SPIRITUAL HISTORY OF THE EPHESIANS . This passage corresponds to Genesis 1:1-31 . It is a history of creation, and we note the same great stages.
1. Chaos ( Genesis 1:1-3 ).
2. The dawn—the Spirit of God moving on the face of the waters ( Genesis 1:4 ).
3. The work of creation—in successive stages ( Genesis 1:4-10 ).
For we are his workmanship. Another illustration and evidence of grace. We have to be fashioned anew by God before we can do anything aright (see 2 Corinthians 5:17 ). Anything right in us is not the cause of grace, but its fruit. There seems to be no special reason for the change from the second to the first person. Created in Christ Jesus for good works. So little inward capacity had we for such works, that we required to be created in Christ Jesus in order that we might do them. The inward new birth of the soul is indicated. When good works were required, this gracious change had to be wrought to secure them. The purpose of the new creation is to produce them. Christ "gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people of his own, zealous of good works." It is not good works first, and grace after; but grace first, and good works after (see Titus 2:11 , Titus 2:14 ). Which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. A further proof of the true origin of good works. They are the subjects of a Divine decree. Before the foundation of the world it was ordained that whoever should be saved by grace should walk in good works. The term " walk ," here denotes the habitual tenor of the life; it is to be spent in an atmosphere of good works. Here we have one of the Divine safeguards against the abuse of the doctrine of salvation by grace. When men hear of salvation irrespective of works, they are apt to fancy that works are of little use, and do not need to be carefully attended to. On the contrary, they are part of the Divine decree, and if we are not living a life of good works, we have no reason to believe that we have been saved by grace.
Spiritual history of Ephesians.
I. THE CHAOS , or original state.
1. It is a state of death , implying previous life, but present insensibility and helplessness. The element of death is "trespasses and sins "—their killing power.
2. Yet a state of unholy activity ,
3. A state of unholy indulgence ; seeking the fulfillment
4. A state of condemnation ; "by nature," by our very constitution, we are children of wrath. And this true of all.
II. THE DAWN . "But." Force of contrast. "The darkest hour precedes the dawn."
1. God ' s work . God says, "Let there be light, and there is light."
(a) his mercy;
(b) his love.
2. Results of God ' s interposition .
3. Purpose of God in this process—to "show the exceeding riches of his grace."
III. THE NEW CREATION , or salvation by grace.
1. The great change . "Ye are saved."
2. How effected .
3. Relation of salvation to works .
4. Grandeur of this work . Creation was grand; new creation is grander. To bring a world out of nothing was great; to restore a world from chaos is greater. At the first creation, God saw all that he had made, and it was good. At the new creation, he experiences even a deeper emotion of joy. Imperfection of the new creation in this life in human souls. Let us seek that in us it may become continually more complete and more glorious. It is not that we are called to work, but rather to allow God to work—to have all within us open and unobstructed for the full and free exercise of God's almighty renewing power.
Salvation in its completeness: the place of faith and works.
One thought runs through these two verses like a thread of gold. We are not saved by works, but unto works.
I. THE PRIVILEGE OF BELIEVERS . "Ye are saved."
1. It is implied that the salvation is a present reality. It is not, "Ye shall be saved." They were already in an actual state of salvation; they had passed from death unto life; and the life was everlasting.
2. The salvation was more than a deliverance from the guilt of sin, so as to exempt sinners from future punishment. This is, indeed, the first step in salvation. There must be likewise a deliverance from the power of sin. To be saved from sin is the climax, the consummation, the essence of salvation. Holiness is the most essential thing in salvation. Therefore, while believers may rejoice that they have received pardon through the blood of Christ, let them still more rejoice that Jesus "saves them from their sins" by a continuous supply of his living grace.
II. POWER FOR GOOD WORKS IS INCLUDED IN SALVATION . "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." We are saved because we are thus created. This was the Divine purpose in the mission of the Son; God sent Christ to bless us "by turning every one of us away from our iniquities" ( Acts 3:26 ). We have learnt to believe that our works have nothing to do with our pardon—our evil works have not hindered it, our good works have not helped it; our pardon is of pure grace. But the apostle teaches, in the tenth verse, that what is true of pardon through the death of Christ is equally true of power by his life—that if we are delivered from the punishment of sin by the atoning death of Christ, we are also delivered from the power of sin by the loving grace that streams from the fountain of the cross. Salvation, if it be salvation at all, is "unto good works;" good works not being the root on which salvation grows, but the fruit which grows upon the tree of life.
III. HOW IS THIS FULL SALVATION TO BE OBTAINED ? "By grace are ye saved, through faith." You are "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works."
1. Grace is the fountain at once of pardon and of holiness . The purpose of God is of grace, for "he hath saved us according to his own purpose and grace" ( 2 Timothy 1:9 ); the atonement is of grace, for "ye know the grace of .. Christ, that, though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor" ( 2 Corinthians 8:9 ); the application of it is of grace, for it is "grace that bringeth salvation" ( Titus 2:11 ); and it is according to this grace "we are called with an holy calling" ( 2 Timothy 1:9 ). Now, we have learned to say of pardon that it is "not of works;" equally true is it of our purification that it is not of works—that is, not of our working—for we are "his workmanship, created… unto good works." The old man cannot work. The new man receives the power in the very structure of his spiritual being; for, having died with Christ, he is risen with him that he should walk in newness of life.
2. Faith is the instrumental cause of our salvation . "By grace are ye saved, through faith;" and thus the gospel becomes "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." Power as well as pardon flows forth from Christ to every one that believeth. We are not to suppose, however, that salvation is given as a kind of reward of faith, for, in a true sense, faith is part of the salvation itself. But the apostle uniformly represents faith as that which apprehends the salvation. It is in no sense the ground of salvation; "the righteousness of God which is by faith of Christ Jesus" is the only ground of it, and it is therefore called "the gift of righteousness" Romans 5:17 ); but faith is the hand by which it is received. There is thus no merit in faith any more than there is in the hand of the beggar who receives an alms.
3. Good works are the predestined way along which the saved walk . "Which God hath before prepared that we should walk in them." This might be true in a double sense: either that, by the revelation of the moral law, he has fixed the firm and unalterable pathway of the believer's obedience—prepared, as it were, the sphere of our moral action; or that, by creating us in Christ Jesus, he has preordained our disposition and aptitude for this obedience. It is evident from the apostle's doctrine that
But they are necessary, notwithstanding, on the following grounds:—
Salvation, its root and its fruit.
Paul now proceeds to put the gospel in a nutshell when he tells us that we are saved by grace, through faith, and unto good works. We have in these three terms the whole plan brought out. Let us look at them in their order.
I. GRACE IS THE ROOT OR CAUSE OF SALVATION . ( Ephesians 2:8 .) By "grace" is meant the free, undeserved favor of God. It is etymologically the same as "gratis" and "gratuitous;" it occurs in the business phrase, "three days of grace" given in connection with the payment of a bill; it signifies therefore a Divine manifestation to which man has no title. In other words, we do not deserve salvation. We can never deserve it. No works of ours could entitle us to it. Yet we are saved by grace, by the free and sovereign favor of the Lord. It is most important that we should have clear views of the cause of salvation. Its cause is the gracious love of God. Its cause is outside of us, and. we have no part or lot in causing salvation. It is entirely of grace.
II. FAITH IS THE HAND OF THE HEART WHICH RECEIVES SALVATION . ( Ephesians 2:8 .) God might conceivably save men without asking us to trust him. But would it be worth our while to get emancipated from deserved punishment to live on in perpetual suspicion? The fact is that to have any comfort in our relations with God, we must trust him. But there is no merit in trusting him. If we refuse him our trust we do him grievous wrong. This shows that trusting God is only giving him his due. Besides, the more we know ourselves the more we realize that faith just as well as salvation is his gift. Had not the Spirit come and transformed our suspicion into trust, we should not have ceased suspecting him. It is a blessed change, but the change is God's gift through the Spirit.
III. GOOD WORKS ARE THE FOREORDAINED FRUITS OF SALVATION . ( Ephesians 2:10 .) A free and gratuitous salvation is supposed by some to be a dangerous and immoral doctrine. But the consequences of salvation have been all provided for. God saves men that we may serve him. Good works constitute the outcome, the dividend, the fruit which God gets from the salvation. "We are his workmanship." Just as a mechanic constructs a machine that he may get a certain amount and kind of work out of it, so God- saves us that he may get a certain amount and kind of work out of us. Nor has he left it to any haphazard, He has foreordained the good works in which we ought to walk. He has planned our lives as believers. Bushnell wrote a famous sermon in which he tried to show that "every man's life is a plan of God." We modify the thought and recognize in every believer ' s life a plan of God. Every good work is down in God's design, it has its place, and it will exercise its influence. While, therefore, God will save no man for his good works, he saves every soul unto good works. They are the fruit , though they cannot be the root of salvation. Foreordination covers the effects of salvation as well as salvation itself. God's plan embraces the whole problem, and it is thoughtless to rob him of a single element in the glorious result.—R.M.E.
Association with Christ.
The concluding thought of the first chapter was the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. In order now to bring out how they were benefited thereby, he calls up to them their original condition . He shows them the pit out of which they have been dug, the rock out of which they have been hewn. In the first and second verses he has special reference to Gentile Christians, in the third verse he includes Jewish Christians in his description.
I. GENTILE CHRISTIANS .
1. They were dead . "And you did he quicken, when ye were dead." It is a comprehensive word for the evil of their condition. There is a natural condition for plants, which they lose in their decay. There is a natural condition for animals, which they lose in their death. So there is a natural condition for rational beings, which they lose in what we call spiritual death . And, as there is nothing higher in kind than spiritual life, so there is nothing more dreadful than spiritual death. It is not extinction, but it is a condition against nature, on the ground of an immortal existence. It is not loving God with our whole soul and strength and mind, but living at enmity with him; and how wearing out to contend with our Maker! It is not loving our neighbor as ourselves, but seeking our own selfish ends; and how narrowing is this to our souls!
2. Their deadness was caused by themselves . "Through your trespasses and sins." If there is any difference between these two words, it is that the former refers more to overt transgressions, while the latter is inclusive of evil thoughts that have only been entertained in the heart. When Adam and Eve overtly transgressed in eating of the fruit, death at once passed upon them in the loss of confidence in God, of unconsciousness, of ingenuousness, of devotedness to each other. And the act was not long in bearing bitter fruit in the hate, which led Cain to take a brother's life. Overt transgression makes matters worse, in the evil that is wrought on others in the entanglements to which it leads. At the same time, it is true that evil imaginations that never find expression in words or acts have a deadening effect on the soul. They may indicate daring rebellion against God; and, even though they are only vain thoughts that lodge in the mind, they are not there without the spreading of a baneful influence over the life.
3. They were only causes of deadness . "Wherein aforetime ye walked." In trespasses and sins they walked . Their life was one continual trespassing and sinning. Their fountain was constantly sending forth bitter water. Their tree only brought forth evil fruit. And how could it be otherwise, seeing that they were corrupted at the very center of their being? There were some of their acts that were better than others, but none that were thoroughly right in principle or motive. All their acts had a fatal defect, and many of them, as the first of Romans shows, had a positive vileness.
4. They stood related to this world . "According to the course of this world." This world is opposed to the world as it should be, or the kingdom of God among men. It is the world content with itself , and seeking to be independent of God . And as the kingdom of God has an age or ages for its holy development, so this world, it is implied here, has an age for its unholy development. For the word translated "course" is properly " age ." In the mysterious providence of God evil has scope for its development. "The mystery of iniquity doth work." And when it is said here that they once walked according to the course of this world, the meaning is that their characters had not the normal form of the kingdom, but had one or other of those abnormal forms which belong to the world.
5. They stool related to the head of evil . "According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience." He is here called the prince of the power of the air . He is a prince with other evil spirits under him. Evil is divisive ; his then must be a mighty, prince-like influence that he keeps them united under him for evil ends. He is dependent on God, a mere instrument in his hand, at his absolute disposal, as it is with every creature; but he is allowed, through his emissaries, to have great power upon earth. The singular epithet is applied to him here in allusion to his surrounding us with temptation as the atmosphere surrounds the earth. As the air borders on the earth, so there is a sphere bordering on our spirits, subtle, invisible like air, through which evil suggestions can readily be conveyed to us. Or it may be that the evil spirits have an affinity to air, which they do not have to grosser matter, so that it is their haunt within this region. There is here what we cannot understand; but we can understand this—temptation being skillfully presented to our minds, against which we must invoke the skill of another, else we are taken in the tempter's meshes. He is further called the prince of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience . It is not usual to connect a spirit, or principle, with its prince. But he is undoubtedly the principal representative of the spirit of disobedience. In him disobedience takes its most virulent form. The object on which he is bent is to spite God, to thwart his holy ends. This is the spirit which he as its original source breathes into his subordinates, and which they in turn under his direction seek to breathe into men. And those in whom it finds a sphere of operation are called the children of disobedience . They stand related to the evil principle as its unclean progeny. It was from heathendom that the description here was taken. It was very much man left to himself. It was the truest representation of what "this world" is. It was Satan having his own way. It was rampant disobedience. For though the heathen world was under the Divine providence, yet it was without special helps , without special checks . Depraved human nature was allowed to bring out its own ignorance of God, its own profanity, its own licentiousness. It was from that heathen world that these Gentile Christians had been taken. There they could see what they once had been. But, lest the Jewish Christians might think that it had been better with them, he proceeds to bring them under the same description in respect of their original condition.
II. JEWISH CHRISTIANS ALSO . (Verse 3.) "Among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." Especially are they classed with Gentile Christians, as having originally been children of disobedience. Among whom we also all once lived. Their disobedience appeared in their living in the lusts of the flesh . Those lusts that had their root in the flesh, or unrenewed nature, they ought to have brought into subjection to reason or the will of God; but, instead of that, they lived in them. This is further described as "doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind." Evil wishes spring from the flesh; but in order to be gratified they require the consent of the mind, and so they become desires, not only of the flesh, but of the mind. And were by nature the children of wrath , even as the rest . "By nature" is a qualifying clause. The Jews could not be spoken of in the same terms as the Gentiles without qualification. For they were different in having a covenant position, in having Divine helps vouchsafed to them, in being placed under special training. And though they did testify to depravity in their frequent rebellions, yet was there alongside a work of grace, which showed itself conspicuously in some. It could only be said, then, that by nature, that is, apart from covenant grace, they were the children of wrath, even as the rest. What a testimony is there here to universal depravity! All have the Divine displeasure imprinted on their nature. In the condemning voice of conscience there is an echo, often very faint, of the condemnation of God. Our evil tendencies, which we so soon exhibit, are tokens that God is angry with us. His righteous sentence has gone forth upon us, even in our present condition. This is unpalatable truth, but it agrees with the facts. It is well that we should keep it in mind, in order that we may be humbled by it, and in order that we may realize the forces against which we have to struggle.
III. OUR SALVATION .
1. Its explanation . "But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses." The mercy is mentioned first, as standing in closest connection with the miserable state which has been described. And as their former state was described in strong terms, so now is there set over against it the superlative quality of the mercy. He is not content with the expression," God in his mercy." That language is too bare in view of what they once were. So he applies his common epithet, "rich." "God, being rich in mercy." The mercy is a particular outgoing of the Divine love, viz. toward sinners. So he traces it up to the more general feeling, which leads him to seek the good, and nothing but the good, of all his creatures whatsoever. And to this in turn he applies another common epithet," great." "The great love wherewith he loved us." And the greatness of the Divine love is here presented under a special aspect. In the fifth of Romans it is said, "God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The thought is very similar here. "Even when we were dead through our trespasses he quickened us." Stress is laid upon the moment of the Divine movement. When we were dead and could do nothing for ourselves, that was the time for the going forth of the great love of God in rich mercy toward us. And it is in this connection that we are to bring in the words within brackets, "By grace have ye been saved." For, though he has it in his mind to magnify the Divine grace further on, yet now, having the opportunity to make a point, he cannot let it pass. And the incidental way in which he brings it in shows the great importance which he attached to that doctrine.
2. Its nature . "Quickened us together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus." It is set forth in relation to our previous deadness. And it will be observed that the description here is connected with a certain historical point. The idea is that we were dead up to the time when Christ was quickened. We were dead, even as Christ was dead in the tomb. Nay, more, we were dead with Christ in the tomb. For it was as our Representative that he was lying there. And when he was quickened, it was as our Representative too. He was quickened, not for himself, but for us whom he represented. And therefore it can be said that, when the life-giving power went forth upon him in the grave, we were quickened with him. And it did not stop there; but when he was raised up we were raised up with him, in the whole breadth that language can bear. And not only so, but the consummation applies to us too. It is not indeed said that we were made to sit at the right hand of God, as is said of Christ in the first Chapter and twentieth verse. But it is said that we were made to sit with Christ in the heavenly places. Even here on earth we are sitting with Christ in the heavenly places. We are sitting there in him as our Head. That is no fancy, but the actual language which is applied to us by an inspired apostle. Oh, what a glorious privilege is conferred on us! How does it become us to be thankful, and to be humbled! Let us, in our life, rise to the height of our position. Let us not be as creeping on the earth, but as sitters with Christ in the heavenly places.
3. A purpose served by our salvation . "That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The language is applicable to after ages on earth. There is encouragement to us, even now, in the fact that such kindness was shown to Ephesians who had been dead through trespasses and sins. But the language is also applicable to the eons of which the Scripture speaks beyond this life. For if there is not room there for sinners being encouraged, there certainly is room for the demonstration, the more complete realization, of the Divine grace. It will be one of the lessons of those ages to learn how much in our history on earth we were individually indebted to grace. Here again, in the fullness of emotion, he gives an ample characterization of the grace, the exceeding riches of his grace, in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The latter expression has reference to benefits conferred, viz. our quickening.
Gospel reformation great and gracious.
"And you hath he quickened," etc. This passage, though its language is somewhat obscure, sets forth most manifestly the greatness and graciousness of gospel reformation . The gospel is a reformative system; it is revolutionary in its spirit and its aim. It uproots the noxious in life, and plants the wholesome. It pulls down the corrupt and builds up the holy. It burns up man's old moral heavens and creates new ones, "wherein dwelleth righteousness." It reforms society by reforming the individual man; it reforms the individual by regenerating his spirit, and making him a new creature in Christ Jesus. It works from the center to the circumference. Observe—
I. THE GREATNESS OF GOSPEL REFORMATION . The greatness of the change it effects in mankind will be seen if we consider two things which are so prominently set forth in this passage.
1. The state of man preceding its work . There are several striking expressions in this passage indicating the original depraved condition of sinners, their condition before the gospel touches them.
2. The state of man succeeding its work . The passage teaches that they are brought by the gospel into the most vital connection with him who is the embodiment, the standard, and the medium of all human excellence , "the Lord Jesus Christ."
II. THE GRACIOUSNESS OF GOSPEL REFORMATION . What is the great, originating, efficient cause of this glorious moral reformation? The text answers the question. "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ." Instrumental causes, such as the Word of God, gospel ministry, Christian example and influence, are many, but eternal grace is the cause which originates all and blesses all. The passage indicates four things concerning this Divine grace.
1. It is great . It is ascribed to the richness of mercy and the greatness of love. "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love," etc. God's love is the spring of all his activities; it is as deep as his own heart; it is as infinite as himself. "It passeth knowledge."
"O Love! the one sun! O Love! the one sea!
What life has begun that breathes not in thee?
Thy rays have no limit, thy waves have no shore;
Thou giv'st without merit to worlds evermore."
2. It is mighty . It quickens, raises, exalts, recreates human souls. It is as mighty as the power that raised Christ from the dead. How mighty is that power that thoroughly Christianizes even one soul! No power but the power of God can do that. "Not by might, nor by power."
3. It is manifestable . "In the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." The conversion of every one is designed to manifest it. The conversion of the sinner, though a good in itself, is not an ultimate end; the event has remote issues, ulterior points, bearings and relations interminable. "Ages to come;" intelligences that will rise thousands of years in the future will study and adore the infinite grace of God in the spiritual reformation of mankind. "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting" ( 1 Timothy 1:16 ).
4. It is unmeritorious . "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works." The expression, "not of works," does not mean, of course, that men are to do nothing. This would be contrary to the general teaching of Scripture, contrary also to the constitution of the soul and the nature of the work. Man is so constituted that no moral change can be effected in him irrespective of his own efforts. He must work. All that the expression means is that man's works are not the cause . "By grace are ye saved through faith." But if faith is required, and it is an undoubted necessity, where is the freeness of the grace? Elsewhere Paul says that "it is of faith, that it may be of grace." Two remarks will explain this.
I. AS CHRISTIANS , CREATED IN CHRIST , WE ARE GOD 'S WORKMANSHIP . It cannot be that our salvation comes by our works, because it is such a quickening from death to life as amounts to nothing short of a new creation, and because God is the only Creator. We only become new creatures through union with Christ, and by the grace of God that is in him. To know if this is our condition, we must see if we bear the traces of the great Worker upon our persons. God's work must have the characteristics of good work.
1. Fitness . God finds us out of joint. He shapes us suitably for our vocation. A house without adaptation to its ends may look handsome, but it is a failure. A true Christian will not only have a saintly bearing, he will have a practical suitability for his mission.
2. Thoroughness . How thorough is God's work in nature as seen in the microscopic organs of the smallest insects! The new creation is as thorough as the old creation. Down to every thought and fancy God shapes the character of his redeemed.
3. Beauty . The best work is graceful and fair to look upon. God's spiritual work is adorned with the beauty of holiness.
II. WE ARE THUS CREATED FOR THE PURPOSE OF DOING GOOD WORKS . Good works are more honored by the doctrine of grace than they are by the scheme of salvation by works; for in the latter they appeal only as means to an end, as stepping-stones to be left behind when the salvation as reached; but in the former they are themselves the ends, and are valued on their own account. Thus we are taught not to perform good works as an only or necessary means for securing some ulterior boon, but are invited to accept that boon just because it will enable us to do our work better. Instead of regarding the gospel as a pleasant message to show us how we may save ourselves the trouble of work, we must hear it as a trumpet-call to service. The Christian is the servant of Christ. In spiritual death we can do nothing. Salvation is quickening to a new life. The object of this life is not bare existence. All life ministers to some other life. Spiritual life is given directly with the object of enabling us to do our work. It fails of its object if it is unfertile. The barren tree must wither, the fruitless branch must be pruned away. Purity and harmlessness are but negative graces, and are not sufficient justification for existence. The great end of being is the doing of positive good. The judgment will turn on the use we have made of our talents.
III. THE WORKS FOR WHICH WE ARE CREATED HAVE BEEN PREARRANGED BY GOD . The road has been made before we have been ready to walk on it. And there is a road for every soul. Each of us has his vocation marked out for him and fixed in the ancient counsels of God. No life need be aimless since every life is provided with a mission. How may we know the mission?
1. From our talents . Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor poetry of commonplace minds, nor heroism of feeble souls. The nature of the tool proclaims its use. The hammer cannot be made to cut, nor the saw to drive nails. God's workmanship bears on its special form the indications of its purpose. To know our work we must pray for light that we may know ourselves, or we shall fall into the common error of mistaking our inclination for our capacity and our ambition for our ability.
2. From our circumstances . God opens providential doors. Let us not refuse to enter them because they are often low and lead to humble paths. If they face us they indicate the work for which we are created, and that should suffice obedient, servants.—W.F.A.