We have already more than once pointed out what we have called the key-note of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and have endeavored to show that its dominant theme is the peculiar relationship which the Church occupies to the Lord Jesus Christ as her covenant Head. In no other part of Scripture is this personal and peculiar relationship so fully or so clearly unfolded; and indeed we may almost say that all that is elsewhere spoken of the Church would have lost much of its force and significancy to our apprehension but for the light cast upon it by this Epistle.
We have also dwelt upon the foundation of this relationship, and shown that it is based upon the eternal union of the Church with the Son of God. If, then, we press these points again and again upon the attention of our readers, it is from our firm conviction that it is only so far as we spiritually apprehend, and bear them steadily in mind, that we can enter into the treasures of divine truth which are stored up in the Epistle before us, or in the chapter of which we are now attempting the exposition.
If our readers have rightly apprehended the distinction drawn in our last paper, and so ably opened up by Dr. Goodwin, in the extract that we gave from his works, between spiritual blessings antecedent to and irrespective of—and blessings consequent on and relating to the fall—they will be more fully prepared to follow us in our exposition ofverse 7—"In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace."
We observed that there were four spiritual blessings
antecedent to and irrespective of the fall. These were—
Had the Church never sinned or fallen, she would still have been, 1, chosen in Christ; 2, perfect in his perfections; 3, a daughter of the King of heaven; 4, accepted in the Beloved. But it was the secret permissive will of God that the Church should fall. Why, we know not. It is one of those mysteries which are hidden from our eyes. But this we gather from the sacred record, that it was for the manifestation of his own glory. This, however, is a question on which we shall not dwell. There are subjects into which it is well not to enter, lest we venture upon ground where we cannot walk steadily and safely, and where it is best to say with the Psalmist, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it;" or with the Apostle, "O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"( Rom. 11:33.)
As, then, there are four blessings spoken of by the
Apostle in this chapter as antecedent to and irrespective of the fall—so
there are four blessings also mentioned as consequent to and dependent
upon the fall. These are—
We shall endeavor to trace out these four blessings thus brought before us by the Apostle.
1.REDEMPTION occupies the first place.
No heart can conceive, or tongue express—into what a state of degradation and misery the fall cast the whole of Adam's ruined race. And as the Church was in his loins when he sinned and fell, she sinned and fell in and with him to the utmost extent of the fall. The Scripture compares the state to which the fall reduced us to that of bondage or slavery; and thus "redemption," as expressive of a spiritual blessing in Christ, signifies a deliverance from a state of slavery and bondage.
When we look at Adam as he was before the fall and as he was after the fall, we see at once how suitable and appropriate is the figure of a free man as compared with a slave. Before the fall he was free to serve and worship his Maker according to the light then given him. He was free to walk before God in uprightness and innocency, and hold communion with him as made in his own image after his own likeness. He was free to stand and, we may add, free to fall. But he chose the worse part, and by his one fatal act of disobedience, "Brought death into the world, and all our woe."
He thus deliberately and wilfully sold himself to the worst of all masters, and into the most miserable and degrading of all possible degrees of servitude—for he became the slave of sin and Satan. As the Church, therefore, sinned in and with him, she fell in and with him into the same state of bondage, misery, and degradation.
Now, we are well convinced that no one can know or feel what this state of bondage is until his soul is quickened into divine life; and therefore that none can either know or prize redemption but those who, as possessed of divine life, have felt the iron enter into their soul. It is the spirit of freedom in a man longing for liberty which makes the yoke of slavery so intolerable. It is so naturally. Many a slave in the Southern States, before that accursed system was shattered to pieces, preferred slavery to freedom. If he were well taken care of, if lightly worked, if a favorite servant—he looked on his own condition as far superior to that of "the white trash," as the lower class of whites was termed—who had to work hard and get little. But let the same man be sold to a harsh and cruel master; let him be overtasked with hard work, badly fed, miserably clothed, frequently flogged, and treated worse than the beasts of the earth; and in that miserable condition let an inextinguishable thirst for freedom spring up in his heart, would he then prefer slavery to liberty? Would he not then envy the birds of the air, and the wild animals of the forest, and every creature which was free to breathe, move, act, and live?
So it is with us spiritually. There was a time when we loved our slavery, when freedom from the dominion of sin would have been to give up our chief delight and choicest pleasure. But when divine light and life made us see and feel what a hard master was sin, and what a cruel oppressor was Satan, and a thirst for liberty was kindled in our bosom from some glimpse of the King in his beauty, and of the land—the free and happy land, as yet afar off, then, as we groaned under our yoke and burden, we knew the miserable state to which the fall had brought us, and longed for deliverance from it.
Now, how blessed it is to believe—"In whom we have redemption through his blood." O redemption, redemption! What a blessing is in that word, as experimentally made known to a groaning captive, a miserable prisoner, who not only is sin's and Satan's slave through original transgression—but has wilfully, wantonly, and deliberately sold himself to them by plotted and executed transgression!
And observe, "In whom." How the Apostle still keeps to his grand point, and, as it were, urges it again and again upon us—the union of the Church with Christ, as the foundation and source of every spiritual blessing. Observe, also, how "in whom" effectually does away with the vain figment of universal redemption. Are all men in Christ? Have all union with him? If it be "in him" that we have redemption, it can be only in him. And out of him—out of union with him—redemption there can be none.
And see, also, how the same truth—the limitation of redemption to the elect of God, flows from the intimate nature of this union as antecedent to and irrespective of the fall. But for the fall the Church would not have needed redemption. But for her previous union with the Son of God, he would not, if we may venture so to speak, have redeemed her. But because she was his Hephzi-bah, his virgin bride, in whom was all his delight, the chosen partner of his throne, no scenes of sin, misery, slavery, and degradation could or would tear her from his heart. But then, if he would still have her, he must redeem her, bring her out of this state of slavery, and pay a price such as would satisfy the justice of God—and be a full and equivalent ransom and release.
It is when we consider what our own personal transgressions have been, how dreadful in themselves, and how horribly aggravated by the wilfulness and determination under which they were committed; it is when we look at even a few of our sins—for who can call to mind a thousandth part of what God has seen us think, plot, devise, say, and do?—it is when, in some solemn moment of close inquiry, we view this and that and the other iniquity which conscience registers—that we really see what a holy law and strict justice demand. What, then, shall we say to the full score? Where could we hide our guilty head? How could we face either God or man—were all our sins charged to our account? It is such an experience as this, and of our own utter inability to pay one farthing of this huge, this stupendous load of debt—which makes us see and feel our need of redemption in and by Christ; and to value, also, the price paid—that is, his blood.
We have shown that the leading idea of the state to which the Adam fall had reduced the Church, was that of bondage and slavery. So, similarly, the leading idea of redemption is the price paid to buy the slave his liberty—"You are bought with a price." "Feed the Church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28.)
Redemption is usually spoken of as two-fold—
There is some truth in this distinction; but it should be carefully observed, that the one implies the other, and that there would have been no redemption by power unless there had first been redemption by price. Thus when it says, "The Lord redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt," (Deut. 7:8,) it was a redemption by power; but it was only so because Israel had been first redeemed by price. They were the Lord's own people, that is, typically and figuratively so—a type of the redeemed elect—and were detained unlawfully in Egypt. So, when a price has been paid down for an elect soul, he, having been bought with the blood of God's dear Son, may be redeemed with power, on the simple principle that if the ransom of a prisoner has been paid, and his master afterwards unjustly detain him, the prison where he is wrongly kept may be lawfully and justly broken up, and the captive delivered by main force. Thus had there been no redemption by price, there could be no redemption by power. But now Jesus can say to sin and Satan, on behalf of every redeemed prisoner, "Loose him, and let him go. He is mine, not yours. I have bought him with my blood. He is my property, and I will and must have him!"
But you will observe, also, that sin and Satan are rather jailers than masters. The real master is the law, as commissioned by justice, and sin and Satan are but the mere warders of the jail into which the law, at the command of justice, has cast the prisoner. And this the prisoner feels. He is the law's prisoner, because the law-breaker. It is so naturally. The crime committed is the cause of the man's imprisonment. But who made the prison; and committed the criminal into custody? The law, which is the written expression of justice. So spiritually. If there were no law—no strict justice—there would be no prison. It is not, therefore, sin which has to be satisfied, but that which makes sin to be sin; for "whoever commits sin transgresses also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law." Thus sin has to be atoned for that justice may be satisfied and every demand of the law fulfilled. This was effected by the obedience, blood-shedding, and death of the Son of God. His blood was the price paid for our redemption.
But what gave it such amazing, such stupendous worth, value, and efficacy—that the blood of Christ should be a sufficient price to redeem millions from the curse of the law—and so satisfy law and justice that each should say, "It is enough?" See how the eternal Deity of the Son of God comes in here to answer the question. It is because it is the blood of the humanity taken into ineffable and indissoluble union with the Person of the Son of God, that it has such infinite unspeakable value. It is the obedience, blood shedding, and dying of the pure humanity, for God, as God, cannot obey, bleed, or die; but because that pure humanity is in intimate union with Deity—there is stamped upon it all the value and validity of Godhead.
If we have a view by faith of what this redemption through the blood of Christ is, we shall certainly see in it these two leading features—1, The depth of the fall, and the horrible, dreadful, damnable nature of sin as discovered by the length and breadth of the law, and the curse attached to it; and, 2, The fullness and completeness of the redemption wrought out by the blood shedding and obedience of God's dear Son. Here are two lessons which we are learning all our lives long—and to which every day's experience adds, so to speak, or at least should add a fresh line. Sometimes we sink, as if overwhelmed by a view of the depth of the fall, and a sight and sense of our own actual sins and inherent sinfulness; and then again we are raised up by a believing view of the finished work of the Son of God, and of that precious blood which cleanses from all sin!
2. But this brings us to the fruit of this redemption—"the FORGIVENESS OF SINS." This blessing we have called "justification," for though, strictly speaking, justification is by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, yet as the Apostle tells us that we are justified by his blood, (Rom. 5:9,) we may apply the word justification to the forgiveness of sin, as including both pardon given and righteousness imputed. In fact, forgiveness of sins through the blood of the Lamb, and justification by the imputation of his obedience to those who believe are so connected, both in the mind of God and in the experience of the believer, that they may be considered virtually one.
Because they do not know what sin really is, people think that it is an easy thing in God to forgive sin. In fact, to forgive sin was the hardest thing for God to do; so hard that it would have been impossible for him to have done it, had it not been for the redemption made by the blood of his own Son. To create was easy for infinite wisdom and infinite power. The difficulty was to mend what was marred. We know that even in works of art, to make is much easier than to mend, and that a blow or a fall may cause irreparable fracture. Not only, then, to restore the Church to her original standing, but to wash her from all her filth in the blood of his dear Son, and so clothe her in his imputed righteousness, that she should be fairer than before; so to satisfy law and justice; so to harmonize every perfection of Deity; so to manifest the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of they love of Christ; and so to set forth the riches of his grace—what a display is here of the infinite depths of the combined wisdom, power, mercy, and love of God, so as to be mirror into which angels may even look with admiration, (Eph. 4:10; 1 Pet. 1:12,) as well as form for the redeemed, an anthem for eternal praise!
And we are very sure that, of all spiritual blessings made known to the soul by the power of God, "a knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins" is the hardest to be obtained, and most prized when gotten. How many poor tried, exercised, distressed souls are at this very moment sighing and crying for the manifestation of this one blessing. These well know, and some of them by the painful experience of many years' hard bondage and travail, how hard it is to get forgiveness sealed on their heart. Not that it is really hard on the part of God now to forgive, that is, in experimental manifestation; for it is already done to and for all the elect of God—"And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, has he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (Col. 2:13.) And, so our text—"In whom we have" (not "shall have" but "have," that is, now have) "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins."
Though he may not be able to lay hold of it for himself, appropriate it as a personal blessing, and feel sweetly and blessedly assured, in his own heart and conscience, of the forgiveness of all his sins; yet every quickened soul is really forgiven all his trespasses—past, present, and to come. It is one of the spiritual blessings with which he has been blessed, already blessed, in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. His believing it gives him the unspeakable comfort and sweet assurance of it; but it is really already his before he thus enjoys it—as the heir of a large property is really the possessor of the estate, though, as under tutors and governors, being still a minor, he cannot fully call it his own. Forgiveness of sins is, indeed, the necessary fruit and consequence of redemption through blood. The price has been paid which justice and law demanded. Did the law demand a perfect obedience? It has been rendered. The law has been magnified and made honorable, and every demand fully and gloriously fulfilled by the obedience to it of the Son of God. What higher honor could be paid to the law than that God's co-equal, co-eternal Son should be subject to it—obey it in every point, jot, and tittle—bear its curse—and suffer its extreme penalty? Justice surely must be fully satisfied when the Just One put himself in the place of the debtor, and discharged the whole debt due to its requisitions.
Thus if God forgives sin, it is not because sin is a light thing and easily forgiven, but because his own dear Son has made full atonement for it, and thus opened a most blessed channel through which the love, pity, mercy, and grace of God might flow down freely and fully to poor lost, ruined sinners. It is in this way that God can be "just, and yet the justifier of him who believes in Jesus." (Rom. 4:5.)
How blessedly and beautifully is the whole subject opened in those words, which we will say not only deserve to be written in letters of gold, but to be written by the finger of God on every believing heart—"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (Rom. 3:21-26.)
And all this according to "the riches of his grace." Yes, "the riches of his grace!" What a full, what a beautiful expression! He had said before, "to the praise of the glory of his grace;" but here, it is "according to the riches of his grace." It is worth observing, how often, in this epistle, the Apostle uses the words "rich" and "riches" as applicable to the mercy, grace, and glory of God. Thus he says, "But God, who is rich in mercy;" (2:4;) "That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace;" (2:7;) "That I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;" (3:8;) "The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." (1:18.) So in Romans he speaks of "the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God;" (Rom. 11:33;) and in the Colossians of "the riches of the glory of the mystery of Christ." (Col. 1:27.)
All these expressions show not only the exceeding value which he put upon the mercy, grace, wisdom, and glory of God, as revealed in the face of his dear Son and brought to light in the gospel—but the wealth that is stored up in them for the poor and needy. Grace and mercy, as seated in the bosom of God, are like a mine full of inexhaustible treasure, which has enriched millions, and can enrich millions more; or like an everflowing and overflowing river, carrying, as the Nile to Egypt, fertility and abundance wherever they come. We are thus encouraged to come to him with all our wants and woes, to receive thankfully what he gives so bountifully. But O, our poor narrow, unbelieving hearts! How we measure God by ourselves, and because we are so poor in receiving, think that he is also poor in giving.
3. The next spiritual blessing connected with the fall we have set down as REGENERATION. This we gather from the words—"Wherein he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself." (Eph. 1:8, 9.) It will, perhaps, have been observed that hitherto the Apostle has spoken of blessings in themselves apart from any personal manifestation of them. The spiritual blessings of election, blamelessness before God, adoption into his family, acceptance in the Beloved, redemption through the blood of Christ, and forgiveness of sin as its fruit, are blessings in themselves, independent of their manifestations and communication. They are intended for us, but they exist before they are given to us. But not so with the blessing which is now before us. There is "a making known unto us of the mystery of his will," and this "according to the abundant wisdom and prudence of God." This blessing, then, we may call regeneration, as the commencement of manifested blessings, and thus distinct from blessings before their manifestation.
By "the wisdom of God" we may understand generally those wise ways in which he deals with the souls of his people in bringing them to a knowledge of himself; and by his "prudence" the skill manifested in the variety of his dealings according to the disposition, the circumstances, the future lot of the individual believer, and the intentions of God toward him. Thus "wisdom" signifies the general character of God's dealings in making known to his people the mystery of his will, and "prudence" his special skill in dealing with individual cases.
There is not a vessel of mercy called by grace in whom God does not show forth the abundance of his wisdom; but there seem to be special cases which call forth what perhaps we may term the practical skill of God. May we illustrate this by the practical skill of a physician as distinguished from his general professional knowledge? He has long and deeply studied his profession, and has a thorough acquaintance both with diseases and remedies. This suffices in a general way. But every now and then cases come before him which demand something beyond this thorough knowledge; a special discernment is needed of a very obscure or uncommon disease, or a special mode of treatment, or a peculiar management, say of diet, or nursing, or the use of some rare medicine—all which test and bring to light a peculiar skill in dealing with a special case as distinct from great and acknowledged ability in ordinary cases.
We do not very much like the rendering of our version, "prudence," and yet we do not know how to alter or amend it. But, like many other renderings, it falls short of the meaning of the original, and almost brings down the heavenly character of the special wisdom of God to an earthly prudence; that, at least, being the idea which we usually associate with the word. That is, however, not the mind or meaning of the Holy Spirit. We may, perhaps, however, exemplify its meaning better than we can define it. God has some special work for a man to do. He has to call and qualify an Augustine, a Bunyan, a Whitefield, a Huntington, a Hart, for a special work in his vineyard. Here is his prudence, his special skill, as distinct from his general wisdom to call, fit, and qualify this particular instrument. His dealings, therefore, with this individual will differ from the general course of his dealings with the bulk of his people.
But as this is a somewhat wide subject, we shall defer the further consideration of it to our next paper.