In our introductory paper we attempted to show the wisdom and grace of the Holy Spirit in choosing Epistles as the most fit and suitable medium of communicating to the Church of Christ all that instruction which was needful, as a sequel to the inspired narrative of the Gospels and the Acts, to build her up upon her most holy faith; and the point to which we directed special attention was the flexible character of that mode of composition as admitting so great a variety both of subject and expression.
But when we come to examine these inspired Epistles a little more closely, we find that almost every one of them has a distinctive and peculiar character of its own, what we may, perhaps, call a key-note, which, as in music, controls and dominates the whole composition. Thus in the Romans, justification is the key-note; in the Hebrews, the priesthood of Christ; in the Corinthians, the internal administration of the Church; in the Galatians, liberty from the law; in the Colossians, the headship and fullness of Christ; in the Thessalonians, his second coming; in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, the peculiar qualifications and duties of ministers and deacons. Not that each of these Epistles is wholly taken up with the subject which we have thus briefly pointed out as its dominant idea, but that such is the leading feature with which almost every verse is in harmony, and to which it is subordinate.
If this be the case, unless we get hold of, and in some good measure not only apprehend, but carry with us as we read, this key-note, as we have termed it, we cannot clearly see, or fully appreciate the spiritual meaning of any one of the Epistles. We may, indeed, understand the meaning and realize the sweetness and blessedness of single verses or detached portions; but we shall lose the harmony of thought, the connection of one argument with another, and the way in which they all tend to one point, which carry such conviction to the mind which can grasp the whole subject as unfolded by the Apostle. And to lose this is, we may add, no little loss in the eyes of those who love the truth, and see an unspeakable beauty in the harmony of every part.
When the Apostle sat down to write to a Church or to a brother in the Lord, it would seem as if the Holy Spirit not only inspired every thought and expression, but impressed on his mind a particular subject to guide those thoughts and words into a definite channel. The Epistles, therefore, do not spread themselves loosely and at random over the fields like a flood, but flow in a determinate course like a river; and as this definite object preserves them from confusion, so by stamping upon each Epistle a character of its own, it gives them a beautiful variety. Careless, formal readers of the Scripture, of whom there are so many in the professing Church, may not, indeed, see the necessity or the benefit of a serious, earnest, prayerful study of these divine Epistles; and others of a different stamp may shelter their indolence under the pretext that the blessed Spirit will teach them without any pains of their own. But we are bidden to "search the Scriptures," (John 5:39,) and this searching of them is compared to "seeking as for silver, and searching as for hid treasures," (Prov. 2:4,) implying some such diligent toil as a man uses who is mining for silver in the depths of the earth, or digging all over a field to get at a treasure which he has been led to believe is somewhere hidden in it.
But the question now arises, What is the key-note of the Epistle to the Ephesians, with which we are now more immediately engaged? To this we briefly answer, The relationship of the Church to Christ as her risen and glorified Head. This is the leading feature, the grand subject, the fundamental idea which runs through the whole Epistle, and which, binding in one harmonious chain well-near every verse, again and again sounds forth its distinctive note in various parts. If you will refer to the last two verses of the first chapter, you will find this key-note first clearly struck; but you will discover it sounding also afterwards, 2:16-22; 3:1-21; 4:15, 16; 5:23-32, in all which passages mention is made directly or indirectly of the Church as the body of Christ.
Following the Apostle's example, we shall not dwell particularly on this point until we arrive at it in due course; but if our readers will bear in mind the fundamental idea of the Epistle which we have thus pointed out, it may, with God's help and blessing, not only enable them better to follow us in our exposition, but, what is of much more importance, better to understand and enter into the spiritual meaning of the whole. May the Lord the Spirit be with both writer and readers, teaching him to open up and rightly divide the word of truth, and applying with power to their hearts what he may thus be enabled to lay before them in harmony with it.
After this, we fear, too long introduction, we come now to our exposition of the first chapter.
Verse 1.Two things at once strike us as we open upon the first verse. Being a letter, it commences according to the custom of the period, with, 1, The name of the writer; 2, The name of the persons to whom it was written. Both of these points will claim our attention.
1. First, then, the WRITER, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." The ancient way of putting at the top of the letter first the name of the writer, and then the name of the person to whom he wrote was a far more sensible plan than our mode of placing the name of the writer at the end, and that of our correspondent on the back, or, according to present custom, on an envelope. He, therefore, begins at once, "Paul." How clear, how simple, how distinct is this. How adapted to call attention at once to the writer. Let us for a moment endeavor to realize the meeting of the Ephesian Church to hear read to them an epistle just arrived from Paul, their beloved father and revered Apostle, who for the space of three years had not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God, and ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. (Acts 20:27-31.) One of the elders, perhaps one of the very men who had wept sore and fallen on Paul's neck and kissed him, when they parted at Miletus, would open and read the epistle. How still would they all be; and as the word "Paul" broke on their ears, with what reverence and attention would they listen.
But he immediately adds his commission and authority to address them in the name of the Lord, "An apostle of Jesus Christ." Apostleship was the greatest gift and the highest office in the first visible setting up of the Church of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. "And he gave some apostles and some prophets." (Eph. 4:11.) "And God has set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets." (1 Cor. 12:28.) As this, then, was the highest office, so it demanded peculiar requisites, and possessed peculiar privileges. The two chief prerequisites for an apostle were, 1, An immediate call and commission from the Lord himself; 2, That he had seen the Lord after he had risen from the dead, and was thus a witness of his resurrection. The call and commission of the other apostles we have in the gospels. Luke 6:18 gives us their call, and Matt. 28:18-20 their commission; and from Acts 1:21, 22, we see the fact as well as the necessity of their being witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. These two points, then, we need not further prove. But here comes in a difficulty in the way of the apostleship of Paul, for he seemed to lack these two grand requisites 1, He had not been visibly and manifestly called or commissioned by the Lord himself; 2, He had never seen the Lord, personally, either before or after his resurrection. This is why he calls himself, "one born out of due time." (1 Cor. 15:8.) How, then, were these two difficulties obviated? Thus. The first by a special call and commission; (Acts 26:12-18;) and the second by a personal revelation of the Lord to his soul. He, therefore, says, "Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" (1 Cor. 9:1.) Some of our best MSS., as the Alexandrine, the Vatican, and the Sinaiticus, transpose these two clauses, and read, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?" which certainly better connects apostleship with seeing the Lord.
In one sense, therefore, he received a higher commission than any of the other apostles; for his was from Christ in his risen glory, whereas they had received theirs from Christ in his grace. Theirs was given them when Christ was on earth, but Paul his when Christ was in heaven. Theirs was in conjunction with one another; his, peculiar and special to himself. This special call and commission he much insists on, especially whenever it was called in question. He writes, therefore, to the Galatians—"Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead." (Gal. 1:1.) So he writes to Timothy—"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope." (1 Tim. 1:1.) So also, "According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry." (1 Tim. 1:11, 12.) And as he was called and commissioned in a special manner, so was he taught and qualified in a special manner. As to make up, as it were, for his not seeing Christ in the flesh, he had a special revelation of him from heaven, so to make up the loss which he had of not receiving the oral instruction of Christ before and after the resurrection, which his fellow-apostles had been favored with, the gospel was in a peculiar and special manner revealed to him by Christ himself, after his ascension. He therefore speaks—"But I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.'' (Gal. 1:11, 12.) So in the epistle before us—"If you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward; how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ." (Eph. 3:2-4.) Similar expressions may be found, 1 Cor. 11:23; 15:1-3.
It is very desirable to have clear views on this point, as it gives such weight and power to the Apostle's words. If one whom we could fully trust should assure us that he had seen the Lord Jesus Christ, personally, in his risen glory, and that he had received certain words and a certain message from his mouth, which he was commanded to communicate to us; with what reverence and attention would we listen to and receive his communication. This, then, we have precisely in the Apostle Paul, and in the epistle before us. He assures us (and his whole life and labors prove how worthy he is to be implicitly believed) that he had seen Christ for himself, and that the gospel which he had preached had been revealed to him specially and particularly by the Lord Jesus. Now, just as far as we are persuaded of this, shall we listen to and receive his words; shall we desire to understand them, to believe them, to enter into their true and heavenly meaning, to experience their power and influence in our heart, and to find them made spirit and life to our souls. This is the true spirit in which we should approach and read this epistle, drinking its words into our inmost heart, and receiving them as a special and personal message from God to us as much as if Jesus Christ spoke to us himself from heaven.
He, therefore, adds, "By the will of God;" that is, not God's mere approval or ratification of his commission to be an apostle, but that eternal, sovereign good will and pleasure of his, by which all things were ordained, disposed, and regulated. As it is this apostleship of Jesus Christ by the will of God which gave Paul all his authority to write this epistle, it may not be out of place to point out two peculiar features of his commission.
Its first feature is, as we have already pointed out, that it was given him by a special revelation. All the Apostles were indeed taught and empowered by the Holy Spirit; (John 14:26; 16:13-15; Acts. 1:6;) but they did not each receive an individual and separate revelation from the Lord himself in his glory, at least not in that direct and express way with which Paul was favored. Peter was really as much commissioned, (Gal. 2:7,) as truly inspired, both to preach and write, (Acts 10:42; 2 Pet. 1:12-16; 3:1, 2,) and as much endued with the gifts of miracles and tongues (Acts 2:4; 9:32-41) as Paul; but he was not caught up to the third heaven, nor favored with such revelations of the Lord as the great Apostle of the Gentiles.
But the Gospel which Paul preached was also one of a special and particular character. He was emphatically sent to preach to the Gentiles, as Peter's mission and preaching was to the Jews; (Gal. 2:6, 7;) though, as a special act of favor, God made choice among the apostles that the Gentiles, by Peter's mouth, should first hear the word of the gospel and believe. (Acts 15:7.) If you will carefully read Eph. 3:1-11, for it is too long for us to quote, you will see how clearly and beautifully the Apostle there unfolds the peculiar dispensation of the grace of God given unto him, and that by revelation he made known to him a mystery, or heavenly secret which from the beginning of the world had been hidden in the bosom of God.
But what was this mystery? It was that the Gentiles should be "fellow-heirs with the Jews and of the same body, and partakers of the same promise in Christ by the gospel." Thus Jew and Gentile formed one complete and glorious body, the Church. Christ, as our peace, had made both one; and there was no longer any middle wall of partition between them, for the Lord Jesus had reconciled both unto God in one body by the cross; and having done this, he now came in the ministry of the gospel to preach peace to the far-off Gentile, and to the nearer, by external privilege, Jew. This was the gospel that Paul preached, and which shines as with a ray of heavenly light through all his Epistles.
2. But now for the RECIPIENTS of the Epistle.
What we have already said about the commission of the writer may the better prepare us to understand why he should write to the Ephesians, and why address them as "saints and faithful in Christ Jesus." They had been Gentiles and had "walked according to the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath even as others." But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he had loved them even when dead in sins, had quickened them into divine life; and as they had been freely and fully justified by the blood and righteousness of Christ, so were they sanctified by the Spirit of God. He could, therefore, address them as "saints," not only as sanctified by the will of the Father, and the blood of his dear Son, (Heb. 10:10, 29,) but inwardly sanctified by the special operations, sealing, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 1:13; 2:18, 22.)
The epistle is addressed also to the "faithful in Christ Jesus." This seems to give the epistle a somewhat fuller and wider scope, as if, in addition to the saints in Ephesus, it would comprehend "all the faithful in Christ Jesus" to whom it might come. The word translated "faithful" means also "believing," or a believer, and is frequently so rendered, as Acts 10:45; 16:1; 2 Cor. 6:15; 1 Tim. 4:3, 10, 12; 5:16; etc. We might, therefore, so translate the word here, and read, "to the believers in Christ Jesus," as, indeed, would seem to be its preferable meaning, for the epistle is addressed not so much to those who are faithful in their profession as to those who possess a living faith in the Son of God. To the saints at Ephesus, then, specially, and the believers in Jesus Christ generally, is this epistle addressed; and as the first title made it peculiarly suitable to them, so the second makes it especially suitable to us. The Ephesian saints have passed away, and Ephesus itself is a ruin; but believers in Christ Jesus still live, and will live until the Church is complete.
But we cannot leave this salutation without pointing out how grace adorns and sanctifies all that it touches. The usual cold and formal beginning of a letter in ancient times we may see, Acts 23:26, where we have an original and authentic Roman letter—"Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sends greeting." Preserving the usual mode, how the Apostle infuses life, as it were, into a dead formula. How cold, though respectful, is "the most excellent governor," and how bare is the word "greeting." But how warm, how full of grace and life, as contrasted with this cold, dead salutation, is "Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus—Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." (Eph. 1:1, 2.)
Verse 2.But now a few words as to the BLESSINGS prayed for. These are "grace and peace,"—grace the fountain, peace the stream; "grace," as containing in its bosom all that favor which God the Father has towards his people; and "peace," all that personal manifestation of it which could be realized and enjoyed from a sense of pardoning mercy. But we must not here enlarge, as much lies before us, and our progress at present has been but slow.
Verse 3.Now no sooner had the Apostle given to the Ephesian saints his affectionate greeting, and breathed forth his spiritual desires on their behalf, than his heart was touched and his whole soul as if inflamed with a sense of the wondrous goodness and mercy of God to him and to them. So melted and overpowered was he with a view by faith of what God had already done for them in the exceeding riches of his grace, that he bursts forth into an anthem of grateful praise—"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." (Eph. 1:3.)
How shall we attempt to unfold, we will not say all, for that is beyond the tongue of men or angels, but a small part only of the treasures of grace and glory which the Holy Spirit by the pen of Paul has stored up in the bosom of these words? Yet let us bring our cup, that we may draw if it be but one clear draught out of this ever-flowing, overflowing fountain of heavenly truth.
1. The first thing which we shall notice is the word "blessed," which occurs twice, though in two different senses, in this verse. As first used, it is the ascription on our part of thankful praise to God, speaking well, as the word literally means, of his gracious Majesty. To bless and praise God, and that for evermore, is the employment and the happiness of those who bask in the full beams of his love and favor in the glorious mansions above. But the first notes of this eternal song of heavenly praise are sounded here below, and are produced and drawn forth by a sense of God's goodness and mercy as revealed to the soul, and especially when his love is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit. This made David say, "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits." (Psalm 103:1, 2.) He blesses God for having blessed him. But now observe the difference between his blessing us and our blessing him; for we have observed that the word "blessed" is used in two different senses. God blesses us in deed; we bless him in word. His blessings are actual, substantial favors, freely conferred; ours, are merely the thankful acknowledgment of them as received. This, however, we shall more clearly see as we advance in our exposition of the verse now before us.
But who is it whom the Apostle thus fervently blesses? Under what name and title does he praise him? It is "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" whom he thus praises and blesses. We cannot bless God simply and nakedly as God, for in himself and out of Christ in his tremendous Majesty, he is a consuming fire to sinners like us. Simply, then, as God, he has not blessed us, nor as such can we bless him. But as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," we, if saints and believers, may bless him, for as such and as such only, has he blessed us. This is his peculiar New Testament title, as that of "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" was his Old Testament name. Let us seek, then, to apprehend its spiritual meaning and import.
You will observe that, according to this New Testament title, he is the God of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. As these two titles evidently differ, the distinction between them demands a little explanation.
1. First, then, he is, "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." This may seem at first sight a somewhat harsh and unusual expression; but it is perfectly scriptural, and when spiritually understood and realized, full of blessed meaning. Thus the Apostle, in the chapter before us, expressly uses the term where he prays that "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ would give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation." (verse 17.) But how is he "the God of Christ?" To understand this we must bear in mind that though the Lord Jesus Christ has but one Person, yet he has two natures; and that though the Scriptures clearly distinguish between these two natures, yet, on account of the oneness of his Person, they ascribe to our Lord the attributes of each nature without drawing minute distinctions. Thus, in Rom. 1:3, 4, Paul distinguishes the two natures—"Which" (or, as we now say, "Who") "was made of the seed of David according to the flesh—there is the human nature; "And declared to be the Son of God with power;" not "made," but "declared"—there is his divine nature as the eternal Son. But in Hebrews 1, the same Apostle makes no such clear distinction of the two natures, for he says of the same Son of God—"Who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his Person," which he could only be in his divine nature, "by himself purged our sins," which was by the blood of his human nature in union with his divine. So the title, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," blends into one gracious name what God is to Christ in his human, and what he is to him in his divine nature. Thus, as Christ is the Son of God, God is his Father; but as he is the Son of man, God is his God. As choosing and appointing him to the work of mediation, as making an everlasting covenant with him, as preparing a body for him, as in due time sending him, as anointing him with the Holy Spirit and with power, as accepting his sacrifice as a propitiation for sin, as raising him from the dead and setting him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,—in all these points God is "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." Our blessed Lord, therefore, in the depth of his agony on the cross, cried to him under that title—"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" So in Psalm. 22, the first words of which the Lord thus took to himself on the cross, and which, therefore, contains throughout his language, we find him speaking, "You are my God from my mother's belly," (Psalm 22:10,) which shows the connection between the incarnation of Christ in the womb of the Virgin and God being his God. So also in Psalm. 40, in which we know also from Heb. 10:5-7 that the Lord Jesus speaks, we find him saying, "I delight to do your will, O my God," (verse 8,) which he did when he took the body prepared for him; and again, "Make no tarrying, O my God," (verse 17,) which shows his looking to him and hanging upon him in the days of his flesh.
And to show that this covenant title did not cease at his death, but abides still in all its completeness, immediately after his resurrection, before he ascended up on high to be the great High Priest over the house of God, he declared that God was still his God, when, by Mary Magdalene, he sent that gracious message to his disciples—"Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." (John 20:17.)
2. That he is "the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ," inasmuch as Christ is his only-begotten Son, we need not stay to prove, as we have written so much on the subject of our Lord's true, proper, and eternal Sonship. It will be sufficient, therefore, now merely to notice it.
Now it is the blending of these two titles in one and the same God which makes him to us so relatively blessed; we say relatively, for God in himself is and ever must be blessed as distinct from anything he is or can be to any of his creatures. He, then, who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ in the glorious yet incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity is the God of Jesus Christ in the covenant of grace. Here is the foundation of all salvation, here is the fountain of every spiritual blessing, that the Son of the Father by eternal subsistence should be the Mediator between God and men by an everlasting covenant. But we will not further enlarge here, both for the reason that we have given, and especially because this blessed mystery, which we have thus far ventured to unfold, will be continually meeting with us as we proceed with our exposition.
We pass on, then, to the next words, "Who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings." It is literally, "in every spiritual blessing;" but the sense is much the same, for "every spiritual blessing" means the same as "all spiritual blessings;" and though "in" is somewhat fuller and stronger than "with," as implying an actual possession and enjoyment of them, yet "with" is sufficiently expressive of the sense of the Apostle.
We have already pointed out a difference between our blessing God and his blessing us. We can only faintly and feebly bless him in word for what he blesses us in deed. And O, could our faith but embrace a little, were it only a little, and O, could we daily come and drink but a few drops of this pure fountain of immortal joy, in the sweet realization of being blessed, already blessed, fully blessed, unalterably, irreversibly blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ—what strength and consolation would it impart to our often cast-down soul. Look at the words; examine them again and again; think over in your mind, one by one, the spiritual blessings that you most covet. Is it pardon? Is it peace? Is it the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Is it the Spirit of adoption, enabling you to cry, Abba, Father? Is it communion with God? Is it the enjoyment of his presence and smiles? Is it deliverance from every doubt and fear? Is it a large measure of his fear in your heart, a subduing of all your lusts and corruptions, a godly, holy life, and a happy, blessed death? Are not these the spiritual blessings which you prize above house or land, wife or husband, child or relative, or any earthly good? With these, then, and with every other are you blessed, already blessed, if you are one of God's saints and a believer in Christ Jesus. God has not yet to bless you, beyond giving you a foretaste here and the full enjoyment hereafter. He has already blessed you with them all in Christ Jesus.
But where? "In heavenly places?" As after "heavenly" in the original there is no substantive, for you will observe that in our translation "places" is in italics, which signifies a word wanting in the Greek, we might read "heavenly things," as is noted in the margin. But we think that our translators were wise in putting "places" instead of "things." And why? Because we are blessed with all these spiritual blessings in Christ. And where is he? Is he not in the heavenly places? Was he not set there by God himself, when he raised him from the dead, as it is declared in this chapter, verse 20? Every spiritual blessing with which God has blessed his people is in Christ; and as he is now in heavenly places, all these blessings are there stored and secured in him.
We here see the union between Christ and the Church, and her relationship to him as her risen, glorified Head, which we have pointed out as the distinguishing feature, and, if we may use the expression, peculiar signature of this epistle. God has blessed her with all spiritual blessings. But why, and how? "In Christ." That is the reason, and that is the manner of her being so blessed. She is not so blessed in or for herself—but only by virtue of her union with, her relationship unto, and her standing in, the Lord Jesus Christ. Figures are but dim and imperfect representations of the union between Christ and the Church, but as the Holy Spirit has himself chosen marriage as an illustration of the nature and closeness of this union, we may safely adopt, and perhaps expand it, to unfold more clearly the connection of the Church's union with Christ and her being blessed with all spiritual blessings in him.
Take, then, the figure of a father richly endowing the chosen bride of his only son, and loading her with most costly gifts. Why? Because, and only because, she is his son's wedded spouse. Her union with his son makes her his daughter, and he becomes her father by her becoming his son's wife. We therefore read, "The King's daughter is all glorious within;" and again, "Hearken, O daughter." (Psalm 45:10, 13.)
The best of all blessings are "spiritual blessings." All others are for time; but they, and they only, for eternity. Health and wealth, wife and children, food and clothing, friends and relations, house and home, are but for the body, and will not be needed when body and soul part company. But spiritual blessings—those blessings which the Holy Spirit manifests and reveals to the souls of God's people, and by the knowledge, possession, and enjoyment of which he qualifies them and makes them fit for the inheritance of the saints in light—those blessings, so worthy of God to give and for her to receive, are given to the Church only as in union with her covenant Head.