The main theme of our last paper was Reconciliation by the blood of the cross, embracing 1, chiefly and primarily, Reconciliation of man unto God; and 2, as its fruits and consequences, Reconciliation of man unto man. We shall now, therefore, at this point resume the thread of our subject. "And came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and to those who were near. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." (Eph. 2:17) 18.)
Having made peace through the blood of the cross, the blessed Lord came and preached it, not personally, but ministerially. Personally he had gone up on high, and had entered into his glory. The world should see him no more in his visible presence, nor behold him going about doing good. Israel, to whom he specially came, had rejected him by the voice of its rulers, had denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto them. (John 1:11; Acts 3:14; 13:27, 28.) Jerusalem knew not the time of her visitation, and therefore never again would he personally tread her streets, or should she hear the accents of his voice. But he would come spiritually and ministerially, and preach peace to those who were afar off and to those who were near. It was, then, by pouring out the Holy Spirit first on the day of Pentecost, and afterwards by the continual supplies of his Spirit and grace, clothing their word with power, that the Prince of Peace came by his Spirit and presence, and thus ministerially preached peace by his apostles. They were his "witnesses" (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 5:32) and "ambassadors," to whom he had given the word and ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20), whom he had put in trust with his gospel (1 Thess. 2:4), that as preached by them it might be the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16.) In this sense, therefore, the Lord came by the mouth and ministry of his apostles, and preached peace to those who were afar off, that is, the Gentiles, and to them that were near, that is, the Jews.
Not that the one was actually nearer to God than the other; but the Jew was nearer to God by external privilege and outward covenant, and was not so debased by idolatry, so sunk into thorough ignorance of the only true God, or so foully and grossly stained by the unchecked practice of those abominations which prevailed in all the heathen nations. In this sense the Jew was relatively nearer to God than the Gentile; but as regarded his actual state, there was no difference, as the Apostle elsewhere speaks—"What then? are we better than they? No, in no way; for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin." (Rom. 3:9.) Was the Jew, with all his privileges, better than the Gentile whom he loathed and despised? No! in no way. All alike were under sin; all alike had sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Therefore, whether relatively near or relatively far off, both Jew and Gentile needed the same Savior and the same salvation. Peace was preached by Jesus Christ alike to both in the ministry of the gospel. Elect Jew and elect Gentile were alike reconciled to God, united into one mystical body, and, when called by grace, were baptized with, and made to drink into one Spirit. Thus they were one in Christ, outwardly and inwardly, actually and experimentally, in right and in enjoyment; "for through him," adds the Apostle, "we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father."
Access unto God is only through Jesus Christ, and as reconciled and brought near by his blood. It is one of the first and most precious fruits of peace as preached by Jesus Christ, and experimentally received and made known in a believing heart. There is no access through a broken law, nor through any other mediator but the risen and glorified Son of God. Nor can we draw near so as to have any felt or sensible access unto the Father except through the operations, influences, and power of the Spirit.
But the chief object of the Apostle in dwelling on this point here is to show that this is the privilege and the blessing alike of Jew and Gentile, and that thus it forms a ground of spiritual union, and a hallowed spot of mutual communion. This we know in vital experience, as distinct from being Jew or Gentile. Some of us seem in our feelings far off from God, and others seem near. The tempted, the tried, the burdened with sin, the cast down by reason of the difficulties of the way, feel as if they were far off. The blessed and favored, the comforted and the indulged, feel to be near. But whether far off or near, all meet at the mercy seat. Is not that the sacred ground, the hallowed spot where all differences cease, and all believing hearts are knit together into one? There are not two spirits in praying souls. It is "one Spirit," as there is but "one Lord." There is no approach, no access, no drawing near, no acceptable worship, no communion with the Father but through his dear Son, for he is the Mediator, the only Mediator between God and men. (1 Tim. 2:3.)
We continually find it by experience a solemn truth that whether on our bended knees privately, or in the worship of God publicly we attempt to draw near to the Majesty of heaven, we have no sensible access unto the Father but by Jesus Christ; and we know also in the same way and by the same means, that it is only as the blessed Spirit helps our infirmities, and himself makes intercession for us according to the will of God (Rom. 8:26, 27), that we can offer a spiritual sacrifice, or sensibly feel any communion with the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort. We may use words, and there may be what is called a gift of prayer, enabling the possessor to pray with much fluency and propriety; but this is a very different thing from that inward access of the whole heart and soul unto God, when, solemnly impressed with a sense of his holiness and majesty, and deeply penetrated with a feeling of our own sinfulness and unworthiness, we yet approach him through his dear Son under the sweet and sacred influences of the Holy Spirit.
But so to draw near is the special privilege of the children of God; and on this ground, therefore, all the redeemed and regenerated, all the reconciled and accepted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father meet. This, then, is the grand point of union—the blessed meeting place, the hallowed spot, the consecrated ground where all true believers meet, and are of one heart and one soul. As through sin, all being alike sinners, there is no difference, so through grace, all being alike saved, there is no difference. No one on his bended knees can say to his kneeling brother, "You are a greater sinner than I," or, "I am more saved than you." But as alike reconciled to God through the blood of the Lamb, as alike believing in the Son of God, as alike approaching the throne of grace in earnest prayer and supplication, and thus alike finding access by one Spirit unto the Father, both those that are afar off and those that are near meet together as children of one Father, who is above all, and through all, and in them all.
But we must not enlarge further on this point, as much lies before us worthy of our attention and meditation. "Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." (Eph. 2:19.) By nature we all are strangers to God and godliness. Our understanding is darkened, and we are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us, because of the blindness of our heart. (Eph. 4:18.) We neither know God nor want to know him, and say in thought, if not in word, "Depart from us, for we desire not a knowledge of your ways." (Job 21:14.) But when grace touches our heart, and especially when by faith in the Son of God we receive the atonement, then this alienation or estrangement, as the word means, from the life of God is removed, and we are no longer strangers to him, to his word, to his will, or to his ways. A divine light shines upon his word, for the entrance of the word gives light; divine life is felt in the soul, making the conscience alive and tender in his fear; and what he speaks with divine authority and power is received by faith into a reverent, submissive, and obedient heart. We thus come "to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent;" and though this divine light is often beclouded by the darkness, unbelief, infidelity, and carnal reasonings of our natural mind, and this divine life often sadly interrupted by the workings of sin, temptation, guilt, and legal fear, yet it still holds good that "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day." (Prov. 4:18.)The word translated "perfect" properly signifies "steady, fixed," and thus means the steady light of a clear bright noon, so compared with the struggling misty light of a cloudy morning.
But as points of divine truth are sometimes set in a clearer light by contrast, we shall show first what it is to be a stranger to God, before we show what it is not to be a stranger to him. To be a stranger to God, then, is to be a stranger to his character as revealed in the word, and as made known through the word with a divine power to the soul. It is to be a stranger to his holiness, majesty, heart-searching eye, and universal presence, so as not to be affected or influenced by it in our thoughts, words, or works. It is to be a stranger to his gracious dealings, divine leadings, spiritual teachings, and gentle, yet powerful intimations of his holy will. It is to be a stranger to his fatherly corrections, wise yet tender chastisements, inward reproofs, secret rebukes, and the various ways whereby he searches the heart, and tries the thoughts. It is to be a stranger also to the visitations of his mercy, the consolations of his gracious presence, and the sheddings abroad of his love. In fact, it is to be a stranger to everything in which the power of true religion and vital godliness consists.
And as to be a stranger to God is to be a stranger to everything which can make the soul holy or happy, and to everything which it is our chief, our only blessedness to know and to enjoy, so not to be a stranger is to be admitted to all that friendship, intimacy, familiarity, communion, and communion with God, and enjoyment of him, which is the special privilege of his redeemed and regenerated family. Those whom he has reconciled unto himself by the blood of his dear Son, he draws to his bosom by the cords of his love, that they may no longer be strangers to him, but be made near, and may walk with him and before him in the light of his countenance. O what wonders of grace, what depths of unspeakable mercy, what riches in possession, what treasures in prospect, are stored up in being reconciled to God through the blood of the cross! Truly we may say, "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32.)
And as reconciliation through the blood of the cross opened a way whereby those who are thus reconciled should be no more "strangers," so also it provided and accomplished that they should be no more "foreigners." A "foreigner" is one who cannot speak the language, is unacquainted with the customs, is bound by no ties of allegiance, is imbued with no love and affection to the country in which he takes up his abode. Many such foreigners we have in this country, who, though they are in it, yet are not of it, to whom it is not their country or their home, and who, though they may mix with Englishmen, have not an English heart in their bosom, or any of those English feelings which are found so strong in the natives of our beloved isle. Such is the state and character, spiritually, of one who moves among the family of God without belonging to that family.
Many such foreigners, in a religious sense, fill our chapels, and go in and out among the living people of God. But though with them, they are not of them. They cannot speak their language, at least, not from the heart; they do not really and truly love the same things; have not the same hopes or the same fears; are unacquainted with their joys or their sorrows; have not their faith, or their godly fear; nor their reverence of God, nor their spirit of prayer, nor their contrition for sin, nor their brokenness of heart under a sense of God's goodness and mercy; nor their tenderness of conscience, desire for, and love to holiness; nor their anxiety to be right, and dread of being wrong. In all these, and similar points, they are foreigners, who speak inwardly, if not outwardly, a different language, live under different motives and influences, and do not serve, worship, obey, or love the same God.
But now let grace reach the heart of any such foreigner who has gone in and out, it may be for years, among the family of God, hearing the same truths and attending the same house of prayer, and yet untouched, unaffected, uninfluenced by the word, because he has never felt its power—what a change will it make in him. We need not trace out the work of grace upon his soul, for that would take us too far from our subject. But let us assume that he is reconciled and brought near unto God by the blood of the cross, that he who is our Peace comes to him in the ministry of the word and preaches peace to his soul, and that he finds access through Jesus by one Spirit unto the Father. He is now no longer a stranger and a foreigner. He can now understand and learn to speak the language of Canaan; and, though it may be at first with a broken accent and imperfect utterance, yet, as it is the real language of his heart, those who know what is the language of a broken heart and contrite spirit can feel a union with him and he with them, and thus he is a foreigner no more.
But this brings us to still further blessings and privileges which he is made to enjoy. And as those which we have already considered are indirectly negative, so these are directly positive. "But fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." Two blessings are spoken of here—1. A participation in all the rights and privileges of the city of God, and 2, a place in his house and family.
1. The city here spoken of is the city of the saints, of which by grace those who once were strangers and foreigners, being now reconciled unto God, and having access by one Spirit unto the Father, have become citizens, and thus possess all those rights and privileges which belong to the free-born inhabitants. One peculiar feature of Greek and Roman civilization was the gathering of communities into usually walled and fortified, and, as thus capable of self-defense, enjoying special privileges and immunities. It was something analogous to our borough towns under a municipal government, but much more complete and organized, society being in those days, in many points, widely different from our own. Now, when a foreigner was admitted to the rights of citizenship of any of these free communities, he was at once put into possession of every privilege enjoyed by the free-born natives. There seems to be some allusion in the words of the Apostle here to Israel as the city of God both by privilege and possession. Until the middle wall of partition was broken down, the city of the saints was limited to the Jews. Of that city the Gentiles were not citizens, for they had no hope, and were without God in the world. But now, as reconciled by the blood of the cross, and having access by one Spirit unto the Father, believing Gentiles become incorporated into the city of God, and are thus fellow-citizens with the saints.
This city, as being the city of the saints, represents the Church of God under two aspects—1. Its present state of grace; 2. Its future state of glory. Glorious things are spoken of this city of God. (Psalm 87:3.) Thus it has foundations, as it is said of Abraham, that "he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Heb. 11:10.) It has also walls and bulwarks—"We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks." It has also gates—"Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in." (Isa. 26:1, 2.) It has also a river—"There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High." (Psalm 46:4.) This river is the "pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb"—a river of life and love, emblematic of those pleasures which are at God's right hand for evermore.
This city belongs wholly to the saints—that is, those who were sanctified and set apart by God the Father (Jude 1), sanctified by the blood of God the Son (Heb. 13:12), and sanctified by the operations and influences of God the Holy Spirit. Even in its present state, as the Church of Christ upon earth, it is the city of the saints; for none but saints really participate in, or spiritually enjoy, its blessings and privileges. Others may walk about Zion, count the towers thereof, and mark well her bulwarks; but they are not citizens who have right to the tree of life, and may freely enter in through the gates of the city.
But there is a state of glory to come, of which John had a view when he saw in vision "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." The beauty and glory of this city John describes—"And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." (Rev. 21:23.)
Our space forbids us to enter further into this glorious subject. We must leave to our spiritual readers their own meditations upon the glory of this heavenly city; and if the Lord is but pleased to shine into their soul and give them a view of the glory which is to be revealed, and a blessed testimony of their interest in it, how it will support and comfort them under all their afflictions and tribulations, and make them admire and adore that free and distinguishing grace which has made them fellow-citizens with the saints, and given them a home with them here in grace, and the blessed anticipation of a home hereafter with them in glory. Are they not at home with them now in the best, warmest, and happiest feelings of their soul? And is not this a proof and evidence that they are fellow-citizens with them? Are they not their choice and only companions now? Are not the saints in their estimation, however the world despises and hates them, "the excellent of the earth, in whom is all their delight?" Now, to be no more a stranger and a foreigner, a poor, miserable outcast, wandering here and there, without house or home, friendless, and forsaken of God and man, as we might justly have been, on account of our sins—instead of thus reaping our deserts on earth until we sank under the wrath of God into hell—to be made and welcomed as a fellow-citizen with the saints of God in their present state of grace and their future state of glory—what wonders of grace are here, and how, as realized by faith and feeling, they melt the heart into admiring love and gratitude. Of such unspeakable blessings both now and for evermore may we not say, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love him?" (1 Cor. 2:9.)
2. And as they are "fellow-citizens with the saints," so also they are members of the house and "family of God." The figure is here changed. The Church of God which he had just compared to a city, he now compares to a house or family, terming it "the household of God." It will be observed that both these figures imply much the same thing, and express each of them the idea of community. Thus a city of which all the citizens partake of the same rights and privileges, and a household or family of which all the members stand in the same relationship to its head, agree in this, that the citizens of the city and the members of the family are bound together by certain ties, in which they, and they alone, have a common and mutual interest.
Thus as the Church of God is sometimes symbolized by the figure of a city, so it is also in other places represented under the figure of a house. We read, for instance—"But Christ as a Son over his own house, whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." (Heb. 3:6.) And again—"But if I tarry long, that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (1 Tim. 3:15.) Now as we found that the city represented the Church of Christ in its present militant state of grace, and in its future triumphant state of glory, so it is as regards this house. At present, in this house of God here below, though none are really members of it but those who are brought near by the blood of Christ, yet there are many who go in and out of it who do not spiritually and vitally belong to the family. To this there is some allusion in those striking words of the prophet—"In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts," implying that such is the case now. And to the same effect speaks the Apostle in those warning words—"But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor." (2 Tim. 2:20.)
One feature of a family is the difference of ages in the children. In the same family, there are often the grown-up son and the babe in arms. In the spiritual family there is a wider reach still, for that contains fathers, young men, little children, and babes. Indeed, we may say that in this house there are children of all ages, and all sizes; and yet all standing in the same relationship to one common Father. The same rich grace which admitted those who once were strangers and foreigners into the city of God, and made them fellow-citizens with the saints, admits them also into his living family. They have listened to the gracious call—"Come out from among them, and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing;" and they have found and realized the truth of the promise—"And I will receive you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:17, 18.)
All that a Father's heart can feel, a Father's love bestow, and a Father's hand can accomplish, is their happy portion. And what is their happiness, their wisdom, their mercy, and we may add their duty, but to walk in all holy obedience to their heavenly Father, who has received them into his family; and in all love, tenderness, kindness, forbearance, and affection to their brothers and sisters, who have been loved by the same love, redeemed by the same blood, called by the same distinguishing grace, and are journeying onward with them to the same happy and everlasting home?