We now enter upon a new portion of our epistle; is not so exalted in its tone as that which we have glanced over in chapter 1, equally important in its place and of the utmost moment to us. But then we must carefully bear in mind that what is of interest to us is not an adequate measure in looking at either the word of God or His ways. God never acts for anything short of His own glory. So that although we find many parts of the word of God which in the very closest way touch our condition, wants, blessing and glory, we invariably fall short of the just scope and standard of the truth of God, if we limit our thoughts by its application to ourselves. Never do we reach the full extent of any truth in its bearing upon us, unless we also take into account its infinitely higher range as the revealed display of God's glory, character, and purposes. Hence it is, that although we find in the Scripture grace already shown to us, and glory that we are soon to participate in, yet how infinite the blessing when we no longer look at it as that which is directly toward creatures so limited and feeble as ourselves! When we realize that it is the grace and the glory of God, how all is changed completely! We then hear and find out this grand truth - He does speak of us and feel for us in ways, forms, depths, and heights suited to Himself. He enters into all our little wants as well as all our greatest. But still, if it were the least thing He meets in us, the supply of that want flows from One who has no limits; and if it be suited to our capacity for the present moment, it will not be always so. God will never rest in His love till He has not only given us by the Holy Ghost now to taste in measure the sweetness of the display of His own character. but made us in every way worthy of it. He has called us to be His children. The day is coming when not merely His love will not be ashamed so to call us, but when there will be no reason why it should be: when, on the contrary, everything that pertains to the family of God will savour just as much of what He is as, alas! now our poor, pitiful, worldly ways often tell a painful tale of self and not God.
In this chapter then it is, not the unfolding of God's counsels and magnificent purposes as they flow from His own mind - consequently going back to the beginning of time, and before creation had a place at all as a matter of fact, when all was but God Himself in the eternity of His own existence. Even then, as Ephesians 1 told us, before His hand had been put forth in anything, there was this blessed thought in His heart: He meant to have a people, yea, sons, out of the scene that was yet to be created, gathered by His own sovereign grace out of sin, to be the partakers of His love and of His holiness, along with His beloved Son. This was His counsel. Chapter 1 showed us this, not only what was in God's mind from eternity, but the answer to it in the day of glory that is coming. For two great thoughts were brought before us there: first, the calling of God; and next, the inheritance that is yet to be displayed in the bright display of glory when Christ shall take everything that God has made, and will be the acknowledged, glorified Head of it (all things, whether in heaven or on earth, being put under Him); and when we who believed in Him shall be called to the place of sharing that inheritance along with Him, our Lord and Bridegroom. Thirdly, we saw an added and most weighty point - that the same power of God which raised up Christ from the dead is at work toward believers now. This was only alluded to passingly in the prayer of the apostle at the end of chapter 1. What we have here is, to a certain point, a kind of development of it. Chapter 2 is mainly based on His resurrection-power; nay, not this only, but, if I may so say, ascension-power. The energy which raised up Christ and set Him at the right hand of God, is now put forth on behalf of and working in those that believe in Him. We shall see the consequences of this. But now let us weigh for a moment what the Holy Ghost here brings out. It is the application of the mighty power of God to the believer. It is not, therefore, simply the purpose of grace, nor the execution of that purpose in glory by and by, but it is the exercise of His power after the pattern of Christ risen and glorified, and the application of it to the believer even now.
Hence we have necessarily first brought before us the condition of those in whom the power is put forth, what they were when it began to work in them. Accordingly it is only in chapter 2 that we begin to have any development of the actual condition of those with whom God is so nearly linked. Chapter 1 is mainly occupied with what God had in His mind, and what He will yet accomplish. Now we have the question raised and answered, Who are these people, and what was their state when God could so deal with them? And it is most marvellous, that, when we come to hear His word, there is in no other epistle any portion that gives us so deep, searching, humiliating a picture of the desperate, degraded state in which those were whom God destined to be joint-heirs with Christ. The laying bare moral corruptions we have in Romans, fully proving what man is if he take the ground of anything within him. Whether the favoured Jew under the law, or the Gentile with his conscience, all is thoroughly discussed there, and every pretension of man is ground to powder. But in Ephesians the proof of guilt is needless. Man is viewed as so completely dead, that it is but the removal of the cloth from off the corpse. Therefore the apostle says, "You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." It is not simply, How is a sinner to be forgiven, justified? but "You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." The words "hath he quickened" are inserted, it is true, in italics, but it is the evident and necessary sense; without it, to an English reader, the sentence would be embarrassed. It is not till verses 4, 5 that we have the completion of the thought. It is plain that the quickening affects those that are called - "you," as well as those designated "us." I shall hope to show the meaning of the distinction presently, but I only refer to it now in order to guard against the notion, that there is no sufficient reason for inserting in English the expression, "You hath be quickened;" whereas it is implied in the language that the Holy Ghost used, or at least in the sense.
The grand fact remains. It is not merely a question of disease in the moral state of man; but they are "dead." What a blow to all the thoughts of man - to the notion that he is in a state of probation - that he is in a mere sickly state of soul; and if you only soothe and comfort and educate him, after all he is not so bad! Some people think there is a difference between believers and unbelievers in their unconverted state: this I deny. As to men being born, some of them more worthy of having mercy shown them than others, the idea is contrary to every word of God that treats of the subject. On the contrary, what the Holy Ghost insists upon is the real death and equal ruin of all. In Romans it is said that we were "without strength," but here we were "dead." The only way in which death is spoken of in Romans is as a privilege, the happy condition into which faith brought us when baptized unto the death of Christ. We are thus viewed as being dead to sin and alive to God.
In Ephesians, on the contrary, death was our misery. It was the expression of God's mind about the extreme ruin in which we lay. We have both Jews and Gentiles (neither now first or last) - man as such - morally dead; so that it becomes a question of what God can do. God above, and man here below, are in the presence of each other; and if man is dead, thanks be to God! He raises the dead, and can and does quicken souls. The immortality of the soul is certain. However, what Scripture calls "life" is not bare existence, but a blessed spiritual nature given to a man who naturally was without it and merely felt or acted after a nature under sin. Such is the condition of every person until the Spirit of God has wrought this good work upon the soul.
Our Lord reproaches Nicodemus for not understanding this. Even as a Jew he ought to have done so; but as a "master in Israel" was it not a shame that he should not know these things? When he heard of the necessity of being "born again," or on an altogether new principle, he imagined that the Saviour might speak of some repeated natural birth, which, if possible, would have been but the old thing over again. But the word "afresh" (ἄνωθεν) is exceedingly emphatic; and so is the opening out of the truth. Hearken to this: "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Flesh never can become spirit. There is no such thing as spiritualizing the old nature, and making it new and holy. What the unregenerate soul wants is a new nature, or, as the Lord explains it, to be "born of water and of the Spirit." It is the word of God, figuratively presented thus, and applied by the power of the Holy Ghost to the soul, which is the meaning of the passage. Baptism may set forth that which is conveyed by it, but it is a figure of a reality. Our Lord shows that there must be a new life imparted; and, as we are told elsewhere, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." And this is brought out not only by James, but by Peter also, where he declares that we are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth for ever." We know positively from the Apostle Paul, that the washing of water by the word is God's own explanation of the figure.
Again, what could Nicodemus have known about christian baptism? It was not then instituted; and the disciples' baptism was only a sort of modification of St. John's rite, i.e., the confession of a living Messiah, coming or come on earth. But proper christian baptism is founded upon the death and resurrection of our Lord. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ, were baptized unto his death?" Christian baptism is the confession of the death and resurrection of Christ, and was instituted by our Lord when He rose from the dead. Then, and not before, He told them to go forth, baptizing all nations, or Gentiles, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. He laid down the grand, full, christian revelation of the Godhead, into the confession of which the believer is brought by his baptism.
In the Scriptures just alluded to, we find clearly that, where unfigurative language is used, the means of giving the new life is said to be the word of God applied by the Holy Ghost; and that, when figures are used, water is what is chosen. But the sum and substance of the entire teaching is, that the testimony of God is the divine means of communicating life to the soul when applied by the Holy Ghost - that is, by faith. And if we want still further to know what specially in the truth of God is used to quicken those who are dead in sins, it is always, more or less, the revelation of Christ. My believing that the creature was made by God will not quicken my soul. I might believe any facts in the Old Testament, and be assured of all the miracles, discourses, and ways of Jesus in the New, and yet mysoul might still be unquickened. But believing in Christ Himself is a very different thing from not doubting things about Him. It supposes that I have, more or less, come to an end of myself; that I have bowed to the humiliating sentence of Scripture upon mynature, and that I own myself to be only a poor, lost, dead creature in the sight of God.
All this is beyond nature. Some men are proud of the affections we share with the brutes, and some still more deify themselves because of conscience; but even conscience was acquired by sin. Adam, before the fall, could not have told what good and evil was. He did not avoid eating the forbidden fruit, because he knew it was in itself evil; nor was there indeed anything morally wrong in its own nature in eating the fruit of that tree. But the command of God made it a test - a moral test that Adam would have known nothing about unless God had told him, "Thou shalt not eat." Thus, for the purpose of exercising a child's obedience, it might be said, You are not to go out of this room: it might have been all right before. It was only after eating of the forbidden fruit that Adam obtained the distinctive and intuitive knowledge of good and evil. Thus he knew evil only by being under its power. Had it been said to Adam before the fall, "Thou shalt not lust or covet," he might have said, What does it mean? I do not understand. But the moment he listened to the devil, and took the fruit that God forbade, there was another element infused into Adam's nature that had not been there before. Unfallen, he had body, soul, and spirit; after the fall, he acquired what Scripture calls "the flesh." This is not mere "flesh and blood:" our Lord had these, (else He could not have been truly a man,) but not "the flesh," which is the principle of self-will, or liking our own way, and not God's. This is sin, and what Scripture means by sin - that strong, restless craving to have what we wish, whether God wills it or not. Satan blinds the soul as to what is God's will, God's mind. The love of one's own will was not in the original nature of man. "The flesh"was gained through the fall, and shows itself in love of our own will and independence of God. St. Paul constantly dwells upon it, as it is also what St. John (1Jn_3:4) really calls "lawlessness," rather than, as we have it, "transgression of the law." It is the wish for our way in despite of God's will and way, whether expressed or implied. It is the essence of sin, the sad inheritance of sinners, from which, thank God, the believer is delivered. So that, when a man receives Christ, he has still his old nature, not only body, soul, and spirit, but even "the flesh" - for this, too, he has still, and it may be, alas! the occasion of many a slip and sorrow, if he be unwatchful. Besides these, there is for the believer a new nature that he had not before.
God has given us a new life, and this is just as distinct in its workings as the old life is. But God has quickened us and given us a new life. Look at a man: what is there? Self-love; a little bit of pride here and of vanity there; love of one's own will everywhere - the characteristic of the sinner under all circumstances. Search and see, and you will not have to search long before you find that which betrays not Christ, but Adam. Look at the history of man, as given in Genesis, and there see what he is. He might be enticed by his affections. But why allow his affections so to work as to carry him into disobedience against God? Had God told him to listen to his wife? He ought to have acted as the head, and have reminded her of what God told them. And God's order is never forgotten with impunity. So man, having allowed the wife to take the lead, soon reaped the bitter consequences. But in Christ I have the exact contrary. What more remarkable feature morally can be than this? - A person, who, while He was everything, was content to be nothing; who, while He was man here below, never acted upon His own independent title; who always, under every circumstance, great or small, sought and was subject to His Father's will. "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" says He, in Luke 2, when only a child. It was not only when He came publicly forward, but He had the consciousness of it always. And if I want to know what our Lord was as He grew up to mature years, there, too, I find it. And wherever I look at Him, this crowning feature shows itself in all times and circumstances - One that never sought and never did His own will.
There, do you not see, is another sort of man altogether? No wonder the Holy Ghost says about Him, and Him only, "the Second man." All other men were only just so many reproductions of Adam, so many sons in his own likeness, after his own image. As far as they were men, viewed simply as such, they bore that one common character of Adam. But now comes forth another man; and from and in this dead and risen stock we become new creatures, having His life communicated to us by faith in Him. As by natural birth we have the life of Adam, so we have what would naturally flow from such a frightful beginning - the same self-will, weakness, boastfulness, dread of God, dishonesty and insolence towards Him, etc. Such is man: such, too, is just what I find in my own self; and if I read the Bible aright, God will force me to own it. When quickening a soul, He always obliges it to take up the picture and say, That is myself, black as it is. Then, when a person is broken down under the awful discovery of sin within, and judges it according to God, this is what Scripture calls repentance. It is owning not only what we have done, but what we are also. How is it to be remedied? "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The Spirit has given a new life, and in this world, through the knowledge of Christ. Hence it is by the word of God ("faith cometh by hearing," etc.), not by baptism, or any other institution of the Lord, blessed as they are. We must take care that we put things in their proper places. It is the word brought home by the Holy Ghost that produces faith, and this not by mending the first, but by revealing the last, Adam. God has come down from heaven to accomplish this great purpose - to give me this new life - to deliver me from sin and self: and how is it done? It is the Holy Ghost who effects it by the word of God, which makes Christ known to the soul.
But here the apostle does not enter into the detail of it; he is merely telling out the grand facts: "And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins (the worst of all deaths); wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." Does it not show how active in evil was this kind of death? These dead were at the same time walking according to the age of this world; which, indeed, was the proof of their moral death. They had no desire to shape their walk according to God's word. As Job says (Job_21:14), "Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." And was not this the condition of our own souls? Can we not remember when it was a painful thing to have to meet God about our sins? I must have to do with God. And here is the solemnity of it. If I do not meet God now about the Saviour, I shall have to meet Him about my sins. And if I despise meeting the Saviour about my sins, meet God I must in my sins - to be lost for ever. You put a sort of honour upon an enemy by paying attention to him; but you cannot more deeply insult a friend than by paying no heed nor notice. So it is as to indifference about Christ. Perhaps we try to settle accounts with God once or twice a day - what a wrong to God and a wrong to my soul! If I have sins upon me - and in that condition we all are and have been naturally - what is to be done? It is easy to say what we have been doing - walking "according to the course of this world." This is not merely gross things. Supposing that people were all as courteous and kind as possible - that there were no such things as jails and judges, nor convicts punished: supposing that men could be reasoned out of their wickedness, what would still be the condition of men?" That which is born of the flesh is flesh." Man, as such, never can see the kingdom of God. The only way by which I can be brought into His kingdom is by being born anew, and having that new nature which is of Christ and not of Adam. Baptism is the sign of it. Paul had already believed on the Lord when Ananias said to him, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins." There is the figure of washing; but the only effective means or instrument in the sight of God is the blood of Christ. "To him that loveth us and washed us from our sins in his own blood."
The thought, then, of quickening leads the apostle to bring out the condition from which they were delivered. They were walking according to this world's age; and not only so, but according to the arch-enemy. The title, "Prince of the power of the air," was to set forth his all-permeating influence. As the air surrounds and penetrates everything, so does the devil the realm of nature - "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." This was the way they showed that they were under his power - by their disobedience. "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past." Why is it "we?" Why this change from "you" to "we"? When addressing the Ephesians, who had been Gentiles, he uses the word "ye;" but he includes now in this moral sentence, "dead in trespasses and sins," Jews as well as Gentiles. When God was measuring man by Christ, this was their state - not a single being that was not dead. And there can be no degrees of death. If a man is dead, there is an end of him. So that, although, if you look at men morally, you may draw distinctions, and say, There is a man going farther and faster on the downward way than others, yet, if you look deeper still, these distinctions vanish, and they are all indiscriminately ruined, yea, dead, in the sight of God. So he says, as proving this, "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the thoughts." No matter who we were, or what, he calls it all "the lusts of our flesh." But some of them might have been philosophers, and some benevolent and moral, some gross people living in open and atrocious wickedness. But take the best of them, and judge them by this: - was it their life-breath and governing motive to do the will of God? Not at all. They might have been gratifying their own kindly nature; but God was not in their thoughts; or it was a kind of bribing God to let them off. For in heathenism there was a tradition that a sacrifice wasnecessary; but it wascorrupted, and degraded, and perverted in all sorts of ways.
Here, then, we have the common condition in which all, Jews and Gentiles, were by nature. Yet he distinguishes "the desires (or wills) of the flesh and the thoughts," by which he means the grosser tendencies, and the more refined, intellectual workings. Supposing a man devoting himself to science, and making it his object, is this to do the will of God? Nay, but rather the indulgence of the desires of the mind, and as thoroughly self as with others who might be given up to the coarser appetites of nature. The grand thing is, that I have no right to myself - I belong to another. Am I doing His will? Then, when we enter the relationships of faith, we are not merely the Lord's creatures, responsible to do His bidding as a natural duty, but bought with the blood of Christ, and alive in Him from the dead, that we should henceforth live, not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us and rose again. Let it be the choicest men that the world can boast of: this is their state - "by nature the children of wrath even as others." What a word! Even the Jews, who had the light of God as far as outward light was concerned, were "by nature" the children of wrath, as much as the degraded, idolatrous, stock-and-stone-worshipping Gentiles. So that there can be no more complete annihilation of all man's religious privilege as well as creature-standing, than what we have in this verse. It is not only that people have done wrong, but they were by nature the children of wrath. God did not make man so: it was man who chose the path of disobedience, who gave up God for the devil. He did not, of course, intend this; for Satan comes in as an angel of righteousness; but however he may work, this is the one result to which all are reduced without exception - "by nature children of wrath." And what does God? For there is the absolute necessity that God should act in order to bring in one ray of light into the midst of this hopeless wreck and ruin. But people will not believe that they are ruined; they will think that it is a good world after all, and a state of things God has given man to cultivate, forgetting that God "drove out the man," and that all the inventions of man are only expedients to cover his nakedness, and to lead him to overlook that he is an exile from Paradise. Of course these inventions we can use, if we do not abuse them. But let us bear in mind that, as Christians, our life, our home, is not here; we belong to another scene, where Christ is. We are not of the world; we are purchased to do God's will, sanctified to obedience, to the same kind of obedience as our Lord's. Do we weigh and apply this earnestly, assiduously, conscientiously, within the bosom of the family of God, or wherever we may be placed? In our Lord was life, and He was ever happy in the consciousness of His Father's love. The believer, too, has life in Him, and is loved as He was loved. God may use the ten commandments to crush a man in the flesh; but as a believer, he is called to obey as Christ obeyed, to walk as He walked; for He left us an example that we should follow His steps.
Here, then, we have this mighty intervention of God, who, "rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness upon us through Christ Jesus." Not only are we quickened - this would have been true, looking at any saint that ever lived on the face of the earth. But could you have said that all were raised up together with Christ? seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus? Is it not a fuller statement of the blessing that belongs to us as Christians now, which could not be predicated of any till the resurrection and ascension of Christ were facts? Our Lord says, "I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly." Why does He draw the distinction between life, and life "more abundantly?"
On what principle, then, is it that Christ quickens at all? Because in Him, the Son, is life; and this life becomes the portion of the believer in Him. "For the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live." He was always the source of life to the soul, no matter when or where, though it was, of course, only in virtue of foreseen redemption that sinful men could receive it. Before His death and resurrection, however, it was simply life. But our Lord added, "and I will give it more abundantly." The disciples who then surrounded Him already had life because they believed in Him. But when our Lord rose from the dead, the first time He appeared among the disciples, He breathed upon them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." What was this? The Spirit as the power of life more abundantly (not as gift yet). He gave them life while He was here, and when risen He imparted it more abundantly, life in resurrection.
What is the difference, people may ask, to us? Immense. But the difference in the mind of God is the main thing and how it bears upon His glory. Therefore, whether understanding it or not, I desire to bow and bless God, perfectly sure that there is a wise and good reason for everything He does and says. We are to be raised by and by from the dead: our bodies are still unchanged. The body of the believer decays and crumbles like the unbeliever's, yet he has the resurrection-life of Christ, this life "more abundantly." "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you," was not a word merely for the twelve. No doubt they had a mission that none of us has. But while this is true, and none now can be put on a level with them as apostles, yet at the same time I maintain that they also had administrative functions, apart from their special apostolic character, and in those, not in this, they have successors. Our Lord met, on that day when He rose, "the disciples," which embraces a far wider thought. It was the then christian company, all that were there, whether men or women, if they were disciples. It was upon these He breathed. They were all to have His more abundant life. The effect is, that all are brought into liberty. (Comp. Rom_8:1-2.)
I do not enter farther into the very blessed accompaniments of this new life, but only remark that, as to being raised and sitting together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, all is spoken of as being now true of the believer. There is no such mystical notion meant by this as that we are not on earth or in our bodies here. Everything in Scripture is the very reverse of extravagance. Mysticism is the devil's imitation of God's mysteries, and the mere mist of men's fancies. "Mystery" in Scripture means nothing vague, but truth the human intellect would never discover, which, when presented by the Holy Ghost to the new nature, is perfectly intelligible. Some things are of a profounder character than others, and there may be that which is beyond all knowledge, as, for instance, the nature of the Son of God. "No man knoweth the Son but the Father;" and it is not said of the Son, "he to whom the Father shall reveal Him." The Father maintains with holy jealousy the inscrutable glory of the person of His Son. But apart from this, the mysteries of Scripture are truths once locked up but now revealed and intended to be known, and in fact the portion and joy of the believer.
We have already glanced at the strong contrast drawn between man's condition in the first three verses, and the mighty intervention of God's grace that follows. We have seen the Gentile brought out in the dark portrait of abject moral corruption and senseless idolatry, the Holy Spirit laying everything bare in a few mighty touches. They were "dead in trespasses and sins," thoroughly subject to the prince of this world. They were merely pursuing the course of this age, children of disobedience, without reference to God in their ways. There is no thought of bringing out in detail the frightful forms of human impiety, or the depravity and degradation into which man has fallen under Satan's instigation. Nevertheless we have a far deeper view of the hopelessly evil condition of man here, than even when all the details of impurity, superstition, and rebellion are entered into at full length. In the word of God, how little the energy depends on seeming strength of language! Still less is it what we find with men when they wish to put a thing forcibly. Of violent, exaggerated expression there is nothing in Scripture.
We have simply (and what a fact it is!) God Himself sounding the condition of man, no longer looking at the heart as if it were a question of restraining its desires, which He did under the law. But now it is the utter death of nature in the presence of God - the power of Satan substituted instead of God's government - man himself evidently and hopelessly ruined. But into this scene of death God enters - God who is rich in mercy. And the great love wherewith He loved us is just alluded to as the spring of all that He has done. "God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, eves when we were dead in sins" - "we,"whether Jews or Gentiles, but more particularly referring to the Jew here. At least he had contrasted the two in verses 2, 3. In verse 5 he may possibly be bringing them both in; but if any be particularly alluded to, it is the Jew, for he is as dead as the Gentile - there is no difference as to this. "Even when we were dead in sins, [God] hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Having already entered into the general subject of regeneration, I would only just add, that although, now that Christianity is divulged, we have regeneration going on at least as much as ever, we have in fact the Holy Ghost stamping upon the regeneration of the present time a deeper character. For it is not only that there is life given, or souls born again, but they are quickened together with Christ. Language like this could not have been used before Christ's death and resurrection. There can be no hesitation, that all the life which any saint ever received from the beginning of the world, was of and through Christ. "In him was life." He is the eternal life that was with the Father, and other life there is none for a sinner. There was a tree of life before man fell; not only a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but a tree of life. But this was only creature-life, that might have sustained an innocent creature to the end. But what, if the creature fell? What, when Adam became a sinful man? Would the tree of life avail for him then? Not for a moment. "So he drove out the man." God would not permit that man should touch the mere natural tree of life. For supposing he had eaten of it after sin, what would have resulted? Only a perpetuation of evil in a wretched, remediless condition of sin - an eternal existence in a condition alienated from God, from which there was no escape. So that, although death came in as the sentence upon a guilty man, there is in a sense mercy in it, now that man is born into a sinful world, and is subject to every kind of misery, which an enemy has brought in, and which, if you look at death as a part of it, may be the just sentence of God upon man's iniquity. But all this is laid hold of by Satan, and turned to his purposes, mingled with bad conscience, on which Satan works, so that a man is filled with dread and horror of God. From this God, by presenting Christ, delivers the soul. It is not only that the soul finds a life that is suited to its every need; it is not at all a mere perpetuating one's existence in misery; but life in Christ ensures deliverance out of evil and all its effects and curse, flowing from God in His grace, founded upon holiness; and a holy blessedness in the presence of God is in that same Christ who brings in this life. There is also God recovered by the soul, as surely as He recovers it to Himself. It was not only that man by sin lost natural life, but he lost God; and it is not only that Christ gives me now a new and better life than the tree of life could give, but He gives me God; He brings me to God and puts me in the presence of God. He makes known God to my soul, and gives me to be sure of His love, of His interest in me, of His deep pity and even complacency; for God cannot only love in a natural way, but with a love of complacency and special relationship.
This, then, is what we find in Christ; and although life could be spoken of in connection with all the Old Testament saints ere Christ died and rose, still I doubt much that the Spirit of God could speak of the life which they received, as being life with Christ. Life by and in Christ it could not but be; but quickening with Christ goesa great deal farther. And this is what we have now. For God points us to Christ under the burden of our sins, under the whole consequences of that which my nature deserved because of its distance and enmity to God - its spirit of disobedience and self-will. All the evil was charged upon Him, and He was treated as if He were it all; as if He, suffering for us on the cross, had the entire sum and substance of the evil of human nature in His own person. Of course, had there been a single particle of it in Himself, He could not have atoned for others - the judgment of God must have been upon it; but the total absence of it in His own person was what indicated His perfect fitness to be the victim. God was dealing with the whole height and length and depth and breadth of sin in the person of Christ upon the cross. But God raised up that same blessed One who went down under the wrath of God, and who, when He had tasted what it was to be forsaken and God's face hid from Him, did not and could not depart from this life without saying, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," which showed the perfect confidence of His heart and delight in God. "Our fathers trusted in thee . . . . they cried unto thee and were delivered." But He could not be heard till the full trial was closed. He was only heard from the horns of the unicorn. He must go through it all - unutterable sorrow and anguish, intolerable to all but Him; and yet to Him, what was it not? - all the wrath of God if the deliverance was to be complete and according to God. But He has done so; and He lets us know, in departing from the scene, that however He might suffer, yet His heart truly rested in God; and He confessed unwaveringly, not only that God continued holy, but that the Father was full of love. "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
But now we have another thing altogether - God interposing to deliver to the uttermost. He would not say that He quickened Christ absolutely. It is always qualified somehow, because Christ was life Himself. He was the eternal life with the Father, in due time manifested on the earth; and how say anything that would imply that He owed His life to another? He might say that, as man put to death in the flesh, He was quickened of the Spirit, but His intrinsic personal glory abides, which indeed gave its value to the whole extent of His humiliation and suffering unto death. The Father, too, gave Him as a man to have life in Himself. This was the perfection of Christ here below: He would not take it as His own right; He would not speak a word nor do a work that He had not heard from and in God. He was the perfectly dependent man. The same Gospel that dwells, as none other does, on His divine glory, shows us also His absolute dependence on God. On the other hand, how sweet to see in Scripture how God the Father watches over the glory of Christ! He would not say one word that could in any way impair the dignity of His Son.
Here, therefore, it is said, He hath "quickened us together with Christ!" It was we that needed the life. Christ might have gone down into death, but He has quickened us together with Him. Christ had died in a more solemn manner than any mere man could die. He was emphatically the Holy One of God, the only holy man, and yet even so had He died. Of course, no unholy one could die as He died. He knew what it was to taste death in all its bitterness, God's judgment and wrath, as none other could; and yet He was one who felt it so much the more because He was essentially in the bosom of the Father. But this blessed One having gone down thoroughly under death as the judgment of God upon our nature and our sins, thereon ensues the mighty power of God, who has quickened us together with Christ. In a word, the life is in the most intimate association with Christ, and we are in union with Christ Himself, put to death in the flesh, but now quickened by the Spirit. As to the life that He had here below, it was given up and gone; and now He rises in a new condition of life, in resurrection. It is therefore immediately added that God not only quickened us together with Christ, but raised us up together; and more than this, He made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Thus the full value that belongs to life, as it is now in Christ, is also given to us; so that we can be spoken of, even while we are in this world, according to the complete blessedness of life as it is now seen in Christ at the right hand of God.
Let us consider what such a marvellous thought as this involves - what it brings us into association with. We know what our old nature loves, and does, and is; we know too well what the life, or rather the death, of Adam, dragged us into. What have we derived from our first father - what have we deserved and brought on ourselves, but sin, sorrow, suffering, sickness, death, a bad conscience, and a fearful looking for of judgment? All these things we have as the workings and effects of that existence which we have inherited, our sad heirloom from the first man. But now comes the new and supernatural source of life in the Second Man; and where shall we best know its character? Let us look up at Christ. How does God the Father regard Him? Is He delighted in Him? He was always so; and surely never more than when He traced Christ's steps as He walked a Man among men. But there was the terrible question of sin - our sin. Is it an unsettled question now? Or has Christ in very deed answered it for ever in the cross? Yes, it is the very thing that has given occasion for God to show His love as nothing else could. How should I have known how much God loves me if I had not had such depth of need as an enemy of God, fathomless save to His saving mercy in Christ? I do not say it to lighten the sin of my enmity to God, nor to allow the notion that there was or could be the smallest title to the favour of God. But my hopeless evil becomes a measure of the depth of His love; and this because it brings Christ into the scene, yea, Christ as a Redeemer and Saviour on God's part - Christ the infinite gift of God's grace - Christ, who would be turned aside by nothing - Christ, who endured everything from man, Satan, and God's righteous judgment, that we might be saved after a divine sort. And so in truth we are. And what do we not owe the Saviour and the God who gave Him? But what did not Christ bear? Our frightful ruin and sin has just brought out what God is in His great love to us, and what Christ is in His value, and the mighty power of the life in which He is risen and gone up, seated, and ourselves in Him, in heavenly places. Do you still ask what the character of the life is that the Christian possesses now? Look at Christ, and see how precious He is to God - how He cannot have the Blessed One, who is the full expression of that life, too near Himself. He has raised Him up and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places. In Ephesians 2 it is simply "made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." It is not added here, as in Ephesians 1, "at his own right hand." I am not aware that such words are ever said about the children of God, nor do I think they could be. Do they not rather seem to be the personal place of Christ? But it is said "in the heavenly places," because it is to them, and not to the earth, that we belong. Israel, as such, in their best days, belonged to the earth (as did we, far off, in our worst); but now it is not only that our names are written in heaven, though that very expression shows the wonderful love of God which destines and enrolls us to be above - which connects us with heaven while we are upon the earth: all that is true; but we have much more in Ephesians. There we find that, in virtue of our union with Christ, we are said to be not only raised with Him, but seated with Him in heavenly places. In a word, what is said of Christ Himself is true by grace of us, only excepting what may be personal in Him as God the Son, or used of the Lord in a necessarily pre-eminent degree. For after all there is a distinction between the Head and the body, even as such; though, on the other hand the very difference shows the closest possible association: we are His fulness or complement.
We learn, then, from this that we have Christ's own title while we are in this world - nay, more than that, Christ's own life is ours, by virtue of which we are said to be quickened with Him, yea, raised and seated in Him in heavenly places. But let us carefully bear in mind that all this is never said of any in purpose or election, but only where faith exists. It is not applicable to us before we believe: it would not be true of any person before there is positive, living association with Christ. What is commonly called Calvinistic theology, much truth as it embodies, is totally false on this head. One of its main features is the endeavour to make out that, the love of God being from everlasting to everlasting, our relationship is always precisely the same; that because God has the purpose of making us His children, He always regards us as His children; that if a man be elect, supposing him still an infidel or a blasphemer, he is as much a son of God as when he is regenerate of the Holy Ghost and walking in the ways of God. It maintains that God loves him with exactly the same love (while he is, for example, a sot or a swearer) as afterwards. What among believers can be conceived more dishonouring to God and destructive to man than this doctrine? Manifestly the apostle is speaking here, not of persons elect merely, though, of course, they were elect, but quickened. That is, they had actually life. Not only was there a purpose of God about them, but they were then living to God as those who had faith in Christ. You could not say that a man has life before he has faith. It is the reception of Christ by the Holy Ghost which, on the one side, is called faith, and on the other, life. You could not rightly put one before the other. If you could scarcely say that faith was before life, certainly life is not before faith. The first exercise of faith is the first also of life. It is the power of the Spirit of God presenting Christ to the soul. Hence it is said, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." The living is there, if there be any difference at all, the effect of hearing, rather than the hearing the effect of living. This is very important; because none can affirm that persons are quickened with Christ until they are here to be called; and it is impossible to say that they have life till they have heard the voice of the Son of God. The first proof that a man is a sheep is that he hears the good Shepherd's voice. He is not thrown on certain (or rather uncertain) indications, of life within himself, but on the grand, objective test and evidence which God demands - not merely what I am doing, or not doing (the law asked this), but whether I receive and rest on the Son of God. Am I drawn away from all the sounds of the world? and is His voice attracting my soul? As sure as this is so, you have life. "He that believeth hath everlasting life." "He that hath the Son hath life." I prove that I have it by the very simple, sure, and blessed fact that I hear the voice of the Son of God. Thus only I have life - then only am I assured of being quickened and raised with Christ. Mark, it is association with Christ after He had gone under death for our sins, which is the christian character of quickening. We are also said to be seated in heavenly places, because we have the life of Christ who is there, and we are spoken of according to the place which He has entered who is our life. So that Scripture does not merely mean that we are so in God's decree or thought, when it says that He has raised us up and made us sit together in heavenly places. The reference is not to our future resurrection, but expressly to the present association of the believer by virtue of union with Christ, who is in the presence of God. And, in alluding to this first part of it, the apostle says, "By grace ye are saved." This is the source of all the blessing. Hence the expression is very strong. For what the form of the word implies is that the salvation was complete, and that they were now enjoying its present result. Salvation in Scripture is not always thus treated: there are whole Epistles where it is never so spoken of. Thus, particularly in Philippians, salvation is regarded as a future thing - as not complete till we see Christ in glory. Salvation, there, is a solemn but not precarious process, which is now going on, because it is plain that we are not with Christ in glory, but in our natural bodies. And accordingly Christ is therein seen as a Saviour, not merely because He died and rose, but because He is coming back for my full deliverance and joy. This explains the meaning of the text which has perplexed some so much - "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" because, in the sense intended there, we shall only get salvation when we are glorified with Christ. Meanwhile, we are working it out with fear and trembling, remembering that Satan hates us because we are to be in glory with Christ. We are viewed as persons in this world, who know that there is not the slightest doubt that we are to have the prize, but we have to fight and run for it, though we ought to hold fast the assurance that we shall have it when we see Christ coming for us from on high.
But when we take up the language of the Ephesian Epistle, all is different. There salvation is regarded as an absolutely past thing: "By grace ye are saved" - not merely that it is going on, and is to be completed by and by; but we are saved and cannot in Christ be more so than we are. Whereas, according to Philippians, Paul himself had not his salvation yet: "not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." The perfection there spoken of entirely and solely refers to the time when we shall be changed into the glorious likeness of Christ; then, not before, we shall be saved. If you apply the same sense of salvation to both Epistles, you make the doctrine contradictory. Take again the Epistle to the Hebrews. There, too, salvation is always represented as a future thing. "Wherefore," it is said, "he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him." God's people are meant, not the unconverted, as coming unto God by Christ. For whom is He a priest? For the believer only. Thus it is the saint that requires to be saved in the Epistle to the Hebrews; because salvation there applies to all the difficulties of our wilderness-journey. The whole doctrine is founded on the type that we are now, like Israel of old, going through the desert, and have not yet entered into Canaan; whereas, the characteristic teaching of the Ephesians is that Christ has gone into Canaan, and that we are in Him there. It is because we are occupied with a part of the word of God and not the whole, because we see one truth strongly and not the truth generally, that we get confused and faulty views which lead to wrong practice.
The reason of these differences is most interesting. You have exactly in each epistle what is suited to its own character. In Ephesians the revelation is not of Christ as one interceding for us before God: this we have in Hebrews. Why is He a priest? That He may have compassion on the ignorant, and on them which are out of the way. This is exactly, as we journey here below, our danger: we are ignorant, and always exposed to the temptation of slipping aside through an evil heart of unbelief. Therefore we need the Epistle to the Hebrews. The doctrine of Ephesians would not of itself suffice to meet me in my weakness, difficulties, and sorrows. Supposing I had wandered, what is there to recall and comfort my soul in Ephesians? There I read, "that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." Nay, but I have gone astray, and I cannot get any relief to my anguish thence. I may try to stay my heart on God's election and high counsels, but, if I have a tender conscience, these alone will make me more miserable. If God really loved me so much, how comes it (the heart will reason) that I should so dishonour Him? In Hebrews I find nothing at all about my sitting in heavenly places, but Christ at the right hand of God, and pleading for me, after He had by Himself purged my sins. The very first chapter starts with the glorious truth - that Christ took His seat on high only when He could go there on the ground that He had completely blotted out our sins, and this "by Himself," i.e., to the exclusion of all other help. It was His own task, and He has accomplished it, and would not rest even in that, to Him, familiar glory, save on this ground. Therein we have a most sure foundation. But although we have the purging of sins through Christ, we are in a place of temptation where, through ignorance, and weakness, and a thousand things that may arise, we are in constant peril of turning aside and slipping. What is to become of us then7 What is to sustain and carry us through? God reveals the blessed Priest who cares for the soul - One who has the full confidence of God the Father - who has given the most entire satisfaction to Him - One who is seated at the right hand of God, and who there is unceasingly occupied with our need, on the ground that we belong to God and are already redeemed, and have no more conscience of sin. We can perhaps hardly make out how it is that persons who are so blessed of God should be so weak and wretched; so little like Him who, at His own cost, has bought and secured us our blessing. But faith receives and asks of God what He intends to be our strength and comfort in the midst of our weakness and dangers. His answer is, that Christ is there to plead our cause, as surely as the Spirit is here to render us sensible of it. And it is through Christ's intercession at the right hand of God that we are brought to feel our need and failure. For we never judge it, without getting moral blessing through that judgment. All power of Christ resting on us is in proportion to the depth of the moral estimate produced in our souls by the Spirit of God in answer to the intercession of Christ; and it is part of Christ's intercession for us that we are made to feel, when we have in mind and fact gone astray. In Hebrews, salvation could not be spoken of as a past thing. We know that we shall be fully saved, and that Christ is coming for it. But although it is appointed unto men to die, it is not necessarily so for the saint. We know that they may never fall asleep, as for certain they will never be judged, though all they have done will be surely manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ. But He has gone through death for them, and therefore there is no necessity that they should die; and He has endured judgment as none other could, and we have His own word for it that into judgment, at any rate, we shall never come. He that believes on the Son of God "hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment." (John 5) The consequence is, that though we look for Him to come, we know that when He does appear the second time, it will be without sin unto salvation. He has so perfectly put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, that when He is thus seen the second time by them that look for Him, it will be "without sin" (apart from all question of sin, as far as they are concerned), "unto salvation," and not unto judgment. Salvation and judgment are the two things above all others most in contrast. You cannot have judgment and salvation exercised upon the same individual. In Hebrews, then, you have salvation connected with our Lord's appearing the second time.
In Ephesians, on the contrary, we are saved already, and there Christ's return to receive His people is not throughout referred to. In the Epistles where salvation is said to be consummated by and by, there we have Christ coming to finish it. In Philippians he says, "Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." There we have our Lord changing this body of humiliation into the likeness of His glorious body, proving Himself to be the Saviour; because it is not a partial deliverance, but a complete salvation for the whole man. But in Ephesians, where our Lord's coming is never introduced, this links itself with the fact that salvation is already supposed to be an accomplished fact, which we now enjoy. This is a way of looking at salvation rare in Scripture: it is generally looked at as something we have before us. People confound salvation with justification or reconciliation to God; but in Romans the evident distinction is drawn - "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." Thus, we have the reconciliation, but not the salvation, in the sense spoken of there. "We shall be saved." He is living for us, and, as a consequence, we are being saved. The salvation is going on; and when Christ comes again in glory, then salvation will be complete. Hence, in Romans 13 we have the doctrine applied again: "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." We have not got it yet; but it is nearer; and we shall have it all perfectly by and by. Before we believed, we were enemies and lost; then, believing, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Now He lives for us; and soon He will come again for us, and then all will be complete.
Again, take Corinthians, and you will find the same teaching there. Salvation is not regarded there as complete. Hence the apostle says that he is keeping under his body and bringing it into subjection. He will not allow any evil lust to gain the mastery over him. He might preach to all the world; but if evil got the upper hand of him, how could he be saved himself? He puts it in the strongest possible way of his own case; and shows that preaching (of which some apparently thought more than of Christ) has nothing to do with a man's being saved, but life in Christ; for the grace of Christ manifests itself in holy subjection to God and self-judgment of evil. These are the inseparable consequences of having the life of Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost in the soul. "I keep under my body," says he, "lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." This last word I take in the strongest, and, indeed, the only scriptural, sense - i.e., of reprobate. A castaway in the New Testament means not merely that a man was going to lose something, but to lose his own soul and lose Christ. There are no instances in the Epistles where the word is used in a modified sense: it invariably means lost for ever; and it is neither faith nor intelligence to modify its force. It was not that Paul had any fear of being lost; but he transfers the case to himself to make it more energetic, supposing that he were to renounce Christ and holiness. What is the consequence? He might have been ever such a preacher, and yet be a castaway; but no man that ever was regenerate could be a castaway; and so he does not say, Though I were born of God, I might be a castaway. Such a thing could not and might not to be supposed. But he does illustrate most seriously what, alas! has been far too common, that a man might preach to others and be a reprobate. We know that one of the apostles preached and wrought miracles; but the Lord never knew him.
This will show the importance of leaving room for salvation in every way that Scripture looks at it. In the largest part of Scripture it is not regarded after the Ephesian manner, but in the way I have been describing in Romans, etc. No question is fairly raised of falling away when the apostle speaks of salvation in this sense; but the fact is, that all the result of the blessing - all the fulness of the deliverance, is not yet our portion. And who can say that it is? Here we are suffering still: then we shall be out of the scene of temptation altogether. In Ephesians, when looking at the character of our life, he says, it is entirely outside all danger, all temptation, and everything of the sort. "By grace ye are saved."By this he means that we have been and are saved; that is, we have the present enjoyment of that which is already past and complete before God. It is a fact accomplished, because it is in Christ, and everything here is regarded as being in Christ, as, for instance, our peace. Hence He is called "our peace" further on. Hence, too, so truly is the salvation viewed as being in Christ, that, the Saviour being seated on high, we are said to be (not in process of salvation, but) completely saved, so as to need nothing more as far as this is concerned. In full accordance with this it was added, that God "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." What plainer than the completeness of the salvation? How manifestly it has a character of association with Christ, that is entirely beyond all human conception! It is easy to conceive that such a blessedness might be by and by; but the wonderful thing is, that this could be predicated of poor, weak Christians in the world now. If we dwell much upon human things, they become cheap and common, and we cease to wonder; but with this glorious work of God in His beloved Son, the more we think of it, the more we stand amazed before it. Observe, too, it is for this very purpose: "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." That is, it is not merely God looking at us, and giving us what we need, but God acting for the indulgence of His own affections through His Son. God says, as it were, I want to show what I am, not merely to supply what you want. Thus it is God rising up to the height of His own goodness, and acting from what He is, entirely irrespective of what we are, save that we become the occasion for God to show His matchless love; and this, not merely now, but "in the ages to come," or, as I suppose, for unlimited time.
Nor is this all. There is a fresh guard against certain misconceptions by taking up or repeating the expression, "For by grace are ye saved," with the addition of "through faith," a strong confirmation of what has been already said. We are not saved by the electing purpose of God, true and blessed as it is, but through faith in our hearts, through that divine persuasion which the Holy Ghost works in the heart of a man once an unbeliever. "By grace are ye saved through faith." There is no such thing as God introducing one into the relationship of a child without the action of his heart and conscience. The Holy Ghost gives such a man to feel his own condition as seen of God and yet know what God is toward him in Christ. A cold parchment-deed, mechanical salvation there is not, any more than such a change of the old nature as could be a ground of hope toward God. But if human feeling cannot be trusted, neither can ever so orthodox a recognition of God's decrees. When God speaks in and of His Son, it is a real thing, and he who hears must more or less deeply have the consciousness of its solemnity. He is no longer unwilling and indifferent to Christ. He may feel sin and hate himself as he never did, just because he is under the hand of God and under the teaching of God. Thus the very thing that you bring to prove that you are not one of God's own, is rather a proof that you are. If you were dead to God, would you feel what grieves Him? It is when Christ has begun to dawn on the soul that you begin to realize that you have been lying in all that is dark and loathsome, though a glimmer of hope may