We have here a remarkable instance of the parenthetical style of the epistle; for the whole chapter on which we are entering is an example of it. We shall find parenthesis within parenthesis, the want of seeing which increases the misunderstanding of the epistle; but once observed, all is easy, and the moral fitness of such a form of describing what is in itself a sort of parenthesis in God's ways has been and should be noticed by the way. We can seek, by the grace of God, to learn and consider the reason for these digressions, which form an episode of unusual length. The whole of Ephesians 3 comes in between the doctrine of the close of Ephesians 2 and the exhortation at the beginning of Ephesians 4, which is founded upon that doctrine. What is the meaning of this turning aside? The Holy Ghost stops short in the midst of the unfolding of the doctrine to lead us into - what? The answer, I think, is very plain. He has just alluded to that which must have seemed a great stumbling-block to a Jew; namely, God's forming one body, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Among many Christians now, I am sorry to say, the difficulty is not even felt, still less is the truth understood. The reason is, because they have so little hold of the faithfulness or the purposes of God. For it is a real trial of faith to a devout mind, when one part of the truth of God appears to clash with another. There cannot be any real discord; all must be in perfect keeping and harmony. But we are not always able to understand how the different parts of truth hang together. While thus ignorant, we ought to wait in faith, neither doubting on the one hand nor indifferent on the other.
Let us for a moment seek to put ourselves in the position of the Jewish believers, who inherited the thoughts and feelings and prejudices of the Old Testament saints. And let such an one have words of this kind clearly pressed upon him - one body, neither Jew nor Gentile, the enmity slain, the middle wall of partition broken down. What a truth for a Jew! How extraordinary that God should destroy that which He had been building up, and had so long sanctioned; that God who had formed and insisted on the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, on peril even of death to those slighting them - that He Himself should reduce them to nothing, and bring in what is totally different from and irreconcileable with the old order! No wonder all this should be a difficulty, if put together as the mind of God for the same time. But there is a key to the whole enigma. They are not instituted of God contemporaneously. Hence all the difficulty amounts to, is, that God, who at one time ordained the distinction between Israel and the Gentiles, is pleased now for a season to abolish it and to bring in an entirely new thing. Now the early part of Ephesians 3 is devoted to the explaining of this special part of the mystery of Christ, whereby the Gentiles are brought forward and put upon exactly the same level with the believing Jews who now received Christ, so that in this world they form one and the same body. But the more that a man adhered to the truth of the law and prophets, the more insuperably hard this was, because the Old Testament never speaks of such a state of things. In fact, for a person who only knew the ancient Hebrew revelations, it was a wrench without precedent, and that for which he must have been altogether unprepared. There was the difficulty of apparently going contrary to the plain word of God. This it is, accordingly, that the Holy Ghost here removes out of the way. And first of all, observe the wisdom of God in laying an admirable foundation for the bringing in of the new doctrine. We have seen the counsels of God from all eternity centring in Christ, and embracing the glorious thought of souls gathered out from this world to be the sharers of the same love and glory in which Christ is now found in the presence of God. (Eph. 1) Next, we had the means employed to meet souls in their ruined state upon earth; this we had in Ephesians 2. And now in Ephesians 3 we have a digression for the purpose of explaining fully the nature of this part of the mystery in special relation to Gentiles.
We must, however, guard against the notion that "the mystery" or secret means the gospel. The gospel in itself does not and never can mean a mystery. It was that which in its foundations always was before the mind of God's people in the form of promise, or of a revelation of grace not yet accomplished. But nowhere in Scripture is the gospel called a mystery. It may be connected with the mystery, but it is not itself a mystery. It was no mystery that a Saviour was to be given; it was the very first revelation of grace after man became a sinner. The Seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent's head. A mystery is something that was not revealed of old, and which could not be known otherwise. Again, you have in the prophets a full declaration that the righteousness of God was near to come; the plainest possible statement that God was going to show Himself a Saviour-God. So again you have His making an end of sins and bringing in reconciliation and everlasting righteousness. All these things were in no sense the mystery. The mystery means that which was kept secret, not that which could not be understood, which is a human notion of mystery; but an unrevealed secret, - a secret not yet divulged in the Old Testament but brought out fully in the New. What, then, is this mystery? It is, first, that Christ, instead of taking the kingdom, predicted by the prophets, should completely disappear from the scene of this world, and that God should set Him up in heaven at His own right hand as the Head of all glory, heavenly and earthly, and that He should give the whole universe into the hands of Christ to administer the kingdom and maintain the glory of God the Father in it. This is the first and most essential part of the mystery, the second, or Church's part, being but the consequence of it. Christ's universal headship is not the theme spoken of in the Old Testament. You have Him as Son of David, Son of man, Son of God, the King; but nowhere is the whole universe of God (but rather the kingdom under the whole heavens) put under Him. In this headship over all things, Christ will share all with His bride. Christ will have His Church the partner of His own unlimited dominion, when that day of glory dawns upon the world.
Hence, then, as we know, the mystery consists of two great parts, which we have summed up in Eph_5:32; "This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Thus the mystery means neither Christ nor the Church alone, but Christ and the Church united in heavenly blessedness and dominion over everything that God has made. Hence, as we saw from Ephesians 1, when He was raised from the dead, God set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, "and put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church." It is not said, "over the church," which would overthrow, not teach, the mystery. He will be over Israel and over the Gentiles, but nowhere is He said to reign over the Church. The Church is His body. I admit it is a figure, but a figure that conveys an intense degree of intimacy, full of the richest comfort and the most exalted hope. The saints who are now being called are to share all things along with Christ in that day of glory. Hence it becomes of the greatest interest to know what the nature of the Church is. When did its calling begin, and what is the character of that calling, what the responsibilities that flow from it?
The Epistle to the Ephesians is the capital seat of the doctrine of the Church; and if the Spirit of God here departs from the current of the doctrine, it is to give us a view of what was one of the chief difficulties connected with it; viz., the Gentile believers being brought with believing Jews into the unity of Christ's body. A Jewish mind would not feel it so strange that God should bless a Gentile; but he would suppose that the blessing must be inferior to that of a Jew - that a higher place must be reserved for Israel and a lower one for the Gentile. The doctrine now brought out overturns all this. To a mind bred in Old Testament thought it was the apparent undermining of the plain word of God. How was so natural and strong an objection to be removed? It was a new thing for heaven, during Israel's rejection for the earth. Further, it is from not understanding "the mystery," and what the Church really is, that the Popish or antichurch system has sprung up. But not only so: Protestants too have departed from the word of God on this subject through unbelief of our heavenly relationship to Christ and through love of the world - love of present honour and worldly greatness. They have not the faith and patience to wait for the day of Christ. A Christian is called upon to suffer now, to be cast out as evil, waiting to be glorified with Christ - not merely by Christ, but with Christ, to be with Christ Himself where He is. This supposes our place "without the camp," i.e., every form of worldly religion. Does not the world now take the place of being the Church of God? This is the part of Babylon; and though the strongest expression, and the centre, if you will, of Babylon be found in Popery, that system of confusion is not confined to Rome. We do well to come nearer home, to examine what we are about ourselves, to look whether we be not drawn away into a grave misunderstanding of what God has saved us for. Do Christians generally realize that they are saved at all? Are they simply, thoroughly, abidingly happy in the consciousness of God's salvation? Look at the hymns that are sung - think of the prayers that are offered. They are the aspirations of anxious, uneasy souls, who call themselves miserable sinners, because they have no conscious possession of the blessing, but only desires after it. Is it possible that it comes to this, that souls count it humility to doubt God? that it is a becoming and boasted part of the worship of God to express the misery and the bondage of redeemed souls on the day which proclaims that their sins are blotted out and their peace made? Where, in all this, is the simple, hearty rest in the knowledge of redemption as a completed thing? of sins being entirely done with for the Christian, as far as regards the judgment of God? Assuredly there remains always the need of our acknowledging our sins, and of judging ourselves; but this is quite another kind of judgment and of confession, the confession of souls which blame themselves so much the more because they have not a doubt that they are sons of God - hearts which are perfectly at peace and which express their happiness in songs of praise and thanksgiving to the God who has for ever saved them.
Upon the foundation of salvation as a complete thing, the Holy Ghost leads on to the understanding of the Church. If you do not know and rest in Christ's redemption as accomplished, yea, and accepted for us of God, you cannot have a single true idea of the Church. This shows the exceeding wisdom of the Spirit of God in bringing in the doctrine of the Church here, after all question of salvation has been fully met and settled. "For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles." He was a sufferer even to bonds for the sake of the Gentiles. Wherever a person takes his place truly as a member of the body of Christ, how can he have honour, or escape reproach and trial in the world? The proper home of the Church is in heaven; but on earth he who brought out this blessed truth is content to be a prisoner. "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward." Dispensation here means "administration" or "stewardship" - that for which he was held responsible to God. The Apostle Paul was the instrument chosen of God for bringing out the nature, calling, character, and hopes of the Church. Mark the ways of God. He would not develop it among the Jews, nor would He reveal it by Peter or James. It was revealed to them no doubt, but not by them. The Apostle Paul was the only one of the inspired writers by whom God made it known. Hence if there were the smallest truth in apostolic succession, Paul ought to be the root or channel through whom the succession comes, and not Peter, who was expressly an apostle of the circumcision. Paul's apostleship was directly from the Lord and with the uncircumcision as its sphere. He was the grand witness that all true ministry must be direct from Christ. The Lord may work by means. He may call a person to preach, and there may be persons whose gift is developed by means of teaching. The same apostle who derived his gift from the Lord, and who insisted upon it so strongly, used to teach others. He communicated the truth to Timothy, who again was enjoined to teach others that which he had himself received. The Lord works by those who understand the truth well, to communicate the truth to those who understand it less. But still the principle remains, that all gift is immediately from Christ, and not derivative from man. There were outward and local appointments, such as elders and deacons; but that was another thing altogether. The elder might teach or not, and might do so formally and publicly, if he were a teacher; but his eldership was purely a certain charge communicated by the authority of the apostles, distinct from the question of gift. I only refer to the underived character of gift properly so called, which the Spirit distributes in the Church. It comes immediately from Christ on high (Eph. 4), and not through a human channel, save in an exceptional and miraculous instance, as when the apostle laid hands on Timothy and imparted a χαρισμα to him according to prophecy.
In this further statement the Apostle Paul says, "By revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in a few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.)" He had touched upon it in Ephesians 2, but now he is entering upon it more fully. "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men." Here you have a positive statement that the secret was a something not revealed in other ages - not that it was obscurely intimated or badly understood, but it was not revealed at all. It was a secret kept hid, as the apostle lets us know in Romans 16. "Now to him that is of power to stablish you . . . . . according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest." It was only now divulged. It was not that the thing had been predicted by the prophets, and only now laid hold of by faith. In truth it was now made manifest, now published and taught; it never had been before. "But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." There is no doubt that the "scriptures of the prophets," alluded to here, are New Testament scriptures. It is, properly speaking, "by prophetic scriptures," not referring to Old Testament prophets at all; and for this reason - "Now is made manifest, and by prophetic scriptures . . . . . made known to all nations." Had the meaning been Old Testament prophets, what could have been more extraordinary than such an expression? He might have said, It was revealed to the prophets, but now it is understood. But he says, It is now made manifest. "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." There were inspired men, not apostles, who were prophets. To both of these it was now revealed; but we cannot say that "prophetic scriptures" in Romans 16 extend beyond the writings of Paul, which develop this blessed secret of God. The unfolding of the Church ensued when the Holy Ghost was given after a new manner. "The Holy Ghost was not yet [given] because that Jesus was not yet glorified." The Holy Ghost had wrought before, but He was to be poured out personally; and this is identified with the calling of the Church. At Pentecost, for the first time, we have an assembly that is called the Church of God. "The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." There we find what is called the Church, or the assembly: a body where God intended to have Jew and Gentile without distinction; which state of things never existed before the day of Pentecost. And now we have Jews and Gentiles brought into this new order, new to both of them, to which the former revelations of God no longer applied as a direct description of their privileges.
And here let me warn you to beware of so taking the Scriptures as if everything God says there is about you and me and the Church. The Church is, comparatively, a new thing in the earth; it is exclusively a New Testament subject. If I said that saints were thus new, it were false; but if you say that the Church embraces Old Testament saints, you neglect and oppose the word of God, which confines the Church of God to that which began with Christ set at the right hand of God, and the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven to baptize all who now believe into this one body. What is meant by "the church?" The assembly ofsouls gathered by the knowledge of Christ dead and risen, and by the Holy Ghost united to Christ, as the glorified man at God's right hand. Such a state of things did not exist before Pentecost. There was no redemption accomplished before the cross. Christ stands alone as Son of God from all eternity - a divine person equal with the Father. But He became man in order to die for men upon the cross; and risen from the dead, He enters upon His new place of headship to the Church, His body; the Bridegroom of the Bride. Atonement has been made and sin put away by the sacrifice of Himself; and there could be no such thing as becoming a member of the body of Christ till this was accomplished. The Church is founded upon the remission of sins by the blood of Christ already shed, and consists ofthose that are united with Christ to share all His glory, save that which is essentially and eternally His own as only-begotten Son of the Father.
Then comes in this especial part of the mystery - "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." The promises of God to Abraham, and this promise of God in Christ, are two things not only different but contrasted. For ifI look at the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, "I will make of thee a great nation," is this the Church's expectation? When Christians become great in the earth, it is when they have slipped out of their proper blessing in fellowship with Christ; but when Israel is made a great nation in the true sense of the word, they will be blessed and a blessing as they never were before. The promise was given to Abraham, and will be accomplished in his seed on earth by and by. "I will make of thee a great nation . . . . . and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." Here you have room left for the going out of blessing to the Gentiles; but, mark, they are to be blessed in Abraham, and afterwards in his seed. In Genesis 22, the promise is renewed to Isaac; and this is what is referred to in Hebrews. "By myself I have sworn, saith the Lord. . . . . . That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." Is this what we are looking for? I trow not. We want to be in heaven with Christ, and we shall be there through His love and the favour of our God. But Israel is to possess the gate of his enemies, and to be exalted above all people of the earth. In the Psalms we have a sort of commentary upon these expectations of the godly in Israel. Thus in Psalm 67 we have the prayer, "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause His face to shine upon us (Selah); that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations." The preliminary of the blessing to other nations is the answer to Israel's cry, "God be merciful unto us and bless us." All hope for the world as such depends upon the blessing of the Jews.
It is not so as to the Church, which God is now calling out. Its blessing does not hinge on the promises or the blessing of any people. Hence these Psalms do not apply; yet persons persist in diverting them to present circumstances. No wonder that they are bewildered. The fault is in their perversion of the word of God. "Let the people praise thee, O God; yea, let all the people praise thee." Now it extends to others. "O let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for thou shalt judge the people righteously and govern the nations upon earth." When that day dawns, instead of the groaning and travailing which as yet prevails, "Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us." Anything like this is very far from being the case now. It is the millennial state that is expected here, when the power of God will be put forth triumphantly, and God will acknowledge His people Israel, and other nations will be blessed in them. Now the Gentiles are "fellow-heirs and of the same body." Fellow-heirs with whom? With Christ, and with all who are in Christ. Whether Jews or Gentiles, they are fellow-heirs. Grace has put them on common ground. It is not now the Jews set on the pinnacle of the earth's blessing. On the contrary, as a nation they are dispersed, and God is judging them, not showing mercy: there is a complete obliterating of the old landmarks. And for this reason: the Jewish people were the real leaders in the world's enmity against Christ, and in the crucifying of their own Messiah. The cross of Christ terminated the distinctions between Jew and Gentile; and, founded upon that cross, God is building the Church. The vilest sinners upon the face of the earth, whether Jew or Gentile, God takes up; and, out of their condition of sin and distance from God, He puts them all upon one common heavenly level as members of the body of Christ. This is what God is doing now, and it is of immense importance to understand it, in order to enjoy fellowship with His ways. Besides, the whole Bible becomes practically a new and yet more precious book when this is understood. Truth cannot admit of compromise, however rightly we may seek to be patient; the revealed mind of God necessarily excludes the notion of people having their own private judgment. Neither you nor I have a right to an opinion on matters of faith. God is the only one entitled to speak on these things; and He has spoken so plainly that it is our sin if we do not hear Him. But you cannot sever truth from the spiritual affections. Hence, if people do not carry out the truth of the Church practically, they lose it, and become bitter against it. God's mind about the Church always brings him who knows it into the world's enmity, and the special enmity of Christians who do not understand it. It was so with St. Paul pre-eminently, and it has been the same tale ever since, as souls have laid hold of his testimony; and so it must be. The doctrine that Paul held, if taught by the Spirit of God, never can admit of a party, because the very centre of it is Christ in heaven.
The apostle goes on with his statement; and this is the particular phase of the mystery that he brings out here - "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel; whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power." What is the effect of this truth? The most humbling possible. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." It brings out the value of Christ as nothing else does. He adds further, "And to make all men see what is the administration [not, fellowship] of the mystery." He shows thus, that besides the aspect of the mystery towards the saints, it has also its application to all men, without distinction - to those outside the Church. Persons who preach the gospel necessarily preach Christ; but there are few who understand the character of the grace which unites the soul with Christ in the relationship of members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. This was a main part of Paul's work. Therefore he adds, administration of the mystery, "which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ." Mark, it is not hid in the Scriptures, but "hid in God." "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God."
Let us consider what a wonderful place this is - that God is now making known a new kind of wisdom to the angels above by His dealings with us; and, by us, I mean all the saints of God now on earth. For let them be called by whatsoever name, every saint of God is a member of the body of Christ. All belong truly and equally to the Church of God. One cannot but sorrow that so few understand or care what the Church of God is, and to act upon it. We ought to know what God intends, and how He intends His Church to walk. Christ is equally possessed by all; but all do not equally understand what the will of God about His Church is; how He would have us to worship Him, and to act upon His word together; how to help one another to carry out this glorious truth - God is manifesting by the Church His varied wisdom. Are we walking so according to the will of God for His Church, that He can point to us as a lesson to the angels of God? Such, and no less than this, is God's intention. You cannot, surely, get rid of the responsibility connected with it, by refusing to act according to it! It is not by and by, when we reach heaven, that God will manifest by the Church His manifold wisdom to the heavenly hosts; but now on earth while the members of the Church are being called. "That now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." Does not this bring in serious considerations? It is not a question of what men think about us, and whether we are loved or disliked here below. Very sure I am, that if we are walking according to Christ, we never can be anything but hated by the world; and it shows that we value the world if we wish otherwise. It is a most painful thing to feel that so it must be; but if I believe Christ, I must believe this, and I ought to rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer in the least degree. But besides this, the Church is called to be the lesson-book for the angels of God. When we think that God is overlooking with the angels that surround Him; that He is occupied with such objects as we are; that He sees in them the dearest objects of His affections; that He has given them Christ to be their life; and sent down the Holy Ghost, that blessed person of the Trinity, to take up His dwelling-place in them, and make them to be His temple, while they are in this world, what a calling it is! If an angel wants to know where His great love is, he must look down into this world and see it thus. You cannot sever Christ from the Church. But the wonderful thing is, that, before the angels of God, the astonishing conflict is going on - Satan and all his hosts endeavouring to mislead them by putting them on a false ground, preaching righteousness in a thousand forms, in order to lead them away from grace and from the cross of Christ. On the other hand, there you have God working by His word and Spirit to bring His people to a consciousness of their privileges. But whether the children of God are faithful or not, perfect love dwells upon them and acts toward them (it may be in discipline); God is occupied with them, caring for them, always keeping this before His mind, that He will have them perfectly like Christ. Nothing can cloud this. Weakness may for a time dishonour the Lord, and destroy our own comfort, and help on the delusion of the world. All that may be; but the purpose of God, it shall stand; what God has spoken must be accomplished. Our weakness may be manifested, but God in His mighty love will complete His purpose. And this is the way in which He is teaching the principalities and powers in heavenly places a new kind of wisdom, that never was seen before in this world. They had seen God's ways in creation and at the deluge, and in Israel. But here was something that not even the Scriptures of God hinted, that was not promised to man - a thing entirely kept secret between the Father and the Son.
Now it is come out. The Holy Ghost is the One who develops and makes good this glorious truth of the Church of God. How far have our souls entered into it? How far do we content ourselves with vague guesses at it, thinking that it is of no great importance? Willing ignorance of this truth arises from a secret love of the world. There is the feeling in him who declines it, that you cannot take it up in heart and walk with the world. You must thoroughly break with everything that the flesh values under the sun. You have a place above the sun with Christ, and the consequence is that you are called on to submit to the sentence of death on everything here, to glorify the name of Christ and rejoice in Him, whatever may be the will of God about us. For no circumstances shut us out from the responsibility of being the witnesses of a glory that is above this world. The world ought to see in the Church the reflection of Christ. You may find a monk or a nun sweet morally, but all this may be mere nature and not Christ. I do not say that Christ may not be there too, in isolated cases, spite of an outrageously wicked system. To faith, however, it is a question of doing the will of God and of glorifying Christ in the place of earthly reproach. God looks for the confession of the name of His Son at cost of all dear to us. If the world heed it not, is it in vain for the principalities and powers in heavenly places?
On the closing verse or two of the portion just before us, I did not comment. A few words now, therefore, on verses 12, 13. The apostle having alluded to Christ as the One in whom, exalted on high, the eternal purpose of God has now been revealed by the Spirit, adds, that in that same person "we have boldness and access, with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory." Now it is very sweet to find how, even in so vast a subject as that which was occupying his heart and which he was desiring to press upon the saints, he can link on with the highest and deepest counsels of God the very simplest of the fundamental truths on which the believer rests. This is most instructive: because while, on the one hand, we saw before now that it is quite in vain to enter into the nature of the Church without having a simple, clear, and full understanding of the peace which Christ has made and which He is for us in the presence of God; on the other hand, when we do seize in any measure the character of the Church, when we see the astonishing privileges which are ours as being made one with Christ, we regard with a more intense enjoyment the first elements, and we realize the amazing stability of the foundations on which our souls are privileged to stand. Thus one sees God would take care that peace of conscience, and of the heart too, should be kept up practically. There is nothing that is merely given for the wonder of our minds. I do not say that there is not endless matter for admiration or that there is not an infinity to learn; but every step, and indeed the highest attainment of the knowledge of God's purposes in Christ, is intimately linked with the confidence of our souls in His love. So that while we cannot apprehend aright the nature of the Church until we have known simple peace with God, when we do enter into it, that peace is brightened in the heavenly light of the privileges into which the Holy Ghost has been leading our souls. We come back with renewed understanding and deeper enjoyment of the boundless grace which is ours in Christ. Hence it is that having ushered us into this wonderful expanse of God's love and purposes, he for a moment glances at certain practical consequences in us. "In whom," says he, "we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him." It is not only peace, but "we have boldness," which refers more particularly to our speech in addressing God; being able, as it were, to say anything to Him, because of our confidence in His love. And "access with confidence," which is not merely what we utter, but the drawing near to Him, even where there may be no positive going forth of heart in the way of formal prayer; but there is the enjoyment of nearness, "access with confidence by the faith of him." "Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory." Here is another practical fruit of this blessed truth. We saw before how he introduces the unfolding of the Church along with the fact that he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ. At the very moment when he was under the hand of the power of this world, and with the possibility of death before him, the Lord is pleased to bring out through the apostle the glorious calling of the Church. And he reminds them of this again. They might have been cast down at his sufferings. He says, on the contrary, you should not faint; tribulation ought to be rather that which would exercise and strengthen your faith. In 2 Corinthians 1 the apostle speaks of being pressed out of measure, above strength, so that he despaired even of life. But when the Corinthians needed comfort, he had it from God and was able to give it out to them. Now he was under the world's power and in prison, and there God unfolds the glory of the Church. They would, no doubt, be called to suffer too, and would have to know what tribulation was. So that the apostle, in the fulness of his own enjoyment of the truth which enabled him to rejoice even in his sufferings, calls upon them not to faint. So entirely has the Spirit of God united together the saints, not only with Christ, but also with one another, that what Paul was suffering was their glory, not his only. They had a common interest in it as being members of the same body.
"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." (Ver. 14-16.) Here we are on perceptibly different ground, and I may say, higher than that of Ephesians 1. It is one of the two great relationships in which God stands to Christ, and, consequently, to us. For God now acts toward Christ, in view not merely of His person, but of His work. The consequence is that the work efficaciously puts us in the same place before God which belongs to Christ as man, yea, to Christ as man risen from the dead and in heaven. I carefully guard against saying all that Christ is, for this would not be true. We never can share what pertains to Him as the Son of the Father, from all eternity. It were impossible: the very conception of it would be irreverent. No creature can overpass the bounds which separate him from God, neither would a renewed creature desire it. For in truth it is the joy of the most exalted creature to pay the lowliest homage to Him who is above him. Therefore I have little doubt that, in heaven among the angels of God, the highest is he who shows the deepest reverence. So, in earthly things, it is plainly the duty of every one to mark respect to the sovereign; but the one who has the place next to the sovereign has the largest opportunities and the strongest obligation to prove what the sovereign is in his eyes. So with us now in things spiritual.
In this portion, then, we have the second of the two great titles of God in relation to Christ and to us. It is not here, as in Ephesians 1, the God, but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The God of Christ brings out Christ more as the glorious man, which He is - the glorified man in God's presence, the centre of all the counsels of God's power, who is even now exalted in the highest seat in heaven, and all things put under His feet. But it is plain that Christ has that which He values more than all that is set under His dominion - the love and delight of His Father in Him. Even our hearts are capable of understanding and enjoying this in the Holy Spirit. Indeed the time comes in most men's history, even where the world has counted them greatest and happiest, when they find a void that nothing can satisfy. But in Christ's case glory will not be the withering plant that human handling makes it. We know that in His hands it will be equally bright and holy, because God will be the object of it all; and everything, consequently, will be turned to His praise; as it is said, "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." But then no possession of the universe, no expulsion of evil, no righteous judgment, no blessed control of every creature to the glory of God, could possibly satisfy the heart. There will be the salt of the everlasting covenant of God in it: the constant maintenance of God's will and glory will be felt. But there is something sweeter than any power, let it be ever so glorious or howsoever administered; and this we have here. It is the Father's love which is above all. The effect of the first prayer is, that you look down upon the immense scene that is put under Christ; and it is intended of God that you should. But the effect of the second is rather, you look up in the enjoyment of the love that is the secret of the glory, the glory being the effect and fruit of the love, and that which evidences what the love must have been, that has given such glory. But blessed as glory is, the love that gives the glory is still deeper and better. And hence when our Lord in John 17 prays for the saints - when He says, "The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them," what is it for? "That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me." This is the object of it. All are made perfect in one in that glory; but the end of this manifestation of glory is that the world may know how much the Father loved them. Thus, the glory that is seen, blessed as it must be, is not the end of everything. There was love before there was glory. And while I would not assert that there will be love after there is glory, still I do say that what produces, gives, and maintains the glory, is better than the glory itself. Ay, and there is nothing in all the thoughts of God more wondrous than that God can love such as we are with the same love wherewith He loves His Son. And He does so love us; I know it for myself, and dishonour His word if I do not know it. If He says it, is it not that I may believe it and take it home to my heart, and enjoy it now in this world? - that I may use it as my constant buckler against everything that flesh, or world, or Satan can insinuate against me? He loves us as He loved Him. Do not say it is too high a thought. I know nothing so humiliating - that so convicts us of being nothing - as this that, so loved, we should so little feel it; that, so loved, we should so feebly return it; that, so loved, we should yield to the cares, the vanities, the thoughts, the pursuits, anything, in short, that is not according to such love. It is the delight and, if we may so say, the desire of God that those who are His should enter into the greatness of His love. For no glory, nor sense of it, nor confidence in it, nor waiting for it, ought to be enough even for such hearts as ours. It is a wonderful thing to think that we are to share the glory of Christ: but more so that we have the same love. The same God who gives us the glory of Christ, will have our souls enter even now by the Holy Ghost into the community of the same love; and such is the grand central thought of this prayer: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Father of Christ is that relationship which brings out the love, just as the kingdom of Christ is connected with His conferred or human glory. In the one case it is what He is going to do for us. If we think what He did for Adam, what His purpose was about man, what will He not do for the last Adam, even Christ? And all that He does for Him as this blessed, glorious man, He will share with us. But more than this. The love that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bears to Him, He bears also to us. We know how He expressed it when His Son was here - at what striking moments He brought out His love - how jealous He was lest man should suppose that He was indifferent to His beloved Son. Suffering allowed is no proof that He does not love; yea, rather, the contrary - it proves how much, not only He trusts our love, but how much also He would have us to trust His - confiding in Him, that, spite of all appearances, He loves us as He loves His Son. We may be exposed to all that Satan can array against us; but we are only in the same scene which the Son of His own love has trodden before us. But when men might have thought from this or that, that Jesus was no more than any other man, see how God vindicates Him. Thus, it was not only that John the Baptist tried to hinder the Lord Jesus from being baptized, as if He needed to confess anything - for that baptism was a confession of sins; and therefore did John show his astonishment that there should be even the appearance of confession on the part of such an one as Jesus. But God had deeper thoughts, and allows that there should be that which unbelief might torture into the insinuation of evil, but which faith lays hold of, and for which we only adore Him and the Lamb yet more. So it was that the Father, when His beloved Son rose out of the Jordan, where all others were confessing unrighteousness - where He was fulfilling all righteousness - where He who had no unrighteousness to confess, still would not be severed from those who were doing that which became their unrighteousness, who were owning the God whose rights had been forgotten - when, in sympathy with the holy feeling that led them there, He would be with them there: then it was that the Father declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It was just at the right moment, and with the fullest wisdom; but with what love the Father uttered these words! He that served Him as He never was served before - He that glorified Him as God never had been glorified on this earth - He that finished the work which God had given Him to do - was God likely to betray the smallest turning aside of His heart from Him? But yet we know that at the moment when He most of all needed it, when all else was against Him, then, crowning all, God forsook Him. If sin was to be judged and put away for ever, it must be judged in all its reality. There must be no sparing, nor mitigating the wrath of God about sin. The whole judgment of God fell upon Him. The work was done: sin was put away by the sacrifice of Himself.
And now all the love which the Father had towards this Blessed One can flow out to us on the ground of that work. It is there that the apostle puts us, brought into the place of sons with the Father; and he bows his knee to the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every family in heaven and earth is named." The expression "the whole family" is jumbled up with people's notions about the Church, as if part were supposed to be in heaven and part on earth. But the real force is "every family." There is no reference to the unity of the Church here. On the contrary, he means that when we look at the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, we rise sufficiently high to take in every class of creatures that God has made. Supposing you look at God as He made Himself known of old, it was as Jehovah to Israel. Does every family in heaven and earth come under this title? Not a single family in heaven, and only one family on earth. Under the title of Jehovah there is a separate relationship in which God reveals Himself to the Jews. He was their God in a sense in which He was not the God of any other people. As Creator, He is the God of all; and thus in some scriptures the term "God" is used, not Jehovah, because of a certain dealing with Gentiles. But where it concerns the ancient people of God, he uses the term Jehovah. Nay, in the second book of Psalms, when the Holy Ghost is contemplating the godly Jew cleaving to God far from His temple, we have not Jehovah prominent, but "God;" for they are not able to enjoy what is specially given to Israel. He never will cease to be God; and they find their blessing in this - come what may - God cannot deny Himself. They are outside the special place in which He had promised to bless them; but God was God everywhere. So that, if they were cast out of the Holy Land, and could not go up to the temple to worship according to the law, God could never cease to be God. It is the very same principle of grace that Christ was bringing down the poor Syrophenician woman to; for we must always come to our true position; and the same thing in substance is verified in every real conversion. I must always be brought down to the truth of what I am, as well as receive the truth of what God is; and then there is no limit to the blessing.
I have just referred to this, by the way, for the purpose of illustrating by contrast the phrase "every family in heaven and in earth." When God was revealing Himself in special relationship with Israel, it was as Jehovah. In Daniel we hear not of Jehovah, but the God of heaven, clearly in contradistinction to God revealing Himself on the earth to a certain people to which He gave a peculiar land and privileges that no other nation shared along with them. They go after false gods: He takes His place in heaven, and falls back upon what never could be denied, and as "the God of heaven" He says, I will choose now whom I will; I will take the very worst people in the whole world, and will give them the empire of the earth. So He chose the enemy of the Jew - the Babylonians. If God is acting thus sovereignly, as the God of heaven, the vilest may have the power here below. But "there is a God that judgeth the earth;" and when the day comes to verify this, it will be in the midst of His people as Jehovah. Looked at in this way, He has only one family that stands in covenant relationship to Himself: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." But here we have the contrast. He is revealed not merely as Jehovah, having Israel, His people, upon earth, but as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." The moment He speaks in such a relationship as this, it is expressly in association with One who made everything, as was said before, "who created all things by Jesus Christ." All creatures therefore come into view, and find their due place with Him as the Father, because the Lord Jesus is He who formed all, and for whose glory all was made. Hence all families in heaven and in earth, let them be principalities and powers, angels, Jews or Gentiles, as well as the Church of God - all come under "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." The title of Jehovah is restricted to a particular race: the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is unlimited in its range and brings in every class of beings that God has made.
This puts the Church in a most remarkable position, taking us away from all that is local or temporary. We ourselves may have the most special place within this display of divine glory, but still we have to do with a God and Father who is the proclaimed and supreme source of everything else. We may be, we are, if we understand the calling of the Church, near to Him, in a place that none can share, a nearness that no angel enjoys. I mean by "we," all the members of the Church of God. We have by grace a place of association with Christ before God, which none others enter. But as He is revealing Himself in connection with Christ as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, so He brings in other classes of beings that He has made for the purpose of His giving blessing in their suited measure. He has brought out the heir and centre of all His purposes, and there is not a single class of beings that He has made for His praise, but what are put in their proper place before the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in contrast with the peculiarity of the Jew as being the sole possessor of the privileges God gave to them as Jehovah. The Father is Jehovah, and so is Jesus; but it is not thus that we have to do with Him; nor is this our intelligent character of address to Him. It is to the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ that the apostle is here bending his knees. And we ought to be conscious that we are drawing near to Him in the full nearness that such a title implies. He takes within His eye and heart all the creation as that which He means to bless with Christ. But there are those that have rejected Christ; and, remember, God's very same love of Christ which means to bless the creation through Christ, will maintain His glory against those who despise Him. This is a solemn truth. There is nothing more intolerant of evil than love, and the gospel of God has, as its background, the eternal condemnation of every soul that despises Jesus, the Son of God. It must be so. The same disciple that was the favoured one of God to bring out love as none other had done, is the one who brings out the eternal death of those who refuse His love. The revelation, therefore, of the endless ruin of those that despise Christ, is in the closest possible connection with the love that brings out the everlasting blessedness of those that cleave to Him. Thus we have this universality brought in, "Of whom the every family in heaven and earth is named."
But there are, by grace, those who will have that which is most peculiar, which in nearest to His heart in the midst of this scene of love and glory. For these the prayer is, "That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man: that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; being rooted and grounded in love, that ye may be fully able to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height." The prayer in chapter 1 was for a deep and real apprehension of their standing before God; here it is rather for practical, inward power by the Holy Ghost. That was that they might know better their place in Christ, as to the call of grace and the inheritance of glory; this isthat Christ might have His place in their hearts by faith. In a word, it is here a question of actual state, of the affections having Christ within, of being rooted and grounded in love, that they might be thoroughly able (for so it means) to apprehend that which is indeed measureless. The apostle does not say of what - he leaves you there without any ending to the sentence. He brings you into infinity. I do not believe that it means the breadth, length, depth, and height of the love of Christ. The passage is often quoted so, and oftener so understood; but the "and" of the next verse indicates another sense distinctly: - "And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." The love of Christ is evidently an additional thought. What then is the meaning? If it were not too bold to fill up an outline which the apostle has left thus vaguely, I might venture to think that what he puts before us here, with such singular marks of undefined grandeur, is the mystery of which he had been speaking, and assuredly not Christ's love, which he immediately adjoins. He had shown how every family in heaven and earth is ranged under Him who is the Father of the Lord Jesus. In connection with this he prays, that they might be able to apprehend with all saints "what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height." It is in relation to the heavenly counsel of God the Father, once a secret, but now disclosed. All things were for the glory of His Son - the whole creation, heavenly and earthly; and the saints are to have the very highest place with Him over it all.
But there was something still deeper than this, and which needed to be known along with it. Therefore he adds, "And to know the love of Christ which surpasseth knowledge, that ye might be filled to all the fulness of God." Glorious as all these prospects are, what can compare with His love? The best wine is kept to the last. "To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." It may seem to be a paradox to say so, but a blessed one. He does not mean that we shall ever know it perfectly. But there may be the knowing more and more of that which surpasses knowledge. He supposes us launched upon that sea where there is no shore: we can never reach the end of His love. Yet he speaks of knowing the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ; "that ye might be filled to all the fulness of God." You could no more get to the end of the love, than you could get to the end of God Himself. Nothing can be more wonderful than such a desire for us, feeble creatures as we are, "that ye might be filled to all the fulness of God." And yet it is for the saints now that the apostle thus prayed; not that we might know ourselves to be Christ's body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all, but practically enlarged entrance by the power of the Spirit into God's fulness. It is the heart's condition, and real growth in communion with God that is before us here; and this most appropriately after the standing has been treated, and before the exhortations as to walk and conduct.
Hence further, "Now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think." He does not say, above all that we can ask or think. The Holy Ghost takes particular care not to say so. There is some difference to be remarked between what we do and what we can ask and think. There is no limit to what we may ask, save that God is above anything that can be asked of Him; yet He loves to hear us asking more and more. He would exercise us in asking more abundantly.
Thus there is dependence on God, "according to the power that worketh in us." Whose power is this? It is God's, who Himself dwells in every Christian. It is God Himself who makes every saint now, every Christian, to be His temple. Therefore, however poor and weak the believer may be, looked as he is, yet what cannot God make such an one to be? He is the temple of God. God will always be above him, higher than any man's expectations of His love; but it is taken into account that there is a power which now works in us, as well as a power which has wrought for us, to which we can set no limits. As to the power that wrought for us, we see it in Ephesians 1. This was the power which raised up Christ from the dead. Yes, it is the same power that wrought to usward, that has raised us up from our death, and that raised up Christ from the dead. But now He goes farther, and points to the power that works in us to give us entrance into His love and God's fulness. Do we remember that this is precisely the thing in which we most fail? For there is many a soul constantly proving how little it thinks of this power; how apt it is to be murmuring, and tried by the very things which, if it only had the sense of His love, it would bless Him for. "To him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." In what a special point of view the Church appears! He intimates that there will never be a time when the Church will not have its own peculiar place. But it is not only true that the saints ought to have a wonderful introduction into the love of Christ and the fulness of God, by His power that works in us now; but it would appear also that there never will be a time, in all the ages to come, when there will not be an unique and blessed character of relationship between the Church as such and God Himself - the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is confirmed by the beautiful scene in Revelation 21, where we have no longer nations and kings, but God with men. There it is not said simply, "Behold, God is come to dwell with men," but His tabernacle. It is not only that God then deigns to dwell with men, but "the tabernacle of God is with men." It seems exactly the same thing that is here called the Church. God, dwelling in the Church, will take up His place with men; so that the peculiar dwelling-place of God in the Church will continue, even when the scene is an eternal one. Thus, when the heavens and earth have passed away, after the great white throne, and when all the saints will be in their resurrection bodies, then not only will God be in face of men, but "the tabernacle of God" will come down to be with men - God dwelling with them in His own tabernacle, which tabernacle can hardly but be that which is here called the Church. So that the Church, even in eternity, when all enemies and things shall be subdued, will enjoy the sweet and amazing privilege of being the home or dwelling-place of God. What manner of persons, then, ought we to be in holy conversation and godliness!
Thus there is dependence on God, but it is One who is able to bless us unlimitedly, "according to the power that worketh in us."