Pauls's Epistle to the
"That He would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." - EPH. iii. 16-19.
THIS prayer proceeds upon the assumption of those prayed
for being included in the house, or household, of which the apostle has been
speaking. For both figures are used to denote the true church. It is a holy
temple. It is a holy family. You are interested in the prayer as being members
of the church which is Christ's body, the fulness of him that filleth all in
all. You are stones in the house or temple; inmates in the household or family.
And therefore this prayer is offered on your behalf; "For this cause, I bow my
knees." I pray for you.
And I pray for you to one who is a father; first and originally the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and then in him the Father of a large and comprehensive family, including the unfallen heavenly hosts as well as the redeemed from among men; all bearing the name of Jesus, of him whom all angels worship and in whom all the saved believe. My prayer also is very bold and high; the measure of it being nothing short of the transcendent excellency of the Father from whom the blessing is sought. It is according to the riches of his glory that he is asked to grant the request.
No lesser proportion will content me, says the apostle. No lesser proportion should content you.
Now, under and upon this great preamble, what is it that the apostle prays for on your behalf? The answer to this question might not be easy, if we were to go into a critical examination of all the interpretations which have been suggested of what is confessedly a difficult passage; difficult, as all admit, chiefly on account of its vast sublimity and holy spiritual elevation of thought. It is the ideal of the universal church in its ultimate completeness; an ideal now; but soon to become real. I think. However, I may fasten upon five significant terms, as keys by which we may partly unlock this divine casket, so that its precious contents, the riches of the Father's glory, may be set free and shed abroad. These are faith (vers. 16, 17); love (ver. 17); comprehend (ver. 18); knowledge (ver. 19); be filled (ver. 19).
I. Faith is my first stand-point, or point of view. The prayer is that the Father would grant you to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith (vers. 16, 17).
The sense in which the phrase "to be strengthened" is to be taken here, may be best gathered, as I think, from the opposite expression elsewhere (Rom. v. 6), "we were without strength." The context there explains this as meaning "ungodly" (ver. 6); "sinners" (ver. 8); "enemies" (ver. 10); first, ungodly, not owning God and giving loving and loyal allegiance to him; - therefore, secondly, sinners, guilty in his sight, and righteously condemned; - and therefore again, thirdly, enemies, at variance and strife with the God whose just authority we set at nought, and under whose wrath, for that sin, we justly lie. That is our being without strength. For in that state we are impotent; absolutely helpless. We cannot help ourselves : and there is no available help within our sight, or our grasp. We cannot stand erect and firm before the Lord. If we may not hide ourselves among the trees of the garden, or cover our nakedness with aprons of fig leaves, we must hear his call and.come out under his eye, shrinking and shivering, with trembling limbs and fainting heart. We are altogether undone; without strength. But we are to be strengthened, strengthened in respect of what constituted our weakness or our being without strength before. For there is a blessed and gracious correspondence or adaptation here.
We shall be strengthened inwardly. Our strength to stand firm and upright before God is to be from within and not from without. And this is a vital point, involving the new nature, the new heart. To be thus strengthened inwardly is not according to the habit or the desire of the old nature, the old heart. To pray ourselves for such a kind of strengthening, or to accept Paul's praying for it on our behalf, is wholly of grace and not at all of nature. Naturally we lean on outside props; outward religious observances and moral duties; the opinion of men; the church's acceptance of us; and the world's acquittal; something that is not ourselves, or part and parcel of ourselves; but extraneous and external. If we summon up courage at all to meet God face to face, and stand with any measure of boldness in his sight, it is by means of outward appliances and expedients that we try to do so. That, however, is not the sort of strengthening which the apostle would have us to experience and realise. It is in the inner man that he wishes us to be strengthened. As regards this strength, we are to be self-contained; every one of us individually, apart from all the rest.
To strengthen you thus inwardly is the work or office of the Spirit of God. His gracious agency may be dispensed with is the other kind of strengthening that is sought. You may hold up yourselves on the strength of good works done by you, or good offices performed upon you. The world may hold you up by its flattering approval; or the church by its charitable judgment; or the devil with his lie - "You are not worse than others; the tree will make you wise; God cannot have meant you to take his threatening so very literally; you shall not surely die." Thus entrenched in worldly or satanic apologies; or in priestly and sacramental absolutions; or in self-absolutions on the ground of outward acts of piety, you may seem to stand strong. No need of the Spirit in that mood for that strength. But when all these fall away from around you, what is your strength? When you are alone with God, with no one to cling to, and nothing to lean on, what are you? Strong! Ah, if you would be strong then and there, it must be through your being strengthened by God's Spirit in the inner man.
And what is the strength which God's Spirit thus inwardly imparts? It is Christ. Christ dwelling in your hearts; Christ dying for the ungodly; Christ dying for us sinners; Christ justifying us by his blood; Christ the Son of God reconciling us to the Father by his death. It is the indwelling of this Christ in our hearts that is our strength. It is an abiding strength; for he is to dwell in us. It is a sure and real strength, thorough and complete; for he is to dwell in our hearts, for it is the heart that faints under a sense of guilt and fear of wrath; and conscious of enmity and estrangement we lose courage, we lose heart when summoned to stand before God. But let Christ enter into the heart, and win back its trust, its affection, to himself and his Father; let him become the trusted, cherished inmate and owner of the heart, then there need be no more trembling there, but strong confidence and good courage. My flesh and my heart faileth ; but he is the strength, the rock, of my heart.
By faith he is so. By faith he dwelleth in your hearts; by no mystical or sacramental grace, operating blindly like a charm or spell; by no material symbol or priestly ministry imparting him to you almost without your consciousness, concurrence, and consent; but by faith; simply by faith; by faith alone; faith in your hearts. For the faith which is to win and secure for you this indwelling of Christ in your hearts must itself be in your hearts. With the heart man believeth unto righteousness. It is the Spirit opening your hearts, and keeping them ever open for the entrance into them of Christ the King of Glory. It is your intelligent, simple, cordial, glad embracing of Christ, your being always ready, with prompt alacrity, to recognise and rise to meet him as he cries - "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Thus you are to be strengthened with might according to the apostle's prayer. The seat of the strength imparted is the inner man; it is the strength, not of outward propping but of inward peace and power. The agency by which it is imparted is that of the Holy Spirit; for he alone has access directly and immediately into the inner man; he alone, the Spirit of God, can deal effectually with spirits of men. The essence of it is Christ dwelling in your hearts; Christ living in you; Christ in you, the Lord your righteousness, the Lord your strength; Christ in you the hope of glory. The means or instrument of your receiving it is your simple heart's faith. Well may this strength be characterised as mighty; your being strengthened with might. It is indeed your being strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.
II. To faith succeeds love. You are to be rooted and grounded in love. These images or figures suggest the ideas of a grove and a building. You are to be rooted as the trees that constitute a grove, and grounded as the stones and pillars of a building; "rooted and built up" (Coloss. ii. 7). The apostle here refers to and resumes the thought with which the previous chapter closes; the comparison of the church collective to a temple of which individual believers are the materials, or component parts; and he seems to contemplate the temple in two aspects; on the one hand as formed by the plantation and growth of trees, and on the other as constructed by the skill and toil of workmen out of the stones of the quarried rocks.
In either view, it is, in the first instance, indispensably necessary that the trees be, each of them apart, strong, firm enough to stand erect; and the stones strong, compact, square, and solid enough to lie in position and bear pressure. But that first condition being secured, something more is needed. The strong, well-growing trees must be capable of orderly combination, so as to constitute the temple's leafy walls. The strong, well-polished stones must be capable of being adjusted and fitted in to one another, so as to make the entire temple structure secure, symmetrical, and imposing.
In your case, the first necessity is met by faith; the second can be met only by love. For faith, while it strengthens you as individuals and strengthens you mightily, does not of itself bring you together, or form you into one body, one clump or building. In order to that, it must work by love. In its own proper nature, and as regards its immediate efficacy, it strengthens you personally, every one of you apart. It gives you courage and confidence, Christ by it dwelling in your hearts, to appear before God without shame and without fear. That is its legitimate and primary function, limited to a personal transaction and a personal dealing between you and God, having reference not to others but to yourselves alone, bearing exclusively on your personal relation to God and standing in his sight.
If you and others, thus strengthened, are to grow together, or to be built together into a holy temple in the Lord, there is need of a principle, or influence, or power, more pliant and plastic, as well as more catholic and less self-regarding than faith. And what is needed is found in love, or in faith working by love. Love is the soil, rich, deep, and generous, and withal homogeneous all through, in which all the trees are rooted. It is also the soft and tender lime or mortar, the close-drawing and close-fixing cement, in which, through successive layers, the stones are deposited or imbedded.
"Were the soil in which the trees are rooted not all of one kind, and that the best and the most kindly; were the trees rooted in soils which, though contiguous, were as diverse as the soils in the parable of the sower; no care or culture of any husbandman, however watchful and expert, could ensure their growing into anything else than a mixed and motley group of detached, ill-matched, ill-assorted stumps and stems, alike unfit and unworthy to have the sacred character of the house of God. So also, were the binding cement in which the stones are row by row grounded, of many different qualities and modes of acting, what but unseemly rents must ensue, and perilous cracks and flaws and fissures!
But the soil is love; the cement is love. And it is love which is always and everywhere itself one; love, which makes all in whom it is implanted and imbedded, or rather who are implanted and imbedded in it, one; one in nature, one in heart and mind, one in the mutual embracing of one another, as of one family in the Lord. Yes, you are to be all rooted and grounded in one and the same love; the love which, flowing ever freshly forth from the warm bosom and large heart of the Eternal Father, flows ever freshly into your bosoms and your, hearts, through that faith wrought in you by the Spirit which opens your bosoms and your hearts for the indwelling in them of God's dear Son; the love which reproduces itself in your bosoms, in your hearts, as you learn more and more to love, because God hath first loved you, and as God hath loved you, to love with the very love, forthgoing, forthflowing, wide, rich and free, with which God loves, when he so loved the world that he gave his only hegotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life; when not having spared his own Son, but given him up for us all, with him also he freely gives us all things.
III. Faith and love lead on to comprehension or taking in; a comprehensive survey of something very vast; and vast in all directions (ver. 18). What is that whose breadth and length and depth and height you are to be able, through faith and love, to comprehend? Is it an attribute or affection, such as love, the love of Christ? I think not. We come to that presently, in a somewhat different connection.
I rather find myself now, first strengthened as a believer, so as to be fit for standing alone; but at the same time, secondly, having all over me, and all through me, love; love being my soil and cement: I find myself thus introduced into a grand hall; a glorious amphitheatre, a temple of immeasurable dimensions; thronged and crowded with all the saints; all the holy ones; angels and men; into whose society I am strangely and of grace admitted. In company with them, and in full sympathy with them, I look behind, before, below, above; and see nought but one wellnigh boundless room and home for all the elect, all the saved. I comprehend its breadth and length and depth and height. It is not that I comprehend it, in all its vastness and in all its dimensions, so as to grasp it in my experience, or even in my imagination. No. I can comprehend it only as I may comprehend the multitudinous starry sky, when I come abroad on some calm, clear night, and gaze into the all but infinite, around, beneath, above. So, believing and loving; strengthened, through believing, and therefore able to stand erect and firm under the opened heavens; melted, through loving, into catholic and holy fellowship with all on whom these heavens open; I stand under the canopy of the highest azure sky, and look abroad, around, below, above.
It is a great sight. And it is not as being alone that I look. It is as associated with all the saints; all the holy ones. I am myself one of the family that fills the house to overflowing; one of the society, for whose accommodation, I see with adoring gratitude and wonder, that, with all its vastness, the house is almost too small. I comprehend its breadth and length and depth and height only to realise, in common with all the saints with whom I comprehend it, that in all directions it defies any bounds I might assign to it.
It goes far lengthways and broadways; far every way; all around; over all the universe where lost beings capable of salvation are to be found. This vast elastic net and comprehensive structure sweeps and gathers all around into its embrace. It goes down to the lowest depths of humanity's utmost degradation, and carries all that it rescues to the highest heavenly elevation. It is a wonderful temple or tabernacle; and has wonderful qualities as a tabernacle, growing into a temple. It is, in that view, capable of the widest expansion. It is indeed a tabernacle indefinitely, if not infinitely, expansible in breadth and length and depth and height. And you, believing and loving, are brought to comprehend its being so. It is a blessed fruit of love, or of faith working by love. It is your being brought into intelligent and sympathising oneness with the great architect of the temple himself! Whether it is to be made up of trees, or of stones, it is viewed by you now in the light in which it is seen by him.
You see it in a measure, in its breadth, length, depth and height as he sees it. You enter intelligently and sympathisingly into his great plan and purpose to gather into one family bearing his Son's glorious name all in heaven and on earth that are his; to prepare in that family, and as embracing all its members, a fitting temple for his own inhabitation. Thus you comprehend, as far as it is to be comprehended by the understanding of the creature as now enlightened spiritually, the vast dimensions, in every direction, of the temple now in course of growth, or of building. Only let it be observed, you comprehend it with all saints; not in solitary musing or meditation; but in social Christian fellowship. It is but a dry and dead theoretical catholicity that you can reach in your lonely study. If you would really know the breadth and length and depth and height of the great common hall now in course of erection, it must be in sympathy and co-operation with all the holy ones.
IV. Through this process of faith, love, and comprehension, we reach a marvellous knowledge; the knowledge of the unknowable, "to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." The possibility of knowing what passes knowledge, has become a question or problem in philosophy; the possibility of our having any clear and reliable or trustworthy knowledge of what we cannot know thoroughly. It is a mere speculative juggle; such as the commonest everyday experience might expose. "We act constantly on the faith of a partial knowledge of men and things, holding the knowledge to be valid so far as it goes; otherwise, very often we could not act at all. All depends on what it is that is to be known. If it is what may be thoroughly known by our minds as now constituted and now enlightened, then we are bound thoroughly to know it. But who will say that the love of Christ is a thing of that sort? Especially when I begin to conceive of that love, not only in its bearing on my individual case, but in its relation to the vast purpose of the Father to gather into one all things in him, to form a universal family of all the saved, heavenly and earthly, bearing his name; to build a great temple, whose breadth and length and depth and height only faith divinely wrought and divinely working by love can comprehend. When I enter there, I come in contact with a love that passeth knowledge. In one view, indeed, it might seem, and it is true, that I best know the love of Christ, so far as it is knowable, through my own personal and individual experience; through his dealings with me and my dealings with him. It is thus that I know the love of Christ at first; and thus I must continue to know it first and primarily at every stage of my spiritual progress. It is vain and idle to say or think that I can ever at any time know the love of Christ in any wider aspect or application of it, if I am not at that very time first knowing it, so as to realise it, in its bearing on me; or as his loving me and giving himself for me.
But while this is needful for the depth and warmth of my knowledge of the love of Christ, that it should be intensely personal; a knowledge of it as his love to me personally and individually; something more is needed for its width and comprehensiveness. In particular, something more is needed for its being a knowledge of his love as passing knowledge. For in order to that I must seek to know his love by entering into it and sharing it. I must not be merely a receiver or recipient of it, as the object on whom it is bestowed. I must rise to a participation with him in the very love itself which he feels and shows. I would know his love, not merely by the appropriation of it as running in the narrow channel of its most gracious adaptation to my case, but by real sympathy with it in its widest scope and sweep, as regards the whole counsel of God and the final setting up of his great temple.
If, indeed, I am to know this love at all, or at all truly and adequately, I must know it thus not as an individual sitting apart, but in fellowship with all the saints. I must get out of myself, and my own individual case. I must make common cause with all who love the Lord Jesus, and join heartily with them in every work of faith and labour of love. And all this I must do, as sympathisingly, comprehending with them the love of Christ; his love to me; and to them as well; his love far reaching, in every direction, beyond them and me ; his love as the Good Shepherd, having other poor sheep that are not of this or that fold; his love bent upon there being but one fold under one Shepherd.
To know that love of Christ is surely possible, if we seek to know it with all saints; not as if we would ourselves monopolise it, or appropriate it as exclusively or pre-eminently ours; but as willing to recognise its large and universal fulness. And it is a blessed knowledge, real and true, and therefore blessed; though it is the knowledge of what passeth knowledge. Nay, it is blessed because it is so. It is our entrance into an experience which can never be exhausted. To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge! It is the beginning of an eternal scholarship; an endless progressive study. The theme of the study, Christ's love, passeth knowledge; the study, therefore, can never reach completion. Throughout eternity we shall be ever learning to know the love of Christ, of which, the more we know it, we shall know that it passeth knowledge. In this sense, through eternity we shall be ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, to the true and full knowledge of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.
V. There remains one other great and final consummation which the apostle's prayer would have you to reach; "that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." The idea is almost beyond belief, beyond conception. And yet, in connection with the apostle's line of thought, it may become conceivable, yes, and believable too. He has, as it were, in vision before him, a holy temple; vast, immense; wondrously reared by a love that passeth knowledge; but reared in a manner and for a purpose fitted to make that love reliably known. It is meant to be for a habitation of God through the Spirit (chap. ii. 22). That temple is to be filled with all the fulness of God; it must be so if he is to inhabit it. For he cannot be where his fulness is not; he cannot dwell where his fulness dwells not. If, therefore, he is himself to inhabit that temple, it must be filled with all his fulness. What was manifested symbolically and typically at the dedication of Solomon's temple is to be fulfilled in this one. Then the cloud, the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. That was a visible symbol of Jehovah's presence; not certainly his fulness. But the New Testament spiritual temple is really filled with his own very fulness. It may well be so. All its materials are separately filled and prepared by the Spirit. Christ dwells by faith in every one of them. They are lovingly compacted together. And together they form a holy temple, and one all but infinitely wide in all its dimensions, such as may be well and worthily filled with all the fulness of God. But of such a temple, composed of such materials, must it not be true that what fills the whole, fills also every part? For in truth the parts are so related to the whole, that the whole cannot be ultimately filled with anything with which all the parts are not first severally and separately filled. It is, and can only be, through all the parts being severally filled, that the whole is filled. If it is the fulness of God that is to fill the entire structure, it must do so through its filling all the materials of which it is composed. In plain terms, the church collective cannot have in it more of the divine presence and the divine blessing than its members have in themselves individually.
But the apostle would have you individually to reverse this order, and to look at this matter in another light. He would have you to seek to be yourselves filled with all the fulness of God, through your comprehending with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and knowing the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. The fulness of God is in that great holy temple, composed as it is of living beings, intelligent and free; elect angels and the redeemed from among men; these last especially planted as goodly trees in the garden of the Lord; polished as well-hewn stones and stately pillars in his house. The fulness of God is in this vast erection; all his fulness; the fulness of all his perfections illustriously displayed; the fulness of all the riches of his grace and glory copiously bestowed. The whole fulness of God is there; all that he can ever show of his character; all that he can ever give of his bounty. He exhausts himself, as it were, to fill that immense living temple of all the saints; the countless assembly of his chosen and holy ones. You are joined with them; you are parts of the temple formed of them; and the fulness of God which fills it as a whole, fills you also as one of its parts.
For this is the marvel of that fulness of God. It fills the universal church, the whole family in heaven and earth named of Christ; fills it to overflowing; for the universal church, even when it is complete, can scarcely contain it all. And yet your heart, O humble believer in Jesus, your single heart, your broken heart, can contain it all, as well as the universal church can. Yes, when the love of God is shed abroad in your heart through the Holy Ghost being given unto you; when he takes of what is Christ's, and shows it unto you ; when the very love with which the Father loveth the Son dwells in you and he in you; and the very glory which the Father giveth the Son is given by the Son to you; when Father, Son, and Holy Ghost come and make their abode with you; when the mystery of a single soul saved, and that soul your own, grows in your apprehension into the mystery of a mighty multitude, ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation, singing the new song; when your heart takes in these two mysteries and realises them as one, the one mystery of godliness, is it not indeed filled to overflowing with all the fulness of God; the fulness of all that he is, all that he has, all that he gives?
Two practical reflections, suggested by the subject we have been considering, may close this discourse.
I. How personal and individual a matter is the religion of Jesus! There is no salvation in it for sinners in the mass; no wholesale amnesty or deliverance. Every one must stand alone. There must be a personal and individual reckoning with every one separately, alone, and by himself; first a smiting, and then a strengthening. This is a solemn thought for the ungodly. Though hand join in hand the wicked shall not escape punishment. There is no safety for thee, 0 sinner, in a crowd. Thou canst not hide thyself in the multitude of thy companions, or lean on their support, or justify thyself by pleading their countenance and concurrence. Alone, thou must meet thy God; alone, in thine own solitary impotence and helplessness, without strength; alone, by thyself, to be graciously strengthened with might if thou wilt; but yet anyhow thou must meet thy God alone. Alone thou meetest him when thou comest to thy last hour. Ah, the terror of that view of death, its solitariness. Friends may go with thee to the verge of the dark valley, but thou passest through it alone. Loving faces may be around thy bed, loving voices may be whispering in thine ear; but lo, the cold hand of death is upon thee, and thou art alone; alone with thy God; face to face alone with thy Maker and thy Judge!
Ah, rather be alone with him now! Come out from the company in whose companionship thou hast been vainly dreaming of security. Say not, "a confederacy" to all them to whom they say "a confederacy." Come out and stand alone before thy God. Let him deal with thee by thyself, apart, now; as if thou wert the only sinner in all his wide creation. Stand! Nay, thou canst not stand that awful ordeal, that lonely solitary dealing, when thou lettest go thy hold of all thy comrades and art alone with thy God. Thou art weak, helpless, undone. Thou faintest, thou fallest. Oh, blessed fall, thou lone and lost one! Thy God raiseth thee up. Thy Saviour is himself thy strength, his Spirit brings him near; near to thee, to thee alone. And thou nearest his voice as he enters thy heart and thou openest to let him in. "Peace be unto thee, thy sins be forgiven thee, thou art strengthened. I am thy strength; I, Jesus, who am Jehovah thy righteousness, and therefore Jehovah thy strength."
II. How wide and catholic a matter is the religion of Jesus! Dealt with thus alone, 0 poor soul! thus faithfully, thus graciously, thou dost not continue to be alone. The faith which saves thee is thine own solitary act, grasping Christ for thyself alone, as loving thee and giving himself for thee. But the love by which faith works cannot breathe in solitude. No, it introduces you into fellowship with the great heart of the Father, in his purpose to gather into one all in Christ. You are invited, you are called, to enter with lively sympathy with that purpose in all its wide sweep and compass. It is your privilege to be fellow-workers with the Father, and the whole family, in carrying it out. That is your high vocation. The reproach is sometimes cast upon the doctrine of grace that it tends to foster a selfish frame of mind. "We are represented as caring only for our own personal salvation, congratulating ourselves on our security, as a select circle of heaven's favourites, and complacently consigning well-nigh the whole race of men to ruin. The reproach is undeserved. Let us prove it to be so. Let us meet it practically. Let us with all saints comprehend the vastness of the divine plan of love. Let us labour in the building of the all vast, boundless temple, that is to be an habitation of God through the Spirit. Let us watch and pray, until " before Zerubbabel the great mountain shall become a plain, and the headstone of the house shall be brought forth with shoutings; Grace, grace, unto it."
Go To Chapter Five
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