Ephesians 1

Lectures on the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle, to the Ephesians with a new translation.

It must be manifest to the most casual reader of the epistle that we are upon very high and holy ground here. Let none suppose that this is to impeach other portions of the inspired scriptures. But who can deny that in revealing His mind, God has been pleased to employ different instruments and with various measures? He could, if He pleased, have written all by one. He could have revealed Himself by all according to the full height of His own glory and nothing else. But we may be quite sure that the ways of God are as admirable in the forms which His revelation takes, as in all other things which He has made for His praise. These diverse manners of developing His nature and character, His counsels and ways, display His glory in an infinitely more blessed light than if there had been one unvarying blaze of brightness. And the same wisdom which works best for His majesty and praise, is precisely that which is suited to the wants, and efficacious for the blessing of His children. Need I say, that a revelation, while it is from God is for His people? No doubt, it does glorify Him; but God, when He speaks, has an object in view, and provides graciously for those to whom He addresses Himself. The revelations of God, therefore, while they flow from God, and are worthy of God, necessarily pre-suppose, and are adapted to, the condition of man. Now this, far from, in the smallest degree, lessening the divine glory which manifests itself in the successive parts of God’s word, on the contrary, enhances it infinitely, and proves that it is His, by nothing more than its wonderful suitability to poor sinners, brought out of their low estate, in His rich mercy, and adopted into His family by faith in Christ Jesus.

Now, of all the epistles of St. Paul, I am not aware of any one which rises so high as this to the Ephesians; and one cannot doubt that there was a harmony between the condition of these saints themselves, and the manner and measure of the Spirit’s communications to them. We find it so elsewhere. In addressing the saints at Rome, they were not called a church; they were, indeed, in an infantine state. There were blessed saints of God there, but the assembly was not founded by an apostle. Years passed before ever an apostle went to Rome. God saw well that this very city of Rome would arrogate to itself enormous claims of a spiritual character. Therefore He took care that more inconsiderable places, such as Corinth, etc., should have an apostle to found churches and labour there for a considerable time; while the great centre of the world’s glory was unvisited by an apostle till there were many assembled there, through persons going thither from one cause and another. When we consider the circumstances of the Roman saints, we can understand the propriety of addressing an epistle to them which strongly resembles a comprehensive scheme of christian doctrine from the very alphabet of truth. And, hence, the very first thing that we have proved there, after the introduction, is the total ruin of man, and of man looked at in every point of view — man examined, and weighed in the balances of God, from the flood downwards. After man had possessed a knowledge of God of an outward sort, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God. In fact we have the origin of idolatry shown; and also the time after the flood before idolatry came in. The verses I have referred to in Romans 1, bear upon the time when there was simply the race possessing the knowledge of God. But man departed from it, corrupting himself; and we have the awful picture of human depravity traced in the early chapters. Next, we have philosophic man; and then man under the law — man in every point of view — before the subject of redemption is treated of, or anything is said of the way to be justified. The reason is this: the apostle never having been there, the saints at Rome were comparatively ignorant, and required to be instructed in the nature and fatal issues of the fall. They needed to learn what the history of man is, as God looks at and thinks of it. Therefore, we have him seen as ruined in every way, and no help for him in the creature, the law, or anything else. Hence the result is, that all are gone out of the way: “there is none righteous, no, not one.” In a word, every mouth is stopped, and the whole world become guilty before God. Then, and not till then, we have the provision God has made in His righteous mercy for man, in Romans 3 and Romans 4; and from Romans 5, consequences shown and difficulties met, winding up with the triumphant conclusion of Romans 7.

What a weighty summary of christian doctrine, beginning with the actual condition of man, Jew or Gentile, and leading up to the firm footing God has given in Christ, dead and risen, to him that believes! But in all this you have, most important as it is; only the individual. It may be man lost, or man saved; but you have nothing about the Church. It is what pertains to those who are members of the Church, but no such thing appears as the assembly of God treated as such. Man’s ruin and redemption is the theme, with the effects of redemption, and the order of the dispensations, and the practical duties flowing from all. But in Ephesians how totally different! Here, comparatively speaking, man disappears, and God is viewed as acting from Himself.

Hence there is no preface nor proof of what man’s state is. This was not necessary, nor is it the starting-point of the teaching there: in Romans it is; and nothing can be more simple. But in Ephesians, instead of our being raised up from the pit of corruption, in which man lay buried, the very first thing the apostle does is to speak of God in heaven. It is God showering blessing upon man, and not man brought up to God. It is God shown in the ways of His grace and the thoughts of His heart, before even there was a world at all, entirely apart from all questions of Jews or Gentiles. It is God forming a scheme of glory and blessedness for His own praise; God delighting in the display of His goodness, and this for the purpose of blessing, and the very highest, fullest character of blessing. Hence you will find that it is not simply God as God acting towards man, but He has Christ before Him, and hence there is no limit to the blessing. He would have some channel of grace toward us to the full content of His own heart. Now there is no object that could draw out and sustain the delight of God, none that could be in itself an adequate object to look upon with complacency but one, even Christ. As for the angels, He charges them with folly, and yet were they holy. If He scanned lower than the angels, what is there but a world lost in sin? Thus there is but one capable of satisfying the heart and affections of God — Christ Himself.

Having therefore this great truth in hand — God blessing, and Christ the object before God, through whom God is going to bless, according to all that is in His heart, we also find that He is named as a Blesser in a twofold manner. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” These two titles are really the key to the epistle. And I must be permitted to press strongly the importance of weighing words in Scripture. When we have to do with mankind, we must not make a person an offender for a word. But God needs no excuses for His word. Whatever allowance we might make for the slips of one another, with Scripture the occasion can never arise. When we draw near and listen to Him, the only proper attitude is to bow and worship. And, therefore, in this epistle, which is so full an expression of His love, the apostle opens it thus, “Blessed be the God and Father,” etc. He could not write to the Ephesians without breaking out into the praise and worship of God. Elsewhere you will find him blessing God, but where he does so, as in 2 Corinthians 2:14, there were special circumstances that called it out. But not so here. At Corinth there was a blessed intervention of God’s grace, breaking down the proud hearts of wayward disciples there, making them ashamed of themselves. But in Ephesians it was apart from passing circumstances, save that he saw them in such a condition of soul that they were capable of going on with God, entering into His thoughts and counsels. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” was not because of some peculiar mercy, or comfort; but it flows from what He always is to us. For this very reason many saints may be unable to enter in. Some are apt to be particularly alive to, and touched by, sensible tokens, from day to day, and now and then extraordinary providential interventions of God. Perhaps they are in great trial, and God brings them a fresh blessing too out of it. But here the Ephesians were so simple and willing to go on with God that the apostle, instead of being detained by their state, could but speak in praise and thanksgiving. It is very blessed when there is such happy communion given in having to do with one another.

It is true, again, that before he enters upon what I shall endeavour to develop, he introduces himself as an apostle. He does not say “servant” here; in writing to the Romans he does. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” He was indeed Christ’s bondman. Why should Paul be writing to them? He was His servant. Did not they belong to Jesus? There was no such thought as “independency” sanctioned in those days — no such practice as little districts or assemblies belonging to this man or that; but the Church everywhere the loved object of the Lord’s servants. He is a true servant who is able to realize that he is the bondsman of Jesus Christ; and he will serve souls best who most realizes what it is to serve the Lord. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called [to be] an apostle.” He was an apostle by the calling of God. At this time there was no such thing as a congregation giving a candidate “a call.” Paul was an apostle called of God, and they were saints called of God, and they knew it. It was very sweet for them to think they had been thus called. They were in their measure treading the path of Christ, and the apostle was His servant and an apostle also. His object was to bring his apostleship into relief. But they at Corinth were in danger of beginning to stand in doubt of him and of thinking that to Jerusalem they ought to look. He thoroughly owns the common place of a brother; but if persons like the Corinthians were raising their heads too high, he says, “an apostle” simply, without adding “servant.” If a dispute arose about the point, he proves the reality of his call. In addressing the Galatians I have shown elsewhere what peculiar force there is in his introduction of himself. “Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man),” etc. Here you have controversy at once, but of divine temper and strength. There were false principles in Galatia, and therefore he uses energetic, urgent language in writing to the saints They were adopting Jewish notions about earthly succession. The apostle, therefore, takes the very highest ground, and shows that while he fully acknowledged the twelve in their place, he would not, in what touched the truth of the gospel, give place by subjection, no, not for an hour; so that the whole epistle bears the stamp of the unqualified re-assertion of the call of grace and its heavenly character, founded upon the death and resurrection of Christ.

In Ephesians he has no object of a controversial kind, nor of laying down the christian foundations of truth, as in the case of the Roman saints. But he does put forward his apostolic function — “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He shows fully out of what it sprang; that same “will of God,” out of which flowed their own blessing. He is about to trace, first the individual blessing, and then the corporate. It is quite a mistake to suppose that the former is a deeper thing than the latter. On the contrary, our highest blessings are connected with what we have as individuals. Fully acknowledging the blessedness of what is corporate, what we have individually is higher still; and it is the way of God’s Spirit to begin with this before entering upon what is common. Hence I think he here addresses “the saints which were at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus,” as such. They were the, Church there, not only gathered formally, but intelligently so. They had had the Apostle Paul there, who had been God’s instrument in that work. There were twelve men who believed before Paul went there; but they never received the Holy Ghost after the Pentecost sort till Paul’s visit. It is the personal presence of the Holy Ghost, founded upon our faith in Christ dead and risen, that brings us into this church character. But the Holy Ghost, besides making us members of Christ’s body, the Church, also gives us the consciousness of our relationship as sons with His God and Father. He addresses “the Church of God at Corinth” as such, when he is speaking of points that concern order and discipline. Here he is going to look at the Church in a far higher point of view; yet he begins with what is individual: “To the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then he introduces the twofold title of God already referred to — the same that our Lord announced when He rose from the dead, and sent the first message given to His disciples, by Mary Magdalene: “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God” — not “to the Almighty God,” or “to Jehovah.”

Our Lord stood in a twofold relation to God; He was Son of God, not only as a divine person, but as man in the world (Luke 1); besides His highest personal glory which shines through John’s Gospel, etc. “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” This last title refers to Christ, viewed in humanity in this world; and it is therefore stated only in the Gospel of Luke, which is pre-eminently the human biography, if I may so speak, of Christ. But it might not have been known, unless God has told us, that He carried that same relationship as man into His resurrection. He teaches us that death and resurrection gave Him title in God’s righteousness to put us in His position. So that He could for the first time say, in the fulness of meaning which those words convey, “I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” He is now not merely “my Father” and “my God,” but “your Father” and “your God.”

The death of Christ had completely obliterated all that was against the children of God: the resurrection of Christ, after redemption was effected, enabled Him to give them His place of resurrection and sonship before God. And what a wonderful place is this! To think that now, even while we are in this world, our Lord would have us to know that we are sons, in and through Him, before our God, and that we are instinct with resurrection-life — “alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord;” that we stand before God without a single charge or condemnation, and this, because He had taken by grace the “same condemnation” with the guilty on the cross. He was the “holy thing” — we unholy, altogether undone. But on the cross He was made sin for us, and entered the same condemnation — made it His own on the cross; and now there is none for me. I am brought into the same place that He had as the risen one before God. Of course I am not speaking now of His divine glory. The notion of the creature, no matter how blest, being in any other position than that of looking up to God and worshipping Him, could not enter a renewed mind. The Lord Jesus was Son in His divine nature from all eternity; but as man, too, He was Son; and also as risen from the dead. And by His death and resurrection, He brings us in before God and His Father, having the same position as Himself, so far as to be sons, absolutely without sin in our new nature, and freed from condemnation before God because the old nature is already judged. The new nature requires none to die for it, but the old did; and all is done. In Christ crucified, God condemned sin in the flesh, and to faith all the evil is gone: The blessedness of Christ is now made ours, and we can look up and say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” One great mischief that is done to the practical power of Christianity is the putting off the blessing, which the Holy Ghost attaches to us now, till we leave this world and get to heaven.

Suppose you were to tell the great mass of God’s children on the earth, You are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” they would think it rank enthusiasm or mysticism. They are not prepared for such truth, and in general either do not enquire what the verse means, or attenuate it into some mere emotional sentiment. They have no notion that it is a present fact true of all Christians. Though we are not displayed in it yet, it is no question of feeling. May we believe it! Feelings may deceive me, but faith never can. If I see a thing, it is merely my eye that sees. If I believe a truth on God’s word, I am looking at it, in a measure, so to speak, with God’s eyes. The world has a notion that faith only implies confidence as to a thing which is not sure. This is not the meaning of “I believe” in the things of God. My own vision is a poor range of sight; but what of God’s eye? The believer stands upon the highest ground; he rests upon the certainty of what God says. Happiness, too, is the result; for when you believe, you soon begin to feel. If you believe that God has blotted out your sins, you ere long, if not at once, begin to enjoy it. If I look at myself, I shall always see something wrong. How is this? My sins all gone; and yet, if looking within, I see so much that is painful, loathsome, humiliating. The putting away of sin is not a thing that goes on in my heart, but a mighty work that God wrought in the cross of His beloved Son, on which He calls me to rest, because on it He rests. Am I looking for a sign and token in myself? If so, I shall never have an assurance of it on the right ground. If I think that my sins must be forgiven because I am a changed character (as men speak), can I ever have an hour’s real peace? The result must be, that the more one judges himself, the less happy he will be. What God puts before His children is this — that they should be thoroughly happy in the certainty that their sins are gone, through the blood-shedding of Christ, and yet that they should spare nothing they find within them; judging themselves day by day, because Christ has been judged for them, and God has blotted out their sins, and they cannot endure trifling with that which cost the blood of His Son.

Here, however, the first great thought is that “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” It is not redemption, though of course based upon it. I am here upon the earth, and yet I know that I am blest there where Christ is at the right hand of God. Not only have I blessings there, but I am blessed “with all spiritual blessings.” The highest blessing God can confer is that which He gives every child of His in heavenly places in Christ. In these few words we gaze at the height of God’s wonderful counsel about us and love for us. He has thus blessed us according to the fulness of His value for Christ.

The expression “heavenly places” is in contrast with the portion of the Jews, who were blessed in earthly places. If we look at Ezekiel 36, it may bring out more distinctly the character of our blessing in contradistinction to theirs. “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean . . . . And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Thus, there are spiritual mercies mingled with their blessings; but they will be in the land of their fathers, which God is to make good to the generation to come. It is chiefly learned but unspiritual men who make confusion about these matters. If readers were only simple about Scripture, they would not fall into such mistakes. The prophets says, “Ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers.” Nothing can be plainer than this. He is to bless Israel on the earth — in their soul too, no doubt: but the sphere of this blessing is the holy land. It is His earthly people, not the Church, as we shall see lower down. “I will multiply the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen.” Evidently the blessing is in earthly places. I should not find fault with good men trying to give this a spiritual turn and to preach the gospel from it, provided they did not blot out from it the hopes of Israel by and by. Primarily the people there are Israel, and they are to be blessed in this manner. We see the land of Palestine now desolate like a wilderness; but “the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose” in that day. There are certain blessings that apply to the believer now, it is true. To the “water” and “Spirit,” in a wonderfully enlarged and deepened scope, our Lord alludes thus in John 3. But I object to the inference that God has abandoned His people, and that this prophecy about the earthly places should be confounded with our heavenly title. The earth and earthly blessings are here dwelt upon by the Spirit of God. Why should we be jealous about the Jews or the earth either? God has shown us such overflowing and surpassing favour that we may well delight and thank Him that the earth is reserved for His ancient nation.

Now if we turn from this — the predicted blessing of Israel upon the earth — to our own proper blessing in Ephesians, how totally different it is! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” It is God revealing Himself in the fullest manner conceivable. Who was it that knew God pre-eminently? who was the object of God’s love as none had ever been before? If ever there was one who fathomed the full meaning of the words, “My Father,” it was the Lord Jesus. And who but He sounded the depths of “My God?” Yet now, that Blessed One, by redemption and the gift of the Spirit, has capacitated the believer in Him to enjoy the same privilege with Himself. Just in proportion as we receive it with simplicity and judge the old nature (which never enters into it, but only comes as a thick cloud over our blessing), shall we enter into the realization of our blessing.

Israel’s hope is not inward only but outward, in earthly places to be made the most exalted people here below. The scene of our blessing, on the contrary, is in heavenly places, and we are blessed there now in Christ. In a word, a Christian is as one who belongs to the family of the sovereign. There might be reasons of state to make it desirable for the Queen’s heir to pass as a stranger through a foreign land, unknown and unregarded. So with the Christian. He is not of the world nor of the age. His body is of the earth, but that which makes him to be what he is, as a son of God, has nothing to do with the present scene or circumstances. He belongs altogether to a glorified Christ. When God begins to deal with Israel, it will be another thing. The attention of the whole world will be directed towards them. There was a time when, even in the midst of all their sin, the people of Israel exercised an enormous influence in the world, spite of their being a small nation and having only a narrow slip of land to dwell on. Their priests and kings gave up the true God, who thereon made them to be the sad evidence of His judgments. But the day is fast coming when they that smote will acknowledge their rejected Messiah, and then will shine the full splendour to which Israel is destined of God. He will crown them with blessing of every kind here below. All the nations of the earth will bow down to Israel; kings and queens will be their nursing fathers and mothers. Christendom, despised as a proud and effete political engine, and more and more degenerating into apostacy, will be set aside like Vashti; God will bless His people of Israel, the Esther of the great King, with all outward blessings in earthly places, not revealing Himself as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, but as the Lord God, Jehovah, Most High, identified at length with the lowly Jesus of Nazareth.

Is this the way in which we are spoken of here? Not at all. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. A Jew has nowhere in the Old Testament the hope of being blessed in their Messiah. To be joint-heirs with Christ, not only blessed by Christ, but in Christ, is an idea that could not possibly enter the most intelligent Israelite’s mind. In a word, their portion will always be under their Messiah, to be ruled by Him as an earthly people. But ours, who believe in Christ now, will be to have the same blessing which God the Father confers upon Christ risen from the dead. What has He done for Christ? He has raised Him up, and put all things under His feet. This glory He will not take alone. He is waiting for His bride — for those who are now being called out of Jews and Gentiles to the knowledge of His name. So that our Lord, while personally exalted, holds it in abeyance because He is waiting for His companions to share it with Him; heirs by His grace, not merely of the fathers, but of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.

Nothing can be larger or higher than the blessing spoken of here. Christ will have His heavenly ones above, and His earthly ones below; each fully blest though in different spheres. May I commend the truth brought out in Ephesians 1 to the serious study of God’s children? While it becomes us to hear the word of God, it claims from us earnestness of purpose and searching into it as for hidden treasure. We must not expect to be really and fully blessed through the word of God, unless there be diligence of soul.

We have already seen the twofold title in which God blesses His saints now; in both the form of the blessing being found only in Christ. Had God merely revealed Himself as the God of Abraham or Isaac for instance, He would not ensure a blessing beyond that promised to the fathers. Now He does. Instead of having merely the Jewish blessing before Him, He has Christ in His eye, whom He raised from the dead and set at His own right hand, where He never put David nor any one else. It is a place that belongs to Him in virtue of His personal glory and His suffering unto death. We may sit with Christ on His throne, but this is a very different thing from Christ’s sitting at God’s right hand. Now it is as the God of the Lord Jesus Christ that He blesses — it is the full blessing that would be suitable to Christ Himself as the object of blessing. Grace puts us as common objects with Christ in order to be blessed by God who blesses after this manner and measure. Nor this only. He is the Father of the Lord Jesus, and as such also He blesses us. So that these two characters, the very highest possible in which to look at God, are those according to which we are blessed. The characters of God, both as God and as Father, as they deal with Christ, issue in a blessing, a commensurate blessing, which He gives to us. Hence there is no limit. He has blessed us “with all spiritual blessings,” and moreover too, as we saw, not on the earth, the comparatively lower part of the universe, but in the highest scene of God’s power, “in the heavenly places;” and in order to crown and complete all, it is “in Christ;” all is secured in His person.

Verse 4 particularly belongs to the first of these characters in which God has revealed Himself, as verse 5 belongs rather to the second. “According as he hath chosen us in him (that is, in Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Now it is as the God of Christ that He thus blesses us; not as Father, but as God. In verse 5 it is as Father, because we there read, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.” The style and character clearly answer to the character of the Father. Special relationship to Him is brought in. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children” — not merely chosen, but — “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” Now that language was not used in verse 4. He does not say that He has predestinated us to be holy and without blame before Him in love. Neither does He say that He has called us into this wonderful place according to the good pleasure of His will. And the reason is most manifest. When we hear of the good pleasure of His will, we have language suitable to sovereign special love — that which He displays in order to manifest His own favour. But when we hear of “holy and without blame,” it is God who has chosen us for it: it could not be otherwise. If God would have any brought near Him, and so near as to be in His presence in heaven, if chosen in Christ at all, somehow they must be holy and without blame before Him in love. And all is really of His grace.

The one blessing is from the necessary character of God as God; the other flows from the special relationship into which He enters towards us through our Lord Jesus. Choosing us is a necessary part, because it is evident there was no one but God to choose. It was before the foundation of the world, when God alone was. Man had no voice nor choice in the matter. It was purely God acting from Himself. It was a matter of God’s own choice, that He would have others to be in heaven besides Himself. But if they were to be near Him and before Him, how could they be so with sin upon them? Impossible. How could God sanction souls, even in the most distant part of His dominion, with sin upon them? Still less could it be in heaven, the throne of His Majesty. The day is coming when all evil must be banished into the lake of fire. How then could He tolerate sin in those who are to be brought into the nearest circle of His presence? It was the positive necessity of His character and nature, that if He chooses to have any with Himself in heaven, they must be there “holy and without blame before him.” But that is far from being all: it must be “in love,” because nothing could be more miserable than that they should not be able to enter into His own affections. Merely to be in the most blessed place of creatures without taint, without anything that could sully the presence of God, would not be enough. Man was made to have a heart, to have affections; and there could not be happiness in creatures, who know what affection is, unless there were that on which affection could rest. If God had such beings brought into His presence, and necessarily without sin in any form, it must be in love also. He will give them a nature not only capable of being before Him without reproach and fear, but also answering to His own love. “We love him because he first loved us.” In Christ alone that love is known; but St. John so speaks of God and Christ, that there is great difficulty in deciding which is meant. He uses “Him” thus, not indiscriminately, but sliding from one into the other. This flows from their oneness: “I and my Father are one,” which is said by John only.

Here we have God’s choice of us personally. For it is not merely to have a people, as if it were some vague thing, a certain number of niches in heaven to be filled up with so many souls. There is no such notion in the Bible. It is persons He chooses. There cannot be such love without a person distinctly before it. And if it is true even among men, that love is not an uncertain feeling — which is rather a fancy, much more is it true with God. He loves us individually. Hence He has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, to show how entirely it is a choice independent of our character and ways; and if so, it must always flow back to God in a way according to Him. And so it does. If there is this choice of God in Christ before the foundation of the world, He will have saints before Him in such a way as God alone could. He will never have what is unworthy of His love and presence. Hence then it is said, “that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” This is not merely holiness, or blamelessness, or love — any or all in part. Hence it does not refer to what we have been. If we examine any person we may find grievous faults in him. Even as a Christian, he is very far indeed from being what is due to God. He is ashamed of himself, grieving over the little his heart responds to the favour God has shown him. And would this suit His presence? Will God be satisfied with that which even a Christian finds fault with? Impossible. The verse looks not at the complex man here, but at what He makes us in Christ, His Son.

In the saint now there is that which is very unsaintly indeed, unlike God and His beloved Son: pride, vanity, foolishness, all kinds of evil ways and thoughts that never flow from Christ, and have no kind of resemblance to Him. But for all this, are they not saints? God forbid they should not be. And yet this is the steady thought of God. He has chosen us in Christ that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. How can that be? The answer is, because God looks at us here according to that which He gives us in Christ, and nothing less. All is ignored in this verse, save that new nature which flows from His grace to the objects of His choice. He has chosen us to be so, and He will have us so perfectly, and nothing else, when the time comes for us to be in His presence. But even now it is true in the essence of the thing, inasmuch as we are in Christ and have His life in us. Can I find any fault in Christ? If Christ is without blame in love, in the very nature of God Himself, He is precisely the life of every Christian, let a man be called by what name he may among men.

But even this is not all. Blessed as it is to answer to the holy character and nature of God — and that is what every saint will do by and by in the glory, and what every saint really possesses as a new creature in Christ now — yet this is not enough. We might be there holy and without blame before Him in love, yet simply as servants. Her Majesty the Queen may surround herself with servants to do her will; she may bring one and another into her presence, and they ought to think themselves greatly honoured by being thus made the ministers of her pleasure, though no family relationship, of course, exists between them. But nothing less than this will do in heavenly things. Such is the wonder of God’s grace. In the very next verse we have the fact that God is not alone acting from Himself to call us into this wonderful place — to be the reproduction of His own moral nature and character. God is holy and without blame, and He is love in His own nature. This belongs to our life now, and will belong to us altogether when we are brought into heaven, by the power and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, shortly. But it is not as mere servants, but as sons, we shall be there — consciously as sons; not even standing there, like angels, as ministers of His pleasure, but as those who take an interest in all that He is interested in. We shall feel not merely for Him, but with Him. We shall have a common interest with Him — the same kind of feeling, if I may use the same illustration, that members of the royal family have with the crown.

This is what the Holy Ghost brings before us in verse 5. The Christian is planted in Christ before God, and has a holy and a loving nature. But besides this, there is a positive relationship formed; and that relationship, in which we are brought to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is nothing less than being sons according to the pattern of the risen Son of God. As the eternal Son of the Father, none could have such a place with Him. The very thought would be repulsive to a renewed mind; But Christ was pleased to call us His brethren when He rose from the dead and not before. And it is on earth, the place of our sins, where we have been servants of Satan — it is here that through the faith of Christ, we leave behind us all that we were, and enter into this blessed and glorious and most intimate relationship with God. “He hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children.” The word predestinated is a more special one than “chosen,” which signifies God electing us out of the world. None but an unbeliever could fancy that every one is to be in such a place as this, or that men who have lived in blasphemy against God all their days are to be holy and without blame when they die. God has a choice, and our business is to bless God for His great love — not to judge or find fault with His ways. “Who art thou that replies” against God?” That is the answer of God to all vain thoughts and: reasonings. But then if He chooses according to His nature and holiness, He has predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself. So that now we find the special privilege and glorious relationship of sons before God in His presence by Jesus Christ. He might not have done it, but it was “according to the good pleasure of his will.”

Not merely He would have, and therefore chose persons; but here is a peculiar display of His pleasure, and therefore He puts them in this blessed place, “to the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” Verse 6 shows us that which answers to both the verses before it. The clause, “to the praise of the glory of his grace,” etc., takes in both the choice of verse 4 and the predestination of verse 5 — the character of the choice of God, and the special favour of the predestination of the Father. “To the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” “Accepted” is rather a cold word to express what is meant here. It is not what persons doctrinally call acceptance, which is rather more of the nature of reconciliation. But here it seems to me there is the fulness of divine favour, which goes far beyond bare acceptance. In short, God makes us objects of favour according to all that is in His heart, and, in order that this should be most fully brought out, He says “in the Beloved,” not merely “in Christ.” There was one object that satisfied God, that met every thought, every desire of His heart; and this was Christ, the One beloved, of course, in a sense in which no creature could be so in itself. In order to bless us fully, God has made us the objects of His favour in this Beloved One, and all is “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” This takes in all the heights and depths of His grace who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, blessing us in Christ. In fact, He could not go farther. Could He show favour to any one so much as to Christ? Just so He loves and blesses us. He could not do more, and He will not do less. He has risen up to the fullest character of love and blessing in the grace wherewith He regards us in the Beloved.

But, then, what was our previous state? Verse 7 says, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” It is only alluded to passingly, but it supposes that we were wretched slaves of Satan. In the same person, in whom we become the objects of such favour, we have redemption. God does not in the least degree forget what our condition was when He thus blessed us. He is aware that we had to be brought out of all we were, for indeed we had nothing but sins. With only the previous verses, there might have been the idea that such blessedness and glory could not have been mixed with such as we were. But we have redemption, we are told, in Christ. Still, he never touches on redemption and forgiveness of sins till he has brought us into the height and depth of all privilege flowing from God Himself: so entirely is all question here of what man is out of sight, that we only, as it were, incidentally get hold of the sad truth of his condition. It might not have been known from the first few verses, that persons so blessed had ever been guilty of a single sin. But here we find that they needed to be redeemed, to have their sins forgiven; and the same Christ, in and through whom we have all our other blessings, is He in whom also we have “redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

It may be noticed here, that there is a difference between “the glory” and “the riches” of His grace. “The glory of his grace” takes in all these privileges referred to before. The Holy Ghost has brought out in the seventh verse the riches of His grace — the means and provisions for us as poor sinners. But this would not suffice for God, if He is acting so as to show, not merely His rich resources in dealing with the most wretched individuals, but the glory of His grace. He would display His own character — what He is, and not merely provide for what we were. The praise of the glory of His grace flows from what God feels, and in consequence will do, in order to manifest Himself for us.

Observe, moreover, before we have done with this, that later on we have another redemption, that “of the purchased possession,” and a very different thing. We have redemption as far as the forgiveness of sins is concerned: we are waiting for redemption as concerns the inheritance, which depends on the coming of Christ in order to take it actually under His government. The purchased possession has to do with the inheritance, not merely with what affects our souls. As for the soul, we have redemption now as completely as we ever can have it; which we do well to bear in mind. The believer cannot be more forgiven than now, nor could God do more to put away sin than He has done already. He has given His Son, and the blood of His Son is shed, and it is impossible that God Himself could do more to blot out sin from before His face. What a comfort for our souls! If we think of our sins, we may also enter into the comfortable assurance that all our guilt is gone from before God. We may fall into sin, for it does exist; but it remains a source of self-judgment, instead of a fearful looking for of judgment by and by.

There is just the real difference. As a matter of divine judgment, sin is gone in Christ; as a matter of self-judgment, it is always to be confessed if we slip into it. Nor is self-judgment ever thorough until we know that God’s judgment of sin is ended for us on the cross. Under the Old Testament there was no such self-judgment because of sin, as there ought to be under the New. We find, accordingly, that although God never did or could treat any sin with indifference, yet is it often left without a word of comment. But this is not light dealing: God lets the thing speak for itself. He exercises so much the more the hearts of His children. If they are in a wilful state, they may use the record of sin to make light of their own evil ways; otherwise conscience is brought into exercise. It is not until the full condition of man comes out in the cross of Christ, that we see what God’s judgment of sin is. Since then we first hear of “the flesh” in the sense in which the New Testament speaks of it. You may find the expression in the Old Testament, but it never wears the same strong, determined, full character of wickedness as it does in the New. It had not yet proved itself, and God always waits till a person or thing proves its real character, before He pronounces judgment. And we ought to learn from God as to this. The patience of God in judgment is one of the most marvellous of His ways; and we ought to be as to this imitators of God. He awaited the cross of His Son before the true character of man’s iniquity was fully brought out. Under the Old Testament we read of things borne with because of the hardness of men’s hearts; but in the New Testament there is a different measure, and no evil tolerated for a moment. The mind of God is pronounced upon evil: the darkness is passing, the true light now shines. There is no hiding either of God or man. All is out. Man is lost. God is known not merely as a lawgiver, but as a Saviour-God; and if I do not know Him thus, I do not know Him at all. “This is life eternal: to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

From all this we learn that the final character of evil has only now come out. The Old Testament commanded that evil should not be done; but, as we shall see in the next chapter, the full issue of the trial comes out here: and what is the verdict? That man is dead — morally, spiritually — dead in trespasses and sins. God perfectly understood the character of man before, but He wants us to understand it. We needed redemption, and we have it — forgiveness, and we have it. But we are waiting to have the redemption of the purchased possession This takes in the whole creation of God, including; perhaps, our bodies too, as a part of the creation of God. But the redemption of verse 7 is a closer thing, and we are put in a position now of thoroughly judging ourselves, because we know that we shall not be condemned with the world. God puts us thus into a common interest with Himself; puts us on His own side, to take His part against ourselves. And this is what repentance means, and therefore it is called repentance towards God.

But the next verse opens up another subject: “Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” It is not said, “abounded toward us in forgiving us,” because full forgiveness is a positive need. But when we hear of “wisdom and prudence,” it is a question of God’s counsels about His Son, over and independent of all thought of necessities. He says, as it were, You are able now to enter into My thoughts, and understand them when I speak. You are delivered from anxiety about your sins, and are free now to enter into My purpose. “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.” And this secret of His will is, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance.” (Ver. 9-11.) We have clearly here, in these central verses, the fact that we are capacitated (the question of sin being settled in our souls) to hear what God has to say to us about all other things. He has not now merely to tell us what He is going to do upon the earth, as He dealt with Abraham. The relationship is higher than that which was made known to the patriarchs. At the beginning, when the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, He brought them to Adam, the lord of creation, to see what he would call them; and whatsoever he called each living creature, that became its name. “And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.” (Gen. 2:19, 20.) This was conferred wisdom in the domain of nature. But now it is far more profound and comprehensive; for it is a question of the supremacy of the second Man and of the discernment which suffices for and suits its boundless heights and depths. Accordingly, God has made His grace to abound towards us in every sort of wisdom and intelligence. Whatever displays His character and Christ’s glory, He makes known to us. He treats us, not as servants, but as friends. He has one thing nearer than aught else — what He is going to do for His Son: and He imparts to us the secrets nearest to His own heart.

If any person say, I do not want to understand mysteries, I answer, You do not want to know what God wishes to teach you. Unbelief always shows itself in some character of hostility to God. He, in His perfect goodness, gives the comfort of salvation, and then opens out these other truths. “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will.” This does not mean something you cannot understand, but what you could not know before God told you. Do not turn away and say, All I want to know is to be saved. We ought to desire to learn all God deigns to teach us. The word “mystery” means what God was pleased to keep secret — something He had not before revealed, but quite intelligible when it is unfolded. “Mystery,” in a popular sense, is totally different from its use in the word of God. There are many things very wonderful in the prophecies, but they are not called mysteries. Brought out now for the first time, it is the mystery of His will. There are many mysteries explained in the New Testament as those of the kingdom of heaven. Babylon, too, is called a mystery. The mystery here is, that God means to unite all things in heaven and in earth, under the headship of our Lord. He does not mean to have the heavens, as they are now, completely severed from the earth, but to have a united system of heavenly and earthly glory, all under Christ — this is the mystery of His will.

But there is more than this. He means that we should share the glory along with Christ. Thus there are two great parts in the mystery of His will. The first is Christ, and the second is the Church: and therefore it is said in this very Epistle, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” It is not “the Church,” of course, that is the mystery, but “Christ and the Church.” The Church, however blessed, is but a subordinate part of it. That she is so at all is solely because she belongs to Christ, the heavenly Head of all things. God’s purpose is for “the dispensation of the fulness of times.” Then the hours of shame and sorrow that are now running on will have exhausted their course — the time of the creature’s subjection to vanity, the time for Israel to be blinded judicially, the time for the Gentiles to rule as if God neither intervened nor noticed, the time when the Church of God lies in weakness and broken, the time of Satan’s liberty to deceive and torment men. These things are now going on — man, the chief, through sin, subject to sickness and death, and all creation groaning. But God Himself will put an end to everything of the sort. He means to bind Satan and deliver man from his seduction. He will have Israel blessed and united under their Messiah — the Gentiles blessing God, who will be sanctified among them — the earth itself no longer the poor, groaning, miserable scene that it is, but the curse removed, and the wilderness rejoicing and blossoming as the rose. All these things God will yet accomplish; and when the suitable times according to God are complete ( πληρ τ. κ.),1 He will change all, bringing forth Christ as the Head, centre, and means of every blessing. Christ is the stronger man that is to bind the strong, the bruiser of the serpent’s head — the Lord of heaven and earth — the Messiah of Israel, and Son of man ruling supremely over all nations. All these things are to be accomplished most simply and efficaciously, but not by the power of man — not even by the spread of the gospel. Christ in person will administer and uphold the glory of God in the universe.

If men had a just sense of the present state of the Church, they would put on sackcloth and ashes instead of blowing their trumpet. What we have to do is to humble ourselves before God, because of what we are and see around us, even in the best. It requires a great deal of patience not only to bear, and be borne with, but to go on in love. If we really have a heart for God and for His children, we shall feel these things deeply, and shall seek the blessing of those who are led away by it — yea, thoroughly and heartily — remembering that the blessed day is at hand when Christ will be exalted as the Head of all things, heavenly and earthly. While it becomes us to chasten ourselves, we need not be disheartened. We know that our hope is one that maketh not ashamed. It is not founded upon what the Church or any society is going to do, for our hope is Christ. We know that God has made known unto us the secret of His will. Where there is not an exercised conscience, this truth may not be rejected; but it is not realized nor applied in such a state. God’s blessed cure for the world’s disorder is Christ brought out from His present hidden position; and the moment that He is so, what a change! All things in heaven and earth will be united in Christ; and when that day comes, we shall enter visibly on our inheritance. We have the title already, but are not in manifest possession. “In whom we have also obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; that we should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ.”

We have, first of all, (verse 5) our predestination as children. “And if children then heirs” — heirs of a glorious inheritance, Christ being made the head of the universe. (Ver. 10, 11.) The prevalent interpretation is to apply verse 10 to Christ’s position now. They imagine that “the fulness of times” here means the same thing as in Galatians 4. But “the fulness of the times” differs widely from “the fulness of time,” which last means the space which closed with the incarnation of Christ, or was completed by it. Christ’s birth is a very different thing from Christ’s exaltation, as the head of all. Deadly error is at work when men put the Son’s incarnation in the place of redemption. Our union with Christ is made to depend upon His bare incarnation, not upon His being risen from the dead and entering upon His headship thus. But if our union with Christ be confounded with His being a man, He unites Himself with human nature, and there is no special union between the Christian and Christ, because humanity belongs to the whole race, i.e., to man in sin. This naturally leads to the further heresy of making Christ take up humanity in its fallen condition.

It is said, again, “That we should be to the praise of his glory, we who first trusted in Christ.” The allusion is, before the Jews (of whom it specially speaks) behold Christ in the appointed time and way. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” Now, he says, we are those who have fore-hoped in Christ. Our hope was founded upon Christ before He is seen and believed in by the rest of the nation. The “we” in verse 12 does not go beyond believing Jews. “In whom ye also” is in contradistinction. The “we” and the “ye” refer, the one to Paul and his fellow-believers out of Israel, the other to believing Gentiles, such as the Ephesians. If this be so, the meaning is “that we [Christian Jews] should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ.” The nation of Israel will not be fore-hopers “to the praise of His glory.” They will be the subjects of His glory. “Arise, shine, for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” His glory will embrace their salvation; but to “the praise of His glory” it will be that there are those out of that unbelieving nation who received Christ before they saw Him, and who consequently will appear with Him in glory. Blessed are they who receive Christ when they behold Him; but still more blessed those who, though they have not seen Him, yet have believed! (John 20)

We have thus seen that the apostle, in verse 12, introduces the believing Jews as now brought into all the blessings spoken of in the previous portion. Then, addressing the Gentile saints at Ephesus, he says, “In whom ye also having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.”

It may be profitable, here, to enter into a further development of the Holy Ghost’s presence and action. Men soon departed far from the truth of God. Before the three last centuries we know that a thick cloud of darkness hung over Christendom. But even since the light that shone at the Reformation, Christians have been struggling to realize in their own souls that they were born of God and justified in Christ. One fully admits the immense importance that a soul should be thoroughly established. But were regeneration and justification intended to be the sum and substance of the Christian’s research, efforts, and desires? On the contrary, are they more than the very threshold, or, at most, the foundation on which a Christian has to build? Does not God look for it, that, being born again, instead of occupying ourselves with continual searching after signs and tokens that we are so, we should be making progress in Christ? To be born again is the first essential work of the Spirit of God, without which there is no life towards God, no possibility of advance in the things of God. It is the universal want, the indispensable condition in order to any soul’s having part in the blessing of God at any time and in all dispensations.

Hence, when Nicodemus came to our Lord, wishing to be taught of Him, our Lord at once begins there. The Rabbi owned that Jesus was a teacher come from God, by whom he wanted to be taught. But our Lord stops him in a peculiarly solemn manner: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus, astonished, asked how such a thing could be? Our Lord, however, meets his unintelligent question with a re-assertion, only in still stronger terms: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” There we have clearly the explanation of what it is to be born again. It is to be born of water and of the Spirit. Nicodemus still expresses his amazement at this; that a Jew, a moral, religious Jew, who was no heathen, who had the law, and seemed to have been peculiarly honoured of God, should need to be born afresh; that he himself, a master in Israel in a pre-eminent sense, should thus be met by what was really a rebuke, to him, that pressed the necessity of a vital change which, so far from having realized, he did not even think to be necessary! This was indeed a blow that arrested Nicodemus at the very start. Our Lord, however, shows that he ought to have known these things (i.e., of course, from the prophets). Mark this, because it is a thoroughly satisfactory answer to those who wish to connect the being born of water with baptism. He who is acquainted with the views here taught, cannot fairly think that there is any depreciation of that institution of Christ. For I hold, that nobody ought to be owned on christian ground till he is baptized with water. I do not mean that he may not be a believer; but if he have not submitted to baptism in the name of the Lord, he is not yet ostensibly off Jewish or Pagan ground. And our Lord elsewhere insisted on the necessity of being baptized as well as believing. (Mark 16)

But important as baptism may be as the appointed sign of death and resurrection in Christ, yet our Lord did not directly refer to the rite with Nicodemus. For He says — not, Art thou a disciple of Christ, but — “Art thou a master of Israel and knowest not these things?” That is, as a Jew he ought to have known this. How could he know christian baptism as a Jew? To such an one this was a novelty; it did not even exist at the time. How could that be known which was not yet brought out? He ought to have known what was meant by being born of water and of the Spirit, and to have felt the absolute necessity of it. What then was meant? This: that no matter where, when, or who, everyone who should see or enter the kingdom of God must be born of water and of the Spirit, must have the Holy Ghost communicating a new life to him. And how is that life produced? By an ordinance? No. By christian walk? No. By what means, then? By prayer? Nay; but by the reception of God’s Word revealing Christ. Therefore it is written, that we are born again, “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” With the testimony of Peter there is that of James also: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The instrument employed for God’s begetting us, is “the word of truth.” So that water is clearly used in this passage in John 3 as figurative of the word of God applied by the Spirit. The two are joined together that it should not be supposed it is merely an ordinance or the word, but the Spirit applying God’s word with quickening power to the soul. Therefore, when speaking about believing, it is said, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” It is necessary the Word should be preached. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Compare also 1 Cor. 4:15. It is no matter what positive passage of Scripture you take up, all teach the same thing. Our Lord insists that every one who enters the kingdom must enter by that door. What, then, is to become of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Some may say that circumcision is equivalent; but do not believe the dream for a moment: if so, what would become of so many before or outside both circumcision and baptism? All these explanations are mere clumsy guesses at Scripture. Even if there were no real difference between baptism and circumcision, when our Lord lays down the new birth He refers to neither. He does not insist on a rite with such large exceptions, but an absolute and universal spiritual necessity. He is not speaking of the comparatively modern rite of baptism — of that which, as it came late into the world, will not always abide in it. For there is no ground, that I know, to suppose that during the millennium baptizing people with water will proceed. It is a rite peculiar to the time, at least, between the two advents — baptism into Christ’s death.

But John 3 speaks of what every person must pass through without qualification or exception, if he is to see and enter the kingdom of God — what was as true of the thief upon the cross as of Saul of Tarsus. All children of God, past, present, or future, are born again; all have this new life given to them. There is the communication of divine life to them. But as far as regards those who hear the word, it is plainly through the Holy Ghost using the word as a means of life. It is emphatically the representation of Christ. In John 4 we enter on another operation of the Holy Ghost. “If thou knewest the free-giving of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” The living water is plainly the Holy Ghost, whom Christ gives. Here it is not the quickening operation of the Spirit, indispensable for all times and under all circumstances, if any souls are to belong to God; but it is a special privilege that Christ bestows personally. And you will find in the discourse of our Lord which follows, and is connected with what He had said to the woman of Samaria, that the Holy Ghost is given to believers now as the means of worshipping their God and Father in spirit and in truth. Thus we have in John 4 a totally different operation of the Spirit from what was urged in John 3. And to whom did our Lord disclose this? To a poor, wretched, abandoned woman; not even a Jewess, but a Samaritan. Our Lord is there showing the grace that goes out to the very vilest. God was now no longer, as before, putting the law forward. He displays Himself as a giver. Under the law God is rather a receiver; He asks, demands, insists that the creature render Him the honour due to His Majesty. In the gospel, God is the giver of His own Son. Instead of seeking something from guilty, lost man, He confers His very best on one who did not at first ask Him. “If thou knewest the gift — the free-giving — of God, (what a new sound to the Samaritan!) thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” This is what He does — He is giving the Spirit, the power of eternal life. The consequence of this most precious opening out of the truth is, that we know the Holy Ghost to be in us as the spring of communion and power of worship. It is not so much as using the word of God to deal with us in our natural uncleanness and to communicate a new life which cleaves to God and hates sin, with new feelings, new desires, new wants, which are only answered in Christ, and which every regenerate soul must have, if it were a poor nun, or a superstitious priest going through the mass. Yet if one were born of God, he could not but have a yearning after what he had not, and find, in the long run, Christ the object that attracted his soul — Christ the contrast of all that was found on earth or anywhere — Christ the only One that suited him, and the One, too, whose glory it was so to bless him. Of what would this be the proof? That he was born of God. For there is no proof but what may turn out a delusion save this — that my wants turn me to Christ, and make me find in Him the only One that can satisfy the soul.

But in John 4 it is not the case of a proud ruler of the Pharisees who is made to feel the need of regeneration, but a depraved woman, that had lost her character, to whom no one would care to speak, except — wonderful to say — the Son of God! It is to her that the Lord brings out this great truth, the gift of the Spirit: no longer merely acting morally on the soul or quickening, but Himself dwelling in the heart, the Holy Ghost the power of divine fellowship and worship. What a joy! the Holy Ghost dwelling in believers, the Father seeking such to worship Him. Do you know this? Or are you still tramelled by what is now passed, what once existed and then had the sanction of God? by the role of a past dispensation for an earthly people? by rites which no longer have the slightest value in His sight who reveals Himself as Father? The day of forms and ceremonies is entirely gone. How often people say, We do not attach importance to such things! The truth is, that they are now a very bad thing, and contrary to God’s actual order. It is not only that fine sights and sounds should not be an object in worship, but it is a positive sin to seek or admit them. It is, in principle, a going back to idolatry and a condemned world. Therefore, in John 4, our Lord brings in, “The hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” There is the truth enunciated about worship. At Jerusalem the splendour of ceremonials had been at its height; but now all this is over, and any one fighting for it now unwittingly rebels against Christ. Our Lord shows that it is no longer in that mountain nor at Jerusalem that God should be worshipped. There was just about to dawn a new condition of things. And what does God value now? The true worshippers adoring the Father in spirit and in truth. What are they? His children. “The Father seeketh such to worship him.” He is gathering children, forming them for His own praise, putting the Holy Ghost within them to give the consciousness of their relationship with Himself, and, having this, to draw near to Him as their God and Father.

It is plain, then, that the notion now of having a mixed worship of people, some converted and some not, is a direct contradiction of Christianity. It could not be otherwise before the cross. There was then no such thing as God separating His children from those that were not thus related to Him. It would have been a sin for a believing Israelite to have said to an unbeliever, I cannot worship with you, because you are not born of God. But now the sin is to join in God’s worship with those who are not His children; and for this simple reason, that the Father is seeking true worshippers, and none but such, to worship Him. I do not mean that it is a sin for those not converted to be in the same place as spectators and hearers. But the attempt to join everybody in the worship of God is a fatal delusion, dishonouring to Himself and destructive to the souls of those that are not true worshippers. But people have not faith to stand separate from the world. They like to have the countenance of men; and, of course, it is trying to have to act decidedly. We are warned of God that, if we seek to please men, we should not be the servants of Christ. We must run the risk of paining them, but faithful are the wounds of a friend. Some confound hearing the gospel or other truth with worship. But they are totally different. In worshipping God, Christians offer up to God services of praise and thanksgiving. Worship is what goes from the believer to God; whereas, in the gospel or other ministry, it is a message coming down from God for the good of souls, for the instruction of believers, or for the conviction and salvation of unbelievers. But whether one or other be addressed, it is always that which comes from God to them, and not what goes from them to God; so that the confounding of these two things is a serious evil. Among many the thing which makes them attached to the old walls and routine is not the prayers, but because they hope to hear something good in the sermon. They entirely thus pass out of the condition of worshippers. Worship is the true expression of the heart’s praise and thanks by the Holy Ghost, whether by an illiterate man or not. We know in the case of the apostles that they could not speak correctly (Acts 4); but, for all that, they were the chosen vessels of such a power of God as never visited this earth before or since, in men of like passions with ourselves. And I believe it is so still and always will be so. God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty Although there may be a Paul brought in occasionally, this is the exception, and God never intends that the exceptions should become the role.

Thus, beside regeneration, which is the first operation of the Spirit of God, there is the further gift of the Holy Ghost. “In whom ye also . . . . after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” They were born of water and of the Spirit. They heard the word of truth, which we find in this very epistle set forth under the figure of water — “that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” (Eph. 5:26.) It is not only that the Church is washed by the word, but the poor sinner is born of the word when he believes the gospel — born of water and of the Spirit. But was it merely that they were born of water and of the Spirit? “In whom also, after that ye believed (or having believed), ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” It is very startling to many to find that, after they have been born of the Spirit, there is such a thing as being sealed by the Spirit. Others, again, seeing both facts, invented confirmation. They felt from the Scripture that there is something over and above being born of water. Therefore a religion of forms first made baptism to regenerate every one, and then confirmation to crown it. But forms are no better than idolatry: it is putting something in the place of Christ. After the apostles left, this grew apace. Ceremonies, done by the hand of men, were substituted for the power of the Holy Ghost acting on the souls of men. Finding from the word of God that there were these two things, regeneration first and then the subsequent gift of the Holy Ghost, they adopted two different ceremonies — in one sense very properly, if there must be a religion of forms at all. But it is a total mistake as to the very nature of Christianity.

Yet the truth remains that there were two different operations of the Holy Ghost. The first is, when a man is brought to a sense of sin. What makes a man abhor himself? He is born of God. He has no happiness at all perhaps, but a real sense of ruin; yet his heart cleaves to God. That man is born of God — truly converted: no comfort as yet perhaps in his soul, but his heart is open to listen further to the word of the truth, the gospel of salvation. He believes it. What then? He is sealed of the Holy Ghost, as a believer, not only in Christ, but in the gospel of our salvation — the work that Christ has done. For I do not think that you can have a soul sealed with the Holy Ghost, unless he enters into the work as well as the person of Christ. This accounts for the fact that there were persons born of the Holy Ghost who never were sealed. For instance, the Old Testament saints were believers in Christ; they all looked for Christ. All were born of God, but not one was sealed with the Holy Ghost. To be born of the Spirit and sealed with the Spirit are very different things, which may or may not be united in the same person. All must be born of the Spirit, but it is never said that all must be sealed with the Spirit in order to enter into the kingdom of God. Wherever the Holy Ghost speaks of the sealing of the Spirit, it proves the clean contrary. Who was the first person said to be sealed with the Spirit? Our blessed Lord Himself. He had it in a way peculiar to Himself. When was He sealed? When redemption was accomplished and He went up to heaven? No; but when He walked upon earth. “Him hath God the Father sealed.” It was as Son of man He was sealed, and as Son of man on earth before redemption — without bloodshedding, because He knew no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. He was absolutely sinless: He could have the Holy Ghost abiding on Him entirely apart from blood, because He was the Holy One — the Saviour. He needed no work — no blood — no redemption; but yet He died, and there was blood shed and redemption effected. Why so? That we might be sealed — that we, who had no natural title to be brought nigh, that we, in whom the Holy Ghost could never take up His abode, might have that same Holy Ghost who dwelt in Him abiding in us.

This is what our Lord gradually brings out to view. “Thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” Therefore it was that the Lord taught the disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit; and this, after they were already regenerate. Yet He tells them to ask the Father for the Holy Spirit. (Luke 11) Is it the same thing now, seeing that He has given the Spirit? Am I to ask for the Holy Ghost when I have Him dwelling in me? It would have been the most flagrant unbelief, after Christ was in the midst of the disciples, had they asked God to send Christ. And now, when the Holy Ghost is sent from heaven, and given to be in us a well of water springing up into everlasting life, was it for such to entreat the Holy Ghost to be given them? for Christians to be praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? It is a practical denial that the Holy Ghost is sent down from heaven, and is dwelling in us. It is quite right to pray that we may not grieve Him, and that we may not quench Him. To pray that we may be strengthened with all might according to His Spirit in the inner man, is according to the word of God; but we ought not to say one word that implies the Holy Ghost is not here when He is. A most grievous cloud of darkness rests on the minds of many children of God as to this subject. They do not believe their privileges, they do not know that the Holy Ghost dwells in them. Does not the Holy Ghost feel this? If you had one caring for you day by day, and you were habitually to question your relationship to him, or doubt his care of you, it would show that you were morbid. There is a mist over your eyes, and you are asking for the very mercies that are already given. This is neither wisdom nor faith. It is quite true that we may ask God to bless the gospel to the unconverted and to regenerate them. But people pray for a pouring out of the Spirit — a different thing from conversion, and only mentioned in connection with the Holy Ghost’s being given, first to the Jews, next to the Samaritans, and, thirdly, to the Gentiles. From that day to this, there is not the smallest ground to ask God for an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. It is an unintelligent prayer, founded on unbelief of the truth that the Holy Ghost is sent down. Even God Himself could not add to the blessedness of the gift He has already given. There was a great difference between a Jew, a Gentile, and a Samaritan; and therefore it is mentioned expressly in relation to the three. The Holy Ghost never will be poured out again upon the Church. It is ignorance of the ways of God to look for it. He has been poured out for the Church as truly as it is possible for God to give. But when the heavenly saints have been taken to be with Christ at His coming, there will in due time follow an outpouring of His Spirit on a new people, when the Jews and Gentiles will be brought as such distinctly to the knowledge of Jesus. But as long as the Church is on the earth, there never will nor can be such a thing. Can it be repeated, any more than there can be another mission of the Lord Jesus to work again for us? Nor is this a mere matter of speculation. It is connected in the deepest possible way with our worship and even our peace.

You will find that faith in the presence of God’s Spirit, or unbelief of it, is that which puts to the test saints in the present day. It behoves us to consider well whether we really do enter into the mind of God about it. Let us understand that what constitutes us Christians is not only that we believe in Christ, but that we are now sealed with the Holy Ghost. He regenerates an unbeliever by faith in Christ; He seals none but believers. This was the decisive proof of man’s being a Christian. Peter thus alleges the fact: “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?” It was not merely that they had believed; but God had given them the Holy Ghost, and could they dare to refuse persons in whom that divine Person dwelt, on whom God had conferred such signal grace? Such, too, is the ground of all christian unity — the presence of the Holy Ghost. The question is not merely, Is there life? but, Have we believed that the Holy Ghost dwells in you? It was the possession of the Spirit, and not life merely, that was made the turning point. It was not until they had received the Holy Ghost that the Gentiles were acknowledged as part and parcel of the Church of God. (Acts 11) The Church is not only bound to look for life, and to believe that there is life in the soul, but is also authorized from the word of God to wait till there is such a manifestation of it, as to plainly manifest that the man has the Holy Ghost dwelling in him. There never was such a thing as owning as an assembly till there was a recognition of their being on common ground with the Church by the reception of the Holy Ghost.

All this makes the true way of dealing with saints now very evident. The Church would be justified in expecting this manifestation of the power of the Spirit. It is not true charity which does not look for it. “In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory.” Without dwelling on this last verse, I would make the remark again, that as the seal of the Spirit could not be till the work of Christ was done (the Son only being sealed upon earth who needed no redemption, but who came, on the contrary, to redeem us to God), as we now, on the footing of redemption, receive the Holy Ghost to dwell in us, so we receive the earnest of the inheritance.

This last, I believe, to be just as peculiar to the Church of God since Pentecost, as the sealing of the Spirit. As the disciples were not sealed with the Spirit, so neither had they the earnest of the inheritance till the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven. This earnest is the power of the Holy Ghost giving a believer now present joy, present anticipation of the glory to which he is going. This may be hindered in many a believer’s heart by a want of knowledge of the truth, or by the workings of the flesh, worldliness, etc. But still it remains true, that, now that the Holy Ghost is given, a believer ought to look up and pray to God if there be anything that hinders his entering into the joy of his blessed inheritance, that it may be detected and put away. I am quite sure that the caring only for being born of God has acted greatly to the injury of the children of God; it has stopped them short, as if the only object were to learn that they were children and no more. But our business is, having believed, to go on and learn other truths, and above all, Christ Himself. So it is precisely that the Holy Ghost’s regenerating a soul is not to arrest the soul with the fact that it is regenerate; but being born of God, we have to go forward, to enter into the blessed truths of God, which cluster round both our redemption and our future glory, and find their centre in Christ’s person and work.

As the seal, the Holy Ghost is the witness of the perfectness of our being cleansed from our sins — the effect of the work of Christ. That operation of the Spirit is meant which supposes the work done, and that we are set apart to God on the ground of redemption. We are sealed because redemption is finished. If I look at glory, it is not arrived. Therefore the figure is changed when he speaks of our inheritance. “Sealing” would not do in connection with that, because we have it not as a fact; we wait to be put in possession of what we are to have along with Christ. Hence the Holy Ghost is spoken of as “the earnest of our inheritance.” The same Spirit who seals us is the earnest of our bright future “till the redemption of the purchased possession.” First of all, we have the privileges of divine grace that chose us in Christ; predestined us to the place of sons; took us into full favour, without a single question, “in the Beloved;” gave us redemption already in Christ through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins. But no sooner has the Holy Ghost thus established us in the full knowledge of God’s love to us, and the present effect of it in putting away our sins, than He brings before us the inheritance. Hence comes in the relation of the Holy Ghost to these two things. And as there are two great parts in God’s choice of us personally, so the Holy Ghost takes a double relationship. He is the seal of the grace and blessing that we have in Christ, and He is the earnest of the glory we are going to have with Christ. These are the relations of the Holy Ghost to the individual believer. All the corporate dealings of the Spirit have a secondary place compared with His ways with the soul individually, which, though susceptible of a far fuller development, have received a measure of notice sufficient for my present purpose.

We have now the Holy Ghost leading the apostle into a remarkable prayer flowing out of the subject (or, at least, a part of it) already brought before us. It will be found that all is in the most orderly connection which it is possible to conceive, even when revealed to us; an order that we never could have conceived, unless God had made it known, but which, once communicated, approves itself immediately to the spiritual judgment. For the blessing which the enraptured apostle had poured out in the earlier verses flows, we have seen, from a twofold title of God: “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Accordingly in this epistle there are two prayers, answering to this double title. The first prayer is given in the portion now before us, and pertains to His title as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ; while in Ephesians 3:14, we have a corresponding prayer, which answers to the second title, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both, clearly, have Christ as the foundation and centre; but, then, Christ regarded in a wholly different point of view. In the former of the two, Christ is viewed as man, and one who calls God His God; in the second of them, Christ is regarded in His still more intimate relationship as Son, who therefore brings before us the Father. We, too, have communion with God in both respects; we have to do with Him as God and as Father. It is said in John 4, “The hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” But then our Lord adds, “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” There is an immense difference between the two things. As the Father He is seeking worshippers, communicating the unspeakable favour of bringing them to the knowledge of His love. He forms their hearts after the display of Himself in Christ, causes them to overflow with thanksgiving and praise, and thus constitutes them worshippers in spirit and in truth. But then it is added, that God is a spirit, etc. Whatever the form in which He might have manifested Himself in Judaism, for special reasons — whatever displays of His judicial majesty, in tangible ways, Himself properly hidden, He is a spirit, and consequently He must have spiritual worship. Thus it is not merely the exceeding love that is seeking and making and gathering out worshippers, but it is the necessary character of the only worship that He admits now. From the moment that He reveals Himself fully, He can own nothing but real worship in the Spirit. The day of forms, rites, and ceremonies is totally passed. Hence it is not only that He does not look for them, but He scorns them; He treats them as a libel upon His nature, a slight on His Son, and Satan’s substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost. They that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. I think it important to bring out the connections of the blessed word of God so as to show that the distinction pointed out is not imaginative. Alas! that men should be beguiled to invent, in presence of the untold treasures of the Bible. All we have to do is to bow before what is given us there. We may have, no doubt, to learn; but where the truth is known, what a mercy to be entirely delivered from the vain desire or the need of any invention! It is natural to unsatisfied man to seek out exciting novelties. But God is infinitely above man, and His word rich beyond all thought; so that all we have to do is to submit our souls to Scripture, assured, too, that the revelation of God, old as it is, offers practically that which is ever new to the heart.

In our epistle, then, we have these two prayers; the first of them introduced by the apostle, who says, “wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints.” Now inasmuch as our love would bring in the thought of something on man’s part that would give importance to us, although he is about to speak of love to the saints, he introduces the matter by “faith,” because this throws us not so much on our love to Him as His love to us. “Wherefore,” he says, “I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus,” and then gives the consequence of this, “and your love unto all the saints.” This is a very important word in judging of our love. We are all apt to form a circle even among the saints of God — to have those that we prefer, those that suit us best, whose thoughts, feelings, habits, are more or less the same as our own, or, at least, are no great trial to us. But, then, this is not love to the saints. There is more love to ourselves in it than loving them. The flesh likes what is agreeable to us — what does not cause us pain, what is, perhaps, a gratification to the amiabilities of nature. All that may be where there is really no exercise of the new nature, no mighty power of the Spirit of God working in our hearts. We have always to test our souls, and ask how we stand in this. Is the prominent motive and objects of our hearts the Lord Jesus? Is it with Him and for Him that we think of and feel towards all the saints?

I fully admit that love towards the saints cannot, and ought not, to take the same shape towards all. It must be in the energy and intelligence of the Spirit, varied according to the call upon love. While one ought to love even a person who is under discipline, it would be a very great mistake to suppose that your love must be shown in the same way as if he were not. You do not cease to love him; indeed you never are in a position and spirit to exercise discipline with the Lord where there is not love — righteous hatred of the sin, indignation it may be, but real charity to the person. It would be better to wait upon God if it be not so in our hearts, till we can take it up in the spirit of divine grace. There must be, of course, a dealing in righteousness; but even in dealing with one’s child there ought not to be such a thing as chastening it in a passion. Anything that merely arises out of a sudden impulse, is not a feeling that glorifies God about evil. Therefore, in cases of discipline, there ought to be self-: judgment, and great patience, too, unless it be something so flagrant that to hesitate about it would be culpable weakness, or want of decision and jealousy for God, for there are some sins so offensive to God and to man that they ought, if we are sensitive to His holiness and obedient, to be met with grave energy and as it were on the very spot. The arena of the sin, God would have to be the scene of its judgment according to His will.

Supposing something done in the public assembly, false doctrine in the midst of God’s people, if there were the power of God, and a heart for His rights, it might be due to His majesty to deal with it without delay. This is sufficiently plain from the word of God, where in a case of direct hypocrisy and lying against God, we find the promptness of the Holy Ghost, through the apostle, in the very presence of the Church, which at once judged the fraud that was attempted to be practised upon Him who dwelt there. I deny there was want of love in this: rather was it the necessary accompaniment of divine love acting, through the Holy Ghost’s might, in the assembly, or at least, by Peter, as the special instrument of His power therein. It was a stern judgment, doubtless; but it was the fruit of intense desire for the saints of God, and of horror that such a sin should get a footing and shelter among them, and the Holy Ghost should be thus foully dishonoured, and be grieved with the whole Church if it were connived at. But in ordinary cases the same love would wait, and let time be given for the fault to be owned and repented of. In nine cases out of ten mistakes arise from precipitancy, because we are apt to be jealous for our own reputation. O how little have we realized that we are crucified and dead with Christ! We feel the scandal, or something that affects the public mind: this is not the power of the Holy Ghost, but the selfish egoism that is at work in our hearts. We do not like to lose our character, or to share the sorrow and shame of Christ in those who bear His name. Not of course, that one would make light of what is wrong: that never could be right about anything either great or small. We ought never to justify the least wrong, whether in ourselves or in others, but accustom our souls to the habitual clearing of the name of the Lord, even if it be about a hasty word. If we begin to be careless about little offences, there is nothing to preserve us from great sins but the mere mercy of God. If love unto all the saints were working in our hearts, there would be less haste.

We sometimes misconstrue things, and endeavour to give, as we take, a very sombre impression. where evil was but in appearance. Let us beware of judging according to the first blush, where the reality may prove to be otherwise: it is not righteous judgment. We should seek to judge things by a higher standard, and in the light of God. In these serious matters we are bound to be sure, and never to yield to suspicion. All judgment, if it be according to God, must proceed upon what is known and certain, not upon what is a surmise — too often the effect of an unfounded pretension to superior spirituality. We find the importance of this constantly; and, were our souls more simple about it, fewer mistakes would be made.

Christ has the first place where the heart is true; and next, “all the saints” become the object of our love. If there are two cases of persons in fault, and the one were a prime favourite, and the other but little liked, the latter is in imminent danger, I need hardly say, of going to the wall. My object of aversion would labour under a cloud which obscures the truth, no matter how evident it might be to the dispassionate; whereas, on the contrary, the favourite would derive that which outweighs the proofs of guilt from the unwillingness on the part of his friends to pronounce anything wrong about him. Both these feelings are thoroughly at issue, in such circumstances, with the mind of God. Indeed, both favouritism and prejudices are plainly condemned by His blessed word. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)

“Love unto all the saints” is enjoined because they are saints. To love them, because God has separated and brought them into an eternal relationship with Himself, is the only true and christian love to such. Our great difficulty always is that our thoughts, feelings, actions, should flow from this ground. Do not mistake me. I do not mean that it is wrong to have friends. Our Lord had. He loved John as He did not love the others, and there was a sense in which He loved them every one alike; as His saints, they were beyond comparison precious in His sight. He might prize the faithfulness of some of His servants; He might have to encourage, reprove, correct all round; and we must leave room for all these things. There is the grand basis of love to all the saints; but it is clear we are not bound to open out matters of a personal nature to every one because he is a saint. For example, saints are not always the wisest of men; and while we are not to disown their saintship, we are not bound to lay bare our difficulties, or to seek counsel in what may require ripe spiritual judgment from those who could render no help whatever in the case. Love there must be always. This brings in the value of that divine principle, “esteeming others better than ourselves.” This I hold to be true of all saints. It might be a man that had not two ideas and yet had Christ before his soul. He might be very ignorant and very foolish — hasty perhaps in spirit, strong in prejudice, weak in sympathies, and worthless as a counsellor; but if there is evidently a soul that cleaves to Christ and values Him above everything, can I not, should I not, esteem him better than myself? Do not I see there is that which admonishes my soul — which refreshes and edifies me, much more than if he were merely the staunchest friend and the wisest adviser? In the least saint of God there is that which both cheers and humbles the heart. I am not to esteem a person for a quality which he may not possess: God does not, could not, put such a phantom before us. On the other hand, it is well to bethink ourselves of the preciousness of every saint as such. Show me the very weakest and most trying of them all; yet we may and ought to cultivate a real, genuine respect for them as God’s children. There is not only God for them, but what is of Christ in them; and this may commend them above all other considerations to him who values communion with the Father and the Son.

On the contrary, in thinking of ourselves, ought we not to feel how much there is that is unlike Christ? May we ever be specially alive to that in which we break down and grieve the Spirit of God! This would have the effect of lowering and putting down our own self-esteem. Could we think so highly of ourselves, if we felt as we ought our exceeding and, alas! frequent failure, in presence of the rich, perfect grace of God to our souls? Whereas, if we had before us in others, not their failure, but Christ’s love to and His life in them, and the glory to which they belong, what would be the effect? “Love unto all the saints.” It is Christ discerned in the saints, which is the power of the love He would have going out towards them. Under certain circumstances, with a person whom you trusted God might bring out as a saint — whom you have prayed for, and whose good you have sought in any way, yet at a given time it might be a sin to associate as a Christian. I am speaking of one who had by filthiness of flesh or spirit brought dishonour upon the name of the Lord. But though we may for the time abstain from all the expressions of loving intercourse, yet love always finds a place in which to show itself, though sometimes it may be only in the presence of God, and not manifestly to the human eye. So that, as to the manner of showing love, we must search the word of God. But the general principle cannot be doubted, that God would lay upon our hearts all the saints. He has them all upon His own heart, and He will have us to cultivate this largeness of family affection.

Accordingly Paul, who entered into this in a measure which even the saints addressed perhaps knew little of practically, adds, “Wherefore I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” There is the title so often referred to — “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is about to speak of the divine dealing with man and even with Christ as man; for of course it is only in that sense that one could so speak. But if dealing with us accordingly, working mercies through the risen man and fresh blessings suited to this character, yet He is “the Father of glory” as being the great Head and Fountain of all heavenly blessedness, the One from whom it all came to His own name and praise. This at once lets us into the secret of the prayer. Glory is the main thought — not the only, but the most prominent, feature of the prayer. Hence then the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, purposes and works by Him to give certain blessings to us; and it will be found that the basis of the bright pillar of blessing is Christ risen and glorified at the right hand of God. If you look at the prayer in chapter 3 there is not a word about His being there exalted “far above all principality, and power, and might;” for its subject is not glory at all, nor what God has done: it is not anything conferred upon Christ, but Himself and His love, the sum and substance of my blessing; as it is said there “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” Here the prayer in Ephesians 1 is the contrast in every way of that in Ephesians 3. In the latter, love is the parent idea, and not glory. It is well to bear in mind always this wonderful connection of love and glory; because the one would not do without the other. And although glory be its bright manifestation and effect, yet love is still deeper and is never fully known except in the immediate presence of our Father. The kingdom is not the evidence in our case of the love of God; the proof of it on our behalf is that we are to be with the Son in the Father’s house, and that we shall appear with Christ in glory. Who brings us there? The world knows nothing about the Father’s house. It is a scene outside the earth, that no eye of man here below can possibly enter into. But He will also display us to the world.

Hence it is that, in John 17:22, you will find that the glory which the Father gives the Son and which the Son gives to us because of His all-perfect love — this gift is in order that the world may know that the Father sent the Son and loved us as He loved the Son. To prove the love, the glory there, as here, is set prominently forward. As we have the prayer of glory in Ephesians 1 and the prayer of love in Ephesians 3, so the glory that is given in John 17 is to prove what otherwise would not have been so clearly made known to the world. Men here below may see the glory, but they cannot enter into the love. The world will gather from our being in the glory with the Lord Jesus that we were loved with the same love wherewith the Lord Jesus was loved. Glory expresses itself outwardly, but love goes deeper still and brings one into the scene where the Father reveals Himself in His beloved Son. This is what l may call an intimate, family scene outside the world, the heavenly rest and home. It is not merely brightness, glory, majesty, or power. All these things will have their full display; but there is something deeper than all and which lies at the root of all. It is the love, which, though it be the least entered into, yet at the same time was really before all, and that to which all will turn. It is the highest of all, and it is eternal. The kingdom may terminate — the love never. The display before the world will have a beginning and an end. But as the love will never end, so it always was in the bosom of God the Father.

Thus we have the prayer that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him.” There might be a little difficulty if it were simply “the knowledge of him.” The proper meaning of the word is “the full knowledge of him.” They already knew Him, but Paul prayed that they might know Him more. He wanted them to be fathers in Christ, and what constitutes a father is a deep and growing knowledge of Christ Himself. The Spirit of God alone could give them this entrance into it; but it was in the full knowledge of Him. “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe.” We have three things here brought before us, which call for particular consideration.

First, there is “the hope of his calling.” Now I conceive that there he is referring in measure to what we have already found in the early part of the chapter. “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.” At any rate, I think verse 4 is before his mind’s eye here. Verse 5 brings in His place as Father. “The hope of his calling” is founded on the full blessedness that pertains to us according to that purpose of God which is already ours in Christ — already made known to us and received by our hearts — the calling of God that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. But then if this be the hope of His calling (for everything is made to flow from God Himself), he adds, “and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” (Ver. 12.) There clearly he refers to what we found in the body of the chapter: the inheritance and not only the calling. The calling was the effectual work of God’s grace, and the riches of the inheritance rather the glory suited to such a calling. But, besides this character of glory, there is, first, the hidden portion suitable to being chosen to be holy and without blame before Him in love — called to be the reflection of His own holy, loving nature, which, of course, we have got in the life of Christ, and which we shall have perfectly developed when changed into His image, from glory to glory. For His calling has its own proper hope of what we shall enjoy in His presence.

Thus there is, secondly, the inheritance. He wished them to know the riches of its glory, to know it better. But he uses a remarkable expression — “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” You must carefully guard against a prevalent error on this subject, namely, that the saints mean the inheritance. This is not at all the force of the phrase: nay, I have no hesitation in saying that it would falsify the chief blessedness of the Church’s calling. If we look at the Old Testament, we find that Israel were His inheritance and His people; and that God, by virtue of Israel, took possession of the land. When the day comes for God to be king, and more than king, when He takes under His government the entire universe, how will this be done? Will it be by Israel? No; but by virtue of His heavenly saints — the Church of God. The expression seems to be purposely large. Most decidedly it means the saints changed or risen, so as to be in the likeness of Christ, in an entirely heavenly condition. Such is the mode in which God will challenge and assume the inheritance by and by into His own hand. When He took Canaan, He did not come down and possess it by heavenly power, but by means of His people. But when God expels the wicked spirits from any connection with the heavenly places, when He puts down all power upon the earth — everything that contradicts Himself, and reduces the whole universe into subjection to the name of Christ, who are destined to take it in His name, as Israel entered on the land of Canaan? The risen saints. Hence the meaning of the words, “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” The common notion that the saints constitute the inheritance is unscriptural. For most carefully throughout the New Testament, the saints are always represented as (not the inheritance, but) the heirs, “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” They are nowhere treated as the inheritance, but, on the contrary, what is revealed as the inheritance means the things in heaven and things on earth; and the Church is ever and sedulously separated from them. This I consider to be a point which cannot be left as an open question; the testimony of the word is too abundant and precise. We ought never to allow what is clearly revealed in Scripture to be debatable or uncertain, because doubt always has an injurious effect upon the spirit, no less than it insults God and grieves His Spirit. Another’s certainty will not do for us; but we need not hesitate to speak plainly where we have no doubt of God’s mind upon a subject. And when looked at in this point of view, it quite falls in with the structure of the chapter. As we have found “the hope of his calling” in the first clause answering to what we had in the earlier verses, so the “glory of the inheritance” answers to the middle verses of the chapter. God means to have the whole universe blest and happy under Christ; not merely glory given to Him in heaven, or a people subject to Him here below. We have here an incomparably larger view of what God intends. Christ is to have universal blessedness and glory, all things in heaven and earth being put under Him; and we have obtained in Him this inheritance.

The remaining point is, “the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.” (Ver. 20.) Why not draw attention to the power that was put forth when He made the world? When Israel are addressed, He speaks of Himself as the Jehovah-God who clave the Red Sea, and brought His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

But what to us is the Red Sea crossed? The resurrection of Christ; not the incarnation nor even the cross of Christ, though we could not do without either. The cross, though the most essential of all things for God’s glory and our need, does not give us the power of God. It shows us what God calls His weakness, and if I look at Christ there, He was “crucified through weakness.” It was One who submitted to everything, who put Himself in the power of His creatures; who went down under the judgment of God and sank even under the puny hand of man. But when we look at the resurrection, all trace of weakness is for ever past away and nothing is seen but the most triumphant power of God; a power far beyond anything connected with either the law or creation. It was a question of going down into the grave, not merely of a man, but of that man who had borne in His person the sins of every soul that believes in Him. And so completely was God glorified about these sins that He takes up the despised, rejected, forsaken man from under the unheard of burden, and puts Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places. We have there the astonishing contrast between the grave in which Christ lay and the glory into which He is now exalted, still as man — the glorified man — far above all creatures, be they ever so high or blest: above creatures which were far above man in one sense and had never known taint or fall: above the principalities, authorities, dominions, powers on high, the heavenly orders, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but in that which is to come. (Ver. 21.) There will be the display of angelic hosts then, when the Son of man shall come in His glory and all the holy angels with Him. But He is raised above them all now. To be above them as God would be nothing new; He is so always. But He has carried humanity above them; He is there exalted in our nature — risen, of course, but still the nature of man. He has given us present association with the throne of God. For the application of all this is given to us here — “the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” It is not merely the exceeding greatness of His power towards Christ, but towards us in Christ. The power that wrought in our deliverance from Satan, that gave us our place as saints before God, is the self-same power that raised up Christ from the dead and put Him in the most glorious place in heaven. Is there anything difficult after this? If we knew we had at command the power which called the world into being, should we not laugh at impossibilities?

But we have an energy greater than that which was put forth in creation — no less than what raised up Christ from the dead. The word of God positively tells us so. Why then are we so weak? Because we so feebly believe it. The great mass of God’s children never hear about it at all. But even they who, through the mercy of God, have heard, how little do they enter into it! It is one thing not to deny it doctrinally, another to apply it and live in it, not only for great straits or heavy blows, but for the ordinary train of daily duty, of that which becomes us as saints, subjecting ourselves to the will of God. We forget, if we are in circumstances of difficulty, if in the midst of foes, if we have to do with unseen enemies, what it is the apostle prays for us. That we may know the exceeding greatness of His power towards us who believe, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. If the power of the Holy Ghost so wrought in Paul, it was but the answer of the servant to the Master’s heart, who was so pleading above, that we might know the power that is above all obstacles. No saints could know this till after the resurrection was accomplished. It is to usward who believe — strictly to the New Testament saints, called in after the Lord’s death and resurrection.

Alas! how are the mighty fallen. How feebly they now realize their own privileges. Thus, supposing that a deliverer were expected for anything at all, it would be perfectly right to cry for that deliverer — to feel that he was long in coming. But when he came, do you think it would be proper or suitable to urge him to come? It is the mistake people make now. They take up the language of the Psalms and apply it to christian experience. But you could not have in the Psalms the revelation of that which we have here. God’s mercy you surely have previous to the resurrection of Christ; but there was no such thing as that power at work which raised up Christ from the dead. The mistake is profound who pervert the Old Testament so as to make it the language of our experience. It would be sin if one did not use the Old Testament for our own profit and good; but that would be abusing, not using, it. It is unbelief to confound anything of old with the heavenly power of Christ’s resurrection.

This, then, is the measure of the power at work towards us — the same power that wrought in Christ. How are any of these things to be known according to God? “In the full knowledge of him.” You will never learn any truth aright excepting in the deepening knowledge of Christ. It is the lack of this which is the cause of weakness among us: bare doctrine is not connection with Christ. When the flower is separated from that which is its source, its sustenance and support, it is thenceforth doomed to decay and death. We have that which is lovely and full of blessing in Christ; but if we are to know it such, to prove its truth, to enjoy it always, it must be in taking these things as connected with Christ. Let me look at Christ, and I see there the very life that God has given me, and the hope of it too, even as to the inheritance. Who would dare to say, it is presumption for Christ to have it? Nay, but it is what is due to Him. God loves and delights in Him as man so well, that He could not keep back a single thing that He has made from Him. He is the heir of it all; and we, hidden in Christ, can enter into the fulness of His calling, and into the inheritance, because we merge into union with Christ. And as you can only know the calling and the inheritance in the full knowledge of Christ, so it is also with “the exceeding greatness of his power.”

The height of that power is what God put forth when He raised up Christ “from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places,” etc. He has given Him the supreme seat of glory. No matter what could be conceived of the highest angel or archangel, Christ has received a higher dignity, and this place. He holds in present association with us while we are here. It is One who not only owns us and is kind to us, and uses the greatness of His glory for our good, but far more. He who is at the head of a vast empire can turn the throne to the good of his subjects and the glory of those whom he desires to honour; but there is no positive, immediate, personal association with him. This is what the Christian has with Christ. Nothing less than to be one with Christ is what we have here.

Therefore it is added, that this blessed One, under whose feet God has put everything, has been also given to be head over all things to the Church. It is not said, “head over the church,” but “head over all things to the church.” (Ver. 22.) The Church shares His place of headship over all; but as His body, in inseparable union with Him. The glorified Man has universal exaltation over all the creatures of God; and this He shares with us, and will soon manifest as our portion with Him. The Christian is now a member of Christ’s body — now, therefore, by the Holy Ghost, in the most intimate association with Christ, not only as having life in Him, but as enjoying oneness with Him who is the supreme exalted Head over all. He is a member of His body; and although it was not to Eve directly that God gave the dominion, yet did she share it by His will. It was given to Adam, but by association Eve had it along with Adam. So the Church has it as the dependent and associated Eve of the heavenly Man, the last Adam. This gives us at once a bright view of what our calling is, and why God looks for complete separation from the world. In the time of the Protector in this country, it would have been improper for any one that held to the royal family to seek or even accept a post of honour. So with the Christian now. We belong to One who is hidden away from the earth — exalted now into this universal headship. The world that we see is not yet put under Christ practically, though to faith all things are; but we know that He is exalted, “head over all things to the church.”

We belong to Him, and He would have our hearts lifted up above all the present scene. The Church is “His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” (Ver. 23.) It is the complement, or that which fills up Christ, looked at as man risen from the dead. As Son of God He, of course, requires nothing to complete His glory; but as man He does. He would no mare be complete in His resurrection-glory without the Church, than Adam would have been without Eve. And God has, in the counsels of His glory, so ordered it. He meant, from all eternity, that when His Son became this blessed, glorified man, He should share for His own honour and praise all the glory He had as the risen man with those who were by nature poor, dead sinners, but now delivered from their sins, and made one with Christ on high. By the Spirit now given He communicates the knowledge of it to them while in the world, that they may be in spirit and ways entirely above the world.

1 As the verse contains several words and clauses which are not generally understood, it may be added in this note that the word “dispensation” ( οἰκονομία) has no reference to a particular period or age (which is in the New Testament expressed by αἰών). It means “stewardship,” or rather “administration,” the particular form here meant being the summing, or heading ( ἀνακεφαλαίωτις) up of all things, heavenly and earthly, under Christ. This will be in the age to come, when Christ shall be displayed as Head over all things, and the glorified saints shall reign with Him. It is neither this age, during which Satan is still permitted to reign as the god of this world the prince of the power of the air; nor is it the eternal state, when all government is over, and Christ will have given up the kingdom, that God may be all in all. It is the intervening millennium. This will he the fulness of the times, previous periods having been the necessary preparation for it. Meanwhile, redemption through Christ’s blood having been effected, the Holy Ghost seals the believer, and is the earnest of the inheritance.