In the Epistle to the Colossians the Apostle Paul speaks of himself as minister of the glad tidings, and also as minister of the assembly. There was a sense in which he could not be viewed as a minister of either the glad tidings or of the assembly. The gospel that he preached he had directly from the Lord by revelation. He says to the Galatians: “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen” (Gal. 1:15-16). He was pre-eminently the minister of the gospel (Col. 1:23) and alone minister of the church (v. 25).
Jesus as the Son of God was the subject of his testimony. Peter, who was sent to the circumcision, proclaimed Him as the Messiah, the Son of David, in whose presence here among the Jews were fulfilled and given to the people the promises made to the fathers: but never, as far as we read, presenting Him as Son of God, though in this character he confessed Him on earth (Matt. 16:16). But when Saul was converted: “Straightway he preached Jesus in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). We have Peter’s testimony in Acts 2 and 10, and in neither passage is he said to speak of Jesus as the Son of God. But when we come to the testimony rendered by Paul among the Gentiles (chap. 13:32-33), at once he announces Him as the Son of God. And this involves adoption for us (Gal. 4); that is, the position of sons of God. There is another word used for son which involves begotten of God (huios); but the word translated adoption (huiothesia) does not, though we could not be in the place of sons unless we were begotten. When we speak of our being begotten of God we have no previous history to this act of God’s sovereign will. But as regards the truth of adoption, it means for us a transfer from Adam to Christ; and this is early referred to in this Epistle to the Ephesians.
In the Epistle to the Romans we have the gospel as preached and taught by Paul; and in this to the Ephesians we have the assembly as administered by the same apostle, to whom this administration was committed. Therefore he does not associate another with him in the writing of these two epistles, as he does in his address to each of the other assemblies.
Romans sets before us the intervention of God on our behalf for our deliverance from everything that held us in bondage—our sins, sin, law, and all else that fettered us—in order that we might be free to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God—our intelligent service. In the teaching of Romans we do not get our position in the heavenlies. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God, and await adoption, which here involves being in the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:23, 29-30). But we are not viewed as taken away from connection with earth. The kingdom is before us, and the glory in which we shall have part when it is revealed.
But in Ephesians we have operations of God for the fulfilment of His own eternal counsel. Another world than this one—I might say, another creation—opens up before the vision of our souls. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. And that is “according as He has chosen us in Him before the world’s foundation, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love.” This was His purpose before the ages of time. Whatever may have been allowed to come in afterwards only served to the fulfilment of these counsels. Everything must serve to the end that the all-wise and all-powerful Creator has in view. The ruin of this earth before it was formed as a dwelling-place for man, the ruin of the man for whom it was prepared, the introduction of this present fallen Adamic race—sin, darkness, death and misery—all must serve to the one glorious end, the bringing to pass the glorious conception of the eternal God. And with this the epistle we are considering is occupied.
In the ways taken by God to accomplish His great thoughts we were in Adam before we came to be in Christ; but in the purposes of God we were in Christ before we came to be in Adam. We were chosen in Christ before the world’s foundation. We were to be holy; and this involved a knowledge of good and evil, and this was acquired by the fall. We were not to be innocent beings in intelligent relationship with our Creator, but in the position of sons before the face of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, able to call God Father; not in the earthly head, Adam, but in the heavenly, Christ; not in the natural, but in the spiritual.
And all the wealth of blessing that is ours, we inherit by the good pleasure of His will, and to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has taken us into favour in the Beloved. Indeed all His activities have their Source in His own sovereign will, apart from any claim on our part for this intervention, for claim we have none, and all these activities are in perfect righteousness and consistency with all the attributes of God, and also with His nature and character. The blood of the Beloved has been shed for our redemption; and now we have redemption, as far as forgiveness of offences goes, and this according to the riches of His grace. The riches of His grace is seen in the death of the Beloved on our behalf, and the glory of His grace will be seen in the day when the full effect of that grace comes to light in manifested display.
The riches of His grace He has now caused to abound toward us in all wisdom and intelligence. He has given us intelligence to enter into the counsels of eternal wisdom, making known to us the mystery of His will concerning the great work that He has set Himself to accomplish in Christ, and the part that we shall have with Him in that day, the day that is called “The dispensation of the fullness of times.” The substance of all that was foreshadowed in past dispensations shall be taken up in Christ, and then it will be apparent that Christ was the One who was ever before the mind of God, and that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David, and Solomon, were but figures of Him that was to come. What was set forth in them will be taken up by Him. They could not continue by reason of failure, and because of the weakness and unprofitableness of the various systems in which they served during the probation of Adam’s fallen race. But in that day it will be manifested that Christ is the One capable of bearing up the pillars of the moral universe, as from the beginning He has borne up the pillars of the material universe. Everything in heaven and earth will be headed up in the Christ, in whom we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated to be to the praise of His glory. And the pledge of our inheritance is the Holy Spirit, by whom we have been sealed to the day of redemption.
Having set before the saints that which God had before the foundation of the world purposed to bring to pass for His own glory and the glory of His beloved Son, and for the eternal blessing of those who were yet to be brought into being, but who were present to His eternal mind: creatures in the position of sons, and in the love of which His own Son was the alone all-worthy object; and also having made known to them the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself; that is, in the administration of the fullness of times to head up all things in the Christ; and now sealing all who believed the gospel of their salvation with the Holy Spirit; the apostle then prays for them; and first of all, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your heart being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places.”
Here Christ is viewed as Man, and hence we have God said to be “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In another place (chap. 3:14) He is said to be the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There He is viewed in the intimacy of divine relationships, the Son, the Creator and Upholder of all things, and the Centre of all the counsels of eternal love. But as Father of glory, it is God viewed as the author of all the glory that shall light up the eternal universe.
He, by whose wisdom and power this glory shall fill the new heavens and the new earth, is the only One who can give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Himself, which is necessary for us to have, if we are to enter intelligently into these things that are brought before us, so that they may lay hold of the affections of our hearts, and form us morally according to His desire for us.
As to the desire of the heart of the apostle for us, he speaks of three things which he desires us to know. And first, “the hope of His calling.” All our spiritual blessings are in the heavenlies in Christ. We have many mercies in our pilgrimage to our home on high, but our spiritual blessings, which are all eternal, are in heaven. He has also called us to sonship “Holy and blameless before Him in love.” The hope of such a calling can only be known in the measure in which we know Him who has called us. Our appreciation of His calling can only be in the degree in which we appreciate the revelation which He has made of Himself. Hence it is by the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him that we can enter into the intelligence of those infinite purposes of God. May our souls be saturated with the radiance of this glorious calling!
Next the Spirit of God would have us know the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. It is in the saints that He shall take His inheritance. We shall understand this better if we understand the way in which God would have taken His inheritance that was given to Abraham and to Abraham’s heirs on the line of Isaac and Jacob. The Patriarch was called out of Ur of the Chaldees to a land that God would give to him and to his descendants. But when he came into it the Canaanite was there, and for four hundred years held it in possession. The time for taking it in possession had not yet come, “For the iniquity of the Ammorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). Therefore the heirs of the promised inheritance were compelled to be strangers in a land that was not theirs until the fourth generation. Then God brought them back to the Promised Land. But the end of that was that God had to scatter them because of their iniquities, and they lost the land; and their loss of it meant God’s loss of it also. Had they remained faithful the land would have been theirs for ever, and therefore it would have been still under the hand of God. But in a coming day He will bring them back out of the countries into which for their sins they have been driven. They shall be purified by judgment and by grace; and the remnant that is left of them shall, under the reign of the Christ of God, inherit the land, and teach the nations the law of Jehovah.
But this shall not be apart from the saints of this present dispensation who are joint-heirs of Christ and inherit all things with Him. The heavenly Jerusalem shall be light to the Jews, and to the spared nations of the earth, and the leaves of the tree of life shall be for their healing. It shall be the metropolis, the light and the glory of the whole peaceful universe, as the earthly Jerusalem shall be the metropolis of the world. The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints shall be seen in the new heavens and new earth. We are to understand the riches of the glory of this now.
The next thing is “the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward,” manifested first in the resurrection of Christ from among the dead, and setting Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies, above every principality and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but also in that to come, and putting all things under His feet, and giving Him to be head over all things to the assembly, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. This is the power that wrought in Christ, and which works now in us to give us part with Him in the glorious position that He now occupies, and which in eternal purpose was given us in Him before the ages of time.
The whole redeemed creation must eventually be ordered according to the counsel of the Godhead, counselled before He began His works of old. Nothing shall be altered, for when His works are all finished everything shall be as He intended it should be before He began.
In chapter 2 we find that same power moved and put into operation by His own sovereign love; not a love of pity or compassion, but free, sovereign, and eternal love; love that would not turn away from us in loathing on account of the loathsome condition in which we lay, but in spite of that abominable state, for “His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, quickened us together with Christ, and raised us up together, and made us sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.”
Only think of that sight which met the eye of God when He looked down upon this world upon which He was going to operate for the blessing of His creature, and for His own eternal glory. It is not only that His authority had been set at nought, His laws broken, His prophets slain, but the Son of His love, the last and greatest exhibition of His infinite love to men, dead through the violence of this world’s princes, and ourselves morally dead and corrupt! Yet this is just the quarry out of which He was minded to bring stones for the holy temple, the spiritual house, where sacrifices would be offered up acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
What power could act in such a corrupt state of things? Not the highest creature in the universe. But God—ah! What about Him? Few among men take account of Him. Are we to leave Him out? Are we to devour with fire a ruined world, and throw the Book of God’s counsels into the burning? No, we shall bring Him in with shouts of joy. But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, quickened us with the Christ, raised us up, and seated us in Him in the heavenlies, let us ascribe all glory and honour to Him.
Satan has been defeated. He is subtle and presumptuous. He effected the ruin of the first man, and in the career of the descendants of that man we see the extent of the ruin into which he fell. Man is dead—dead even while he lives in his sinful flesh—dead to God, though very much alive to sin and Satan—dead while taking a very active part in the affairs of this world—dead while ruled by the prince of the power of the air, doing that which the flesh and mind desire to do in this ruined condition. Men in this world are alive in their sins, in their self-will, corruption, and rebellion against God; but dead to Him, not a pulse of real life moving in their whole moral being.
But has He whose purpose is to bring many sons to glory been defeated? It is clear that God cannot maintain the creature in active rebellion against His beneficent sway, and give him licence to corrupt for ever His fair creation. Must He then destroy the human race, and confess Himself unable to give effect to His eternal purpose of blessing? Must He confess that He has been out-manoeuvred by His implacable enemy? Far be the thought: He who makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and restrains the superabundance, can in His infinite wisdom make the puny efforts of every rebel creature serve to the fulfilment of His eternal decrees. No sane person could ever suppose the Creator overreached by the creature. All His creatures exist for His service. Elect angels have been upheld in their primal perfection, and others have been allowed to fall from their first estate, and for these we do not read of recovery. Man made in the image and likeness of God fell, and brought into existence a fallen race; but to these mercy has been manifested, and a way of salvation devised. But if preserved in their first and perfect condition, or if allowed to fall, all is for the wise purpose of God, and all are made to serve to the fulfilment of the purpose of eternal love. He does not bring about the fall of any one of His creatures, but where a creature is placed on the ground of responsibility, obliged to fulfil whatever obligations are imposed upon him, he cannot complain if by the exercise of his own will he finds himself a ruined sinner.
By His activities God makes Himself known in His own creation. His love has come to light in the death of His Son, who by the grace of God gave Himself for us, His judgment of sin in the cross of Christ—His wrath has yet to come fully to light. But whether it be wrath or judgment of sin, or condemnation of the sinner, nothing can manifest it more than can the cross, when He who knew no sin was made sin for us, and bore the judgment of it in the three hours of thick darkness; a judgment which brought from the heart and lips of the holy Victim that heart-rending cry: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
The power that by the eternal love of the heart of God was set in motion in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and in placing Him in the highest place in the universe, does not rest until we who were dead in sins have been quickened, raised up, and made to sit down together in Christ Jesus, that He might display in the coming ages the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. It is in this way He has recovered us for Himself. In His purpose we were in Christ before the foundation of the world, and in Him where He is glorified, at the centre of a universe designed by His unfathomable wisdom and perfected by His power. The spring of both His activities and wisdom is the unspeakable love of His heart. The day is coming in which we shall see all these purposes fulfilled, and we ourselves at the centre of that world of glory with the Son of His love, as we can now be said to be in Him. Then shall He have taken the inheritance in His saints.
Who could have supposed that the ruined state in which we were, as in the old and fallen race of Adam, would have furnished the very occasion of our transfer from Adam to Christ? The first Adam was out of the earth, made of dust; the last Adam is out of heaven, a quickening Spirit. The Second Man gave Himself for us, and in His death the old man is ended for us, for it was for us Christ died. And risen from the dead He, that quickening Spirit, communicated His own life to us, and in Him we live. Thus was the transfer made. And as is the Heavenly (Christ, the Man out of heaven) such are they also that are heavenly. We are of His order, just as we were of the order of the man made of dust. The two races are according to their respective heads.
The works of the fallen do not come in here. The Worker here is God. As we have already seen, it is God, rich in mercy and great in love, who has quickened us with the Christ. It was infinite mercy, but the spring of that mercy lay in the love of His heart. It was not like the love bestowed upon His people Israel, which went not beyond His ways with regard to His government of this world. Nor was it just the same as His love manifested in His only begotten Son who died for all, for God desired the salvation of all, and therefore did He by the cross of His Son open up a way of salvation for all. This was love more in the sense of pity. No, this is a love that goes back before His works of old, before the line of time began to be traced, the line upon which all mysteries of eternal counsels are being fulfilled and perfected. He chose us in Christ before the world’s foundation. We were the objects of His love then. We cannot suppose that God did not know that Adam would fall, and that we should be fallen with him. Perhaps you say, Why, then, did He make him? That is His business, not yours. You say, I am involved in the resultant ruin. You are, but He has made a way of escape from the judgment to which you have made yourself liable on account of your sins. But why did He not make man incapable of failure? His infinite wisdom was concerned in all that He did, and He made man as He pleased, perfect and sinless. Yes, you say, but he fell, and therefore I find myself a sinner, and about to be judged for the deeds done in the body, deeds of which you affirm He disapproves. Where is the justice of that? How can you, who are not yourself just, call God to account because you think you have found injustice with Him? Do not forget that you are nothing but a poor weak creature who has no rights at all. You make whatever kind of instrument you think will serve your purpose, and if you find it useless you throw it on the scrap-heap; and if you are found fault with you say, Have I no right to do what I will with my own? Oh, you say, the question of right or wrong, justice or injustice, does not enter into my relations with that which is the work of my hands. True, but if you could make a rational being, endowed with faculties such as are common to men, and if you could place this being on the principle of responsibility, with penalties attached for disobedience, would you consider yourself unjust should you attempt to enforce those penalties, if he hearkened to your enemy, and so sought by acts of disobedience to raise himself to your level, denying your lawful authority over him; especially if at infinite cost you had showed great mercy to him, and opened a way of salvation for him, which he scorned to avail himself of, would you not consider yourself justified in leaving him to the consequences of his own wicked folly?
But apart from all this, the Creator cannot be brought to stand before the judgment-seat of the creature. “Shall the thing formed say to Him who formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Rom. 9:20-21). The Creator surely has right to do that which He pleases in His own creation, and woe betide that man who disputes such a right. Should any creature, instead of thankfully accepting God’s offer of salvation, continue to stand discussing the wrongness of the ways of God with Him, His judgment cannot be other than just.
God was in no sense bound to make provision for the safety and happiness of His fallen creature, but He has done this, and we should give Him the unfeigned thanks of glad and grateful hearts. Many may murmur against Him regarding His dealings with evil men, but what man under heaven would we desire to see established in the place which He occupies of authority and might? Let the best son of Adam that ever lived be endowed with the despotism of the Christ of God, accountable to no other being for the way he uses that power, and the result of his reign would only be seen in the destruction of the world, and the endless misery of all who might be subjected to his rule.
What a joy it is to know the living God in His true character, as set before us in Jesus! How completely does the revelation made to us in the Mediator drive all the natural terror from our hearts! How good it is to have to do with such a beneficent and merciful Creator! and how terrible it would have been if we had found Him such a one as ourselves—changeful, cruel, merciless, ruthless! But to find Him what He is—gracious, merciful, righteous, holy, compassionate, kind, and all this even to the unthankful and the unholy, and the same today as when He gave His only begotten Son to die on our behalf! Oh, the joy and delight of such a contemplation as this! The better we know Him the more we love Him, nor do we desire Him ever to be other than He really is, as set before us in the Son of His love. For ever blessed be His holy name! May both reader and writer become daily better acquainted with Him! He is worthy of the whole confidence of our hearts.
Well indeed may the writer of this epistle now say, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” No greater exhibition of this grace in its activities toward the sinner is found anywhere in the Scriptures than is seen in the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Writing to Timothy, he says, “The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:14). It has been truly said that for his wicked persecution of those who called on the name of Christ he never forgave himself. God forgave him: Oh, how frankly and fully! Not a harsh word grates upon his ear as he lies prone upon the dust of the road. It is, “Rise, and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:16-18). What marvellous grace! Grace surpassingly abundant with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. The grace that laid hold of this chief of sinners produced in him the faith and love necessary to his salvation. It was so with regard to these Ephesians, and it is so with all who are taken up out of the ignorance in which we all are by nature.
The way in which God works for the salvation of men precludes boasting. God is the Worker today. Man never merited anything by his own works except condemnation; for the flesh can produce nothing acceptable to God. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” In our natural state we are our own workmanship, helped on by Satan who works in the children of disobedience. But as in Christ Jesus we are God’s workmanship, a new creation in Christ, and are to walk as He walked, and exhibit in our practical lives the beauties and perfections of that heavenly life that was His, and that is now ours by Has quickening power. What a privilege! May we see to it that it is a privilege which we heartily embrace!
Consequent upon his setting before them the calling of God, and the place given to them in that calling, along with making known to them the mystery of His will, their inheritance, and His inheritance in the saints, also the power at work to place them in the position that was theirs before the world was in the purpose of God, he calls upon them to call to mind what they were as Gentiles in the flesh; that at that time they were without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.
We see everything by contrast, and therefore are we reminded of what we were in the flesh “But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” In Christ Jesus, no longer in the flesh. Set up in Him, on the platform of resurrection; risen together with Him, in His life; all that belonged to the old order as in the first Adam gone in the judgment of the cross, we are privileged to take account of ourselves as new created in Him, and in Him brought nigh to God. If our distance from God in the flesh was immeasurable, as it surely was, for we were dead in our sins, our nearness to Him, as in Christ, is also immeasurable. Being in Christ, our relationship, love, intimacy, can only be measured by His, and our enjoyment of all this is in the power of the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us for this very purpose.
What marvellous designs on the part of God are unfolded to us in the Holy Scriptures! What a God is brought into view in the small compass of this sacred volume! What miserable man-made religions and demon-invented gods are all else that would dominate the heart and mind of the creature! Above the level of the fallen fleshly mind they cannot rise, neither have they ever been able to invent one solitary pleasure that lies outside the carnal appetite. Their Elysium is but the glut of fleshly lust, without the penalties and pains that a good conscience, not to say the Word of God, attaches to such a bestial career. Of the great principles of righteousness, truth, holiness, and love, men of the world know nothing practically. Righteousness, which has no other meaning in their minds than honesty in their dealings with their fellows, they may seem to appreciate, but their appreciation of it arises mainly from the notion that it is always safest to have their relations with honest people.
Even those who make the laws, which are sometimes very good, make them for the obedience of other people, not for their own observance. As to their duty to God, this is altogether ignored. If they have any thought of a future existence and of a God to meet, they seem quite content to meet Him on the assumption that they have done no one any harm. Their responsibility to God is utterly ignored.
Christ as peace is viewed with relation both to believers and to God. He has made both Jew and Gentile one in the body of Christ, so that the Jew is a Jew no longer, but both Jew and Gentile as in Christ are viewed as one new man. Peace therefore has been made with God, and also with all in the body of Christ. The Jew was early placed in the place of privilege by God, and “The law of commandments contained in ordinances” were for himself. The Gentile had no right to them at all. This lifted the Jew above the Gentile, and as he was most unfaithful to the privileges bestowed upon him by God, he was all the more guilty as a transgressor. But in Christ we are not in the flesh; for He has made in Himself of the twain one new man, so making peace. The enmity is gone in our relations with God, and with one another. But all this must be viewed in the light of the cross, for by it all that we were in the flesh is gone in the judgment of God, and we are in new relationship with God in Christ, risen and glorified, and we have also received the Holy Spirit Who brings us intelligently into the benefit of all this. Therefore reconciliation has also a double aspect, for both are reconciled unto God and to one another by the cross and in one body.
The cross has been the removal from before God of the man after the flesh, and in the risen Christ we have the introduction of a Man of another order, and with this Man all who are of God are linked up by the Holy Spirit. The old order remains as it was, with this difference, that man as a child of Adam can no longer be in any vital relationship with God. Only in Christ can anyone be recovered from the ruin in which the man after the flesh is found.
But light having come into the world in the Person of Christ, who gave Himself a ransom for all, and thus opened a way of salvation for all, the responsibility of the sinner has been greatly increased. He is responsible to believe the glad tidings, which are preached world wide to both Jew and Gentile alike, and all who believe, of whatever nation or people they may be, are made one in Christ, all having access by one Spirit to the Father; so that Gentile believers are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the corner-stone, in whom all the building fitted together increases to a holy temple in the Lord.
Great indeed is now the blessing of him who believes. His centre and glory is not in a gorgeous temple, to which he brings his offerings that the sons of Aaron may receive at his hand, and with which they may load the altar, a sacrifice which can only serve as a purification for the flesh, and which cannot take away sins, but he is now part of the temple itself, a living stone in that spiritual house, and also a holy priest to draw near to God, and to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5). When Peter confessed Jesus as the Son of the living God, Jesus said to him. “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:17-18). The living stones that enter into the construction of this spiritual edifice are taken out from both Jews and Gentiles, quickened into divine life by the Son of the living God, and by Him built into this holy temple, against which the powers of darkness spend their energies in vain.
In the construction of this spiritual house no human hand is employed. The builder is Christ, and the whole work is His; He says, “I will build My Assembly.” It is not yet completed, neither is it yet in manifestation. It is now growing and will appear in the day in which the Builder shall take to Himself His great power, and shall reign. In that day it shall appear as the heavenly Jerusalem. But there is still another, and in this case a manifest circle of blessing to be considered. “In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.” It is God’s habitation in the Spirit on earth. It is also the pillar and base of the truth. It is the witness of Christ during His absence on high, and it is that which maintains the truth while He is hid in the heavens. It has been proved to be a sad failure. Unlike the holy temple, though set up at its beginning in the power of the Holy Spirit, it was committed into the hands of men, and because of this failure results, as it does regarding everything that man has to do with. Paul tells the Corinthians that they were God’s building. As a wise architect he had laid the foundation, as far as the Corinthians could be called “God’s Building.” But upon that foundation others were building, and everyone was not careful to use good material. He says, “Let every man take heed bow he builds thereupon.” The work of each has to be made manifest, by the day which is to be revealed in fire, and this shall try the work of all. The foundation is Jesus Christ, and the superstructure must be in harmony with it. A man may build with gold, silver, precious stones, or he may put into the building wood, hay, straw. If the work of any one abide, the builder will receive a reward; if the work of anyone is consumed he shall suffer loss, but be himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. As to the defiler of the temple of God, he shall be destroyed.
It has often been noticed that chapter 3 is like its subject, parenthetical. This dispensation is a parenthesis in the ways of God’s government in this world. The history of the world can be read without it. In the prophetic outlook in the Old Testament it does not appear. It is passed over as though it was not to exist. The sufferings of Christ and the glory that was to follow are very minutely described: His death, His resurrection, His session on the right hand of God, His reign over the earth in Zion, and everything placed under His feet. But this present time—the greatest of all dispensations—is as completely left out as though it were of no account.
The way in which the apostle commences here, gives me the impression that what was at the moment present to his mind was the exhortation set before the saints in the next chapter. Both chapters begin very nearly alike. In this he is the prisoner of Christ Jesus; and in the next he is the prisoner in the Lord. I think the reason of this is that chapter 3 is the setting forth of the administration of the grace of God to the nations, which was committed to him, without noticing the responsibilities flowing from such unspeakable privileges. In chapter 4 exhortations come in at once regarding their walk, that it might be in harmony with the infinite blessings that had reached them, and the new relations into which they had entered. Hence we have him speaking of himself as a prisoner of the Lord, the name of the Lord indicating authority, and setting before us the One to whom we are answerable, and to whom we give account of our actions. The 3rd chapter speaks of the outflow of grace to the Gentiles, and the infinite grace with which they had been visited. Hence the Lord would not be so fitting to speak of in this connection.
The administration of the grace of God toward the nations was given to Paul, and this grace included the mystery. It was also revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets in the power of the Spirit. But the administration was given to Paul himself only, that they of the nations should be joint heirs, and a joint body, and joint partakers of His promise in Christ Jesus by the glad tidings of which he had become minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, by the effectual working of His power.
The mystery does not in the least alter the divinely ordered and established governmental relations of the world. As to the world itself, it is still composed of Jew and Gentile. On earth there are now the Jew, the Gentile, and the church of God. The last is God’s witness here during the absence of Christ. Its calling is heavenly, and its true nature is divine, though, alas! its present condition is that of a ruin. The gospel is the power of God to salvation, His way of gathering souls out of the world from both Jews and Gentiles, making of both one new man in Christ.
But the world goes on as it ever has done. Having rejected the Son of God it will have nothing to do with His gospel, nor will it allow anyone either to believe it or to hear it, if by any means it can succeed in hindering. And as Jew and Gentile together were joined in the crucifying of Christ, so are they together joined in hindering the preaching of the glad tidings. Against Paul the Jews were the principal antagonists, but they found very little difficulty in ensuring the co-operation of the Gentiles. The Jew was the inveterate enemy of Christ, because the effect of the preaching, where it was believed, blotted out the distinction between the two races, and the pride of the Jew was by this means turned into madness; and as Paul was the preacher the brunt of the persecution fell upon him. For this he was denounced as a disturber of the people and a breeder of sedition, as one who had no right to live. He was falsely accused, beaten, scourged, stoned, and in deaths oft.
The devotedness of the apostle to the service entrusted to him by his beloved Master becomes manifest, not only in the patient and self-sacrificing way in which he goes about his work, but in the anxiety that seems to be ever on his heart, lest the saints should be unduly burdening themselves with the sorrows that continually beset him.
He desires that the Ephesian believers should not faint at his tribulations for them, for the oppositions which he had daily to encounter, and the hardships which the enemy heaped upon his path, were but mighty witnesses of the determinate purpose of God for their blessing, and in this they could glory. That which so terribly aroused the wrath of the Jews was the discovery that the riches of the gospel, which they in their insane folly had despised, were now going to the Gentiles. Had they really believed the gospel to be a worthless fable they would not have objected to its being preached to the nations. The arousal of jealousy on the part of a rejecter of anything which another accepts is a powerful witness that he has an inward feeling that it is of real value.
In order that the saints might be thoroughly acquainted with the purposes of God for His own glory, and for the glory of His beloved Son, and that they might have some apprehension of the greatness and the glory of that unto which all the ways of God, that seem so unintelligible to men, were leading, he bows His knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In chapter 1, the prayer of the apostle is to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory. There God is viewed as the Sovereign of the whole universe: the supreme Ruler, almighty Autocrat, and Author of all the glory that shall fill all things; while Christ is viewed as the Man of His counsels in whom is set forth the exceeding greatness of His power that shall eventually place us along with Him in the heavenly places, with everything under His feet, as we can now be viewed in Him in that place.
In this place, however, that which he asks for on their behalf is spoken only in connection with his prayers. “Making mention of you in my prayers.” But here in chapter 3 his prayer seems to be on their behalf only. He says: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I am not suggesting that he does not in both prayers, nor in all his prayers, take up this attitude, but an earnestness is discoverable in the attitude which he assumes here, which is absent in chapter 1. Therefore, I doubt not that whatever importance the things possess in his mind, in the first prayer, he feels them to be of still greater importance in this second prayer.
To the Colossians he writes: “For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment (full knowledge, N.Tr.) of the mystery of God, in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In order to enter into this, and indeed into the mind of God anywhere, it is not only necessary that we have divine faith in that which we read, but that a subjective state of soul be produced in us, so that we may be able to enter into the force and grandeur of the truth that is set before us.
In this second prayer of the apostle for his Ephesian brethren, he speaks of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, as the One of whom every family in heaven and earth is named. To Abraham He called Himself the Almighty God; and later on to Israel He says, “I am Jehovah.” But the first took in but one man, and the second but one nation. When we come to the name of Father, every faintly in heaven and upon earth is taken in. Therefore to be in true relationship with Him Christ must be owned. No one can be in true and vital relations with Him who does not own Christ as Lord, and also Son, for He is not only the God of Christ, but also Father.
In this wonderful prayer his desire is that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ would give the saints according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power by His Spirit in the inner man. The outward man does not count for much here, it has to perish, or be altogether changed. It is earthy, made of dust, and must put on the heavenly, which shall be done at the coming of Christ for His assembly, which is the great subject of this Epistle.
A great deal was made of the outward man in the past dispensations, for the man after the flesh was under probation, and all that man was had to be taken note of. The natural prowess of a man was not to be overlooked but taken into consideration. This, however, is all over, and all is a question of the work of God in the soul and the power of the Holy Spirit, for our conflict is not with flesh and blood, but against wicked spirits in the heavenlies. Everything that is done for God in this dispensation is done in His power, and His power is perfect in our weakness.
Therefore as to our entering into the light of those heavenly and eternal things, the outward man is much more likely to be a hindrance than a help. Paul speaks of always being delivered unto death on account of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. The treasure he had was in the earthen vessel, “That the excellency of the power may be of God, and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:4-15). And as all things were for the sake of the saints, he could let the outward man perish, seeing that the inward man was renewed day by day. The outward man has nothing to do with the things that are eternal. This may be a hard lesson for us to learn, but only in the measure in which we learn it is there any advance in the things of God.
Some people think they have only to read the Scriptures and get acquainted with the letter, and they will know all that God has placed on record. But this is altogether a mistaken notion, and greatly misleading. If our own human intellects were all that is required for us to apprehend the great thoughts of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit would have been unnecessary. John says to the babes in Christ: “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 John 2:20). By the teaching of the Holy Spirit the whole counsel of God is open to us, and apart from Him we can know nothing of heavenly things. But to all who are willing to hearken with desire to learn, He says: “Behold, I will pour out My Spirit unto you, I will make known My words unto you” (Prov. 1:23). How good and gracious our God is, and what pleasure it is to Him to lead on His own!
The next thing is Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. He is the centre supreme of the whole redeemed creation, that new creation that shall be radiant with the glory of God, and where He shall have satisfaction in everything that His eye shall rest upon. We shall be at the centre of the marvellous sphere, which shall be the result of the putting forth of the wisdom, the power, and the love of the eternal Father. All that fabric of unspeakable bliss shall have for its basis the work of redemption, for its crown the glory of the Father, and for its centre the Bride of Christ with Himself dwelling in her adoring heart. But even now, that Christ may dwell in your hearts is the desire of the whole divine Trinity, and of all that know anything of the price that He has paid for our redemption.
Thus rooted and grounded in love we dwell in God, and God in us, for love is not only of God, but God is love. And this enables us to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, and be filled to all the fullness of God.
What a joy it is to have this heavenly Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, and to be in the enjoyment of that love that surpasses knowledge! The one set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, the Revealer of the Father, the Image of the invisible God, in whom is all the fullness of the Godhead, who fills all things with the infinite blessing that lies in Himself, establishing all that God purposed to bring to pass before the ages of time; the Revealer. Fountain, Depository, of all the infinite, shoreless ocean of unfathomable love eternal; and Head and Husband of His body and Bride—His Assembly: that this glorious Christ may find His home in our hearts, that He alone might fill them, so as to be the spring and fountain from which all our affections and activities flow, our satisfying object, and this in the power of the Spirit of our Father—His Fattier and ours, the brightness and the love of whom fills our hearts to overflowing, and we filled to all His fullness. That this may be brought about in the saints is the burden of his prayer to the Father. Having thus brought the saints to the summit of their glorious privileges, which may be entered upon by us while we are here upon earth, the apostle can only commend them unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
We may think of ourselves as but poor ignorant things and little able to enter into those great things of God, and we are sometimes afraid that we may go too far in our asking, but we have to do with One who is able to do far above all that we ask, and indeed all that we think; and that without increasing the power that works in us. He has given us His Holy Spirit, and He is able to give us entrance into the depths of God (1 Cor. 2:10). May we know how to avail ourselves of the open door that is set before us, and of the power that is ready to lead us into these things that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man!
Not in every epistle—may I not say, not in any other part of God’s Holy Word?—are the eternal counsels and purposes of love revealed before our adoring hearts in the same fullness as they are in this epistle to the assembly at Ephesus. In Romans we have the compassions of God let loose for the deliverance of the slaves of sin from its cruel bondage, in order that being made free they might be able to yield themselves to His delightful service. The first epistle to the Corinthians sets before us the order of the house of God on earth, regulating our conduct in connection with its sacred character. The second epistle is mainly occupied with the encouragements and consolations of God; and with the power of life in the risen Christ, with the effect of this upon the apostle himself in the tribulations which he endured in the service of the glad tidings. In Galatians we have the folly and loss eternal to those who would allow themselves to be enticed from Christ to the old covenant. And along with this the blessedness of the principle of faith, which involves sonship and eternal inheritance. In Colossians we have the hope laid up for the saints in heaven, along with the fullness that resides for them in their exalted Head. As for Philippians, while it sets forth true Christian experience while on the way to heaven, it is an epistle that specially stimulates our spiritual energy to press on to reach the prize, the heavenly calling of God in Christ Jesus. It is full of the affections of the writer, and in their affection for him he most touchingly confides. He speaks with joy of their fellowship with the gospel, and he lets them know for their comfort that it was well known in the palace and other places, that he was in prison, not because he was “a pestilent fellow” or “a breeder of sedition,” but that he was there on account of his testimony for Christ. In Thessalonians he is occupied mainly with the rapture of the saints, and the day of the Lord. But not in any of these epistles does he unfold the eternal counsel of love. For this we have to get back to Ephesians.
Chapter 4 is a continuance of what we have looked at in chapter 2, that is, at the close of that chapter where we have the calling wherewith we are called set before us, of which we are to walk worthy. And in order to walk worthy the requisite state of soul is plainly set before us, and the moral characteristics are those that were gracefully manifested in the life of Jesus here upon earth—lowliness and meekness, long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, using diligence by the exhibition of these moral qualities to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Three circles of this unity are set before us: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” How contrary to all this the state of Christendom is! Instead of there being only one body, the bodies in that which professes the name of Christ are uncountable. The Spirits also seem to be innumerable, and everyone seems to have a hope of his own.
But the Scripture here is not telling us what should be, but what is. There is one body, and that body is of Christ. It cannot be in any way altered. In whatever state the profession of Christ may be found this is ever true. It is just as true now, and as unalterable, as it shall be when we are all glorified. What then may we do? Manifest it in its true character; let it be manifested as one. This necessitates our putting on the beautiful characteristics of Christ. And this, alas, we have failed, and do fail, to do.
Then we have that which is just as true as the fact that there is but one body and one Spirit; that is, that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. But as to this, the testimony is just as false. The Lordship of Christ, the faith, and the import of baptism are, as far as the testimony of Christendom is concerned, as false as is anything else. And as to the third unity the witness to it is also false and corrupt. God is above all omnipresent, and in all true believers. It may be admitted that He is above all, but that He is omnipresent and in believers is denied or ignored.
But these moral qualities that were seen in Christ can only be adopted by each of us individually. Therefore we each may even in the present corrupt state of this profession maintain a true testimony to our absent Saviour and Lord. We have by grace His life and nature, and if we keep the flesh in the place of death, which is its proper place, those beautiful lineaments will be displayed. He has said: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29).
And surely His long-suffering was severely put to the test. Though here on earth in lowly grace for the salvation of sinners, He had to endure their contradiction against Himself. And oh, how patiently that contradiction was borne! When reviled He reviled not again, and when He suffered He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.
And as to “forbearing one another in love,” bearing with one another may test us greatly, but love can do it. It is said of it that it bears all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Indeed, bearing with one another is in a sense not only a duty but a privilege, gladly taken up when we realize that we are children of the one family of God, and that we are members together of the one body of Christ. No closer or sweeter relationship could be formed. Peter says, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22).
Let us see that love is the ruling principle with us all. Some may reply to this, saying, We must be careful to maintain righteousness. But you cannot have righteousness without love. Righteousness is an attribute. Love is nature. God is love. He is never said to be righteousness. In the place where divine love reigns, righteousness shall be maintained. Anyhow, in God’s universe love does rule, for the supreme ruler is God, and He is love. Even natural affection, if not governed by the holy love of God, cannot be anything but corrupt. Even brotherly love among the children of God has to be safeguarded by the love that is incorruptible, the love that is of God. Where this love rules, righteousness, holiness, grace and peace will not be absent; and the unity of the Spirit shall be maintained in a practical way. But where love is not in activity it is all disintegration, and everything seems as though there were a host of spirits animating their respective systems or bodies.
There is, however, but one Spirit and one body in true Christianity. The body that of Christ; and the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, the one Spirit who forms the one body: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13), and this the one body of Christ universal. A member of that one body is every soul sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. And every soul is sealed who has believed the gospel.
Today I see but little testimony to this anywhere. Everything seems to be in a fragmentary condition. Some take the ground of being gathered in the truth of that body, and that with myriads of saints in rejection by them. Whatever they may verbally declare, their practical ways proclaim the secret of their pride of heart, refusing all who cannot see eye to eye with them in their limitations and extravagances. They may mean well; but I have nothing to do with that; I have to do with people’s actions. God only knows the heart.
There is one body and one Spirit, and also one hope of our calling. One bright prospect is before us all; and that is, to be with Christ where He is, and to be like Him as He is. Where He is we shall be. What a glorious prospect! What a joy it will be to be with Him, to be ever in the atmosphere of that love that surpasses knowledge! And oh, to think that every one of us in that vast company of ransomed and glorified saints shall be able to say with hearts overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving, “HE LOVED ME, AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME”! How marvellously captivating is all this to our renewed minds and hearts!
But to find those who are members of one body, and that the body of Christ, at variance with one another, and speaking evil of one another—what an evidence of the allowance of some foreign element belonging to the flesh, that disturbs and upsets our whole nervous system, and paralyses all our spiritual energy!
And to find those who are indwelt by one Spirit maintaining divergent views on questions not at all vital, and pressing them in such a way as to rend the saints practically asunder, and put them into little cliques and parties, each little company with a brazen wall around itself, in order to prevent fellowship with saints of God from surrounding gatherings not with them, is a certain evidence that the voice of the Spirit has unhappily fallen upon deaf ears, and that their own vain notions are preferred to the Word of God. Yet such is the state of the profession of Christ in this present day. How grieving it is to the Holy Spirit, and dishonouring to the Lord!
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Here a wider circle comes up before our vision, not all in vital relationship with Christ. “Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21-23). And the next circle is still wider. The Father is only in believers, but He is over all in the universe and everywhere present.
“But to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” All the grace we require for the service given to us in this wonderful sphere of blessing comes from our exalted Head, and is bestowed upon us directly by Him. All fullness resides in Him. Nothing needful for the carrying out of that which is the purpose of His love resides in us. He gives according to His knowledge of the one to whom He gives the gift, and according to the position given to him with relation to the service in which all His servants are engaged. And all comes from Him who is on the right hand of God. He had followers when He was here upon earth, and they had their special work assigned to them. In Mark 3 we read of Him calling twelve to be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach. In Luke 10 we find Him sending forth seventy. But none of these are necessarily the individuals we have in view here. He is said here to give apostles, but this is the action of the risen and glorified Christ. Possibly most of the twelve were the same, if not all. But whether they were the same, or whether they were different, the gifts bestowed upon them, and the service given to them were different. Those sent out by Him when He was here on earth and in presentation to Israel were to announce the kingdom of heaven as at hand. But now their service is in connection with those who are to be members of the body of Christ.
“Wherefore He says, when He ascended up on high He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” Now to say that He ascended involves the fact that He first descended into the lower parts of the earth, for the point of His departure is not here from heaven but from earth. When He came down from heaven He came only to earth. He came here to reveal the Father, and bring the love of God to men; but when man would have none of Him He went down further, even into the lower parts of the earth. He said in the day of His rejection: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Truly He might have said in the words of Jonah, “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains: the earth with her bars was about me for ever” (Jon. 2:6).
But He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens. He went down to the very bottom of creation. It was necessary that He should bear the complete judgment that rested on man, though this is not just the thought here, He went down into the stronghold of Satan, and there broke the power of the enemy. He went down as the victim, and has ascended as the Victor. He led captivity captive. The devil has no prison now. There is a prison for him, in which he shall be bound and shut up for a thousand years. But Christ has set His captives free, and is gone up far above all heavens, that He may fill all things. The first Adam has filled this world, but the last Adam shall fill the vast universe. Every trace of the first and failing head shall pass away for ever. The first has filled this sphere with lust and pride, the Last shall fill everything with the love of God. Everything from the heart of the earth to the heights of all heavens shall be filled with Christ. Everything shall be filled with the glory of redemption, and the glory of redemption is the love of God.
And now this ascended and glorified Man has given some apostles, some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, with a view to the work of the ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the Son of God, at the full-grown man, at the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ.
To fill the universe with the fullness that is in Christ a body seems to have been necessary. If we think of our own bodies, and how necessary they are to us, we may be able to form some true thought of the importance of the body of Christ to Himself. It is in the body that the man gives expression to himself. The mind gives expression to itself through the body, and all its activities are shown forth in the various members. Here, however, it is needful that the imagination be kept under control, for we are dealing with the great and holy thoughts of God. But that Christ shall be displayed in His assembly is unmistakably written on the page of Holy Scripture. Even now does He thus manifest Himself, coming to light in His members. The assembly is said to be the epistle of Christ (2 Cor. 3:3). When He appears He shall be glorified in His saints, and admired in all them that believe (2 Thess. 1:10). We are partakers of His life and nature, and as luminaries it is our privilege to shine in His light in this dark world. His desire as expressed to the Father in His prayer (John 17) is “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.”
The nourishment of the body is by the gifts given from the exalted and glorified Christ, and by the fullness that resides in Him, and this shall be continued until we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. . . . From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
What a marvellous organism this is! unnoticed by the men of this world. “Made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.” Here it is not so much a matter of ministry, as of growth, the body as it were feeding itself, its self-building up in love. The nature of God, for God is love.
When this glorious truth has worked its way into our souls by the power of the Spirit, we may be able to say with the apostle: “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” The same apostle when writing to the Colossians says as to Christ, “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” When we have thus got Christ before our souls we shall not be children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.
Of this devilish activity on the part of those who are enemies of the gospel, there is a superabundance today, and that almost, if not wholly, confined to the Christian profession. But of this we are well warned in God’s Word. Nothing should take us by surprise. We are told about everything that the devil can bring in to overthrow the faith of the saints of God. And then we know he never wearies in his efforts. The evils have been coming in from the very beginning. Paul speaks of all the Asiatics as having departed from him, and simply because he was for the Name of Christ in disgrace with the rulers of this world. In the second chapter of the second epistle to Timothy the servant is warned against profane and vain babblers. They were there in his day. In chapter 3 the profession of Christ is in a miserable state of corruption. Instead of their souls following hard after Christ, they are running breathless after pleasure. In chapter 4 they prefer fables to the word of truth.
Today all these evils swarm through Christendom like a colony of wasps. They are everywhere and fill of devilish activity and venom against Christ. And many who are not deeply infected by their virus are weak and enfeebled by the poisonous atmosphere of their surroundings. From the tents of such corrupt men let us make hasty retreat, lest we fall under their deadly influence. And let us seek to get the babes in Christ out of their infantile condition.
As regards those not skilled in the word of righteousness, they are in great danger. Their thoughts are altogether occupied with the adjustment of their relations with God from the standpoint of the sinner, not from the standpoint of divine counsel, and the ways taken by God for fulfilment of those counsels. Hence all their concern is for the salvation of the soul. Their own selves and their security are the things around which all their thoughts revolve.
But when all this has been perfectly and divinely settled, and the soul is in the enjoyment of the love that was manifested toward us when we were yet sinners, the thoughts of God usward, not only in the sense of compassion, but for the fulfilment of His own eternal counsel, purpose and grace, given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, those thoughts of God usher us into a world of bliss entirely different from anything we have ever seen or heard of with respect to this world, whether in innocence or guilt. And His thoughts, not our own desires for our own happiness, but for His own glory and our eternal delight, become the subject of all our meditations, hopes and expectations; and each one of us with a full heart cry out in His holy ear: “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand” (Ps. 139:17).
Milk is not now the only nourishment that suits us. We can take with thankfulness the strong meat belonging to them that are of full age (Heb. 5:13-14), who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. The wind of doctrine that issues from the infernal regions which at one time we may have been ready to hail as balmy breezes from the Paradise of God, we shall not now be likely to be mistaken as to its origin.
How infinitely delightful it is to dwell upon the fact that God is love, and that from the fullness of the Godhead that dwells in Christ we are being nourished and built up in the true knowledge of Himself. From this fullness that dwells in our exalted and glorified Head we draw our inexhaustible supplies: and thus the body increases with the increase of God (Col. 2:19). And knowing this we are not surprised when we see the anxiety of the servants of the Lord, as recorded in the New Testament, that the saints should increase and abound in love to each other, for dwelling in love we dwell in God, and God in us.
Therefore these Gentile believers are exhorted not to walk as the other Gentiles walk—“in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ.”
This is the truth as regards man, whoever and wherever he may be. The light of Christianity may exercise a restraining influence upon him, so that only in secret does he appear in his true character; but all that is attributed to the Gentiles is true of the whole Christless world, whatever may be professed.
Man is said to be alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in the whole fallen world, because of the blindness of their heart. Natural man is in as deep darkness as anyone blind can be. He has no knowledge of God at all. If he is a religious man he may pride himself in not being an infidel. But his heart is as dark as the heart of the greatest infidel’s could be. The life of God, where he may see it in the children of God, is to him utterly obnoxious. He is in opposition to it wherever it appears in his presence. He may do his best to hide his abhorrence of it, but the enmity is there, though covered up.
In this Epistle, life is viewed as in God only. He quickened us when we were dead in our sins, and it is in that life that we are made to live to Him. The true characteristics of this life were exhibited in Jesus, and only perfectly in Him. And as Christ is our Teacher, the truth as it is in Jesus into which we have been instructed, involves for us our having put off the old man, corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and being renewed in the spirit of our mind; and our having put on the new man, which according to God is created in truthful righteousness and holiness, a creation which is according to God. This is the new man which we have put on, having rejected and cast off the old man, which is corrupt, that we may be able to receive unhindered the teaching of Christ, who turns our attention to the life of Jesus here upon earth.
Therefore truth is to characterize us. Lying is natural to us all. Men are said to go astray from the womb, speaking lies (Ps. 58:3). And even saints are ready to forget when they prevaricate that they are only following the devil, who abode not in the truth, and who became the originator of falsehood (John 8:44). And as we are members one of another, what place is there for lying amongst us? Not that we should lie to anyone; but when we are all members of one body, how horrible it is to bring in deception, and thus be guilty of bringing corruption into the body of Christ.
And if we are to be angry we require to be on our guard lest we harbour vengeful feelings, allowing the flesh to come into the trouble, and room to be given to the devil, thy brother then becoming vile in thy sight (Deut. 25:3), and hatred usurp the place in thy heart where love should reign. Thus would everything be left in the hands of the devil. Therefore let not the sun go down upon our wrath, lest we also give place to the devil, who will not be slow to take advantage of our folly.
The thief is to steal no more, rather to labour with his hands, not only for his personal necessities, but to relieve the necessities of others. Thus, where an ugly defect of a fallen race was evidenced, a beautiful character of Christ is exhibited.
Instead of the mouth giving forth corrupt communication, its outflow is to be good and edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearer. The law speaks of that which issues out of the mouth of the unregenerate sinner, and we shudder at its faithful testimony: “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips.” Now the law speaks to the man under it, in order that his mouth may be stopped. A gateway open for such a welter of wickedness as this had better be shut up for ever. But if the heart is purified by faith, and grace is poured into the lips, the outflow shall be a delight to the heart of the hearer and refreshing to the weary among God’s pilgrims on their way to glory.
All those lovely graces are sure to manifest themselves where the Spirit of God in ungrieved. He is the power by which the beautiful graces of Christ are in us reproduced. He is the power of the life which we have in the Son, and if He is unhindered that life is certain to be expressed in our ways as we pass through this world. By His Holy Spirit we are sealed until the day of the redemption of the possession purchased by the blood of Christ, and which is ours in Him. When He takes it by power, we shall come into possession along with Him.
Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil-speaking, are to be put away from us, along with all malice; and kindness, tender-heartedness, forgiveness of one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us, are to take their place. We are viewed in this Epistle, as we have seen, quickened by the life that is in God, and therefore the beautiful features, as they have been set before us in Christ and which are the characteristics of that life, are to be exhibited in us. We are never asked to practice any spiritual grace that has not first of all been exhibited by God in the life of Jesus down here. If we are partakers of the divine nature, let us endeavour to exhibit the lineaments of that life and nature while here in this scene of contrariety.
“Imitators of God as beloved children!” What a great and glorious privilege ours is! To keep the law would have been to come out here morally transcriptive of Adam as God made Him, but grace calls us to be morally transcriptive of God. We never were children of unfallen Adam. Of that fatten parent only we were. But no child of Adam could be called to be transcriptive of him. We were in our sinful condition, for we were all born of him. But we now are born of God, partakers of His life and nature, children of God. Therefore our privilege is to be imitators of God. What a triumph of God over the whole power of the enemy! How fully the Word of God has been verified: “Dust shall be the serpent’s meat” (Isa. 65:25). The proudest creature in the universe must be brought to suffer the deepest degradation. No creature can triumph in his opposition to God.
“And walk in love,” according to the example set before us by Christ, for it is “as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour.” The death of Christ was a propitiatory offering, and we cannot follow Him in that, but we can imitate Him in the love that would lead us to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16). Paul mentions two saints of God who for his life laid down their own necks. If one risks his life for another, at is equivalent to laying it down.
The evils that the flesh delights to revel in are not to have any mention among the saints. Those who practise such things have no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God; for because of them the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. We must, therefore, be careful not to be partakers with them; for we were once darkness, but now are we light in the Lord, and we are to walk as children of light.
The world is in darkness—that is, it is without the knowledge of God—and in that darkness the devil rules, and he rules by means of the darkness. In his kingdom there is not one ray of light. Believers are here as luminaries in the world; that is, they set forth God in His true character by means of their walk and ways. Jesus said: “As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the World.” He faithfully represented God before the eyes of men who knew Him not. It could not be otherwise, for He was God manifest in flesh. He says “He that sees Me sees Him that sent Me.” Once were we darkness, but now are we light in the Lord, and if we walk as children of light we prove what is agreeable to the Lord. We are to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but we are rather to reprove them, not necessarily by our words, but by manifesting the nature and character of God. If we walk according to His will we make manifest the deeds of those who walk in darkness, and thus are they exposed, for that which makes everything manifest is light. “Wherefore He says, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.” To Israel it will be said one day, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee (Isa. 60:1). We anticipate that day; the glory of the exalted Saviour has risen upon us, and in the light of that glory His people shine throughout this world’s dark night.
Our walk is to be with carefulness, having the flesh under complete control; neither intoxicated with the delights of mere nature, which result in spiritual poverty, nor oppressed with the drowsiness that clothes a man with the rags of a lifeless morality. Neither let us behave as fools, but as wise men; watchful to lay hold of opportunities to turn the flying moments to good account, so that not one shall be wasted but all used up in the service of the Master.
This cannot be done unless we have some true understanding of what the will of the Lord is. He alone can give us the understanding by which we shall be able to serve Him, and He is sure to do it if we earnestly seek it.
But this cannot be without our being filled with His Spirit. Not like the babbling fool who is intoxicated with wine, but speaking to ourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord. Kept in a sense of the love of God, and of Christ in whom that love was fully manifested, our souls shall pour forth uninterruptedly a stream of praise and thanksgiving to God the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that with a lowliness that causes us to esteem each other better than ourselves, so that we submit ourselves to one another in the fear of God.
Wives are enjoined to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord. While these relationships belong to the old creation, and not “in Christ,” yet the new and eternal relationships are brought in to bear upon, and to regulate the old: for “the husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is Head of the church, and He is the Saviour of the body.” This is always true of the head. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
The church is to be the pattern for the wives, so is the Head to be the pattern for the husbands. They are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it. His great desire for such a companion is witnessed in the sorrows which He passed through in order to have her as His very own. In the vision of God He beheld her, when as yet she had no actual existence. She has been the eternal object of His heart. Ere the ages of time He saw her adorned with the graces that characterised Himself, the brightest, the most glorious thing that shone where the splendour of redeemed creation blazed with the glory of eternal love. He loved her as He contemplated her, clothed with the beauty that He Himself had put upon her; and when the time came for Him to lay down the price that would secure her for Himself, He gave all He had for her redemption—He gave Himself for her!
And on this mighty manifestation of His love our souls delight to dwell. How weak and worthless when tested was the love of the first Adam for his bride, if we compare it with the love of the last Adam! Cowardly Adam blamed his transgression on his erring companion, Christ takes the blame of His bride upon Himself. He by the sacrifice of Himself frees her from the whole dreadful condition in which she lay in the fallen race, sanctifying her, purifying her by the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself glorious, having no spot, or wrinkle, or any such things; that she might be holy and blameless. So ought men to love their own wives as their own bodies; he that loves his own wife loves himself. No one hates his own flesh, and husband and wife are one flesh, and he is to nourish and care for her. He is to cherish her as Christ does the Church; for we are members of His flesh and of His bones. Because of this a man will leave his father and mother, and shall be united with his wife, and the twain shall be one flesh.
Like Eve who was taken out of Adam, the church is taken out of Christ, only in a more perfect way. It is not only a bone that is taken out of the husband, but it is Himself, His life, His nature, His moral perfections, the fullness that resides in Himself, the spiritual nourishment that she receives; of all that is in Him is she built up. She derives her whole spiritual being from Him. Everything for the growth and health of the body is derived from the Head; the nourishing and cherishing are from Him imparted, so that the Head and the body are THE CHRIST. I have already referred to Psalm 139:15-16, and would refer the reader’s attention to the passage once more. He says, “My substance (bones or framework) was not hid from Thee when I was made in secret, curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect, and in Thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”
That this mystery was hid in God, and not made known to the sons of men in former ages, is plainly stated in the epistle we are now considering. But the fact did not hinder its leaking out in type, shadow and dark saying, which as far as the mystery itself is concerned are only valuable to us, though others at the time of types and shadows no doubt found them valuable instruction in the ways of God. When I speak of its leaking out I do not suggest any inability on the part of God to keep His cherished secret inviolable, even if it were made public. But in His dealings with His creature man, as under responsibility to gain life and blessing by the fulfilment of his obligations, it was not His mind to mix this up with a revelation of His counsels; but now that His dealings with His creature as under probation are over, none of His dealings with man are upset by the revelation of His eternal purposes. Now that His saints are in the light of it, it is exceedingly interesting and instructive to see that from the beginning of His ways it was the thought uppermost in His mind, so that the language found in His word that is often felt to have a deeper meaning than that which lies on the surface is, as I have said, the leaking out of the deeper thoughts that were to have their revelation and fulfilment when the time of man’s probation should have come to an end. Until that time in language unintelligible to His people it sometimes looked out of its secrecy. And the beloved apostle, to whom its administration was committed is so filled by the grandeur and the glory of it that he contemplates it even in the marriage relations of human life.
And is such an obsession a thing to be despised? With what unutterable joy our hearts leap within us, as we dwell for even a brief moment on the glorious fact that we are members of the body of Christ, joined to Himself by inseverable bonds, part of Him who is the beloved object of the Father’s heart; everything of the old order gone as completely as though it never had existed, and what we are we are as deriving from Him. Old things have passed away, and all things have become new; not a vestige of the flesh left; all things earthly for ever at an end: nothing remaining but that which is heavenly and of Christ. Oh the joy, the delight of knowing that we are His—His body, His bride. Destined to be the eternal companions of Him whose love for us took Him into the darkness of Golgotha, the deep waters of judgment against sin, the forsaking of God, death and the grave. And all for us—for us, poor unworthy objects—that He might righteously possess us as His own, His very own; that He might have an incontestable and eternal right to us. How we shall praise Him when we see Him face to face. Lord, hasten that day.
But we wait not that day for our praise to ascend
To Him who in infinite love
Bore unspeakable sorrows our sorrows to end
And to bring us as brethren above
Even now let our voices be heard in His praise,
With gladness and grace let us sing,
With the slumbering echoes around us we raise
And make this wide universe ring.
Of our worship and praise He is worthy of all,
And feeble at best is our song;
But with heart and with soul we shall JESUS extol
In the midst of His glorified throng.
The various relations of life are now taken up, and come in with relation to the Lord. There are no such relations in Christ, but belong to the order of flesh and blood. In Christ they do not exist, for in Him there is not Jew and Greek, bond and free, male and female. We are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). But as long as we are on earth in flesh and blood we are in these relationships, and here we get instructions as to how we should walk in them. And the instructions as to the conduct of each are of the utmost importance. They are placed before us in order that we may know how we should behave in connection with an order of things that shall end for His own when He comes to receive us to Himself.
Now we come to the warfare. All our blessings are in the heavenly places in Christ; and as Satan and his angels are not yet dislodged, we have to do battle for every bit of ground we possess, as God said to the tribes of Israel: “Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours” (Deut. 11:24). As it was with Israel and their inheritance so is it with us. The whole land of promise was given to them by God, from the wilderness to Lebanon; from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall be your coast. But they had to fight for every inch of it in order to possess it practically. So the heavenly places are ours, but how much have we laid hold of? The foe is not quite like the Canaanites; they were flesh and blood, but we have to make war against the wicked spirits who are established in the heavenly places; and their weapons are subtle wiles and fiery darts. Against these we have to put on the whole panoply of God.
But first of all we are exhorted to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Our own wisdom is but folly, and our own strength but weakness. If we are in the sense of our own feebleness as compared with those principalities and powers, we are not likely to enter into the conflict without the support of the Lord, before whom they are less than nothing. But if He is on our side—and of this we are well assured—we need fear no evil.
As we saw earlier in the epistle we are in the land. We are set down in the heavenlies in Christ. We crossed the Red Sea which buried in its mighty depths the whole power of Pharaoh. He could not keep Israel in Egypt, and the seven nations could not keep them out of Canaan. It has been so with us: Satan has not been able to keep us in his stronghold of darkness, nor has he been able to keep us out of the heavenlies. But not is there any glory to ourselves; God has quickened us even when we were dead in sins, and has raised us up, and set us down in the heavenlies in Christ. Now we are in a position to lay hold of the inheritance as given us of God.
But there is a panoply which is of His workmanship, and that can resist every weapon that has been forged against us by the craft of the enemy. Nothing in this armour is like anything that has been forged to resist carnal weapons, and which can be purchased in an armoury, and put on, as one might put on coat or hat. It is all fashioned in the soul, and is of a spiritual nature, and no weapon of the enemy can pierce any part of it.
The first part of this armour is “Truth,” by which the loins of the mind are girt about. Our minds are not to be wandering after the fantastic notions of the leaders of this world, or in occupation with the things of the world at all, but engaged with the revelation God has been pleased to give us concerning the things that shall be our occupation when the world has passed away. And if this is so with us we shall find heart and conscience well protected by the “Breastplate of Righteousness,” our thoughts filled with the love of God, and our feet shod with “The Preparation of the gospel of Peace”, for these pieces of the panoply are of the work of the Spirit in souls, and the one helps the other in its formation. Then there is “The Shield of Faith,” the consciousness that God is for us, what Israel never seems to have had in the wilderness. Fear will blanch no face that has the assurance that God is always on our side, and that He will never fail us. The coward heart can win no battle. He is no coward who puts his trust in God. The word to us is “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord” (Ps. 31:24) “Be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them” (Jer. 1:7). Then there is “The Helmet of Salvation,” a salvation present and eternal, in the deep blessed sense of invulnerability. Next, there is “The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”. It is enough for us, and too much for the devil.
Then our attitude is to be “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance, and supplication for all saints, and for me (the faithful servant of the Lord), that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds, that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”