress and beautified with manners. Not merely a thinking something, to be informed by knowledge and guided by morals. But a something spiritual, vast, deep, related to eternity, related to God.

2. The next thing is, the conscious relation to God. In that beautiful parable of the prodigal, touching as it does at so many points the actual experience of sinful men, we find that the wandering son no sooner comes to himself than he begins to think of his Father, and to talk of Him there, in those barren fields among the swine; and of His house, the beautiful home of his youth, and of His hired servants, and of the bread loading His tables--until his soul and his eyes are so full of the beauty and the peacefulness of other days, that the wilderness becomes more dark and dreary and horrible, and he says, “I will arise, and leave all this, and go home again to my Father.”

3. The next thing, or the thing which goes along with this very often, is the consciousness of sin. When the inner man is found, sin is found in it, or cleaving to it very closely.

4. Then, further, he becomes conscious of goodness as well as of sin. Not the old formal goodness; but goodness that is fresh and new and living: with love in the heart of it, gratitude lending it a glow and a lustre, faith building it up. This new life of goodness begins just with the other things we have named. Not after them, but with and in them. We are too apt to conceive the religious life as consisting in a series of consecutive exercises, the beginning of the one waiting for the completion of the other. First repentance, then cleansing and forgiveness, then gratitude, then filial love, then active goodness. Not so. The moment a man comes to himself, all these things begin together, and go on together. Some trees in early spring are yet covered with last year’s leaves; all withered now and begrimed. What says the new vegetation to these? “I must wait until God sends winds strong enough to sweep them away; rains heavy enough to wash the tree clean in every branch”? Not at all. That new vegetation, that fresh leafage, comes out and pushes them off, and clothes the tree with virgin green, drawing food and beauty from the mould of the earth, from the wandering wind, from the passing cloud. So goodness throws off sin, and dresses and adorns the soul in the beauties of God’s holiness. Then what becomes of all the outer men, such as those we named? They all fall in, and, so to speak, become parts of the found and ransomed inner man, which now needs them, which now uses them, for its own development, outcome, manifestation. They cease to have a separate and independent existence. They are controlled, in a measure absorbed, by that central grand something which now becomes the ruling power. It is as when a number of substances lie together in a chemist’s vessel, each separate from the others, each refusing to enter into combination with the rest, until some final element--with affinities for them all, with a power to blend them all into something else--is added. Then each yields, is altered, combines, and makes the one grand product that is sought. So a regenerate inner man will not throw aside these outer men altogether, but transform them, mould them to its own uses, make them speak its meanings and flash out all its lights. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)


Verse 17

Ephesians 3:17

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love.

The substance of Christianity

Here is the sum and substance of Christianity: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” It is the whole of Christianity; that is to say, it is the whole of it in the same way that an acorn is the whole of a tree. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know”--what? The whole nature of God? The whole science of human government? The whole moral theory of the world?--“and to know the love of Christ,” which passeth knowledge. That is, no intellection can ever follow the outgush of experience, and reproduce it in the form of ideas. While the intellect may interpret the experience of the heart, it after all stands afar off from it, and never can partake of the experience itself. It passes knowledge. “And to know the love of Christ, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” This is the very supreme of philosophy. It touches the lines and foundation elements of Christianity. Christianity differs from all other religions, not in the fact that it commands a worship--for all do; not simply in the superior view which it gives of God; but by demanding a peculiar condition of heart toward Christ. Other religions demand reverence, and worship, and obedience, and uprightness--that is all. Christ is said to be “the end of the law.” In other words, that which the whole law means is comprised in Him. Christ in a man--that is the Christian religion. It is Christ dwelling by love in his heart--dwelling in his heart by faith. Out of this will grow many doctrines, and many inferences; but it is the seminal form, the germinent element, in Christianity. It is the personal relationship of the individual heart to the Lord Jesus Christ as its supreme Head and Lover. That not only makes a man a Christian, but brings him into the central point of the Christian system. Everywhere in the New Testament this one element stands forth--the personal identification of the human heart with the Lord Jesus Christ. There are three ways by which Christ can be presented to us:--

1. By the senses. That we shall not have again on earth.

2. By the intellect. That is the presentation of Christ doctrinally or theologically.

3. By the heart. That is the reception of Christ by the form of an actual experience; by such a cooperation of the reason with the imagination that we are able to bring the invisible person near to us, and so bountifully reproduce Him, and so beautifully set Him forth, that He becomes to us the “chiefest among ten thousand,” and the one “altogether lovely”; so that every sweet thing in us goes out to Him as every dewdrop in the sunshine evaporates and goes up towards the sun. This is receiving Christ by faith. It is not the rejecting of the senses; it is the non-using of them, rather. It is not the despising of the reason; it is an auxiliary use of the reason. But it is the manly way of taking hold of the Lord Jesus Christ by the enthusiasm of love, and making Him the supreme object of our desire, and of our allegiance. This is receiving Christ by faith; and if we continue so to receive Him, then He dwells in our hearts by faith--that is, by heart-sanctifying love. This I understand to be the distinctive peculiarity of Christianity, not only, but that without which there cannot be any Christianity. There can be no Christianity to the man who does not personally take Christ by faith. There is no substitute for this personal experience, and there can be no system of Christianity which does not provide for this personal experience, towards the Lord Jesus Christ.

I remark, then, in view of this exposition, that--

1. Any system which leaves out the central figure is not Christian, and has no right to wear that name. For Christianity consists in such an enthusiastic love of the individual human heart for Christ, that they are unified, that there is a substantial, indissoluble oneness between them as there is between the child and the parent; and that it is the cause of all the after life and action of the individual person. If that is denied, Christianity is denied. If Christ is so expounded that such an experience is impossible, Christianity is destroyed in the destruction of the very fundamental idea of Christ.

2. As the Christian system is not held by those who leave out the central figure, so every Christian system is imperfectly held by those who only hold it in a philosophical form. This latter mode is far in advance of the former, which I have just been criticising; but still the holding of the Lord Jesus Christ speculatively and philosophically, the teaching of Him only technically and psychologically in this way, is so imperfect a holding of Him that it cannot for a moment compare with the full-orbed glory of Christianity as it is set forth in the earliest narratives and teachings of the New Testament. I would not underrate the value of an intellectual conception of Christ; but I would hold it as an auxiliary, and as a guide. The intellect cannot fulfil the conditions of Christianity. It is the heart by which a man must believe unto salvation. It is not Christ as analyzed, as stated in technical terms, that ever will affect a man. Every man must by the inflammation of his own heart feeling find his Christ. A creed is just like a philosopher’s telescope. He sweeps the heavens to see if he can find the star for which he is searching; and by and by the glass brings it to his eye. The glass helps him, but it is not the glass that sees the star. It is the eye that does that. The glass is a mere instrument by which to identify the star, and magnify it, and bring it near, and shut off other things. A blind man could net see a heavenly body with a telescope, no matter how powerful it might be. A creed is a philosopher’s telescope by which we identify philosophical truths, and magnify them, and bring them near; but it is the heart that is to apprehend them. It is the heart that is to interpret the things that are marked out by our creed or philosophy.

3. The heart may embrace Christ with an enthusiasm of love, though the intellectual perception is imperfect and vague. It is better that the intellectual perception should be full and clear; nevertheless, a man can embrace Christ by the heart without the help of the understanding, far better than he can embrace Christ by the understanding without the aid of the heart. Thousands and thousands there have been, I believe, who have loved Christ, and have lived on their love to Him, and have died by the power of that love, and have been translated to glory, though they could not have defined the Divine nature, nor reduced their faith to any intellectual expression. They would have been larger and happier Christians, doubtless, if they had added to the heart element the intellectual element also; but it is possible for one to take hold of Christ with the heart. It is possible for one who has but slender endowments of reason to take hold of Christ. (H. W. Beecher.)

True knowledge of God

We come to a knowledge of Christ by shaping ourselves into His nature. We do not come to know Christ by gathering together arguments from physical science, nor by grouping texts out of the written Word of God: we come to a knowledge of Christ by a personal experience of those qualities which inhere in Him, and which, in power, constitute His divinity. He who has in himself a moral quality which corresponds to that which is in Jesus Christ, and has great sensibility in it, will have a knowledge of Jesus Christ, of God in Christ, or of the Eternal Father, as the case may be. He will have in himself a knowledge which he cannot have by any external process of reasoning. The sensibility of a corresponding nature is a true interpretation, and is the highest argument possible, under such circumstances. It is so much of us as is godlike that gives us the evidence of God. A moral state carried up to a certain degree of intensity will develop evidence and power in the direction of truths of its own kind. And he who is, like Christ, built up in love--built vertically, built laterally, built all round; he whose nature it is to dwell centrally in this great, enriching, all-controlling element and power of love, will have brought into his mind a realization of the existence of God, and of the power of God’s nature as a Being of love, which will be overwhelming and all-satisfying; which you cannot get from science, because science does not touch it; and which you cannot get from mere reasoning, because reasoning does not reach to it. We may help ourselves by reasoning, and we may gain analogies by science; if we turn to the natural world we may find there evidence of the existence of God, so far as Divine quality is represented by power and matter; but when we rise to the moral and personal elements of the Divine character, nature has nothing in it which can explain them to us--unless we be nature; and we are. There is nothing in nature, aside from man, out of which we can develop these attributes of the Divine Being. We can apprehend them only by having in us moral qualities which correspond to them, and by having them as sensitive to the Divine presence as the thermometer is to the presence of heat, or as the barometer is to the pressure of the atmosphere, or to the presence of moisture in it. These qualities--heat and moisture--are indicated to us by certain instruments; and here is an instrument, the soul of man, existing in the power of a true regenerated love; and this is that which detects the presence, and is inspired by the touch, of the Divine nature, and bears witness to it. It is said that God bears witness in us; but not a whit more than we bear witness to His presence. I sat last summer sometimes for hours in the dreamy air of the mountains, and saw, over against the Twin Mountain House, the American aspen, of which the forests there are full. I saw all the coquetries and blinkings of that wonderful little tree--the witch, the fairy tree, of the forest. As I sat there, when there was not a cloud moving, when there was not a ripple on the glassy surface of the river, when there was not a grain of dust lifted, when everything was still--dead still--right over against me was that aspen tree; and there was one little leaf quivering and dancing on it. It was so nicely poised on its long, slender stem that it knew when the air moved. Though I did not know it, though the dust did not know it, and though the clouds did not know it, that leaf knew it; and it quivered and danced, as much as to say: “O wind! you can’t fool me.” It detected the motion of the air when nothing else could. Now, it only requires sensibility in us to detect physical qualities, if we have the corresponding qualities; or social elements, if we have the corresponding elements; or moral attributes, if we have the corresponding attributes. We detect all qualities by the sensibility in us of corresponding qualities which reveal them to us. And he who has largely the Divine element will be able to recognize the Divine existence. That element in him is the power by which he is brought to a knowledge of God. In view of this exposition, I remark--

I. That the attempt to prove a God by scientific tests, applying physics strictly, can only reach a small way up. There is an argument that can be constructed that will satisfy--those that it will satisfy; but it is only a little way that it can go. And as I do not think that men can, by scientific observation, test and determine that which lies outside of all physics, so neither do I think this failure need lead to the scepticisms which some men make, but which, thank God, the most eminent scientific men do not make, who are many of them reverent, and who are all of them, I believe, seekers after the truth. The greatest physicists of the day are men who want to know the truth, not only as it is related to matter and to men, but as it is related to Divinity. But that makes no difference. You cannot prove nor disprove by matter that which lies beyond matter; and if, through all the material universe, there is no sign nor hint of God, it does not make any difference in the truth of His spiritual existence.

II. The difficulties which beset the existence of God as a personal Being, of intellect, of emotion, and of will--a transcendent and glorified man (for that is as near as we can come to it)--these difficulties are not alleviated when we turn in other directions. I am speaking in an age which runs strongly in the line of scepticism as to the existence of God. Because men have not seen Him, and cannot apply to Him the same tests that they apply to matter, there is a strong drifting towards atheism. I see no alleviation in that direction. That we exist, that nature exists, that there is an infinite chain of cause and effect, that it has had a past history, and that it is to have a future history, we cannot deny. We cannot deny that the vast universe is a fact, except by shutting our eyes. You meet the same difficulties in the realm of sense. When you say that matter is eternal, you do not help anything. It is useless to attempt to stop the thought by a word. You do not stop the thought at all. We go back on it. It is more difficult for me, a thousand times, to conceive that there is in the universe a self-ordering nature, than it is to conceive of a personal God who takes care of the universe, as we take care of an estate, or of a kingdom. Neither do I find any relief in turning to the poets. There is no relief for me in atheism, or pantheism, or in the idea that the sum total of the universe, and that all causes and effects, are God; that the whole physical creation is the body of God; that all the intelligence diffused through all creatures is the intelligence of God; that matter and mind, as they exist distributed through the universe, are only another name for God. By adopting this theory we may run away from some grievous difficulties; but we run into as many others that are no less grievous. I would rather shut my eyes and give up trying to understand my God, than undertake to trace Him partly in myself, partly in you, partly in the laws of matter, and partly in the laws of mind. In such a diffused thought of God there is no relief to me from the difficulties which inhere in this subject. The prime trouble is, that we are not large enough to understand God on any theory. (H. W. Beecher.)

Christ inhabiting the moral nature of man

The effect of a reverie is to create a mental presence, thus we see in “image of the mind” those from whom we are separated. Faith in Christ brings Him down in spiritual presence to perform His saving offices.

I. The firm heart is figurative to denote the highest and purest part of man. It may be compared to a house divided into apartments. Christ must dwell in every room or division. He must dwell in our thought, affection, reason, understanding, judgment, conversation, action, whole life; He must dwell in motive, desire, purpose, will; must have more than the tongue, or to flit through the brain: the heart, the whole of man, He wants. And no transient stay, but constant residence.

II. Christ brings to the heart many rich treasures. Knowledge of the future, all the promises and blessings of new covenant.

III. Faith is the key to unlock the door of the heart for Christ to dwell with us. (J. A. Fullerton.)

Christ in the heart

I. When Christ enters the human heart to dwell in it, evil tenants must go out.

II. When Christ comes into a heart to dwell, casting out evil tenants, he does not come alone; He brings with Him all those things that accompany salvation.

1. When Christ dwells in the human heart, He dwells there as a living power, not merely attracting all our other affections, but moving, renewing, sanctifying, moulding us according to His own idea, working His own pleasure in us, making men faithful in their daily business, true, righteous, strong for their daily service, for labour, for suffering, for sorrow, for waiting, for whatever Providence may appoint.

2. When Christ enters a human heart to dwell there, He enters it and abides as an undying joy.

3. When Christ abides in a human heart, He is in it as an immortal hope. (James Culross, D. D.)

The indwelling of Christ in His people

I. What it is not.

1. It is not personal.

2. It is not visionary.

3. It is not merely emotional.

II. What it is.

1. It is the result of faith as realizing His presence.

2. It is the result of the communication of the Holy Spirit, by which He is graciously present.

3. It is the result of His love. (G. Brooks.)

Christ dwelling in the heart

“In your hearts”; in the central region of your moral life--that region in which thought springs up, the region of affection and desire, the region in which purposes are formed, in which future actions have their birth; may Christ dwell there. The conception is not a difficult one to lay hold of. Take a case from ordinary life. A widowed mother lives in a cottage by the sea; her only boy is a sailor; she has not seen him for years; for years he has been far away, sailing from land to land; but her heart is full of him; she thinks of him by day, she dreams of him by night; how tenderly she handles every relic that he left behind him when he went away; how the glass in her spectacles grows dim as she reads his letters; his name is never missed out from her prayers; and many and many a time, when she is busy about her daily work, the thought of her boy will flash into her heart like a beam of golden sunlight; the stars speak about him, and so does every white-sailed ship away out on the sea. Nobody has any difficulty in understanding what is meant when it is said that her boy dwells in her heart. So may Christ dwell in your hearts, the object of trust, of affection, of allegiance. (James Culross, D. D.)

The three Advents

The Advent of Christ may be considered as a three-fold fact--or, perhaps, we may more properly speak of three Advents. The first of these was the coming of Christ upon the earth, the entrance into the sphere of visible and material things of a Divine and spiritual revelation. But not only do we recognize the Advent of Christ in the material world--in the world of nature. We also discern His Advent in history--in the world of social facts and movements. Explain it as we may, it cannot be denied that since the coming of Jesus there has been a vast and progressive change in society. It has been truly said that “the world can never be the same after” that Advent “as it was before it, as it would be without it.” The distinctive boundary lines of ancient and modern history meet just at that point of time on which Jesus stands. There is a life, a spirit, an expression in the world since that time that it did not show before that time. But there is still another Advent of Christ in which these that I have now referred to are, so to speak, realized and completed. And that is the Advent of Christ in the individual soul. Here is a peculiar characteristic of Christianity. The Author and Finisher of our faith is not like the founders of other systems--merely an objective teacher or lawgiver, or a leader in external and material conquests, carrying the kingdom of God with the sharp edge of the sword. He is an inward Saviour--the indwelling source of spiritual life. The profoundest result of Christ’s Advent is marked by an intimate connection between Jesus and the soul of the believer.

I. The conditions of the advent. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith requires an earnest belief in Christ. I observe that this belief must be as specific as the Advent, not a mere historic belief; not a languid acknowledgment of the fact that Christ has come into the world. Again, a mere conventional or traditional acquiescence is not the kind of faith that is required, an acquiescence by which men are called Christians in the sense in which we are a Christian community. True faith is an earnest, original action of the individual soul, moved by strong conviction. That faith is good for nothing which you take and adopt from another. You cannot receive a faith from your fathers. There is a time when we can indicate to our children the landmarks of fight. But even the minds of children should not be cast into a fixed mould. We should not say, “Search no more; here is the image of our fathers, and the image and superscription must be stamped upon the waxen substance of your minds; let it harden there!” We say, there is the old Bible; let your minds become developed, and your own experience will shed light upon it. So learn for yourselves an original, active, earnest faith that comes out of every man’s soul, Which he struggles and wrestles for as Jacob wrestled in the night with the angel. We should feel as the Samaritans did: “Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we … ourselves … know that this is the Christ.” But they themselves saw Him and knew Him, and from an earnest and original conviction of their own souls they believed in Him. Conviction is a personal exercise of trust. It is a spontaneous, complete yielding of the whole soul to that in which we trust.

II. The manner of the advent. What is meant when we say that Christ dwells in the hearts of men? We do not mean that an actual Christ dwells there; we mean that the spirit of Christ dwells in the hearts of men. And the spirit is really the man. The man is not in his outward or physical form. The real man is the soul, the spirit, and character. The moral standard of Christianity is not a verbal rule, but a character. The rule of Christian life is not an outward law; it is a character. When our characters are assimilated to Christ’s character, or when Christ’s character permeates and controls us, then Christ dwells in our hearts. There is no mysticism in that--nothing unreal, nor anything we cannot grasp. Christ dwells in the heart as a character--as a spirit of life. It is by the spirit, and not the outward form that Christ dwells in us. One man may today show the spirit of Christ in the disposition of his wealth; another man may do likewise in his poverty. The man who uses his wealth in a humble, lowly spirit--with the spirit of the loving Jesus; who makes it not merely the instrument of selfish aggrandizement and outward development--he feels that wealth is the gift of God. The outward condition does not make a man like Christ; but the inward spirit. Thus Christianity is adapted to all conditions. The spirit of love is fitted for all conditions. Be you rich or poor--do you stand in a prominent or obscure and lowly place before men--have the spirit of Christ! Let it dwell in your heart! Be truly Christ-like in your home and business relations, fulfilling the duties that rest upon you, as did those who went about Palestine of old preaching the gospel to the poor. Does God take note of the actual size and description of your goodness? Who can tell what shall be God’s minister--the little bird in the air, the snow in the field, the lilies that are dressed better than Solomon! All are agents of God’s instruction. Use your instruments to minister good to man, to make the best use of the little you have. Drop the pebble in the water, and who can tell how wide its ripples will extend in the stream? Do your little acts of goodness and live a true life, and God will see to the rest, and make, perhaps, your small practical action to result higher and deeper than you can calculate.

III. Sphere and result of the advent. We are brought to consider the sphere and result of the Advent. Christ’s Advent is in and through individual souls. To be sure we contemplate Christianity as the grandest scheme of social regeneration, and the only true scheme that the world has ever known. It came and Unbarred partitions that divided man from man. It aimed at a new and better social state; it aims at it now. And men have looked forward to a New Jerusalem, and that Christ would come with a shout and gather together His elect. Christianity speaks to individuals. It did not call upon communities at first. It did not call nations, but individuals--Peter, James, and John and Nathaniel, and in due time Paul. And if the world is to be made better, it is to be made better through individual souls. Christ’s kingdom is essentially an inward kingdom. Its power is silent and hidden. It is the progress of a conviction. Sometimes when yon look upon the shore, the sea extends before you smooth and glassy, and the shore is covered with slimy weeds, and by and by you walk that way again, and the great sea has come up, and the shore you looked upon is no more to be seen. So silent and hidden forces are pouring into the world, and all at once we discover the world is made better; but not by a sharp shock or outward convulsion. The geologist tells us the earth has never been made by any sudden formation, but by one thing being added to another. So social changes have been made--not by quick shocks, but by silent action. How strange are the revolutions taking place in society; and how different from what they were a few years ago. We see men holding to opinions unpopular some few years ago, when they would be called fanatics, fools, and madmen. But lo! that opinion becomes the adopted law of the land; it is the ruling force; it is the recognized idea. What has come about? It is the silent work of the Divine kingdom in the individual heart. (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)

Christ dwelling in the heart

Show the privilege of having Christ to dwell in the heart, by considering what He does there. In general: He brings with Him all the promises and blessings of the new covenant (1 Corinthians 1:1, etc.; 2 Corinthians 1:20; Ephesians 1:3).

1. He rebukes the heart (Revelation 2:4-5; Revelation 3:19).

2. He humbles the heart (Acts 9:5-6; Ephesians 3:8).

3. He sets it at liberty from sin and Satan (Luke 11:1, etc).

4. He reveals His love to it (Ephesians 3:17-19).

5. He weans it from other things (Philippians 3:7-8).

6. He strengthens it (Isaiah 57:15; Psalms 33:26).

7. He satisfies it in the want of outward blessings.

8. He reconciles it--God and man (2 Corinthians 5:19-21).

9. He fills it with the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

10. He sups with it, and it with Him (Revelation 3:20). (H. Foster, M. A.)

The indwelling Christ

Two remarks of an expository character will prepare the way for the lessons of these verses. The first is as to the relation of this clause to the preceding. It might appear at first sight to be simply parallel with it, expressing substantially the same ideas under a somewhat different aspect. The operation of the strength-giving Spirit in the inner man might very naturally be supposed to be equivalent to the dwelling of Christ in our hearts by faith. So many commentators do, in fact, take it; but I think that the two ideas may be distinguished, and that we are to see in the words of my text the second step in this prayer, which is in some sense a result of the “strengthening with might by the Spirit in the inner man.” I need not enter in detail into the reasons for taking this view of the connection of the clause which is obviously in accordance with the climbing-up structure of the whole verse. It is enough to point it out as the basis of my further remarks. And now the second observation with which I will trouble you before I come to deal with the thoughts of the verse is as to the connection of the last words of it. You may observe that in reading the words of my text I omitted the “that” which stands in the centre of the verse. I did so, because the words, “Ye being rooted and grounded in love” in the original do stand before the “that,” and are distinctly separated by it from the subsequent clause. They ought not therefore to be shifted forward into it, as our translators and the Revised Version have, I think, unfortunately done, unless there were some absolute necessity either from meaning or from construction. I do not think that that is the case; but on the contrary, being carried forward into the next clause, which describes the result of Christ’s dwelling in our hearts by faith, they break the logical flow of the sentence by mixing together result and occasion. And so I attach them to the first part of this verse, and take them to express at once the consequence of Christ’s dwelling in the heart by faith, and the preparation or occasion for our being able to comprehend and know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Now that is all with which I need trouble you in the way of explanation of the meaning of the words. Let us come now to deal with their substance.

I. Mark, then, the apostle’s desire here that all Christian people may possess the indwelling Christ, To begin with, let me say in the plainest, simplest, strongest way that I can, that that dwelling of Christ in the believing heart is to be regarded as being a plain literal fact. It is not to be weakened down into any notion of participation in His likeness, sympathy with His character, submission to His influence, following His example, listening to His instruction, or the like. A dead Plato may so influence his followers, but that is not how a living Christ influences His disciples. It is no mere influence, derived and separable from Him, however blessed and gracious that influence might he, but it is the presence of His own self, exercising influences which are inseparable from His presence, and only to be realized when He dwells in us. I preach, and rejoice that I have to preach, a “Christ that died, yea! rather, that is risen again; who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Nor do I stop there, but I preach a Christ that is in us, dwelling in our hearts if we be His at all. Well, then, further observe that the special emphasis of the prayer here is that this “indwelling” may be an unbroken and permanent one. Any of you who can consult the original for yourselves will see that the apostle here uses a compound word which conveys the idea of intensity and of continuity. What he desires, then, is not merely that these Ephesian Christians may have occasional visits of the indwelling Lord, or that at some lofty moments of spiritual enthusiasm they may be conscious that He is with them, but that always, in an unbroken line of deep, calm receptiveness, they may possess, and know that they possess, an indwelling Saviour. God means and wishes that Christ may continuously dwell in our hearts; does He to your own consciousness dwell in yours? And then the last thought connected with this first part of my subject is that the heart strengthened by the Spirit is fitted to be the temple of the indwelling Christ. How shall we prepare the chamber for such a guest? How shall some poor occupant of some poor but by the wayside, fit it up for the abode of a prince? The answer lies in these words that precede my text. You cannot strengthen the rafters and lift the roof and adorn the halls and furnish the floor in a manner befitting the coming of the King; but you can turn to that Divine Spirit who will expand and embellish and invigorate your whole spirit, and make it capable of receiving the indwelling Christ. That these two things which are here considered as cause and effect may, in another aspect, be considered as but varying phases of the same truth is only part of the depth and felicity of the teaching that is here. For if you come to look more deeply into it the Spirit that strengtheneth with might is the Spirit of Christ; and He dwells in men’s hearts by His own Spirit. So that the apparent confusion, arising from what in other places are regarded as identical, being here conceived as cause and effect, is no confusion at all, but is explained and vindicated by the deep truth that nothing but the indwelling of the Christ can fit for the indwelling of the Christ. The lesser gift of His presence prepares for the greater measure of it; the transitory inhabitation fits for the more permanent. Where He comes in smaller measure He opens the door and fits the heart for His own more entire indwelling. “Unto him that hath shall be given.” It is Christ in the heart that makes the heart fit for Christ to dwell in the heart. You cannot do it by your own power; turn to Him and let Him make you temples meet for Himself.

II. So now, in the second place, notice the open door through which the Christ comes in to dwell--“that He may dwell in your hearts by faith.” More accurately we may render “through faith,” and might even venture to suppose that the thought of faith as an open door through which Christ passes into the heart floated half distinctly before the apostle’s mind. Be that as it may, at all events faith is here represented as the means or condition through which this dwelling takes effect. You have but to believe in Him and He comes, drawn from heaven, floating down on a sunbeam, as it were, and enters into the heart and abides there. But do not forget that the faith which brings Christ into the spirit must be a faith which works by love if it is to keep Christ in the spirit. You cannot bring that Lord into your hearts by anything that you do. The man that cleanses his own soul by his own strength, and so expects to draw God into it, has made the mistake which Christ pointed out when He told us that when the unclean spirit is gone out of a man he leaves his house empty, though it be swept and garnished. Moral reformation may turn out the devils, it will never bring in God. And in the emptiness of the swept and garnished heart there is an invitation to the seven to come back again and fill it. And whilst that is true, remember, on the other hand, that a Christian man can drive away his Master by evil works. The sweet songbirds and the honey-making bees are said always to desert a neighbourhood before a pestilence breaks out in it. And if I may so say, similarly quick to feel the first breath of the pestilence is the presence of the Christ which cannot dwell with evil. You bring Christ into your heart by faith, without any work at all; you keep Him there by a faith which produces holiness.

III. And the last point is the consequence of this indwelling of Christ, “ye being,” or as the words might more accurately be translated, “Ye, having been rooted and grounded in love.” Where He comes He comes not empty handed. He brings His own love, and that consciously received produces a corresponding and answering love in our hearts to Him. So there is no need to ask the question here whether “love” means Christ’s love to me or my love to Christ. From the nature of the case both are included--the recognition of His and the response by mine are the result of His entering into the heart. This love, the recognition of His and the response by mine, is represented in a lovely double metaphor in these words as being at once the soil in which our lives are rooted and grow, and the foundation on which our lives are built and are steadfast. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Christ in the heart

A soldier of Napoleon’s great army was wounded one day by a bullet which entered his breast above his heart; he was carried to the rear, and the surgeon was probing the wound with his knife, when at length the guardsman exclaimed, “An inch deeper, and you will find the emperor.” And the Christian soldier, even when most sorely pressed and pierced by his foes, is conscious that were his heart laid open by their wounds, it would only discover the name of his great Captain deeply engraven there.

The heart a temple

It is related in ecclesiastical history that the parents of Origen used to uncover his breast as he slumbered and print their kisses over his heart; for they said, “This is a temple of the Holy Ghost!” (Chas. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Inward religion

Liturgies, although a great lawmaker, would allow none of his laws to be written. He would have the principles of government interwoven in the lives and manners of the people as most conducive to their happiness. The multiplication of Bibles that stand upon bookshelves or lie upon tables is an easy matter, but to multiply copies of walking scriptures, in the form of holy men who can say, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart,” is much more difficult. (New Handbook of Illustration.)

Root religion

The being of a grace must go before the increase of it; for there is no growth without life, no building without a foundation. Put a dry stick into the ground, and dress and water it as much as you will, it will continue the same until it rot; but set a living plant by the side of it, and though much less at first, yet it soon begins to shoot, and in time becomes a wide-spreading tree. (J. Stoughton.)

Rooted in Christ

Paul Jeanne ascribes amazing fertility to the soil of Mentone, and backs his assertions by a story which reads like a legend. He says that a stranger coming to pay a visit to his Mentonese friends stuck his walking stick into the ground and forgot it. Coming back some days afterwards to seek his cane, he was surprised to find it putting forth leaves and young branches. He declares that the little tree has grown vastly, and is still to be seen in the Rue Saint Michel. We have not seen it, and are afraid that to inquire for it in the aforesaid Rue would raise a laugh at our expense. We may believe the story or not as we please; but it may serve as an emblem of the way in which those grow who are by grace planted in Christ. All dry and withered like a rod we are thrust into the sacred soil, and life comes to us at once, with bud and branch and speedy fruit. Aaron’s rod that budded was not only a fair type of our Lord, but a cheering prophecy of ourselves. Whenever we feel dead and barren let us ask to be buried in Christ afresh, and straightway we shall glorify His name by bearing much fruit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christ dwelling in the heart

A wounded soldier boy was dying in a hospital, the lady who watched by his bedside said to him, “My dear boy, if this should be death that is coming upon you, are you ready to meet your God?” He answered, “I am ready, dear lady; for this has long been His dwelling place”; and as he spoke, he placed his hand upon his heart. “Do you mean,” questioned the lady, gently, “that God dwells and rules in your heart?” “Yes,” he answered, but his voice sounded far off, sweet, and low, as if it came from a soul already well on its way “through the dark valley of the shadow of death.”

Love to Christ

To be in the heart of anyone is to be the object of cordial affection; to dwell in His heart is to be the object of that affection constantly and habitually; and to dwell in the heart by faith is to be the object of an intelligent and enlightened affection.

I. In the first place, then, this is not the desire that Christ must be in their mind and understanding, as the object of simple, abstract, uninfluential knowledge. Many may be the persons and opinions in our minds that are not objects of attachment, but, on the contrary, of indifference, or even of aversion. We know merely that they are there, and what they are. Some of them we would rather have absent from our minds, and some of them we would banish from them altogether; but to be in the heart is to be admired, esteemed, loved--loved with cordiality and ardour. We cannot express fervent attachment in more energetic terms than in the language of the apostle, “I would that Christ might dwell in your hearts.” And what is expressed here, that we are in our hearts to do? Can anything be stronger than the attachment which shares life and death with its object? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” The love, then, that Christ demands of His people is fervent love; not a lifeless indifference, a mere negation of hatred, a lukewarm, spiritless neutrality. No. He must be in the heart, and must have the chief place there.

II. Rooted and grounded in love are meant to express in another form the same idea, firmly fixed in the experience and manifestation of this sacred affection. The figure is double, and is taken from a tree and a building. To the stability of the former a root is necessary, proportioned to the expansion of the branches; to the stability of the latter a foundation is necessary, corresponding to the magnitude of the superstructure. Great profession of attachment, without real firmness of inward principle, is like a wide-spreading tree with short roots, with little hold of the soil, that may stand for a little and be admired, but is in danger of falling from every blast that assails it; or like a house with little foundation, built on the sand or on soft ground, presenting a very imposing appearance to the eye, but when the rain descends, and the winds blow and beat violently against it, immediately it comes to the ground, and involves its inmates in ruin. And what is the love that promises that stability? It is love that is rooted and grounded in knowledge--that has not been the product of a hasty examination or of a superficial observation.

III. And this leads me to the third feature of love, that it be intelligent and enlightened, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. It is very obvious that there must be knowledge in order to faith, and faith in order to love. That cannot be loved which is not known, and that person cannot be loved, the qualities of whose character, fitted to attract affection, are not believed. It is only by faith that Christ can enter the heart; it is only as the object of faith that He can be the object of love, and faith will be in proportion to spiritual intelligence, and spiritual intelligence in proportion to faith. It is an enlightened attachment that can show good cause for its ardour and its glow. Connected inseparably with love to Christ for what He is, is love to Christ for what He has done; and this, too, is founded in knowledge: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” It is when this grace is known that love takes possession of the heart, and it is by the faith of it that He continues to dwell there; and as knowledge grows, and faith is strengthened, love is invigorated. That love to Christ, as one of the great principles of all active obedience, is founded in knowledge and rooted in faith. “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again.” Thus have I endeavoured to show what the nature of the principle is which the apostle prays for in behalf of the believing Ephesians--that it is a fervent, constant, intelligent, and enlightened attachment to the Lord Jesus, that Christ might dwell in their hearts. In conclusion, allow me to remark.

1. That the prayer implies, that this state of heart must come from above--from the Spirit of the living God.

2. The heart in which Christ dwells must be a purified heart. Jesus Christ is the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person; He is the holy one and the just. An unrenewed and unholy heart would be no fit residence for Him. When the Holy Spirit introduces Himself into any heart, He purifies that heart from dross and corruption. Christ has said, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” If any heart remains impure and shows itself so by what proceeds from it, it is quite evident that Christ has no hold there.

3. I would just notice, that the heart in which Christ dwells must be an undivided heart. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Rooted in love

I seem to see that grand old oak that I have known, and you may have known such an one from your childhood. What a massive, enormous column of a stem; it is girt with a mass of branches holding up a forest of verdure. You remember it when you were a child, and now you are a man it does not seem to be any older! What generations have rested under its shadows, and what generations have been carried past it to yonder churchyard! How often the storm has visited it! and the violent tempest has shaken its branches and wrestled with it! But still, while many a similar tree has been torn up by the roots, this old oak has shaken its fists at the storm! The storms of wind and rain have done it no harm! There it remains, and there it will remain, unmoved; and while other trees have been uprooted, and the grass has been burnt, and the flowers are hanging their heads, how is it that that old oak remains, so grand and bright in its verdure? Because it is feeding at the reservoirs and secret streams deep down in the earth; and so, while this oak is first strengthened to resist the hurricane, and then receiving nourishment from the deep hidden springs and streams, it can stand firmer and firmer. Oh, that we may be so rooted in love, and grounded in love! Look at yonder castle, built upon the spur of the mountain. How grey it is! It looks like the colour of the mountain itself; it bears the tints of the neighbouring rocks. How often have the rains descended upon it, and the storms beaten upon its walls! But it still stands, because it is firmly fixed upon its rocky foundation. It is established there, and held to its rocky holding by strong clamps, so that the storm and the torrent cannot shake it. So may we be rooted and grounded in level (Newman Hall, LL. B.)

Rooted and grounded

The apostle supplies us with two figures to show the force and necessity of religious affection. It is as the root to the tree, that which holds it in the earth, conveys to it the nourishment of the soil, enables it to live, to grow, to thrive, to blossom, and bear fruit, and also to stand upright against the wind and storms. It is the foundation of the building, that on which all the rest depends, that without which all the rest must fall. Nay, it is the ground under the foundation, the solid earth, which supports building, foundation, and all. A building with no foundation, a tree without a root, these give us some notion of a Christian without love. This explains to those of you who love not Christ, who love Him not through faith in His redemption, this explains why your purposes fall headlong to the ground, why your thoughts of heaven, and intentions to be holy, show fair for no other end, than to wither in the bud. Be you then, my brethren, rooted and grounded in love. Be persuaded that Christ Jesus, the Son of God, the express image of the Father’s glory, died for sinners, died for you. (C. Girdlestone, M. A.)

The relation of love to knowledge

We must have love to be the root and to be the ground. And the tree will be abundant understanding, and the fruit thereof the fulness of God. And this is no more than we find often to be the case in worldly briefness, and in human learning. They make most progress who most love their work. They, who like what they are employed in, do better, prosper more, advance far the most rapidly, understand far the most thoroughly. How then can we reasonably expect to make progress in Christian knowledge, if we make not first progress in Christian love? How can we wonder that so many are wandering in error, when so few are united in the bond of peace? How can we help being ourselves dark in our understandings, as long as we continue cold in our hearts? Let us begin at the right beginning. Let us pray this day, and this day forth forever, that God may move us to the love of all that He reveals, and so bring us to a right knowledge of the truth. (C. Girdlestone, M. A.)

Rooted and grounded in love

The “root” is taken from the field of nature--the “grounding,” or founding, from the world of art. The “root” is laid in the soil to imbibe its virtues--the “foundation” is placed on its base to sustain the edifice. The “root” grows, and produces fruit--the “foundation” stands, and gives strength. The “root” needs continual supply--the “foundation” rests in its completeness, and is alway. Now see how well the two blend together to make one whole. The grand foundation or “ground” of everything is “love”--God’s love. Because “God is love,” therefore His love goes forth to sinners. Because His love went forth to sinners, He provided a way by which He could restore sinners back again to happiness and to Himself--and so Jesus died for them. And since Jesus died for sinners, therefore God chose me, drew me, pardoned me, spoke peace to me. And having loved us enough to do this, what will not the same love do?--what prayer will He not hear?--what good thing can He withhold? That is a foundation. It wilt support anything--any comfort, any work, any hope I ever choose to build upon it. It is like some mathematical proposition, which cannot be assailed, and the whole problem is actually contained within it, and only wants to be worked out. It stands to the soul like solid adamant to the whole temple--a foundation. Now the “root.” I cast my affections down into the character and the being of God; I wind them about His attributes; I strike them into His promises; I drive them deep into His faithfulness. There, the “roots” of my affection lie. They take up, they drink in, the nature of the love they live in;--they are always assimilating themselves to it, and they send up its sweet savour by little, silent threads, which are always running to the fountain of life. My words, my actions, my whole outer being, cannot choose but mould itself to them, and take that love. Because of those secret processes of the “roots” which are in Christ, I love. I love simply because I am “rooted in love.” So the “foundation” supplied the strong argument, and then the “root” gave the essence of the necessity for the new nature. My intellect rests upon its “foundation”; and my heart draws its tenderness from its “root.” I can edify myself in my “grounding,” and I am sanctified in my “rooting.” I grow by resting, and by double processes my inner life is made and assured. And yet both owe themselves to one simple thing, and that one simple thing is “love,” and that love is of Christ:--“Rooted and grounded in love.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Rooted in love

Two cognate conceptions--one borrowed from the processes of nature, and the other from human art--are employed to indicate at once the life, the growth, the strength, and the stability of a Christian’s hope. A tree and a tower are the material objects which are used here as alphabetic letters to express a spiritual thought. More particularly, as a tree depends for life and growth upon its roots being embedded in a genial soil, and a tower depends for strength and stability upon its foundation, the apostle desires, by aid of these conceptions, to express and illustrate the corresponding features of the Christian life. If disciples are compared to living trees, love is the soil they grow in; if they ate compared to a building, love is the foundation on which it stands secure. Let us, at present, confine our attention to the first of these associated conceptions.

I. The soil in which the living tree is planted: it is love. A question rises here at the outset which must be settled ere we can advance a step with the exposition--What is the love in which the trees of righteousness are rooted? Whether is it God’s love to man, or man’s love to God and to his brother? The question admits of an answer at once easily intelligible and demonstrably true. The love in which the roots of faith strike down for nourishment is not human but Divine. It is not even that grace which is sovereign and Divine in its origin, but residing and acting in a renewed human heart: it is the attribute, and even the nature, of Deity, for “God is love.” The soil which bears and nourishes the new life of man is the love of God in the gift of His Son. Having determined the first point--that the soil in which faith’s roots can freely grow is found in God, not in man--we must now weigh well what attribute or manifestation of God it is that permits and invites the confidence of the fallen. The justice of God does not afford a soil on which the hope of sinners can thrive. As well might you expect the tender roots of a living plant to strike kindly down into hot ashes, as expect the trust of a guilty soul to go into the righteousness of God for support. No; there is nothing on this side but a fearful looking for of judgment to devour. Neither can human hopes grow in a mixture of mercy and justice such as men, in ignorance of the gospel, when conscience is uneasy, may mingle for themselves. There is only one place in which righteousness and peace can meet without mutually destroying each other, and that is in the Cross of Christ the Substitute. In Christ, but not elsewhere, God is at once just, and the justifier of the sinful who believe.

II. The plant that is rooted in the ground represents a believer getting all his support and all his sustenance from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our lord. Under this head, the first point that occurs is the very obvious one, that before any measure of growth can be obtained there must be life. Of what avail would richness of soil be to rows of dead branches? A withered branch draws no sap from the most fertile ground. Faith fastens on God’s revealed love in the covenant, and satisfies itself from this inexhaustible treasury; but who and what first creates faith? The living will, by the instincts of nature, seek convenient food; but how shall the dead be restored to life? Let it be granted that faith, appropriating God’s love, sustains the living, the question remains, Who quickens the dead? In the last resource, an answer to this question must be sought in the sovereignty of God and the ministry of the Spirit; but we must beware of so regarding God’s part in it as to miss or neglect our own. “Live” is the first thing in the Spirit’s ministry but “believe” is the first thing in the duty of man. To God’s eye, looking downward from His own eternity, the order of events is, Live, that you may believe; but to our eye, as we stand on earth and look upwards, the order of events is, Believe, that you may live. Our part is not to produce life, but to exercise trust. Honour God by referring the origin of life to His sovereign grace and power; but obey God by believing in Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Let us neither intrude into His province nor neglect our own. But even when the plant is living, many obstacles may intervene to prevent it from freely pushing down its roots and drinking up the richness of the soil. Stones of stumbling lie in the way of the living root, and hinder its growth. Sometimes the history of vegetable life, concealed for generations, is afterwards thrown open. When a forest tree, that has outlived several generations of its owners, is at last thrown down by a tempest, and its roots all exposed to the inspection of the passer-by, many secret passages of its early history are at length revealed. Each bend of those gnarled roots has a tale to tell--of various offers and disappointments, and conflicts and victories. Here, in the centre of the circular mass, the main stem was pointing perpendicularly downward when the tree was young, perhaps a century ago; but ere it had gone far in that direction, it had struck against a stone. The fibre, then young and pliable, had sensitively turned as soon as it felt the obstacle, and grew for a little upward, as if retracing its steps. Then it had bent to one side and crept along the surface of the stone, intending, so to speak, to turn its flank and plunge into the deep earth beyond its outmost edge. Once or twice in its horizontal course it came to hollows in the stone, and ever instinctively seeking downward, penetrated to the bottom of each; but finding no opening, it came always up again, and pursued its course on the horizontal line. But, long ere it reached the margin of the great rock, it found a rent, narrow, indeed, but thorough. Into this minute opening it thrust a needle-like point. It succeeded in pushing that pioneer through. Tasting thereby of the rich soil below, it thence drew new strength for itself. Strong now in that acquired strength, it increased its bulk and rent the rock asunder. You may now see the two halves of the cleaved rock hanging on the mighty root that rent them. Now the victor has overcome its adversaries, and makes a show of them openly. It holds the remnants of its ancient enemy aloft as trophies of its victory. It is thus that a living soul struggles against all obstructions, and either round them or through them, penetrates into the unlimited love of God as it is in Christ. There the life satisfies itself and becomes strong. This man is more than conqueror through Him that loved him. When the saved are drawn at length from the ground in which the new life secretly grew, and all the history of their redemption revealed in the better land, themselves and others will read with interest the record of the struggle, and the final victory. It will then be seen that every hindrance which the tempter threw in faith’s way only exercised and so strengthened faith. They who have had the hardest conflict in throwing obstacles aside that they might freely draw from redeeming love in Christ, draw most freely from that love when they reach it: as that woman who had pined many years in disease, and spent all her means on other physicians, drew proportionally a larger draught from the fountain when she touched its lip at last. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

Rooted and grounded in love

I. The grace implored.

1. The love of God includes admiration of His character.

2. The love of God includes gratitude for His benefits.

3. The love of God includes delight in His communion.

II. Its specified importance.

1. The love of God is the essence of religion.

2. The love of God is the germ of holiness.

3. The love of God is the source of happiness.

4. The love of God is the test of meetness for heaven.

III. The characteristics of it implied.

1. Sincere, and not sentimental.

2. Permanent, and not temporary. (G. Brooks.)

Rooted and grounded in love

Observe, again, it is not “rooted and grounded” in any other perfection of God. I am satisfied that the “love” here spoken of, as you will see in a moment, is God’s love to us in the first instance; and the apostle does not say.

and this is very remarkable--“being rooted and grounded in wisdom, or truth, or even faithfulness.” And why? Because you will notice that all those perfections, invaluable as they are in their application to ourselves and the whole scheme of redemption, still do not touch the heart: they never would draw the “roots” of man to God. I can look at God, and behold Him in all His beauty, as a faithful, holy, just, and true God, but my heart remains perfectly unmoved; there is not one of God’s perfections, except love, that can draw forth the roots of my heart unto Himself; there is not one of God’s other perfections that could, if brought into exercise, have knit my soul to Him; I should have stood aloof from God, apart from this one attribute. I say again, I could have looked at Him and admired Him, in a cold and abstract sense, on account of His other perfections, as mere moral attributes; but His love, His own love, and nothing else, could ever touch the heart of poor lost, fallen man. It is there, observe--in the manifestation of that love--that union is again effected between God and man. And therefore I need not say to you, that the very essence of the gospel economy is the manifestation of that love. See, then, the propriety of this expression--“rooted and grounded in love.” You know perfectly well, in regard of any of your fellow creatures, that you may admire their qualities and attainments, and everything else of that character; still, these do not touch your heart; but when there is a strong expression of love towards yourself on the part of that fellow creature, if anything conceivable could draw forth your affections, and induce what is here implied by “being rooted and grounded” in the affection of that person, it is the very fact of his love drawing you to him. Hence this expression here--“being rooted and grounded in love:” that is, knowing His love, appreciating it, entering thoroughly into it, having such an understanding of it and such a belief of its personal adaption to yourself, if appropriated in all its fulness, that there is a manifest return--that the roots of your heart are drawn and infixed into God, and you come back into that fellowship with Him which never can and which never could result from anything whatever but the manifestation of God’s own love to you. Brethren, I would say, do you not feel from your inmost souls day by day that religion is an absolute nonentity, that it is pure vanity, excepting as it lays hold of a man’s heart and affections? Do you not feel that it is utterly uninfluential, independent of that? But now let us look at two or three particulars connected with my more immediate text, which I want to be fixed upon your minds. “Rooted and grounded in love”! I have explained to you briefly, as well as I could, what is implied in that: it is such a perception of God’s love--its length, and breadth, and depth, and height--that our affections are placed firmly upon it; all their roots are fixed deeply into it. Now, then, I want to know particularly some of the results that will follow from it in our own experience.

1. There will be a necessary enlargement of our own hearts’ affections. My brethren, do believe this, that like every other faculty or feeling or quality belonging to man, his affections have become straitened. This is part and parcel of man’s miserable and sinful condition. He has not the love he ought to have for any object; he is narrowed up into his own selfishness. Now, when we get a right view of God’s love, and that love comes into our hearts, what follows? The expansion of our own affections. It is a common saying, and a perfectly true one, that small things will satisfy small minds; but I tell you that the converse or another view of that proposition is true: small things will make small minds. If you exercise your mind upon small matters, your mind becomes diminished in its powers and capabilities--if you exercise your mind upon great matters, your mind expands; if the heart is fixed on a small object of affection, its affections become small--if on a comprehensive one, the affections are enlarged. Now look at God. God becomes the object of a man’s affection when he enters into this text. What follows? The expansion of his heart. Hence the Psalmist--“When Thou hast set my heart at liberty.” I repeat, that if you can enter into the depth and length and height and breadth of God’s love in Christ to you, one result will be an expansion of heart and affection back towards God.

2. Another result will be this--a feeling of perfect security in regard to your everlasting state. You will never enter into this until you enter into the depths of God’s love.

3. Again, confidence will be the result. When I know that God is my own God, that He is with me always, that His promise will be fulfilled to me, what follows? I have perfect confidence. How can I have this? Why, let God be for me--I say from my inmost soul, let God be for me, and I care not whether man or devil is for or against me, comparatively. Is God absolute, or is He not? I say God is absolute, and controls all things. Then let me have God, and if I love Him I do have Him, and I stand with perfect confidence--in no strength of my own, with no sufficiency to think a good thought, but God undertakes for me.

4. Fruitfulness. If a tree strikes its roots deep, the tree is secure--if the foundation of a building is deep, the building is secure; if I see the depths of God’s love, and the roots of my heart are struck deep into God’s love, there is abundant reason for my security. But in regard to fruitfulness and a high and exalted state, how can you have that without the roots are struck deep? Can you build a high house or a tower without a good foundation? Can you have a high tree, luxuriant in foliage and fruit, if you have not deep roots? How then can you have a high Christian, an exalted Christian, an elevated experience? Only by the roots being struck deep into God’s love. (Capel Molyneux, B. A.)

Love, the result of Christ’s indwelling

Where Christ abides in a man’s heart, love will be the very soil in which his life will be rooted and grow. That love will be the motive of all service, it will underlie as the productive cause, all fruitfulness. All goodness and all beauty will be its fruit. The whole life will be as a tree planted in this rich soil. And so the life will grow, not by effort only, but as by an inherent power drawing its nourishment from the soil. This is blessedness. It is heaven upon earth that love should be the soil in which our obedience is rooted, and from which we draw all the nutriment that turns to flowers and fruit. Where Christ dwells in the heart love will be the foundation upon which our lives are builded steadfast and sure. The blessed consciousness of His love, and the joyful answer of my heart to it, may become the basis upon which my whole being shall repose, the underlying thought that gives security, serenity, steadfastness to my else fluctuating life. I may so plant myself upon Him, as that in Him I shall be strong, and then my life will not only grow like a tree and have its leaf green and broad, and its fruit the natural outcome of its vitality, but it will rise like some stately building, course by course, pillar by pillar, until at last the shining topstone is set there. He that buildeth on that foundation shall never be confounded. For, remember, that deepest of all, the words of my text may mean that the incarnate personal love becomes the very soil in which my life is set and blossoms, on which my life is founded.

“Thou, my Life, O let me be

Booted, grafted, built in Thee.”

Christ is love, and love is Christ. He that is rooted and grounded in love has the roots of his being, and the foundation of his life fixed and fastened in that Lord. So, dear brethren, go to Christ like those two on the road to Emmaus; and as Fra Angelico has painted them on his convent wall, put out your hands and lay them on His, and say, “Abide with us. Abide with us!” And the answer will come: “This is My rest forever; here”--mystery of love!--“will I dwell, for I have desired it.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Verses 17-19

Verse 18

Ephesians 3:18

May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.

Spiritual perception

From Divine love, as the root and ground of the soul’s life, comes all spiritual perception. I say spiritual, as distinct from intellectual, perception. Paul says: You will net be able to comprehend the love of Christ, unless you are first rooted and grounded in it. A spiritual understanding is the opened flower of the Divine love root. Light is love’s first-born child. Before one can enjoy the light of the world, he must be born of the world’s love. And before we can be “light in the Lord,” we must be “in the Lord,” having a root and ground in us derived from Himself. Any such knowledge as the natural understanding is capable of deriving from the words of Scripture is by no means spiritual knowledge. In order to spiritual knowledge, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, must as really shine into our hearts, as, in order to behold objects of nature, the light of the sun must shine into our eyes. If “Christ dwell in your hearts by faith,” you will be “rooted and grounded in love,” and as a consequence, you will be able to comprehend spiritual things. Love, then, according to our apostle, is the ground and mother of the perceptive faculty. Without fire there can be no effulgence, or radiance. As is the fire, will be the radiance. The source of mental illumination is the Son of God in the heart. (J. Pulsford.)

Comprehending Christ’s love

I. The dimensions of this love.

1. The breadth is seen in reaching out Divine mercy to sinners who are far off from God (Isaiah 65:1; Isaiah 45:22).

2. The length of this love reaches from eternity to eternity (Jeremiah 31:3; Jeremiah 32:40).

3. The depth of this love is seen in raising sinners from condemnation and hell (Psalms 40:2-3; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

4. The height of this love consists in making sinners heirs of God, and bringing them finally to glory (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

II. What the apostle meant, desiring the Ephesians might comprehend it. “May be able to comprehend with all saints.”

1. That they might form correct views of the freeness of God’s love (2 Timothy 1:9).

2. That they might comprehend the perpetuity of it (John 13:1; Psalms 89:33).

3. That they might exhibit the effects of it in its constraining influence and constant peace (Romans 5:1-5).

III. For what purpose he expresses this desire. “That ye might be filled,” etc.

1. That they might be able rightly to value it (Philippians 3:8-9).

2. That they might depend upon it (James 1:17).

3. That they might honour it (Galatians 6:14).

4. It is inexpressible love. (T. B. Baker.)

The vastness of the Divine love

These terms were not, perhaps, intended to convey each of them a distinct idea, but generally to represent the vastness of the Divine love; yet we may make use of these various expressions to classify what we have to say on the matter.

1. The “breadth” suggests to us the extent of that love, the vastness of the field for which it is designed and for which it provides. God loves all His creatures--not one is excluded.

2. The “length” may suggest the duration of His love. It is not a thing of today, suddenly conceived, and that may be suddenly laid aside; it is from eternity, and had its birth before the foundations of the earth were laid. Look back, and back, and back, and you shall not see its commencement! Look forward, and forward, and forward, and you shall never see the termination of it, for it is also “to everlasting.” Through the whole of your journey, however long continued it may be, you shall find His love with you.

3. And the “depth.” Oh, how low has God come with that wondrous love of His! How He stooped to our low estate. From what depths has He sought to rescue His wayward, erring children.

4. And the “height.” “He who ascended is the same also who descended; therefore, God hath highly exalted Him.” He is high upon the throne of universal empire; and He says, “Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.” In the same height of glory to which He Himself has gone; to the same height as that throne on which He reigns; to that height of glory He purposes to bring us--a height to which no weapon can reach--a height at which there can be no sin--a height from which every step may be a stepping stone to higher glories. As the lark soars and sings, and soars and sings, so shall we; but not as the lark, which soars aloft, but ever comes back to earth. (Newman Halt, LL. B.)

Comprehension of God’s immeasurable love

Well may St. Paul add, “to comprehend with all saints.” No single mind is equal to this study. One mighty intellect of Newton may sketch the plan of the solar system; one Laplace may demonstrate its permanent equilibrium; one Herschel map out the nebulae of the southern sky; one Dalton unfold the laws of atomic combination; one Darwin assign the clue to the partial unfolding of the mystery of successive lives in nature. But no single soul is capable of comprehending the love of Christ, for the vision and experience of each is limited, and in morals we are members one of another. God has gifts which He bestows on the solitary students of Divine truth, and gifts which He bestows on His solitary petitioners in the closet or under, the fig tree. But, in general, the law of understanding the love of Christ is united study, united work, united conference, united prayer. In our spiritual being we are wonderfully dependent on each other, so that the gifted thinker freezes in solitude while companies of earnest and humble supplicants attain by their communion the vision and the faculty Divine. “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is,” for “where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” The whole Church is a spiritual organism which is requisite for the comprehension of love Divine in its fulness. A few rays may fall on the individual eye: still more, when Churches meet to praise and pray even in a splintered and divided Christendom: but when the relics of eighteen hundred years of conflict, and ecclesiastical pride and sectarian contention, are cast aside and forgotten, and the one Church of God becomes visibly one on earth and consciously one in every place, then there will break upon the countless millions of eyes which will gaze upward every morning on the Sun of Righteousness, “with one heart and one soul,” a flood of sunshine, an effulgence of answering glory, which will consecrate the earth, and prove it to be the gate of heaven. (E. White.)

The paradox of love’s measure

Of what? There can, I think, be no doubt as to the answer. The next clause is evidently the continuation of the idea begun in that of our text, and it runs: “and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” It is the immeasurable measure, then; the boundless bounds and dimensions of the love of Christ which fires the apostle’s thoughts here. Of course, he had no separate idea in his mind attaching to each of these measures of magnitude, but he gathered them all together simply to express the one thought of the greatness of Christ’s love. Depth and height are the same dimension measured from opposite ends. The one begins at the top and goes down, the other begins at the bottom and goes up, but the surface is the same in either case. So we have the three dimensions of a solid here--breadth, length, and depth. And I suppose that I may venture to use these expressions with a somewhat different purpose from that for which the apostle employs them: and to see in each of them a separate and blessed aspect of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

I. What, then, is the breadth of that love? It is as broad as humanity. As all the stars lie in the firmament, so all creatures rest in the heaven of His love. Mankind has many common characteristics. We all suffer, we all sin, we all hunger, we all aspire; and, blessed be God! we all occupy precisely the same relation to the love, the Divine love, which lies in Jesus Christ. There are no step-children in His great family, and none of them receive a more grudging or a less ample share of His love and goodness than every other. Broad as the race, and curtaining it over as some great tent may enclose on a festal day a whole tribe, the breadth of Christ’s love is the breadth of humanity. And this broad love, broad as humanity, is not shallow because it is broad. Our human affections are too often like the estuary of some great stream which runs deep and mighty as long as it is held within narrow banks, but as soon as it widens becomes slow, and powerless, and shallow. The intensity of human affection varies inversely as its extension. A universal philanthropy is a passionless sentiment. But Christ’s love is deep though it be wide, and suffers no diminution because it is shared amongst a multitude. There are two ways of arguing about the love of Christ, both of them valid, and both of them needing to be employed by us. We have a right to say, “He loves all, therefore He loves me.” And we have a right to say, “He loves me, therefore He loves all.” For surely the love that has stooped to me can never pass by any human soul. What is the breadth of the love of Christ? It is broad as mankind, it is narrow as myself.

II. Then, in the next place, what is the length of the love of Christ? If we are to think of Him only as a man, however exalted and however perfect, you and I have nothing in the world to do with His love. When He was here on earth it may have been sent down the generations in some vague, pale way, as the shadowy ghost of love may rise in the heart of a great statesman or philanthropist for generations yet unborn, which he dimly sees will be affected by his sacrifice and service. But we do not call that love. Such a poor, pale; Shadowy thing has no right to the warm, throbbing name; has no right to demand from us any answering thrill of affection; and unless you think of Jesus Christ as something more and other than the purest and the loftiest benevolence that ever dwelt in human form, I know of no intelligible sense in which the length of His love can be stretched to touch you. And if we content ourselves with that altogether inadequate and lame conception of Him and of His nature, of course there is no present bond between any man upon earth and Him, and it is absurd to talk about His present love as extending in any way to me. But we have to believe, rising to the full height of the Christian conception of the nature and person of Christ, that when He was here on earth the Divine that dwelt in Him so informed and inspired the human as that the love of His man’s heart was able to grasp the whole, and to separate the individuals that should make up the race till the end of time; so as that you and I, looking back over all the centuries, and asking ourselves what is the length of the love of Christ, can say, “It stretches over all the years, and it reached then as it reaches now to touch me, upon whom the ends of the earth have come.” Its length is conterminous with the duration of humanity here or yonder. There is another measure of the length of the love of Christ. “Master! How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.” So said the Christ, multiplying perfection into itself twice--two sevens and a ten--in order to express the idea of boundlessness. And the law that He laid down for His servant is the law that binds Himself. What is the length of the love of Christ? Here is one measure of it, howsoever long drawn out my sin may be, it stretches beyond this; and the while line of His love runs out into infinity, far beyond the point where the black line of my sin stops. Anything short of eternal patience would have been long ago exhausted by your sins and mine, and our brethren’s. But the pitying Christ, the eternal Lover of all wandering souls, looks down from heaven upon every one of us; goes with us in all our wanderings, bears with us in all our sins, in all our transgressions still is gracious. The length of the love of Christ is the length of eternity, and out-measures all human sin.

III. Then again, what is the depth of that love? Depth and height, as I said at the beginning of these remarks, are but two ways of expressing the same dimension; the one we begin at the top and measure down, the other we begin at the bottom and measure up. The top is the Throne; and the downward measure, how is it to be stated? In what terms of distance are we to express it? How far is it from the Throne of the Universe to the manger at Bethlehem, and the Cross at Calvary, and the sepulchre in the garden? That is the depth of the love of Christ. Howsoever far may be the distance from that loftiness of co-equal Divinity in the bosom of the Father, and radiant with glory, to the lowliness of the form of a servant, and the sorrows, limitations, rejections, pains and final death--that is the measure of the depth of Christ’s love. As if some planet were to burst from its track and plunge downwards in amongst the mists and the narrowness of our earthly atmosphere, so we can estimate the depth of the love of Christ by saying “He came from above, He tabernacled with us.” A well known modern scientist has hazarded the speculation that the origin of life on this planet has been the falling upon it of the fragment of a meteor or an aerolite, from some other system, with a speck of organic life upon it, from which all has developed. Whatever may be the case in regard of the physical life, that is absolutely true in the case of spiritual life. It all comes because this heaven-descended Christ has come down the long staircase of Incarnation, and has brought with Him into the clouds and oppressions of our terrestrial atmosphere a germ of life which He has planted in the heart of the race, there to spread forever. That is the measure of the depth of the love of Christ. And there is another way to measure it. My sins are deep, my helpless miseries are deep, but they are shallow as compared with the love that goes down beneath all sin, that is deeper than all sorrow, that is deeper than all necessity, that shrinks from no degradation, that turns away from no squalor, that abhors no wickedness so as to avert its face from it. The purest passion of human benevolence cannot but sometimes be aware of disgust mingling with its pity and its efforts, but Christ’s love comes down, howsoever far in the abyss of degradation any human soul has descended, beneath it are the everlasting arms, and beneath it is Christ’s love. When a coal pit gets blocked up by some explosion no brave rescuing party will venture to descend into the lowest depths of the poisonous darkness until some ventilation has come there. But this loving Christ goes down, down, down into the thickest, most pestilential atmosphere, reeking with sin and corruption, and stretches out a rescuing hand to the most abject and undermost of all the victims. How deep is the love of Christ? The deep mines of sin and of alienation are all undermined and countermined by His love. Sin is an abyss, a mystery, how deep only they know who have fought against it; but--

“O Love! thou bottomless abyss,

My sins are swallowed up in thee.”

“I will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” The depths of Christ’s love go down beneath all human necessity, sorrow, suffering, and sin.

IV. And, lastly, what is the height of the love of Christ? We found that the way to measure the depth was to begin at the Throne, and go down to the Cross, and to the foul abysses of evil. The way to measure the height is to begin at the Cross and the foul abysses of evil, and go up to the Throne. That is to say, the topmost thing in the universe, the shining apex and summit, glittering away up there in the radiant unsetting light, is the love of God in Jesus Christ. The other conceptions of that Divine nature spring high above us and tower beyond our thoughts, but the summit of them all, the very topmost as it is the very bottommost, outside of everything, and therefore high above everything, is the love of God which has been revealed to us all, and bought for us sinful men in the passion and manhood of our dear Christ. And that love which thus towers above us, and gleams the summit and the apex of the universe, like the shining cross on the top of same lofty cathedral spire, does not gleam there above us inaccessible, nor lie before us like some pathless precipice, up which nothing that has not wings can ever hope to rise, but the height of the love of Christ is an hospitable height, which can be scaled by us. Nay, rather, that heaven of love which is “higher than our thoughts,” bends down, as by a kind of optical delusion the physical heaven seems to do, towards each of us, only with this blessed difference, that in the natural world the place where heaven touches earth is always the furthest point of distance from us; and in the spiritual world, the place where heaven stoops to me is always right over my head, and the nearest possible point to me. He’ has come to lift us to Himself. And this is the height of His love, that it bears us up, if we will, up and up to sit upon that throne where He Himself is enthroned. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Heavenly geometry

This Divine mensuration is an art of the most desirable kind, as appears from its being the object of most earnest apostolic prayers.

I. Like a wise and enlightened teacher, Paul desires for the saints that they should receive that previous education which is necessary before they will be able to enter upon such a science as the measurement of Christ’s love. When lads go to school they are not at first put to study algebra, nor are they sent out to make a trigonometrical survey of a county. The schoolmaster knows that they must have a rudimentary knowledge of arithmetic, or else to teach them algebra would be waste of time, and that they must have some acquaintance with common geometry, or it would be absurd to instruct them in surveying. He therefore begins with the elementary information, and when they have learned simpler matters they are ready for the more difficult studies. They climb the steps of the door of science, and then they are introduced to her temple. The Apostle Paul does not propose that the new convert should at once be able to measure the breadth and length and depth and height of the love of Christ; he knows that this is not within the range of his infant mind; for the newborn spirit has a time of growth to go through before it can enter into the deep things of God. If you will kindly refer to the text you will see what this previous education is which the apostle desired for the saints. It is very fully described in three parts.

1. He desired that their spiritual faculties might be strengthened, for he prays that they might be “strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man.” The schoolmaster knows that the boy’s mind must be strengthened, that his understanding must be exercised, his discernment must be developed, and his memory must be rendered capacious before he may enter upon superior studies; and the apostle knows that our spiritual faculties must undergo the same kind of development; that our faith, for instance, must be unwavering, that our love must become fervent, that our hope must be bright, that our joy must be increased, and then, but not till then, we shall be able to comprehend the length and breadth of love Divine. We are to be strengthened in the inner man by the Spirit of God; and who can strengthen as He strengthens?

2. He desired that the object of study may be evermore before them: “that Christ may dwell,” etc. A good tutor not only wishes his scholar may have a disciplined mind able to grapple with the subject, but he endeavours to keep the subject always before him; for in order to attain to any proficiency in a science the mind must be abstracted from all other thoughts, and continually exercised with the chosen theme. You will never find a man preeminent in astronomy unless astronomy has become the lord of mind, and holds a sway over his mind even in his dreams. The anatomist must be bound to nerves, and bones, and blood vessels, as the galley slave is bound to the oar, or he will never master his subject, The botanist must be enamoured of every flower, and wedded to every plant, or the fields will utterly bake him. “Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.” Solomon knew what he wrote when he said, “Separated himself,” for without separation or abstraction there can be no progress. Now, the apostle desires that we who are believers, our faculties being strengthened, may have the person of Jesus constantly before us to inflame our love, and so increase our knowledge. See how near he would have Jesus to be! “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” You cannot get a subject closer to you than to have it on the inner side of the eyes; that is to say, in the heart itself. The astronomer cannot always see the stars because they are far away, and outside of him; but our star shines in the heaven of our hearts evermore. The botanist must find his flowers in their seasons, but our plant of renown blooms in our souls all the year round. We carry the instruments of our saintly art, and the object of our devout contemplation within ourselves. As a scholar carries in his pocket a small edition of his favourite classic, so do we carry Christ in our hearts; what if I say we bear about with us a heart edition of the Liber Crucis, the Book of the Cross. If we knew more fully by experience the meaning of “Christ in you the hope of glory,” our heaven-taught affections, which are the best part of our inner man, might be continually exercised upon the person, the work, and the love of our dear Redeemer.

3. The apostle prays further that they may have practical exercise in the art of holy love; “that ye being rooted and grounded in love.” Every experienced tutor knows that it is greatly helpful to the student to exercise him in his chosen pursuit upon some lower and inferior branch of it, so as to lead him gradually to the higher points of it. If, for instance, he means him to understand the surveying of estates, he bids him measure a field containing an acre or two. If he means him to map out a country, he sets him first to make a plan of a neighbouring field or a farm. The apostle acts upon the same method. “That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend the breadth and length of the love of Christ.” Having the love of Jesus in you, possessed with love to Christ, you will be practised in the exercise of love, and so will understand the love which filled the Saviour. You will learn to do business upon the greater waters of the Redeemer’s infinite love to His people, as you sail upon the stream of your love to Him. Two expressions are used:--“rooted,” like a living tree which lays hold upon the soil, twists itself round the rocks, and cannot be upturned--“grounded,” like a building which has been settled, as a whole, and will never show any cracks or flaws in the future through failures in the foundation. The apostle wishes us to be rooted and grounded in love, a vital union being established between our souls and Jesus, so that we love Him because He first loved us; and also a fiducial union, or a union of trust, by which we rest upon Jesus as the stones of a wall are settled upon the foundation.

II. We now come to consider more closely the science of heavenly mensuration itself. According to the text, we have a solid body to deal with, for we are to measure its breadth and length, and depth, and height. This cubical measurement--for it lieth foursquare, like the new Jerusalem--proves the reality of the body to be measured. Alas, to a great many religious people the love of Jesus is not a solid substantial thing at all--it is a beautiful fiction, a sentimental belief, a formal theory; but to Paul it was a real, substantial, measurable fact. No one knows the love of Christ at all if he does not know it to be real, and no one has felt it in his soul at all unless it becomes so real as to constrain him and move him into actual activity. The apostle desires that when the love of Christ becomes to us a solid reality we may have close communion with it. You may measure the breadth and length of a thing at a great distance, but you cannot very well measure its depth without drawing near to it. What a holy familiarity with Jesus do the words imply when we come to measurements of all kinds! What condescension is this which allows the sacred heart to be fathomed like a sea, and to be measured as a field! Shall the infinite thus bow itself to man? Shall man refuse to commune with such condescending love? Let me come to the very words of our text, and point out to you their order.

1. The first object of the Christian’s knowledge should be the breadth of the Saviour’s love. I know a certain school of Christians who have need to study this point, for they have a very narrow idea of the Lord’s loving kindness. They conceive of Divine love as a very narrow stream, they have never seen it to be a mighty, flowing, abounding, and rejoicing river, such as it really is. The love of Jesus Christ does not surround our favoured island alone, but, like the ocean, it washes every shore. The love of Jesus Christ has been extended to kings upon their thrones, but with equal and more frequent bounty to the slaves in their dungeons.

2. The next object of study is the length of Christ’s love. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Coeval then with Deity itself is the love of Deity towards its chosen ones. God did love us in His Son long before the world began. If an angel were to start from today with the design of finding out when God’s love began he would doubtless fly on till he lingered at the Cross. “Here,” he would say, “here is the fountain, here is the source of it all.” But he would be reminded that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Then there was a love before the giving of His Son. He would fly onward till he paused at Isaiah’s day and heard of God’s love in the prophecy that the Son of man should bear the iniquity of His people. He would say, “Surely it begins here!” But saints would remind him of yet older words of comfort, and he would fly on till he stopped outside of the garden of Eden and heard the Lord say, “The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” “Surely,” saith he, “it began here.” But, divinely instructed, he would go back yet further, even to the eternal councils where first of all salvation was planned and contrived in the cabinets of wisdom before the world was. He would have to go back, back, back, till creation had vanished, till there remained not a shred of existence except the absolute self-existent Deity, and then in the Eternal Mind he would see thoughts of love toward a people to be formed for himself. This knowledge of the length of love does not always come to Christians early in their history. This love is not only without beginning, but it is without pause. There is never a moment when Jesus ceases to love His people. The love of Jesus knows nothing of suspended animation. There are some rivers in Australia which lose themselves, and for miles along their bed you find nothing but dry stones at certain seasons of the year. It is never so with the love of Christ: it is tong, and without a break from beginning to end; it is a chain without a single broken or feeble link.

3. The depth of the love of Jesus! Consider it as stooping to look upon such an insignificant creature as man! View the depth of that love in receiving such sinful creatures into His embrace! O sinner! you cannot have gone too deep for Christ’s love to reach you. O backslider! you cannot have sinned too foully for forgiveness.

4. Think next of the height of the Master’s love. You see it is put last, as the highest point of learning, There are some who have advanced as far as to understand somewhat of the depths, who do not know the full dignity and glory of an heir of heaven, and have felt but little of the power of His ascension. Why, the love of Jesus, even in this present life, is a height unspeakable, for has it not lifted us up to become sons of God? Yet, brethren, the height of this love will be best seen in a future state. You shall be borne up to dwell with Christ in the clouds when the world is in a blaze, and when the judgment is passed you shall be carried by angels’ wings up to the seventh heaven where God dwelleth. Oh the breadth, the length, the depth, the height! To sum up what we have said in four words. For breadth the love of Jesus is immensity, for length it is eternity, for depth it is immeasurability, and for height it is infinity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Measuring the immeasurable

I. The previous training required for this measurement.

1. He would have their spiritual faculties vigorous.

2. He would have the subject always before them.

3. He would have them exercised in the art of measurement.

II. The mensuration itself.

1. This implies a sense of the reality of the matter.

2. It includes a coming near to the object of our study.

3. It indicates an intimate study, and a careful survey.

4. It necessitates a view from all sides of the subject.

5. The order of the measurement is the usual order of our own growth in grace. Breadth and length before depth and height.

(a) Comprehending all nations. “Preach the gospel to every creature.”

(b) Covering hosts of iniquities. “All manner of sin.”

(c) Compassing all needs, cares, etc.

(d) Conferring boundless boons for this life and worlds to come. It were well to sail across this river and survey its broad surface.

(a) Eternal love in the fountain. Election and the covenant.

(b) Ceaseless love in the flow. Redemption, calling, perseverance.

(c) Endless love in endurance. Long suffering, forgiveness, faithfulness, patience, immutability.

(d) Boundless love, in length exceeding our length of sin, suffering, backsliding, age, or temptation.

(a) Stoop of Divine love, condescending to consider us, to commune with us, to receive us in love, to bear with our faults, and to take us up from our low estate.

(b) Stoop of love personified in Christ. He stoops, and becomes incarnate; endures our sorrows; bears our sins; and suffers our shame and death.

(c) Where is the measure for all this? Our weakness, meanness, sinfulness, despair, make one factor of the measurement. His glory, holiness, greatness, Deity, make up the other.

(a) As developed in present privilege, as one with Jesus.

(b) As to be revealed in future glory.

(c) As never to be fully comprehended throughout the ages.

III. The practical result of this mensuration. “That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Here are words full of mystery, worthy to be pondered.

1. Be filled. What great things man can hold!

2. Filled with God. What exaltation!

3. Filled with the fulness of God. What must this be?

4. Filled with all the fulness of God. What more can be imagined? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The knowledge of our ignorance

The more we know the more are we conscious of our ignorance of that which is unknown, or, as Dr. Chalmers used to put it in his class--borrowing an illustration from his favourite mathematics--“The wider the diameter of light, the greater is the circumference of darkness.” The more a man knows, he comes at more points into contact with the unknown. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Among the heights of Divine love

As I was riding along in the South of France one day I saw a fine pair of birds overhead. The driver called out in the French tongue, “Eagles.” Yes, and there was a man below with a gun, wishful to get a nearer acquaintance with the eagles, but they did not come down to oblige him. He pointed his rifle at them, but his shots did not reach half way, for the royal birds kept above. The higher air is the fit dominion for eagles, up above the smoke and clouds. Keep there, eagles. Keep there! If men can get you within range they mean no good to you. Keep up, Christian. Keep up in the higher element, resting in Jesus Christ, and do not come down to find a perch for yourself among the trees of philosophy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 19

Ephesians 3:19

And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

The love of Christ

I. This representation must be justified, this lofty notice must be warranted and confirmed.

1. The love of Christ is the love of Deity. It follows that, as all Divine perfections confirm “the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,” this low is consequently absolute.

2. This love, then, must be eternal. It knew no antecedent act, no previous event. As we infer the Father’s eternal love to Christ, so we may infer Christ’s eternal love to us. “For Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.”

3. Infinite intelligence must have directed this love. “This cometh forth (said the prophet) from the Lord of Hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.” “God hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.”

4. But this love, being the love of the Deity, must be perfectly consistent with immutable holiness. Jesus is the “Holy One.” He is the Righteous One, and He loveth righteousness.

5. This love, then, must be efficient. ‘Tis the love of omnipotence, and cannot be effeminate. Our Redeemer is the “Mighty One”; He travelled in the greatness of His strength: He has shown Himself strong on our behalf. There were no obstacles to Him! His love was stronger than death!

6. This love, then, must be immutable. Jesus is “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother”; in Him “there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

7. It is, therefore, infinitely ample; “the grace of our Lord is exceeding abundant.” This love, then, rests in the Infinite. It is never to be fathomed or explored. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” “The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.”

II. This love will further be found by us to deserve and justify all this loftiness and sublimity of metaphor, when we remember the objects which it embraced. There is a repellent power in sin.

III. But there seems to be a great peculiarity in this case, because this love was as little sought as it was deserved. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, then, was as unmerited as it was unsolicited. There is, so to speak, another peculiarity in this love: it seems to elect the chief of sinners. It has a grandeur of provision in it. It goes after that which has most widely spread until it brings it home. It prefers the sinful woman’s tears to the Pharisee’s prayers. It acquits as with greater pleasure the debtor of five hundred pence than of fifty. Now, if we would perceive that this love exceeds all estimate, we must bear two ideas in mind. The first is the demerit of sin; the second the elevation and estrangement of the Saviour’s mind from it. There is a demerit in sin on its own account. God only knows the desperate wickedness of the human heart.

IV. It is time that we should justify this high representation by a reference to those means by which such love was manifested towards us. The Incarnation is a proof that His love passeth knowledge. “My God! My God! why forsakest Thou Me.” “He was cut off, but not for Himself.” “He bore our iniquity.” Now the following questions arise.

1. May this be considered as a personal act? As the mighty God manifested in the flesh He has alone “bore our sins in His own body on the tree.”

2. Did this dissimilarity of natures relieve or aggravate His sufferings?

3. The blessings which it secures.

V. Bear with me while I briefly endeavour to show the perception which may be acquired of the love of Christ, notwithstanding its immense, its infinite greatness. Now, in what follows, we may be said to know the love of Christ. Most rapidly will we glance over this.

1. We know the love of Christ to be the great principle of all that is most stupendous and mysterious in our religion.

2. We know the love of Christ as it is the great element of all pious sentiment and feeling.

3. This love is known by us if it become the great model of our Christian zeal and benevolence. What He was, we are to be in the world.

VI. Several reflections press themselves upon our minds, which shall be noticed briefly.

1. We must expect a transcendent character in Christianity.

2. The best test for Christianity is the character and views which it forms concerning Christ, and the nature of the affection it embraces. The whole genius of Christianity is to sublimate our views of, and our affections to, the Saviour.

3. How much of implicit as well as declaratory evidence there is of the Saviour’s Godhead!

4. The necessity of habitually yielding ourselves to the influence of the love of Christ. The Saviour asks a return. (R. W. Hamilton.)

The unsearchable study

1. The love of Christ may be said to “pass knowledge,” inasmuch as, in its measure and its intensity, occupying and influencing the heart of a Being, whose nature is infinite, it can only be comprehended by His equals. It also “passeth knowledge,” as I have said, as connecting, associating our rescue with the Divine complacency, blessedness, and glory. It “passeth knowledge” in the invisible transmission of its benefits, and in the hidden power of its operations. It “passeth knowledge” in the extent of its provisions, and in the necessity of its sacrifices--the whole doctrine of the Atonement being one profound mystery. Again, this love “passeth knowledge” in its imputations of Christ’s righteousness, and in its gifts of the Holy Spirit. It “passeth knowledge” in the constant wonder, the daily miracle of its forbearance.

2. The love of Christ, in a general sense, “passes the knowledge” of the worldly-minded. They may hear of it, but in no wise comprehend it. They know nothing truly of its source; they know nothing truly of its agency; they know nothing truly of its doctrines; they know nothing truly of its covenants; they know nothing experimentally of its promises. They know nothing of the variety of its offices, or the suitableness of its provisions, as applying to themselves. They know nothing of its indwelling power.

3. But, even with believers themselves, the love of Christ “passeth knowledge.”

4. But the love of Christ, I would observe, transcends even the very knowledge of angels.

5. There is an inducement to the acquisition of this knowledge in its surpassing excellency. What is all knowledge compared with it? What but the mere “dust in the balances”?

6. Another inducement is supplied in our own interests. “To know the love of Christ” is to know what He has done for our souls.

7. Another inducement presents itself in the suggestion of gratitude. What! hath God made such mighty sacrifices for me? hath He wrought such marvels of deliverance for me?--and shall not I, as the object of His love, respond to it?

8. Another inducement prompts in the facility, the ease, with which we may possess this knowledge. (T. J. Judkin, M. A.)

The love of Christ, how known by Christians

First, we may offer a few considerations tending to illustrate the “love of Christ”; and, in the second place, we may consider what is the nature of that experimental knowledge of this love for which the apostle prays.

I. With respect to “the love of Christ,” it is exhibited in actions in what Christ has done for those who are the objects of His love; for those who believe in His name. It may be seen--

1. In the impediments which it overcame; it was a love victorious over all that opposed it.

2. Besides the impediments to be overcome, there were sacrifices to be made.

3. The greatness of “the love of Christ” appears also in the benefits which He bestows. These are such as would never have entered into the conception of created minds.

4. This love, in its duration, extends from eternity to eternity. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.”

5. This love, further, exists in spite of many things on our part calculated to alienate it from us.

II. What is it so to know the love of God in Christ as the saints know it? Were it to be known merely as a theory, merely as a doctrine of revelation, it might soon be apprehended; and this, it is to be feared, is the only way in which many are content to know it. The world will be overcome by this love; the Cross of Christ will crucify the world to us, and us to the world. And hence, if we “know the love of Christ,” we shall glorify Him in these two principal ways--

1. We shall obey Him; we shall bind His laws to our hearts.

2. We shall show forth His praise, desire that His true servants may increase, that His kingdom may come, and His will be done, in all the world. (R. Hall, M. A.)

The unfathomable love of Christ

I. The glorious fact that Christ has loved us.

1. Christ loved His Church in eternity before time began.

2. Christ manifested His love to His people in assuming our nature and taking it in union with the Divine.

3. Christ manifested His love to His Church in the great humiliation which attended His appearance.

4. Christ now manifests His love in heaven. He is there before the eternal throne in the nature of His people. He is ascended to His God and their God, to His Father and their Father. He is not ashamed to own them now in glory.

II. The magnitude of Christ’s love. It is love “that passeth knowledge.” No conception can be formed adequate to its greatness.

1. The origin of Christ’s love passeth knowledge. To say when He began to love would be as impossible as to say when He began to live. “Canst thou by searching find out the Almighty?”

2. The depths of misery from which the objects of His love are delivered passeth knowledge.

3. The depth of Christ’s condescension, by which He exhibited His love, passeth knowledge. “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” “He, who was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty may be made rich.”

4. The glory and bliss to which Christ will raise the objects of His love passeth knowledge. “Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath laid up for those who love Him.”

5. The duration of Christ’s love passeth knowledge. It is immutable, and therefore it will ever endure.

III. And now let us very briefly notice the manner in which we need know this love to our salvation. This does not imply that we can know it so as to comprehend it. Such a thing is impossible.

1. Know it doctrinally. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Hearing is necessary to faith. “How can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?”

2. Know it thankfully. The man who knows the love of Christ will feel thankful for the development of it to his soul.

3. Know it confidingly. We need know the love of Christ so as to rest upon Him for life and salvation.

4. Know it influentially. We must know something about its constraining influence on our hearts--to love one another, the service of God, and the ways of religion. What has not the influence of this love on the soul enabled its possessor to endure and perform? (D. V. Phillips.)

The knowledge of Christ’s love

It is the distinguishing mark of God’s people that they know the love of Christ. All the children of God do not know this love to the same extent. Indeed, an increase of love, a more perfect apprehension of Christ’s love, is one of the best and most infallible gauges whereby we may test ourselves whether we have grown in grace or not.

I. Well then, to come first of all to the bottom of the ladder. One of the lowest ways of knowing the love of Christ may be described as the doctrinal method--a very useful one, but nothing to be compared to those that we shall have to mention afterwards. If a man would know the love of Christ, he should endeavour to study the Word of God with care, attention, constancy, and with dependence upon the Spirit’s illumination that he may be enabled to understand aright. It is well for a Christian man to be thoroughly established in the faith once delivered to the saints. Doctrines are but as the shovel and the tongs of the altar, while Christ is the sacrifice smoking thereon. Doctrines are Christ’s garments; verily they all smell of myrrh, and cassia, and aloes out of the ivory palaces, whereby they make us glad, but it is not the garments we care for so much as for the person, the very person of our Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore, while I entreat you (and I hope not to be misunderstood here), while I entreat you to be very jealous and earnest in attaining unto a clear doctrinal knowledge of the love of Christ to His people, yet when you have got it, say not--“I am the man! I have attained to eminence! I may now sit still and be content.” Sirs, this is but the threshold.

II. And what next? Let us lift our feet and take another step. True saints know Christ’s love gratefully and thankfully, having experienced it. Day after day He cometh to us. Night after night He draweth the curtains of our bed. He is ever with us, and all that He has is ours. He talketh sweetly to us by the way, and He sitteth down by us in our afflictions, and comforteth us, and maketh our hearts to burn within us; and as we think of all that He has done for us, we feel we do know something of Him, for gratitude has been our schoolmaster.

III. Let us pass on to the third step, we have not got far yet. We are only as schoolboys at our first school, and we have now to go on to something higher. The true children of God know Christ’s love in a way which I can only describe by the word practically. If any man would know His doctrine, let him keep His commandments. When soldiers are wanted, the best place to make them is, doubtless, the battlefield. If we would have veterans, there must be the smoke and the smell of powder, for great commanders are not to be manufactured in Hyde Park. And we cannot expect to have men who shall win victories, drawn out from mere loungers at the clubs; they must attend the drill, and by practice become qualified for their duties. A young man cannot learn farming by the study of books. To read books may be useful, if he take them as companions to the great book of nature. But he must be put apprentice to some farmer, who sends him out into the fields to see how they plough, how they sow, how they mow, how they reap, and how they house their corn. By entering practically into the various toils and duties, he becomes skilled therein. Just so, if we would learn Christ, we must be practically engaged in His service. We must learn His love by keeping His commandments.

IV. There is a fourth and higher stage by far than these. There is a way, not known to many moderns, but much practised by the ancients, of knowing the love of Christ by contemplation. Do you know that in the early ages of the Church they spoke more of Christ and of His person, and thought more of Him than we do. And in those times, whether or not it was that men had not so much to do as they have now, I cannot tell, but they found time to have long seasons of contemplation, and they would sit alone and worship, and draw near to Christ, and steadily fix their gaze upon His person; for to them He was a real person, whom the eye of their faith could see as clearly as the eye of sense can see outward objects, and they looked, and looked, and looked again, till the love of Christ grew brighter to them than the sun at his meridian, and for very dimness of mortal sight they veiled their faces and paused their speech--while their souls were bathed in inward joy and peace unspeakable. There have been some such in these, later times, but not many. There was Isaac Ambrose, author of that book, “Looking unto Jesus.” He was pastor of a church at Preston, in Lancashire, and “it was his usual custom once a year,” says Dr. Calumy, “for the space of a month to retire into a little hut in a wood, and avoiding all human converse, to devote himself to contemplation.” It was true he then only had eleven months in the year to preach in, but those eleven were a great deal better than the twelve would otherwise have been, for there, alone with his Master, he received such riches from Him, that when he came back, he threw about jewels with both his hands, and scattered glorious thoughts and words broadcast in his ministry. That book, “Looking unto Jesus,” is a blessed memorial of his quiet hours and his secret communion with Jesus. Then there was Rutherford, the man who has expounded the whole of Solomon’s Song of Solomon without knowing it, in his celebrated letters. When he was in the dungeon at Aberdeen, he exclaimed first of all, “I had only one eye and they put that out.” It was the preaching of the gospel, and before long he has got both his eyes back again. Hear him writing in his letters, “My foes thought to punish me by casting me into a prison, but lo! they have blessed me by taking me into Christ’s withdrawing room, where I sit with Him and am with Him both by night and day without disturbance.”

V. Well now, we have taken you up some height, but we must prepare for a flight which is higher still. To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge by contemplation is very high, but there is a higher stage than this. There are times when I almost fear to speak of these things, but there are some here, surely, who will comprehend me, some here who have passed through the same state and will not think that I am dreaming. There are times when the soul has long contemplated Christ, and there are some who know not only to contemplate, but to enjoy. Even on earth faith sometimes gives place to a present and conscious enjoyment. There are times with the believer when whether he is in the body or out of the body he can scarce tell: God knoweth; and though not caught up to the third heaven he is brought to the very gates, and if not permitted to see Christ on His throne, he does so see Him on His cross, that if an infidel should say to him, “There is no Christ,” he could say, “I have seen Him; my eyes have looked upon Him, and my hands have touched Him after a spiritual sort.” There are many such rapturous seasons as this on record in the biographies of good men. I shall quote but one or two, and I hope there are some here who have known them in their own experience. In the life of Mr. Flavel, who was one of the most temperate of the Puritans, and one not at all given to anything like fanaticism, there is an event mentioned which once occurred to him, He said that being once on a journey alone on horseback, the thought of the love of Christ came upon him with great power, and as he rode gently along the road, the thought seemed to increase in force and strength, till at last he forgot all about earth and even where he was. Somehow or other his horse stood still, but he did not notice it; and when he came to himself, through some passer-by observing him, he found that he had bled very copiously during the time, and getting off his horse he washed his face at the brook, and he said, “I did verily think as I stood there, that if I was not in heaven I could hardly hope to be more blessed in heaven than I was then.” He mounted his horse and rode on to a place of entertainment where he was to pass the night. Supper was brought in, but left untasted on the table. He sat all night long without sleep, enjoying the presence of Christ, and he says, “I was more rested that night than with any sleep I ever had, and I heard and saw in my soul, by faith, such things as I had never known before.” The like occurred to Mr. Tennant, who was a man who spent many hours in private, and sometimes when it was time to preach he was quite unable to stand unless first carried into his pulpit, when he would put his hands out and lean there, and say such glorious things of Christ, that those who looked upon him verily thought that they looked upon the face of an angel. Rutherford, too, is another specimen. When he used to preach about Christ, he preached so wonderfully, that on any other subject he was not at all like himself; and the Duke of Argyle was once so warmed when Rutherford got upon that subject, that he cried out in church--“Now, man, ye are on the right strain; keep to it;” and he did keep to it, and the little man’s thin voice seemed to swell with supernatural grandeur when he began to talk of his precious, precious Lord Jesus, and to extol and exalt him who was the Bridegroom of his soul, his Brother and his blessed Companion. “Oh, these are flights,” you say. Yes, they are flights indeed, beloved; but if you could get them sometimes, you would come back to the world’s cares and troubles like giants refreshed with new wine, caring nothing for anything that might happen. Christ would be so sweetly and blessedly within you, that you could bear the burden and think nothing of it, and though the grasshopper was a burden before, you could now carry it right readily.

VI. But I want to take you higher than this; not higher in some senses, but higher really, for these raptures are, of course, only like angels’ visits, few and far between; but here is something which may be more lasting, and which, certainly, is a higher state of mind as to the knowledge of Christ. To know Christ sympathetically, is a yet higher stage than any to which we have attained before. It is related of a certain monk, who, having been long in his cell alone, thought whilst in his devotions that he saw the Lord Jesus. Of course the tale is fabulous, but I relate it for the sake of its moral. He thought he saw the Lord before him as crucified, and he heard His voice, speaking sweet and comfortable words to him. Just at that moment, when his soul was in a very flood of delight, he heard the convent bell ring, and it was his turn to go out to the gate and give away bread to the beggars who stood there. Oh, he had never heard that bell ring so dolefully before! It seemed to him the knell of all his joys. The impulse of duty, however, was stronger than that of delight, and he went his way with a heavy heart to distribute the bread. As he came back to his cell, he thought, “Ah, I shall never see that again! Christ is gone from me, and I shall never know these enjoyments again!” When, to his surprise, there was the vision still, and as he bowed before it with delight, he heard a voice which said, “If thou hadst stayed I would have gone; but since thou didst my work I tarried to give thee thy reward.” Now, there is a tendency when we have been alone and in private, and have had sweet fellowship with Christ, for us to feel--“I do not want to go out from this; I do not want to be disturbed just now; I would rather not do anything just now.” I do not suppose there are very many of you who get into this state, but there may be some who think at such times, “I do not want to preach today; I would rather not do anything; it is best that I should be alone.” Ah, it is a strong temptation, and you must strive against it, and say, “No, I have enjoyment in my religion, but I did not seek my religion for the enjoyment it would give me. I must look higher than that, to the God I serve, and to the Lord and Master whose I am and whom I serve. I love the jewels He gives me to wear upon my fingers, but I love His person better, and I am not to look upon these rings, and forget to look into His eyes; I love the sweet couch that He makes for me at night, but I am not to lie there and forget the fields that are to be ploughed and the battles that are to be fought. I must be up and doing. The contemplative life must lead me to duty, and then shall I know Christ even as I am known.

VII. And now, the last and highest step of all, upon which we can only say a few words, is that which is called by deep writers and experienced believers on this point, the absorbing low of Christ. How shall I tell you what this is? I cannot, except I quote Wesley’s words--

“Oh, love Divine, how sweet thou art!

When shall I find my willing heart

All taken up with thee.”

“I thirst”--can you get as far as that? “I faint”--that is a high state, indeed I “I die”--that is the top.

“I thirst, I faint, I die to prove

The fulness of redeeming love,

The love of Christ to me.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

The knowledge of the love of Christ accessible to all

It is by the knowledge of Christ that we begin to love God; with the growing love we become capable of receiving a larger knowledge; and every fresh accession of knowledge enriches, invigorates, and expands the love. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” “The Life is the Light of men.” For that great knowledge of the love of Christ of which Paul is thinking, a great love is necessary. This knowledge, though so wonderful, is not regarded by Paul as a privilege too lofty, a prerogative too Divine, for the commonalty of the Church. The best and highest things in the Kingdom of God are not reserved for a few elect and princely souls. There are gradations of power in the Christian Church and varieties of service. But the knowledge of the love of Christ in its breadth and length and depth and height is accessible to all the saints. It is like the visible heavens which bend over the monotonous plains of human life as well as over its mountains, and flood with the same splendour the cottages of peasants and the palaces of kings. The heavens are always near, and they are equally near to all men, as near to the poor as to the rich, to barbarous as to civilized nations, to the obscurest as to the most illustrious of mankind. It is the same with the knowledge of the love of Christ. No genius or learning can give us any exclusive property in it. The open vision of its glory is not reserved for those who can leave the common paths of men and live in silence and solitude on mountain heights of contemplation. To no prophet or apostle was a knowledge of the love of Christ ever given that we ourselves may not receive. To apprehend “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ”--this was all that Paul could ask for himself; he asks it for the Christians at Ephesus; and he describes it as the common blessedness of “all the saints.” And yet “it passeth knowledge.” When Paul speaks of the love of Christ, the fire in his heart nearly always bursts into flame. Its “breadth” cannot be measured, nor its “length,” nor its “height,” nor its “depth.” Immensity is the only adequate symbol of its greatness. But the energy of the love has been revealed.

1. It has been revealed by Christ’s infinite descent, for us sinners and our salvation, from His eternal glory to the limitations of man’s earthly life; from eternal peace and eternal joy to hunger and thirst and weariness of pain; from the sanctity of heaven to contact with the evil passions and with the evil lives of men; from the immortal honours with which angels and archangels surrounded His throne to the kiss of Judas, to the slander and malice of the priests, to condemnation for blasphemy, to the death of a criminal on the cross; from His infinite blessedness with the Father to the desolation of that awful hour in which He cried, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!” Revealed? No! For the, heights of Divine majesty from which He came rise far beyond the limits of our keenest vision, and we cannot sound the depths of darkness into which He descended to achieve our redemption. The love of Christ “passeth knowledge.”

2. It is to be measured not merely by what He endured for us, but by the energy of the eternal antagonism between good and evil. In His infinite righteousness He regarded our sin with an abhorrence which our thoughts can never measure, and yet the energy of His love transcended the energy of His righteousness, or rather blended with it and transfigured just resentment into pity; and under the power of this glorious inspiration infinite righteousness, which abhors sin, became infinite mercy for the race that had been guilty of sin, and so restored us to life, to holiness, and to endless joy.

3. Nor was the revelation of His infinite love, which, though revealed, can never be known, exhausted in His incarnation, or in His earthly ministry, or in His death which atoned for the sin of the world. He has risen from the dead and ascended to glory, but He has not forsaken the race He came to save, nor has He withdrawn to Divine realms of untroubled peace remote from the darkness, the confusion, the storms of this present evil world. The kingdom of heaven is founded on earth, and He, its Prince, is here. Unseen, He has been present with those in every generation who have asserted His authority over all nations, and who have entreated men to receive from His love the remission of their sins and eternal life in God. Their sorrows and their joys, their reverses and their triumphs, have been His. The hostility which surrounded Him during His earthly life has been prolonged during the eighteen Christian centuries, has extended from country to country, from race to race, has assumed vaster proportions, and is still undiminished. The fierce and reckless cruelty of Herod has reappeared in the persecutions which have tried the faith and loyalty of innumerable saints. Secular governments, resenting His claims to a throne diviner than theirs, have flung His people to the lions and burnt them at the stake. At the bidding of corrupt priests and of popular fury, judges as base and cowardly as Pilate have condemned to death those whose only crime was loyalty to the truth and to Him. On one day the common people, stirred with a passion of enthusiasm by some great display of His power and goodness, have surrounded Him with shouts of Hosanna, and have hailed Him as their King; on the next they have rejected Him as an impostor, covered Him with infamy, clamored for His destruction. Within the Church itself there has been wide and persistent neglect of His plainest laws, and its spirit has often seemed altogether alien from His own. There has been fierce contention as to who should be the greatest, keen personal ambition for the highest places in the kingdom of heaven. How often has self-confidence, as lofty as Peter’s, been followed by as deep and as shameful a fall! How often, in hours of darkness and danger, have many, who really loved Christ, forsaken Him and fled! How often have those who were elect to great responsibilities in the Church, and great honours, betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver! How often has the kiss of the traitor come from the lips of a friend! But there is no need to appeal to the gloomy history of Christendom. We ourselves can recall a vacillation in His service which at the beginning of our Christian life we should have regarded as impossible; high resolutions broken almost as soon as they were formed; hours when love for Him kindled into enthusiasm followed by base disobedience to His commandments. Our own history, it is to be feared, has been the history of great multitudes besides. And the love of Christ has not only been unquenched; its fires have never sunk.

4. We are even now only in the early dawn of the supreme revelation; the Divine morning will become brighter and brighter through one millennium of splendour after another, and will never reach its noon. In the resurrection of Christ and His ascension to the throne of God, He has illustrated the immense expansion and development possible to human nature, and His resurrection and glory are the prophecy of our own. Through ages without end, inspired with the life of Christ, and sustained by the exceeding greatness of the Divine power, which wrought in Him when God raised Him from the dead, we shall ascend from height to height of righteousness, of wisdom, and of joy. From age to age with unblenched vision we shall gaze upon new and dazzling manifestations of the light in which God dwells; with powers exalted and enlarged, we shall discharge nobler and yet nobler forms of Divine service; with capacities expanding with our growing delight we shall be filled with diviner and yet diviner bliss; eternity will still lie before us, stretching beyond the farthest limits of vision and of hope; and through eternity the infinite love of Christ will continue to raise us from triumph to triumph, from blessedness to blessedness, from glory to glory. His love “passeth knowledge.” And yet we are to know it, to know it by the illumination of the Spirit of God. And the knowledge, according to Paul, is to invigorate, enrich, and perfect our higher life, or, to use his own phrase, by the knowledge of “the love of Christ which passeth knowledge,” we are to “be filled unto all the fulness of God.” (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

The paradox of Christ’s love

I. The love of Christ has been so manifested as to be patent to the simplest understanding.

II. The love of Christ will ever be a mystery beyond our highest reach of knowledge.

III. There will be no essential contradiction between the known and the unknown in the love of Christ.

IV. It will be for the advantage of the saints to know more and more of the love of Christ. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

A paradox

I. An impossibility. “To know which passeth knowledge.”

1. In its beginning.

2. In its motive.

3. In its tenderness.

4. In its immutability.

5. In its value.

6. In its future expression.

II. A possibility. “To know.”

1. In its beginning in us, if not in Him or for us.

2. In its effects, if not in its cause.

It is a mountain whose base covers the world, and whose peaks are the foundation of the throne of God; but its many lower heights may now be scaled, and will well repay the climber. (P. F. J. Pearce.)

Christ’s love, known and unknown

I. There are some respects in which the love of Christ passeth knowledge.

1. In its date.

2. In its motive.

3. In its sacrifices.

4. In its benefits.

II. There are some respects in which the love of Christ may be known.

1. In its scriptural details.

2. In its practical application.

3. In its practical influence. (G. Brooks.)

Christ’s transcendent love

I. The experience of Divine love is an object of desire. To know that we are loved! Is not this one of the chiefest blessings of life? Is it not most true, in a terrestrial sense, that there is no living without some sense of others’ love? Now, the text sets before us the experience of celestial love as an object greatly to be desired. But we cannot know the celestial except through the terrestrial. We cannot understand the Divine apart from human manifestations. Let us, then, in praying this prayer, pray also that we may so live as to know the love which God has seated as an abundant spring in the human hearts around us.

II. The experience of Divine love is a satisfying experience.

1. There is a satisfaction arising from the possession of riches that is a part of our nature. Well, St. Paul speaks of “the riches, of God’s glory” in this connection.

2. There is a satisfaction in the consciousness of power; and St. Paul speaks of being “strengthened with might by God’s Spirit” in this connection.

3. There is another kind of satisfaction arising from the consciousness of mental treasures; a memory and an imagination teeming with great thoughts, with beautiful shapes and pictures. This kind of satisfaction is also brought into association with the subject. He speaks of “the inner man,” and of “Christ dwelling in the heart by faith.” There is a great satisfaction in being able to form a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ in His glorious character and attributes, and in keeping it before the mind’s eye. It is a vast mental treasure, even apart from the sense of being an object of His love.

4. The knowledge of love, the apprehension of it as our life inheritance, and the portion of all souls--this is the deepest satisfaction. There is many an humble Christian, who has read nothing, can think but little, whose mind is not stored with ideas, but who is peaceful and happy in religion because he has made the knowledge of love his own--God is his Father, Christ his loving Redeemer who died for him. He finds all his life to be an expression of Divine love. The great cavity of his nature has been filled up, and it is enough.

III. The knowledge of Christ’s love is the knowledge of something most vast, of something infinite. The apostle, with that grand reach of expression which he loves to employ, speaks of its breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and again, of its surpassing knowledge. He means that we should desire to comprehend how exceeding vast, how profound, how boundless, how immeasurable, is the energy of this love. If you are standing, let us say, before Lincoln Minster, when the sunlight is pouring all its glory upon towers and windows and traceries, making the whole object so magically beautiful that you almost wonder whether it is not a dream that is passing before you, you do not want a bystander to begin teasing you with statements of the exact number of feet there are in the length, the breadth, the height of the building. They will not help you to enhance your impression of its magnificence. Or, if you are standing before the vast roaring flood of Niagara, you do not care at the moment of your greatest rapture of wonder to be informed exactly how many gallons of water are going over the fall at each second. These are matters of curiosity, interesting enough in other moods of mind; but when we have to do with the great feelings of awe, of wonder, in the presence of grandeur and sublimity, we wish to escape out of the region of exact figures and measurements. Much more so with this vast thought, the love of Christ. We need not desire, as we are unable to apply to it the measures of time and space. (E. Johnson, M. A.)

The matchless love of Christ

I. The subject of love mentioned in the text. It is the degree, rather than the nature of this love, which now claims our attention. The love of God and the love of Christ are substantially the same, though they differ considerably in their modes of operation. The Father’s love appears in the gift of His Son; the love of Christ appears in a cheerful consecration of Himself to the great work of human redemption. The love which could make such a sacrifice, and urge onward to the accomplishment of such a work, must be boundless. Love, according to the character of its object, is simply goodwill, or a compound of goodwill and complacency. The latter is that which the Redeemer exercises towards His people; the former is that which He exercises towards a sinful world.

1. The character of its objects. Mankind, in their degraded and ruined condition, are the objects of the Saviour’s compassion. As the objects of His love, they are comparatively insignificant, morally worthless and extremely guilty. In proportion to the worthlessness of an object, is the intensity of the love by which it is kindly regarded and enriched.

2. The deep humiliation and intense suffering to which this love constrained the Saviour to submit. Some persons are benevolent, or rather seem to be benevolent, up to the point of self-denial, but you never find them going beyond. The world would never have thought so much of the benevolence of Howard, if instead of making the visits of mercy himself, he had employed a number of agents to inquire into the condition of criminals confined in the prisons of Europe. Jesus Christ did not effect the salvation of the world by delegation. It induced Him personally to stoop, and personally to suffer.

3. The misery from which it delivers. Here all comparison must fail. Negro emancipation--the rescue of many from the fierceness of the flames, or the violence of the billows, is nothing compared with the great salvation, which Christ, under the influence of infinite love, has effected.

4. The numbers that might, and the multitudes that actually will, experience the happy effects of this love evince its vast extent.

II. The manner in which it should be known. A knowledge of Christ, and especially of His love, is intimately connected with the vigour of every Christian principle and the lustre of every Christian grace,

1. Our knowledge of the love of Christ must be extensive. Contracted notions on this subject are unpardonable, and cannot be entertained without dishonour to Christ and serious injury to ourselves.

2. Our knowledge of the love of Christ must be experimental. We must know not merely by report, but by a participation of the blessings it diffuses. It must exist, not merely as Divine light in the intellect, but as sacred fire in the heart.

3. Our knowledge of the love of Christ must be influential. It must lead to action, to right action, to benevolent action, to self-denying action.

4. Our knowledge of the love of Christ must be progressive. There are but few subjects of knowledge that the human mind can exhaust, and certainly the love of Christ is not of their number. (J. Kay.)

The love of Christ

Chrysostom, speaking of this love of God in Christ, saith, “Oh, I am like a man digging in a deep spring; I stand here and the water riseth upon me; I stand there and still the water riseth upon me.” But though we cannot ever know it all, yet we may and must grow in the knowledge of this love of Christ, in the searching of this sea that hath neither bank nor bottom, and where, “the deeper the sweeter.” (John Trapp.)

The love of Christ

Saith the story: “In the Roman Forum there gaped a vast chasm which threatened the destruction of the Forum, if not of Rome. The wise men declared that the gulf would never close unless the most precious thing in Rome was cast into it. Then Curtius, a belted knight, mounted his charger, and rightly judging that valour and love of country were the noblest treasures of Rome, he leaped into the gulf. The yawning earth closed upon the great-hearted Roman, for her hunger was appeased. Perchance it is but an idle tale; but what I have declared is truth. There gaped between God and man a dread abyss, deep as hell, wide as eternity, and only the best that heaven contained could fill it. That best was He, the peerless Son of God, the matchless, perfect Man, and He came, laying aside His glory, making Himself of no reputation, and He sprang into the gulf, which there and then closed once for all. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Past knowledge

I. The love of Christ is wonderful, because it is impartial (see Matthew 5:45). Look at the sunshine pouring down over a great city, and think on what different characters the light falls. The same sun shines on the Church and its faithful worshippers, and on the house of shame and infamy. The same light gilds the dying bed of the Christian and the couch of the infidel and blasphemer. The same beam glitters on the blessed altar of the faithful, and on the cell of the impenitent murderer. Look at the sunshine and the shower in the country. The fields of the earnest, prayerful man, and those of the unbelieving, prayerless scoffer lie golden under the same sunlight, are watered by the same showers. And why is this so? Surely it is a type of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. We shall get to know more of the love of Christ if we learn to be more impartial in our love for our fellow men.

II. The love of Christ is wonderful in its effects. In all the long roll of heroes, there are none so great as those who fought under the banner of Christ’s love. Feeble old men, little children, weak women, were transformed by that marvellous power; they could do all things through Christ who strengthened them. Did you ever read, brethren, how the last fight of gladiators in the Coliseum ended? It was when Rome had become Christian, but still the cruel sports of the people had not been entirely given up. After a famous victory, the emperor, a feeble boy, and all the great men of Rome, went to the crowded theatre to witness the amusements given in honour of the triumph. After the harmless sports were over some gladiators entered the arena armed with sharp swords. The people shouted with delight because the old savage amusements of their heathen days were restored to them. Suddenly an old man, dressed in the habit of a hermit, and unknown to all, sprang into the arena, and declared that as Christian people they must not suffer men to slay each other thus. An angry cry rose from the eager crowd. The gladiators, disappointed of their gain, menaced the hermit fiercely, crying, “back, old man, for thy life.” But the stranger stood fearless before that angry mob, he heeded not the swords of the gladiators, nor the yells of the people, but solemnly protested against the deed of blood. In another moment he lay dead on the red sand, pierced by a dozen wounds. He died, but his words lived. When the people saw the fearless courage of a weak old man, shame filled their hearts; the sports were stopped, and never again did the gladiators fight in the Coliseum.

III. The love of Christ is wonderful in its effect on our work. It is a common saying that such and such a work is a labour of love; and, believe me, that is the best done of all which is done for love. Long ago, there was an old cathedral somewhere abroad, I cannot tell you where. On one of the arches was sculptured a face of exceeding beauty. It was long hidden, but one day a ray of sunshine lighted up the matchless work, and from that time, on the days when the light shone on the face, crowds came to look at its loveliness. The history of that sculpture is a strange one. When the Cathedral was being built, an old man, worn with years and care, came to the architect, and begged to be allowed to work there. Fearing his age and failing sight might cause the old man to injure the carving, the master set him to work in a dark part of the roof. One day they found the stranger lying dead, with the tools of his craft around him, and his still face turned up towards that other face which he had carved. It was a work of surpassing beauty, and without doubt was the face of one whom the artist had long since loved and lost. When the craftsmen looked upon it, they all agreed--“this is the grandest work of all, it is the work of love.” We, my brothers, are all set to do some work here in the temple of our lives, and the best, the most beautiful, the most enduring, will be that which we do because the love of Christ constraineth us.

IV. The love of Christ is wonderful in its power of pardon. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)

The love of Christ

I. An interesting subject. It is the “love of Christ.” The love of Christ would furnish us with a thousand sources of reflection; but we shall confine ourselves to one view of it only. It is the incomprehensibility of this love. He tells us it “passeth knowledge.”

1. Witness the number of its objects. It is but a few that the bounty of a human benefactor reaches and relieves. We pity an individual. We take up a family. We explore a neighbourhood. The liberality of a Thornton flows in various channels, through different parts of a country. The compassion of a Howard visits the miserable in other lands, after weeping over the dungeoned victims of his own. But a “multitude, which no man can number, out of every nation, and people, and tongue, and kindred,” will forever adore the riches of the Redeemer’s love.

2. Witness the value of its benefits.

3. Witness the unworthiness of the partakers.

4. Witness the expensiveness of its sacrifices. The only quality in the love of many is its cheapness. It will endure no kind of self-denial.

5. Witness the perpetuity of its attachment. How rare is a friend that loveth at all times! How many fail, especially in the day of trouble!

6. Witness the tenderness of its regards.

II. Here is a desirable attainment. It is to know it. But does not the apostle say, that this love “passeth knowledge”? How then does he pray that we may know it? Can we know that which is unknowable? I answer, we may know that in one respect which we cannot know in another; we may know that by grace which we cannot know by nature; we may know that, in the reality of its existence, which we cannot know in the mode; we may know that, in the effects, which we cannot know in the cause; we may know that in its uses, which we cannot know in its nature; we may know that increasingly, which we cannot know perfectly. We therefore observe, with reference to your knowledge of this love--

1. Your ideas of it may be clear and consistent.

2. Your views of it may be more confidential and appropriating. Your doubts and fears, with regard to your own interest in it, may yield to hope; and that hope may become the full assurance of hope.

3. Your views of it may be more impressive, more influential.

III. This leads us to remark, a blessed consequence: “That ye may be filled with all the fulness of God.” If we consider man in his natural state, he is empty of God; if in his glorified state, he is full of God, or, as the apostle says, “God is all in all”; but, in his gracious state, he has a degree of both of his original emptiness and his final plenitude. He is not what he was; neither is he what he will be. His state is neither night nor day; but dawn: the darkness is going off, and the splendour is coming on. (W. Jay.)

The surpassing love of Christ

The love of Christ is too deep for any created understanding to fathom; it is unsearchable love, and it is so in divers respects.

1. It is unsearchable, in respect of its antiquity; no understanding of man can trace it back to its first spring; it flows from one eternity to another. We receive the fruits and effects of it now; but, O how ancient is that root that bears them! He loved us before this world was made, and will continue so to do, when it shall be reduced into ashes.

2. The freeness of the love of Christ passes knowledge. No man knows, nor can any words express, how free the love of Christ to His people is. It is said (Isaiah 55:8), “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” In My thoughts, it is like itself, free, rich, and unchangeable; but in your thoughts it is limited and narrowed, pinched in within your strait and narrow conceptions; that it is not like itself, but altered according to the model and platform of creature, according to which you draw it in your minds. Alas! we do but alter and spoil His love, when we think there is anything in us, or done by us, that can be a motive, inducement, or recompence to it. His love is so free that it pitched itself upon us before we had any loveliness in us at all.

3. The bounty and liberality of the love of Christ to His people passeth knowledge. Who can number, or value the fruits of His love? They are more than the sands upon the seashore. It would weary the arm of an angel to write down the thousandth part of the effects of His love, which come to the share of any particular Christian in this world. Sins pardoned; dangers prevented; wants supplied.

4. The constancy of Christ’s love to His people passeth knowledge. No length of time, no distance of place, no change of condition, either with Him or us, can possibly make any alteration of His affections towards us (Hebrews 13:8). So then, the love of Christ is a love transcending all creature love, and human understanding. We read in Romans 5:7-8, that “peradventure for a good man, some would even dare to die”; but we never find where any, beside Jesus Christ, would lay down his life for enemies. It is recorded as an unparalleled instance of love in Damon and Pithias, the two Sicilian philosophers, that each had courage enough to die for his friend. One of them being condemned to die by the tyrant, and desiring to give the last farewell to his family, his friend went into prison for him, as his surety to die for him, if he returned not at the appointed time. But he did not die; yea, he had such a confidence in his friend, that he would not suffer him by default to die for him; and if he had, yet he had died for his friend. But such was the love of Christ, that it did not only put Him into danger of death, but put Him actually unto death, yea, the worst of deaths, and that for His enemies. O what manner of love is this! We read of the love that Jacob had for Rachel, and how he endured both the cold of winter, and heat of summer, for her sake. But what is this to the love of Jesus, who for us endured the heat of God’s wrath? Beside, she was beautiful, but we unlovely. David wished for Absalom his son, “Would God I had died for thee!” But it was but a wish; and had it come to the proof, David would have shrinked from death, for all the affection he bare his beautiful son. But Christ actually gave His life for us, and did not only wish He had done it. O love, transcending the love of creatures; yea, and surmounting all creature knowledge! The uses follow. If the love of Christ pass knowledge, O then admire it! yea, live and die in the wonder and admiration of the love of Christ? As it is a sign of great weakness to admire small and common things, so it speaks great stupidity not to be affected with great and unusual things. O Christian! if thou be one that conversest with the thoughts of this love, thou can’st not but admire it; and the more thou studiest, the more still wilt thou be astonished at it. And among the many wonders that will appear in the love of Christ, these two will most of all affect thee, viz.:

1. That ever it pitched at first on thee.

2. That it is not, by so many sins, quenched towards thee. (J. Flavel.)

The love of Christ known and beyond knowledge

In form, but not in idea, the text is paradoxical. There is certainly a high and precious sense in which it is the privilege and the calling of the children of God to attain to a conscious apprehension of spiritual things in a form and by processes that lie beyond the range of the natural understanding. It is this for which the apostle here prays.

I. Certain things as to which the love of Christ passes knowledge.

1. Respecting its originating causes. We love whatever seems lovely to us, either because of the possession of amiable qualities and attributes of character, or because of the existence of certain recognized relations to ourselves that call for our affections. Beyond these conditions, and independent of them, we are incapable of conceiving how the affection of love can come into existence or exercise; and yet it is very certain that in our case these conditions were not found in us towards God. While men were yet sinners, enemies, hateful and haters of God, the Divine love moved forth guided by heavenly wisdom, and sustained by the Divine omnipotence, to redeem and save and exalt to glory the ruined offspring of a fallen ancestry. All this entirely “passeth knowledge.”

2. In respect to this degree, as seen in its operations, the Divine love to man passes knowledge.

3. The love of Christ passes knowledge in respect to its long suffering. As it began without any worthiness on our part, so it is continued towards us despite our disobedience and ingratitude.

4. In the bounty of its provisions (1 Corinthians 2:9).

II. Certain things as to which the love of Christ may be known.

1. We may know the love of Christ as a great truth revealed in the Scriptures.

2. The gospel, which is the manifestation of the love of Christ, may be known as a grand remedial scheme and dispensation of the grace of God.

3. We may know the love of Christ by the experience of His saving power.

4. We may know the love of Christ by His conquest of sin in us.

5. We may know the love of Christ by the victory which He gives us over death. (D. Curry, D. D.)

Knowing the love of Christ

I. Do you know the love of Christ?

II. Do you know it in such wise as to feel at the same time that it passeth knowledge?

III. Do you at once experience and exhibit the effect of knowing it, in that you are filled with all the fulness of God? (T. Dale, M. A.)

Christ’s love

What beautiful emblems of Christ’s love are the two grandest objects of nature, sapphire sea and sapphire sky; the boundless extent of heaven’s blue field cannot be measured even by the astronomer; so the length and breadth, and height and depth of the love of Christ surpass all knowledge. We know something of what is nearest us of the sky, the human side of it, us it were. That part which lies immediately above our earth is familiar to us, from the offices of beauty and usefulness which it serves; the firmament in this respect shows forth the handiwork of God in ministering continually to our wants. But the profound abysses of blue beyond, the eternal, unchangeable heavens that declare God’s glory, and that seemingly have no relation to man, are utterly incomprehensible to us; the very stars themselves only give us light to show the infinity of space in which they are scattered. So the love of Christ in its human aspect, as displayed in the work and blessings of redemption, and in offices of care and kindness to us, is so far comprehensible, for otherwise we could not build our trust upon it, and St. Paul would not speak of knowing it; but its infinite fulness, its divine perfection, its relation to the Universe, is utterly beyond our knowledge, and eternity itself, though spent in acquiring larger and brighter views of it, will fail to exhaust the wondrous theme. The boundless blue sky of Christ’s love bends over us, comprehends our little life within it, as the horizon embraces the landscape; wherever we move, we are within that blue circular tent, but we can never touch its edges? it folds about with equal serenity and adaptability the lofty mountain and the lowly vale, the foaming torrent and the placid lake; the bold, rugged, aspiring nature, and the quiet retiring disposition; the man of action, and the man of thought; the impetuous Peter and the loving John; it softens the sharp extremes of things, and connects the highest and lowest by its subtile, invisible bonds; and yet stretches far aloft beyond the reach of sight or sense into the fathomless abyss of infinity. Or, to take the sea as the comparison, the sea touches the shore along one narrow line, and all the beauty and fertility of that shore are owing to its life-giving dews and rains; but it stretches away from the shore, beyond the horizon, into regions which man’s eye has never seen, and the further it recedes the deeper and the bluer its waters become. And so the love of Christ touches us along the whole line of our life, imparts all the beauty and fruitfulness to that life, but it stretches away from the point of contact into the unsearchable riches of Christ, the measureless fulness of the Godhead, that ocean of inconceivable, incommunicable love which no plummet can sound, or eye of angel or saint ever scan; and the love that we cannot comprehend, that is beyond our reach, is as much love as that whose blessed influences and effects we feel. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Filled with God’s fulness

I. In what respects may we be filled with all the fulness of God?

1. In filling the heart, God empties it of its former occupants.

2. In filling the heart, God takes possession of it personally.

3. In filling the heart, God replenishes it with all the graces and dispositions of the Christian character.

4. In filling the heart, God replenishes it with every grace completely or perfectly.

II. By what means may we be filled with all the fulness of God?

1. By being sensible of our emptiness.

2. By abounding in prayer.

3. By cherishing love to Christ.

4. By following hard after God. (G. Brooks.)

Filled with all the fulness of God

1. There is a fulness and completeness in grace attainable even by believers here, to wit, such as is sufficient for their present state of travellers and warriors upon earth, though not for the state of triumphers and possessors in heaven. They may attain to be complete in Christ, as not only possessing all things by faith and hope, but being indued also with such a measure of the graces of God’s Spirit, as is requisite to bear them through against, and make them gloriously victorious over, their chiefest adversaries (Colossians 1:11). Such a fulness is spoken of (Romans 15:14; 1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 1:7), and prayed for here; “That ye may be filled.”

2. All the fulness and completeness in grace attainable here is but an emptiness, being compared with that fulness in glory which shall be attained hereafter, called here the fulness of God, and is made mention of as the journey’s end, to be aspired unto and aimed at, as a step far beyond any fulness which can be attained here; for he saith, “that ye may be filled with,” or until, “all the fulness of God”: where he implieth a two-fold fulness, the former attainable here, by which we advance to that other fulness in glory which shall be enjoyed hereafter.

3. The desires and endeavours of believers after Christ and grace should net be easily satisfied, nor stand at a stay for every attainment; but ought to be enlarged, and always advancing towards a further measure than anything already received, even to that fulness of grace attainable here; yea, and the outmost measure of grace here is not to be rested upon, as fully satisfying, nor anything else, until grace be fully completed in glory hereafter: for the apostle, not being satisfied with what he hath asked already, doth here pray, “that they maybe filled” even “until all the fulness of God”: and hereby teacheth them to be satisfied with no less.

4. The state of believers in heaven shall be most glorious and blessed, as being no less than, first, the enjoying of God’s immediate presence by sense, not by faith or through the glass of ordinances, which shall then be laid aside, God Himself being all in all (1 Corinthians 13:12). And, secondly, the enjoying of His presence fully, and so far as finite creatures can be capable of that which is infinite (1 John 3:2); for this is to be “filled with the fulness of God,” which shall be attained in heaven. (J. Fergusson.)

The fulness of God

The word rendered “fulness” represents completion, perfection, and sufficiency. If a vessel having some water in it were filled to the brim, this word would represent its condition in relation to its contents. If a picture were drawn in rude outline, and if the limning were then made perfect, this word would represent the completed state of the artist’s work. If the crew of a ship, or the guard on the walls of a fenced city, were deficient in number, and if the men were so increased as to meet the need, this word would represent the complement. Fulness and God must be combined, must ever be inseparable.

I. A large receptive capacity on the part of Christians. “That ye might be filled.” This is not asking for fresh powers and for new susceptibilities, but for the entire contact of existing faculties and capacities with appropriate and adequate objects. The capabilities of human nature are many and various. Man can receive into himself a varied and vast knowledge. He can admit to his nature the images of all the objects which awaken the various emotions of the human soul. The receptive capacity of man may be illustrated by reference to three things.

1. The extent and variety of possible knowledge.

2. The number and character of the objects which arouse the various internal spiritual affections.

3. The influences which are formative of character and productive of conduct.

II. God the standard, as well as the source and cause, of completeness. To creatures made in God’s image, and renewed in God’s image, God Himself must ever be the standard of completeness. Between God and all His creatures there is, we reverently acknowledge, a vast difference; but the pitcher may be full as well as the river, and the hand may be full as well as the storehouse. There is a fulness which is as really the attribute of that which in capacity is small, as of that which in capacity is infinite. The sweet little flower, “forget-me-not,” is as full of colour as the bright blue sky over its tiny head. The vine of the cottager may be as full of fruit as the vineyard of the wealthy vine grower. The baby, which smiles on its mother’s breast, may be as full of joy as the seraph before the throne. The vast difference which exists between God’s nature and ours, does not prevent that nature in some respects being a standard. The fulness of man may be as the fulness of God. God is full, and man, in his capacity, may be full as God. Two things occur to us here.

1. The standard of completeness does not generally appear to be God, even among Christians.

2. The lack of fulness is largely traceable to the non-recognition of this standard.

III. A degree of approximation to the Divine standard now attainable.

1. The primitive constitution of men admits it (Genesis 1:27). Fulness and God are inseparable, and equally united are fulness and the image of God.

2. The redemption that is in Christ Jesus specially provides for this fulness. It restores lost truths and lost objects of hope and love and joy, and directly aims to fill us with all possible good.

3. The experience of every Christian is that of having supplied to him, by the Saviour, that which, being essential, has nevertheless been lacking. He comes as wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and those who receive Him are complete in Him.

4. The exceeding great and precious promises of God show, that those who lack fulness or completeness are straitened, not in God, but through themselves.

5. The steps by which this fulness is said to be reached are portions of ordinary Christian experience. First of all, there is the strengthening of the “inner man” by the might of the Spirit; secondly, there is the coming into the heart, and the dwelling in the heart, of Christ by faith; thirdly, there is the confirmation of all love in the heart; and fourthly, the subjective knowledge of the love of Christ. The man who knows the love of Christ, and who is rooted and grounded in love, and in whom Christ dwells, and who is inwardly strengthened by the Holy Ghost, is in a position to be filled with the fulness of God. The receptive capacity of such a man is restored, while Christ and His love are in themselves fulness, and lead to a fulness distinct from themselves. (S. Martin, D. D.)

What is that fulness of God every true Christian ought to pray and strive to be filled with

This inquiry will oblige us to speak something by way of supposition, and then something further by way of direct solution. That which is necessary to be spoken by way of supposition will fall under these two heads:

I. It is presupposed to this inquiry, that there is a fulness in God with which we cannot be filled, and therefore ought not to pray, ought not to strive, to be filled with it. It was the destructive suggestion and temptation of Satan, to persuade our first parents to be ambitious of being like to God--“Ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). And the tempter never shewed himself to be more a devil than when he prosecuted this design; nor did man ever fall more below himself than when he was blown up to an ambition to be above himself.

1. God is essentially full of all Divine excellences. He is so by nature, by essence; what we are, we are by grace.

2. The holiness of God is a self-holiness. God is not only full, but self-full, full with His own fulness: He lends to all, borrows of none. But the fulness of a believer is a borrowed, a precarious fulness.

3. The fulness of holiness, of grace, of all perfections that are in God, is unlimited, boundless, and infinite. God is a sea without a shore; an ocean of grace without a bottom. The fulness of believers is circumscribed within the bounds and limits of their narrow and finite beings; and this finiteness of nature will forever cleave to the saints, when they shall be enlarged in their souls to the utmost capacity.

4. Hence, the fulness of God is inexhaustible. It is also undiminishable.

II. A second thing we must suppose, is, that there is a fulness of God with which we may, and therefore ought to pray and labour that we may, be filled. We cannot Teach the original fulness, but we may a borrowed, derivative fulness. We cannot be filled with the formal holiness of God, for that holiness is God; yet may we derive holiness from Him as an efficient cause, “who worketh all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). What is that fulness of God which every true Christian ought to pray and strive to be filled with? What is the matter of that fulness of God which we are to pray and strive to be filled with?

1. To speak generally: That which we are to pray and strive to be filled with is the Spirit of God: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be ye filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

2. To speak a little more particularly.

(a) It is one great instance of wisdom, to know the seasons of duty, and what every day calls for.

(b) We need wisdom, that we be not deluded with shadows instead of substances, that we take not appearances for realities; for want of which, O how often are we cheated out of our interests, our real concerns, our integrity of heart, and peace of conscience!

(c) Another point of wisdom which we need to be instructed in is the worth of time, and what a weight of eternity depends on these short and flitting moments.

(d) Wisdom would teach us the due order and method of all things; what first, what last, ought to be our study and our concern. Wisdom would teach us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33); and then, if there be time to spare, to bestow some small portion of it for those other things which God in His bounty will not deny, and in His wisdom knows in what measure to bestow.

(e) Wisdom would teach us the true worth and value of all things; to labour, pray, and strive for them proportionably to their true intrinsic dignities; to think that heaven cannot be too dear, whatever we pay for it; nor hell cheap, how easily soever we come by it.

1. Every gracious soul ought to pray and strive to be filled with such a measure of the fulness of God, anti of His grace, as the Holy Spirit, who is the proper Judge of that measure, shall see fit to communicate to us.

2. Every gracious soul ought to pray for such a measure of grace as may fit his capacity, None are so full, but they may receive more; we have so little of grace, because we ask no more--“Ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2).

3. We ought to pray and strive that our narrow vessels may be widened, our capacities enlarged, that we may be more capable of grace. The vessels of Divine grace are of different sizes; as “one star differs from another in glory,” so one saint differs from another in grace. And as the Spirit enlarges the heart, He will enlarge His own hand--“I am the Lord,” even “thy God: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

4. We ought to pray and strive, that all the powers and faculties of the whole man may be filled according to their measures. There is much room in our souls that is not furnished; much waste ground there that is not cultivated and improved to its utmost.

5. Every gracious soul ought to pray and strive for such a measure of grace, that he may be qualified for any duty and service that God shall call him to, and engage him in.

6. Every true Christian ought to pray and strive for such a measure of grace, as may enable him to bear patiently, cheerfully, and creditably, “those afflictions and sufferings, which either God’s good pleasure shall lay upon us, or for His name’s sake we may draw upon ourselves.

7. Every true Christian ought to pray and strive for such a measure of grace, as may bring the soul to a settlement and stability, that he be not soon shaken by the cross and adverse evils that he shall meet with in this life. (V. Alsop, M. A.)

St. Paul’s wonderful prayer

There are some passages in God’s Word which are sermons in themselves. And if this part of the apostle’s prayer can be made to apply in our thoughts, in our hearts, not only during this hour of worship, but through our coming lives, the text alone will be a most blessed inspiration.

I. I remark, in the first place, that whatever is meant by this, “That ye may be filled with all the fulness of God,” it is a something which was within the possibilities of all the members of the Church. He prayed for what was possible; he would ask for nothing impossible, specially when guided by the Holy Spirit.

II. In the second place, there is no intimation that whatever this is, it was to be limited in its attainment to the period of death or any future period. The apostle prayed the Church might enjoy it then, and he follows this prayer with some directions with regard to their conduct and their duty, showing that he expected the attainment of these blessings, so that the Church might direct and employ them for the benefit of others.

1. The exercise of faith. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”

2. Now notice that the whole quality from this on his love. Christ dwells in our hearts and imprints His nature. “God is love.” Christ is love, and dwelling in our hearts makes us love God. I love the brave fireman who puts up the ladder and comes down with my child. I can’t help taking that man to my arms. He saved my boy. Shall I not love God--Jesus--who died for all my children to save them from eternal ruin and rescued them from that perdition to which they were going? I want no other proof of the depravity of the human heart than the fact that men do not love God. I had a friend who preached once on the love of God and its unfathomable nature. He used this figure. Brought a sounding line and reached away down and said, “So many fathoms.” Another expression, “So many fathoms,” and then cried out, “More line!” “More line!” He had not line enough to measure the depth of the love of God. I am not able to describe it all, but, thank God, you and I have all eternity to try our line. (M. Simpson, D. D.)

All shall be filled

Like as sundry vessels, whereof some are bigger and some less, if they all be cast into the sea, some will receive more water and some less, and yet all shall be full and no want in any: so likewise, among the saints of God in heaven, some shall have more glory, some less, and yet all, without exception, full of glory. (Cawdray.)

Varied happiness in heaven

In heaven we cannot suppose the condition of any one saint to be wanting in the measure of its happiness. Such a supposition is opposed to the idea of that perfection to which all shall attain. Nevertheless, as with two luminous bodies, each may shine in perfection, though with a different splendour and intensity; so the image of God will shine with fuller-orbed splendour in some than in others. In like manner, the little stream and the river may both fill their channel, while the one glides in simple beauty, and the other rolls its majestic waves attracting the eyes of all beholders. And so the spirits of the just made perfect shall all be beautiful, but some shall delight with the perfection of beauty. (H. G. Salter.)

Different capacities

“There is a great difference in our capacities,” observed the small Jug to the large Flagon beside it. “A good deal of difference in our measurement,” answered the Flagon. “I suppose that all I can contain, if poured into you, would appear very little,” said the Jug. “And what I am capable of holding would over whelm you for certain,” replied the other. “Truly I could hold but a small measure of your fulness,” said the Jug. “But I have this to satisfy me, that when I am full I have all I want; and you yourself when filled can hold no more.” God’s spiritual temple contains vessels of various dimensions; but all are filled with the same Spirit from the communicable fulness of Christ; as the prophet describes, “Vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all vessels of flagons.” “To be filled with all the fulness of God,” is all that saints desire; and the Lord blesses His people with the experience of His love, “both small and great.” There will undoubtedly be degrees in glory; but all shall be full of joy; and he that possesses greatest capacity will not be more full of God than he that left the world a babe in Christ. (Bowden.)

The fulness of God

There are plants which we sometimes see in these northern latitudes, but which are native to the more generous soil and the warmer skies of southern lands. In their true home they grow to a greater height, their leaves are larger, their blossoms more luxuriant, and of a colour more intense; the power of the life of the plant is more fully expressed. And as the visible plant is the more or less adequate translation into stem and leaf and flower of its invisible life, so the whole created universe is the more or less adequate translation of the invisible thought and power and goodness of God. He stands apart from it. His personal life is not involved in its immense processes of development but the forces by which it moves through pain and conflict and tempest towards its consummate perfection are a revelation of “His eternal power and Godhead.” For the Divine idea to reach its complete expression, an expression adequate to the energy of the Divine life, we ourselves must reach a large and harmonious perfection. As yet we are like plants growing in an alien soil and under alien skies. And the measures of strength and grace which are possible to us even in this mortal life are not attained. The Divine power which is working in us is obstructed. But a larger knowledge of the love of Christ will increase the fervour of every devout and generous affection, it will exalt every form of spiritual energy; it will deepen our spiritual joy; it will add strength to every element of righteousness; and will thus advance us towards that ideal perfection which will be the complete expression of the Divine power and grace, and which Paul describes as the “fulness of God.” (R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

The love of God

God’s love to His people is from everlasting to everlasting; but from everlasting to everlasting there is no manifestation of it known, or conceivable by us, which can be compared to this. The light of the sun is always the same, but it shines brightest to us at noon; the Cross of Christ was the noontide of everlasting love; the meridian splendour of eternal mercy. There were many bright manifestations of the same love before, but they were like the light of the morning, that shines more and more unto the perfect day; and that perfect day was when Christ was on the cross, when darkness covered all the land. (McLaurin.)

The fulness of God

I have found it an interesting thing to stand on the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for six thousand years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvests of so many autumns, and yet shines on as brilliantly as ever, his eye not dim, nor his natural force abated, nor his floods of lightness full; for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness of God. Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your heart, and brighten your faith, and send you away both happy and rejoicing. O blessed God, in Thy presence is the fulness of joy, and at Thy right hand there is pleasure for evermore! What Thou hast gone before to prepare, may we at death be called upon to enjoy! (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verse 20-21

Ephesians 3:20-21

Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.

Grace abounding

It is necessary that we should emphasize the fact that this describes the Divine disposition; for although men think, perhaps, that it makes but little difference, if God only does what we ask, whether He does it from a direct, voluntary purpose, or whether it is the tendency of the Divine mind previous to our petition, yet it does make a great deal of difference. It makes, perhaps, but little difference to me whether a river is supplying Brooklyn with water, or whether it is supplied by a reservoir; but it does make a difference in respect to abundance and continuity. There is that old iron slave, the steam engine--the only slave that you have a right to keep in bondage--and night and day it stands lifting, and lifting, and lifting the vast supplies of water, and pouring them over into the Ridgewood reservoir. I know that there will be enough; but when you are talking about endlessness, copiousness, what is this compared with that which I see every day under my chamber window, where the whole ocean sweeps in and out, and, night and day, without pump, or steam, or any like mechanical force, is always there, as it was before there was a man on these shores, and as it will be after the last man shall have died in future ages? The copiousness, the abundance of the ever-flowing ocean, may fitly represent the abundance of the Divine thought, and mercy, and goodness; where most men think of God as one from whom favours are obtained, if at all, by what may almost be called the pleading of prayer; by the bringing to bear upon Him influences which at last persuade Him to grant the things asked for, so that when the persuasion stops, the supply stops. Many seem to think that prayer is but an engine that lifts--abundantly lifts, it may be--blessings upon the heads of those that employ it; but that if the engine stops for a moment, the reservoir will run dry. No! it is the eternal disposition of God to be full of love, and mercy, and kindness, and He inspires in you those impulses which lead you to go and ask Him for those things which you need. Now this quality of the Divine disposition is shadowed forth in God’s natural government. When I look into nature, I see--what? Not sticks, stones, flowers, trees--I see Him that made them. I see things that were created by Christ Jesus. When I look upon the heavens of the natural world, I behold Him who made the natural world. If I see frugality, narrowness of compass, want of variety, I am not mistaken as to the disposition of the Creator; but if, on the other hand, I find abundance, superabundance, endless change, and endless variety, I cannot be mistaken as to their meaning. In the revelations of nature, then, we see God’s disposition. We see His housekeeping. These are His gardens; these are His fields; this is His colouring--His frescoing; these are His seasons; and I can, from these elements in nature, infer His disposition, as much as I can infer a man’s disposition from those things which go to make up His housekeeping. What is their language? Do they not corroborate the declaration of our text? Is He not a God that does exceeding abundantly beyond what we ask or think? Variety is another term for abundance. From the infinite variety that abounds throughout nature, one would think that God never wanted to have two things to be alike. An endless diversity, that tends to endless unity, is the characteristic of creation. Abundance by continuity and succession is another of these hints; for everything which takes place in nature occurs in such a way as constantly to link it with something that is to come. There is a tendency in nature to reproduce and continue, so that there shall not only be great variety and great abundance at any one time, but greater variety and greater abundance in time to come. Abundance by increase affords an illustration of the Divine nature. Men say, “We get just according to what we do.” They suppose that the effect which we gain from natural laws is measured by the cause which we employ. It is not true. I plant a single kernel of Indian corn, and I gain from that kernel a stalk with two or three ears, and not less than a hundred kernels on each ear. I plant one kernel and get three hundred. Is there any proportion between what I do and what I get? The seedsman goes forth, sowing not one seed, but many seeds. He, taking them, and scarcely knowing their nature, gives them to the furrow, and they germinate, and the earth nurses them in its bosom, and persuades them to come forth, and the wind searches for them, and the dews and rains hunt them, and all warming and stimulating influences begin to play upon them, and they give back not according to what the sower gave to the earth, not according to the power which he has exerted upon them, but according to that nature which God has infused into the material creation; and therefore they give abundantly beyond what the sower did, and beyond what he had reason to expect before he had experience of God’s bounty. On my summer nook stands a venerable apple tree, probably a hundred and fifty years old. It has now lost much of its hair. It is dead and bald at the top. I let it stand because it is a sentinel of ages. It has buried generation upon generation. It heard the old revolutionary cannon; balls fell not far from its foot. For probably a hundred years it has borne its annual crop of apples, and a great abundance of them. There was a time when a boy eating an apple, took from his mouth a seed, and snapped it, and it fell into the grass, and the rain worked it into the soil, and the soil coaxed it to grow. That little seed of an apple, not so large as your fingernail, struck down its root, and lifted up its trunk, which has stood the greater part of two centuries, and produced a thousand bushels of fruit and myriads of seeds. Now, is God’s nature indicated by this? Yes, because the way God makes the natural world act indicates how He thinks. It indicates what His thoughts and tendencies are, and these mark His disposition. Would that we had a more frequent sense of God’s bounty! No man can look upon what he brings to the work, and what the work becomes in his hand, without being humbled in view of his own weakness, nor I trust, also, without being filled with admiration and reverence for that loving Heart that does exceeding abundantly more than we ask or think. If these views and experiences are correct, there is every encouragement for men to ask in prayer for what they need. Now how have you been dealing with this God who has dealt with you on this pattern of doing exceeding abundantly more than you asked or thought? You have treated Him on the assumption that He was penurious, and willing to give only on terms that were strict and severe. Many men seem to shrink from prayer as though it were a matter of doubt whether they could pray. God, then, does not limit Himself by the desert of those to whom He gives mercies, but takes His patterns from the largeness and generosity of His own nature. He pleases Himself by giving. (H. W. Beecher.)

Measureless power and endless glory

The form of the text marks the confidence of St. Paul’s prayer. The exuberant fervour of his faith, as well as his natural impetuosity and ardour, comes out in the heaped up words expressive of immensity and duration. He is like some archer watching, with parted lips, the flight of his arrow to the mark. He is gazing on God, confident that he has not asked in vain. Let us look with him, that we, too, may be heartened to expect great things of God.

I. The measure of the power to which we trust. Now there are three main forms under which this standard, or measure, of the Redeeming Power is set forth in this Epistle, and it will help us to grasp the greatness of the apostle’s thought if we consider these. Take, then, first, that clause in the earlier portion of the preceding prayer, “that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory.” The measure then, of the gift that we may hope to receive is the measure of God’s own fulness: The “riches of His glory” can be nothing less than the whole uncounted abundance of that majestic and far-shining nature, as it pours itself forth in the dazzling perfectnesses of its own self-manifestation. And nothing less than this great treasure is to be the limit and standard of His gift to us. But another form in which the standard, or measure, is stated in this letter is: “The working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20); or, as it is put with a modification, “grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). That is to say, we have not only the whole riches of the Divine glory as the measure to which we may lift our hopes, but lest that celestial brightness should seem too high above us, and too far from us, we have Christ in His Human-Divine manifestation, and especially in the great fact of the resurrection, Set before us, that by Him we may learn what God wills we should become. In Him we see what man may become, and what His followers must become. The limits of that power will not be reached until every Christian soul is perfectly assimilated to that likeness, and bears all its beauty in his face, nor till every Christian soul is raised to participation in Christ’s dignity and sits on His throne. But there is a third form in which this same standard is represented. That is the form which is found in our text, and in other places of the Epistle “According to the power that worketh in us.” What power is that but the power of the Spirit of God dwelling in us? And thus we have the measure, or standard, set forth in terms respectively applying to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. For the first, the riches of His glory; for the second, His resurrection and ascension; for the third, His energy working in Christian souls. The first carries us up into the mysteries of God, where the air is almost too subtle for our gross lungs; the second draws nearer to earth and points us to an historical fact that happened in this every day world; the third comes still nearer to us, and bids us look within, and see whether what we are conscious of there, if we interpret it by the light of these other measures, will not yield results as great as theirs, and open before us the same fair prospect of perfect holiness and conformity to the Divine nature.

II. The relation of the Divine working to our thoughts and desires. The apostle, in his fervid way, strains language to express how far the possibility of the Divine working extends. He is able, not only to do all things, but “beyond all things”--a vehement way of putting the boundless reach of that gracious power. And what he means by this “beyond all things” is more fully expressed in the next words, in which he labours by accumulating synonyms to convey his sense of the transcendent energy which waits to bless: “exceeding abundantly above what we ask.” And as, alas! our desires are but shrunken and narrow beside our thoughts, he sweeps a wider orbit when he adds, “above what we think.” He has been asking wonderful things, and yet even his farthest reaching petitions fall far on this side of the greatness of God’s power. One might think that even it could go no further than filling us “with all the fulness of God.” Nor can it; but it may far transcend our conceptions of what that is, and astonish us by its surpassing our thoughts, no less than it shames us by exceeding our prayers. Of course, all this is true, and is meant to apply, only about the inward gifts of God’s grace. That grace is like the figures in the Eastern tales, that will creep into a narrow room no bigger than a nutshell, or will tower heaven high. Our spirits are like the magic tent whose walls expanded or contracted at the owner’s wish--we may enlarge them to enclose far more of the grace than we have ever possessed. We are not straitened in God, but in ourselves. “According to thy faith,” is a real measure of the gift received, even though. “according to the fiches of His glory” be the measure of the gift bestowed. Note, again.

III. The glory that springs from the Divine work. “The glory of God” is the lustre of His own perfect character, the bright sum total of all the blended brilliancies that compose His name. When that light is welcomed and adored by men, they are said to “give glory to God” and this doxology is at once a prophecy that the working of God’s power on His redeemed children will issue in setting forth the radiance of His name yet more, and a prayer that it may. So we have here the great thought expressed in many places of Scripture, that the highest exhibition of the Divine character for the reverence and love--of the whole universe, shall we say?--lies in His work on Christian souls, and the effect produced thereby on them. Amid all the majesty of His works and all the blaze of His creation, this is what He presents as the highest specimen of His power--the Church of Jesus Christ, the company of poor men, wearied and conscious of many evils, who follow afar off the footsteps of their Lord. How dusty and toil worn the little group of Christians that landed at Puteoli must have looked as they toiled along the Appian Way and entered Rome! How contemptuously emperor and philosopher and priest and patrician would have curled their lips, if they had been told that in that little knot of Jewish prisoners lay a power before which theirs would cower and finally fade! Even so is it still. Among all the splendour of this great universe, and the mere obtrusive tawdrinesses of earth, men look upon us Christians as poor enough; and yet it is to His redeemed children that God has entrusted His praise, and in their hands He has lodged the sacred deposit of His own glory. Think loftily of that office and honour, lowly of yourselves who have it laid upon you as a crown. His honour is in our hands. We are the “secretaries of His praise.”

IV. The eternity of the work and of the praise. As in the former clauses, the idea of the transcendent greatness of the power of God was expressed by accumulated synonyms, so here the kindred thought of its eternity, and consequently of the ceaseless duration of the resulting glory, is sought to be set forth by a similar aggregation. The language creaks and labours, as it were, under the weight of the great conception. Literally rendered, the words are--“to all generations of the age of the ages”--a remarkable fusing together of two expressions for unbounded duration, which are scarcely congruous. We can understand “to all generations” as expressive of duration as long as birth and death shall last. We can understand “the age of the ages” as pointing to that endless epoch whose moments are “ages”; but the blending of the two is but an unconscious acknowledgment that the speech of earth, saturated, as it is, with the colouring of time, breaks down in the attempt to express the thought of eternity. Undoubtedly that solemn conception is the one intended by this strange phrase. The work is to go on forever and ever, and with it the praise. As the ages which are the beats of the pendulum of eternity come and go, more and more of God’s power will flow out to us, and more and more of God’s glory will be manifested in us. It must be so. For God’s gift is infinite, and man’s capacity of reception is indefinitely capable of increase. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

God’s ability

The apostle does not give this text as a detached sentence. It is the culmination of a statement; it is something that comes after a serious, anxious effort which he himself has made; and we must look into the preliminary statement if we would know how Paul was dazzled, overwhelmed, made speechless by the infinite capacity of God to transcend all mortal prayer and all finite imagination. The apostle has been uttering a prayer which reads thus:--“That He would grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man--able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask: That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith--able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask: That ye being rooted and grounded in love--Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask: May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge--Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask: That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God--Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask.” Reading the prayer in this manner, using the text as a kind of refrain to each petition, and each petition itself seeming to exhaust the very mercy and love of God, we get some notion of the apostle’s conception of God’s infinite wealth, infinite grace, and infinite willingness to give. Understand, then, that in coming to God and availing ourselves of the doctrine of this text, it is incumbent upon us that we should specify what we want from God. Suppose that a number of petitioners should go to the legislature with a petition worded thus: “We humbly pray your honourable house to do everything for the nation, to take infinite care of it, to let the affairs of the nation tax your attention day and night, and lavish all your resources upon the people.” Suppose that a petition like that should be handed into the House of Commons, what would be the fate of it? It would be laughed down, and the only reason, the only good reason, why the petitioners should not be confined to Bedlam would be, lest their insanity should alarm the inmates. That is not a petition. It is void by generality; by referring to all it misses everything. You must specify what you want when you go to the legislature. You must state your case with clearness of definition, and with somewhat of argument. If it be so in our social, political prayers, shall we go to Almighty God with a vagueness which means nothing, with a generality which makes no special demand upon his heart. Read the text in the light of the gospel, and you will see the fulness of its glory, so far as it can be seen by mortal vision. Ask anything of God and I am prepared to quote these words of the text in reply. What will you ask? Let us in the first instance ask what we all want--whatever may be our condition, age, circumstances. Let us ask for pardon. Is your prayer, God forgive my sins? Now you may apply the apostle’s words: “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that you ask.” You cannot conceive God’s notion of pardon. You have an idea of what you mean by forgiveness; but when you have exhausted your own notion of the term forgiveness, you have not shown the Divine intent concerning the soul that is to be forgiven. When God forgives, He does not merely pardon, barely pardon--He does not by some great straining effort of His love, just come within reach of the suppliant, and lay upon his heart the blessing which is besought. He pardons with pardons. He multiplies to pardon! What will you ask for now? Ask for sanctification. Is your prayer, Sanctify me body, soul, and spirit? Then I am ready once more to quote you the apostle’s text: “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Now this ought to stimulate us in all saintly progress, to inspire us in the study of Divine truth, to recover our jaded energies, and tempt, lure, and draw us by the mighty compulsion of inexhaustible reward. This is the peculiar glory of Christian study--that it does not exhaust the student. His weakness becomes his strength. At sunset he is stronger than at sunrise; because Christian study does not tax any one power of the mind unduly. It trains the whole being, the imagination, the fancy, the will, the emotion; lifts up the whole nature equally, with all the equability of complete power--not by snatches and spasms of strength, but with the sufficiency, breadth, and compass of power which sustains the balance always. This ought to rebuke those of us who imagine we have finished our Christian education. I believe there are some persons in the world who are under the impression that they have finished God’s Book. They say they have “read it through.” There is a poor sense in which it may be read through; but there is a deeper, truer sense in which we can never get through the Book of God. It is an inexhaustible study--new every day, like morning light. You have seen splendour before, but until this morning you never saw this light. So it is with this great wonderful Book of God in the study of it. God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Here then is a stimulus, a spur to progress, a call to deeper study. We think we have attained truth. We have not attained all that is meant by the word truth. No man who knows himself and who knows God will say that he has been led into all the chambers of God’s great palace of truth. This is the sign of progress; this is the charter of the profoundest humility. The more we know the less we know. We see certain points of light here and there, but the great unexplored regions of truth stretch mile on mile beyond all our power to traverse the wondrous plain. How is it with us today then? Are we fagged men, exhausted students? Do we sit down under the impression that there is nothing more to be known? If we have that idea let us seek to recover our strength and to recover our inspiration by the word--He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. There are attainments we have not made, depths we have not sounded, and heights, oh, heights! We can but look up and wonder, expect, adore. If this be so, we ought to look calmly, with a feeling of chastened triumph, upon all hindrances, difficulties, and obstacles in the way of Christ’s kingdom upon the earth. We may look at these in relation to our own puny strength, and quail before them. But, we are not to depend upon our own resources, but upon God’s, in attempting the removal of everything that would intercept the progress of His holy kingdom in the world. There is a great mountain: I cannot beat it down, all the instruments I can bring to bear upon it seem utterly powerless. But God touches the mountains and they smoke. The Alps, the Apennines, the Pyrenees, and great Himalayas, shall go up like incense before Him, and His kingdom shall have smooth uninterrupted way. I say, in my hours of weakness, yonder is a stone which I cannot remove. If I could get clear of that obstacle all would be right; but the stone is heavy, the stone is sealed, the stone is watched. What can I do? I go up the hill wearily, almost hopelessly, and behold! the stone is rolled away, and on the obstacle there sits the angel of God. Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think! It may be difficult for some minds to follow the argument out spiritually; we must therefore descend to illustration. Here is a very clever artist, who has made a beautiful thing he brings before us, and we gather round it and say, “It is most exquisitely done. What is this, sir?” “That,” replies the artist, “is my notion of a flower, and I am going to call that flower a rose.” “Well, it is a beautiful thing--very graceful, and altogether beautifully executed: you are very clever.” So he is, and now that exhausts his notion of the rose. But let God just hand in a full-blown rose from the commonest garden in the world, and where is your waxen beauty? Underneath every leaf is written, “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Let Him just send the sweet spring morning in upon us with the first violet, and all your artificial florists, if they have one spark of wit left, will pick up their goods and go off as soon as possible. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. The meanest insect that flutters in the warm sunlight is a grander thing than the finest marble statue ever chiselled by the proudest sculptor. Now we are going to have a very festive day. We are going to pluck flowers and fashion them into arches, and we shall make our arches very high, very beautiful--and, so far as the flowers go, they are most gorgeously and exquisitely beautiful. We have put up the wires; we have festooned these wires, and we say, “Now, is not that very beautifully done?” and of course, we who always drink the toast “our noble selves,” say yes. But God has only to take a few raindrops and strike through them the sunlight, and where are your pasteboard arches and your skilful working! He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. My fellow students, in this holy mystery, believe me, as in nature, so in the higher kingdom of grace. As in matter He beats all your sculptors, and is in all schools infinitely superior to men, so in the revelation of truth to the heart, in the way of redeeming man from sin, in the way of sanctifying fallen corrupt human nature--all your theorists and speculators, all your plaster dealers and social reformers and philanthropic regenerators, must get out of the way as artificial florists when God comes to us with the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley. Then let us leave all inferior teachers and go straight to the Master Himself. We have to deal with sin, and the only answer to sin, which answer is comprehended in one word, is the Cross. God’s foolishness is better than our wisdom. God’s weakness is infinitely superior to our strength. “He everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Abundant answer to prayer

Miss Hopkins, in her story of Miss Robinson’s work among our soldiers at Portsmouth, relates that when the “Institute” was first projected Miss Robinson one day went to her, almost in despair at the hopeless aspect of affairs. Opposition to the scheme was strong, and funds were sorely needed. The lookout was dark enough, but the eye of faith pierced the gloom. “We knelt down,” says Miss Hopkins, “and prayed that, if it was His will, He would give us the means to stay this flood of iniquity that was sweeping away His work in the army, and enable us to do the right thing. I fear our faith was not strong enough,” she continues, “to ask for more than a few hundreds, but still it was the prayer of faith. The answer to that prayer was £15,000.”

Divine ability for human necessity

In this remarkable verse we have a wonderful instance of St. Paul’s cumulative way of speaking. Whenever I get fairly into one of St. Paul’s Epistles, I always feel as though the man is in bonds. Language is too poor a medium for him. He cannot get out all that is in for the dear life of him, eloquent though he was. If you had asked him about it, he would have said, “Language is bankrupt. It will not meet the case.” I remember once, in the north of England, hearing a very celebrated, and eloquent, and powerful Welsh preacher, who was wonderfully fluent in the English tongue, too, but he was preaching to a full congregation of English people, and his soul was in his message. It flashed in his eye, it fired his Celtic tongue, and he was so thoroughly elevated and raised by the nobility of his theme, and the thoughts within him burned and breathed at such a rate, that Saxon would not do, and he paused a moment and said, “Oh, if you only understood Welsh!” Then he would have been able, in his more familiar tongue, to climb somewhat higher to the point he aimed at. I think that it is, just like that with St. Paul. He beggars language, and then he says: “It is not enough.” Now look at it. There is that passage in which he compares the light afflictions of the present with the glory of the future. Do you see how he piles it up? He says, “A far more exceeding weight of glory.” And if you analyse this verse, it will take you a long time to read it. Let us try; it is worth it. “God is able.” Thank God for that. “God is able.” “God is able to do.” Plenty of gods who can boast. “God is able to do.” “God is able to do abundantly.” “God is able to do exceeding abundantly.” “God is able to do exceeding abundantly all.” “God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all.” “God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask.” “God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” Here I think he flung his pen down and said, “It is no use.” It could not be. He climbed up the ladder to the very highest rung that words could take him; and then he got on a higher ladder, and climbed up as far as thoughts could take him; and then he wanted Jacob’s ladder to reach to the throne of God in order to tell us what God will do to any man who says in his heart, “Be my God.” The way in which Paul moves upward in his passion, struck me once when I was in Wales. I was moving up a high and rocky slope. First of all it led me through a meadow. After the meadow there was an upward pathway through a wood. Up a little higher and I caught a gleam of the river beyond. Higher still I saw the shaggy rocks, and tall hills behind; higher still and I saw the golden cornfields at their feet. And still higher went I, until right away yonder on the horizon I saw the black-capped mountains higher than them all. And still I had to rise, and rising at last I stood upon the summit, and said, as I looked around, “This is perfection.” But it was not; for on turning in one direction I perceived a sight I had not caught before. What do you think it was? It was a glimpse of the infinite sea stretching away beyond all ken, to meet the infinite sky. St. Paul gets up to that height, and then he wants a pair of wings to fly with. (J. J. Wray.)

An Omnipotent Helper

Let us note some of the applications of the truth here taught of God’s Almightiness to help. I am in the grasp of some great temptation. I long to break away. I have tried; but I am impotent. The case seems hopeless. Like a spent, exhausted swimmer, I am about to give over, and to sink helpless beneath the dark waves. But what is that I hear above the noise of the waves? “Call on Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that thou canst ask or think; call on Him.” He is mightier than sin, stronger than the strongest temptation. Satan is bold. He has great courage. His victories are countless. “But Satan trembles, when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.” I once walked the deck of an ocean steamer with a man who related to me the sad story of his life. There had been a time when he thought he was converted, and was united to a Christian Church. For years he thought he knew the peace and joy of a justifying faith. But he had yielded to passion, and now thought his case utterly hopeless. I spoke to him of reform, recovery. “Impossible,” he said. “You know nothing,” he added, “of the terrible might of a reigning passion. Resolution and effort are useless. I am lost.” Such were his declarations, as we paced the deck beneath the midnight stars. And it was then that, admitting all that he said, I rejoiced to point him to One who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that he could ask or think, an Omnipotent Helper. Reader, I know not what there may be that is peculiar and disheartening in your case, but I do knew you are not beyond the help of the Infinite Helper. All you can ask, or even think, and more too, He is able to do. “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” (W. Lamson, D. D.)

Abundance

The grace of God is marked by the affluence which characterizes all His works. What abundance in that sun which has shone so many thousand years, and yet presents no appearance of exhaustion, no sign of decay! What abundance of stars bespangle the sky; of leaves clothe the forest; of raindrops fall in the shower; of dews sparkle on the grass; of snowflakes within the winter hills; of flowers adorn the meadow; of living creatures that, walking on the ground, or playing in the waters, or burrowing in the soil, or dancing in the sunbeams, or flying in the air, find a home in every element--but that red fire in which, type of hell, all beauty perishes and all life expires! This lavish profusion of life, and forms, and beauty, in nature, is an emblem of the affluence of grace, of God’s saving, sanctifying grace. In Christ all fulness dwells. We are complete in Him. There is in His blood sufficient virtue to discharge all the sins of a guilty world, and in His Spirit sufficient power to cleanse the foulest and break the hardest heart. Ye are not straitened in Me, says God, but in yourselves. Try Me herewith, He says--ask, seek, knock! Who does will find that it is only a faint image of the plenitude of grace we behold in that palace scene where the king, looking kindly on a lovely suppliant, bends from his throne to extend his golden sceptre, and says, “What is thy petition, and what is thy request, Queen Esther, and it shall be given thee to the half of my kingdom?” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Men do not avail themselves of the riches of God’s grace

They love to nurse their cares, and seem as uneasy without some fret, as an old friar would be without his hair girdle. They are commanded to cast their cares upon the Lord; but, even when they attempt it, they do not fail to catch them up again, and think it meritorious to walk burdened. They take God’s ticket to heaven, and then put their baggage on their shoulders, and tramp, tramp, the whole way there afoot. (H. W. Beecher.)

Distrusting God’s sufficiency

A man says to his agent, “I want you to go on a business tour for me. First go to Buffalo. Here is the money, and here are the directions that yea will need while there. Thence go to Cleveland, and there you will find remittances and further directions. When you get to Cincinnati you will find other remittances and other directions. At St. Louis you will find others; and at New Orleans still others.” “But,” says the agent, “suppose when I get to Cleveland, or any of the other places, I should not find anything?” He is so afraid that he will not, that he asks the man to give him money and directions for the whole tour before he starts. “No,” says the man, “it will be sufficient if you have the money and directions you need for each place when you get to it: and when you do get to it you will find them there.” Now, God sends us in the same way. He says, “Here is your duty for today, and the means with which to do it. Tomorrow you will find remittances and further directions; next week you will find other remittances and other directions; next month you will find others; and next year still others. I will be with you at all times, and will see that you have strength for every emergency.” (H. W. Beecher.)

Unmeasured bounty

Exceeding poverty of thought is one of the characteristics of fallen man. When the poison of sin began to work, it introduced this poverty--those poor low thoughts about God, which made man think that his Maker was jealous of his knowing too much. And ever since, has this pauperizing influence kept working--always narrowing, always lowering, ever tending to what is mean and small. And with our poverty of mind has come poverty of action. Small thoughts produce small deeds: we do not run in the way of God’s commandments, until He has enlarged our hearts. How merciful, then; it is of God to deal with us in the power of His own thoughts, and not ours. God is very merciful and long suffering in doing this; for he might have said “According to their thoughts so be it unto them.” And what could we have said, if this had been His method of acting? We might have sorely felt our loss, as there was revealed to us that to which we might have attained; but we must have acknowledged that we had been dealt liberally with, nevertheless. He might have said, “As they expected but little from Me, they shall get but little--they shall get up to file full measure of their own poor mean thoughts, but nothing more”; and that would leave us very poor indeed. The teaching is this. Leave all of eternity to the thought of God; do so as a child; do not perplex yourself with your thinkings, you will soon come to things too deep for you; let it be enough for you that you shall enjoy the fruit of His thought. You will begin to reap the fruit thereof the moment you close your eyes on earth; you will find yourself encompassed with it; like the newborn babe you will find yourself provided for in every particular; and wherever you go, whatever you are, throughout eternity, you will always find yourself surrounded by the thoughts of God. No doubt we could think of many things which would, if we were sure that matters would be so arranged, calm and assure us much as regards the other life. Whatever these thoughts are, we may be certain we shall have what is better than the best of them--God will have thought kinder, tenderer, nobler things by far. In all things concerning eternity, I wish to repose myself upon the fact that “God has thought.” Further: this little sentence says, “Never be afraid of thinking a great thought of God; for if it be one worthy of Him in kind, He will be sure to be far greater than it, in degree. Let your mind go out in a great thought of God. Do not cramp yourselves by the limitations with which you are so familiar in practical life; your mind is dealing with One to whom mere earthly rules and reasonings do not apply.”

Never be afraid of expecting a great thing from God

We have no desire for any real good, but that it is overtopped by His desire that we should have good; we have no imagination of a good, but lo! it has been surpassed by a previous thought of His, out of which He has prepared a greater good. With the world the rule is, “not up to what we can think”; with God it is “above what we can think.” The water pots which are to hold our wine He wills to be filled up to the brim; the feast which He spreads is to have baskets of fragments which remain. And as coming after the idea, “above what we can ask,” these two words are very useful. Our want of faith makes us afraid to ask; this little sentence takes the most effectual way of lifting us above our fears; for it says, “You cannot think, how much less ask too much.” The region of thought must, here at least, always be vaster far than that of fact; God says, “you could not exhaust that great field, then how can you the little one; therefore, ask largely, leaving me to act out of resources beyond your thought--resources unseen.” (P. B. Power, M. A.)

The inworking power

“According to the power that worketh in you.” What does this mean? St. Paul is speaking here of the conditions upon which the Divine ability will be exerted for us. The dew and the rain will refresh the plant and the flowers according as they open their hungry pores to take them in. You cannot get much verdure--you cannot get much green life and beauty off a rock, however heavily the dew falls upon it. No; it is the open pores that take it in. Never forget that God’s blessings are bestowed according to the desires and the askings of our heart. The flow and volume of the river are according to the height at which the hills and mountains draw to themselves the wealthy clouds; and the good gifts of God are poured out according as the soul lifts up its thoughts and wishes to the skies. The produce of the farm is according to the diligence of the farmer and the generous character of the soil. You have got soil the most generous in the world. All you want is the farmer’s intelligence, and the power that worketh in you. Then comes the “able to do abundantly above all you think.” If the miller lift the sluice so as to turn aside the water, his mill is silent; the stones are idle. No flour in his meal bag, no coin in his purse--however full the millstream is. And if you and I are so guilty before God as by our indifference to turn aside the rivers of possibility and privilege and help that He pours out, then there will be no reward for us. (J. J. Wray.)

God’s grace inexhaustible

As the scattered rays of light are all included in the focus, as the fountain contains the streams, as the object reflected is prior to and nobler than the different reflections of it--so all finite and created good is contained in Him who is the supreme good; all earthly excellence is but the partial emanation, the more or less bright reflection of the Great Original. To have a portion, therefore, in God, is to possess that which includes in itself all created good. The man who is in possession of some great masterpiece in painting or sculpture, need not envy others who have only casts or copies of it. The original plate or stereotype is more valuable than any impressions or engravings thrown off from it; and he who owns the former owns that which includes, is capable of producing all the latter … Surveying the wonders of creation, or even with the word of inspiration in his hand, the Christian can say, “Glorious though these things be, to me belongs that which is more glorious far. The streams are precious, but I have the Fountain; the vesture is beautiful, but the Weaver is mine; the portrait in its every lineament is lovely, but that Great Original, whose beauty it but feebly depicts, is mine, my own. God is my portion, the Lord is mine inheritance. To me belongs all actual and all possible good, all created and uncreated beauty, all that eye hath seen or imagination conceived; and more than that, for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love Him. All things and beings, all that life reveals or death conceals, everything within the boundless possibilities of creating wisdom and power is mine; for God, the Creator and Fountain of all, is mine.” (J. Caird, D. D.)

Christ more than satisfies

But you will tell me that man’s wishes are very large, and that it is hard to satisfy them. Ah! my brethren, I know it is--with anything here below. You may have heard, I dare say, of the gentleman who told his servant--“You have been a very faithful servant to me, John, and as you are getting old, I should like to give you a pension. Now, what do you think would satisfy you?” “Well, master,” said he, “I think if I had fifty pounds a year I should be very well satisfied indeed.” “Well, think it over,” said the master, “and come to me and let me know.” So the day comes. “Now, what do you want to satisfy you? Well, sir, as I said before, I should never want for anything, or wish for anything in this world, if I had fifty pounds a year.” “Well, John, it shall be done; there is the settlement for you: you shall have it.” That man went out of the door, and said to a friend, “I wish I had said a hundred.” So, you see, it is not easy to satisfy man. When he thinks he is satisfied, he still sees something beyond, the horse leech in his heart still cries, “Give, give.” But God is a satisfying portion. You cannot wish for anything more than this. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Unknown riches of grace

There are shores paved with shells which no human foot has trod; there are fields carpeted with flowers which human eyes have never seen; there are seas inlaid with pearls which human research has never found out; so there are things in the great mind of God itself, and in the Scriptures, which lie concealed from the most powerful mental efforts of human intellect. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The work of the Spirit

I. What this work is. It is the direct acting of God the Holy Ghost, the third Divine Person in the adorable Trinity, as a Person, upon our spirit. It is, farther, His working in us to restore perfectly that image of God in our soul which the fall of man into sin has so grievously blurred, and which in all those who have fallen into wilful sin has been by their own act still more obliterated. On the one side, then, it is, so far as regards the agent, supernatural. It is the working in us, and on us, of the creative Spirit. It is the power of another within us: and that other the eternal God; the self-existent Being; to whose gracious will we owe our existence; by whose perpetual power encompassing and upholding us we continue to be; “in whom we live, and move, and have our being”; of Him whose all pervading power upholds the universe, whose presence and whose will rolls the countless worlds which people universal space along their pathless way. He is working within us; working upon our souls by the one, indivisible, Almighty power of Godhead. Now though, on the one side, that into which we are inquiring is thus truly a power far above any natural to man, even the energy of the Divine power working within us; yet, on another side, it is most really a work in which we have a share; it is, as I have said, a work in us, as well as on us; it is a work in the will of a being with a will--in the affections, heart, desire, and reason of one who can pervert that reason so that it cannot be wrought on, or can yield it up to this power; can harden the heart, can freeze up the affections, can poison the desires, can stiffen the will, against the operation even of Him who is Almighty. But again: not only may we discover that this work is thus on the one hand wrought upon us supernaturally, whilst on the other it advances through the action of our natural powers, and with our conscious cooperation; but further, we may trace the part of us on which it operates. It is “in the spirit of our minds” that we are to be “renewed”; it is “in the inner man” that we are to be “strengthened with might by His Spirit.”

II. But further still: we may trace in many particulars the law of this Divine work, as it advances in those who yield themselves to its blessed processes for their renovation. For it has about it special characteristics of its own, on which we shall do well to meditate.

1. It is a real work. It is not the mere calling up out of the depths of our nature certain passing impulses or actions, but it is so truly a new modification of its very constitution that there are cast forth new emanations of desire and action, which show that the very fountain of spiritual being from which they arise has undergone a change. There is first a desire to act in all things with an eye to God. Next, there is the practice of offering up to Him each day as it passes by; and with this a crying of the soul to Him against its remaining selfishness, earnest supplications for a clearer eye, truer affections, and a simpler purpose. And all of these mark on the soul which He is training this first great character of His working, that a real change is passing on it; a change of the nature itself in true harmony with the laws of its own constitution, and yet a change which could not have sprung from itself, and so which proves that the power of One above itself is working on it by His own might.

2. But again, it is another characteristic of this work that in each one in whom it is wrought it is an increasing work. No mark is set down oftener than this in Holy Scripture. It is a growth: “Grow in grace.” It “increaseth with the increase of God.” And in nothing is the distinction between this heavenly work and any lower change more clearly shown than in this, that whereas the vigour of all inferior powers is soon exhausted, this tends ever to perfection.

3. Further, this is a gradual work. The very word “growth” implies so much. That which increases by the putting forth of an inner life is always distinguished by this feature from that which is enlarged by occasional and external increment: and this is eminently true of the work of God’s grace in the soul. The conflict of the spirit with the flesh is inevitable, and so the progress of the final victory is of necessity gradual.

4. This may lead us to another mark of this great work. Marvellous as it is in its results, it is in its progress most secret. Here, too, it is as in nature so in grace. All growth is secret, so secret that eye of man never saw the separate parts of that mighty mystery of growth which every succeeding springtime repeats so profusely around him. The grass, the green herb, the tree, each leaf, each blade, each bough, each flower, in gradual living growth most secretly accomplishes around us its own law of increase. We see the result as we mark each developed part, and gaze upon the rich beauty which, unseen by us, though close beneath our sight, has painted the glowing flowers with all the lights of heaven. But we saw not the process. This is that “path” of God’s secret doings “which the vulture’s eye hath not seen.” And so most truly is it with that “kingdom of heaven” within the renewing soul which is “like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened.” That marvellous life which the Spirit is quickening in the soul which He renews, which “is hid with Christ in God,” is secret as is the quickening of the living flesh in the dark chambers of the womb, or as the growth of those members “which day by day were fashioned when as yet there was none of them.”

5. But there is yet another mark of this work, where it is truly accomplished, which we shall do well to note. Though gradual and secret, it is also universal. Herein again it differs palpably from all merely human operations. For every reform of the moral character which is accomplished by secondary powers is more or less partial. There is no object short of God which can duly draw forth all the capacities which He has implanted in man’s nature, and there is no power less than that of God which can duly accomplish that development. There is, moreover, about this universal progress one essential character of all true life. The change which proceeds from an inward principle, essentially one and indivisible, is yet multiform in its external manifestation. The same one inward power of life casts itself equably forth in the growth of every several limb, and every other adjunct of the body; the growing tree at the same moment expands in its stem and thickens in its branches, and multiplies its leaves and adorns itself with flowers: and “the fruit of the” living “Spirit,” in like manner, “is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” And from this it follows, that whilst each character is growing in all graces, yet every separate character, as it has its own law of perfection, grows and ripens according to its separate kind. And hence the beauty of the army of the saints of Christ: they are uniform in the midst of their diversity, and multiform in their unbroken unity. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)

Latent power

It is impossible to over-estimate, or rather to estimate, the power that lies latent in the Church. We talk of the power that was latent in steam--latent till Watt evoked its spirit from the waters, and set the giant to turn the iron arms of machinery. We talk of the power that was latent in the skies, till science climbed their heights, and, seizing the spirit of the thunder, chained it to our surface, abolishing distance, outstripping the wings of time, and flashing our thoughts across rolling seas to distant continents. Yet what are these to the moral power that lies asleep in the congregations of our country, and of the Christian world. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)


Verse 21

Ephesians 3:21

Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.
Amen.

God’s all-sufficiency and glory

I. Consider the acknowledgment, which the apostle makes, of God’s all-sufficiency. God’s ability intends not merely His power, but all those perfections which render Him a suitable object of our faith in prayer. It imports an exact knowledge of what our wants are, a ready disposition to supply them, wisdom to discern the proper time and manner of granting supplies, as well as power to effect whatever His wisdom sees best to be done.

1. God often does for men those favours which they never thought of asking for themselves.

2. God answers prayer in ways that we think not of. He will not always bestow the particular things which we ask, for we often mistake our own interest; but He will grant us things more valuable in themselves, or better adapted to our condition. Or, if He gives us the blessings in substance, He will send them in a more suitable time and manner, than we had proposed. I remember to have heard, on good authority, a remarkable story of an African, which will illustrate this thought. The poor negro, in his own country, was led, by contemplation on the works of nature, to conceive that there must be, though invisible to him, a supreme, all-powerful, wise, just, and good Being, who made and governed the world. Impressed with this sentiment, he used daily to pray to this in, visible Being, that he might, by some means or other, be brought to a more distinct knowledge of Him, and of the service due to Him. While in this contemplative and devout state of mind, he, with a number of others, was treacherously and perfidiously taken by some of his own countrymen, and soon after was sold for a slave. Now his faith began to waver. “For,” thought he with himself, “if there is such a just and good Being, as I have supposed, who governs the world, how is it possible that fraud and iniquity should be successful against innocence and integrity? Why are I and my fellow prisoners, who have acted with openness and simplicity, made to suffer, while our enemies are permitted to triumph in the success of their deceit and violence?” The poor fellow, after several changes of masters, was finally sold into a pious family in New England, where he was carefully instructed in the Christian religion, which he embraced with great appearance of sincerity and joy, and obeyed with exemplary diligence and zeal. And, in the relation of his story, he often made this pious reflection, that while he was perplexed to see the triumph of fraud over innocence, God was really answering his fervent prayers, and bringing him to the enjoyment of the means of religious knowledge and eternal salvation; that what he had thought was an objection against the justice of Providence, was really a wonderful and merciful compliance with his daily supplication.

3. The mercies which God is pleased to grant us, often produce happy consequences far beyond what we asked or thought,

4. The worth of the blessings which we ask and God bestows infinitely exceeds all our thoughts.

II. Consider the ascription of glory which the apostle makes to this all-sufficient God.

1. God is glorified by the increase of the Church.

2. God is glorified in the Church, when a devout regard is paid to the ordinances which He has instituted.

3. God is glorified 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.

5. That glory may be given to God in the Church, there must be exemplary holiness in its members. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

Glory to God though Jesus Christ

I. Glory must be given to God. The apostle, as may be inferred from the connection of the words, has chiefly in view the signal benefits of redemption in this elevated ascription of praise.

II. Through whom glory is to be given. “Through Jesus Christ.” Of Him, through Him, to Him, are all things. He is appointed Head over all. He is the only Mediator between God and man, whether for supplication or intercession or thanksgiving. In Him God bestows all grace upon us, and in Him all our words and our works are sanctified. Whatever we do in the service of God, if it be not done in the name of Christ, and in dependence upon His mediation and Lordship, it is done according to our own carnal will; it is not done according to the will of God.

III. By whom glory is to be given to God. “The Church.” By the Church is meant the congregation of faithful men, among whom the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments rightly administered. All God’s works show His praise, but His saints shall bless Him.

IV. During what period. “Throughout all ages.” Every work of man has its limit and its end: all the glory of the creature is as the flower of the field; the wind passeth over it, and it is gone. But it is not so with the glory of God; His praises are endless as His life. Eternity only is the full scene of God’s praise, “As it was in the beginning, so it is now, and shall be evermore.” (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)

The glory of God

It must be remembered that no praise can add to God’s glory, nor blasphemies detract from it. The blessing tongue cannot make Him better, nor the cursing any worse. Nec melior si laudaveris, nec deterior si vituperaveris. As the sun is neither bettered by birds singing, nor injured by dogs barking. He is so infinitely great, and constantly good, that His glory admits neither addition nor diminution. (T. Adams, D. D.)

Glory is God’s alone

Caesar once said to his opponent, “Either I will be Caesar, or nobody.” So the Lord saith, “Either I will be a great God, or no God,” That man disparages the beauty of the sun who sets it upon a level with the twinkling stars, which only borrow their light therefrom. (Archbishop Seeker.)

How God is glorified

The glory of God is from His perfection, regarding extrinsically, and may in some degree be described thus:--It is the excellency of God above all things. God makes this glory manifest by external acts in various ways (Romans 1:23; Romans 9:4; Psalms 8:1). But the modes of manifestation, which are declared to us in the Scriptures, are chiefly two; the one, by an effulgence of light and of unusual splendour, or by its opposite, a dense darkness or obscurity (Matthew 17:2-5; Luke 2:9; Exodus 16:10; 1 Kings 8:11). The other, by the producing of works which agree with His perfection and excellence (Psalms 19:1; John 2:11). (Arminius.)

God’s glory eternal

Agesilaus … might have led Tigranes, King of Armenia, captive at the wheels of his chariot. He rather chose to make him an ally; on which occasion he made use of that memorable expression, “I prefer the glory that; will last forever to that of a day.” (Plutarch.)

God glorified in Christ

A sick woman said to Mr. Cecil, “Sir, I have no notion of God. I can form no notion of Him. You talk to me about Him, but I cannot get a single idea that seems to contain anything.” “But you know how to conceive of Jesus Christ as a man,” replied Mr. Cecil; “God comes down to you in Him, full of kindness and condescension.” “Ah! sir, that gives me something to lay hold on. There I can rest. I understand God in His Son.” “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” (W. Baxendale.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ephesians 3:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/ephesians-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.


Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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