Among the many prominent features which are so clearly and powerfully stamped upon the character and conduct of the Apostle Paul, as one of the most eminent saints and servants of Christ whom grace ever made or manifested, none seems to us more signal than the spirit of prayer and supplication which dwelt in his bosom on behalf of the churches and individuals to whom he addressed his Epistles. Such was his love to the Lord Jesus and to all his saints as members of his mystical body, such his desire for their spiritual prosperity, and such his persuasion that the Lord was able to do for them exceeding abundantly above all they could ask or think, that when the churches came before his eyes, there gushed immediately out of his soul a flow of prayer and thanksgiving on their behalf; of thanksgiving for the wonders which grace had wrought in and for them, and of prayer for more and more visible manifestations of what grace could still accomplish in their hearts and in their lives.
It would be a most instructive task, if task it could be called, for a spiritual mind carefully to examine and prayerfully to meditate on the various prayers which the Apostle records as put up by himself for the churches. We should thus see more clearly what blessings we should desire for ourselves and others and what spiritual gifts and graces we should ask for when presenting our supplications before the throne of grace. It is a subject on which we cannot now enter, but it is one full of the choicest instruction if we had the opportunity to lay it fully before our readers. For these prayers, see Rom. 15:5-6, 13; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-12; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 1:11-12; Philemon 6; Heb. 13:20-21. What a beautiful collection of inspired prayers for spiritual blessings!
This epistle furnishes us with two of the longest, fullest, and choicest of all the prayers thus recorded as offered by the Apostle for the churches. One is contained in the chapter now before us; the other in 3:16-19. The course of our exposition brings us to the first of these prayers—"Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers." (Eph. 1:15-16.)
Tidings had been brought to the Apostle when a prisoner at Rome, (Acts 28:16, 20; Eph. 6:20,) most probably by Epaphras, (Col. 1:7,) of the faith in the Lord Jesus and love unto all the saints, which these Ephesian saints so clearly manifested.
These glad tidings at once touched the secret springs of love in his heart, and, knowing the power and prevalence of prayer, as the Spirit inspired and dictated, he poured forth his soul in petitions and supplications for them; and by the guidance of the same blessed Teacher, put upon permanent record the substance of these prayers, that not only the Ephesian saints, but the Church of God in all ages might see and know what blessings are to be sought for and obtained from the God of all grace, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We would draw, therefore, particular attention to this prayer of the Apostle; and may the same blessed Spirit, under whose special aid and inspiration it was raised up, drawn forth, dictated, and recorded, help us so to unfold and to enforce it that a special blessing may attend it to our readers.
Faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints, are the two great marks of divine life; and there is this special blessedness attending them, that they are comprehensive and inclusive evidences; in other words, they comprehend in their embrace, and include in their circle, all the true saints of God, from the least to the greatest. It is not a question of strong faith or weak faith, of much love or little love, but of the reality of these two Christian graces. He is a saint, and he only is a saint, who believes in the Lord Jesus with a faith that is God's gift and work, and who loves his people with a love of God's communicating and shedding abroad. For all such true saints the Apostle poured forth his prayer—a prayer as suitable to us, if saints, as it was to them for whom it was particularly offered, and here specially recorded.
It is worthy of observation how continually the Apostle blends thanksgiving with prayer. This was his usual practice. (See Rom. 1:8, 9; 1 Cor. 1:4; Phil. 1:3, 4; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:3; Philemon 4.) Remembering that these Ephesian saints had been before quickened into divine life, when they were without God, and had no hope in the world, and believing that, as chosen in Christ they had been blessed with all spiritual blessings in him, Paul's heart was melted into continual gratitude for what God had already done for them. It was as if his soul was ever full of praise and prayer, and that these continually flowed forth, mingled and blended with each other. It were good for us if we could more follow his example, and mingle praise more with our prayers.
Praise gives, as it were, wings to prayer, mounting up more directly from earth to heaven, and being especially acceptable to God, for "whoever offers praise glorifies him." Incense, under the law, was a compound of various spices, (Exod. 30:34, 35,) and it was the blending of one with the other which made the perfume of it so refreshing and fragrant. It was, indeed, a special type of the intercession of our great High Priest; but it may be viewed also as representing typically the prayers of the saints, and their fragrance before God; for the Lord says, by the prophet—"For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering; for my name shall be great among the heathen, says the Lord Almighty." (Mal. 1:11.) Similarly we read—"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." (Rev. 8:3, 4.)
Among these sweet spices, praise is one of the most refreshing and fragrant; refreshing to us, fragrant before God; and were we enabled to blend more fully and frequently this spikenard with all the chief spices, we might not only find our own house filled with the odor of the ointment, but our Beloved might come oftener into his garden, when the south wind blows and the spices flow out, to eat his pleasant fruits. (John 12:3; Song Sol. 4:16.) We cannot enlarge upon this point, but if our readers will consult the following passages, they will see how fully they confirm our words. See Psalm. 50:14, 15; 100:4; 107:1, 8, etc.; Phil. 4:6; Col. 2:7; 4:2; Eph. 5:20; Heb. 13:15.
But the chief point before us is the prayer of this man of God—"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." (Eph. 1:17, 18.)
Several points here demand our attentive consideration.
i. The titles which the Apostle here gives God will furnish us with some profitable meditation. They are two. He calls him, 1, "The God of our Lord Jesus Christ;" 2, "The Father of glory." We will, the Lord helping us, examine both of these titles.
1. Let us first observe that these titles, as used here by the Apostle, are not arbitrary names of God; by which we mean that, besides their real and intrinsic character as designating God the Father, they have a peculiar bearing upon and reference unto the blessings prayed for. This is almost always the case in other parts of Scripture, and it may be taken as a general truth, that wherever God speaks of himself, or is spoken of by his prophets and apostles, under certain titles, they have a special reference to the matter then in hand. Compare, for instance, the titles which God gives himself, (Exod. 34:6,) with the prayer of Moses. (Exod. 33:12-18.) A Lord God merciful, and gracious, patience and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and yet who would by no means clear the guilty, impenitent sinner—was the very God to go before and with Moses. Compare also the titles which the Lord gives of himself, (Isa. 40:28,) with the complaint of Jacob and Israel in the preceding verse, and see how the titles suit and exactly meet the complaint.
Thus in the words before us, the Apostle having certain requests to make for the Ephesian saints, addresses God by those titles which are suitable to those particular blessings. The reason of this is because, being in himself what his titles declare of him, it is that part of his character which is in the sweetest harmony with the blessings prayed for, and thus affords a pledge and a security that he will grant the special petitions. It is, therefore, not merely a reminding God of the revelation which he has made of his great and glorious name, and a prevailing plea with him to grant the blessings prayed for, but an assurance to his people that he will, in consonance with his own gracious character, as unfolded by these titles, grant the petitions put up to him. The first title is a peculiar one, and one which, if we remember right, does not often occur in the New Testament under the same form. God the Father is continually called "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," but not often "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Our readers will bear in mind that the grand subject of the epistle is the union of the Church with Christ, as her Covenant Head, and the blessings and privileges which spring out of this union. God the Father is, therefore, here called "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ," to show that, as being his God, and he being the Church's Head and Husband—all that belongs to him belongs to her. Our blessed Lord, therefore, after his resurrection, sent this 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.) Why your Father? Because my Father. Why your God? Because my God. Thus, because God is "the God of the Lord Jesus Christ," the Church's living Head, he is the God of the Church also; and because he has blessed her with all spiritual blessings in him, he will grant these requests also.
But he is the God of the Lord Jesus Christ in several ways. As the Lord Jesus Christ is the true, proper, and real Son of the Father, in truth and love—God is in this sense his God. We cannot understand, much less explain, the mystery, but we receive it by faith that the blessed Lord is "the only-begotten of the Father," "the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father." (John 1:14, 18.) As such, therefore, God the Father is the God of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is also his God as man, and the Son of man. We, therefore, find him claiming this peculiar title, even when sunk into all the sufferings and ignominy of the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" burst forth from the dear Redeemer's lips in the moment of his most dolorous agony. Rejected by men, and for the moment forsaken by God, when the very sun hid its light, and the firm earth trembled, the Son of the Father in truth and love still held by his claim, and cried out in the face of the curse of the Law and the sufferings of death, "My God." Blessed Lord, despair never seized your holy soul. You did fight; you did conquer; and did not yield up your spirit until you could say, "It is finished." "The Lord heard you in the day of trouble; sent you help from the sanctuary and strengthened you out of Zion; remembered all your offerings and accepted your burnt sacrifice; granted you according to your own heart, and fulfilled all your counsel." And now what remains for us but to say, "We will rejoice in your salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. The Lord fulfill all your petitions." (Psalm 20:1-5.)
But he is in a more especial manner "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ," viewed in his present mediatorial glory at the right hand of power. As his only-begotten Son from all eternity, God was his God; as the Father's messenger and servant, doing his will upon earth, even in his lowest humiliation, God was his God; and now that he has risen from the dead and gone up on high to be the great high priest over the house of God, now that he is entered into his glory and ever lives to make intercession for us, God is still his God.
This view of Jesus is most strengthening and encouraging to faith. The great and glorious God, the great self-existent I AM, the God in whom we live and move and have our being, the God who made us and has preserved us in life and being to the present hour, the God before whom we stand with all we are and have, the God against and before whom we have so deeply and dreadfully sinned—this great and glorious God is "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." We may, therefore, draw near unto him with all holy boldness, present our supplications before him, call upon his holy name, and worship him with all reverence and godly fear as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our God in him. A believing view of God, as revealing himself in the Person of his dear Son, as reconciling us to himself by his precious blood, as accepting us in the Beloved, and not imputing our trespasses unto us, disarms God of all his terrors, removes the bondage of the law out of our hearts and the guilt of sin from our consciences; enlarges, comforts, and solaces the soul, soothes the troubled spirit, and casts out that fear which has torment. Every other view of God but that in his dear Son disturbs and disquiets the mind, troubles the conscience, straitens the soul, contracts and narrows up the spirit, and either leaves us a prey to every lust, or engenders distrust, despondency, and despair.
But God is also called here "the Father of glory." This may mean, by a frequent Hebrew idiom, the glorious Father; but we prefer to follow the strict literal meaning of the expression, and to understand by it that God is the author, the source and originator of all glory. All the glory of heaven is because God, in an especial manner, there manifests the brightness of his presence. Apart from him, and out of him, there is no glory in heaven or in earth; and to see his glory face to face constitutes the eternal bliss of the saints. On earth they have a foreview, a foretaste of this glory when God shines into the heart to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ; and as the veil of unbelief is taken off the heart, and they see with open or unveiled face the glory of the Lord, they are inwardly and experimentally changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 4:6; 3:18.)
This, therefore, is the connection between the title given to God and the petition presented to him. The portion of the Church is to behold the glory of Christ here by faith, and hereafter by sight, as our gracious Lord prayed, or rather expressed his holy will—"Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me; for you loved me before the foundation of the world." (John 17:24.) This glory, then, being their predestinated portion, there is a beautiful propriety in the Apostle begging that "the Father of glory" would give the Ephesian saints the blessings asked for; and we may add that it is as glorious for him to give as for them to receive.
ii. But we will now consider THE PARTICULAR BLESSINGS THUS EARNESTLY PRAYED FOR, and we would direct the especial attention of our readers to the petitions thus put up, as showing us what should be our desires and prayers for ourselves and others. We may be sure that the Lord the Spirit inspired and raised up these prayers in the bosom of the Apostle, and that they are left on permanent record to be a pattern of instruction to the end of time. There is such a thing as asking and not receiving, because we ask amiss. (James 4:3.) We know not what we should pray for as we ought, (Rom. 8:26,) and, therefore, need the blessed Spirit to help our infirmities, and among them the infirmity of ignorance. But this he does, not only by himself interceding in us and for us with groanings which cannot be uttered, but by recording in the inspired word such prayers as men of God were taught by him to put up. Thus viewed, these prayers of Paul have a special value as instructing us into those blessings which we should peculiarly ask for by prayer and supplication.
1. The first blessing prayed for is "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ." By the Spirit is meant the Holy Spirit, that sacred and divine Person in the glorious Trinity, whom he has before called "that Holy Spirit of promise." There is a heavenly wisdom which the Holy and Blessed Spirit alone can give, and he is, therefore, called "the Spirit of wisdom," not only as containing in himself all wisdom, but as the gracious communicator of it to the saints. It will be observed that it is not the gift of wisdom, even of heavenly wisdom, for which the Apostle prays so much as the Spirit himself of wisdom. We might have wisdom in the letter of truth, and learn much from the Scriptures; but how inferior is all this to the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, making our bodies his temple, and himself giving us blessed lessons, sealed with his own witness, and accompanied with his own light, life, unction, and power. He thus sheds a sacred light on his own word of truth, and by his personal and living teachings, opens, enlarges, and persuades the heart to receive what he thus shows and teaches.
We all know how different a living teacher is from a mere lesson-book in all matters of natural education; and that there are arts and sciences, and especially languages and accomplishments, which no book can teach, but which must be learned from the lips of the teacher himself. So in grace, however valuable and blessed the book of God is, we cannot be made wise unto salvation by the word itself—without the special teachings of the Holy Spirit as a personal and living instructor. He can suit his teachings to our case, knows when, where, and how to teach us, can bear with our ignorance and stupidity, give us the right lesson at the right time and in the right way, and do for us what no earthly teacher can—write his own laws upon our hearts and give us will and power to keep and obey them.
But it is specially as giving us a knowledge of Christ that he is a Spirit of wisdom; for a spiritual, experimental knowledge of Christ is the sum and substance of all true wisdom. To flee unto Jesus, believe on him, trust in him, look continually to him, and cleave to him with purpose of heart; to cast away all hope and help but what centers in him and comes from him; to renounce all our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness; to hang upon him and him only, as of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, this is true wisdom, and, issuing in the salvation of the soul, will shine forth in a blaze of glory when all earthly wisdom will be quenched in endless night.
2. But he is called also "the Spirit of revelation"—a title which demands our especial consideration.
Revelation means literally an uncovering or unveiling of a concealed or covered-up object. It is used, therefore, sometimes in the sense of manifesting, making known, or bringing to light, what had before been hidden in darkness and obscurity. This revelation is, therefore, either outward in the word, or inward in the soul, and the two strictly correspond to and are counterparts of each other. This is well unfolded by the Apostle, (2 Cor. 3,) where he is speaking of a double veil in the case of the literal Israel, that is, a veil upon the word of truth, and a veil upon the heart—"And not as Moses, who put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished—but their minds were blinded; for until this day remains the same veil not taken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart." (2 Cor. 3:13-15.) The veil which Moses put upon his face was typical of this double veil; and as in them, so in all who are still in the darkness, ignorance, and unbelief of unregeneracy—there is a veil spread over the understanding.
The Spirit of revelation, then, is that gracious, holy, and blessed Spirit who, by his divine operations, takes off this double veil; and, therefore, the Apostle says—"Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit—and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (2 Cor. 3:16, 17.) The day will come when the literal Israel will turn to the Lord, and then the veil now spread over them will be taken away. But what is true prophetically is true experimentally; what will be fulfilled in Israel after the flesh is now being continually fulfilled in Israel after the Spirit. Immediately that, by the power of divine grace, a poor Gentile sinner turns to the Lord, the Spirit of revelation removes the veil off the Scriptures, and off his heart.
Have we not found it so? What a sealed book was the word of God once to us! How we read or heard it without one real ray of light to illuminate the dark page; and what a thick veil was there of ignorance, unbelief, prejudice, self-righteousness, and impenitence on our heart. But the gracious Spirit of revelation took this double veil away, and by giving us the light of life, made the word of God a new book, and gave us a new heart; and ever since the day when the entrance of his word gave us light, God's word has been a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path.
But the Spirit of revelation is chiefly given to lead us into a spiritual, experimental, and saving knowledge of Christ. The Apostle, therefore, prays that "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him." Without this blessed Spirit of revelation, Christ cannot be effectually or savingly known. When, therefore, Peter made that noble confession of his faith in Christ as "the Son of the living God," our Lord said to him—"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah; for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 16:17.) So he speaks on another occasion—"At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in your sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." (Matt. 11:25-27.) Without this inward revelation by the Spirit of revelation, Christ cannot be savingly known. Paul, therefore, says of his own experience—"But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood." (Gal. 1:15, 16.)
But we are not to suppose that this special and inward revelation of Christ by the Spirit has anything in it of a mystical or enthusiastic nature. It is not a matter of dreams, voices, or visions, sights or sounds, visible objects or supernatural appearances. By such imitations and delusions, Satan, as an angel of light, has wrought at various times sad mischief with individuals and churches. It is especially needful here to have "the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind;" to "gird up the loins of our mind," (not be entangled in the loose robes of enthusiasm;) "to be sober," (not flighty and visionary;) and "hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto us," (not sights in the sky or voices in the air,) "at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:13.)
But the Apostle goes on to show the effect of the gift of this Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ. It enlightens the eyes of the understanding—"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened." Among the benefits and blessings of heavenly teaching, a gracious understanding of divine truth is not the least or last. Some good people, and among them even ministers, do not seem to see clearly the difference between a gracious understanding of the truth and what is commonly called "head knowledge." But no two things can be more different in their source, their nature, and their effects. God is the author of one, man of the other; one is grace, the other nature; one is seated in the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created him; the other in the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; one is attended with faith, and hope, and love, is tender, humble, simple, and sincere, saves and sanctifies; the other puffs up with pride, hardens the heart, sears the conscience, knows neither faith nor repentance, and for the most part holds the truth in unrighteousness.
There cannot well, then, be a greater mistake than to trample and beat down a gracious understanding of truth as so much dry and dead head knowledge, and thus confound the spiritual light which dwells in the enlightened mind of a saint with the carnal knowledge of the letter of truth, which has its seat in the head of a professor. One of the chief features of the present day is the lack of this gracious and enlightened understanding among the people of God. Being accustomed to hear all knowledge of the truth in an enlightened understanding beaten down as mere notions and head knowledge, they are afraid of everything beyond immediate feelings; and thus, instead of being firmly established in the truth, are often tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. The lack of this gracious understanding of the truth was never more painfully visible than in the late controversy about the Sonship of Christ and our wonder has often been that, amid so much ignorance on the subject in the churches of truth, the people of God were for the most part so preserved from instability on a point so vital and important as the true, real, and eternal Sonship of our blessed Lord.
But we shall here close our remarks on this point of gracious experience, reserving for a future paper a more extended opening of the subject in connection with the rest of the passage.