or, What the Christian Was, and What He Is.
"But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." — Ephesians 2:13.
In reading the word of God, it is always important to see to whom each particular portion is addressed. For instance this epistle was not addressed to the inhabitants of Ephesus generally, but to the saints and faithful brethren — those who had known and believed the love that God hath to us; those among the Ephesians who had, through faith in the Lord Jesus, been brought nigh to God — had passed from death unto life. The apostle was inspired by the Holy Ghost to address them in the remembrance of what they had been, as well as to instruct them as to the character of their present standing and blessing as redeemed and accepted in the Beloved.
We do not become Christians by being born of Christian parents, or because our lot has been cast in what is called a Christian country, or because we have been religiously educated, or by attending to any outward ordinances, or by being associated with any who are truly saints of God. No; we only become Christians by having to do with Christ and His atoning blood. Whatever may have been our previous history or character, we are far from God, and enemies to God, till we are reconciled to God by the death His Son. If I were asked to give, in a few words of Scripture, the true definition of what a Christian is, I do not think I could give a better reply than we find in the latter part of this verse, viz., one who was "far off," but is now in Christ "made nigh" to God by His blood.
We find in this verse reference made to what the state of these persons was before they received the gospel, their present standing and blessing, and also the ground of their being so. Let us look a little at each of these points.
1. What they were — "far off." As fallen creatures in Adam, men are naturally found in a place of distance from God. After sin entered, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And we see also in Cain their son, that he went out from the presence of the Lord, and sought to gratify himself by building a city, etc. And so it is now; man's birth-condition, his habits and educational pursuits, are all at a distance from God; he still tries to hide himself from God's presence, and to be happy, if he can, "afar off." These Ephesians, however, though belonging to a highly-polished city, were Gentiles, not having any of the privileges, or even the measure of knowledge, that the Jews had; they were heathens, idolaters, taken up only with this present evil world — the fashions of the world, the honours of the world, its wealth, patronage, and advancement, filled their hearts. From the rude lusts of the flesh, to the more refined desires of the mind, they were shaping their course according to the dictates of Satan, the prince of this world. They knew of nothing higher than pleasing themselves, gratifying their own wills and inclinations; in a word, to eat, drink, and sleep, as if there were no God. They might have ranked among the most civilized, polished, and benevolent of the age; they might have been outwardly more moral and orderly than their neighbours; still they were without God, and having no hope in the world. They were in the world, and of the world, which lieth in the wicked one, and therefore far off from God.
Such was the character of the world in the days of the apostle, and such is the world now. Such was the state of the Ephesians then, and such is the state of many now. Nothing can be more distinct than the spirit of the world, and the spirit of true Christianity. The moving principle of the world is the endeavour to be happy, apart from God and the Saviour — far off; the spirit of true Christianity leads us to be happy only in God's presence, and that which honours Him. The principles of the world, whether their tendencies are moral or immoral, are always outside God's presence. Those who are of the world weigh not their motives and actions before God; they know not His love; therefore they live not for His glory. The advancement of man's interest, the cultivation of human intellect, and the exaltation of natural abilities, with the vain endeavour to find rest and satisfaction far from God and Christ, is what the world is mostly made up of. Is it not so? Turn where we may, do we not find men busily seeking satisfaction apart from God? some in pleasure, others in science, fame, the accumulation of wealth, or other forms of self-indulgence. Such, I say, is the world and I dwell upon it, because few appear to see that the world, whether in its rude or polished phase, is equally that which is far from God.
Moreover, with all the outward glitter, such have within them a secret dread of God's presence; like Adam, they may truthfully say, "I was afraid, and hid myself." That which keeps men "far off" is the dread of being near to God. Such is the wicked character of sin, that the carnal mind is not only at enmity and rebellion against God, but it leads men to shrink away from the light of His presence: hence they fear death, not because of the painful moment of separation between soul and body, but because of the dread of appearing before the Majesty of heaven. They fear judgment, because they fear being banished into outer darkness. They have no peace, because they know not the virtue of that precious blood which cleanses from all sin; and they try to banish these thoughts from their minds, by seeking a sphere for their energies and amusements outside the presence of God. It was here the Ephesians were when the gospel reached them; they were dead in trespasses and sins, afar off, having no hope, and without God in the world; and such is the state of many now,
2. Let us now consider what they were when the apostle addressed this epistle to them. He tells them that they are now "in Christ Jesus," and "made nigh." "In Christ Jesus;" that is, no longer regarded by God in a state of death as connected with Adam, but as having passed from death unto life. As Noah formerly entered into the ark, as the only place of safety from the coming judgments, so they had taken refuge in Christ Jesus; and as Noah was shut into the ark by God, so such are preserved in Christ Jesus. They had life and righteousness in Christ, and union with Christ, having been quickened together, raised up together, and made to sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. This was their present portion — "now in Christ Jesus." Under no condemnation, because they were in Christ Jesus having eternal life, because in Christ Jesus; united to Him by the Holy Ghost, who is on the other side of death; risen with Christ, and seated in Him in the heavenlies. Such is the standing and security that the God of grace has given us in Christ Jesus. They were thus made nigh in Christ, as well as through His blood. How vast the change! Such no longer dread God's presence, but love it supremely. They do not fear death, but know, through Christ, victory over it. They do not tremble at the thought of judgment, because they know that Christ endured the judgment and penalty their sins had merited. God Himself is their spring of life and peace they are only truly happy when near Him.
Their former enmity against God has been subdued by His redeeming love. The hardness of their hearts has been melted by the contemplation of Immanuel's cross, and their self-will and self-love have been overcome by the exceeding riches of the grace of God in Christ. They know that they are made nigh to God.
Their nearness to God is one of the most perfect friendship. It is thus their privilege to seek His counsel in every difficulty, to trust in Him at all times, to reckon upon His help in every adversity, and to bring them through every danger. This nearness to God is one of the dearest and tenderest relationships — that of children. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God." So that we may come before God as our Father, and count upon His care over us, His providential kindness, His paternal sympathy, His watchful eye, His almighty arm. It is our privilege to appeal to His fatherly heart for all we require, under all circumstances, whether temporal or spiritual; for "as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that far Him. He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust." We are a heavenly people of the "household of God," and are called to serve and honour Him in all the filial nearness and devotedness of sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.
But more than this, we are made nigh to God as worshippers. We are not now afraid to come near the presence of the Almighty, but have liberty to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus; there to present our spiritual sacrifices as a royal and holy priesthood, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
And all this our God has done for us in Christ. What love! Is Christ near to God? so am I, for I am in Him. Is Christ living for evermore? so am I. Is Christ righteous? so am I; for in Him, and through His blood, I am made nigh to God. What matchless grace! Oh for a believing heart fully to welcome all these ways of our God toward us, that instead of brooding over ourselves with gloom and sorrow, we may find our hearts lifted high, and more and more expanded by the heights and depths of God's free and abundant love to us in Christ Jesus.
"By nature and by practice far,
How very far, from God!
Yet now by grace brought nigh to Him,
Through faith in Jesus' blood.
"So nigh, so very nigh to God,
Nearer I cannot be;
For in the person of His Son
I am as near as He.
"So dear, so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be;
The love wherewith He loves His Son —
Such is His love to me."
3. The ground of all this blessing is the blood of Christ — "made nigh by the blood of Christ." Not our efforts, our devotedness, our attainments, but the blood of Christ. It is something already done — we may not know it, may fail in the true apprehension of it, may not enjoy it, nevertheless it is done "ARE made nigh by the blood of Christ." Without the death of the Son of God, we must for ever have remained far off from Him, still in our sins and guilt, for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul; and Jesus taught the absolute necessity of His death, for He said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." It is not, then, the incarnation of Christ, the life of Christ, or the example of Christ, but the death of Christ, the cross of Christ, the blood of Christ, that cleanses our guilty consciences, and makes us feel happy in God's presence. It is Christ crucified that is the only peaceful meeting-place between God and the sinner. There God shows sinners how much He loves them. There God brings salvation to the lost. There God opened an all-cleansing fountain for sin and uncleanness. There God magnified His own holiness and justice, and manifested the exceeding riches of His grace to unholy men; and now in Christ Jesus, by His blood, God has made all that believe to stand in everlasting nearness to Himself.
We have redemption through the blood of Christ, even the forgiveness of sins, because God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us. Our sins were laid upon Him, and He was made a curse for us. In this way He suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. The wrath of God was thus poured out upon Him instead of us, so that "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed?' Hence, on the ground of strictest justice and holiness, God can speak of us as a redeemed people, washed from our sins in the blood of Jesus, and that our sins and iniquities He will remember no more. The alone ground, therefore, of forgiveness of sins is not our works, our experience, our frames, or our feelings, but the blood of Christ; for without the shedding of blood is no remission; and the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin. Nothing therefore relieves man's guilt and fears, or removes the burden from the conscience, or speaks peace to a sin-convicted soul, but "THE BLOOD OF CHRIST."
O my soul, I charge thee ever to remember that it is alone by the blood of the cross that thy scarlet sins have been purged, and that thou art whiter than snow!
"Great God of wonders! all Thy ways
Display Thine attributes Divine
But the fair glories of Thy grace
Beyond Thine other wonders shine.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?"
We are also justified by the blood — "being now justified by His blood." (Rom. 5:9.) The cross of Christ not only speaks to us of sins being judged and put away, but it also shows us One who was perfectly obedient, who surrendered His whole self to the will of God, wholly consecrated Himself to Him, was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Thus the work of Christ Jesus was infinitely meritorious in God's sight; for there a whole burnt-offering was presented to God, by which we could stand accepted and righteous in all the perfectness of the offering for ever. Jesus was thus accepted for us, and we are made accepted in Him. It is by the death of Christ that we are reconciled to God, and in Him we are "made the righteousness of God." For while that blood by which Jesus entered into heaven itself speaks to us of sins for ever put away, it also tells us of an everlasting worthiness, or righteousness, in which His people stand accepted and complete, even in Him who is risen from the dead, and the Head of all principality and power.
We are also sanctified by the blood — consecrated, or set apart for God. "Jesus, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate." As sprinkled with that blood, we are able to serve God as not our own but His, and are thus taught that we are set apart for His service, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved; not in order to be His, but because we are His. The priests of old, after the offering of the sin-offering and burnt-offering, were sprinkled with the blood of the ram of consecration, and anointed with oil, to qualify them for priestly service. The tip of their right ear, and the thumb of their right hand, and the great toe of their right foot, were all marked with blood, to teach us that, because we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, we are to listen to God's voice, to walk in His ways, and minister in His holy service; that, as an accepted, consecrated, blood-sprinkled, and anointed priesthood, we are set apart to serve God, to worship God, to glorify Him in our bodies and in our spirits, because we are not our own, but His.
It is, then, the precious blood of Christ, as sprinkled on the mercy-seat by our great High Priest, that is our simple way of approaching God at all times: we enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. When we experience a difficulty in entering into God's presence, it is because we have forgotten the blood, unless there be sin on the conscience unconfessed. But drawing near to God through the blood of His beloved Son, believing God's testimony to the value of that blood, and what it has done for us, we can then, in the bright light and glory of His infinitely holy presence, pour out our hearts before Him, praise and magnify the unsearchable riches of Divine love, seek all we need at His hand, and not hesitate to search our hearts, and try our ways before Him, because He witnesses to us there that the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.
"That rich atoning blood,
Which on the throne we see,
Provides for those who come to God
An all-prevailing plea."
Well, then, might the apostle say to the believers at Ephesus, "Now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." Once they were in the world, and of the world; but now they are not of the world, even as Jesus was not of the world. Once enemies to God, now friends. Once children of disobedience, now children of God. Once afar off, but now in Christ made nigh by His blood.
Oh that God's dear children did know their nearness to God, their standing and completeness in Christ, their privileges, their present blessings, their deliverance from the guilt and power of sin, their rescue from this present evil world, its ways and maxims, by THE BLOOD OF CHRIST!
My reader, where are you at this moment? Are you still living and walking according to the course of this world? Do its pleasures, honours, fashions, and its so-called progress, or its falsely-called science, absorb your heart and mind? We cannot serve two masters. It must be either God or mammon, Christ or the world; which is it with you? Sure I am that believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified for sinners, will give you peace, and bring you nigh to God. It is vain to look elsewhere; for the God of truth declares that there is salvation in no other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ.