By Henry Law, 1884
Ephesians 1:1—14. Spiritual Blessings in Christ
"Paul, an Apostle of Jesus
Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and to the
faithful in Christ Jesus."
Two main considerations meet us in this verse. (1.) The designation of Paul, "An Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." (2.) The designation of the converts whom he addresses, "The saints and the faithful in Christ Jesus." While each is examined may the Spirit by His mighty power and love pour light into our longing souls!
Here in the vestibule, a preliminary thought occurs. Scripture here in the forefront places the ever blessed Jesus. In this verse He stands forward as the grand object on which faith should gaze. Of whom is Paul an Apostle? Of Jesus Christ. Who are the saints? The faithful in Christ Jesus. Take Christ from this verse, and the Apostle and the saints alike sink into insignificance. To remove Him would be to blot the sun out of the skies. Let Him therefore always be foremost in our view. Let it be our firm conclusion that apart from Him faith could not live. Without Him we would be without God in the world—without hope—without light—without foretaste of heaven.
We begin with PAUL'S DESIGNATION OF HIMSELF. He speaks of his office and of his call to it.
(1.) His office. He is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was called distinctly and directly by immediate voice from heaven to give himself to the blessed work of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ, and bearing testimony to the glorious truth that Jesus is sent by God to seek and to save that which was lost. The direct commission from God Himself, without the intervention of human instrumentality, constituted Him an Apostle.
Let a brief digression turn our thoughts to our own position. The study of Scripture, without personal improvement, is vain. To grow in grace—to advance in life-giving knowledge, should be our aim in all this study.
While we adore God for having thus raised up and enabled Paul to gather in His people and to instruct His Church to the last times, and while we read with reverence his writings as immediate revelations from the Father of Lights, let us bear in mind, that there is a sense in which every believer is called and appointed to be a minister of his God. "You shall be named the Priests of the Lord—men shall call you the Ministers of our God." It is written, "You shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." Believers are "built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable unto God by Jesus Christ." They are "a chosen generation—a royal priesthood." Jesus has made them "kings and priests unto God and His Father." Let us then walk worthy of our high vocation, and live always ministering at our Altar, who is Jesus Christ. On Him let us present our bodies living sacrifices; on Him let us offer the calves of our lips, hallowed praises; and let our whole life be a proclamation of His truth.
(2.) Let us advance now to Paul's appointment to apostleship. He was called by the will of God. He continually insists upon the truth, that he took not this honor upon himself. He was "an Apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead." This will of God is eternal love to the Church. It is the originating cause of the everlasting covenant of grace. It foreordains every blessing which that covenant contains for the heirs of promise. To do this will, Christ came. "By this will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." By this will Apostles and Prophets, and Evangelists and Pastors, and Teachers, are called and qualified and arranged. By this will their word is made effectual, and we receive grace to believe. If we are thus blessed with all spiritual blessings, let us adore that deep source from which these precious streams flow.
What volumes of unspeakable comfort are treasured up in the truth that God's will is unchangeable! To the considerate mind it seems almost self-evident that God must be "without variableness, or shadow of turning." This constitutes that infinite serenity which is one of the grand elements of Deity. It is an essential attribute of the Governor of the universe. While mutability, fluctuation, uncertainty, and change miserably appertain to the inhabitants of this fallen world and all their concerns, the inscription over the Palace of the King of Kings is, "I am that I am." It is blessed to know and realize this truth. Happy are the hours passed in giving thanks for the faithful sayings—"I change not, therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed." "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever." "Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end."
Ephesians 1:1."To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus."
We proceed to the designation of those who are here addressed. They are termed saints, and faithful in Christ Jesus. It is highly important to obtain clear views of all Gospel-terms—and not least so of those which describe the state and character of true believers. Ignorance may here lead to fatal self-deception. Many cry "Peace, peace, when there is no peace;" and "feed on ashes, and cannot deliver their soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in our right hand?" May we be delivered from all such error, to the glory of God in us!
(1.) The word "saints" imports people who are set apart and consecrated to the service and glory of God. They were fore-ordained from all eternity in the counsels of heaven to this blessed state. Their predestination is the cause of their call in due time by the Spirit of God to come out and to be separate, and to be "a peculiar people, zealous of good works." When Paul addresses the believers at Rome as "beloved of God, called to be saints," he places the love of God as the precursor of calling. We learn a similar truth from the arranged teaching of the following text. "God, who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." Hence it is evident that the heirs of eternal love are partakers of this distinguishing benefit.
When the fullness of the time is come, the Spirit of God brings them as willing subjects into the kingdom of grace. We may, without violence to truth, apply to them the prophetic words, "I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth-- everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise."
As this call of God is by the Spirit of holiness, so it is unto a life of holiness. Concerning the former conversation, the old man is put off, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and the new man is put on, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Hence believers are manifested to their own consciences, and to all around them, as the saints of the Most High. They are no more of the world. They reject its hollow and selfish principles—they scorn its debasing maxims—they turn from its ungodly ways—they despise its vain pursuits—they rise high above its mis-called pleasures. It is evident that they "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit;" that their one desire is increasing conformity to the will and image of God.
(2.) We now advance to the second term. They are "the faithful in Christ Jesus." Three ideas are here involved. Believers are no more in the Wicked One—no more in the world—but in Christ—engrafted into Him as a branch into the stem of the tree; rooted in Him as the tree in the earth; built into Him as the superstructure into the foundation; one with Him as the members with the head. They are faithful, inasmuch as they have received the precious gift of faith, and "abound therein with thanksgiving." They look to the atoning blood, and to the justifying righteousness of Christ as the alone ground of their salvation. They are faithful, inasmuch as they no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who loved them and gave Himself for them. They gladly and unreservedly devote their bodies, souls, and spirits to His service. The humble and honest enquiry of each is continually, "Lord, what will You have me to do?"
Are we saints and faithful in Christ Jesus, according to the scriptural meaning of these terms? Blessed are they who can respond that though miserable sinners in themselves, yet by the grace of God they have this fellowship with His people! Soon shall the saints shine forth in glory, and they who are faithful unto death shall receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Ephesians 1:2."Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."
The Apostle proceeds to express the desire of his soul for the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus. He prays that they may be enriched with "grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." This is the commencement of every Epistle to the Churches; these gifts, therefore, must be of pre-eminent and incomparable value. Though Paul grew in spiritual attainment and experience, still, to his last hour, his aspirations did not rise higher than "grace and peace." It is good to be thus taught what are the most excellent blessings which we should seek for ourselves and others. May the Lord grant that we may give Him no rest until they reign in us and all for whom we utter prayer!
Before we examine these gifts separately, it is important to observe the part which the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity bear in them. Though the Holy Spirit is not directly named, He is distinctly included. There can be no work on the soul but by His presence and effectual power. When grace is given, He implants it—when peace exists, He creates it. All spiritual blessings, and therefore grace and peace, are the effects of His inworking. The existence of spiritual life proves the agency of the life-giving Spirit. This Spirit is from Jesus, and from the Father through Jesus; so that in each spiritual gift the love and energies of the Triune Jehovah co-operate. How greatly are our thoughts of grace and peace enlarged, when we reflect that all the Omnipotence of heaven is exerted in their bestowal!
(1.) Grace. This is a large term; in its length and breadth it is co-extensive with the infinitudes of the Giver. It comprehends both the source and the streams of salvation. In its origin it is the springing up, in its effects it is the going forth, of free love to bless undeserving, ruined sinners. It is the spontaneous goodwill of God towards the unworthy and undone, manifested by His good work for them and in them. But when we pray for grace, we assume His goodwill towards us, and we mainly desire His good work in us. Rightly to estimate the extent of this work, we should estimate the extent of our need. For instance, we need to have our faith in Christ strengthened and invigorated—we need to have the eyes of our understanding enlightened that we may see the eternal love of God—the preciousness of Jesus Christ—the glory of His finished redemption—His suitableness to our ruined state. We need to have our trust confirmed in His faithful word, and sure promises, and unerring guidance. We need power to resist the world, the flesh, and the devil, that we may trample them beneath our feet. We need sanctification in body, soul, and spirit, that we may be entirely conformed to the image of Jesus. We need help in prayer and praise, and ordinances and duties—in the family, in private, at home, abroad, in every hour of our lives, in the solemn period of our dying. Such, and manifold more, are our necessities. For all these there is a supply provided in the Everlasting Covenant, and we ask for this supply whenever we pray for grace. Let us supplicate more fervently, for we have a God of all grace, seated on His throne of grace, waiting to be gracious. If we open our mouths wide, He will fill them.
(2.) Peace. This is the precious fruit which grows on the tree of grace. It is the calm repose of the soul realizing reconciliation with God through the blood of the Lamb, and led forth in paths of righteousness by the constant guidance of the Spirit. Hence it cannot exist among the graceless. It instantly vanishes under apprehensions of wrath and terrors of conscience, or when the outbreakings of iniquity prevail, and it cannot be restored until a voice is heard from the Cross, "Your sins are forgiven—go in peace." Its abode is within the deep recesses of the heart, far beyond the reach of external troubles. "In Me you shall have peace," is an assurance not cancelled by the counter-saying, "In the world you shall have tribulation." Outward distress to the believer is as the raging billows to Noah within the Ark. Paul was serene while pain-stricken in the dungeon, and Stephen was unruffled beneath the crushing stones. It is an eternal truth that there is "joy and peace in believing."
Need I warn, that the world knows not this blessing? "There is no peace to the wicked, says my God." Therefore, be separate from the world. Need I warn, that there is a counterfeit? Therefore examine the foundations of your peace. He who cries not in spirit, "Abba, Father;" he who glories not in the Cross; he who abhors not all evil, has not received grace, and is a stranger to peace. Beloved, may grace and peace be with you, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ!
Ephesians 1:3."Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ."
The Apostle enters upon the subject of his Epistle through the vestibule of ADORATION. His soul is so filled with gratitude that copious streams of thanksgiving must find vent before other thoughts can have utterance. It is a happy state when each thought of God kindles the flame of holy rapture in the heart. They know not God as the God of their salvation who delight not in Him as their "exceeding joy." This song is heard throughout the kingdom of grace, "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together."
Let us now consider, (1.) To whom; (2.) For what, blessings are here ascribed. May our hearts burn within us while we thus meditate!
(1.) To WHOM are blessings ascribed? The answer is ready. "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the chosen title, by which God would be known and loved, and addressed, and praised in the Gospel. Our elder brethren adored God as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob; the Lord God of their Fathers." Such titles are indeed full of consolation. They speak of Covenant-relationship, of faithfulness, and truth; and they awaken confiding trust. But our title teaches deeper and more precious truth.
Our God is announced as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." The God who appointed Him to the Mediatorial work, and sustained Him and accepted Him. Our God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; Father, not by creation, not by adoption, but by eternal generation; therefore Jesus must be one in nature with the Father, and consequently God over all, blessed for evermore; able to deal with God in the work of atoning for all our sins; able to save us to the very uttermost. In addition to these consolations, we know that we are one with Christ, very members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. His God, therefore, must be our God—His Father our Father. And thus spoke Jesus, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God."
(2.) For WHAT are blessings ascribed? Because He "has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Oh! for an outpouring of realizing faith, to enable us to grasp tightly this glorious assurance! The believer is blessed with all spiritual blessings. Such is his present portion. As to temporal gifts, such as health, worldly possessions, and distinctions, he may be poor and needy; the absence of these may be the riches of the inner man. But one treasure, even all spiritual blessings, is surely his. Do you ask, How can this be? The reply is at hand. When God gave the heirs of salvation unto Jesus, He gave Jesus unto them. "I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine." He gave Himself unto them. "This God is our God forever and ever." He gave the Holy Spirit unto them. "Know you not, that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have of God?" Moreover, He gave unto them all things contained in the Everlasting Covenant of Grace. Is it not evident that he, who has the Triune Jehovah as his property, is blessed with all spiritual blessings? What is his spiritual need? Let him ask, and he has a supply; let him open his hand, and it is filled. But all believers do not realize this. Why? Because their faith is weak; the hand hangs down which ought to be extended to receive. The inheritor of vast estates who will not be persuaded of, or will not use his wealth, is the picture of the man who has all blessings as his own, but wilfully languishes in ignorance and blindness.
These blessings are in heavenly places. This expression tells us that our store-house is heaven. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of Lights." The Father is in heaven, in whom they originate; Jesus is in heaven, through whom they descend; the Spirit is in heaven, by whom they are bestowed. They are heavenly-place blessings, because they uplift the thoughts and affections and desires above the filth of earth, and bear them far away to regions of celestial purity. They are heavenly-place blessings, because they fit us daily for the "inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for us."
Being thus in heavenly places, they are SECURE. Satan cannot storm that fortress; our own evil hearts cannot betray it to the foe. Oh, my soul, seek you heavenly-place blessings—seek them with the persuasion, that they are your own inheritance.
Finally, this blessedness is all in Christ. All salvation, and all appertaining to it, is in Him. Without Christ—apart from Him—there is nothing but misery and the curse. In Him we possess a blessing God, exalting us to a blessed heaven. To Him let us ascribe blessings forever and ever. Happy the day which finds the believer thus employed!
Ephesians 1:4."According as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love."
Deep and copious is the spring from which the blessedness of the saints flows—grand is the tree which yields this fruit. If the question be put, why are they inheritors of all spiritual blessings? an inspired reply is thus given by the Apostle—Because God has chosen them in Christ before the foundation of the world. Their eternal election is thus distinctly announced as the foundation on which the goodly superstructure is raised. Believers are blessed because chosen. They are chosen to be blessed. This truth lies at the root of all God's dealings with His people. Let there be no surprise, then, that it receives a prominent place in this Epistle.
Similarly we find that Peter's first words tell the Church that they are "Elect according to the fore-knowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." We are, also, prepared for the bitter hatred of Satan against it, and the violent rage with which the ungodly in every age have assailed it. But how can we account for the slowness of believers to receive it—their timidity in avowing it—their cowardice in frequently surrendering it without defense to ignorant gainsayers? It is a fearful thing to be ashamed of any truth of God. O my soul, do you give to it, in your meditations, this Apostolic prominence—conceal not in a corner what the Spirit places in the first rank of His faithful sayings.
This verse states (1.) the doctrine of Election, "He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world." (2.) Its purpose, "that we should be holy, and without blame before Him in love."
(1.) The DOCTRINE of election is among the deep mysteries of our God—but the meaning of it is as clear and precise as language can render it. God has, from all eternity, before the foundations of the world were laid, in the counsels of His wisdom and love, selected out of the mass of mankind a portion to be unto Himself vessels of mercy, honor, and glory.
It is impious trifling with the words of God, to object that Gospel-election is merely the election of the Gentiles to privileges hitherto confined to the Jews. The passage before us contains the refutation—for here Paul, himself a Jew, speaks of himself as concerned with the Gentile-saints of Ephesus in God's eternal choice. The choice, therefore, must be of certain individuals from among the Jews, together with certain individuals from among the Gentiles, to effectual calling and the glories of heaven.
It is likewise a strange folly to maintain that Election is only to national privileges and external advantages. Is it not on the contrary written here, and on almost every mention of the truth, that the choice is unto internal, separating, and distinguishing grace? Are all in Christian lands—are all the members of pure Churches—are all the partakers of divine Sacraments "holy and without blame before God in love?" Far from it. But such is the distinguishing character of the elect. Hence Election is the foreordaining of a definite remnant to be brought through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth unto life eternal.
We are chosen in Christ. As Jesus was chosen of the Father to represent Him unto His people, and to represent His people unto Him; so believers are chosen to be the members of His body—the Spouse to whom He is united—to be washed in His blood, clothed in His righteousness, sanctified by His Spirit, conformed to His image. Thus every thought, and every act of redeeming love, from first to last, centers in Christ.
(2.) The PURPOSE of election is "that we should be holy, and without blame before Him in love." Holiness is the nature and essence of God. Everything which proceeds from Him must be perfect and unblemished holiness. The decree to save is a decree to make an end of all iniquity, and to beautify with the robe of righteousness. We have then an infallible test by which we may make our calling and election sure. The test is our inward delight in God's law, and utter abhorrence of all evil. If we are not assured that the Spirit of love, which is the fulfilling of the law, reigns in our hearts, we can have no comfortable evidence that we belong to His chosen people. If we love Him, it is because He first loved us. If we choose Him as our chief joy, it is because He first chose us as His portion. But if the affections of our souls do not follow hard after Him in love, we have no cause to hope that we have part or lot in His eternal choice. It is only through the links of personal holiness that we can trace our way back to the first link of Election, and onward to the last link of glory.
Happy are the servants of the Most High God, who realize that they are holy and without blame before Him in love! Let them receive to their comfort the blessed testimony of this verse.
Ephesians 1:5."Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will."
There is admirable symmetry in the structure of Gospel-truth. The beautiful harmony and connection proclaim the heavenly Craftsman. This is clearly exemplified in the passage now before us. There is no statement in the sentence disjointed or detached—perfect order unites the whole. All spiritual blessings are ours, because we are chosen by God unto holiness, and we are chosen unto holiness because "we are predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will."
It is evident that predestination unto sonship secures the inheritance of all spiritual blessings, and includes election unto holiness, and blamelessness in love. Here we see the unity of truth throughout this remarkable announcement.
Let us proceed then to the grand point of the verse, "predestination unto the adoption of children." Behold our condition when we are born into this world. We are children of wrath, because in the curse denounced against disobedience all the family of Adam is involved. We were in his loins when he sinned, and when the righteous sentence was passed upon him. Hence we drew our first breath in the prison-house of Satan, awaiting the execution of the holy decree against our imputed sin. And can it be, that we shall be called forth from our dungeons, and the chains shall be removed from our hands, and that we shall be arrayed in royal garments of spotless purity, and be received as the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty? Yes, verily, for it has pleased God to predestinate us unto this adoption.
Behold again our natural condition. Every trace and feature and lineament of the Divine image in our souls is utterly defaced. Righteousness is expelled, and corruption universally prevails. The inner man is hatred to God and all His ways; it is in vile allegiance to Satan and all his lusts. And can it be, that this old man shall be crucified, and that a Divine nature shall be implanted, and that the likeness of God shall be restored, and conformity to the image of Christ wrought in us? Yes, verily, for it has pleased God to predestinate us unto this adoption.
As the result of this eternal purpose, in due time the life-giving Spirit is sent into our hearts, the heavenly nature is conferred, and we are adopted into the family of God. "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Again, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." They are predestinated to be sons, and therefore the Spirit takes them under His holy guidance.
They, however, must not rejoice in this decree who cannot find in their souls indubitable proof that they are true children of God. The proofs cannot be mistaken. One is FAITH—"For as many as receive Jesus, to them gives He power to become the sons of God; even to those who believe on His Name." Again, "We are all," that is, we are all manifested to be, "the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." Another is PRAYER—"We have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Also LOVE to God, and devotedness to His glory—"For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son." If these lovely features do not shine forth in our souls, let us refuse comfort, and rather tremble exceedingly, lest our sad lot should be in the family of the unbelieving, the prayerless, and the unrighteous. Let us not turn from the warning of Jesus, "If God were your Father, you would love Me—but you are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He who is of God, hears God's words; you therefore hear them not, because you are not of God."
But on the contrary, with what unspeakable comfort should they rejoice, who can realize that "the Spirit bears witness with their spirits that they are the children of God." Great is the PRESENT privilege—great beyond conception the future exaltation! "Now are we the Sons of God." Therefore in all our infirmities and sins we are pitifully spared. "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him." "I will spare them as a man spares his own son that serves him." Therefore all our prayers for grace and help are answered. "If you, 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." Therefore, we shall never lack. He is an unnatural parent who provides not for his offspring. The Lord, who is our Shepherd, is our Father; need is far from us. Let us cast away all undue anxieties. Our heavenly Father knows that we have need of all these things.
Great, also, will be the FUTURE exaltation. "It does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." Like Him now we are in spirit—like Him then we shall be in glorified body; fit to sit with Him even on His throne. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." May the Lord hasten the day, when He shall come to be thus glorified in His saints, and shine forth amid adoring Hallelujahs, as "the firstborn among many brethren!"
Ephesians 1:6."To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us accepted in the Beloved."
Paul delights to trace every spiritual blessing to its true and only source—the free, unmerited, sovereign grace of God. He is exceedingly jealous of, and zealous for, the honor and supremacy of the gracious Giver. He well knew that man's best righteousness was but a filthy rag—and his holiest thought not better than abomination in the sight of Him who could not look upon imperfection. The highest merits of fallen creatures could not claim more than place among the lost. Therefore he cannot speak of any part of the wonderful work of salvation, without exclaiming "Grace to it! Grace to it!"
The present verse affords a notable instance. He has proclaimed our election in Christ before the foundation of the world, and our predestination by Him unto the adoption of children to Himself; but he cannot relinquish these themes without adding, "to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us accepted in the Beloved."
Among the many thoughts which instantly spring from these words, let us select the following– (1.) God has made us accepted in the Beloved. (2.) This, as well as every other thought towards the redeemed, is an act of glorious grace. (3.) This grace is entitled to our praise. May the Spirit reveal to us the amazing mysteries!
(1.) God has made us accepted in the Beloved. Who is this Beloved? A voice from heaven designates Jesus. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The Spirit declares that "God has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son," or 'the Son of His love'. Jesus Himself says, "I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him." And again, "Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again." Jesus is the Beloved of heaven, because of His own essential and perfect holiness and oneness with the Father, and also because He is the Mediator of the new covenant, and the Redeemer of the chosen seed.
He is also the Beloved of His people. They each exclaim, "I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine." They add, "whom having not seen, we love." They sincerely appeal to Him, "Lord, You know all things—You know that we love You." O my soul! do you love Jesus? He is worthy to be entwined with the cords of love round every fiber of the heart. He is worthy to occupy its every recess, and to move in its very motion. Happy is each one who can add, "Lord, I love You, and adore—Oh! for grace to love You more!" In the beloved Jesus, God makes us accepted.
By nature our state calls for rejection. Everything in our original condition is vileness and sin, and deserves wrath and condemnation. If we had power to help ourselves, we have not the will. We hate the light—we love our evil ways, and after them we will go. Such is our condition, when God makes us accepted. Because we are sons in His eternal purpose, He sends the Spirit of His Son to take away the heart of stone—to give the heart of flesh—to convince of sin and need and danger—to show us the preciousness of Jesus—to draw us to the fountain of His purifying blood—to lead us, enrobed in His righteousness, to the arms of our reconciled Father.
Can He reject such as approach Him in this Name, and in these merits? Oh, no! Ready acceptance awaits them. He accepts their persons, because they are cleansed and sanctified in His Beloved. He accepts their services, because they are freewill offerings on the altar of His Beloved. He accepts their prayers and praises, because they are perfumed with the incense of His Beloved's merits. By the faith which is given them, they become one with the Beloved, part and parcel of Himself. Therefore they take their place in heaven as accepted children.
(2.) This, as well as all other dealings towards the redeemed, shines forth "to the praise of the glory of His grace." What contrived the means of acceptance? What fixed upon the persons of the accepted? What made them willing in the day of love and of power? Say, O my soul, can you discover any other motive which could influence God thus to bring you home to embrace of His acceptance, but the grace which is His glory? Has not all His work for you, and in you, been to the praise of the glory of His grace?
(3.) It follows immediately that this grace is entitled our praise. Let us lift high the voice of adoring thanksgiving. It becomes us to be thankful. God should inhabit the praises of Israel. We praise You, O blessed Lord God, for so freely loving us before the foundation of the world! We praise You for writing our names in the Lamb's Book of Life! We praise You for giving us to Jesus, as His portion and spouse forever! We praise You for accepting His blood as our ransom, and for enrobing us in the garments of His righteousness. We praise You for calling us by Your Spirit, and opening our eyes to see the full provisions of redeeming love! We praise You for keeping us by Your power, through faith, unto eternal life! These blessings are all to the praise of the glory of Your grace, wherein You have made us accepted in the Beloved!
Ephesians 1:7."In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace."
It is a heavenly exercise, under the light of the Spirit, to review the blessings which are freely given to us in Christ Jesus. We thus anticipate the hallowed joys of our eternal home, and are alike refreshed and sanctified in our progress there. The blessing of blessings is before us in our present verse—redemption through the blood of Jesus—the forgiveness of our sins. Let it be opened out by the enquiry (1.) why it is needed, and (2.) how it is obtained. While we advance, may we realize in our souls that the glorious blessing is our own!
(1.) Who needs redemption? The reply is "those who have forfeited their inheritance." Is not our inheritance lost? Yes.—As natural descendants of Adam, we are outcasts and aliens from the family of God; our right and title to every spiritual gift, to every heavenly hope, is forfeited. We are the poorest and neediest of all the creation of God—a withering curse has blighted every faculty and power—we live wretched among the wretched for a few days, in the downward course which leads to "the blackness of darkness forever." Thus we need redemption.
To understand how we obtain it, we should clearly see how our inheritance was lost. The ruin was entirely through sin. God cannot look upon an unclean thing. His countenance is averted from all who are defiled by iniquity. The sin-soiled cannot enjoy the light of His countenance, nor stand in His presence. Thus it is through sin that we are disinherited. To obtain redemption sin must be removed. This is accomplished by our Redeemer, through the shedding of His blood. The right of redemption belonged to Him, because He is our nearest kinsman—the elder brother of our family—the first-born among many brethren. Thus qualified as bone of our bones, and flesh of our flesh, He pays the only price which could avail, His own most precious blood. This blood cleanses the guilt and defilement of our every iniquity—the sins which were as scarlet become white as snow—the crimson-dye becomes white as wool. Thus the redeemed of the Lord have forgiveness of their sins, and regain their inheritance of present and eternal favor.
Another illustration is at hand. The question is repeated—Who needs redemption? The reply is, "They who are taken captive by a mightier foe." This foe is the Devil, who has succeeded in casting his iron chains around our whole race. His fetters hold us fast in his prison-house, and we are alike without strength and desire to burst the bonds. These fetters are sin. Sin gives the Devil his power over our souls and bodies. Until this be removed, we cannot come forth from the misery and torment of his dungeon.
(2.) Redemption from this bondage is effected by the removal of sins. Again behold Jesus our Redeemer. "He bore our sins in His own body on the tree." He is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all," and He has carried the whole load of sin into a land of forgetfulness. Thus the chain is broken by which the Devil held us, and we obtain redemption through the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins.
Let us notice the holy assurance with which Paul claims this redemption as his own. He knew that God had made Jesus unto the Church "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." He knew that he had received the gift of the Spirit, by which he had been translated from captivity into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Hence he could realize that the inheritance of reconciliation and all blessedness had been made his possession. Hence he could rejoice in deliverance from the thraldom of Satan, who no longer had dominion over him; and he could triumph in hope of bruising him under his feet shortly. Oh! that believers would understand the liberty with which the Redeemer has made them free, and live as those who are ransomed unto eternal life, and made more than conquerors over spiritual wickedness in high places. This abiding persuasion would give them a noble exaltation above the paltry trifles of this ruined world, and arm them with heroic boldness against the assaults of an enemy who has lost all power to prevail.
Paul cannot speak of this redeeming work without giving glory to the grace of God. He adds, this deliverance is "according to the riches of His grace." How blessed is the thought that God is rich in grace! His throne is a throne of grace. His scepter is a scepter of grace. His covenant is a covenant of grace. His thoughts are thoughts of grace. His ways are ways of grace. His word is the word of grace. His treasure-house is stored with grace. Hence all His gifts and manifestations to His people are results of grace. Grace called Jesus to His work. Grace found the ransom. Grace accepted it. Grace determined who would be redeemed. Grace made them willing in the day of power. Grace keeps them through faith unto salvation. Oh! the riches of the grace of our God! While we have breath let us extol and magnify it.
But some dislike and reject the term. Let such consider their need as banished, despoiled, imprisoned sinners. Can they restore or deliver themselves? If not, how can they be redeemed except by grace? There is redemption only through the blood of Jesus, which is according to the riches of God's grace.
Ephesians 1:8."Wherein He has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence."
Paul knew that salvation was by grace, therefore he never wearied in proclaiming this truth. It was the work to which he was called, and from which nothing could deter him; a work far dearer to him than life itself. Speaking of bonds and afflictions, he says, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God." In our present verse he renews the theme. May we delight in hearing, as he did in speaking—may we feast upon the testimony as the very joy and rejoicing of our souls!
Having mentioned the riches of God's grace, he now adds, "Wherein He has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence." Three topics here claim attention. (1.) God's grace is abundant. (2.) We are the subjects of it—it abounds toward us. (3.) Its actings are in all wisdom and prudence.
(1.) God's grace is ABUNDANT. This follows directly from His nature. Infinity is His essence. There are limits to every created intelligence. Every object in the universe around us is confined within measure and bounds—but He, who inhabits eternity, is without breadth, and length, and depth, and height. We should divest our minds of all contracted thoughts of God. They are dishonoring to His majesty, and rob our souls of enlightened comfort. We are too prone in our ignorance to measure His love, and mercy, and pardon, and grace, and all His other attributes by what we see and experience in our own sphere. This is a miserable error. We should take the enlarged delight of knowing, that when God loves, He loves like God, infinitely—when He shows mercy, He shows mercy infinitely—when He pardons, He pardons infinitely—when He exercises grace, He exercises it infinitely. He is "abundant in goodness and truth."
We read, "there is no searching of His understanding." The same is true of His grace. Is it not incessantly pardoning countless multitudes of sins in us, and in countless multitudes of our fallen race? If it could be surpassed, would not the hourly iniquities of our lives exceed it? But it is so abundant, that the deep floods of our ungodliness cannot overwhelm it. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. As there is "plenteous redemption," so too, there is plenteous grace. The treasury is inexhaustible—the Giver never wearies in distributing. Oh! that we were never weary in hastening "boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Oh! that we were never weary of meditating on that faithful saying, "If by one man's offence death reigned by one—much more they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ."
(2.) We are the SUBJECTS of grace; it abounds towards us. The fallen angels are not ignorant of God's grace, but their knowledge only aggravates their misery. They see fallen man freely recovered from the lowest depths of vileness, while they are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." Christ-rejecting worldlings hear of grace, but they revile the term, and "do despite to the Spirit of grace." The language of their hearts and lives is, 'If salvation be of grace, away with it! away with it! we leave it for the dreaming enthusiast and visionary fanatic.' But the saints of the Most High say not so. Rather, they bless Him who has made them to differ, and they gratefully ascribe every step, from first to last, in their Zionward ascent, to that "grace of our Lord, which is exceeding abundant, with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."
(3.) The ACTINGS of grace are in wisdom and prudence. If we would learn the glories of God—the only-wise and all-wise—we must read them in the face of Jesus Christ. He is the wisdom of God, as well as the power of God. How does God reveal to the principalities and powers in heavenly places His manifold wisdom? By His provisions for, and dealings with, His Church. And all these provisions and dealings are in Christ Jesus. Let us briefly glance at a few particulars. The whole theme of salvation is the offspring of Divine wisdom. Not all the intelligence of angels and men could have devised a plan to save the guilty soul, and still retain inviolate, no, greatly magnify, all the attributes of Jehovah. But God in His wisdom called Jesus to the work, who as God and man is able to make full satisfaction for all iniquity, and to bind in harmonious ties justice, mercy, holiness, and truth. In His atonement they all shine forth in redoubled splendor, and each reflects and multiplies the luster of the whole. Let us consider how perfectly the Law is satisfied, and every promise, and every threat established, and we shall see that in Christ Jesus grace abounds towards us in all wisdom and prudence.
Divine wisdom also is displayed in the gracious dealings with each individual soul. Man is a very complex machine—made up of countless passions, inclinations, appetites, desires, motives, lusts; the heart is wily and treacherous—Satan at first reigns there with vigilance and power. But when the fullness of the time is come, God in Christ casts out this enemy, and wins this heart, and retains it to Himself. But how great is the wisdom displayed in adapting and applying the means! Providential dispensations, the timely warning, the preacher's voice, the treasures of the Word, the friendly counsel, the affectionate interest—all in order are used to accomplish the end. Thus, under the Spirit, life is imparted and maintained. What saint, reviewing God's ways, will not exclaim, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"
Ephesians 1:9."Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He has purposed in Himself."
Paul here speaks of the revelation of a mystery which God had purposed in Himself. It is a profitable task first to ascertain the mind of the Spirit in the passage, and then to seek improvement for our souls. Lord! for Your Name's sake, teach us!
The following verse declares, that the will, so long hidden from men, was God's purpose "to gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him." The main point here intended is, that the Gentiles should be included in the call to the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ. This truth from of old was plainly announced in the Scriptures, but scales were on the eyes of all the Jews, and they saw it not. The very notion of it seems never to have approached their understandings. Elated with their high privileges and distinctions, they regarded the poor heathen as scarcely partaking of the same flesh and blood with themselves—they believed that God had placed an eternal barrier of separation between them. On the one side were the chosen of Israel—on the other the strangers, foreigners, aliens, outcasts of the Gentiles. They reviled these Gentiles as dogs, and were persuaded that no crumb of mercy could be cast to them.
We see the indignation with which the bare idea of Gentile conversion was received, when Paul on the Castle stairs related the Lord's commission. "He said unto me, Depart, for I will send you far hence unto the Gentiles. And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live." Hear too, Festus, when Paul declared to King Agrippa, "But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen-- that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles." At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane."
Let us refer to two other passages, in which Paul is particularly emphatic in declaring that this mystery had heretofore been wrapped in impenetrable darkness. "By revelation He made known unto me the mystery, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto the holy Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel." Again—"Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God, which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Hence we distinctly learn the prominent thought in the Apostle's mind, when he wrote, "having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He has purposed in Himself."
Can we contemplate this mystery without devout adoration? For who are we by nature? Not the descendants of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; not of the stock of Israel, "to whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." On the contrary, we spring from these outcast Gentiles. But, blessed be God, Christ has come, a light to enlighten the Gentiles! We might have been left in the condition of our early fathers, blind idolaters, bowing down to wood and stone; but upon us the true light has shone, and we are called to hear and obey the Gospel of God's grace. Oh! that to the external call might be added the soul-touching voice of the Spirit, so that we might indeed be brought from darkness to light, and translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son!
But alas! many who are Christ's followers by name are as dead to the life of God, and the saving indwelling of Jesus, as the worshipers of wood and stone. It matters not that the name is changed, if the heart remains untouched and unenlightened. "If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
Let us not, however, pass from the words, "the mystery of His will," without extending our view to the whole of God's will in the sinner's salvation. Every part of it is a mystery, before which we should fall in lowly adoration. Wonderful is the appointment of Jesus to be the Surety, Substitute, Representative, Head of His Church. Wonderful is the shedding of His blood for the remission of sins. Wonderful is every provision in the covenant of grace. Wonderful is the sinner's conversion in the fullness of time. Wonderful is the approach of the weary, sin-sick soul to the blood of sprinkling. Wonderful is the change of the nest of every unclean bird into the temple of the Holy Spirit. Wonderful is the preservation of the saints amid all the trials and temptations of this world, the hate and rage of Satan, and the treachery of their own hearts. Wonderful are their consolations and joys amid persecutions, in sorrow, sickness, death. Wonderful is their resurrection from the dead—their investiture with a weight of glory—their eternal position before the throne of God. How great the wonder that these truths should be made known to us! Many hear with the ear, but never apprehend with the mind. What obstacles must be removed, what prejudices vanquished, before the happy believer can testify, "He has made known to me the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He has purposed in Himself."
Ephesians 1:10."That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him."
We have in this verse a glimpse of that blessed scene which shall be revealed in God's appointed time, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be manifested as the Head of His collected Church, and all the redeemed of His blood shall be assembled in one gathering around Him. Two brief observations seem needful preparatory to this spectacle.
(1.) How is this verse connected with the preceding, which declares God's purpose of calling the Gentiles to the knowledge of the Gospel? The link which unites them is not obscure. God had given many out of the heathen world unto Jesus as His jewels, and sheep, and children. The whole body of Jesus could not be complete in all its parts, until these were brought by faith into union and fellowship with their Head. The Gospel must be preached unto the Gentiles, that these might hear the glad tidings of the Savior, and come unto Him. Thus "in the dispensation of the fullness of times, God will gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him."
(2.) It is here said, that God will gather together in one ALL things in Christ. Is the word "all" to betaken in unlimited extent? Does it express that all who ever breathed the breath of life shall be brought into vital oneness with Christ? The dreadful contrary is among the plainest declarations of Scripture. To many will He say in the great day of the Lord, "I never knew you; depart from Me, all you that work iniquity." "Go, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels." "Whoever was not found written in the Book of Life, was cast into the lake of fire." The truth, therefore, stands confessed, that multitudes of immortal souls will not be gathered together in Christ, but being strangers to Him in time, will be punished with everlasting destruction, away from His presence forever. The conclusion, therefore, cannot be escaped, that the word "all" is to be taken in the restricted sense of all to whom it was given to believe in Christ; of all who belonged to Him by the Father's appointment; of all who became one with Him by vital, saving, purifying faith. Now, if it cannot be denied, that the word "all" in this passage does not mean universality, it follows that its meaning may be similarly confined in other sayings of Scripture. If the principle of interpretation is clear in one case, it will hold in others also. Instances need not be quoted.
From these prefatory observations we pass to the blessed, glorious announcement of the verse. In the dispensation of the fullness of times, God will gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him. Let us mark what a day is coming! What a gathering will speedily take place! What a gathering there will be of all that is bright, and blessed, and heavenly, and glorious! One vast, boundless company shall surround the throne of the Lamb. All the redeemed who are now in heaven—all the saints who are now on earth—all the heirs who are now in darkness—all the children of the kingdom who are yet unborn—all the myriads who have interest in the covenant of grace—all the countless multitudes who were bought by Jesus' blood—all the hosts of the angelic choir who have kept their first estate, shall be congregated into one mass of glorified beings. They shall stand extending in circle beyond circle around one center—that center Jesus, blessed for evermore. In Him they found salvation upon earth—in Him they enjoy salvation in the realms above. To Him they looked in time—on Him they look forever.
Let each enquire—Will it be MY happy portion to take my station amid this celestial throng? Is a place for me made ready in this family above? Deal honestly with conscience, and the reply is quickly given. Do you love Jesus with all your powers? Do you count all things but loss for the excellency of His knowledge? Do you, abhorring yourself and your own righteousness, look only unto Him for pardon and acceptance? Are you one with Him by regenerating grace, loving what He loves, hating what He hates? If so, bless God, take courage, and look up. These are the features which shine in the countenance of His children. You will soon join this general assembly of the church of the first-born. You will soon sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. "Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace which shall be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." For this joy set before you, think little of the troubles and sorrows of this brief pilgrimage. "Yet a little while, and He who shall come, will come, and will not tarry." Then all sufferings will forever cease, and your eyes shall see the King in His beauty, and your voice shall join the universal chorus, ascribing "Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."
Ephesians 1:11."In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will."
The life and soul of religion is the realization of a personal interest in the things belonging to the kingdom of God. The grand comfort of the Gospel is not to hear that Christ has loved His sheep, and given Himself for them; but to feel privileged to say, "He has loved ME, and given Himself for ME." This truth was well known to Paul. He was not content to see afar off the rich provisions of redemption; he had drawn near and tasted that the Lord is gracious. He knew, too, that the saints at Ephesus participated in the same experience, and therefore after speaking of the general gathering together of the whole church in Christ, he could boldly remind them, "In whom also WE have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will."
He here speaks in no terms of doubt and uncertainty, but avows the assurance that the inheritance was theirs. He also distinctly adds, that to this inheritance they were predestinated and fore-appointed in the purpose of God from all eternity. On this truth we need not again enlarge. We have already seen its certainty, and the prominent place which it occupies in the revelation of God's will, as the basis of the whole structure, the spring of all the streams which flow down from heaven. Let us therefore proceed to contemplate (1.) The inheritance which believers have obtained. (2.) The grand truth that "God works all things after the counsel of His own will."
(1.) The inheritance. We enter upon this blessed state altogether by virtue of faith in Christ. When we thus become united to Him, when our oneness is established, it follows that we are savingly interested in, and inseparably connected with, all that Christ is, and all that Christ has. The Spirit bids us open our eyes wide, and survey our boundless possession. He says, "All things are yours—whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas; or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours—and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's." Again—"We are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."
Let us strive for an increase of faith, to believe fully the glorious blessedness into which we have admission. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." As sons we receive in this present time all that our Heavenly Father knows to be good for us. His eye of love always watches over us. His hand of power always guides and protects us. We journey onward through a waste howling wilderness, amid snares and temptations on the right hand and on the left, but we are encircled by invisible guards—even "the Mahanaim," the Host of God." We are never left; we are never forsaken. It is, alas! too true that we continually stray from our God, and restrain prayer, and remit communion—and sometimes we so listen to the vile suggestions of the Tempter, that we openly transgress and wantonly offend. The smile of our God for a season is withdrawn, and we are brought low into the darkness of desolation, misery, and shame.
But our inheritance remains secure. "He restores my soul." The voice is heard, "Return, O backsliding Israel, and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you. Turn, O backsliding children, for I am married unto you. Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." The reply is ready, "Behold, we come unto You; for You are the Lord our God." Thus the Lord deals, as most of His true servants can testify; for "He hates divorce," and "with Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
But we must look onward beyond this earth, if we would even now understand the extent of our inheritance. It is "incorruptible, undefiled, and fades not away; reserved in heaven for those who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." We do not therefore enter upon full possession until we are admitted into heaven, and this corruptible puts on incorruption, and this mortal, immortality—then the saying is brought to pass which is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory." Then, with spirits perfect, pure, and holy, even as God is perfect, pure, and holy; with bodies spiritual and immortal, like unto Christ's glorious body, we shall see Him as He is; and participating in all His incomprehensible perfections, we shall inherit the glory which the Father gave unto Jesus, and receive the kingdom which He has prepared for us from the foundation of the world. This is "the inheritance to which we are predestinated according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will."
(2.) The grand truth that "God works all things after the counsel of His own will." Let us conclude with seeking comfort from this assurance. God's providential arrangements often seem very mysterious. We are shut out from opportunities which seem favorable to the promotion of His kingdom within and around us—we are deprived of circumstances or associates which seemed needful for our growth in grace—we have sickness, poverty, distresses, reproach, persecution, hatred—when we think we could serve God better in health, competence, ease, honor, tranquility, and love. But we are short-sighted; we are of yesterday, and know nothing. All these things are ordained for us in the deliberate arrangements and counsels of His will. There is neither chance nor mistake in the kingdom of grace. Let us, therefore, not only contentedly acquiesce, but adoringly rejoice in His wise orderings. His good hand is in all our matters. Let us therefore give thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:12."That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ."
Jehovah's glory is the end of all His works. This is the first truth which we are taught by the verse before us. In the preceding, the Apostle tells us that we have obtained an inheritance because we are predestinated; he here adds, we are predestinated for the purpose that, trusting in Christ, we might be to the praise of God's glory. The ultimate design of the everlasting covenant is, that glory should be ascribed to God. He orders all things, that He may be glorified.
Very many are the blessed consequences which flow to us from predestinating love. We trace to this source the gift of our souls and bodies to Jesus—the gift of Jesus unto us—our effectual calling in time—our apprehension of Jesus by faith—the renewal of our hearts—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—our perseverance unto eternal life—and all the joys and triumphs which are reserved for us in the heavenly kingdom. But these consequences, so full of significance and blessedness unto us, seem to disappear as fading stars before the splendor of God's glory, which is so magnified and exalted by our being set apart to trust in Christ. Let us now then draw near to the truth before us, and consider how our trust in Christ conduces to the praise of God's glory.
(1.) By trusting in Christ we utterly renounce self. Before a sinner can make Christ and His righteousness the entire stay and confidence of his soul, he must have proved his own insufficiency to help himself. Christ is the last refuge of man. When a man first becomes troubled in conscience, and trembles before God's law, he is tempted to go the round of reformation, repentance, duties, and many external observances, seeking to find forgiveness of sin and rest of soul, in the merit of some self-performance. By degrees and frequent disappointments, he is beaten off from everything of his own devising and doing, and at last he is brought to cast himself unreservedly, with all his good deeds and bad deeds, body, soul, and spirit, for time and for eternity, to be saved altogether by the free grace and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He now pours contempt upon self—all boasting is excluded—he glories only in the salvation of God. Seated beneath the Cross, his song is, "Glory to God in the highest." Hence his trust in Christ is to the praise of God's glory. God only is now exalted.
(2.) By trusting in Christ we magnify and glorify each attribute of God in particular. Take for example His JUSTICE. This requires that all be rendered unto Him which is strictly His due. Now we owe Him the obedience of every thought, word, and work. Whenever our thoughts wander from His love, and our words from His praise—whenever our deeds are defiled by self-seeking, or self-righteousness, or ungodliness, we contract a debt which we are utterly unable to pay. But when we fly unto Jesus, and claim His precious blood-shedding as the ransom of our souls, and His righteousness as our fulfillment of the requirements of the Law, we exalt His justice, we acknowledge its righteous claims, and we enter the kingdom of heaven to the praise of the glory of this attribute.
The same reasoning applies to His TRUTH. His word is gone forth, that the soul which sins shall die—that without holiness no man shall see the Lord—that whoever believes in the Son shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. How are these words, and every word of God, to be glorified in us? Surely by putting our trust in Jesus. In Him we die; in Him we are sanctified; in Him we receive life eternal. Thus when we draw near by faith unto Him, we are to the praise of the glory of His truth.
Once more—behold His MERCY. This lovely attribute delights in rescuing from misery, in crowning with blessings, in raising to joys, in doing the greatest good to the miserable and hell-deserving. When we cling to the Cross, mercy has free scope to pour out the whole heaven of loving-kindness into our souls, and to bring us to the whole heaven of enjoyment forever. Hence, trusting in Him, we are to the praise of the glory of His mercy. In the same way, faith exalts every other attribute of Jehovah.
(3.) The humble, holy, self-denying, consistent walk of those who trust in Christ, redounds to God's glory. Hence He calls His people "His glory." "I will place salvation in Zion, for Israel My glory." Again, "I will glorify the House of My glory." By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit they are separated from the world, they renounce its vanities, follies, and pollutions; they are exalted far above the children of the Evil one—and all who see them take knowledge of them, that they live as heaven-born. Thus God is glorified in them. Moreover, with their lips they are continually worshiping and adoring Him, as it is written, "Whoever offers Me thanks, and praise, he honors Me." The incense of gratitude ascends day and night from the altar of love in their hearts. Thus God is glorified by them. When Christ shall return to earth, it will be to be glorified in His saints. And when the end comes, and He delivers up the kingdom to God, even the Father, then shall the faithful lift up their voices, which shall never cease, and every note and sound shall be glory to God and to the Lamb. Thus we who trust in Christ are to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:13."In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation—in whom also after you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise."
There is an important chain in this verse which is worthy of much observation. Faith in the Lord is here linked to the means which precede it, and to the grace which follows it. We hear "the word of truth, the Gospel of our salvation," before we believe; we believe, before "we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." Hence we have three distinct gradations—we hear, we believe, we are assured. Let us then examine these truths. (1.) Faith follows hearing. (2.) Assurance follows faith. Lord! send forth Your light and Your truth, that they may lead us!
(1.) Faith follows hearing. The proclamation of "the word of truth, the Gospel of salvation," is the Lord's appointed ordinance for drawing souls unto Himself. His parting injunction is, "Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." The preaching of the Cross is indeed unto those who perish foolishness; but unto us, who are saved, it is the power of God. "After that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe." How can we believe in Him of whom we have not heard? Faith only can come by hearing. It is when Jesus is distinctly uplifted; when His grace, and love, and finished work are clearly and affectionately unfolded, that the Spirit draws the enlightened sinner to the wounded side and the pierced hands. Then he, who is perishing under the malady of sin, feels that here is a remedy which is all healing—he who is shuddering under the curse of the Law, finds refuge—he who sees himself nothing but vileness and pollution, discovers a spotless robe of righteousness to conceal his deformity—he who was afar off from God, draws near through the blood of the Cross; he who was blind, sees—he who was dead, lives. Oh! what wonders follow when Jesus is fully uplifted! Dry bones arise to life—the wilderness blossoms like the rose. Jesus is always true to His word, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me."
We hence discover the cause why Satan is so industriously opposed to the preaching of Christ. This ordinance delivers the captives whom he held bound, and subverts his kingdom. He little cares for the zeal and diligence of the minister who insists only on sacraments, and outward forms and reformations—he knows such weapons will never injure his cause. But when the Cross is simply proclaimed, he is all alarm, and ceases not to use his devices to stop the testimony. Let us then pray the Lord to arise, and multiply the number of His faithful heralds, and maintain His own cause, and put His soul-destroying adversary to perpetual shame. Even so, "Put on your sword, O mighty warrior! You are so glorious, so majestic! In your majesty, ride out to victory, defending truth, humility, and justice. Go forth to perform awe-inspiring deeds!" Psalm 45:3-4
(2.) As faith follows hearing, so assurance follows faith. "After you believed in Him, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." It seems to be very clear that the seal of the Spirit is assurance. It is nothing external to the believer; so they err who suppose it to be the eternal purpose of God sealing His people as His own forever. It is some work accomplished by the Spirit within. It cannot be conviction of sin, nor conversion, nor illumination, because these graces precede faith—whereas the seal of the Spirit is consequent upon faith. What can this be but assurance?—a deep abiding persuasion of real interest in the covenant of grace—a realizing knowledge of restoration to God's favor—an undoubting recumbency of the soul on the work of Christ for eternal life.
The same conclusion follows from examining the term "seal." For what purpose are seals affixed to deeds and documents? Their purpose is to ratify and confirm them, so that they may be acknowledged as valid and unalterable. When we see the seal we have no more hesitation or doubt; we point to it as final evidence that the deed is sure, and can no more be cancelled. Just so, when the Spirit stamps His seal on the heart, the believer is assuredly certified, that he is called, and chosen, and saved. Fears and doubts vanish, and he can say, "I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine." He realizes the truth, "Who can lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God who justifies—who is he that condemns? It is Christ who died." "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
This assurance is a divine work. Man cannot obtain it for himself. Man cannot confer it on man. It is the deep impression which the Spirit alone can imprint. Hence it must be a holy work, and productive of holiness. Indeed, nothing more conduces to sanctification than this seal. He who lives steadily realizing that he is a child and heir of God, is dead to the world, and raised high above the range of Satan's darts. We never consent to sin except when we forget "whose we are, and whom we serve." Let us, therefore, covet earnestly this high and sanctifying grace. We know it is to be obtained at the throne of grace, by earnest supplication. The Spirit is more willing to seal, than we are to receive this privilege. Oh! that we were wise, and steadfastly purposed to give Him no rest, until the evidence of the seal proves that we are indeed "passed from death unto life."
Ephesians 1:14."Which is the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory."
In our love to God, and trust in the Lord Jesus, we should greatly magnify the mercies and work of the Holy Spirit. Without Him we would still continue dead in trespasses and sins, ignorant of the blood of atonement, without one ray of comfort, without the power to pray and praise. One portion of His important work is mentioned in the preceding verse, in which He is said to "seal" believers. In the present, He is said to be "the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession." Let us inquire (1.) In what sense He is the pledge of our inheritance. (2.) What is meant by the redemption of the purchased possession. May He, who only has light, reveal Himself to our souls, and teach us the wonders which He performs for the children of men!
(1.) In what sense is He the pledge of our inheritance? This blessed state is not on earth, it is in heaven—we are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. It consists of perfect knowledge, purity, peace, joy, and glory in the eternal kingdom above, in the presence of God, our Redeemer, the whole company of the saved, and the angels of light. The pledge of this blessedness is a portion of it already conferred, which is not to be recalled, but which is to continue ours until we receive the full possession, and are admitted to the perfect consummation. Hence the Spirit dwelling in the heart of each believer, is the first dawn or commencement of heavenly knowledge, purity, peace, joy, glory. He is heaven begun, in all the bright and good perfections which heaven contains.
Hence heaven will be no new place to the child of God. It will indeed be an immeasurable, and infinite enlargement, expansion, and amplification of the spiritual gifts which he has been privileged to enjoy during his pilgrimage; but it will reveal nothing to him, of which he has not previously had some glimpse and foretaste. Then indeed he will see God face to face, and know even as he is known; but now he knows God in part as his Father and the concentration of all excellence. Then he will see Jesus as He is; but now by faith "he sees Him who is invisible," and "knows the love of Christ, which passes knowledge." Then he will be pure, even as God is pure, and holy as He is holy; but now he is "a partaker of the divine nature," which "cannot sin, because it is born of God." Then his peace shall never be disturbed by any doubt or any assault of Satan; but now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keeps, like a watchful garrison, his heart, through Jesus Christ. Then shall his joy be a vast ocean, which knows no shore; but now he "rejoices with joy unspeakable, and full of glory." Then he shall be invested "with an exceeding weight of glory," even the very glory which the Father gave unto Jesus before the foundation of the world; but now, the Spirit dwelling in him is the rising beam of all this surpassing brightness.
Hence the Spirit of promise, working knowledge, purity, peace, joy, glory in the believer's heart, is a pledge of the heavenly inheritance. How much then might we enjoy of heaven, even while we are pilgrims in the flesh! We are called to be "temples of the Holy Spirit," and to be "filled with the Spirit:" that is, we are called to be filled, even to overflowing, with pledges of heaven. O gracious Savior! fulfill in us Your precious promise, and send the Comforter from on high, that He may dwell in us, and abide with us forever!
(2.) We proceed to enquire, what is meant by "the redemption of the purchased possession." The Lord's portion is His people—they were given unto Him by His Father as His jewels—His peculiar treasure. The Church, though it is composed of a mass of vile earth and miserable sinners, is still the possession which Jesus prizes. In the immensity of His power, He might form worlds upon worlds, and people them with beings enabled to show forth His praise; but in His marvelous grace He chooses a collection of poor rebels, and regards them as His beloved possession. Are we His? Let us see to it, that no other lord has any dominion over us—let us reserve to Him the undisputed possession of our souls.
Moreover, this possession is purchased. With what a price! Even by the price of His most precious blood. "He loved me," said the Apostle, "and gave Himself for me." Is property valued by its cost? What, then, must be the value of believers in the Lord's estimate! How dear they must be to His heart, if for them He was willing, no, delighted, to endure the extremities of divine wrath, and to stand before God as an accursed thing! O my soul, think how Jesus loved you—think by what costly sacrifice He purchased you, and learn to trust Him more and serve Him better!
What is the day of redemption unto which the Spirit seals us? It is that great, fast-coming day, when the Lord, with His mighty power, shall raise our dead bodies from the dust of death, and change them, that they may be like unto His own glorious body. Already we are redeemed from the curse of the Law, the damnation of Hell, and the dominion of Satan; but there remains an enemy, even Death, who for a little while will seem to triumph over us. But he shall be annihilated. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death." He must, at the voice of Jesus, give back his captives. Then shall redemption be wholly and finally complete. Then shall be the perfection of redemption both in body and soul, and the shout shall be heard, "O Grave! where is your victory? O Death! where is your sting?"
May the Holy Spirit seal us unto this great day! May He be the pledge in our souls until its brightness "dawn, and mortality be swallowed up of life!"
Ephesians 1:15-16."Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you."
The preface is now ended, in which thanksgiving has been rendered to God for the wonders of His grace to the Church. Who can ponder these glorious truths without exclaiming, "Oh! the breadth, the depth, the length, the height!" What faith, what illumination of mind is required to embrace their grand reality! Wherefore the Apostle immediately proceeds to declare, that after he knew the Ephesians to be interested in God's decrees, he ceased not to give thanks for them, and to pray that divine teaching might manifest these things to them. "Wherefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers," and then follows the subject of his petition, "that God would give unto them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." Without this light from heaven, these truths can never be discerned. We must have eyes to see the sun—we must have heaven-born sight, or God's Word is all darkness. "O Lord! open You our eyes, that we may behold wondrous things out of Your law."
But the subject now before us, is the features of divine life which existed in the Ephesians. (1.) Faith in the Lord Jesus. (2.) Love unto all the saints. Where these graces are not, there is no spiritual life—where spiritual life exists, these are invariably manifested. Let us contemplate them in order.
(1.) Faith in the Lord Jesus. This grace justly claims precedence in all the gifts of the Spirit. It is essential to the being of a child of God, and it is the foundation on which all his other graces are laid. Without faith, we cannot know God, or have admission into His family—without faith, we cannot possess any other spiritual attainment. With good reason, therefore, faith occupies the foremost position. It is the captain under whom all other graces range. Hence such glorious things are testified of faith in the Word. It is the adopting grace. "We are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." It is the justifying grace. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." It is the sanctifying grace. "Purifying their hearts by faith." It is the conquering grace. "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith." It is the wonder-working grace. Saints "through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens." Time would indeed fail to tell of all its wondrous exploits. Ask the company above how they prevailed, and endured, and overcame, and at last entered heaven. You will have one reply—"By faith in the blood of the Lamb."
The faith of God's elect, which is the Spirit's work, has the Lord Jesus Christ for its object. It is the going forth of the soul laden with sin unto Christ, and embracing Him with adoring rapture. It is the whole inner man closing with Christ—clasping and clinging unto Him. It is the eye which sees Him—the ear which hears Him—the hand which holds Him fast—the feet which follow hard after Him—the appetite which feeds on His broken body—the thirst which drinks of the stream from His side—the heart which loves Him—the head which knows Him—the memory which retains Him—the affections which are entwined around Him—the trust which trusts in Him—the hope which hopes in Him. Indeed, faith is the entire man loving Jesus, looking only unto Him, swallowed up in Him, making Him the All in All. How precious is this gift of faith! Lord! grant "that the life which we live in the flesh, may be by the faith of the Son of God!" Lord, increase our faith! May it "grow exceedingly," until the work of faith be ended, and we see You face to face. Let each exclaim, O my soul, "be you faithful unto death, and He will give you a crown of life."
(2.) The next feature in the divine life is love unto all the saints. This grace is inseparably connected with faith. More easily could you eliminate light and warmth from the sun, than love from faith. The grounds of their union are obvious. Faith reverences the Lord's word, and renders strict obedience to it. The especial command of Jesus is, "Love one another." "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one towards another." Again—Faith delights in the image of Jesus, wherever that image can be discerned. Every humble believer reflects some rays of the Sun of Righteousness, and this similitude attracts and draws out love. Again—All believers are fellow-members of one body. "You, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." Strange would it be for a man not to regard his own flesh; but more so for a saint not to love his brethren. This love is a grand evidence of spiritual being. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
Alas! that in these latter days this grace should be so feeble. In a world where all hate the saints, it is sad that they should not enjoy the comfort of each other's love. O Lord, hasten the time when Your prayer shall be accomplished, "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be one in us."