Eph_1:3-12. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
IN our progress through the Holy Scriptures, we are necessitated to investigate, in its turn, every doctrine of our holy religion. There are indeed some doctrines which appear to be almost wholly proscribed: but we do not conceive ourselves at liberty to pass over any part of the sacred records as improper for discussion, provided we enter into it with the humility and modesty that become us. It is undeniable that the Apostles mention occasionally, and without the smallest appearance of hesitation, the doctrines of predestination and election: and therefore we are bound to explore the meaning of the inspired writers in reference to these passages, as well as to any others. We are aware that great difficulties attend the explanation of these doctrines; (though certainly not greater than attend the denial of them:) and we are aware also, that they are open to abuse: but there is no doctrine which has not its difficulties; nor any which has not been abused: and, that we may not be supposed to entertain an undue partiality for these obnoxious tenets, or to wish to establish them on inadequate grounds, we have selected a large portion of Scripture which cannot easily be perverted; and which is indeed so plain, that it speaks for itself. We shall be careful also to bring them forward precisely in the way in which they are declared by the Apostles themselves, that is, not in a speculative and controversial way, but in a practical manner, as incentives to holy gratitude and obedience.
St. Paul, under a deep sense of the mercies vouchsafed to himself and to the whole Church at Ephesus, breaks forth into the devoutest acknowledgments to that God from whom they had flowed, and to whom all possible thanks and praise were due.
In considering his words, we shall shew,
What are those blessings which we have received from our God—
“He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings”—
[The Ephesian Church, though chiefly composed of Gentiles,) consisted in part of Jews also [Note: Act_18:19-20; Act_18:24; Act_18:28. with ver. 11, 12, 13. of our text, where the distinction is made between “we” Jews “who first trusted in Christ,” and “ye” Gentiles who believed afterwards. See also Gal_2:16-18.]. And, though it is possible there might be some hypocrites there, as well as in other Churches, St. Paul does not stop to make distinctions of that kind, but speaks of them all in the judgment of charity, as real Christians, and partakers of all the blessings which by their profession they were supposed to possess. As believers, they had been blessed with “spiritual blessings in heavenly things [Note: See the margin.],” widely different from those which were possessed by any “natural man,” and from those which the earthly and carnal Jews expected their Messiah to bestow. Of these, some of the principal are here enumerated.
God has adopted us into his family—dealt with us as children—and given to us the inheritance of children.
Once the believer was “afar off” from God, being an “alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:” but by an act of rich mercy and grace he has been adopted by God, and made to stand in the relation to him of a child to a father. Though he neither has any thing, nor ever can have any thing, that can recommend him to God, yet “is he accepted” to the Divine favour, having all Ins past iniquities “forgiven,” and his soul washed from all its stains, in “the Redeemer’s blood.” Being thus brought into the nearest relation to God, he is treated, “not as a servant, who knows not what his lord doeth; but as a son,” who may fitly be made acquainted with all his Father’s will. To him is that stupendous mystery made known, that, in the time appointed of the Father, the whole intelligent creation of men and angels, who were once of one family, but were separated by the fall of man, shall be brought once more under the same Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who at first created them, and to whom originally they paid all due allegiance. As to men, there should be no difference between them in this respect: the common Father of all would equally receive all, whether Jews or Gentiles, and incorporate them all into one body, who should equally and without any distinction be partakers of his grace, and heirs of his glory. For all of them without exception, provided only they believe in him, he has provided an inheritance, to which, on the instant that they believe in him, they become entitled, and which, after the period fixed for their abode on earth, they shall possess to all eternity.]
These spiritual blessings are given to us “in Christ”—
[All of them without exception are the purchase of his blood, the fruit of his intercession, and the gifts of his grace. They are all treasured up in him; and when He is given to us, they are made over to us, as the ore in the mine. They were all given to Him, in the first instance, as our head and representative, and can be possessed by us only as we are found in him. Are we chosen? it is “in him.” Are we predestinated to the adoption of children? it is “in him.”) Are we accepted? it is “in him.” Are we forgiven? it is “in him.” Are we brought into one body? it is “in him.” Have we obtained an inheritance? it is “in him.” Are we “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, as the earnest of that inheritance?” it is “in him.” Are we blessed with all spiritual blessings? it is “in him,” and in him alone. O that we were more sensible of our obligations to Christ in reference to these things! Is it not surprising, that any one can read the passage before us, and overlook Christ, who throughout the whole of it is represented as the “All in all?” Let this be borne in mind: that, whilst all is traced to the Father as the original source, all must be referred to Christ as the procuring cause, and be received from Christ as the fountain-head: and it is only by receiving Christ himself that we can ever partake of any one of his benefits.]
Having noticed the benefits given to us in Christ, we proceed to shew,
In what way he has communicated them to us—
On this depends, in a great measure, the debt of gratitude we owe him. If in the bestowment of them he has been forestalled by earnest solicitations on our part, and been prevailed upon only by the great and meritorious services which we have rendered to him, then, though we have reason to bless him, we have also reason to bless ourselves, and may justly claim for ourselves some part of the honour of our own salvation. But he has communicated these blessings to us,
In a way of sovereignty—
[He is a Sovereign; and it is only of his own will and pleasure that he has formed any creature whatsoever. We feel his sovereignty in this respect. Let any man ask himself, ‘Why was I created at all? Why formed a man, and not a beast? Why was I born of Christian, and not of heathen, parents? Why under the meridian splendour of Gospel light, and not in the darker ages of the Church? Why was I preserved in life, whilst millions have closed their eyes upon this world as soon as they were brought into it? Why was I endued with intelligence, whilst so many are in a state of idiotcy, and devoid of reason?’ To all such questions there is but one answer; “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” And this is the true answer that must be given to all inquiries respecting the spiritual blessings which he has bestowed upon us: they are all the fruit of his free and sovereign grace: “He has chosen us from before the foundation of the world,” and “predestinated us to the enjoyment of them.” He has done this purely “of his own will and pleasure:” and in doing it, he has consulted nothing but his own glory: it has been “according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace [Note: ver. 5, 6.].” Yet, whilst his predestination of us is the result of “his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself,” and can be referred to nothing but “his own purpose and grace,” we are not to imagine that he is actuated by a mere arbitrary volition; for it is a volition founded in “counsel [Note: ver. 9, 11. with 2Ti_1:9.],” though the reasons by which he is actuated are unknown to us. Were this doctrine dependent only on a single expression, we should speak of it with the more diffidence: but, in the passage before us, it is as the warp, which pervades the whole piece: it cannot, like the woof, be separated, and made to give way to some more palatable sentiment: it is impossible for any man to read the passage with an unprejudiced mind, and not to acknowledge, that this is its obvious import; and that nothing but the most determined efforts of ingenious and laboured criticism can extract from it any other meaning.]
In a way of holiness—
[One ground on which many object to the doctrines of election and predestination is, that these doctrines are hostile to the interests of morality. But for such an objection there is no real foundation. On the contrary, they are the greatest security of a life of holiness, seeing that they have insured to us the attainment of holiness as a preparation for the ultimate possession of glory. God, we are told, has “chosen us:” but to what has he chosen us? to salvation independent of holiness? No; but to salvation in the way of holiness: He has chosen us, “that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love.” Here it deserves particular attention, that God has not chosen us because we were holy, or because he foresaw we should become holy, but in order that we might be holy: he has chosen us to holiness as the means, as well as to glory as the end. He has ordained both the means and the end; and the end solely by the means. Hence, wherever election and predestination are spoken of, they are spoken of in this view, as having respect to holiness, and as assuring to us the attainment of holiness: God has chosen us “through sanctification of the Spirit, as well as through the belief of the truth [Note: 2Th_2:13. 1Pe_1:2.],” and has “predestinated us to be conformed to the image of his Son [Note: Rom_8:29.].”
Let this be duly considered, and it will remove the greatest obstruction in our minds to the reception of these deep mysterious truths. When once we see, that they secure infallibly the attainment of holiness in the way to glory, and that no man is entitled to think himself one of God’s elect, any farther than the holiness of his life bears testimony to him, we shall soon renounce our prejudices, and willingly concede to sovereign grace the whole glory of our salvation.]
In a way of wisdom and prudence—
[Truly this great salvation is the most stupendous effort both of wisdom and prudence; of wisdom, in its contrivance, and of prudence, in its administration. How wonderfully does it mark Grod’s indignation against sin, even at the moment that it extends mercy to the sinner; since it shews the sinner, and constrains him to acknowledge, that, if the wrath due to him had not been borne by his Surety, he never could have been saved at all. It shews him farther, that in this way of salvation through the sacrifice of the Son of God, all the Divine perfections are glorified; insomuch that, whilst the claims of justice and mercy appear to oppose each other, they so harmonize together, that justice is exercised in a way of mercy, and mercy in a way of justice. Further, in this way of salvation the soul of the believer is so penetrated with wonder and with love, that he cannot but yield himself up unreservedly to God, and count a thousand lives too little to consecrate to his service, or to sacrifice for his glory. Nor is there less of prudence in the administration of it, than there is of wisdom in its contrivance: for, notwithstanding it is dispensed in a sovereign way altogether according to God’s good pleasure, he never interferes with the liberty of the human will, nor ever draws any one but by “the cords of a man.” It is by presenting truth to the mind, and motives to the heart, that he overcomes men, and “makes them willing in the day of his power.” Infinitely various are the ways in which he dispenses his blessings: and even at this time his people are able to see most unsearchable wisdom in the way in which he has dealt with them, so as to make them see in the clearest light the extent of their obligations to him, and to furnish them with songs of praise, which each is ready to think he shall sing the loudest of any in the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, so infallible are the means he uses, that he never failed in any one instance to accomplish in any soul the purposes of his grace, or to carry on and perfect the work he had begun. Well then may it he said, in reference to “the riches of his grace” which he has dispensed to us, that “he hath abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence.”]
Those who are not able to receive these mysterious truths—
[We are far from thinking that the doctrines of election and predestination are of primary and fundamental importance. We well know that many eminently pious persons have not been able to receive them: and we have no doubt but that a person may serve God most acceptably, though he should not have an insight into these mysterious truths. We only ask, that you will be content to wave them for the present, and not set yourselves against them, as too many are apt to do. If you have not a preparation of mind for the reception of them, you will only perplex yourselves by dwelling upon them, and give advantage to Satan to distress your minds. Be content to receive for the present the fundamental doctrines of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; and seek to experience them in their full extent. Contemplate the blessings with which God the Father hath blessed you through the mediation of his Son; and ever bear in mind, that you are indebted for them all to the Father, as the original source of all; to the Son, as procuring them for you by the virtue of his death; and to the Holy Spirit, as the great agent by whom they are communicated to your souls. Enjoy them in this view, and bless God for them in this view, and “what else you know not now, you shall know hereafter.”]
Those who have embraced them, and found delight in them—
[Enjoy them for yourselves; but do not unnecessarily obtrude them upon others. Give milk to babes, and strong meat to those only who are of age to digest it. Be careful too that you do not in any respect abuse them, as the habit of too many is. The decrees of God do not supersede the necessity of fear and watchfulness on your part. The hour that you begin to relax your diligence, from an idea that God will carry on his work in you at all events, you provoke God to abandon you to yourselves, and to give you up to the delusions of your own hearts. It is by your lives only that you can know your election of God [Note: 1Th_1:3-4.]: and if you are not making advancement in holiness, you have no reason whatever to hope that you shall ever attain to glory; seeing it is by the means only that you can ever attain the end. If you would make a legitimate improvement of these doctrines, use them as means of exciting the deeper gratitude to God. Trace up to God’s electing love and predestinating grace every blessing you either enjoy or hope for: and get your hearts more in unison with that of the Apostle, when he burst forth into that song of praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ!” Then shall you find that these truths, which are a stumbling-block to many, shall to you be as marrow and fatness to your souls.]