How God planned for and works in the production of His Masterpiece.
1. The Introduction.
"Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace he to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.'' (Verses 1-2.)
The introductory words of this great Epistle are in tune with the great revelation it contains. It is interesting to compare the opening words of the different Epistles. Inspiration is as much manifested in the introductions and greetings, as it is in the great doctrinal unfoldings of these precious documents. In Romans Paul speaks of himself in the beginning of the Epistle as separated unto the Gospel of God; in the words of introduction all the leading features of that Gospel are revealed, because Romans unfolds the Salvation of God. In the Epistle to the Corinthians among whom the leaven of worldliness was working, the fact of their sanctification is put in the foreground:
"sanctified in Christ Jesus, called Saints." Galatians is characterized in the first verse as the Epistle in which the Holy Spirit gives the defence of the apostolic authority of Paul and of the Gospel he preached: "an apostle, not from men, nor through man." Colossians too has its characteristic introduction, while in the Epistle to the Philippians Paul does not speak of himself at all as an apostle, but associated with Timotheus, he speaks as a fellow-servant and fellow-saint.
Without showing these peculiarities in the opening sentences of the other Epistles we point out that "the will of God" is made prominent in the very brief introduction of our Epistle. Paul means "little." It is the name Saul of Tarsus assumed with the conversion of Sergius Paulus in Paphos (Acts xiii:7-9). The name tells of the great humility of the Apostle, which is elsewhere more fully expressed in this Epistle (Chapter iii :8). And his apostleship is by "the will of God." It is to be noticed that the will of God is repeatedly mentioned in the first chapter. All the blessings mentioned flow forth from the will of God. What God hath done for us in Christ Jesus is "according to the good pleasure of His will" (verse 5); "having made known unto us the mystery of His will" (verse 9); "who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (verse 11). This will of God reacheth back before the foundation of the world. It made the erstwhile persecutor of the church of God the Apostle of Jesus Christ, through whom that blessed will of God is now fully revealed.
"To the Saints which are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus."
We stated before that the words "which are at Ephesus" are not found in the best manuscripts. It is of little or no consequence. The Epistle may have been sent from one assembly to another, and in all probability is the one mentioned in Colossians iv:16. There is no mention made of the church at Ephesus, though the Epistle contains the fullest revelation of the church we have in the Word of God. Individual believers are addressed as Saints and as faithful in Christ Jesus. The words "Saints and the faithful" do not mean, as it has been supposed, two classes of believers in Ephesus. All believers are constituted saints, "separated ones." But a Saint may not be faithful. Many who are saved by Grace and called Saints are unfaithful in their walk and testimony. The believers addressed are such, who live in faithfulness in Christ Jesus, manifesting in practical holiness their calling as Saints. And to such the Holy Spirit can give the highest and the best; He was unhindered to make known unto them the blessed revelation this Epistle contains. This is still an important principle. This address to "the Saints and faithful in Christ Jesus" corresponds to the division of the Epistle. In the first three chapters we learn that God has made us His Saints in Christ, and in the last three chapters we are exhorted to walk in faithfulness.
Then follows the salutation so full of blessed meaning. "Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." These words are often termed a wish, a prayer or a blessing. They are more than that. Grace and Peace from the Father and His ever blessed Son, the Lord Jesus Christ are bestowed upon us, and they are put at the beginning of this and other Epistles to assure the people of God, that these unfathomable blessings, Grace and Peace, are on our side. No matter how weak and imperfect those may be who are saved and sheltered in Christ, Grace and Peace will never be withholden from them. The Holy Spirit never mentions Himself in these salutations to the Saints. They are always exclusively from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is in the Saints of God.
2. The great Doxology. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus." Verse 3.
This great doxology should constantly be as an outburst of praise upon the lips of God's redeemed people. It stands at the beginning of the great revelation of this Epistle, without doubt the greatest doxology in the entire Word of God. And when we reach the end of these three marvellous chapters we find another outburst of praise recorded. "Unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen" (iii:20-21). Between these two doxologies are found the unfathomable riches of the Grace of God towards us in Christ. The third verse, the beginning of the Epistle itself, is the key to the great revelation which follows in this chapter. It is the bud which the Holy Spirit gradually unfolds.
The Godhead in blessing sinners is revealed in this doxology. First we find the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the author of all blessings. We are to bless Him for the blessing which He has bestowed upon us. We are to give the blessings back to Him in praise.
In the second place we learn that the blessings are in Christ. In His Son, God has blessed us. He gave Him for us. He came, died and was raised from the dead. In Him we have believed and in Him, with whom we are one Spirit, God has blessed us. Then in the third place we read of the blessings, what kind of blessings they are, spiritual blessings; they are therefore communicated by the Holy Spirit. And how many such blessings has He given? Our authorized version states "with all spiritual blessings." The correct rendering is "with every spiritual blessing." There is then no blessing whatever, which God can give, which He has kept back from those who are in Christ. All God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, can give in spiritual blessings, He has given. It is a most blessed fact! God has now come forth and revealed what He can do for such as we are and how great are the exceeding riches of His Grace. In Old Testament times God had His people Israel. To them He promised earthly blessings. But greater than the blessings of the earth are the blessings He has given to us in Christ. What these blessings are we shall discover in the verses which follow.
The phrase "in heavenly places" should be translated "Heavenlies." It is peculiar to this Epistle. We find the Heavenlies mentioned five times. Chapter i:3, 19; ii:6; iii:10 and vi:12. It has a twofold meaning, the nature of the blessings which are ours in a risen and ascended Christ, and the locality where our Lord, the Head of the body is. In the Heavenlies where He is now, the church will be with Him. As we review this doxology we find the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit mentioned. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us; these blessings are in the Son and as spiritual blessings they are communicated by the Holy Spirit.
What follows is very interesting. From the fourth verse to the fourteenth we find the blessings stated with which we are blest in Christ. Generally these blessings are enu-merated by expositors of this Epistle, and seven of them are pointed out. There seems to be a better key to unlock the verses which speak of these blessings. Three times in these verses we read of the praise of God, His Grace and His Glory. Chapter 1:6, "To the praise of the Glory of His Grace." Verse 12, "That we should be to the praise of His Glory." Verse 14, "Unto the praise of His Glory." Each of these words of praise mark the end of what is said about the different persons of the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In verses 4-6 we read of what the Father has done; verses 7-12 reveal what we have and are in the Son, in Christ; verses Th and 14 reveal the work of God the Holy Spirit. Thus we have the work of the Godhead in our behalf represented in this chapter.
3. The Plan of the Work of the Godhead. Verses 4-14.
A. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him; in love having predestinated us unto the Sonplace by Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." Verses 4-6.
These three verses reveal the blessed work of God the Father. Three great facts are men-tioned of Him. He hath
a. Chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the World.
b. Predestined us unto the Sonplace in Christ.
c. Made us accepted in the Beloved.
How wonderful these statements are! Here we are face to face with revelation. To deny this would stamp these words as the lying imaginations of a deceiver, absolutely unreliable and untrustworthy. Only a direct revelation from God can acquaint us with that which took place before the foundation of the world. In the first verse of the Bible we read of God's original Creation. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." How many millions of years ago this took place is not revealed, nor can human science ever find it out. (The guesses of Science on the age of the earth are amusing. They range from 20 million years to 400 mil-lions. None of the eminent scientists have ever been able to agree on a fixed number. And if they did, it would still be guesswork.)
But here revelation takes us before the foundation of the world. Whatever is in God's eternity, that unfathomable existence without a beginning, is beyond man's ability to know - and therefore unrevealed. In the words before us the Spirit of God makes known the great truth, that God, before even the world existed, planned His Masterpiece, how He would make known the exceeding riches of His Grace. With Him in all eternity, resting in His own bosom was His Only Begotten Son, the Son of His Love. In Him, by Him and for Him all things, visible and invisible were called into existence. Before even this creation was effected, God knew the outcome. Surprise is an impossibility with God. He knows the end from the beginning, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts xv :18).
Before He created the highest creature, him who was the Cherub that covereth (Ezek. xxviii:14), God knew that he would become the Devil. The whole story of man's fall, dragged down by the fallen Lucifer (Isaiah xiv:12) into sin and death, was not hidden from God. He knew all what would come to pass. The whole human race as it was to come into existence was known to Him and every member in that race. Well may we exclaim with David, when the Spirit of God unfolded to him God's omniscience, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain to it" (Psalm cxxxix :6). And then God made provision. He made the "ages" in His Son (Hebr. i :2-3). Then He chose us in Him that we should be holy and without blame before Him. This deep and blessed statement refers to the Saints of God, who constitute the Church, the body of Christ and as such the Glory of Christ (Chapter i :23). In Ephesians we find the fullest revelation concerning the church, that mystery, which was not made known in former ages (Chapter iii:5).
Here on the threshold of this sublime revelation we are told that the church was in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. Before His blessed Son ever came to this earth for redemption, before He ever died on Calvary's Cross and rose from the dead to return as the glorified Man into God's presence, before the Holy Spirit ever came to form that body, God knew the members of it, all who would constitute the body of His Son, the church. And as such He has chosen them that they should be holy and without blame before Him. How men with a show of learning have wrestled with these statements and by their theories and opinions have made the words "election" and "predestination" obscure and difficult! Depths are connected with the statements before us which we cannot fathom. And God forbid that we should ever try to explain the actions of God's Sovereignty or judge Him by our own thoughts. We bow in adoration and worship in the presence of such a statement "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world." Israel as the elect earthly people will give us a little help. In Old Testament times there were many nations, nations of culture, learning and power. Yet God did not take them up, but let them go their own way. But what does He say concerning Israel? "Hear this Word that the Lord hath spoken against you, oh children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, you only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos iii:1-2). Israel is His elect earthly people; but their election is never spoken of as having been before the foundation of the world. Israel was chosen in time. The Saints of the New Testament times, which constitute the Body of His blessed Son, He hath chosen before there was a world. That body, the church, is an outgathered company, in its number known to God alone, because He has chosen them. And this choice of God declares that in Christ we should be, even as we are (blessed be His Name) "holy and without blame." It means that we become thus partakers of His nature, the nature of God, and therefore a nature capable of communion with God, a nature to which no blame is attached. This God willed and this is the portion of every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Grace of God bestows it upon us. And our destiny as we shall see, the destiny of the elect body of Christ, the Church, is not in connection with the earth, but in the Heavenlies, even as we are chosen before there was an earth.
The words "in Love" with which verse 4 ends, we believe, belong to the sentence which follows in the next verse, so that we read, "In love having predestinated us unto the Sonplace through Christ Jesus by Himself according to the good pleasure of His will." It was love which purposed all this, the love which passeth knowledge. The words before us reveal the position, which God has given to those whom He hath chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. The authorized version speaks of "adoption of children." This hardly expresses it correctly. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are not adopted into the family of God; they are born into the family. The Greek has only one word "Sonplace." We are placed into the position of Sons. Not alone hath God given to us His own nature, but He gives us, because we have that nature in and through His Son, the place as Sons. Think of what God might have done for those, who by wicked works are His enemies. He might have given us the place of unfallen angels, the wonderful ministers of Heaven. What mercy that would have been! Or He might have lifted us to the dignity of an Archangel, full of beauty and power. But even that would not have been the very best He could have done in the riches of His Grace and Love. He has made us Sons, like the Son, whom He raised from the dead and seated at His own right hand. Sons of God, like His Son, destined to be joint heirs with Him and forever with the Lord; this tells out the marvellous story of God's riches in Grace. He gave to His Son, risen from the dead, a better name and a better inheritance than the angels.
And this we share in Him according to the eternal will of God. And all this is "according to the good pleasure of His will." Not according to our works, nor according to the appreciation or apprehension of all this, as some have stated. Our works and actions have absolutely nothing to do with this. All we do is to accept in faith that, into which God has brought us according to His will. It is all of God. How else could it be, if it was all done in His will before even a human being existed.
Before we pass to the third statement, a brief word on "predestination." This word, which means "marked out" is nowhere found in connection with the Gospel, nor does it say anywhere in the Word, what some have said, that God has predestinated human beings to be lost. But while we do not read that He ever predestinated any one to be lost we read "God would have all men to be saved" (1 Tim. ii:4). God has nothing to say to a lost world about predestination. His Grace, bringing salvation has appeared unto all men. God's offer of salvation is therefore to all.
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