Unless, by the power of divine teaching and divine testimony, we can enter in some good measure spiritually and experimentally into the grand and glorious truths of the everlasting gospel, we can neither see their peculiar beauty, nor feel their peculiar sweetness and blessedness. Take, for instance, the grand truths on which we have been lately dwelling in our exposition of the chapter now before us (Eph. 2:1-6). How can we enter into the heavenly truths there unfolded so as to see their divine beauty, and realize their power and preciousness, unless we can read them more or less in the light of our own experience? What we were as dead in trespasses and sins, what we are as quickened and made alive unto God, what we hope to be when enjoying in full that of which we have now the earnest—how can we see eye to eye with the man of God as he unfolds these mysteries in the verses to which we have just referred; unless we can realize them in some good measure as our own, both in faith and feeling? The main reason why men stumble at noonday as in the night, and halt and boggle both in understanding and expression when they attempt to handle these divine epistles, is from lack of an experience of the truths set forth in them. They lack the right key to fit the wards of this intricate lock, and therefore uselessly poke at it with false keys, which, though they cannot spoil the lock, plainly show the ignorance of the workmen.
Bearing this, then, steadily in mind, we now resume the thread of our exposition.
Our readers will remember that three points have hitherto mainly engaged our attention as connected with the calling into life of those who were dead in trespasses and sins. These were—1. The quickening of them when dead; 2. The raising them up with Christ; 3. The making them to sit together with Christ in the heavenly places. We have more than once pointed out that these three successive steps are all in the closest and most intimate connection with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his ascension to the right hand of the Majesty on high, and are the fruits and results of the eternal and indissoluble union which exists between the Head and members.
But we have just now laid it down as a vital point that there is no seeing the beauty nor feeling the blessedness of this union with Christ in his resurrection and ascension on high, except by a spiritual knowledge of, and experimental entrance into it. Before, then, we pass on to consider more fully the point at which we paused in our last article—that is, the sitting together with Christ in the heavenly places, we would observe that as there were three successive steps in the actual resurrection and ascension of Christ personal, so there are three successive steps in the spiritual resurrection and ascension of Christ mystical; in other words, that as the Head was first quickened, then raised, then taken up on high in fact, so are his members in feeling. 1. First, then, they are "quickened." This is the beginning of the work of grace upon their hearts—the first communication of divine life to their dead souls. This, therefore, comprehends and embraces all those convictions of sin, all that work of the law on their consciences, all that guilt, bondage, distress, and misery which they experience before deliverance. They are alive, yet in the tomb; quickened, but not brought forth; still in darkness, because the stone is not yet rolled away, nor the resurrection fully accomplished.
In Christ personal we may well suppose this was but a moment; but that is no reason why it should be so momentary in Christ mystical. All will allow that time is an element of little importance in a work of grace, and that as in the natural, so in the spiritual birth it is not the length or severity of the labor which makes the deliverance, but the bringing forth of a living child. It is, therefore, no objection to this view that what was accomplished in an instant in the actual body of Christ, is accomplished in a longer interval of time in the members of his mystical body; or, to speak more correctly, that the interval between quickening and deliverance is more prolonged in their case spiritually than in his case actually. It is amply sufficient for all spiritual purposes that the quickening of his dead body in the tomb was the pledge, first fruits, and initial cause of the quickening of their dead souls into spiritual life.
2. The next step, then, is actual 'resurrection'. This in Christ personal was accomplished in his coming forth out of the tomb in power and glory; but in Christ mystical is the deliverance of the soul from the bondage of the law into the liberty of the gospel. This deliverance was not only symbolized by, but is the express fruit of the resurrection of Christ; for, in the language of the Apostle, God "has raised us up together with him." The actual coming forth, then, of Christ personal from the tomb not only symbolizes; but is the initial cause of the deliverance of the soul from the bondage of the law, into the liberty of the gospel; for as Christ personal, that is, Christ himself, in all the dignity of his glorious Person, rose from the darkness and narrow limits of the tomb into the light of day, and into all the fullness of his resurrection power and glory, so does the member of his mystical body rise out of darkness into light, and out of bondage into liberty when delivered from the condemnation of the law by a revelation of the Son of God with power.
3. But the chief point to which we would draw the attention of our readers is the third step, or the 'sitting together with Christ in the heavenly places'. This, it will be observed, was not only symbolized by the ascension of Christ, and his sitting at the right hand of God, but is the 'initial cause' of it. As this expression, which we have used several times, may not be fully understood by some of our readers, we would briefly observe that the cause of an action may be either final, or instrumental, or initial. Take the following illustration of these three causes. A man goes to work. Why? For wages. Then wages is the final cause, as being the end and object of his going to work. To earn these wages he works all day in the harvest field. This then is the instrumental cause, for by it as an instrument be gains his end—wages. But something is still needed to set him on to his work. This is the will of his employer, which is therefore the initial cause, as originating the work, and making him the instrument of its execution. If not strictly logical, this will explain what we mean when we say that the resurrection of Christ was the initial or originating cause of our regeneration.
Our blessed Lord said to his sorrowing disciples, "I go to prepare a place for you." When, then, he ascended up on high, and sat down in the heavenly places, the members of his mystical body ascended also, and sat down with him, for as they were buried with him, and rose with him, so they ascended with him; and, when he took possession of the seat given to him in glory, virtual possession was given them of the mansions in his Father's house, in and with him as their Head and Representative. He said, therefore, to his and their heavenly Father, "The glory which you have given me I have given them." (John 17:22.) And this will explain the meaning of those words of the Apostle, "Whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Rom. 8:30.) They are glorified in anticipation, as already mystically sitting with Christ in glory in heavenly places.
But the chief point for us to consider is not so much, or rather not only the doctrine which we have thus endeavored to unfold, but the gracious experience connected with, and flowing out of this ascending with Christ, and sitting together with him in the heavenly places. This is briefly, but very clearly and powerfully, set forth by the Apostle in those striking words—"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Col. 3:1-3.)
When, then, our desires and affections ascend to where the Lord Jesus Christ now is, when raised out of all the smoke and fog, din and strife, noise and bustle, cares and anxieties, pursuits and pleasures, sins and sorrows of this earthly scene, we can in faith and hope, in love and affection, live above and beyond all things here below, and beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord—this is being made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
When the Lord Jesus went up on high, he entered into his glory. (Luke 24:26; John 7:39.) As then we behold him in his glory in faith and love, there is the reflection of his glory, as we have just intimated from 2 Cor. 3:18; and saints thus favored enter into heaven when still upon earth, and have the foretaste of the glory which is to be revealed at the Lord's coming before they are forever clothed with it. There are, indeed, comparatively few who are so highly favored, and even they only at rare intervals, and for short moments; but that does not affect the truth and certainty of the fact. It is a most blessed truth that if we are members of the mystical body of Christ, the deficiency of our experience, though it deprives us of much of the enjoyment, does not deprive us of our interest in, or union with, our great Covenant Head, and of the fruits which spring out of it.
But the Apostle proceeds to unfold one main reason why God has thus quickened, delivered, and made to sit together with Christ in the heavenly places the members of his mystical body. "That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:7.)
What we now see or feel of the kingdom of grace is but a beginning of what is one day to be revealed. The counsels of God are an unfathomable depth of wisdom, love, and grace; and all that has been yet displayed of them is but a drop of that vast ocean. We, indeed, may well suppose that in the gift of his dear Son, and in the glorious mystery of God manifest in the flesh, there was more wrapped up than the salvation of a few poor souls here and there, and that there was intended to be a richer and greater display of the kingdom given to the Lord Jesus Christ than has ever been yet witnessed in this miserable world, where sin and Satan have so long reigned supreme.
We could not, indeed, unfold this subject, or rather our views upon it, without getting upon controversial or at least doubtful ground, which we wish to avoid; but it is plain, from the whole tenor of Scripture, that there will be one day a display of the exceeding riches of God's grace, beyond all that has ever yet been seen or known. All that God can do, and has promised to do, in the riches of his grace, has not yet been fully accomplished.
We are but the first fruits of a glorious harvest. At the council at Jerusalem James well expressed the nature of the present dispensation—"Simeon has declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name." (Acts 15:14.) God is now in his dealings with the Gentiles taking out of them a people for his name; but a time is coming when there will be a fuller display of the riches of his grace. God's own word, which cannot be broken, is, "But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." (Numb. 14:21.) And agreeably with that oath or promise, runs the declaration of the prophet, that the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:9) Without entering into disputed points, may we not simply ask, Have these promises been yet fulfilled? Has the earth been yet filled with the glory of the Lord? Look how the waters cover the seas from shore to shore. Has the knowledge of the Lord thus filled the earth from sea to sea, from shore to shore, so that every place has been full of the knowledge of the Lord? Are not the dark places of the earth still full of the habitations of cruelty? Not to speak of such countries as India, China, Turkey, look at France, Italy, Germany, even our own favored isle, and see how sin runs down our streets like water, and instead of the knowledge of the Lord filling the lands as waters cover the sea, see rather how ignorance of him, contempt of his word and will, open disobedience to his clear commands, and iniquities of every shape and name, fill every place and spread themselves from shore to shore.
We cannot pursue this subject, but it is sometimes refreshing to a soul wearied with the spectacle of the sins and sorrows which make this world such a scene of misery, to believe on the testimony of God himself in his holy word, that it shall not be always so, that a time is coming when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. In these ages to come God will show in a more full and complete manner the exceeding riches of his grace, of which he has already given us a pledge, and foretaste in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
The mention of grace fires, as it were, the Apostle's soul, and therefore he drops for the moment the view which he had cast into the ages to come of the exceeding riches of grace, then to be more fully revealed, and directs his pen to the clearer opening of the nature of grace, and of salvation by grace—"For by grace are you saved through faith—and that not of yourselves—it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8, 9.)
It is hardly necessary for us to explain what grace is or means. The simplest view of it is the truest and best. View it then as simply meaning favor, and thus expressive of that special favor with which God regards his people in Christ. The point on which the Apostle chiefly dwells both here and elsewhere is the grand distinction between grace and works in the matter of salvation. It must be either by one or the other, for they are mutually opposed to each other, as he argues elsewhere—"And if they are saved by God's grace, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God's wonderful grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved." (Romans 11:6.) It is clear that if I am to be saved, it must be either by my own obedience to the law of God, or apart from that obedience as an act of pure favor on the part of God toward me. I must either be one or the other; for if works be once taken into account, then there must be a strict and rigid examination of these works to ascertain whether they are really good; and if, on examination by the holy and unswerving law of God, they be found not good, their condemnation must ensue as a necessary consequence. If I have a debt to pay, and the money which I bring is forged, false, or counterfeit, it is not only not paying my debt, but it is adding a crime to non-payment. All, then, being alike debtors, and none able to pay a farthing of their debt for lack of good and right money, those who are acquitted of their debt must be so on the footing of pure favor from their great Creditor, or else they must incur the due penalty, which is to be shut up in the prison of everlasting woe.
Now, by this grace or pure favor of God we are saved through faith, faith itself being the special gift of God; and thus the very medium by which we receive salvation, and become manifestly interested in it, is not of ourselves. The eye which sees salvation in the person and work of the Son of God, the ear which hears and receives the glad tidings, the hand which lays hold of and embraces the Savior in his atoning blood and justifying obedience, are all the special gift of God. Do we see Jesus and salvation in and through him? God has opened our eyes to see. Have we heard his blessed voice? God has given us ears to hear. Have we laid hold of him, and brought him into our heart in all his saving benefits and blessings? God gave us that faith by revealing his dear Son in us, and making him spiritually and experimentally known to our souls.
But the Apostle assigns a special reason why salvation should not be of works, "Lest any man should boast." It is a peculiar feature in the revealed character and government of God that he will not allow anyone to boast himself in his presence. He is a jealous God, and will never allow the creature to arrogate to itself any part of the glory which belongs solely to him. The Apostle, therefore, assigns this as a sufficient reason why Abraham could not be justified by works, for if he were he would have whereof to glory; but this, he says, "not before God," that is, can never be allowed before and in the presence of God, for it is opposed to the whole of his character, to his revealed will, and fixed determination. (Rom. 4:2.) He therefore says, in the same strain of argument, "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? No—but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Rom. 3:27, 28.) As if holding in his hand the balances of the sanctuary, and weighing in them salvation by grace and salvation by works, that which turns the scale is which of these two ways excludes boasting. As, then, salvation by works favors boasting, and salvation by grace excludes it, the matter is at once decided; that scale must weigh the heavier in which there is no human glory.
You will observe that the Apostle does not introduce into this question the point of the goodness or badness of the works. He merely takes the principle of works generally as meritorious, and enabling the worker to present them as such for acceptance. That they should allow boasting is sufficient for his argument, as an unanswerable and a priori objection to their claim being for one moment tolerated. Thus the doctrine of salvation by works is cut up in limine; as soon as it comes into court. Before the advocate is allowed to plead, the judge asks him, "Does this plea of yours admit of boasting on the part of the plaintiff? If it does, it cannot be entertained in this court, and I shall stop the trial at once. This is the King's court, and no cause can be heard or tried here which allows of any glory except to our sovereign Lord the King." This is the whole force of the Apostle's argument, and so strong was it that he draws from it the certain conclusion that we are justified by faith, because it excludes boasting, and not by works, which allow it. "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Rom. 3:28.)
The great question has always been, "How is a man to be saved?" Now there are but two possible ways—by works or by grace, by merit or by favor. Paul declares himself for salvation by grace, by special favor, and not by merit, in which he stood alone against all the legalists of his day. And such views had he of the honor and majesty of God, and such a holy zeal for the glory of God, that it was sufficient for him to decide the whole matter that salvation by grace brought glory to God—and salvation by works brought glory to man. On this point he takes his stand; here he firmly plants his foot. There needed, therefore, no long and laborious examination of this or that man's works, not even of Abraham's, the very friend of God, whether they were good or bad. It is a sufficient argument to dispose of the whole question, that as the creature is not allowed to boast itself before God, a way of salvation which, as a principle of merit, allows of that boasting, is ipso facto, primarily, thoroughly, and fundamentally wrong, and must, without further investigation, be condemned and cast out of court, as utterly opposed to the character of God and repugnant to the eyes of his glory.
But we must reserve to our next paper the further consideration of salvation by grace, and not of works, lest any man should boast.