W W Fereday
From the Bible Treasury Vol. 20, page 198.
There is an immense difference between the Epistle to the Ephesians and that which precedes (to the Galatians). There the apostle has to descend to the lowest scale of grace, and repeat foundation truths, because of the condition of souls. Here he writes freely of the most exalted themes the counsels of God concerning Christ and the church. The Galatians were being drawn from the ground of faith after circumcision, worldly elements, and works of law; consequently the apostle had to recall them to the true ground of justification before God, faith in Christ's work. In Ephesians he was able to speak "wisdom among the perfect" (1 Cor. 2:6).
It is interesting, yet solemn, to note the difference between this Epistle and that to the Colossians, which most nearly approximates to it in doctrine. In Colossians he brings forward association with Christ dead and risen, but does not carry us into heavenly places. Our hearts, our mind, should be there, but we are viewed as here. He dwells upon the personal glories of the Head and the fulness that resides in Him, rather than the privileges and blessings that are ours in virtue of our union with Him. Why? Again because of the need of souls. Meat in due season is requisite, and the condition of souls must be consulted. The Colossians were being attracted by philosophy and the tradition of men, etc., and needed to be reminded of the headship of Christ, in Whom they were complete. In the case of the Ephesians, however, there was apparently nothing in particular to rebuke or to warn against; they were exhorted to walk worthy of their calling. Consequently the apostle's heart was free, and he could write freely and fully of the wondrous blessings and privileges which pertain to us in Christ.*
*The difference is the more striking, as the two Epistles seem to have been written at the same time, and sent by the same messenger. Compare Eph. 6:21, with Col. 4:7.
Note how he introduces his apostleship: "Paul apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." Quite different is this from the opening of Galatians: "Paul apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, Who raised Him from the dead." Both forms of speech are in keeping with the character of the Epistles in which they are found. Paul was careful to establish for the Galatians that his ministry did not flow from Jerusalem as a centre, nor had he derived his authority through a human channel; but all was of God, having Christ risen as centre. Now in Ephesians, he purposes to show that all blessings for the saints in heavenly places flow from God's will (see in chap. 1:5, 9, 11), he therefore tells us that his apostleship had the same spring.
Paul begins with praise, as also Peter (1 Peter 1:3). How could he write such divine realities without thus bursting forth? The inspired writers were channels — the Holy Ghost being responsible for every word written by them (1 Cor. 2:13); but they were not mere pens. Their affections were engaged, drawn forth doubtless by the Holy Ghost; and the truth therefore was inscribed by Paul with a worshipping heart. He speaks of God as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Farther on, in chap. 1:17, he speaks of "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ"; and, in Eph. 3:14, of "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." These are the two titles under which God has been made known to us. Recall the Lord's words on the resurrection day, "I ascend to my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God" (John 20:17). The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ.
This is in direct contrast with the Jewish portion of old. Jehovah called the Jew to enjoy temporal blessings in earthly places, with Canaan as their seat, basket and store, good crops and vintage, etc. — their promised enjoyment, if obedient. But we are not called thus. The Spirit here expounds a deeper purpose formed in God's heart before the foundation of the world, that we should be before Him in heavenly glory with His Son. If there, we must have a suited nature. Could the natural man be at home with God, and find pleasure where all is holy? Impossible, it is opposed to his very being. Moreover, supposing it were possible to be before Him with a conscience not at rest, where would be the joy? How blessed, therefore, that we are to be "holy and without blame before Him in love!" "Holy," because having His nature, a nature that finds its only portion in God — "Without blame," in virtue of Christ's work; for who shall lay anything to our charge? — "In love," His love flowing ever into our hearts, and back again to Him its source.
But if the God of our Lord Jesus Christ has done this in the character of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has "predestinated us to the adoption of children (sons) by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will," etc. This is a further step: not only nature but relationship. What grace! What part had we to perform? Man is not found here; all is "according to the good pleasure of His will." He willed, and that is all. He has sought His own glory in doing all this for us: hence we read "to the praise of the glory of His grace." Our blessing is never the prime thought with God, but His own glory and the glory of Christ. How precious the change of expression in ver. 6, not "in Christ" but rather "in the Beloved!" "Accepted" is hardly the idea here, but rather "taken into favour"; and this "in the Beloved!" Recall the Lord's words in John 17:23: "that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me." How wonderful! Objects of the same Divine affection standing in the same relationship with the Father.
This leads to a passing notice of our former condition (Eph. 1:7), but it is not developed here, for the Spirit would engage us with God, His counsels and His will. And in chap. 2 it is gone into fully, where we are reminded solemnly of what we were. Here it is briefly said that we have redemption, the forgiveness of offences through His blood. We were formerly Satan's slaves, needing redemption; we were offenders, needing forgiveness.
Further, God has "made known to us the mystery of His will." He has revealed to us His great purpose to unite all earthly and heavenly things under Christ in headship, and has shown us our place of union with Him in the great scheme. What a position of confidence! (See John 15:15.)
We must not confound "the fulness of times" here with "the fulness of time" in Gal. 4. The latter expression is in connection with the coming of Christ. God has tested man in a variety of ways during different dispensations; and when the creature was proved to be helplessly bad and corrupt, he sent forth His Son. This was "the fulness of time." But the phrase in Eph. 1:10 refers to the scheme when all the threads of God's purposes will have spun themselves out, and Christ shall take His place as Head over all above and below, the church sharing all with Him.
But not only do we see Christ's portion as Head of all things in heaven and earth, but our own portion is brought forward: "In Whom also we have obtained an inheritance." Marvellous thought! we are to share with Him all that the Father has given Him. We have been predestinated to it "according to the purpose of Him Who works all things after the counsel of His own will." This leads the apostle to say that we should be to the praise of His glory who first trusted in Christ." The apostle speaks of himself and his Jewish fellow-saints, who believed in Christ while hidden at the right hand of God before His public manifestation to the world. The nation will not believe in Him until the day of display and will not be blessed till then, and then in an inferior way. This the Lord hinted to Thomas, who is a striking type of His people: "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed, blessed are they that have not seen and (yet) have believed" (John 20:29). This is the church's peculiar place, called to believe in Him unseen, and to have the more exalted place of blessing before Him and with Him. But in Christianity the Jew is not blessed apart from the Gentile. Thus we read, "in Whom ye also (trusted) after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation." Jew and Gentile are united, both are reconciled to God in one body by the cross, and both blessed together.
The gospel is here called "the gospel of your salvation." The gospel is spoken of in a variety of ways in the New Testament. It is called "the gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1), because it comes out from God and finds its spring in His own heart. It is the "gospel of His Son" (Rom. 1:9), because Christ is the object; it is God's testimony to men concerning His Son. It is "the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4); for it bears witness to the present exaltation of Christ as Man at the right hand of God in glory. It is also called "the gospel of peace" and "the gospel of the grace of God." But in Eph. 1 the Spirit says "the gospel of your salvation;" for it is the glad tidings, not only that all trespasses are forgiven in virtue of Christ's blood, and that sin is condemned in His death, but that the believer in Him is brought into complete salvation a totally new place of heavenly blessing before God.
Following faith in the gospel is the Spirit's seal: "ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." It is important to see the difference between the Spirit's early work in the soul in convincing it of sin and producing faith in Christ, and sealing. The Spirit of promise is God's gift to all who have accepted Christ's work: the blood first, then the oil (Lev. 8). But He is not only the "seal," He is also the "earnest of the inheritance." The inheritance is not yet possessed by us (indeed the Heir has not yet received His rights), but all is blessedly sure, and the Divine Spirit is the pledge. "The redemption of the purchased possession" looks forward to the time when Christ will take possession of everything He purchased. Then creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, the changing of our bodies into His image at His coming being the first stage.
This closes the introduction of the epistle, and the apostle pauses to pray for the saints. The prayer here is addressed to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ ("Father of glory," because Author of it), and that in Eph. 3, to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, corresponding with the twofold title in ver. 3. Paul had heard of their "faith" and their love — "love to all the saints" being the outcome of faith in our Lord. Narrowness of heart misses His mind, whatever the day may be, though love does not display itself in the same way toward all. In the companion epistle (Colossians) the Spirit commends the saints for the same precious fruit. There are three parts in this prayer. The apostle desired them to know the hope of His calling; the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints; and the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe. The "calling" we have seen in ver. 35; we are to be holy and blameless before Him in love, having sonship according to the good pleasure of His will. The "inheritance" we get in vers. 9-11; we are to share all things with Christ, the Heir. Note, it is God's inheritance (as also His calling); but He inherits it in the saints. It is not at all meant that the saints form the inheritance, as some have thought, such a notion having no ground but refutation in the N. T. We see it often written of Israel. Yet also God reserved to Himself the land of Canaan; it was His land, but He inherited it in His people, while they were His inheritance.
The apostle wished the saints to grasp the vastness of all three — the calling, the inheritance and the power that wrought in Christ in raising Him from among the dead, and placing Him at God's right hand in heavenly places, with all things under His feet. It is God's display of power not in creation, however wonderful, but in raising from the dead His Son, Who went down into death (where we were) bearing our sins, and Who now is in righteousness at His own right hand above, as the accepted Man, the second Adam, Head of the new creation. The same power will presently place us in the same glory; and meanwhile it gives us to enter into the precious meaning of union with Him there, whereby we walk upon our high places. "He has put all things under His feet" is a quotation from Ps. 8. It will be seen in its day; He is Head of the body of the church meanwhile. Wondrous thought! the church is His fulness. His mighty grace has so ordered all; that He (the Head) is not complete without His members — all those who have been joined to Him on high by the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 1 ends by speaking of the church as Christ's body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all; chap. 2 shows us the materials of which the church is composed. Chap. 2 differs greatly from chap. 1 in its general bearing; for chap. 1 brings God forward, and shows us what He counselled before the world was, scarcely touching upon the condition in which He found His elect; while chap. 2 gives prominence to what we were, and details our low estate. Here we are bidden to look down; in the preceding chapter we are called to look up.
In speaking of our former condition the Spirit impresses a line of truth different from that in Romans. There the sinner is viewed as living in his sins — here as dead, "dead in trespasses and in sins." In Romans, I needed to be put to death, and I am shown my death with Christ; in Ephesians I am viewed as dead, and now quickened together with Him. What more striking picture could the Spirit draw of our former state of corruption and helplessness? What can come forth from the dead but corruption? and where can the dead find help but in God Himself? Yet was it an active kind of death; for we "walked according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience." The devil rules all in the world; his influence is all-pervading, and we were once under his power as all others. Another Spirit works in us now through grace. The enemy is called "the prince of the power of the air" here only; and this is quite in accord with the general character of this Epistle, which is occupied with the heavenlies. In 1 Peter he is spoken of as "a roaring lion," and characteristically; for saints are there viewed as strangers and pilgrims passing through the wilderness, and it is in the wilderness we find the lion.
Up to this point the apostle had said "ye," meaning the Gentiles to whom he was writing; but were the Jews better as to their former state? "Among whom also we* all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others" (ver. 3). The Jew, with all his privileges and favours, was not one whit better than the outside Gentile. There may be outward differences, but before God the ruin is complete. The desires of the flesh may be distinct from those of the mind; but both spring from the one evil source. The former would comprehend all that is base and foul; the latter, man's search after wisdom, which invariably leads him from God, and lands him in self-complacency, vanity, and infidelity. Solemn thought! we ever should have delighted in and performed the will of God; but we loved not His way, preferring our own and indulging our "desires" (or "wills") to the full. The opposite should be true now; His will, not our own, should be our unceasing delight. Christ as Man below never did His own will, but the will of His Father, and we are called to follow His steps. All this was our state by nature; we were then "children of wrath even as others."
*In chap. 1:12, 13, there is a corresponding contrast of "ye" (Gentiles) and "we" (Jews), and of much interest too.
Where is hope to be found for the ruined? In God alone, and He is instantly brought in. His counsels were formed long before, irrespective of our nature and actings; but the Spirit is careful to tell us what we were when grace wrought in us to give us a part in and with the Christ of God. Note the largeness of the expressions: "rich in mercy" — "great love" — "the exceeding riches of His grace." Is the language too strong? Not for the magnificent portion which is ours, through grace, in Christ above. He loved us too "when we were dead in sins" — the first movement came from above and not from below — "and has quickened us together with Christ." Christ came down in grace to where we were; He found us in a state of death with sins upon us; He Himself went down into death bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. What else would have availed? But, having accomplished all, God has raised Him from among the dead, and He has gone up in the power of resurrection-life into the presence of His Father and God as the risen Man, Head of the new creation, where all is of God. And we have been quickened with the Christ — not merely quickened, but with Him. Quickening has always been true from the beginning for man — irrespective of dispensational differences — needs to be born again to enter into the kingdom of God; but association in life with Christ was not thus developed until He died and rose. Is not this what He alluded to in John 10? "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." For we are not only "born anew," which is true of saints in all dispensations, but are associated in life with the risen Christ. He is the accepted and beloved One in the presence of God; we are the same through grace. He lives evermore; and because He lives, we live also. We are brought right into the heavenlies — already across Jordan — and made to sit together in Him: not with Him yet, but in Him. To this wondrous display of grace, in bringing us into such an exalted position, God will point in the ages to come; the exceeding riches of His grace will be everlastingly told out in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
It is noticeable that we are reminded here again and again that all is of grace, "faith" being the means, and this not of ourselves: it is the gift of God. Can God sanction boasting in His presence? Nay; he that glories, let him glory in the Lord. And so will it be for ever.
Salvation is looked upon in Ephesians as an accomplished and present thing. In Phil. 2:12, 13, and Romans 8:22-25, the believer is regarded as a pilgrim here below (as also in 1 Peter), beset with difficulties and dangers, and looking for salvation at the coming of the Lord Jesus. But this would not suit Ephesians, where we are viewed as blessed in the heavenlies. We have been and are saved. All is of God; it is His work alone. We were created in Christ Jesus for special good works (which God before prepared that we should walk in them).(Chapter 2 cont)
The apostle has said that salvation is not of works but of grace, that none should boast; but in ver. 10 he shows that works hold an important place in Christianity. "Dead works" are as valueless, if not as outwardly offensive, as "wicked works"; but believers are "created in Christ Jesus, to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." It answers to justification before men, as James speaks, which is in no way a contradiction of the doctrine of Paul in Romans but its supplement.* How else is reality proved? Believers may speak of faith in Christ's name, and of association with Him on high; yet the "good works" convince of truth more than mere words. But how are such works produced? Not by following the law as a rule of life (the Galatians, who followed it, fell to biting and devouring each other), but by learning Christ in the power of the Holy Ghost. Believers have been created anew; and in the new creation law has no place.
*Many, not seeing this, have greatly slighted James' epistle. Luther described it as "a downright epistle of straw, with nothing evangelical about it." And a later countryman of his considers it a direct answer of Jewish Christianity to the Epistle to the Hebrews! The truth is, James furnishes us with the side of life, rather than Paul's doctrine of Christ's work, and nowhere writes anything contradictory to it.
How striking that the apostle should bid the saints to look down in ver. 11! We are carried very high in ver. 7, and shown our place as sitting in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus; we are now told to remember what we were. It is important to distinguish between self-occupation, and the remembrance of our ruined state. The former leads to doubt and fear; the latter to humility and deeper appreciation of grace.
The Ephesians, in their Gentile state, were called uncircumcision — a term of great reproach. (1 Sam. 14:6, 1 Sam. 31:4) . Circumcision was the sign of relationship with God (and more also): to be uncircumcised was to be altogether outside the circle of relationship and privilege. Consequently, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, they were apart from the Christ, having no hope, and without God in the world. All this is true of the Gentile: the Jew was outwardly nigh, had the promises, hoped in Christ Who should come, and had God's sanctuary and oracles. In the earlier part of the chapter the apostle lays down what is true of Jew and Gentile alike, here he emphasises what was particularly true of the Gentiles.
But where has Christ's work brought the believer? Into the Jew's old place of nearness to God? Nay, but into a place incomparably nearer than the Jew ever conceived. Moreover, He has brought the believing Jew into the same place, having abolished all distinctions after the flesh. This is an immense advance on all Old Testament teaching. The prophets spoke much of blessing for Gentiles, but always in a subordinate way to the Jew (all of which will be realised in the millennial reign). But meanwhile God has brought out His better thing, and Jew and Gentile, believing in Christ, are brought into the same blessed place of nearness to God: humbling to Jewish prejudice doubtless, but none the less the will of God. There are thus in this period three classes in the world: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God (1 Cor. 10:32). The Jew, believing in Jesus, is brought out of his old Jewish standing; and the Gentile from his place of distance: both are reconciled to God in one body, and both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
It is to be observed that God has "broken down" the wall which He Himself reared (it would have been sin for anyone else to have done so) of old. Jehovah said to His people, "I Jehovah am holy, and have severed you from other people that ye should be mine" (Lev. 20:26). The godly gloried in this, and could say, "He shows His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt so with any nation: and as for His judgments, they have not known them" (Ps. 147:19, 20). So that Peter was warranted in telling Cornelius that it was an unlawful thing for a Jew to come to, or keep company with, one of another nation. But such distinctions belong to the past. God's present work is the formation of the one body. Christ has abolished in His flesh the enmity (ver. 15). Peace is now proclaimed to the distant and to the nigh: and both draw near to the Father.
Therefore are we Gentiles no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. Here we have a new thought; not merely one body, but a building. Formerly God sanctioned a material house, and dwelt in it in the midst of the people whom He had redeemed; but here we read of a temple of a very different order. The building on Moriah was disowned and empty ("your house is left to you desolate" Matt. 23:38), and God was framing "a spiritual house" composed of living stones. Mark here it is God's building, not the work of man. We have to distinguish between the house as built by God, and as committed to human workmen. The first thought is to be found here, as well as in Matt. 16, and 1 Peter 2.
Viewed from this standpoint, all is perfect, as God's work ever is, and must be. The church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail is composed of living members, called and built by Christ Himself: no rubbish enters there. But how different when man's part is contemplated! In 1 Cor. 3 Paul and His associates are viewed as builders in the house. Paul had laid a foundation at Corinth: others had followed, and built upon it. There the warning is found; for some may build wood, hay, and stubble (instead of gold, silver, and precious stones), and lose their reward in the coming day — all their work being consumed, while yet others may defile the temple of God, and be destroyed. The latter class are not Christians at all. God deals with men according to their profession; and all who take the ground of being His servants, whether possessing life or not, will be dealt with on that ground. (Compare Matt. 24:8-11, 25:30). Men build with doctrines: the faithful servant teaches the truth as revealed, and gathers true souls; the careless labourer, whose teaching is indifferent, gathers those who too often prove to be unreal, while the false servant corrupts the spring, and poisons and ruins all who fall under his baneful influence
In Eph. 2:21 the temple is viewed as progressing; "it grows to a holy temple in the Lord." This would include every saint of this dispensation; and in this sense the temple is not completed until the Lord comes. "All the building" is the correct idea, not "each several building" as in R.V.* The latter rendering militates against the whole teaching of the epistle, which is the unity of the blessed in Christ.
*I notice that in Acts 2:36 — margin, the Revisers read "every house of Israel." This is at least consistent with their rendering of Eph. 2:21; but the absurdity is very apparent.
In ver. 22, we get a further thought: "in whom also ye are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." Here we have, not the progressive thing, but the local thing — the gathered saints at Ephesus were God's habitation. Very similarly does the apostle speak to the Corinthians, "Know ye not that ye are God's temple, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you" (1 Cor. 3:16)? Note the difference in the language in (1 Cor. 6:19), where the saints are viewed individually. Precious, yet solemn, truth for saints to remember, that, as gathered, the Spirit of God is present making them His habitation. How widely and long this has been overlooked in Christendom, one scarcely need say, but it remains on the page of Scripture as the truth of God. Where believed, what room for human officers in worship, to say nothing of priests for us? Ministry or rule is another question.
Paul now begins to exhort, and touchingly speaks of himself as a "prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles." He regarded no second cause, but accepted his imprisonment from the Lord Himself. Precious principle for our hearts at all times! But it was for Gentiles' sake he was suffering. Most of his afflictions were the fruit of Jewish hatred; so repugnant to them was the indiscriminate grace proclaimed by Paul, which levelled fleshly pretensions and distinctions to the dust.
But though the apostle commences to exhort, he goes off into a long parenthesis (not unusual in his epistles), extending from verse 2 to verse 21, in which he explains his knowledge of the mystery of Christ; and he prays for the saints. Doubtless they had heard of the dispensation (or, administration) of the grace of God, which had been given him toward the Gentiles. It was by revelation that the Lord made known to him the mystery, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Paul had had many visions and revelations of the Lord. The Lord's supper was directly revealed to him by the Lord, the manner of the rapture of the saints also; here he speaks of the mystery, Christ and the church. This had not been unfolded in other ages, but "hid in God." The writings of the Old Testament prophets would be searched in vain for a hint of anything of the kind. Yet it was a purpose formed before the foundation of the world, but God had a time for its unfolding. Jewish apostasy and wickedness must reach their height; Christ must be presented to them and be rejected; redemption must he accomplished, the Son must be exalted as man by the right hand of God; and the Spirit must descend, ere God would open out the eternal purpose formed in His heart for Christ's glory. All is now revealed: whence it is announced that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel.
If the time of revealing the mystery was divinely chosen, so also was the instrument. He felt deeply the grace of the choice; he "became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God." "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given." Elsewhere he expresses himself as "not meet to be called an apostle." Called by the exalted Lord, when engaged in pursuing His saints to the death, he became His chosen vessel to bear His name before kings, and the Gentiles and the children of Israel; to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all as to the economy of the mystery of Christ and the church. The result is that the heavenly beings now learn in the church — gathered into union with Christ its exalted Head — the manifold wisdom of God. They had seen His mighty work in creation, and had shouted for joy; they are now privileged to see something more wondrous far in character — the rich fruit of redemption, and the eternal counsels of God — the church formed on earth in time, by the Spirit, to have part in Christ's heavenly glory. What is God's purpose concerning the earth and the kingdom, as compared with this?
In Eph. 2:18 the apostle has said, "Through Him we have access by one Spirit to the Father" here, "in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him." Therefore he would not have the saints discouraged by his sufferings; himself gloried in them: they were their glory. Devoted labourer! He had drunk deeply into the affections of the Head for His body the church; and it was his highest joy to serve Him by serving it and suffering for it.
He proceeds to pray for the saints, who were much upon his heart; he bows his knees to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." We have noticed that his prayer in Eph. 1 is addressed to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here he thinks of their state: he desired it to he good; he longed that they might walk at the height of God's thoughts as revealed.
Verse 15 is better thus — "of whom every family in heaven and earth is named." There will be several quite distinct circles above and below, enjoying their measure of nearness in blessing. In heaven the church's place is distinct; so is also that of the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb. 12); and angels have their assigned portion; while on earth the Jews and the Gentiles have their respective places of blessing before God.
Having touched upon this passingly the apostle prays for the saints, that the Father would grant them, according to the riches of His glory, to be "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man." How forcibly this reminds us of man's inability to find out the things of God! Man not only needs a new nature, and the Spirit to instruct, but needs divine strengthening to receive divine thoughts in detail. This Daniel felt in his day (Dan. 10).
This was not all Paul prayed for, but "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." This is quite a different thought from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is always true, in virtue of redemption, whatever the spiritual state may be; but here we have the conscious enjoyment of Christ within — Himself and His love the stay and delight of the soul. What do we know of it? We become thus "rooted and grounded in love," and able to look out calmly, yet with wonder, upon the boundless sphere of glory opened, in the counsels of God, to our view.
But we comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height (that is, of the mystery) "with all saints." But there is more. The rich enjoyment of Christ's love, and the understanding of the varied counsels of God enlarge the affections: our hearts share with all the objects of the same wondrous grace — with all who are to have a part in the same glory with Christ. In chap. 1 the apostle speaks approvingly of their "love to all the saints", and in Eph. 6:18, he exhorts to prayer "with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints." This is Gods way, though love does not necessarily show itself in the same way toward all. "We know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments" (1 John 5:2).
In verse 19 we reach the limit; farther we cannot go. He desires our hearts to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge that we may be filled with (into) all the fulness of God. It is not that the vessel can contain all; but it is placed in the fountain, as it were, and is thus filled to its utmost capacity. Are there not heights always to be reached, and depths still to be sounded? But we are enabled for all this by "the power that works in us"; which places this prayer in striking contrast with that in Eph. 1. There he speaks of the power which has wrought for us, displayed in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ; here it is power working in us by the Holy Spirit. Consequently here we have experience. Fittingly does the apostle close with an ascription of praise; his heart, overwhelmed, could not do otherwise. The church's unique place stands for ever. In the church, by Christ Jesus, he desires glory to God to all generations of the age of ages.
We here enter upon the practical part of the epistle. Ver. 1 refers back to the end of Eph. 2. In Eph. 3:1 the apostle commenced with, "For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles," and then went off into a lengthy parenthesis (not an unusual thing in his epistles) which reaches to the end of the chapter. Here he takes up the thread: "I, therefore the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you etc." How touching the manner of the exhortation! In all his epistles there is marked rarity of commanding (though of course he had authority as an apostle). He loved to say "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy" (2 Cor. 1:24).
Three times in Paul's epistles we are exhorted to "walk worthy." In 1 Thess. 2:12 we are to "walk worthy of God," the living and true God Whom, in contrast with idols, the Thessalonians had been called to serve. In Col. 1:10 it is "walk worthy of the Lord to all pleasing," Christ's authority and headship being much dwelt upon in that epistle. Here it is "worthy of the vocation (calling) wherewith ye are called" (chap. 4:1). The calling has been unfolded in chaps. 1, and 2; it involves new nature and relationship, access to the Father, and God's habitation in the Spirit union with the exalted Christ in one body.
Lowliness and meekness are to characterise us: how else can we walk together? We have the same thing in Phil. 2, "lowliness of mind, each esteeming other better than themselves." Fellowship with each other is an impossibility, if self is allowed: heart-burnings and strife must surely follow. But suppose, in displaying lowliness and meekness, we find our brethren otherwise? Then comes the opportunity of exercising longsuffering and forbearance in love; and our earnest endeavour must be to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In view of the many millions of saints in Christendom, it becomes an important question, what is the unity of the Spirit? The Spirit gathers to Christ as centre, and His unity embraces all the saints, every evil being excluded. Nothing narrower or broader than this is His formation, and in this we are called to walk, watching our hearts sedulously, lest Satan get an advantage to Christ's dishonour and our sorrow. We need zeal to observe it practically.
The apostle proceeds to mention some of the bonds of unity. There are seven: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. We must not confound the unity of the Spirit with the unity of the body though the two things are intimately connected. A recent writer, one worthy of esteem in love for his work's sake, has said, "Is it not clear that, during this age, the Church of Christ was never meant to be a visible corporate body, but to be a great spiritual reality, consisting of all faithful and loyal spirits, in all communions, who, holding the Head, are necessarily one with each other?" It is clear undoubtedly, that the church was meant to be "a great spiritual reality," and this it is. But it is also clear from scripture, that it should have been "a visible corporate body," i.e. all the saints on earth walking together in one communion, keeping the unity of the Spirit. It were better far to own our deep failure and sin, and seek fresh grace from the ever faithful Lord, than to excuse our failure by denying the truth and our responsibility.
Though all that is here stated be true of every saint, it is plain that there are different circles in vers. 4-6, and that they widen. None can have part in the one body and one Spirit and one hope, but those that are really Christ's; but the one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, are connected with the sphere of profession; while the one God and Father of all Who is above all, and through all, and in us (or you) all, speaks of a wider circle still (save in the last clause, "in us all"); for all the families in heaven and earth range themselves under Him, as in chap. 3:15. For God's aim in perfecting the saints, Christ's work of ministry and our building up here below as members of His body, the Head has given gifts. There are two truths in vers. 7-16; first, "to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." This is the general statement. Every saint has received something from Christ for the edification of the body, which is "compacted by that which every joint supplies." No member is irresponsible; each has his place and functions. Secondly, there are special gifts, which we may call ministerial. All flow from a victorious and ascended Christ. He came once in grace where we were. We were dead, and under the power of Satan: He went down into death, meeting the strong man, but proved Himself to be the stronger, and, having taken from him all his armour wherein he trusted, He divides the spoils. The lowest place was once His — "He descended into the lower parts of the earth;" He now is seen far above all heavens, filling all things. Captivity has been led captive, the Victor has received gifts for men* (strictly "in man;" i.e. in His human character).
*The Psalm which the apostle here quotes, looks beyond the present dealings of God, and goes on to say: "Yea, for the rebellious also that the Lord God might dwell among them" (Ps. 68:18). Thus there is a reserve of blessing for the people of Israel, at the end, still rebellious alas!
How precious to view ministry thus! It is not regarded in scripture as a mere office, imparting external importance to the holder, but as fruit of the victory of Jesus, of which all His members share the blessedness. There are various gifts named; apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Note, it is not said that He gave apostolic or evangelistic gifts to certain men, though this is true (1 Peter 4:10), but He gave apostles, etc. That is, the men themselves are gifts to the body for its edification and blessing. Apostles and prophets did foundation work; and these, having laid the foundation, have ceased. Their writings abide for the permanent profit of the saints; and in this sense, they may abide; but, as a fact, they are gone. Successors they have none; nor was any promise given of a restored apostleship at the end, whatever some may vainly think.
The remaining gifts for the blessed objects are continued, and are vouchsafed to the end by the faithful Head in heaven. Of these, the evangelist is mentioned first, for so his work is in the order of the soul's experience. He is the special gift to bring the soul to God, the Holy Spirit acting through him. The work of the pastor and teacher then begins. The pastor acts the father's part, watching over the divine life which has been imparted, seeking to train in God's ways, and guide and guard from ill; while the teacher (here a connected class) opens the treasury of truth, and expounds what he knows of the precious things of God that the soul may be instructed. How are these men known? Not by garments or titles, but by spiritual power. The man who yearns over the perishing, and who is able to bring home to them the gospel of Christ, is beyond doubt an evangelist. Where this is the fact (and it is easily known), he is recognised as such, and accepted as a gift from Christ. So, also those who act a fatherly part or unfold the vast field of revealed truth, showing by their ways that the saints are a burden on their hearts, are to be honoured by their brethren in that still more delicate and difficult work.
It is due to Christ to thankfully accept all that He gives; not setting off one gift against another, but giving all the place assigned by the Lord. "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labour among and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in the Lord for their work's sake; and be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thess. 5:12, 13).
It is to be observed that on the one hand miraculous gifts are not mentioned here, nor on the other hand, elders and deacons. They have each their own place in scripture; the first being signs to the unbelieving: the second, local responsibilities. Here we have the direct and gracious and unfailing position of the Lord for the edification of the body here below.
The first and principal object of all ministry is "the perfecting of the saints." It is not the will of God that His saints shall remain in an infantine condition, not knowing their privileges and blessings and His thoughts concerning them, but that they should make progress and grow in the knowledge of Himself and of His grace. It is not enough that all is ours in Christ Jesus, and that what grace has given can never be forfeited because the fruit of divine counsel and founded upon Christ's work; but God would have His saints know and enjoy all that has been granted. This thought is immensely higher than the general notion of even good men in Christendom today. With many the principal object is the salvation of souls, at best the blessing of the creature rather than the glory of Christ. This is to serve on low ground, however little intended, the aim being distinctly beneath the declared aim of our God. The unhappy result is that numbers of souls stop short at the knowledge of forgiveness, or of security from judgment, with feeble thoughts of divine righteousness, and little or no knowledge of union by the Spirit with a risen and exalted Christ on high. It is, of course, freely admitted that souls must be won for Christ by the gospel before they can be perfected; but forgiveness of sins is but an initial blessing. The soul is by Him introduced into a large place, where unbounded grace may be learned and enjoyed. And let it not be supposed that the evangelist's work has nothing to do with this. His work is included in the statement, "for the perfecting of the saints." He declares the gospel, and thus performs the first great office, the pastor and teacher follow up the work, the labours of each and all tending in the one great direction. An understanding of this will preserve the evangelist from labour of an independent character. His work, of course, lies not within the assembly, but in the world of the ungodly; yet he goes forth from the bosom of the assembly, and into that circle he gathers souls, that Christ the centre may be glorified in them. Thus are the further objects of the giving of the gifts secured; the work of the ministry is accomplished in all its branches; and the body of Christ, which the Spirit of God came here to form, is edified.
Before passing from this important subject, it is of moment to press the direct responsibility of every servant to Christ. Let us note well the principles of this chapter. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers, are gifts from Christ ascended, as truly as apostles and prophets: the church has no place but as a receiver. The notion of officials or the church appointing ministry is not found here, nor elsewhere in scripture. I am aware that elders (or bishops) and deacons were appointed by an apostle or apostolic man so commissioned like Titus; but such were ordained for rule not for the ministry of the word. The first class (always in the plural) were set to watch over the spiritual affairs of the saints in the towns where they dwelt, their authority not extending beyond those limits; deacons were appointed to serve tables or analogous work. In some instances, persons of both classes possessed ministerial gifts also, Stephen and Philip among deacons being cases in point, but this was altogether distinct from their local responsibilities. They were appointed to local office: as evangelists, etc., they were the gifts of Christ. Therefore, evangelists, pastors, and teachers being Christ's gifts, to Him they are responsible in the exercise of their service, and to no one else. When the Corinthians were disposed to judge Paul, they only drew forth from him a sound rebuke; and were told that to him it was a small thing to be judged by them, or by man's day — his judge was the Lord (1 Cor. 4:35). Had the apostle been speaking of discipline in the assembly, he would have spoken differently; a minister, if convicted of immoral ways, or unsound doctrine, being as much amenable to discipline as any other professors of Christ's name. But in the ordinary exercise of their gifts all such are responsible to the Lord alone, at Whose judgment-seat they and all will shortly stand.
We now come to the duration of the gifts; "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." The perfection spoken of here seems to be not in glory, where all will doubtless be according to Christ, but a state of full growth on earth in contrast with infancy and weakness as in verse 14.
Even in Paul's early day, corrupt men bearing the Lord's name were active in seeking to ensnare the unwary and the simple, and lead them astray from the faith. God would have His saints firmly established in His grace and truth, and in the knowledge of His Son, that they may be proof against the ever-changing wiles of the enemy. It is deplorable to observe saints tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, apparently at the mercy of the foe. Is this God's will? Nay, but their establishment and blessing. And inasmuch as the church of God will never be without souls needing to be helped on to full growth, the ever faithful Head will continue the gifts of His grace until the end: "till we all come." Note, gifts are not given to make the saints helplessly dependent on them, but the reverse; by means of the gifts the saints become firmly rooted and grow up into Him Who is the Head — Christ.
Verse 15 is rather "being truthful in love"; the truth not only influencing our speech, as the Authorised Version would indicate, but all our ways, having its true place in our inward parts.
Verse 16 completes the circle of the provision of the Head for the edification of His body. Here we get not only that which is general, the body compacted and fitly joined together by that which every joint supplies. It is an important principle surely: no member of the body is irresponsible — "to every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" — and all must be in exercise that all may be blessed and edified, and the Lord glorified.
In verse 17 the practical exhortations take a different shape. In verses 1-16 the instruction affects more particularly our collective walk as one body; here we have that which is individual. A becoming and separate walk is pressed. The apostle puts it solemnly: "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord." He knows the dangers to which the saints were everywhere exposed, and that the Lord's honour was bound up with them; therefore the peculiarly impressive tone.
He exhorts them not to walk "as other Gentiles walk" They used so to do, as Eph. 2:13 shows; and at that time they were children of wrath even as others. But grace makes a difference, and would have the difference to be seen by men among whom we walk; not indeed that we may be praised, but that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ. The exhortation is similar to 1 Peter 4:3 — "The time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles" — only there the apostle of the circumcision was writing to believing Jews, who had in their former days sunk to the level of the Gentiles around.
Paul depicts in dark colours the condition of the Gentiles who know not God; minds vain, understandings darkened, hearts hardened, alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them. This is true of all, whether philosophical or unlearned. Man's mind cannot find a true centre or object, if it knows not God, nor can his understanding find the enlightenment. See the solemn confirmation of this in Romans 1:21, 22, and recall the apostle amongst the "wise" at Athens. In the latter place he could only speak of the most elementary things; the creatorship of God, the unity of man, the folly of idolatry, etc.; for what does man's mind become when he shuts God out? True, all may not sink to the level of verse 19, "being past feeling" etc.; but the unregenerate heart, wherever found, is capable even of that. But we have not so learned. How sweetly the apostle expresses our present path here! Not set as those in Judaism to obey a code of laws, but to learn and hearken to a Person — Christ. Would the law, if kept, make a man heavenly? No, it suits men in the flesh, acting as a curb and as a plummet; but it could never make a man what a Christian ought to be. The Christian's standard is immeasurably higher. "But we know that the law is good if a man use it lawfully, knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man" (1 Tim. 1:9), and this the believer is, in virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, for we have been made the righteousness of God in Him.
The truth is, that a new nature, a new life (from which the Gentiles, as such, are alienated) has been imparted, and the new life has an object presented to it — Christ; and it is the believer's delight to study Him. "I have heard Him and learned Him." In measure as our hearts are occupied with Him, we become changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit. And when we look at His blessed ways here, when manifested, we see how we should shape our steps, for in Him the life of God was displayed in perfection among men below. This, I conceive to be the force of "as the truth is in Jesus" — all was to be seen perfectly exemplified there. Moreover, we have put off (past tense, not as A. V. or R. V.) concerning the former conversation (behaviour) the old man; and have put on the new. Both are described: the old man is "corrupt according to the lusts of deceit." (The meaning of the word "corrupt " here is "ruined " (we get a different word in verse 29, "putrid," "rotten"): the old man is past all repair. God has disowned him, we have put him off — "our old man is crucified with Him." But the new man is according to God created in righteousness and holiness of truth. Note the word "created"; God has caused to exist in me what was not there once. See Col. 3:10, the new man is "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him." The word eminently suits Ephesians; for here man is viewed as dead. But we have been quickened — quickened together with Christ: there is therefore a new creation, "we are created in Christ Jesus to good works " etc. I have said the new man is described: he is created "according to God." The new man loves righteousness and holiness of truth, never loving to wallow in the mire, and the practical display of these characteristics is the proof of life.
The apostle proceeds to details: falsehood (meaning more than lying actions as well as words) is to be put off; truth is to be spoken, for we are members one of another. The motive stated is an exalted one: I am not merely to scorn falsehood from a sense of honour, which an upright man of the world may do, but I am a member of the same body with my brother; if I act or speak falsely to him, I do so to myself, and more solemn still, to Christ. Anger is to be watched, that sin may not result, and that the devil may have no place. Anger in the sense of indignation against unrighteousness and iniquity, is all well and of God — we find God often angry in the Old Testament and Christ moved with anger in the New — but our hearts are treacherous, and we have to watch it.
The thief is to become a labourer and even a giver, for grace transforms. The law required the thief to make restitution but grace makes him positively benevolent.
And if the hands are regulated in verse 28, the tongue finds a place in verse 29. What do we emit from our lips? The Spirit in James devotes a whole chapter to the unruly member; instruction always needed and wholesome. Is our conversation "corrupt," or is it "good to the use of edifying, ministering grace to the hearers. Of Christ we read; "Grace is poured into Thy lips" (Ps. 45).
The Holy Spirit of God dwells within; the temple should he kept pure, that He may be ungrieved. There are two great principles in these verses, a new nature, a positive life imparted, and the indwelling of the Spirit. By Him we are sealed to the day of redemption. "Grieve not" is here said to the individual, "quench not" in 1 Thess. 5 to the assembly.
God's ways are to be seen in us, and all bitterness, wrath, etc., put far away. The kindness and tenderheartedness of God to us are to form our ways. He in Christ has forgiven us, the spirit of forgiveness is to reign amongst the saints. "Until seven times?" Nay, but "until seventy times seven" (Matt. 18).
The apostle continues by the Spirit his practical exhortations. The whole Christian pathway is summed up in one pregnant sentence, "Be ye therefore followers (imitators) of God, as dear children." How much higher is this than law! In giving the latter God set forth His requirement from man, and it consisted in "Do this and live," but Christianity is a higher and more blessed thing. God has revealed Himself fully too in the Son of His love. This henceforth is the believer's pattern. We do not aim at godliness with a view to gaining the favour of God, or of making out a righteousness: but we walk thus because we are children, partakers of the divine nature, objects of His unbounded affection. It is sweet thus to be reminded of His love! Paul could address the Roman saints as "beloved of God," (Rom. 1), the Thessalonians similarly (1 Thess. 1:4); and the Lord in His prayer to the Father lets us know that we are loved by the Father as He Himself was loved (John 17:23, see also John 16:27). The knowledge of this is to shape our steps.
We are to "walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour." How such a word searches the heart! Is this how we love? Who will not own to shortcoming? Yet the standard may not be lowered, nothing short of this is the mind of God for His saints. Christ gave Himself — His love led Him even to death for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 4). The sacrifice of Christ is here brought before us in its burnt offering aspect — it was a sweet smelling savour; and, blessed be His name, "for us." In 1 Peter 2:24, where we get the trespass offering side of His cross, "a sweet savour" could not be said: He bore our sins, and drank the cup of divine wrath which was their due.
Warnings follow. "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be named among you, as becomes saints." How humbling that such exhortations should be found in close connection with the unfolding of the heavenly calling! But what is the human heart not capable of? No warning is given in vain; and the condition of the Corinthian assembly, when the apostle wrote his first Epistle there, shows the need of the word. The Thessalonians were written to similarly (1 Thess. 4:3-8); the Colossians also (Col. 3:5-6). The tongue is to be guarded no less than the other members of the body: filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting ill become the saints. Scripture is positive as well as negative; if folly is not to flow from our lips, giving of thanks should. Happy occupation! the heart so satisfied with divine grace, and so engrossed with Christ, that out of its abundance thanksgiving wells out to Him. May we know more of it!
Does God think lightly of sin and folly? Nay; to pursue such ways is exceedingly grave. Such persons have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. The Ephesians must not be deceived, "for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience." What can be said when one professing the Lord's name steadily pursues an evil course? "By their fruits ye shall know them." It is no question of the believer failing as he passes through the world — for such there is restoring grace through the advocacy of Christ on high, and the gracious operation of the Spirit in heart and conscience below; it is an evil course which is supposed, though under cover of the Lord's name. The Ephesians were to hold themselves aloof from such, and not to be partakers with them. Such ways had been attractive to them, for they were once darkness, but now, being light in the Lord, they were to walk as children of light. Our former condition is here very solemnly stated — "Our former darkness." "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all:" we were thus wholly opposed to God, our very nature antagonistic. But we are no longer darkness, nor in darkness, but are children of light: the fruit of the light* — i.e. the practical result of knowing God fully revealed — should be manifested in all "goodness and righteousness and truth." We thus prove experimentally what is acceptable (well-pleasing) to the Lord.
*Ver. 9 should read "the fruit of the light." The fruit of the Spirit is found in Gal. 5; but here the thought is different.
The Christian should thus, (not only abstain from ungodly ways, but) abjure all fellowship with those who practise them. Rather should he expose them; not necessarily directly attacking the world's practices, but by consistent godliness reproving iniquity. Men's secret sins, which have as large a place now as in Paul's days, are too shameful even to name; but they are exposed, and their true character declared by the light, for light manifests all things. Such exposing will not bring love, but rather hatred, to the witness, as our Lord Jesus said, "Me it (the world) hates, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil" (John 7:7). In His case the darkness hated the light: it was too much for them.
Therefore is the believer to awake if sleeping, and arise from among the dead. Sorrowful condition for a saint to slip into! Of what value as a witness to God and the truth is a sleeper? Thanks be to God, such are not dead: the spark of divine life is there, and can never be extinguished; but they have sunk into a state of spiritual torpor, having thus lost their enjoyment of heavenly grace, and their usefulness in testimony. The Spirit also arouses in Rom. 13, but there reminds us of the nearness of our salvation, the night being far spent, and the day at hand. Here such sleepers among the dead are exhorted to arise; and, as the apostle adds, "Christ shall shine upon thee." Only thus can the believer reflect anything of God to a hostile world.
Such exhortations remind us of where we are — in an enemy's land. We shall not need in heaven to be told to walk carefully, to redeem the time, and to lay aside folly, and understand what the will of the Lord is. The days are evil: hence the need of the Spirit's admonitions.
The use of wine is to be guarded — in it is excess, profligacy: the rather are we to be filled with the Spirit. This is a different thought from being sealed with the Spirit. The latter is God's work entirely, the Spirit being His gift to the believer, founded on redemption; but to be "filled" rests with ourselves in self-judgment and looking to Christ. How far do we hinder His operation within?
Being thus filled, the heart expresses itself in melody and thanksgiving to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The psalms, etc., spoken of in this chapter are christian compositions not those of David, which relate to the Jew rather than to the Christian. Of course, there are many precious sentiments contained in that wonderful and inspired collection that are true for believers at all times. Still the book is not characterised by those blessings which we are called particularly to enjoy; as accomplished redemption, union with an exalted Christ, the knowledge of the Father, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. The spiritual tone is distinctly lowered when souls persist in using the Psalms of David as the proper and habitual vehicle of their worship.
The Spirit now turns to the various relationships of life and exhorts to a becoming and heavenly walk in them. So complete is the word of God as the believer's directory that nothing is left untouched that is needed for life and godliness. The home and the business find a place as truly as the assembly of God.
*It is just the same principle in Gal. 3 "They that be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse" No man is justified by the law; not merely that he is not justified by his own keeping the law, but not in virtue of law at all. To be justified, to live, is by faith. "And the law is not of faith:" they are opposite principles. If otherwise, what an admirable opening to have told us that Christ kept the law for us, and that His doing it is our life and title to eternal blessedness in heaven! For His legal observance is, according to some, the way, the truth, and the life, the ground necessary to imputing righteousness. But not so: scripture excludes the idea, insisting that no man is justified by law, and that the law is not of faith; whereas the system says that, though it be nothing for pardon, it is all for righteousness. Had we been Jews, Christ has bought us out of the curse of the law [not a word about fulfilling it for us], that we might receive the promise by faith. Hence the apostle proves that the promise was independent of the law, and hundreds of years before. The blessing of Abraham, the inheritance, is not by law, but by promise. It is a question therefore of the immutability of the promise, not of the law, whatever cavillers may say. The law was a wholly distinct institution, added because of transgressions (in express contrast with our righteousness), till the Seed should come to Whom the promise was made. Is there inconsistency then between the law and the promises of God? There would be, if either life or righteousness were by law. But not so; the scripture has shut up all (ta panta) under sin [not transgression merely], that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. Dead silence as to His keeping the law for us! What we are told is, that, before faith came, we [the Jewish believers, not the "ye"] were guarded under law, shut up to the faith about to be revealed. So that the law was our schoolmaster to Christ [not a hint of being kept by Him for us], that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus, and heirs according to the promise, not the law. In Gal. 4:4 we do hear that God sent forth His Son, made of woman, made under law. Surely here, if anywhere, one might expect to learn, if it were true, that, where so come, He was keeping the law for us representatively. Not the most distant hint of it! On the contrary, He was sent to redeem, or buy off those under law [the Jews], that we might receive sonship. Nor this only: "But because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So thou art no longer a bondman, but a son." It is an elaborate argument to exclude law on every side — law as a principle — from life, promises, righteousness, and special relationship. When Christ is introduced in this connection, it is solely as redeeming those under the law from its curse, and never as obeying it for their justification.
The order of the exhortations here should be noted: wives are addressed before husbands, children before fathers, and servants before masters; each word arising out of ver. 21, "submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." This important principle the apostle now proceeds to develop in its application to the different circumstances in which we find ourselves on earth. A very beautiful style is to be observed in the exhortations to wives and husbands: each are set to study Christ and the church as their patterns respectively of obedience and affection. How different the principle of legal obedience! Here the Spirit fills our hearts with heavenly realities, and then sets us to reproduce them, as it were, in our walk below. This way reminds of God's dealing with Moses with regard to the tabernacle; "see that thou make all things according to the pattern showed thee in the mount." Thus, as Paul speaks, the tabernacle and its vessels were "patterns of things in the heavens." On a similar principle should our walk as saints be regulated.
It is blessed to notice how the heart of the apostle, even in giving commonplace exhortations to the saints, turns naturally to that which was his peculiar stewardship — the relationship of grace existing between Christ and the church according to the eternal counsels of God. Wives are therefore told to submit themselves to their own husbands, as to the Lord, the husband being the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the church. "Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything." The apostle speaks of the place in which the church has been set, that of subjection to her Head, not of her actual practice. Alas, for that! How much selfwill and losing sight of the Headship of Christ has marred her practice! But the truth abides, "the church is subject to Christ" — He is her glorified Head: the christian wife is to learn the great principle, and act upon it.
Husbands are not exhorted to rule, that not being a point where they are so likely to fail*, but to love. The wives are not addressed in this way: love with them is not so likely to be weak as submission. And what is set before the husband? "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it." This, when understood, lifts us above merely natural ground: divine love is our heavenly pattern. It is profitable to notice the different ways in which divine love is spoken of in the scriptures. In John's Gospel (John 3) we get God's love to the world, in John's epistle (1 John 3) the Father's love to the family. Here it is neither, but Christ's love to the church. It was that on which He set His heart when in the depths as the costly pearl: He would have her for His own, to share His throne and glory, to be the object of His affection for ever. To acquire her, He must give Himself (for the question of sin was there): could even divine love do more? He held not back even from the cross, for the joy that was set before Him; a part, at least, of which was to have the church as His own — His body and His bride.
*In cases where there is failure in this respect, the husband might do well to read King Ahasuerus' decree (Esther 1:22).
In verse 25 we get the past — what He has done: in verse 26 we get the present, what He is doing, sanctifying and cleansing it with the washing of water by the word. He will have her to be according to His mind, and therefore uses His word upon her that she may be kept apart by it from all that is contrary to Himself, and cleansed whenever she contracts defilement in the world. What individual saint does not know the power and blessedness of this? He died for the saints, for the church: He lives for us and serves us, as the girded One in the glory.
And even that is not all, for there is a future as truly as a past and present; "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." What a contrast between present conditions and future glory! Spots are too plainly to be seen now, for the church has not kept herself from the world (James 1:27): wrinkles, signs of decay were to be seen even before the apostle of the church went to his rest. But all such marks of failure and sin will be removed by the holy loving hand of her faithful Lord, and she shall be what His heart would have her; "neither spot nor wrinkle, nor any such thing," as the Spirit emphatically declares, shall be seen in that day.
Meanwhile He loves the church as Himself, with a love that never wearies nor grows cold; and the husband is to learn the precious lesson: Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. "for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones." As a type, Eve's case is then brought forward; the fruit, as it were, of the deep sleep of Adam, his helpmeet, and the sharer of his dominion and blessing. Such is the church's place in relationship with Christ; one with Him now by the Spirit, presently to share all which His grace will bestow. Our hearts do well to cultivate a deeper entrance into His mind concerning the church, seeking His glory in it, and the edification and perfection of all His own. For this, Paul counted it a privilege to labour, pray, and suffer (Col. 1:24-28). In closing the subject, the apostle draws the conclusion that the husband is to love his wife even as himself, and the wife is to see that she reverence her husband.
It is noticeable that the Spirit of God gives similar instructions as to the relationships of life in Colossians as here; though not with the same fulness, nor quite upon the same lines. The latter is especially to be seen in the word to children: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right" (just). So reads Ephesians: but in Colossians the apostle merely states, "for this is well-pleasing to the Lord." Was the variation because of the legal tendencies of the latter? From the forms etc., which had such attraction for their brethren at Colosse, the Ephesians were apparently quite clear, through grace; therefore the apostle was free to say "this is just," without fear of the word being misapplied by them.
Everywhere in scripture is filial obedience pressed, and the Lord Himself in the home at Nazareth has left an example which should be studied (Luke 2:51). Disobedience to parents is one of the unhappy moral signs of the last days (2 Tim. 3:2), as also absence of natural affection; elements painfully and increasingly apparent on every hand. But the obedience must be "in the Lord"; all obedience having this important qualification. A heathen parent might bid his child sacrifice to idols: must he obey? Where the express will of God is crossed, such can only answer as Peter and John to the priests who bade them preach no more in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29) Nothing and no one must be allowed to come in between the conscience and God.
Some have found difficulty in the Spirit's use of the fifth commandment in this place, as apparently sanctioning the placing of Christians under the law. This is not so, for the word of God never contradicts itself. Christians have been delivered from the law by the body of Christ, having died to that wherein they were held, and have a new and higher standard set before them for walk below, even a heavenly Christ. To turn back to law is to build again the things we have destroyed, to place ourselves under the curse, to be removed from Him Who called us in the grace of Christ to another gospel. But what the apostle shows here is that God has always insisted on due honour and obedience being rendered to parents, under the law as truly as under Christianity; so important, indeed, is it with Him, that Jehovah added a promise to the commandment (the first with such an attachment) "that it may be well with thee and that thou mayest live long on the earth." This is stated to show what the promise was; strictly, of course, in keeping with the calling of Israel. The Christian is called to heavenly blessing, he expects trial and difficulty, and perhaps persecution in this world; though it is not denied that there is present blessing in the government of God for those who do His will.
Fathers are next addressed. "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Discipline is necessary, and cannot safely be dispensed with (does our Father train us without it?) but it must be wise to be good. It is unhappy to alienate the affections of the children by unnecessary rigour; parental influence is thus lost, and not easily regained. Faith regards the family as a precious charge from the Lord, and delights to lay hold of the word, "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). Is not Timothy a bright example, and encouragement to faith (2 Tim. 3:15)?
Some have found fault with the exhortations of verses 5-8, saying that they sanction or encourage slavery. The objection is groundless. God does not sanction such a principle; but it has come in among men, as many other things, as a result of sin; and while not interfering at all with the framework of society (which awaits its rectification till Christ comes), He legislates for His own saints, who may find themselves in these relationships.
What can be wiser or more comforting to the christian slave than the word in 1 Cor. 7:20-24? If such yearned for their liberty, that they might serve the Lord more fully, they are told not to make a care of it, and are assured that "he that is called in the Lord being a servant (slave) is the Lord's freedman," while on the other hand, "he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant" (or slave). Here (Eph. 6) such are told to be "obedient to their masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart as to Christ." Did they serve unreasonable and tyrannical men? How elevating and sustaining then to look beyond the man to the Lord, "knowing that whatsoever good thing any man does, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free." If the reward fails here, it will assuredly be seen at the judgment-seat of Christ. Christians are not called to reform the world while passing through it; but to acquit themselves becomingly as heavenly men, in the midst of it all. The principles here laid down though addressed to slaves, apply with equal force to employed servants. Eye-service, men-pleasing, is abominable to the Lord, the rather is it His will that service be rendered heartily, and all done in the name of the Lord Jesus. What a view of our hearts we get, that we should need such a word!
In 1 Tim. 6:2 the apostle adds on this subject another word of particular importance. "And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren, etc." The Spirit of God knows how prone the human heart is to take advantage of such circumstances: it is natural to the heart to be radical. But the believer is to eschew the ways and habits of men, and walk according to God. In the assembly of God, at the Lord's table, the believing master and servant are brethren, and members of one body, outside relationships having no place there; but in the shop or on the farm it is otherwise, and we do well not to forget it.
Masters are then exhorted, and reminded that their Master is in heaven; "neither is there respect of persons with Him." He notes threatening and oppression: the cry of the poor and needy comes up in His ears, and He will requite it in the coming day. This verse should read, I believe, "their Master and yours is in [the] heavens;" which gives an added point of importance: both master and servant are responsible to the one Lord, and will stand together at the same judgment-seat.
The mind of the Lord has been declared concerning the relationships in which we may find ourselves on earth. Another subject is now dealt with by the apostle — our conflict in the heavenlies. This flows out of the teaching in Eph. 1, 2. There our place is shewn as risen together with Christ, and sitting in Him in the heavenly places, blessed with all spiritual blessings in Him. There we learn that, to enjoy our heavenly portion, conflict is necessary with those who seek to hinder.* The allusion (though the contrast is complete) is to the wars of the Israelites in Canaan for the enjoyment of what God had promised. In Joshua 1 to 4 we have God bringing them through Jordan (type of death and resurrection with Christ into the land of promise. In the plains of Jericho, Joshua circumcises them (our circumcision is found in Col. 3); they keep the passover, and eat of the old corn of the land. Thus did they take their place as His people in Canaan, in accordance with the purpose of God. But the Amorites were there, determined and prepared to contest every inch of the ground with them. Israel must meet them in the power of God. They were to enjoy every place that the sole of their foot touched; a sign of taking possession (Joshua 1:3; Rev. 10:2).
*The conflict here is totally different in principle from that which we find in Gal. 5. There principalities and powers are not in view, but the Spirit and the flesh. Both are in the Christian: hence the conflict.
But God was with them, and nothing failed of His good word; wherever they went in dependence upon Him, victory was sure, the enemy was expelled, and they took possession. These things, as others written aforetime, are for our learning. "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." We are a poor match for Satan and his hosts apart from the power of God. If like Israel at Ai, who forgot God and measured the enemy by themselves, defeat is certain. But the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God, when His Spirit acts in His people, who can withstand? Carnal weapons are in vain, "for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Our enemies are thus of a different character from those of Israel; they are "spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies" (as in ver. 12, better rendered). Scripture does not tell us much about the powers in the heavenlies, but we have many allusions to such, good and bad. Thus in this Epistle Christ is set far above all principality and power (Eph. 1:21); through the church is now made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places the manifold wisdom of God (chap. 3:10). Dan. 10 draws aside the veil, as it were, and tells us something of the conflicts above, showing how earthly events are affected by movements there; while Rev. 12 shows us the final expulsion of evil powers from heaven by Michael and his hosts. This occurs in the midst of the last of Daniel's seventy weeks. But such hosts are not ejected from heaven yet (though they be not in the presence of God): our conflict is with them. It is the unceasing aim of the powers of darkness to prevent our hearts from rising to the height of our heavenly relations; nothing pleases the enemy better than to see saints grovelling below.
Armour is provided, the whole armour of God; which we must take to us to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Many can bear his roar, who are overcome by his wiles. Israel could calmly contemplate the high walls of Jericho, knowing God was with them, but were utterly worsted by the wily Gibeonites. How treacherous are our poor hearts! How unfit to be trusted! We are only exhorted to "stand"; the bruising under our feet is not yet, though shortly (Rom. 16:20). One shudders sometimes at the light and vain talk so prevalent today, concerning the power of the enemy, and our power over him and his works. We need to remember the word not to speak evil of dignities, and Michael's reply to Satan, "the Lord rebuke thee." "He durst not bring against him a railing accusation" (2 Peter 2:10, 11; Jude 9, 10). The utmost we can hope to do in "the evil day" (God's way of describing the whole of the present period) is to "stand": happy the saint who is able to do so.
The armour is detailed; and it is all practical. Our loins are to be girt about with truth, every habit is to be controlled by it, the truth is to govern our lives in each particular. Thus alone can we keep our garments unspotted from the world. The breastplate of righteousness follows; for how can we show front to the enemy if our practical ways are not good? Where righteousness before God is spoken of, the figure is rather a robe, but before the foe armour, as here and in 2 Cor. 6:7. The feet are to be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, i.e., peace is to characterise our whole walk below. Is it in vain that the Spirit constantly says, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ"? If peace with God has been made by the blood of Jesus, and the God of peace has brought Him again from among the dead, the peace of God is to keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The apostle prayed that the Lord of peace would give the Thessalonians peace always by all means. It is happy to be a "son of peace:" precious portion in a world of turmoil and upheaval!
But the shield of faith is equally necessary, that we may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. This is that calm confidence in God which it is ours to know in every circumstance; for we walk by faith, not by sight. Faith never dreads foes, however numerous and strong; it measures them by God and goes forward with holy boldness. With the shield in position, the heart is safe.
The headgear is the helmet of salvation. Salvation is ours now as regards the soul; as regards the body we shall know it shortly at the Lord's return; and it is sure. What confidence this gives! All the malice of the enemy can never wrest from us our portion: it is founded upon the sacrifice of Christ, and secured to us by His life on high. Thus are we enabled to hold our heads high, and say, Whom shall we fear?
All these parts of the armour are defensive; but there is one offensive weapon, "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." This was what the Lord used in conflict with Satan. "It is written" was sufficient for victory. Satan is for faith a vanquished foe. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." He meets Christ in the saint, and Christ is enough. One word of scripture, used in the power of the Spirit, is of all value when pressed by the enemy. But this must be coupled with prayer. The word of God and prayer are the two great springs of the Christian's life (Luke 10, 11); without them we become a prey. Compare 1 John 2:9. It is "the evil day," and our hearts are treacherous and readily beguiled: dependence on God and a right use of His word alone can preserve us.
But our hearts must not be occupied solely with our own needs: "all saints" are to have a place. This is the Epistle which unfolds the truth of the one body: has it entered our hearts? It is fitting, surely, in such a letter that the apostle should enjoin prayer and supplication for all. And there are those who have a special claim upon our prayers, because placed in the front of the battle, exposed therefore to the peculiar rage of the enemy. Paul was pre-eminently such an one, and valued the prayers of the saints, that his mouth might be boldly opened to make known the mystery of the gospel. He was an ambassador in bonds: he felt the difficulty of his position, though his heart was sustained. Tychicus carried this Epistle, as also that to the Colossians; he would make known to the saints the affairs of Paul, and comfort their hearts by the recital of the Lord's faithful love and grace to him.
Salutations close all, and they too in perfect keeping with the aim and character of the Epistle. W. W. F.