Comparison of the Epistles to the Romans and the Ephesians

J. N. Darby.

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An attentive consideration of the Epistle to the Romans and that to the Ephesians, will afford us some interesting light on the question of the position of the believer in Christ. The whole question of our place in Christ is viewed under a different aspect in the two epistles. I would briefly consider this. The doctrine of redeeming grace may be viewed in two ways. God's own purposes as to His children in glory may be developed on the one hand; or the condition of man portrayed, and met by grace visiting them in mercy to deliver them on the other. The Epistle to the Ephesians follows the first of these methods; the Epistle to the Romans, the second.

In Ephesians we have at once the saints blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ - placed in the blessed image of God before Him, and adopted to be His children. Redemption itself comes as a means in the second place. The knowledge of the mystery - the gathering together in one all things in Christ, and our sealing as heirs till the redemption of the purchased possession follow. The Romans, after some introductory verses, commences by the description of the dreadful state in which fallen man was, unfolding the depravity of the Gentiles, the hypocrisy of those who pretended to moralise and yet were personally no better, and finally the sad condition of the Jews, who, if they had the law, broke it. In chapter 3, at the close, grace meets this state. But this leads to the consideration of the work of grace, in each epistle, in a different way.

To speak first of the Ephesians, the sinner is seen dead in trespasses and sins - walking, doubtless, in them, but, before God, wholly dead. But even here this is not the first object presented. As chapter 1 presents the position in which the saint is placed, so the second the work which brings him into it. With this view, what is first brought before us is God's power towards us manifested in what was wrought in Christ. God had raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His right hand, far above all principality and power, above and beyond all created glory, not only in this age, but in that to come, where all hierarchies will be in their true glory and unclouded elevation, but He above and out of them all. Divine power in its exceeding greatness had brought Him from death up there.

104 As the origin of our life is before all worlds (John 1; 1 John 1), so our place before God is out of and above all worlds and creature powers. It is to be remarked here, however, that Christ Himself is looked at as already dead. The whole work is thus of God; for Christ being dead, is looked at, of course, as Man, and this wondrous power is exerted, and He, as Man, is at God's right hand. Then the saints are brought before us, Gentiles or Jews, as alike children of wrath by nature, and are seen once utterly dead in trespasses and sins, quickened together with Him, and raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ. The whole is entirely God's work. We are created again. It is not living men who have to be dealt with, who are without law and under law, must die with Christ, and are set free by death. They are found dead in sins, and we get the perfect full blessing of the work, because it is entirely God's. Man is for nothing therein, for what has he to do with creation? He is created; all that man (that is, the believer) is is God's work. Hence, also, remark, we have peace, making nigh, reconciling, exalting to sit in heavenly places in Christ, but not justifying; because it is a living, responsible, existing man who has to be justified before God. But we have Christ exalted, and ourselves exalted in Him. It is God's work in Christ and in us, not our being justified before God.

If I turn now to the Romans, it is otherwise. I get Christ alive on the earth, come of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared Son of God with power by resurrection. Still flesh could not live unto God, nor they that are in it please Him. Hence we find Christ as come in grace for them, not dead but dying, and then alive to God. I get the condition and quality of man, not simply the work of God as to one dead. So as to men; I get the means of standing in righteousness before God, and not an absolute work. Nor is this all. In the Romans the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God is not contemplated, nor the union of the church with Him. Hence we are not said to be quickened together with Him, nor made to sit in heavenly places in Him. His exaltation is just mentioned in chapter 8, with "who even is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" - which last thought does not, of course, contemplate union. In chapter 12 the practical effect of union among ourselves is spoken of; but, in general, these topics form no part of the instruction of the epistle. Men are living, guilty beings, the whole world guilty before God; and to learn that, in the remediless state of their nature, death is the only remedy; in itself fatal, doubtless, but perfectly saving when in Christ. It is atonement for all sin, and deliverance from the position in which we were: for death is evidently the end of that, and our life thus wholly new, Christ being risen from the dead, and we are to walk as alive to God through Him. We are justified by His blood; and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

105 But the Romans, as teaching the justification of a sinner, necessarily first views him as a sinner to be justified. Hence it goes through the whole question of law; and we have the experiences of the man not justified, though convinced of sin, and then justified from the sin - alive in conscience without law, dying under law, and alive in Christ, where there is no condemnation. The practical process is gone through. The effect is this, that he is brought up to the point where the Epistle to the Ephesians begins with him. He finds that there is no escape from the condition he is in, as a child of Adam, or a Jew, but by death. Yet, were it his own, it would of course, lead him to judgment, not to justification, but where all guilt is proved. It is Christ who dies, and is set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood; so that God is just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus. That meets the case of guilt, but is not life; for so Christ would be dead, and we brought in Him into death. This could not in any way be. For not only would there be no life, but it would even prove, as the apostle shews in 1 Corinthians 15, that there was no remedy. Our faith would be vain; we should be yet in our sins. But we believe that God has raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.

The consequence of this different view of things is seen in the practical result in man under the operation of God's Spirit.

In the Romans we have experiences flowing from the conflict of the newly introduced principle of life with flesh, or the effect of deliverance from it, by the knowledge of the power of deliverance in Christ. The former we find in chapter 7, where the conflict of the new nature with the lusts and will of the old under law are depicted; and the second in chapter 8, where the spiritual blessings of one who is made free from the law of sin and death, by the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, are drawn out before us in a way to produce the profoundest interest in the soul that enters into it.

106 In the Ephesians the man is dead in sins, and transported into heavenly places by the operation of God; being created anew in Christ Jesus, unto good works, which God has afore prepared, that we might walk in them. The works belong to the new place and condition in which alone we are known in the Ephesians. God has afore prepared works for His new created ones. Hence, we have no experience of passing through conflict, and deliverance, and its results; but there is a demand to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, and a desire that the saints, being rooted and grounded in love, may realise in their hearts, by Christ's dwelling in them by faith, the full effect, even to filling to all the fulness of God, the greatness of the infinite scene of glory into which they are brought, and know that love of Christ which passeth knowledge.

In result the general principle of the difference is this. In the Romans, the man is found alive in sin, is convicted of it, and has (Christ having died for him to put it away) to come, in the conviction of the hopeless badness of his nature, to death, and then rising again, alive through Jesus Christ, be thus justified before God, and by God, on the one hand, and alive in a new life on the other; then nothing shall separate him from the love of Christ. In the Ephesians the man is found dead in sins; but then he is raised up, and set in heavenly places in Christ (according to the power in which Christ, when dead, was raised of God, and set in the heavenly places, far above principalities and powers, and every name that is named), and brought as a new creation, children withal, and heirs into immediate nearness to God. The additional truth is brought out, that we are united to Christ in this place, as members of His body, and His heavenly bride.

I cannot here - time does not allow it - do more than draw out the great general principles of the different aspects of truth presented by the two epistles. He who searches as a devout learner into the truth of God, will, I am sure, find (in what I here notice in these epistles) elements of deep and profitable instruction, as to his own relationship with God, the Christianity of his soul and of the word, and of his soul according to the word. Perhaps some one, for his own and our edification, may furnish us with further results which flow from it.