Ephesians 1:15-23; Ephesians 3:13-21.
J. A. Trench.
Article 2 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
We may well believe that the prayers to which the Apostle is led, in the unfolding of the wonderful truths of this epistle, are of very great moment for our souls. I am sure that many of us have responded to the thought that has often been presented to us, that it is only on our knees these great truths can be learned. This is exactly what seemed to impress the Apostle, the Spirit of God leading him to prayer that the truths he was inspired to communicate should take a deep hold of the hearts and consciences of the saints.
Now I think it is a help to us to see that there is a certain order in the thoughts of the prayer in this first chapter, depending upon and flowing from the truths that have been filling the Apostle's heart, and coming out to us in his testimony of them.
The first prayer is addressed to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, "that he may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him; the eyes of your heart being enlightened, that ye may KNOW." Now that is of first importance. There must be the intelligence of the mind of God as to the wonderful position the believer and the church has before God and the Father, before there can be any intelligent appreciation of a walk according to it here below. This, then, is what he seeks for the saints, that there may be the full knowledge of Him who is the object of all God's thoughts and counsels — but heart knowledge; not merely the eyes of the understanding, but "the eyes of your HEART [as it really is] being enlightened, that ye may know;" and then follow the three great subjects of the prayer: first, the hope of His calling; secondly, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints; and lastly, what is the exceeding greatness of the power that has wrought, to put us into the calling, and to make us heirs of the inheritance.
Now first as to the calling. We are the called ones indeed, but the calling is characterised as of God "His calling" — as of His own blessed nature, and all the counsels of His love unfolded in it. The calling comes out in verses 4-6. But before he proceeds to the orderly communication to us of the great truths that are filling his heart, he worships the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in that double name in which is contained all the blessing we have been brought into in Christianity. The Father of the Lord Jesus is our Father, His God, our God. The heart of the Apostle was too full to contain itself, and flows over in blessings to Him "who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ." This is just what worship is, and indeed it is in such a spirit only that we can truly enter into the character of the blessing presented to us. How blessed to be able to take our place in the faith of such blessing at the very outset; "all spiritual blessings" — of the highest order, in the heavenlies — the most exalted place, ours "in Christ." What else could we do but worship?
But now we are brought back to the standpoint of this wonderful blessing, and we must seek to put ourselves there to have any true thought of it. It is that of God's eternal counsels, as He saw us in Christ.
No thought of the first man enters here. The ages of his probation have closed in the cross, in the judgment pronounced indeed upon the flesh from the very first, but now that has been endured for us by Christ. What infinite grace has brought us to learn that history in our own souls; and to bow to the necessary end of all we are after the flesh, in the judgment of God; not merely that our sins have been borne away by Christ in that judgment, but that in His being made sin for us, we ourselves are gone. The humbling history of man in the flesh has closed for ever in the cross of Christ for God and for faith. But this is not the truth of Ephesians, however necessary for our souls to enter into, that we may know anything of the calling of God.
Here we are carried back before the foundation of the world, countless ages, perhaps, before it was fitted for man's habitation, therefore before man's history opened — not to say closed in the cross of Christ. "According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." Thus He is pleased to reveal to us the thoughts that were in His heart about us in a long back eternity. There is no activity of the divine counsel yet. It is simply what He chose for Himself. You choose what suits yourself, and so it is with the blessed God: He chose what suited His own nature, and revealed Himself in the choice He made. And what was that wonderful choice? He hath chosen us in Christ, holy, without blame before Him in love. And the most blessed word in that verse is "before Him," as though he would set us out before His own gaze, the objects of His love. Oh, how blessed to be allowed to know it. As it is in Christ that we have been thus chosen, we have had the perfect expression of the character and object of His choice, when Christ was manifested here, as in Matthew 3:16-17. It is a wonderful help to our realisation of what is so beyond all our thoughts, to have had the manifestation of all that was perfectly suited to the heart of God in Christ down here. Four things are thus presented to us in Him — the heavens opened to Him, the Spirit of God descending upon Him, the Father's voice declaring Him to be His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased, and all because of what He was personally in Himself.
Thus, then, it is that we have been chosen in Him before earth's foundations. The opened heavens? There is where we have been blessed in Him. Holy and without blame? That's what He was. "Before Him," with what complacency of delight His eye rested upon Him; "in love," the perfect object of His love. How sweet to think of it. God would have us ever near Him, and so He chose us in Christ, to be all that Christ is before Him, so that there might not be a cloud between our hearts and Him, that we might enjoy His presence, and that He might have His delight in us.
Next in this wondrous calling of God, we find the relationship He has been pleased to set us in; only let us remember that it is no question yet of our being brought into these great things, but the revelation of what was in the heart of God as to us from eternity. "Having predestinated us unto sonship by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will." Note, "to himself" — the most precious word in this verse. It was not merely something to make us happy and blessed, to fill and satisfy our hearts in the sense of relationship with Him; but it was what He counselled for Himself, and what alone could satisfy His own heart for us in the relationship of sons before the Father. If we had been predestinated to the position of angels, how wonderful it would have been, for rebel sinners such as we; but angelic relationship would never have satisfied the counsels of eternal love. Myriads of them there are that ever do His pleasure, but they are but servants. Not one of them could ever call Him Father; and He wants to surround Himself in His own home with the cry of "Abba Father." It was according to the good pleasure of His will that we should be His sons. Nor is this all; there is that which God counted upon to be to the glory of His grace; in which all His grace would be so expressed that it would be to the praise of the glory of it for ever. What was it? That in that grace "He has [according to the full force of the word] taken us into favour in the beloved." The Spirit of God changes the expression which is really the keynote of the epistle. "In Christ" will not suffice here; it is "in the Beloved." It recalls the voice from the opened heavens, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." In nothing less than all the favour that rests upon the beloved Son of the Father, we are before Him. The next verse brings in redemption through His blood, the basis of the whole position in righteousness, and which alone made it possible for us as sinners; but that was according to the riches of His grace. Our place in divine favour was to be "to the praise of the glory of His grace."
Such then in its whole extent is this wondrous calling of God.
But the Apostle prays that we may know the hope of it. (Ver. 18) What then is "the hope of his calling"? It is not the Lord's coming in Ephesians; and this because of the height of the position in which we are set, as made to sit in the heavenlies in Christ. (Eph. 2:6) His coming would, as it were, disturb the seated ones. The hope of it is the full realisation in the eternal glory of all that God has called us into in Christ, as the fruit of His counsels of a past eternity. Would that we were more deeply impressed with the wholly heavenly and eternal character of such a calling; counselled for us in Christ before the world's foundation, possessed in Him in the heavenlies, and to be realised in full conformity to Him in the glory of God for ever. No link with time or the course of this world: the Christian belongs to eternity.
Now we come to the second object of His desire for us, that we may know "what the riches of the glory of his inheritance." In His calling, we look up above; the inheritance, as it were, stretches out beneath our feet. Verses 10 and 11 give it to us, in a marvellous way, in connection with the revelation of the mystery of His will; that is of what God had purposed in Himself from eternity for the glory of Christ, but which had never been disclosed before. "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times" (when the dispensations had run their course, succeeding one another until the end for which they had been started had been reached), the end would be that all things in heaven and upon earth would be found to be headed up (for such is the force of the expression) in Christ. We know that according to Psalm 8, quoted in verse 22 of this chapter, all things shall be put under His feet. He must reign till all enemies are put under His feet (see 1 Cor. 15:25). It is characteristic of the kingdom. But that is not the mystery here revealed, which brings us to the magnificent result of all God's ways in government in the dispensations of time, including the kingdom; that the whole universe — "all things which are in the heavens, and which are upon the earth" — should be headed up in blessing in Christ. That is the glory of His inheritance. It is His first, and only in Him that we shall enter into it, as made heirs of that whole inheritance of glory. What a prospect opens out before the eyes of faith! "In whom we also have obtained inheritance [or been made heirs] being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will."
Attention has to be called specially to the force of the passage (ver. 11), as through misunderstanding the bearing of the truth the Revised Version has made us the inheritance. No, we are the heirs, heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ; and there is no possibility of confounding the heirs and the inheritance. And there is nothing that would more confirm this, and at the same time bring out the wonderful character of the inheritance, than what comes out in verses 13, 14. That in Christ — having heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, and believed in Him — we "were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession." The moment we believed in Christ according to the glad tidings of His accomplished work, we received the Holy Ghost to dwell within us — the seal of God that we were His, and the earnest for us of all that is before us in the glory of the inheritance. The earnest is not for the inheritance, but for the heirs, as anyone can see. We have received nothing of the inheritance yet. Christ has not received it. Though He has purchased it with His blood, redemption has yet to be applied in power to the purchased possession. It is in Him we pass into the inheritance. But until and in view of that moment, nothing short of the Spirit of God dwelling in us is the earnest of it. What must be the glory of the inheritance of which the Holy Ghost is the earnest! The same blessed Spirit that descended and abode upon Christ, as we have seen in Matthew 3, and by whom He was sealed as the perfect object of the Father's delight, is now the seal of God upon us in Him, completing the whole wonderful position in which Christ was manifested there, only that then He was absolutely alone in that position in His personal perfection. But now, as the result of the precious corn of wheat having fallen into the ground and died, all is made ours in resurrection in Him; to be known and enjoyed by the power of the Holy Ghost.
But why, it may be asked, does it say "the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints"? Because it is in the saints He takes possession of the inheritance. We have seen it set out before us in all its boundless extent — all things in heaven and in earth. (Ver. 10) It is the inheritance of Christ. But, as Jehovah took possession of Canaan, as His inheritance, by putting Israel into possession; so when Christ takes possession of all things as Head of the universe, He does so by putting the heavenly saints into possession, and it becomes the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.
So far we have seen then how the prayer depends upon (as it refers to) the two great parts of the preceding instruction. Now He seeks that we may know the power that has been operative to put us into the calling, and make us heirs of the inheritance, as has been said.
What is that power? It is nothing short of the power that wrought in raising Christ from the dead, that is now to usward who believe. What a conception is afforded us of the exceeding greatness of it, "according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead." That was a scene of universal death, in which God began to work, to carry out the counsels of eternity and reveal Himself as never before — all men dead in trespasses and sins, and the Lord of life and glory Himself in the sepulchre, made as sure as man could make it that he should never have anything more to do with the Son of God. In that world of death the power of God "wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenlies, above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come." If only we could enter into the character of the scene as presented to the eye of God, now come out fully as the result of the long trial of the ages — not a leaf of moral life stirring in the whole creation, men alive and active enough in the pursuit of anything Satan as the prince of it had to present to them, but perfectly dead in sins before God, and to God, and the blessed Lord Himself in death as the full expression of that condition under the judgment of God — we should be able the better to estimate the display of the power of God as presented in raising that one Man from the dead to the highest point of heavenly glory. It is the first action of God in the epistle, in so raising Christ. We have not here God giving Him to go down to death, to charge Himself with our sins and be made sin for us, thus to end the whole history of the race, in the judgment He endured. We have seen that that history is not within the scope of the epistle. It is simply God acting by His power in a world of death, to make good the thoughts and counsels of eternal love that He had as to Christ, and us in Him in what is a wholly new creation, of which Christ, raised from the dead is Head — given to be "the Head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Before the day when He takes His headship over all things (ver. 10), the church recognises Him in that headship in her own relationship to Him as His body; He filling all things not only by His Godhead glory, but by the glory of His redemption work, and the church His fulness in that day of glory.
And now we see what was faintly shadowed forth in Eden realised in all this wonderful work of power and love and glory. When God set Adam at the head of all subordinate creation, He gave him Eve to share his position. So now when Christ is raised from the dead to take His place as the last Adam, Head of everything in heaven and on earth, He has given Him the church, His heavenly Eve, to share with Him the whole inheritance of glory. What a wonderful place! How blessed the power that has wrought to set us there, reaching down to us where we were in all our death and sins; even the same mighty power that wrought to raise Christ from the dead, now put forth that we might be quickened together with Him, raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. I do not attempt to go into the detail of that work of divine power as it applies to us. But it is blessed to know that one result of it is "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." That God should have wrought out of such material to form the church as the body of Christ makes us the expression, in the ages to come, of how far His grace could go, of how great the extent of it; while another and present object in that work is seen in verse 10. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them:" the epistle from Ephesians 4 opening out to us this fore-ordained path and the works that flow from our new creation in Christ, according to His eternal counsels.
But now I want that we should see the connection of the truth that leads the Apostle again to prayer for us in Ephesians 3. The first part of Ephesians 1 has been the revelation of our individual place in Christ before God and the Father in eternity; the latter part bringing in also our corporate relationship to Christ as His body, in connection with the work of God in time to accomplish what He counselled in eternity; with the result that in Eph. 1:11-22 we have the formed existing assembly upon earth, and this in its relationship also to God, who has taken up His dwelling-place in it by the Spirit, as the habitation of God.
In Ephesians 3 the Apostle brings out his own part in the work in connection with the mystery. There was his double ministry; first of the gospel, verses 7, 8, "To preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." This is the wonderful scope of the gospel, the riches of Christ, beyond all that can be traced out. What an inexhaustible theme for the evangelist!
Then, besides, there was his ministry of the mystery, verses 9-12, "To make all men see what is the administration" — it is a fuller word than "fellowship," though fellowship is a very sweet part of that administration. But the larger word takes in all that pertains to the practical carrying out of the truth of the church as the body of Christ on earth.
The truths of this twofold ministry of the gospel and the mystery are not merely for heaven. No ministry of them will be needed there. They are to form the whole practical life of the Christian here. This was what lay before the Apostle now from Ephesians 4 to the end. Think of the interests of God and of Christ in such a result — the immensity of it all. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God."
These exalted intelligences of the heavens had never seen anything like the church before. They were familiar with the display of Godhead power in creation; they had seen His judgments, His providence, His works of grace, and — beyond all — God manifest in the flesh, the object of their worship thus taking form for them for the first time.
But here was an entirely new part of the ways of God; "That the Gentiles should be co-heirs and of a co-body, and co-partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." That out of such heterogeneous elements, racial animosities, and opposed nationalities — Jew and Gentile — should be formed one body of all who are Christ's, united to Him their Head in glory, and walking as the members of His body on the earth. The like of this had never been seen on earth before. It was as though God, who created all things, had now put forth all the resources of His power in the formation of this body upon earth, that to the principalities and the powers of the heavenlies might therein be known, as in a masterpiece, His manifold wisdom "according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." And I do not doubt that it is so still, in spite of the most humbling failure of the assembly from almost the first, to answer to what it is before God; these powers in the heavenlies would be able to distinguish between the wonderful work of God, and the miserable mess we have made of it.
How necessary then it would seem that the Apostle should once more betake himself to prayer for us, before entering into the detail of the practical walk of the assembly and the saints that compose it, and how we need to seek to enter into what becomes in reality the inspired desires of the heart of God for us. His prayer is now to the Father. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every family in heaven and earth is named;" whether it be angelic, or those of Jew and Gentile, or the church of God, all come, each in its distinct place, under the Name of the Father of our Lord Jesus in the divine scheme of blessing. "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith."
The prayer is not now "that we may know," as in chapter 1 — not for the intelligence of our place in Christ; of primary importance as is the intelligent entrance into the counsels of God that have given us that place, there is a yet deeper need if the truth is to be held in freshness and formative power, namely the dwelling in our hearts in communion, of the Christ in whom our place is. And what resources are available for this! There are "the riches of His glory," that is, of all the wonderful revelation of the Father in the Son — the only measure of the power by which we may be strengthened "by his [the Father's] Spirit in the inner man." I know not if the blessed Spirit is anywhere else so presented; but how perfectly in keeping here, when it is by the Father's Spirit that He who dwells in the Father's heart may now dwell in our hearts by faith.
The prayer in Ephesians 1 was connected with our being in Christ; here it is with His being in us, and not merely as life, but now as the centre and object of that life. He is the centre of all the Father's thoughts and counsels of eternity. He would bring that centre into our hearts by the power of His Spirit: "That ye being rooted and grounded in love" — in all the love that has been revealed to us in these counsels — "may be able to apprehend with all saints" — for the love of Christ would not leave out one — "what is the breadth and length and depth and height" — of what? Nay, it cannot be defined. If Christ is the centre there is no circumference to that boundless sphere of glory — "all things that the Father hath," that are Christ's according to the Father's will, and the work that has given effect to it, in which all the glory of God the Father has been revealed and made good.
"And to know the love of Christ." This might seem to bring our hearts back from what has been so infinitely beyond us to what is more within our reach. But it is at once to let us know that it passeth all that we can know. His love is as boundless as the vast infinity of God's counsels and revelation of Himself in them. Yet how sweet it is to know that His love surpasses (we have had the word already in Ephesians 1:19, and Ephesians 2:7) knowledge in its greatness. Truly it needed that the inner man be strengthened with might by His Spirit, that we might enter with ever increasing measure into what has no limit or end, "that ye might be filled into all the fulness of God." For thus has He revealed Himself. And dwelling in love we dwell in God and God in us. Every thought of the prayer is so wonderful. But let us not forget the divine resources that are presented to us that there may be a little progress in the appreciation of the thoughts that are revealed, and, in our entrance into them, which alone can fit us for a walk worthy of such a calling.
Thus — we have come to the Apostle's closing words, "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." This brings out the force of the prayer; it is not for the objective knowledge of the great truths of God's calling, but for our subjective realisation and entrance into them. It is not now simply the exceeding greatness of the power that wrought to give effect to the will of God in that calling by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, now to usward who believe. That was the prayer of Ephesians 1. It is a power that works in us, which is such that if God is able to do superlatively above all not only that we ask but even think of asking, it is according to that power. How often that last clause of the verse is left out.
It need hardly be said that no ruin can touch these things, that have all the stability of the eternal counsels of God. They are revealed and remain today for all the saints of God to give form and character to their path. And how immeasurable are the resources that God presents to us, as available for our entrance in communion with Him into His thoughts and counsels for the glory of Christ in the church, that the precious truths of it may be wrought out in us, to His glory in it for ever. The last verse assures us of the full final accomplishment of this. "Now unto him be glory in the church in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages [the fullest expression in the original of eternity in Scripture], Amen."