It must be manifest to the most casual reader of the epistle that we are upon very high and holy ground here. Let none suppose that this is to impeach other portions of the inspired scriptures. But who can deny that in revealing His mind, God has been pleased to employ different instruments and with various measures? He could, if He pleased, have written all by one. He could have revealed Himself by all according to the full height of His own glory and nothing else. But we may be quite sure that the ways of God are as admirable in the forms which His revelation takes, as in all other things which He has made for His praise. These diverse manners of developing His nature and character, His counsels and ways, display His glory in an infinitely more blessed light than if there had been one unvarying blaze of brightness. And the same wisdom which works best for His majesty and praise, is precisely that which is suited to the wants, and efficacious for the blessing of His children. Need I say, that a revelation, while it is from God is for Hispeople? No doubt, it does glorify Him; but God, when He speaks, has an object in view, and provides graciously for those to whom He addresses Himself. The revelations of God, therefore, while they flow from God, and are worthy of God, necessarily pre-suppose, and are adapted to, the condition of man. Now this, far from, in the smallest degree, lessening the divine glory which manifests itself in the successive parts of God's word, on the contrary, enhances it infinitely, and proves that it is His, by nothing more than its wonderful suitability to poor sinners, brought out of their low estate, in His rich mercy, and adopted into His family by faith in Christ Jesus.
Now, of all the epistles of St. Paul, I am not aware of any one which rises so high as this to the Ephesians; and one cannot doubt that there was a harmony between the condition of these saints themselves, and the manner and measure of the Spirit's communications to them. We find it so elsewhere. In addressing the saints at Rome, they were not called a church; they were, indeed, in an infantine state. There were blessed saints of God there, but the assembly was not founded by an apostle. Years passed before ever an apostle went to Rome. God saw well that this very city of Rome would arrogate to itself enormous claims of a spiritual character. Therefore He took care that more inconsiderable places, such as Corinth, etc., should have an apostle to found churches and labour there for a considerable time; while the great centre of the world's glory was unvisited by an apostle till there were many assembled there, through persons going thither from one cause and another. When we consider the circumstances of the Roman saints, we can understand the propriety of addressing an epistle to them which strongly resembles a comprehensive scheme of christian doctrine from the very alphabet of truth. And, hence, the very first thing that we have proved there, after the introduction, is the total ruin of man, and of man looked at in every point of view - man examined, and weighed in the balances of God, from the flood downwards. After man had possessed a knowledge of God of an outward sort, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God. In fact we have the origin of idolatry shown; and also the time after the flood before idolatry came in. The verses I have referred to in Romans 1, bear upon the time when there was simply the race possessing the knowledge of God. But man departed from it, corrupting himself; and we have the awful picture of human depravity traced in the early chapters. Next, we have philosophic man; and then man under the law - man in every point of view - before the subject of redemption is treated of, or anything is said of the way to be justified. The reason is this: the apostle never having been there, the saints at Rome were comparatively ignorant, and required to be instructed in the nature and fatal issues of the fall. They needed to learn what the history of man is, as God looks at and thinks of it. Therefore, we have him seen as ruined in every way, and no help for him in the creature, the law, or anything else. Hence the result is, that all are gone out of the way: "there is none righteous, no, not one." In a word, every mouth is stopped, and the whole world become guilty before God. Then, and not till then, we have the provision God has made in His righteous mercy for man, in Romans 3 and Romans 4; and from Romans 5, consequences shown and difficulties met, winding up with the triumphant conclusion of Romans 7.
What a weighty summary of christian doctrine, beginning with the actual condition of man, Jew or Gentile, and leading up to the firm footing God has given in Christ, dead and risen, to him that believes! But in all this you have, most important as it is; only the individual. It may be man lost, or man saved; but you have nothing about the Church. It is what pertains to those who are members of the Church, but no such thing appears as the assembly of God treated as such. Man's ruin and redemption is the theme, with the effects of redemption, and the order of the dispensations, and the practical duties flowing from all. But in Ephesians how totally different! Here, comparatively speaking, man disappears, and God is viewed as acting from Himself.
Hence there is no preface nor proof of what man's state is. This was not necessary, nor is it the starting-point of the teaching there: in Romans it is; and nothing can be more simple. But in Ephesians, instead of our being raised up from the pit of corruption, in which man lay buried, the very first thing the apostle does is to speak of God in heaven. It is God showering blessing upon man, and not man brought up to God. It is God shown in the ways of His grace and the thoughts of His heart, before even there was a world at all, entirely apart from all questions of Jews or Gentiles. It is God forming a scheme of glory and blessedness for His own praise; God delighting in the display of His goodness, and this for the purpose of blessing, and the very highest, fullest character of blessing. Hence you will find that it is not simply God as God acting towards man, but He has Christ before Him, and hence there is no limit to the blessing. He would have some channel of grace toward us to the full content of His own heart. Now there is no object that could draw out and sustain the delight of God, none that could be in itself an adequate object to look upon with complacency but one, even Christ. As for the angels, He charges them with folly, and yet were they holy. If He scanned lower than the angels, what is there but a world lost in sin? Thus there is but one capable of satisfying the heart and affections of God - Christ Himself.
Having therefore this great truth in hand - God blessing, and Christ the object before God, through whom God is going to bless, according to all that is in His heart, we also find that He is named as a Blesser in a twofold manner. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." These two titles are really the key to the epistle. And I must be permitted to press strongly the importance of weighing words in Scripture. When we have to do with mankind, we must not make a person an offender for a word. But God needs no excuses for His word. Whatever allowance we might make for the slips of one another, with Scripture the occasion can never arise. When we draw near and listen to Him, the only proper attitude is to bow and worship. And, therefore, in this epistle, which is so full an expression of His love, the apostle opens it thus, "Blessed be the God and Father," etc. He could not write to the Ephesians without breaking out into the praise and worship of God. Elsewhere you will find him blessing God, but where he does so, as in 2Co_2:14, there were special circumstances that called it out. But not so here. At Corinth there was a blessed intervention of God's grace, breaking down the proud hearts of wayward disciples there, making them ashamed of themselves. But in Ephesians it was apart from passing circumstances, save that he saw them in such a condition of soul that they were capable of going on with God, entering into His thoughts and counsels. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" was not because of some peculiar mercy, or comfort; but it flows from what He always is to us. For this very reason many saints may be unable to enter in. Some are apt to be particularly alive to, and touched by, sensible tokens, from day to day, and now and then extraordinary providential interventions of God. Perhaps they are in great trial, and God brings them a fresh blessing too out of it. But here the Ephesians were so simple and willing to go on with God that the apostle, instead of being detained by their state, could but speak in praise and thanksgiving. It is very blessed when there is such happy communion given in having to do with one another.
It is true, again, that before he enters upon what I shall endeavour to develop, he introduces himself as an apostle. He does not say "servant" here; in writing to the Romans he does. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ." He was indeed Christ's bondman. Why should Paul be writing to them? He was His servant. Did not they belong to Jesus? There was no such thought as "independency" sanctioned in those days - no such practice as little districts or assemblies belonging to this man or that; but the Church everywhere the loved object of the Lord's servants. He is a true servant who is able to realize that he is the bondsman of Jesus Christ; and he will serve souls best who most realizes what it is to serve the Lord. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called [to be] an apostle." He was an apostle by the calling of God. At this time there was no such thing as a congregation giving a candidate "a call." Paul was an apostle called of God, and they were saints called of God, and they knew it. It was very sweet for them to think they had been thus called. They were in their measure treading the path of Christ, and the apostle was His servant and an apostle also. His object was to bring his apostleship into relief. But they at Corinth were in danger of beginning to stand in doubt of him and of thinking that to Jerusalem they ought to look. He thoroughly owns the common place of a brother; but if persons like the Corinthians were raising their heads too high, he says, "an apostle" simply, without adding "servant." If a dispute arose about the point, he proves the reality of his call. In addressing the Galatians I have shown elsewhere what peculiar force there is in his introduction of himself. "Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man)," etc. Here you have controversy at once, but of divine temper and strength. There were false principles in Galatia, and therefore he uses energetic, urgent language in writing to the saints They were adopting Jewish notions about earthly succession. The apostle, therefore, takes the very highest ground, and shows that while he fully acknowledged the twelve in their place, he would not, in what touched the truth of the gospel, give place by subjection, no, not for an hour; so that the whole epistle bears the stamp of the unqualified re-assertion of the call of grace and its heavenly character, founded upon the death and resurrection of Christ.
In Ephesians he has no object of a controversial kind, nor of laying down the christian foundations of truth, as in the case of the Roman saints. But he does put forward his apostolic function - "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ." He shows fully out of what it sprang; that same "will of God," out of which flowed their own blessing. He is about to trace, first the individual blessing, and then the corporate. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the former is a deeper thing than the latter. On the contrary, our highest blessings are connected with what we have as individuals. Fully acknowledging the blessedness of what is corporate, what we have individually is higher still; and it is the way of God's Spirit to begin with this before entering upon what is common. Hence I think he here addresses "the saints which were at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus," as such. They were the, Church there, not only gathered formally, but intelligently so. They had had the Apostle Paul there, who had been God's instrument in that work. There were twelve men who believed before Paul went there; but they never received the Holy Ghost after the Pentecost sort till Paul's visit. It is the personal presence of the Holy Ghost, founded upon our faith in Christ dead and risen, that brings us into this church character. But the Holy Ghost, besides making us members of Christ's body, the Church, also gives us the consciousness of our relationship as sons with His God and Father. He addresses "the Church of God at Corinth" as such, when he is speaking of points that concern order and discipline. Here he is going to look at the Church in a far higher point of view; yet he begins with what is individual: "To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." Then he introduces the twofold title of God already referred to - the same that our Lord announced when He rose from the dead, and sent the first message given to His disciples, by Mary Magdalene: "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God" - not "to the Almighty God," or "to Jehovah."
Our Lord stood in a twofold relation to God; He was Son of God, not only as a divine person, but as man in the world (Luke 1); besides His highest personal glory which shines through John's Gospel, etc. "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." This last title refers to Christ, viewed in humanity in this world; and it is therefore stated only in the Gospel of Luke, which is pre-eminently the human biography, if I may so speak, of Christ. But it might not have been known, unless God has told us, that He carried that same relationship as man into His resurrection. He teaches us that death and resurrection gave Him title in God's righteousness to put us in His position. So that He could for the first time say, in the fulness of meaning which those words convey, "I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." He is now not merely "my Father" and "my God," but "your Father" and "your God."
The death of Christ had completely obliterated all that was against the children of God: the resurrection of Christ, after redemption was effected, enabled Him to give them His place of resurrection and sonship before God. And what a wonderful place is this! To think that now, even while we are in this world, our Lord would have us to know that we are sons, in and through Him, before our God, and that we are instinct with resurrection-life - "alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord;" that we stand before God without a single charge or condemnation, and this, because He had taken by grace the "same condemnation" with the guilty on the cross. He was the "holy thing" - we unholy, altogether undone. But on the cross He was made sin for us, and entered the same condemnation - made it His own on the cross; and now there is none for me. I am brought into the same place that He had as the risen one before God. Of course I am not speaking now of His divine glory. The notion of the creature, no matter how blest, being in any other position than that of looking up to God and worshipping Him, could not enter a renewed mind. The Lord Jesus was Son in His divine nature from all eternity; but as man, too, He was Son; and also as risen from the dead. And by His death and resurrection, He brings us in before God and His Father, having the same position as Himself, so far as to be sons, absolutely without sin in our new nature, and freed from condemnation before God because the old nature is already judged. The new nature requires none to die for it, but the old did; and all is done. In Christ crucified, God condemned sin in the flesh, and to faith all the evil is gone: The blessedness of Christ is now made ours, and we can look up and say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." One great mischief that is done to the practical power of Christianity is the putting off the blessing, which the Holy Ghost attaches to us now, till we leave this world and get to heaven.
Suppose you were to tell the great mass of God's children on the earth, You are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ," they would think it rank enthusiasm or mysticism. They are not prepared for such truth, and in general either do not enquire what the verse means, or attenuate it into some mere emotional sentiment. They have no notion that it is a present fact true of all Christians. Though we are not displayed in it yet, it is no question of feeling. May we believe it! Feelings may deceive me, but faith never can. If I see a thing, it is merely my eye that sees. If I believe a truth on God's word, I am looking at it, in a measure, so to speak, with God's eyes. The world has a notion that faith only implies confidence as to a thing which is not sure. This is not the meaning of "I believe" in the things of God. My own vision is a poor range of sight; but what of God's eye? The believer stands upon the highest ground; he rests upon the certainty of what God says. Happiness, too, is the result; for when you believe, you soon begin to feel. If you believe that God has blotted out your sins, you ere long, if not at once, begin to enjoy it. If I look at myself, I shall always see something wrong. How is this? My sins all gone; and yet, if looking within, I see so much that is painful, loathsome, humiliating. The putting away of sin is not a thing that goes on in my heart, but a mighty work that God wrought in the cross of His beloved Son, on which He calls me to rest, because on it He rests. Am I looking for a sign and token in myself? If so, I shall never have an assurance of it on the right ground. If I think that my sins must be forgiven because I am a changed character (as men speak), can I ever have an hour's real peace? The result must be, that the more one judges himself, the less happy he will be. What God puts before His children is this - that they should be thoroughly happy in the certainty that their sins are gone, through the blood-shedding of Christ, and yet that they should spare nothing they find within them; judging themselves day by day, because Christ has been judged for them, and God has blotted out their sins, and they cannot endure trifling with that which cost the blood of His Son.
Here, however, the first great thought is that "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." It is not redemption, though of course based upon it. I am here upon the earth, and yet I know that I am blest there where Christ is at the right hand of God. Not only have I blessings there, but I am blessed "with all spiritual blessings." The highest blessing God can confer is that which He gives every child of His in heavenly places in Christ. In these few words we gaze at the height of God's wonderful counsel about us and love for us. He has thus blessed us according to the fulness of His value for Christ.
The expression "heavenly places" is in contrast with the portion of the Jews, who were blessed in earthly places. If we look at Ezekiel 36, it may bring out more distinctly the character of our blessing in contradistinction to theirs. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean . . . . And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God." Thus, there are spiritual mercies mingled with their blessings; but they will be in the land of their fathers, which God is to make good to the generation to come. It is chiefly learned but unspiritual men who make confusion about these matters. If readers were only simple about Scripture, they would not fall into such mistakes. The prophets says, "Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers." Nothing can be plainer than this. He is to bless Israel on the earth - in their soul too, no doubt: but the sphere of this blessing is the holy land. It is His earthly people, not the Church, as we shall see lower down. "I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen." Evidently the blessing is in earthly places. I should not find fault with good men trying to give this a spiritual turn and to preach the gospel from it, provided they did not blot out from it the hopes of Israel by and by. Primarily the people there are Israel, and they are to be blessed in this manner. We see the land of Palestine now desolate like a wilderness; but "the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" in that day. There are certain blessings that apply to the believer now, it is true. To the "water" and "Spirit," in a wonderfully enlarged and deepened scope, our Lord alludes thus in John 3. But I object to the inference that God has abandoned His people, and that this prophecy about the earthly places should be confounded with our heavenly title. The earth and earthly blessings are here dwelt upon by the Spirit of God. Why should we be jealous about the Jews or the earth either? God has shown us such overflowing and surpassing favour that we may well delight and thank Him that the earth is reserved for His ancient nation.
Now if we turn from this - the predicted blessing of Israel upon the earth - to our own proper blessing in Ephesians, how totally different it is! "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." It is God revealing Himself in the fullest manner conceivable. Who was it that knew God pre-eminently? who was the object of God's love as none had ever been before? If ever there was one who fathomed the full meaning of the words, "My Father," it was the Lord Jesus. And who but He sounded the depths of "My God?" Yet now, that Blessed One, by redemption and the gift of the Spirit, has capacitated the believer in Him to enjoy the same privilege with Himself. Just in proportion as we receive it with simplicity and judge the old nature (which never enters into it, but only comes as a thick cloud over our blessing), shall we enter into the realization of our blessing.
Israel's hope is not inward only but outward, in earthly places to be made the most exalted people here below. The scene of our blessing, on the contrary, is in heavenly places, and we are blessed there now in Christ. In a word, a Christian is as one who belongs to the family of the sovereign. There might be reasons of state to make it desirable for the Queen's heir to pass as a stranger through a foreign land, unknown and unregarded. So with the Christian. He is not of the world nor of the age. His body is of the earth, but that which makes him to be what he is, as a son of God, has nothing to do with the present scene or circumstances. He belongs altogether to a glorified Christ. When God begins to deal with Israel, it will be another thing. The attention of the whole world will be directed towards them. There was a time when, even in the midst of all their sin, the people of Israel exercised an enormous influence in the world, spite of their being a small nation and having only a narrow slip of land to dwell on. Their priests and kings gave up the true God, who thereon made them to be the sad evidence of His judgments. But the day is fast coming when they that smote will acknowledge their rejected Messiah, and then will shine the full splendour to which Israel is destined of God. He will crown them with blessing of every kind here below. All the nations of the earth will bow down to Israel; kings and queens will be their nursing fathers and mothers. Christendom, despised as a proud and effete political engine, and more and more degenerating into apostacy, will be set aside like Vashti; God will bless His people of Israel, the Esther of the great King, with all outward blessings in earthly places, not revealing Himself as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, but as the Lord God, Jehovah, Most High, identified at length with the lowly Jesus of Nazareth.
Is this the way in which we are spoken of here? Not at all. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. A Jew has nowhere in the Old Testament the hope of being blessed in their Messiah. To be joint-heirs with Christ, not only blessed by Christ, but in Christ, is an idea that could not possibly enter the most intelligent Israelite's mind. In a word, their portion will always be under their Messiah, to be ruled by Him as an earthly people. But ours, who believe in Christ now, will be to have the same blessing which God the Father confers upon Christ risen from the dead. What has He done for Christ? He has raised Him up, and put all things under His feet. This glory He will not take alone. He is waiting for His bride - for those who are now being called out of Jews and Gentiles to the knowledge of His name. So that our Lord, while personally exalted, holds it in abeyance because He is waiting for His companions to share it with Him; heirs by His grace, not merely of the fathers, but of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
Nothing can be larger or higher than the blessing spoken of here. Christ will have His heavenly ones above, and His earthly ones below; each fully blest though in different spheres. May I commend the truth brought out in Ephesians 1 to the serious study of God's children? While it becomes us to hear the word of God, it claims from us earnestness of purpose and searching into it as for hidden treasure. We must not expect to be really and fully blessed through the word of God, unless there be diligence of soul.
We have already seen the twofold title in which God blesses His saints now; in both the form of the blessing being found only in Christ. Had God merely revealed Himself as the God of Abraham or Isaac for instance, He would not ensure a blessing beyond that promised to the fathers. Now He does. Instead of having merely the Jewish blessing before Him, He has Christ in His eye, whom He raised from the dead and set at His own right hand, where He never put David nor any one else. It is a place that belongs to Him in virtue of His personal glory and His suffering unto death. We may sit with Christ on His throne, but this is a very different thing from Christ's sitting at God's right hand. Now it is as the God of the Lord Jesus Christ that He blesses - it is the full blessing that would be suitable to Christ Himself as the object of blessing. Grace puts us as common objects with Christ in order to be blessed by God who blesses after this manner and measure. Nor this only. He is the Father of the Lord Jesus, and as such also He blesses us. So that these two characters, the very highest possible in which to look at God, are those according to which we are blessed. The characters of God, both as God and as Father, as they deal with Christ, issue in a blessing, a commensurate blessing, which He gives to us. Hence there is no limit. He has blessed us "with all spiritual blessings," and moreover too, as we saw, not on the earth, the comparatively lower part of the universe, but in the highest scene of God's power, "in the heavenly places;" and in order to crown and complete all, it is "in Christ;" all is secured in His person.
Verse 4 particularly belongs to the first of these characters in which God has revealed Himself, as verse 5 belongs rather to the second. "According as he hath chosen us in him (that is, in Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." Now it is as the God of Christ that He thus blesses us; not as Father, but as God. In verse 5 it is as Father, because we there read, "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself." The style and character clearly answer to the character of the Father. Special relationship to Him is brought in. "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children" - not merely chosen, but - "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will." Now that language was not used in verse 4. He does not say that He has predestinated us to be holy and without blame before Him in love. Neither does He say that He has called us into this wonderful place according to the good pleasure of His will. And the reason is most manifest. When we hear of the good pleasure of His will, we have language suitable to sovereign special love - that which He displays in order to manifest His own favour. But when we hear of "holy and without blame," it is God who has chosen us for it: it could not be otherwise. If God would have any brought near Him, and so near as to be in His presence in heaven, if chosen in Christ at all, somehow they must be holy and without blame before Him in love. And all is really of His grace.
The one blessing is from the necessary character of God as God; the other flows from the special relationship into which He enters towards us through our Lord Jesus. Choosing us is a necessary part, because it is evident there was no one but God to choose. It was before the foundation of the world, when God alone was. Man had no voice nor choice in the matter. It was purely God acting from Himself. It was a matter of God's own choice, that He would have others to be in heaven besides Himself. But if they were to be near Him and before Him, how could they be so with sin upon them? Impossible. How could God sanction souls, even in the most distant part of His dominion, with sin upon them? Still less could it be in heaven, the throne of His Majesty. The day is coming when all evil must be banished into the lake of fire. How then could He tolerate sin in those who are to be brought into the nearest circle of His presence? It was the positive necessity of His character and nature, that if He chooses to have any with Himself in heaven, they must be there "holy and without blame before him." But that is far from being all: it must be "inlove,"because nothing could be more miserable than that they should not be able to enter into His own affections. Merely to be in the most blessed place of creatures without taint, without anything that could sully the presence of God, would not be enough. Man was made to have a heart, to have affections; and there could not be happiness in creatures, who know what affection is, unless there were that on which affection could rest. If God had such beings brought into His presence, and necessarily without sin in any form, it must be in love also. He will give them a nature not only capable of being before Him without reproach and fear, but also answering to His own love. "We love him because he first loved us." In Christ alone that love is known; but St. John so speaks of God and Christ, that there is great difficulty in deciding which is meant. He uses "Him" thus, not indiscriminately, but sliding from one into the other. This flows from their oneness: "I and my Father are one," which is said by John only.
Here we have God's choice of us personally. For it is not merely to have a people, as if it were some vague thing, a certain number of niches in heaven to be filled up with so many souls. There is no such notion in the Bible. It is persons He chooses. There cannot be such love without a person distinctly before it. And if it is true even among men, that love is not an uncertain feeling - which is rather a fancy, much more is it true with God. He loves us individually. Hence He has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to show how entirely it is a choice independent of our character and ways; and if so, it must always flow back to God in a way according to Him. And so it does. If there is this choice of God in Christ before the foundation of the world, He will have saints before Him in such a way as God alone could. He will never have what is unworthy of His love and presence. Hence then it is said, "that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." This is not merely holiness, or blamelessness, or love - any or all in part. Hence it does not refer to what we have been. If we examine any person we may find grievous faults in him. Even as a Christian, he is very far indeed from being what is due to God. He is ashamed of himself, grieving over the little his heart responds to the favour God has shown him. And would this suit His presence? Will God be satisfied with that which even a Christian finds fault with? Impossible. The verse looks not at the complex man here, but at what He makes us in Christ, His Son.
In the saint now there is that which is very unsaintly indeed, unlike God and His beloved Son: pride, vanity, foolishness, all kinds of evil ways and thoughts that never flow from Christ, and have no kind of resemblance to Him. But for all this, are they not saints? God forbid they should not be. And yet this is the steady thought of God. He has chosen us in Christ that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. How can that be? The answer is, because God looks at us here according to that which He gives us in Christ, and nothing less. All is ignored in this verse, save that new nature which flows from His grace to the objects of His choice. He has chosen us to be so, and He will have us so perfectly, and nothing else, when the time comes for us to be in His presence. But even now it is true in the essence of the thing, inasmuch as we are in Christ and have His life in us. Can I find any fault in Christ? If Christ is without blame in love, in the very nature of God Himself, He is precisely the life of every Christian, let a man be called by what name he may among men.
But even this is not all. Blessed as it is to answer to the holy character and nature of God - and that is what every saint will do by and by in the glory, and what every saint really possesses as a new creature in Christ now - yet this is not enough. We might be there holy and without blame before Him in love, yet simply as servants. Her Majesty the Queen may surround herself with servants to do her will; she may bring one and another into her presence, and they ought to think themselves greatly honoured by being thus made the ministers of her pleasure, though no family relationship, of course, exists between them. But nothing less than this will do in heavenly things. Such is the wonder of God's grace. In the very next verse we have the fact that God is not alone acting from Himself to call us into this wonderful place - to be the reproduction of His own moral nature and character. God is holy and without blame, and He is love in His own nature. This belongs to our life now, and will belong to us altogether when we are brought into heaven, by the power and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, shortly. But it is not as mere servants, but as sons, we shall be there - consciously as sons; not even standing there, like angels, as ministers of His pleasure, but as those who take an interest in all that He is interested in. We shall feel not merely for Him, but with Him. We shall have a common interest with Him - the same kind of feeling, if I may use the same illustration, that members of the royal family have with the crown.
This is what the Holy Ghost brings before us in verse 5. The Christian is planted in Christ before God, and has a holy and a loving nature. But besides this, there is a positive relationship formed; and that relationship, in which we are brought to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is nothing less than being sons according to the pattern of the risen Son of God. As the eternal Son of the Father, none could have such a place with Him. The very thought would be repulsive to a renewed mind; But Christ was pleased to call us His brethren when He rose from the dead and not before. And it is on earth, the place of our sins, where we have been servants of Satan - it is here that through the faith of Christ, we leave behind us all that we were, and enter into this blessed and glorious and most intimate relationship with God. "He hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children." The word predestinated is a more special one than "chosen," which signifies God electing us out of the world. None but an unbeliever could fancy that every one is to be in such a place as this, or that men who have lived in blasphemy against God all their days are to be holy and without blame when they die. God has a choice, and our business is to bless God for His great love - not to judge or find fault with His ways. "Who art thou that replies" against God?" That is the answer of God to all vain thoughts and: reasonings. But then if He chooses according to His nature and holiness, He has predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself. So that now we find the special privilege and glorious relationship of sons before God in His presence by Jesus Christ. He might not have done it, but it was "according to the good pleasure of his will."
Not merely He would have, and therefore chose persons; but here is a peculiar display of His pleasure, and therefore He puts them in this blessed place, "to the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." Verse 6 shows us that which answers to both the verses before it. The clause, "to the praise of the glory of his grace," etc., takes in both the choice of verse 4 and the predestination of verse 5 - the character of the choice of God, and the special favour of the predestination of the Father. "To the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." "Accepted" is rather a cold word to express what is meant here. It is not what persons doctrinally call acceptance, which is rather more of the nature of reconciliation. But here it seems to me there is the fulness of divine favour, which goes far beyond bare acceptance. In short, God makes us objects of favour according to all that is in His heart, and, in order that this should be most fully brought out, He says "in the Beloved," not merely "in Christ." There was one object that satisfied God, that met every thought, every desire of His heart; and this was Christ, the One beloved, of course, in a sense in which no creature could be so in itself. In order to bless us fully, God has made us the objects of His favour in this Beloved One, and all is "to the praise of the glory of his grace." This takes in all the heights and depths of His grace who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, blessing us in Christ. In fact, He could not go farther. Could He show favour to any one so much as to Christ? Just so He loves and blesses us. He could not do more, and He will not do less. He has risen up to the fullest character of love and blessing in the grace wherewith He regards us in the Beloved.
But, then, what was our previous state? Verse 7 says, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." It is only alluded to passingly, but it supposes that we were wretched slaves of Satan. In the same person, in whom we become the objects of such favour, we have redemption. God does not in the least degree forget what our condition was when He thus blessed us. He is aware that we had to be brought out of all we were, for indeed we had nothing but sins. With only the previous verses, there might have been the idea that such blessedness and glory could not have been mixed with such as we were. But we have redemption, we are told, in Christ. Still, he never touches on redemption and forgiveness of sins till he has brought us into the height and depth of all privilege flowing from God Himself: so entirely is all question here of what man is out of sight, that we only, as it were, incidentally get hold of the sad truth of his condition. It might not have been known from the first few verses, that persons so blessed had ever been guilty of a single sin. But here we find that they needed to be redeemed, to have their sins forgiven; and the same Christ, in and through whom we have all our other blessings, is He in whom also we have "redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace."
It may be noticed here, that there is a difference between "the glory" and "the riches" of His grace. "The glory of his grace" takes in all these privileges referred to before. The Holy Ghost has brought out in the seventh verse the riches of His grace - the means and provisions for us as poor sinners. But this would not suffice for God, if He is acting so as to show, not merely His rich resources in dealing with the most wretched individuals, but the glory of His grace. He would display His own character - what He is, and not merely provide for what we were. The praise of the glory of His grace flows from what God feels, and in consequence will do, in order to manifest Himself for us.
Observe, moreover, before we have done with this, that later on we have another redemption, that "of the purchased possession," and a very different thing. We have redemption as far as the forgiveness of sins is concerned: we are waiting for redemption as concerns the inheritance, which depends on the coming of Christ in order to take it actually under His government. The purchased possession has to do with the inheritance, not merely with what affects our souls. As for the soul, we have redemption now as completely as we ever can have it; which we do well to bear in mind. The believer cannot be more forgiven than now, nor could God do more to put away sin than He has done already. He has given His Son, and the blood of His Son is shed, and it is impossible that God Himself could do more to blot out sin from before His face. What a comfort for our souls! If we think of our sins, we may also enter into the comfortable assurance that all our guilt is gone from before God. We may fall into sin, for it does exist; but it remains a source of self-judgment, instead of a fearful looking for of judgment by and by.
There is just the real difference. As a matter of divine judgment, sin is gone in Christ; as a matter of self-judgment, it is always to be confessed if we slip into it. Nor is self-judgment ever thorough until we know that God's judgment of sin is ended for us on the cross. Under the Old Testament there was no such self-judgment because of sin, as there ought to be under the New. We find, accordingly, that although God never did or could treat any sin with indifference, yet is it often left without a word of comment. But this is not light dealing: God lets the thing speak for itself. He exercises so much the more the hearts of His children. If they are in a wilful state, they may use the record of sin to make light of their own evil ways; otherwise conscience is brought into exercise. It is not until the full condition of man comes out in the cross of Christ, that we see what God's judgment of sin is. Since then we first hear of "the flesh" in the sense in which the New Testament speaks of it. You may find the expression in the Old Testament, but it never wears the same strong, determined, full character of wickedness as it does in the New. It had not yet proved itself, and God always waits till a person or thing proves its real character, before He pronounces judgment. And we ought to learn from God as to this. The patience of God in judgment is one of the most marvellous of His ways; and we ought to be as to this imitators of God. He awaited the cross of His Son before the true character of man's iniquity was fully brought out. Under the Old Testament we read of things borne with because of the hardness of men's hearts; but in the New Testament there is a different measure, and no evil tolerated for a moment. The mind of God is pronounced upon evil: the darkness is passing, the true light now shines. There is no hiding either of God or man. All is out. Man is lost. God is known not merely as a lawgiver, but as a Saviour-God; and if I do not know Him thus, I do not know Him at all. "This is life eternal: to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."
From all this we learn that the final character of evil has only now come out. The Old Testament commanded that evil should not be done; but, as we shall see in the next chapter, the full issue of the trial comes out here: and what is the verdict? That man is dead - morally, spiritually - dead in trespasses and sins. God perfectly understood the character of man before, but He wants us to understand it. We needed redemption, and we have it - forgiveness, and we have it. But we are waiting to have the redemption of the purchased possession This takes in the whole creation of God, including; perhaps, our bodies too, as a part of the creation of God. But the redemption of verse 7 is a closer thing, and we are put in a position now of thoroughly judging ourselves, because we know that we shall not be condemned with the world. God puts us thus into a common interest with Himself; puts us on His own side, to take His part against ourselves. And this is what repentance means, and therefore it is called repentance towards God.
But the next verse opens up another subject: "Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence." It is not said, "abounded toward us in forgiving us," because full forgiveness is a positive need. But when we hear of "wisdom and prudence," it is a question of God's counsels about His Son, over and independent of all thought of necessities. He says, as it were, You are able now to enter into My thoughts, and understand them when I speak. You are delivered from anxiety about your sins, and are free now to enter into My purpose. "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself." And this secret of His will is, "That in the dispensation of the fulness 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: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance." (Ver. 9-11.) We have clearly here, in these central verses, the fact that we are capacitated (the question of sin being settled in our souls) to hear what God has to say to us about all other things. He has not now merely to tell us what He is going to do upon the earth, as He dealt with Abraham. The relationship is higher than that which was made known to the patriarchs. At the beginning, when the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, He brought them to Adam, the lord of creation, to see what he would call them; and whatsoever he called each living creature, that became its name. "And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field." (Gen_2:19-20.) This was conferred wisdom in the domain of nature. But now it is far more profound and comprehensive; for it is a question of the supremacy of the second Man and of the discernment which suffices for and suits its boundless heights and depths. Accordingly, God has made His grace to abound towards us in every sort of wisdom and intelligence. Whatever displays His character and Christ's glory, He makes known to us. He treats us, not as servants, but as friends. He has one thing nearer than aught else - what He is going to do for His Son: and He imparts to us the secrets nearest to His own heart.
If any person say, I do not want to understand mysteries, I answer, You do not want to know what God wishes to teach you. Unbelief always shows itself in some character of hostility to God. He, in His perfect goodness, gives the comfort of salvation, and then opens out these other truths. "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will." This does not mean something you cannot understand, but what you could not know before God told you. Do not turn away and say, All I want to know is to be saved. We ought to desire to learn all God deigns to teach us. The word "mystery" means what God was pleased to keep secret - something He had not before revealed, but quite intelligible when it is unfolded. "Mystery," in a popular sense, is totally different from its use in the word of God. There are many things very wonderful in the prophecies, but they are not called mysteries. Brought out now for the first time, it is the mystery of His will. There are many mysteries explained in the New Testament as those of the kingdom of heaven. Babylon, too, is called a mystery. The mystery here is, that God means to unite all things in heaven and in earth, under the headship of our Lord. He does not mean to have the heavens, as they are now, completely severed from the earth, but to have a united system of heavenly and earthly glory, all under Christ - this is the mystery of His will.
But there is more than this. He means that we should share the glory along with Christ. Thus there are two great parts in the mystery of His will. The first is Christ, and the second is the Church: and therefore it is said in this very Epistle, "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." It is not "the Church," of course, that is the mystery, but "Christ and the Church." The Church, however blessed, is but a subordinate part of it. That she is so at all is solely because she belongs to Christ, the heavenly Head of all things. God's purpose is for "the dispensation of the fulness of times." Then the hours of shame and sorrow that are now running on will have exhausted their course - the time of the creature's subjection to vanity, the time for Israel to be blinded judicially, the time for the Gentiles to rule as if God neither intervened nor noticed, the time when the Church of God lies in weakness and broken, the time of Satan's liberty to deceive and torment men. These things are now going on - man, the chief, through sin, subject to sickness and death, and all creation groaning. But God Himself will put an end to everything of the sort. He means to bind Satan and deliver man from his seduction. He will have Israel blessed and united under their Messiah - the Gentiles blessing God, who will be sanctified among them - the earth itself no longer the poor, groaning, miserable scene that it is, but the curse removed, and the wilderness rejoicing and blossoming as the rose. All these things God will yet accomplish; and when the suitable times according to God are complete (πληρ τ κ),* He will change all, bringing forth Christ as the Head, centre, and means of every blessing. Christ is the stronger man that is to bind the strong, the bruiser of the serpent's head - the Lord of heaven and earth - the Messiah of Israel, and Son of man ruling supremely over all nations. All these things are to be accomplished most simply and efficaciously, but not by the power of man - not even by the spread of the gospel. Christ in person will administer and uphold the glory of God in the universe.
*As the verse contains several words and clauses which are not generally understood, it may be added in this note that the word "dispensation" (οἰκονομία)has no reference to a particular period or age (which is in the New Testament expressed by αἰών). It means "stewardship," or rather "administration," the particular form here meant being the summing, or heading (ἀνακεφαλαίωτις)up of all things, heavenly and earthly, under Christ. This will be in the age to come, when Christ shall be displayed as Head over all things, and the glorified saints shall reign with Him. It is neither this age, during which Satan is still permitted to reign as the god of this world the prince of the power of the air; nor is it the eternal state, when all government is over, and Christ will have given up the kingdom, that God may be all in all. It is the intervening millennium. This will he the fulness of the times, previous periods having been the necessary preparation for it. Meanwhile, redemption through Christ's blood having been effected, the Holy Ghost seals the believer, and is the earnest of the inheritance.
If men had a just sense of the present state of the Church, they would put on sackcloth and ashes instead of blowing their trumpet. What we have to do is to humble ourselves before God, because of what we are and see around us, even in the best. It requires a great deal of patience not only to bear, and be borne with, but to go on in love. If we really have a heart for God and for His children, we shall feel these things deeply, and shall seek the blessing of those who are led away by it - yea, thoroughly and heartily - remembering that the blessed day is at hand when Christ will be exalted as the Head of all things, heavenly and earthly. While it becomes us to chasten ourselves, we need not be disheartened. We know that our hope is one that maketh not ashamed. It is not founded upon what the Church or any society is going to do, for our hope is Christ. We know that God has made known unto us the secret of His will. Where there is not an exercised conscience, this truth may not be rejected; but it is not realized nor applied in such a state. God's blessed cure for the world's disorder is Christ brought out from His present hidden position; and the moment that He is so, what a change! All things in heaven and earth will be united in Christ; and when that day comes, we shall enter visibly on our inheritance. We have the title already, but are not in manifest possession. "In whom we have also obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; that we should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ."
We have, first of all, (verse 5) our predestination as children. "And if children then heirs" - heirs of a glorious inheritance, Christ being made the head of the universe. (Ver. 10, 11.) The prevalent interpretation is to apply verse 10 to Christ's position now. They imagine that "the fulness of times" here means the same thing as in Galatians 4. But "the fulness of the times" differs widely from "the fulness of time," which last means the space which closed with the incarnation of Christ, or was completed by it. Christ's birth is a very different thing from Christ's exaltation, as the head of all. Deadly error is at work when men put the Son's incarnation in the place of redemption. Our union with Christ is made to depend upon His bare incarnation, not upon His being risen from the dead and entering upon His headship thus. But if our union with Christ be confounded with His being a man, He unites Himself with human nature, and there is no special union between the Christian and Christ, because humanity belongs to the whole race, i.e., to man in sin. This naturally leads to the further heresy of making Christ take up humanity in its fallen condition.
It is said, again, "That we should be to the praise of his glory, we who first trusted in Christ." The allusion is, before the Jews (of whom it specially speaks) behold Christ in the appointed time and way. "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced." Now, he says, we are those who have fore-hoped in Christ. Our hope was founded upon Christ before He is seen and believed in by the rest of the nation. The "we" in verse 12 does not go beyond believing Jews. "In whom ye also" is in contradistinction. The "we" and the "ye" refer, the one to Paul and his fellow-believers out of Israel, the other to believing Gentiles, such as the Ephesians. If this be so, the meaning is "that we [Christian Jews] should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ." The nation of Israel will not be fore-hopers "to the praise of His glory." They will be the subjects of His glory. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." His glory will embrace their salvation; but to "the praise of His glory" it will be that there are those out of that unbelieving nation who received Christ before they saw Him, and who consequently will appear with Him in glory. Blessed are they who receive Christ when they behold Him; but still more blessed those who, though they have not seen Him, yet have believed! (John 20)
We have thus seen that the apostle, in verse 12, introduces the believing Jews as now brought into all the blessings spoken of in the previous portion. Then, addressing the Gentile saints at Ephesus, he says, "In whom ye also having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise."
It may be profitable, here, to enter into a further development of the Holy Ghost's presence and action. Men soon departed far from the truth of God. Before the three last centuries we know that a thick cloud of darkness hung over Christendom. But even since the light that shone at the Reformation, Christians have been struggling to realize in their own souls that they were born of God and justified in Christ. One fully admits the immense importance that a soul should be thoroughly established. But were regeneration and justification intended to be the sum and substance of the Christian's research, efforts, and desires? On the contrary, are they more than the very threshold, or, at most, the foundation on which a Christian has to build? Does not God look for it, that, being born again, instead of occupying ourselves with continual searching after signs and tokens that we are so, we should be making progress in Christ? To be born again is the first essential work of the Spirit of God, without which there is no life towards God, no possibility of advance in the things of God. It is the universal want, the indispensable condition in order to any soul's having part in the blessing of God at any time and in all dispensations.
Hence, when Nicodemus came to our Lord, wishing to be taught of Him, our Lord at once begins there. The Rabbi owned that Jesus was a teacher come from God, by whom he wanted to be taught. But our Lord stops him in a peculiarly solemn manner: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus, astonished, asked how such a thing could be? Our Lord, however, meets his unintelligent question with a re-assertion, only in still stronger terms: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." There we have clearly the explanation of what it is to be born again. It is to be born of water and of the Spirit. Nicodemus still expresses his amazement at this; that a Jew, a moral, religious Jew, who was no heathen, who had the law, and seemed to have been peculiarly honoured of God, should need to be born afresh; that he himself, a master in Israel in a pre-eminent sense, should thus be met by what was really a rebuke, to him, that pressed the necessity of a vital change which, so far from having realized, he did not even think to be necessary! This was indeed a blow that arrested Nicodemus at the very start. Our Lord, however, shows that he ought to have known these things (i.e., of course, from the prophets). Mark this, because it is a thoroughly satisfactory answer to those who wish to connect the being born of water with baptism. He who is acquainted with the views here taught, cannot fairly think that there is any depreciation of that institution of Christ. For I hold, that nobody ought to be owned on christian ground till he is baptized with water. I do not mean that he may not be a believer; but if he have not submitted to baptism in the name of the Lord, he is not yet ostensibly off Jewish or Pagan ground. And our Lord elsewhere insisted on the necessity of being baptized as well as believing. (Mark 16)
But important as baptism may be as the appointed sign of death and resurrection in Christ, yet our Lord did not directly refer to the rite with Nicodemus. For He says - not, Art thou a disciple of Christ, but - "Art thou a master of Israel and knowest not these things?" That is, as a Jew he ought to have known this. How could he know christian baptism as a Jew? To such an one this was a novelty; it did not even exist at the time. How could that be known which was not yet brought out? He ought to have known what was meant by being born of water and of the Spirit, and to have felt the absolute necessity of it. What then was meant? This: that no matter where, when, or who, everyone who should see or enter the kingdom of God must be born of water and of the Spirit, must have the Holy Ghost communicating a new life to him. And how is that life produced? By an ordinance? No. By christian walk? No. By what means, then? By prayer? Nay; but by the reception of God's Word revealing Christ. Therefore it is written, that we are born again, "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." With the testimony of Peter there is that of James also: "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." The instrument employed for God's begetting us, is "the word of truth." So that water is clearly used in this passage in John 3 as figurative of the word of God applied by the Spirit. The two are joined together that it should not be supposed it is merely an ordinance or the word, but the Spirit applying God's word with quickening power to the soul. Therefore, when speaking about believing, it is said, "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" It is necessary the Word should be preached. "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Compare also 1Co_4:15. It is no matter what positive passage of Scripture you take up, all teach the same thing. Our Lord insists that every one who enters the kingdom must enter by that door. What, then, is to become of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Some may say that circumcision is equivalent; but do not believe the dream for a moment: if so, what would become of so many before or outside both circumcision and baptism? All these explanations are mere clumsy guesses at Scripture. Even if there were