The Way of Love in the Epistle to the Ephesians

The Source

As the spring so the river; that which issues from the Fountain is that which fills the mighty depths beyond. Love is the source, as it is also the grand and final purpose of God for the blessing of His people. The motive that wrought in His heart shall yet express itself as the eternal portion and home of His redeemed. He will rest in His love. What a portion!

First, then, as to the Source, we read in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.” Clear it is that, as dead in sins, we could furnish no motive. Our state was one of the most complete alienation, not only in guilt, but in spiritual death and distance from God. If blessing should reach us it must therefore find its source in the Blesser. His heart, unsolicited by merit or motive on our side, must act according to its own nature, and find in itself the spring that could not be found in its object. Thank God! that very motive is found in Him. God, we read, is rich in mercy, and that quality, so divinely suitable to the state of guilty man, abounds in Him in living fullness; so that He, whilst infinitely holy, has, for His great love wherewith He loved us, proved Himself to be a Saviour-God! “Great love” and “rich mercy” mark the heart from which our blessings flow.

There is a river on whose banks is built the largest city, and on whose bosom is borne the greatest mercantile trade in the world. The source of that river is seven springs of clear and refreshing water, bursting as they do with vigour from their native hillside. These form the beginning of a stream that is so important to the life of millions of men. But God’s “great love” is the Fountain-head of a river far more glorious, and one that is destined to carry a different and much greater wealth on its bosom, flowing, as it shall, through the wide universe, and pouring itself into the ocean of eternal glory.

God is is blessed Source!

Oh! how infinitely important it is that we should know His heart—His love—Himself!

How fearfully God has been misrepresented by the devil, and with what blinded willingness has man listened to the lie that He is austere, hard, careless of our good, exacting from us that which we should no doubt yield but cannot, punishing for trifling faults, and judging without mercy. So has Satan suggested, and so have our foolish hearts believed.

Nay, “God is Love.” It is His nature; and abundantly has He proved it in the free gift of His only Son. When we were dead in sins He loved us. It is because He is not known that He is, alas, distrusted; but to know Him is, through grace, to love Him. This, then, is the certain source of all blessing, that God has loved us. That precious truth stands by itself. It shines, like yonder sun, independently of any favouring circumstances here below. God is not dependent on man, although He deigns to make Himself known to him.

The Channel

But how, then, can this revelation be made, and how can man get to know God?

For this it was necessary, not only that the only-begotten Son should become a Man, but that, sin being in the way, He should make atonement for the same.

Hence we find after this a double statement as to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ: first, that He “loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph. 5:2); and, second, that He “loved the church and gave Himself for it … that He might … present it to Himself a glorious church not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” The first is His substitutionary self-sacrifice for us individually, and the second is the same self-surrender for the church as a whole. In it we have the accomplishment of all that work which alone could bring us to God. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” “Now in Christ we who once were far off are made nigh by His blood.”

His atoning death was a necessity in order that sin should be removed and the throne of God vindicated.

All this is, thank God! accomplished to His satisfaction and glory, because Christ has gone on high; but the spring of His self-surrender is His love.

What perfect rest of conscience flows from faith in the completeness of His work, and what joy of heart is found in the knowledge of a love that surrendered His all: His glory, life, everything, for the good of poor unworthy objects! It is inconceivable! Moreover, it is a love that not only proved itself in death, but it shines in His life on high as brightly as ever—a dying love and a living love dwell in the same tender heart. That charity abides.

Present effects

Now what is the result for us of this gracious work? It is that we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). This is our present and marvellous portion—accepted! Could any place be better? Impossible! And, notice, we are “accepted in the Beloved,” not “in Christ,” but “in the Beloved.” In Christ is our standing—in the Beloved is our measure of acceptance, and of divine and perfect favour. No doubt Christ is the Beloved, but the object of the Spirit of God is to intimate to us our present place in the favour of God and our Father.

A thousand spiritual difficulties vanish and a thousand affections rise when the soul apprehends, in faith, the rich meaning of such an acceptance! But let us ever remember that so high and favoured a place results from the value of the atoning work of Christ, and not from attainment or progress on our part. It is the present portion of all who believe in Jesus. God has placed us there, and has given us to know and enjoy in sweet communion the wondrous fruits of the soul-agony of His dear Son. Well may each say:
 “That Thou shouldst be so good to me,
    Shouldst be the God Thou art,
  ’Tis darkness to the intellect,
    But it’s sunshine to the heart.”

The Flowing Stream

Well, now, what is the consequence of all this in our practical ways here below?

If “accepted in the Beloved,” we are now exhorted to “walk in love” (Eph. 5:2). To walk corresponding to our exalted place is surely incumbent on us. Responsibility flows from relationship, and Christianity as contrasted with law places us in present, gracious, and happy relation with God as Father. That is settled for us in grace. We are to imitate God as “dear children” and to “walk in love” (Eph. 5:1-2). But in order to imitate any one we must know that one. Now we are made acquainted with God—are placed in His presence, and put in possession of His mind. We can therefore imitate God as His children, and just as He has dealt with us in ways of divine and perfect love so in like manner we are to walk in and exhibit love in our own ways.

Love is the essence of all true morality. “Love works no ill to his neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). Grant love, and law is superfluous. But, alas, sin exists! It was intensified by law; and now, sin being in us, we are told to walk in love. Love is the practical remedy. Secure love and prohibitive legislation is unnecessary; and it is just because we fail in love that we give evidence, alas, of the evil that dwells within.

True love is essentially holy. It works no ill to his neighbour, and whosoever does work ill does not walk in love! Love and rectitude of conduct always go together. Hence we who once “walked according to the course of this world” (Eph. 2:2) are now to walk in love: and 1 may say, in passing, that a worse character could not be given to a man than that he walks according to the world. The world is, in every principle, opposed to the Father. It crucified the Son, and it cannot receive the Spirit; and therefore “if any man will be the friend of the world he is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). On the other hand, no better character can attach to the Christian than that he walks in love. For this we have the power of the indwelling Spirit of God; and so we may say that, just as love was the source of the beautiful stream, so now love is seen in its current, its every ripple is love.

Its Depths

But, again, the injunction to walk in love is not all. Love, as a responsibility, is difficult of accomplishment. It needs nutriment, stimulus, and power. Hence we read “that ye being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17). Love is thus the soil into the fertile depths of which the roots of faith enter, as it is the solid foundation on which it builds its superstructure. It is the element in which faith lives and the atmosphere it breathes. Its outcome is according to its income, its expression to its impression. It inhales love and exhales its fragrance. But what, whose is the love it thus feeds upon? Is it our love to God? Is it the fruit of the work of the Spirit in us? Are we called on to glory in aught that we might call our own? Nay, it is the love of Christ. “To know the love of Christ” is the expression (Eph. 3:19). His own eternal love! What a study! How exhaustless!

Three times does the Apostle Paul mention in terms that love. First, in Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” There our security abides for ever. Second, in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “The love of Christ constrains us.” There we learn the mighty motive of all Christian devotedness. And, lastly, in our passage, “To know the love of Christ.” There we have the link of communion. Security, devotedness, and communion are all bound up with the love of Christ.

Yet this love “passes knowledge.” Like all else in Christianity, it is infinite. Definitions are beggared in such immensities. The soul, though made divinely capable of enjoyment, finds itself happily lost amid such glorious worlds! It knows and enjoys alone that which, though most enjoyable, is yet far beyond its ken. There are depths and breadths in this river that no fathom can reach or eye distinguish. Still, the river rolls in its ineffable sweetness and beauty. We are ever invited to drink—to slake our thirst—to prove the richness of that living water, and to know the love of Christ. Blessed portion!

Its Ocean Fullness

But now we reach the ocean into which the river flows. “He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4). Here we find the purpose and object of this glorious love as to our everlasting place—it is that we should be “before Him in love.” That is the end! What a thought! How rich a theme! That we should be “holy and without blame”—that is marvellous! Adam in Eden was innocent. We shall be holy! Adam fell, and carried his seed into sin and blame, all being guilty; yet we shall be (thanks eternal to redeeming love and atoning blood) without blame, completely justified! And, mark, “it is God that justifies” (Rom. 8:33). We shall be all that. And, further, before Him in love! We shall share His home and enjoy its native air. Yes, “God is Love;” and all His surroundings in those sacred abodes shall partake of His nature. The once unworthy objects of His love shall find their eternal joy in His unclouded presence, placed, as they are, before Him in love.

Nor let us overlook the holiness that shall be theirs as well. Love is always apart from sin. It is pure, for “God is light;” neither sin nor impurity can be tolerated in His presence. Sin is judged. The impenitent are condemned for ever. “He that is unjust shall be unjust still … he that is holy shall be holy still” (Rev. 22:11). But grace has reached the believer, and has marked him out for such unspeakable bliss. Oh, for a tongue to adore and worship such a God as ours! Well may this precious epistle burst forth in its magnificent introduction, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ.”

He the Blesser—we the blessed! His the eternal praise—ours an everlasting portion before Him in love!

  Called to share the Rest of God,
  In the Father’s blest abode:
  God of love, and God of light,
  In Thy praises we unite.