By Henry Law, 1884
Ephesians 3:14—21. Paul's prayer for the Ephesians
"For this cause I bow my
knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in
heaven and earth is named."
Paul deeply felt the value of untiring prayer. He highly prized and duly used his privilege of free access to the mercy-seat. Well did he know that never could he sue in vain. If not the exact petition, surely some other blessing would be granted. Here he was a close follower of his beloved Lord. The early morn—the mountain-brow—the solitary hill—the midnight hour—witnessed the communion of Christ with God. His sojourn upon earth was converse with His Father. Thus Paul constantly implored his converts to petition for him. What he asked he largely gave, and gave with wrestling importunity. Mark his words to the Colossians, "I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh." When he writes his first epistle his earliest words bear testimony to his fervent zeal. "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in my prayers." To quote only one additional evidence, hear his words to the Philippians, "I thank my God on every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy." The epistle before us gives repeated proof. May the Holy Spirit by these examples, and by frequent precepts, make us diligent in this heavenly work!
To pray is to prosper. But let not prayer be selfish. Let it not be limited to our own need. Boundless is the need before us. Let boundless supplications spread it all before the mercy-seat. In the present passage Paul teaches us that though he drew near with boldness, it was the boldness of the most lowly reverence. He falls humbly in prostration before his God. He bows the knee before his lips make known his requests. Let the like reverence fill our hearts, and make us meek and reverential suppliants. We are permitted indeed to speak—no, to wrestle and cease not. But let us remember that our dealings are with Jehovah on His mercy-seat—the omnipotent Sovereign of the universe—the infinite and eternal God. Paul knew this; and he humbly knelt.
But he adds wondrous words descriptive of his near relationship to God. Let us duly ponder them—and may the Spirit render them strength and encouragement in our approaches to a prayer-hearing God! Precious are the calls to this exercise. May we listen to them and thoroughly obey! Precious are the encouragements which assure us of a gracious audience. Let each administer strength and boldness to us in this holy exercise! Among these encouragements none shine more brightly than that which is here exhibited. We are invited to draw near to God as the Father of the blessed Jesus, and as the Father of the family of faith.
To whom do we draw near? The Father of the blessed Jesus. Will not He hear those who cry in His dear Son's Name; who plead the merits of His only begotten; who present all their supplications as one with Christ? When we thus cry, Abba, Father, surely His ears will be open—surely a smile of welcome will beam lovingly—surely answers rich in fullness will be granted. Jesus said, "I know that You hear Me always." This truth flows down to all the members of His mystic body. We come as they who are the Father's gift unto Jesus. We come as the bride of the Heavenly Bridegroom—as the members of Him who is the Head of the body—as the sheep of His pasture—as the jewels of His mediatorial crown—as they in whom He had delight before the worlds were framed—as they whom He will love while endless ages roll. We come as they whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life—as they for whom the blood of God was shed—as they whom celestial righteousness enrobes—as they for whom thrones in heaven are provided—as they for whom Jesus testified, "The glory which You gave Me, I have given them." Thus we approach the Father of the blessed Jesus. Let all fears and doubts and hesitations vanish! God would as soon deny His Son as those whom His Son represents.
But in this verse there is a superadded encouragement. We come to God as to our own Father. The expressions in the verse which reveal this truth lose much of their force by the insufficiency of translated language. A name is here given to believers which implies that God is their Father. We trace it in the declaration that believers constitute one family. But there can be no family without a presiding Father. Hence in Christ we are privileged to cry directly to God, Abba, Father. O blessed family! Who can depict their privileges and their joys! This family has existed from all eternity in the counsels of heaven. It will exist through never-ending ages. The elders of this family have already passed through the grave and gate of death to the happy mansions of the redeemed. Their race is run—their fight is fought—their struggle is endured—their victory is won—their triumph is secured. We now are prisoners in the flesh. But soon we too shall be conquerors through the blood of the Lamb, and help to contribute to the blessed company. We shall be presented through our Elder Brother, who will recognize us as given of the Father unto Him. But while we tarry, let us tarry at heaven's gate, daily and hourly crying, Abba, Father.
Ephesians 3:16."That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man."
How precious is the Word of God! how fervently should we give thanks for this inestimable treasure! how devout should be our constant use of it! What lessons are here inculcated to guide us in the upward road, and to fit us for the heavenly home! Not only are we taught the value of prayer, and encouraged in its exercise; but abundant models are set before us to direct our supplicating voice. Jesus heard the petition, "Lord, teach us to pray," and has given a pattern to supply our need. We know not indeed what to pray for as we ought, but in countless models, suitable thoughts and words are suggested. We have a blessed proof in the prayer which now claims attention. The petition which presses to be foremost in the list, is for rich abundance of spiritual strength. Greatly do we need this blessing. Spiritual life may indeed have been revived in our souls—but it is a flickering spark, and we have frequent cause to tremble lest it should be extinguished. It is as the feeble lamb amid devouring wolves. It is as the timid dove beset by cruel hawks. It is as the little bark amid engulfing billows. Many indeed are our perils and our foes—and weak is our own strength to resist our adversaries. We wrestle not only against inborn corruptions, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world—against spiritual wickedness in high places. The devil as a roaring lion goes about seeking whom he may devour—as a fierce dragon he watches to destroy. How shall we resist—how shall we escape! We must look upward to Him who is mightier than the mightiest—who can give indomitable support—and make us more than conquerors over all the hosts of darkness. We must pray unto Him, who according to the riches of His glory can strengthen us with all might by His Spirit in the inner man! He is always ready to hear—always able to give needful strength. We have indeed to fight a good fight—to wrestle against mighty foes—and vain would be our efforts if left to our unaided strength. But He who gives the sword will give too the arm to wield it. In all our conflicts He will stand by our side—upholding when we are prone to fall—giving power to the faint, and to those who have no might increasing strength. But not only have we to fight and struggle, we are called to bear heavy burdens, and to do arduous work.
Soon would we be crushed beneath the overwhelming load—quickly should we faint before the constant toil, if we trusted only in our own resources. But He will endue us with patience, and arm us with holy endurance. He will teach us to look upward, and to go on our way rejoicing. How arduous, too, is the work to which we are called! It must be our constant effort to adorn His doctrine—to call men to His faith—to teach the ignorant—to reclaim the backslider—to strengthen the irresolute, and in countless ways to win to the knowledge of the faith and love of Jesus. What gifts—what knowledge—what wisdom—what perseverance are here required! And in ourselves what weakness, and ignorance, and sin! How shall we succeed and prosper except strength be supplied from heaven? The lamp would soon go out except replenished with the needful oil. So we should be soon vanquished except the Lord should strengthen and uphold. But we are taught to pray that He, according to the riches of His glory, would strengthen us by His Spirit in the inner man.
Let us bless the Lord for the warning—and bless Him for the ready aid—and seek by constant prayer to be thus upheld in the Christian race. The question may arise, Whence is this strength derived? What is the deep spring from which these waters flow; what the tree on whose branches such fruit blossoms? The text supplies immediate answer. God the Holy Spirit, the author and giver of all spiritual life, He maintains, and nourishes, and strengthens, and ripens the power which He imparts. Hence should be the constant prayer, Come, Holy Spirit, our souls inspire! We are assured that this aid is never sought in vain. It is a mighty and a glorious truth, "If you then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"
We are taught, too, what is the field in which this culture is brought. It is not outward and carnal. It is inward and spiritual. It is largely described as the inner man. Hence it comprises all spiritual faculties. The intellect is brightly illuminated, that it may have a clear view of things spiritual and eternal. The mind is strengthened to understand and embrace them. The heart is strengthened to love and adore them. The soul and spirit are strengthened to soar high above all that the world contains, and to become transformed into the very image of God's dear Son. Thus the Holy Spirit strengthens with all spiritual strength.
His work, too, is never meager, slender, or in small degree. It is large and mighty, even as the mighty Agent. It is here described as being proportionate to the riches of God's glory. And when similar work is described, similar terms are used to enlarge our faith and to amplify our assurance. Thus to the Colossians, we have the prayer that they may be strengthened according to His glorious power. To the Philippians we have the promise, "God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Measure if you can, the abundance of glory which are the attributes of God. The effort baffles thought. Estimate if you can, the abundance of spiritual strength which the Holy Spirit is ready and willing to impart. The effort fails. But let us be taught, that as there are no limits in the gift, so there should be no limits to our supplications for it, and expectations of it.
Ephesians 3:17."That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith."
Prayer continues. Grace never ceases to prompt it. The Father ever waits to hear it. Answers are on the wing to come. But what a petition now breaks forth! O my soul! contemplate it—ponder it—use it! What is its purport? Not that we in spirit should fly up to heaven, but that heaven should descend to us. "That Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith." Whom do we supplicate to become this indwelling inhabitant? It is Christ Himself—not in mere notion—not in contemplations of His truth—not in realization of His grace, but in His very person—received in His real though invisible presence. Can it be, that Christ will really come and take up His abode within us! He is the mighty God. He is Jehovah's Fellow. He appears in the omnipotence of creation. He is co-partner in all God's glory. The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him. His center is everywhere. His circumference is nowhere. No bounds can limit Him. Angels veil their faces while they worship Him. He charges them with folly. They are all less than nothing in comparison of His might and power and glory. Will He inhabit the heart of man? Marvel of marvels. But we are dealing with Him whose name is Wonderful. Though His throne is in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all, yet His delights have ever been with the sons of men, and His chosen throne is the sinner's heart. Can it indeed be so! Have we faith in His pledged word? Let us then hear it. "Behold I stand at the door and knock—if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." He here professes His readiness and His desire to hold most close and familiar communion with His people. My soul, hear His voice. Throw widely open the portals. Give Him welcome. Implore Him to come in and occupy the seat, and never more to quit it, but to reign supreme amid all opposing foes.
In the Canticles how tenderly He chides the reluctant spouse for negligence—indifference—unwillingness to receive Him! "Open to Me my love, my dove, my undefiled. For my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night." All reluctance is on man's side. He patiently endures our hardness and contempt. He will not depart until admittance be obtained.
He warns us that it is in the path of obedience to the Gospel-rule that we obtain His presence. "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves Me—and he who loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him." Marvels increase. May our adoration similarly swell! He will not come alone. All heaven follows in His rear. The Father quits not His side. If Jesus enters the Father enters with Him. Let us listen to His call. "Come out from among them—and be you separate and touch not the unclean thing—and I will be a Father unto you—and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." Thus the believer dwells in God, and God in him.
Need I add that the Holy Spirit is not parted from this company? We are told that our bodies are the temples of His constant presence. This text clearly informs us that the heart is the throne on which the triune God is seated. It is not the head—the mind—the intellect. It is no difficult task to obtain correct understanding of the Gospel and its glorious scheme. Many may mentally understand the purposes of heavenly grace, and still be far removed from vital apprehensions of an indwelling God. They may speak boldly but with no fervor—correctly but with no zeal. Christ as a Savior is enthroned in the affections. He is encircled with the ardor of intense love. His dwelling is the heart. "My son, give Me your heart." "The kingdom of God is within you."
But the teaching of this text is not yet exhausted. There are more depths in the expression "Christ dwells in the heart." He comes not as the morning cloud, or as the early dew that passes away. He flows not as the summer-brook which is soon exhausted. He springs not up as a tender plant to be dried up when the sun arises. He is not as a wayfaring man who merely lodges for the night. He is not as the stranger who pays a passing visit. When He enters He takes up His abode forever. Other guests may seek admission—but they cannot dethrone Him. He takes His seat in love. In love He steadfastly maintains it. All the powers of darkness may be in league against Him—but they may as easily hurl Him from His high throne in heaven, as from the heart which has once given Him true welcome. The question has been put, "Who shall separate from the love of Christ? "The reply is clear. It is not in the power of all the catalogue of trials—pains—persecutions—troubles, to induce Christ to recede, where He has once reigned as an indwelling God.
Oh, that believers would realize their blessings—their dignity—their power—their privilege! In the eyes of the world they may be base and low—but they are caskets in which all treasure dwells. When trifling thoughts—when frivolous desires—when debasing allurements tempt—when the world comes with all its fascinating baubles, let the reply be, Away—away. This is not your home. There is no room for you here. The throne is occupied, and occupied forever. "Christ dwells in the heart by faith."
Here again we see the mighty power of faith. It hears the Savior's call for admission—it removes every bar and hindrance—it opens wide the door—it conducts Him to His throne—it retains Him there. The more that faith expands the more we realize the indwelling Savior. Let then our constant prayer be, "Lord, increase our faith."
Ephesians 3:17-19."That you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge."
Prayer strengthens by exercise. The more we use it, the more the sinews become firm. Indolence ever weakens. What an example meets us in the present petition! Paul prays for his converts that they may comprehend that which is incomprehensible—that they may obtain knowledge of that which passes knowledge. At once we learn that there is nothing too hard for God to do—nothing too great for God to give—and therefore nothing too vast for suppliants to implore.
What is this mighty gift for which supplication is here made? It is for advance in the knowledge of Christ's love. But before we proceed to consider this gift, two preliminary thoughts occur. Believers are exhibited as trees and as buildings. "They are rooted and grounded." The tree cannot stand except rooted in a congenial soil. Then it flourishes—puts forth strong branches—and bears rich fruit. It expands in beauty, strength, and usefulness. Thus the believer must have deep roots. The soil in which he grows is the knowledge—the perception—the experience of the love of Christ. The believer here too appears as a building. Weak and tottering is the fabric which has not a firm foundation. We know the weakness and probable downfall of a house, which rests on sand. What then is the believer's foundation? It is the knowledge—the perception—the experience of the love of Christ.
Stable indeed are they who rest on this firm basis. Storms may descend—raging winds may batter, but it presents an immovable front. Grounded in Christ believers are built up a spiritual temple acceptable unto God through Him.
Paul prays that his converts might partake of this blessedness in company with all saints. This knowledge is their universal glory. They all are taught the preciousness of Him in whom they believe—they all realize that He loved them before the foundation of the world—they all know that because He loved, He died to save them—they all are assured that, because He loves He lives to bless them—they all are persuaded, that because He loves He will return to receive them to Himself.
Language is now strained to portray the immensities of the love of Christ. But every effort fails in weakness before the theme. If the vocabularies of earth were thoroughly exhausted they would give insufficient insight. It is enough to fill the endless ages of eternity. But the effort is made to exhibit an object which has four dimensions—breadth—length—depth—height. In the realm of nature no such object can be found—no discoveries of science can reach it—no flights of imagination can conceive such immensity. This love is breadth-infinite—it is length-infinite—it is depth-infinite—it is height-infinite. Let us fall low, and wonder, and adore.
We are thus prepared for the concluding assertion, "It passes knowledge." It is not only unspeakable—it is unsearchable—it is inconceivable. But we may know the reality, though we cannot know the fullness. We may know the spring, though we cannot measure the full flood. We may know the dawn, though we cannot gaze on the unclouded sun. We may know in part, though we cannot know in full extent. We may see something at present, though it may be through a glass darkly.
But let us daily and hourly strive to advance in this pursuit. With this object let us search and ponder its records in the Word of Life. Let us meditate on all its evidence in the work of Christ—His assumption of our nature—His birth into our family—His death in our stead—His rising for our justification—His present session at God's right hand on our behalf—His many precious promises, which are all yes and amen in Him—His near approach to receive us unto Himself forever—to enrich us with the glories of salvation—to put us in possession of the purchased inheritance. Let us wrestle without intermission with the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to glorify Christ and to reveal Him unto us. He will not be slow to come, in the plenitude of His love, to enlarge our faculties—to enlighten our minds—to add revelation to revelation. O believer, until you shall see Him as He is, grow in this grace and in this knowledge—bathe in this ocean of intelligence—draw water with joy from these deep wells—expatiate in these wide fields—revel in these boundless joys. Count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord!
Ephesians 3:19."That you might be filled with all the fullness of God."
Paul had made prayer for his Ephesian converts with earnestness and zeal unlimited. Strength he sought for them to the extent of God's power to give. He well knew that less would not suffice. So many were the foes—so great the obstacles—so less than weak their own innate strength, that the omnipotence of God alone would make them more than conquerors over the enemies of their salvation. Then that the strength might be a never-ceasing supply, He supplicates that the God of all strength may inhabit their hearts, even Christ Himself; that so they might in some measure comprehend His immeasurable love. And in this clause he reaches the climax of all desire, and concludes his petition in the marvelous expression, "that you might be filled with all the fullness of God."
The first thought which here forcibly arises, is that the heart must be rendered meet to receive this heavenly occupant. There must be the expulsion of self—the dethronement of Satan—the exclusion of the world.—Have you a longing desire for the presence of Him in your heart, whose coming shall be with satisfying fullness? See to it, that there is no rival to dispute His entrance. Let this be the all-absorbing desire, and then the fulfillment of the Apostle's prayer shall be a delightful experience. The believer shall be filled with all the fullness of God. Let us consider how this blessedness is to be attained, and the dignity and honor which result therefrom. The prayer is not for an impossibility—therefore the fullness of the Godhead inhabiting the heart is attainable. And the method by which it is secured is clearly revealed. The believer in Jesus, who has come to Him in all the simplicity of a living faith—who has heard His voice pleading for admission, has verily received Christ Jesus as his inhabitant. The Lord has taken possession. He has claimed as His property the purchase of His precious blood. He has entered the believing heart, and there abides. Christ dwells in the heart by faith. When He thus enters all Deity bears Him company. "For in Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell."
This is one of the expressions which the Apostle delights to repeat. He speaks of the Church as the fullness of Christ. And he tells us that "Christ is the fullness of Him that fills all in all." Nor is Paul alone in this expressive phrase. The Apostle John too in his Gospel speaks thus of Christ, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." And then he adds, "And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace." God is love—and the fullness of divine love pervades the believing heart. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. The believer is brought out of darkness into marvelous light—the Sun of righteousness has arisen with healing in His wings. God is Almighty—and the believer is made strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. God is holy—yes holiness in its essential qualities—and the believer through faith and patience and the Spirit's sanctifying influences, is made partaker of His holiness. This is a feeble expression of what is the blessedness of him, who is filled with all the fullness of God.—Receive Christ, and in the reception of Him all is yours.—Faith then is the receiving grace. By believing in Jesus we realize the fullness of the blessedness which the Apostle prays for in this petition.
O my soul, have you that living principle within—that faith, which overcoming the world—working by love, and purifying the heart, makes it a fit receptacle of Him who in Himself is God over all, blessed for evermore?—If so, then never forget the dignity and honor to which you are called—Wherever you are, there Deity is present. You are enriched with a presence before which all earth's greatness and splendor fade into nothingness—you are ennobled beyond the rank of the noblest of this world—you are a living temple of the living God; for it is written, "I will live in them and walk in them—and they shall be my people, and I will be their God."—The thought will sanctify—elevate—ennoble.—It will be on earth a foretaste of the happiness of heaven. Like Enoch we shall walk with God. Like Abraham we shall be accounted His friends. Like John we shall lean on His bosom—and live in closest communion and fellowship. We shall reflect in our daily conversation some rays of the heavenly likeness here; and in privilege hereafter we shall be nearer than the angels, which dwell in His presence—yes, we shall take our place as the most highly favored of all the creatures of His love. All the longings of the heart too will forever be satisfied when we awake with His likeness. Then shall we realize, as we cannot here and now, the depth of truth in the Apostle's prayer, that we may "be filled with all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:20-21."Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
This sublime prayer ends with sublime praise. Let this example ever guide our supplications. Praise is lovely for the upright. "Seven times a day will I praise You" was the Psalmist's resolve. This exercise will fit for the songs above. When prayer shall be hushed forever—when the necessity for its utterance in the realms of perfect purity shall be no more—the strains of thanksgiving shall still swell. The Hallelujahs of the blessed shall never cease.
(1.) Mark to whom adoration is here ascribed. It is to our Heavenly Father. Let praise be given to Him to whom all praise is due. But especially here is He presented to us as the God who hears and answers prayer—and the assurance is added, that however large our requests may be, they will fall short of the infinity of His power to respond. Blessed are they who have this deep persuasion, that he to whom they pray is able to answer not in proportion to the widest expanse of petition and desire—but abundantly—yes exceeding abundantly, above all that they can ask or even think. Vast were the petitions of this heaven-inspired prayer—so vast that apparently more could neither be conceived nor desired—but for our encouragement we are taught that if our prayers were infinitely more comprehensive, they could not exceed the granting power, which exceeds infinity. Proofs might have been multiplied to show how God has exercised His power at the voice of His children's cry. From the beginning such has been His grace. At times when the case of the Church has seemed desperate—and recovery to be hopeless, He has been seen to arise in the greatness of His might, and has gotten to Himself a glorious name. Let the thought of this ability urge us to be more importunate. Alas! too often poor and defective are our prayers. Unbelief clips the wings of supplication. We ask and receive not, because we ask amiss. But answers are promised. Let us then be encouraged. Those who by prayer have prevailed, have been men of like passions with ourselves. The Church in the darkness of unbelief sometimes has bemoaned, "The Lord has forsaken me, and my God has forgotten me." The wail has often gone forth, "Will the Lord cast off forever, and will He be entreated no more? Is His mercy clean gone forever—does His promise fail for evermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious, and in anger has He shut up His tender mercies?" Where is the remedy? The Psalmist gives reply, "I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High." Happy is he, who has the assurance that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.
(2.) The Apostle adds, "According to the power that works in us." Let no believer rest without the experience of this inworking power. Thus when we are weak, then are we strong. By it difficulties are overcome—temptations are resisted—afflictions are endured, and the profession is made, not in self-complacent pride, but in meek dependence and simple faith, "I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me."
(3.) But mark next, who are they who ascribe praise to God? "Unto Him be glory in the Church." From none others can these notes ascend. The world is silent—the Church only is vocal with thanksgiving. This is the song of every member of the same, "O Lord, I will praise You, though You were angry with me Your anger is turned away, and You comforted me." God has abundantly blessed, and the ultimate design is, that in His Church His praises may abound. Thus He inhabits the praises of His Zion. "This people have I formed for Myself—they shall show forth My praise." They praise the love that bought them—they extol the grace that visited them in the days of darkness, and chased the gloom away. And in their every note there is an intelligent appreciation that all things are theirs through Jesus Christ. Therefore He is the theme of all their songs. Moreover they well know that it is only through His mediation and intercession that prayer and praise are accepted. He is our Great High Priest. For us He has entered within the veil—and in every age and climate, praise makes melody in the ear of God, only as it is perfumed with the incense of His merits. As in the Church below, so in the Church above, His Name is as ointment poured forth. As in time, so in eternity, throughout all ages, world without end, the song shall be forever new, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."