Love and mercy, as dwelling in the bosom of God to poor sinners, and especially as manifested in the gift of his dear Son, were the two leading and prominent features in this last part of our exposition of the chapter now before us, and we remarked, at the close of our paper, that the point on which the Apostle chiefly dwells, as a proof and mark of the riches of God's mercy and the greatness of his love, is the quickening of those who were "dead in trespasses and sins." At this point, therefore, resuming the thread of our exposition, we shall commence the present article. "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved.)" Eph. 2:4, 5.
It will, perhaps, be observed that, according to our version, there is a little apparent ambiguity as to the connection of the words, "Even when we were dead in sins," and that they may be taken either in connection with the preceding clause, "with which he loved us," or with the following clause, "has quickened us." If taken in the former connection, we should read, removing the comma after "us," "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in sins." If we adopt the latter connection we should read it, "Even when we were dead in sins has quickened us together with Christ." Each would be equally true in doctrine, each would almost equally set forth the love and mercy of God, but one seems almost to bring before us his love more brightly and conspicuously than the other. Our translation has made the point rather ambiguous by putting the stops as they stand in our version; and as in the original manuscripts stops are never used at all, there may seem to be the same ambiguity in the Greek as in the English.
And yet as that language is much more clear and precise than our own, though it would not be bad or ungrammatical Greek to adopt the first interpretation, yet after giving the point some consideration and examination, we are inclined to think that it is more consistent with the original to connect the clause, "Even when we were dead in sins," with the words which follow, rather than with those which precede. Still, as the point is ambiguous, we shall drop a few remarks upon that connection which we have spoken of as fairly admissible, and which certainly is a grand gospel truth.
The doctrine, then, laid down by the Apostle, according to this view of the subject, is that God loved his people even when they were dead in sins. Now when we consider what is involved in being dead in sins, when we take a view of who and what God is, and who and what men dead in sin are, it may well make us pause and ask ourselves the question, "Does God, can God love his people, when they are dead in sins?" To this, consistently with his truth, there can be but one answer. If once you hold with the doctrine of election, if once you believe that God loved and chose his people in Christ before the foundation of the world, if once you believe that with God there is no variableness neither shadow of turning, you must necessarily believe that no circumstances which occur in time can alter or affect what was done in eternity. Having been loved in Christ, having been blessed in him with all spiritual blessings, and made accepted in the Beloved, however they may have lost the image of God in which they were originally created, however low they may have sunk in the Adam fall, however they may have become dead in sins and personally defiled by actual transgression, the original and eternal love of God towards them could not be impaired or diminished, much less utterly cease. He loved them therefore when they were dead in sins. Though there was everything in them to make them hateful and loathsome in his pure and holy eyes, though he hates their sins with total hatred, though no heart can conceive or tongue of men or angels express the infinite disparity which there is between a God so holy and sinners so vile, yet if we once admit that the love of God to his people depends on their obedience to his word, and that it comes and goes according to their spiritual life and death, their holiness and unholiness, we at once overthrow the whole plan of salvation, and destroy the very foundation of electing love.
But you say, "It is inconceivable that God can love sinners in all their sins, dead in them, without repentance, faith, and love, or one spark of goodness or holiness." It is indeed inconceivable, and that makes it so deep and high a mystery. Yet what would be the consequences of any other view? Ask yourself, for instance, Why did God quicken your soul when dead in sins? You will say, perhaps, "His unspeakable mercy moved him. He saw my ruined state; he knew that I could not quicken my own soul, and he therefore bade me live, because he would not let me sink into eternal death." True, most true. The mercy and compassion of God to poor sinners is a blessed truth, and is beautifully set forth by the Apostle in the words, "But God, who is rich in mercy." But we have already shown that in the bosom of God, love and mercy blend together, and that love is the moving cause of mercy. He does not love because he pities, but he pities because he loves!
Was not this shown in the parable of the prodigal son? Did not the father pity his truant child because he loved him? He was his son; this drew forth his love. He was hungry and in rags; this drew forth his pity. There might be others as hungry, naked, ragged, and destitute; but they were not sons, the objects of the father's love. As this point, however, is so obvious, we shall not further dwell upon it; though we might ask a caviler, how he would understand Paul's declaration, when, speaking of the love of Christ, he says, "Who loved me—and gave himself for me." If Christ gave himself for Paul, it was because he loved him. Now who, where, and what was Paul when Christ gave himself for him on the cross? Was he alive unto God, or was he dead in sin? Did Christ, then, love Paul when he was holding the clothes of the witnesses who stoned Stephen, and was thus consenting to his death as a righteous act? Did he love Paul when he was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord? If not, will you fix the exact time when Christ began to love him? And if you put it at any period after the crucifixion, you will contradict the words, "Who loved me—and gave himself for me." However inconceivable, then, by our mind, however surpassing every thought of our heart, we must still, if we would hold the truth with a firm hand, abide by this—that God loved his people even when they were dead in sins, and that that is one reason why his love is so great.
But now let us look at the other connection of which we have spoken, and let us read the passage thus, "Even when we were dead in sins—has quickened us together with Christ." This leads us to see the cause of that quickening into spiritual life which is granted to every member of the mystical body of Christ. Of the eternal union existing between the Head and the members we have before spoken, and we have also connected the resurrection of Christ with the resurrection of his members; and yet a few further thoughts upon this point may not be unprofitable or unacceptable.
In the resurrection, then, of Christ from the dead, we may view the virtual and efficient resurrection of all his members. If we may use, without disparagement, such a figure by way of illustration, is there not some similarity in this point between nature and grace? Is it not our head which is the first to awake each morning out of sleep? While our head slumbers, every member of the body slumbers with it. But the head awakes, and awakes first. In and with this awaking each sleeping member awakes also—after the head, but in union with it; and as each member is aroused into the renewed vitality of a freshly awakened life, it rises through its connection with the arising head. Of course, the figure is but an illustration, and a faint and feeble, if not wholly imperfect representation of a spiritual truth from a natural comparison.
But taking the truth itself, as it stands in all the strength of its beautiful simplicity, without the aid or hindrance of any natural illustration, see what a gracious and glorious light it casts over the quickening of each mystical member of the body of Christ; and to make the matter more plain and clear to your own mind fix your attention upon some individual who, though still dead in sins, is yet, according to the supposition, a member of Christ's mystical body. Now observe how, in this particular instance, the light and life of the Spirit from above are to visit and quicken his dead soul. Fix, then, your faith firmly on this point. Though now dead in sin, though now walking according to the course of this world, though now by nature a child of wrath even as others, yet there has been that done for him in Christ, which is a sure pledge of that which shall be done in him by Christ. He was quickened together with Christ. Being, then, already a partaker of so unspeakable a blessing, when the grace of God visits and quickens his soul into divine life, it is but the passing over into his heart of that life with which he was virtually quickened when Christ rose from the dead.
If this be difficult to understand or to believe, look at it from another point of view. Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? Do you believe that when Christ comes there will be a resurrection of the body? Now what is the virtual cause and pledge of that resurrection of the body? Is it not the resurrection of the body of Christ? As this is the grand argument of 1 Cor. 15 we need not trace it out. We see then that the resurrection of the body is intimately connected with the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Now why should there not be a similar connection in what we may call the resurrection of the soul? For as the dead body will rise hereafter in the literal resurrection, so the dead soul rises now in its spiritual resurrection. Observe also what a pledge is thus given to the work of grace upon every vessel of mercy—upon every member of the mystical body of Christ. A dead soul is as powerless to quicken itself as a dead body to raise itself. Whence then come both regeneration and resurrection but from a risen Christ? In his resurrection there was the grace which quickens, as in his resurrection there is the power that will raise.
We lament to see so little of what is called conversion work going on. It pains our mind to look around and see how few there are who bear marks of being called by sovereign grace. But are there more or are there fewer to be called by grace than are members of Christ's mystical body? Can that number be added to, can that number be taken from? If the soul of man is as thoroughly and actually dead—as the Scriptures declare, what short of divine power can quicken it into spiritual life? Means of grace should be employed and that without ceasing, prayer and supplication made, and the blessing of God be earnestly sought for and asked. But when all this has been done, we still need the quickening breath. Bone may come to bone, and sinews and flesh come up upon them, and the skin cover them above; but there will be no breath in them until the Spirit of God breathes upon them that they may live.
Thus though on the one hand it may seem discouraging to all our efforts that, do what we can, do what we may, we cannot make the gospel effectual to the quickening of those that hear, yet on the other hand it is equally encouraging to believe that in the resurrection of Christ there was a pledge given as well as a virtual quickening of those members of his body who are still dead in sins.
A servant of God looks around his congregation, and knowing from personal and painful experience what death in sin means, and seeing how he is surrounded on every side by such, hope seems almost to die out of his heart that any word spoken by him can so touch men's hearts, or so reach men's consciences as to make their souls alive unto God. But let him look again, and instead of looking around let him look up, and fix his believing eyes upon the risen Son of God whose servant he is, whose gospel he preaches, in whose name he stands. Will not this draw down into his soul a sweet encouragement that as the mystical members of the body of Christ were virtually quickened in and with him when he rose from the dead, there is every hope and reason to believe that he will now fulfill that pledge, and make the word of his grace life and spirit to those souls by actual regeneration who have been already mystically and virtually quickened in and together with him at his resurrection?
Now it would almost seem as if some such thoughts passed through the mind of the Apostle as he thus connected the quickening of those who were dead in sins first with the rich mercy and the great love of God, and secondly with the resurrection of Christ. He therefore throws in, by way of parenthesis, the words, "By grace you are saved." At first sight there seems to be no special reason for their abrupt introduction and the interruption which they cause in the sentence. But when we view them as gushing out of the Apostle's heart in his holy admiration of the wondrous truth which we have endeavored to unfold, then we see a beauty in them.
Our readers may also perhaps observe with us the change of person from "we" and "us" to "you." It is we who were dead in sins, it is we who were quickened together with Christ—you and I, I Paul, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and you Ephesians, abandoned to every filthy lust and vile idolatry. But perhaps this is too great a mystery for you to receive. You can scarcely believe that you were quickened together with Christ; but do you not know that by grace you are saved? Is not salvation, the whole of salvation—salvation first and last, entirely of grace? Then if it be only by grace that you are saved, why should you hesitate to believe that when you were dead in sins you were quickened together with Christ? Were salvation of works, you would have been quickened by virtue of your obedience; but salvation being not of works but grace, to have been quickened together with Christ is but a branch of that full and glorious salvation which in grace begins, which by grace is carried on, and which by grace will be fully accomplished.
One grand and blessed distinction between works and grace is this, that there is a limit to one, but no limit to the other. When a man has done his best, done his all, even assuming that his obedience is, as far as it goes, perfect, it has a limit—it can only rise to a certain height, the faculties of the creature; and its reward is limited by its extent. If you pay a workman for his work, you pay him according to the character, the amount, and the goodness of the work done. When he has that, he has all that he can demand or expect. You may give him more than his wages, but all the surplus is a gift, not pay. All work, therefore, and all reward of work, must be limited. But grace knows no limit. Whatever the love of God can embrace, whatever his wisdom can contrive, whatever his power can perform, are the only limits which can be assigned to his grace, or, taking the word in its true and primary meaning, his favor.
To make this point a little more clear as well as a little more simple, contrast the love with which a husband regards and shows to his wife with the wages which he pays to a servant. There is a limit both to a servant's work and to a servant's wages; but there is no limit to love, and therefore no limit to the gifts and fruits of love but the power of the bestower. How much more blessed then is it to be under grace, to have a place in God's heart, a share in his favor and love, than be upon the footing of a servant, doing work and expecting wages. Ahasuerus was willing to give to Queen Esther half of his kingdom; but the highest reward granted to the man whom the king delighted to honor, was but to be arrayed in his apparel, ride his horse, and wear his crown for an hour in a passing pageant.
Now apply this to the point immediately before us. The Apostle is speaking of God's great love in quickening us together with Christ, when we were dead in sins. This was a special act of grace, which, therefore, made the Apostle throw in that parenthetical clause, "By grace you are saved." But he goes on to show how this grace was still further manifested—"And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:6.) The quickening of the natural body of Christ in the tomb was the first step toward his resurrection; for the entrance of life into his dead body must have been the first act in the raising up of that body from the temporary sleep of death. At that moment, as we have pointed out, the whole mystical body of Christ was virtually quickened. But in order that the blessed Lord might come out of the tomb in all the power and glory of his resurrection he had to be raised up as well as quickened. Now his mystical body, as it was quickened together with him when life entered into his dead body, was raised together with him when he came out of the tomb. God is said therefore to "have raised us up together with him."
We thus see that there is a distinction between being quickened together with Christ and being raised up together with him. To be raised up together with Christ is a fuller, more complete, more definite, and more glorious act than to be quickened together with him. Is not this true in the experience of God's people? To be quickened into divine life, to be convinced of sin, to have the fear of God planted deeply in the soul, is the commencement of a work of grace. But this is not a deliverance, not a being raised up out of darkness, bondage, doubt, guilt and fear. This is not a knowledge of Christ and of the power of his resurrection; this is not a full coming out of the dark and silent tomb, into the glorious light and warmth of day. There is, therefore, a difference between being quickened and being raised; between an interest in that grace and power which give life, and an interest in great grace and power which give liberty. But here is the great blessedness of a mystical union with the Lord Jesus Christ that, as by virtue of interest in him there is a partaking of the benefit and power of his having been quickened, so there is a partaking in the benefit and power of his having been raised up. God does not quicken a soul into divine life to let it remain in the dark tomb of doubt, fear, guilt, and bondage. In raising up Christ there was not only a pledge of the spiritual, but a virtual resurrection of the members of his body. Liberty then, the liberty of the gospel, deliverance from all doubt and fear, the manifestation of pardon and peace, the shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart, are blessings as much assured to the members of Christ's mystical body as their first quickening into spiritual life. They have no more power to bring liberty into their own minds or to speak peace to their own consciences than they had to quicken themselves when they were dead in sins. But both are equally assured them in Christ their covenant Head.
But the Apostle goes on still further to show the blessings and benefits of union with Christ—"And made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." The ascension of our blessed Lord followed upon his resurrection from the dead. He rose from the dead not to tarry here below, though he graciously continued upon earth for forty days after his resurrection, but that he might go up on high and take his seat at the right hand of the Father. Now, as the members of his mystical body were ever, and must ever continue to be, in union with him, they ascended together with him, and this made the Apostle say, "Has made us sit together (that is, with him) in heavenly places."
Christ is gone before as their Head and Representative to prepare a place for them, that he may come again and receive them unto himself, that where he is they may be also.
But as we have shown experimentally what it is to be "quickened together with Christ and to be raised up together with him," let us now show what it is, in sweet and living experience, to "sit together in heavenly places in him." This is the sitting together with him in affection as the Apostle speaks—"If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." (Col. 3:1, 2.) When as risen with Christ we seek those things which are above, when we set our affections on them, when our heart and conversation are in heaven, then are we made to sit together in heavenly places in him. Here is the only true rest, pleasure, and happiness of the soul, when it can live above all the carking cares, sorrows, and afflictions of this miserable world, and in anticipation of an eternity of happiness, live, speak, and act as if already through Christ in possession of it.
At this point, however, we must pause for the present, leaving to our readers, if so blessed and favored, their own meditations upon this wondrous mystery of eternal love, which we trust may coincide with our own when further opened in our next paper.