As we have reason to believe that our Meditations on the word of truth have been, for the most part, favorably received by our spiritual readers, we feel encouraged to continue them; and as exposition of the Scriptures, if one has the necessary grace and gift to understand and open the mind of the Spirit in them, is generally allowed to be both instructive and edifying, we desire to direct our Meditations into that channel, in the hope that the Lord may condescend to bless his own word to his own people as thus brought before them.
Having been for many years a student of the Scriptures, especially those of the New Testament, and having at times seen, felt, and tasted much sweetness and blessedness in them, we desire to cast into the treasury what we may have thus gained by trading; and if we should be the favored instrument of thereby enlightening the understanding, strengthening the faith, encouraging the hope, and drawing forth the love of any of the living family of God upon his dear Son and the word of promise in him, we shall consider ourselves well repaid for all our labors.
It has been a question with us whether we should go on with our exposition of the Epistle to the Ephesians, or take up some other portion of the word of truth; and among them 1 Peter has presented itself to our view as a portion in which we have seen much edifying and instructive matter for exposition. Each course would have its distinctive advantages. By taking up 1 Peter, we would break, as it were, new ground, and thus afford a little variety of subject, which is, to a certain extent, desirable, as one continued strain of thought has a tendency to weary the mind of both writer and reader. But, on the other hand, by going on with the Epistle to the Ephesians, we would have the advantage of building on a foundation already laid, and thus be able to bring the great and glorious truths which we have already opened up to an experimental and practical outcome.
The second chapter of Ephesians is a most beautiful development and application of the sublime and glorious doctrines set forth in the first, and unfolds very clearly and distinctly the fruit of those spiritual blessings with which we are blessed in Christ in the heavenly places. As then in our exposition of the first chapter we have laid the foundation, we think that the advantage of rearing on it a fitting superstructure preponderates over breaking up fresh ground; and therefore, in that hope and confidence, we have decided, with the Lord's help and blessing, to go on with our exposition of the Epistle to the Ephesians.
"And you has he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph. 2:1.)
It is worthy of observation, what an experimental and practical turn the Apostle gives to the resurrection, exaltation, and glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not leave it as a mere doctrine, barren and inoperative, but comes at once to personal and practical fruits—"And you has he quickened." He thus appeals to the personal experience of the Ephesian saints, as carrying in their own bosom a living proof of the glorious truths which he had laid down concerning the risen Head of the Church. "You," he would say, "have a proof and evidence in your own bosom of the resurrection and glorification of the Lord Jesus, for, as risen and glorified, he has breathed divine life into your soul." He could, therefore, write to them, as Peter spoke when he stood before the council—"The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." (Acts 5:30-32.) We see here, then, the connection between the glorification of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Our gracious Lord, in his discourse with his disciples, said to them, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away—for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." (John, 16:7.) John, therefore, declares, "But this spoke he of the Spirit, which those who believe on him should receive—for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:39.) We see from these passages that the giving and sending of the Holy Spirit was the immediate fruit as well as the visible testimony that God had glorified his dear Son, and exalted him to his own right hand to be a Prince and a Savior. By going up on high and taking with him within the veil the incense of his sacrifice and death, and thus presenting himself before the eyes of the Father as the great High Priest over the house of God, he removed every barrier which had checked, so to speak, the free flow of the Holy Spirit in his gifts and graces to the children of men.
But the question may, perhaps, arise in the mind of some of our readers—"If this be the case, it would seem as if the Holy Spirit was not given until Christ was glorified; and if so, what was the faith and hope, and what was the religion of the Old Testament worthies? Were they not taught by the Holy Spirit? Had they not the Holy Spirit? Does not David expressly say, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me?" To this we answer, First, that indubitably the Holy Spirit was given to them and was in them; for Peter, speaking of the ancient prophets, says of them that they "searched what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." (1 Pet. 1:11.) But he was given prospectively, in the same way as pardon for sin was given. Properly speaking, there was no pardon of sin until the Son of God had put it away by the sacrifice of himself. But prospectively God pardoned sin with a view to the atonement which was to be made by his dear Son for it. So all the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit before Jesus was glorified were prospective; for until his ascension, he had not received gifts for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
Also, the Holy Spirit was not yet poured out in all the fullness of his gifts and graces. There was not yet that full baptism of the Holy Spirit which the Lord promised to his disciples before his ascension—"For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence." (Acts 1:5.) But now having gone up on high, the gracious Lord, as Mediator between God and men, has not only opened a way whereby poor sinners may draw near freely unto God, but a way also whereby he can freely and fully send forth the Holy Spirit to testify of himself. And that holy and blessed Comforter delights in fulfilling his covenant office in taking of the things of Christ, showing them to his people, and thus glorifying him. In the resurrection, the ascension, and glorification of Jesus we see a treasure of heavenly grace; for it has pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell. To quicken, therefore, into divine and spiritual life those members of his mystical body who are yet dead in sin, is in his heart and his hands to whom all power has been given in heaven and in earth.
Now, whatever a man may be in the sight of God as chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, and blessed, already blessed, with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in him, he must be quickened into divine life before he can be brought into that manifest union and communion with God's dear Son which puts him into a spiritual possession of, and real participation in the blessings of the gospel. But consider, for a moment, in what a state a man is before thus divinely quickened, and see how he is "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness and hardness of his heart." Then observe what a wonderful display it is of sovereign grace and omnipotent power to breathe spiritual life into a soul so utterly sunk in death.
The special character of God is that he lives. It is, therefore, the chief attribute by which he swore when he swore by himself, "As I live, says the Lord." What emphasis is here! What a dwelling upon his own Eternal existence! And so when godly men of old swore by him, their language was, "As the Lord lives." Now life and death, even on earth and between man and man, can have no union or communion. When Sarah, the beloved partner of Abraham, died, the aged patriarch said to the sons of Heth—"I am a stranger and a sojourner with you; give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight." (Gen. 23:4.) She who had so long been the delight of his eyes, the wife of his bosom and the mother of his Isaac, must now be buried out of his sight; for death had come between them, and with death had come those necessary accompaniments of death which demanded her removal out of his sight. A living Abraham and a dead Sarah could live no more in the same tent, and lie no more in the same bed. If, then, this be true in the things of earth, and in those ties which bind together one human being to another; how much more is it so in the things of heaven. What union, what communion can there be between a living God and a dead soul?
But there is something even worse than death. "Dead in trespasses and sins." In natural death, corruption and putrefaction are worse than the mere decease, than the pale cheek and cold rigid form, more loathsome, more disgusting, more cutting off union and communion with the living. Could our beautiful maidens see themselves, or could their doting lovers behold them, as they will appear a week or two after they have been buried out of sight, what a knell would it ring to all the charms of beauty. But even natural corruption, the hideousness of putrefaction, the loathsome change which has passed upon beauty's soft cheek and flashing eyes are nothing to the loathsomeness of sin in the sight of a holy God. Even our moral sense sometimes sees and feels this. We may admire the charms of maidenly modesty, but we loathe the painted cheek of the flaunting harlot. We may picture to ourselves in imagination the loathsomeness of a putrefying corpse, but all that the eye might see or the imagination suggest of such a scene would fall far short of what man is before the eyes of his Maker as dead in trespasses and sins.
We can never, therefore, sufficiently magnify, and adore the riches of his free sovereign and distinguishing grace if we have any clear testimony that the Lord has quickened us who were dead in trespasses and sins, for never, never could we have given life to our own dead soul. As well might a corpse raise itself from the grave and come forth to breathe and live in the light of the sun, and walk among living men, as a soul, dead in trespasses and sins, quicken itself out of death to live in the light of God's countenance, and walk in union and communion with his dear Son and his living people.
Death in sin is of course a figure, and must be interpreted as such; for moral death is its meaning, and by moral death we understand the utter absence of everything holy, heavenly, spiritual, and divine; the entire lack of participation in, and conformity to the life which God lives as essentially and eternally holy, pure, wise, and good, and forever dwelling in the glorious light of his own infinite perfections. To be dead, then, is to have no present part or lot with God; no knowledge of him, no faith, no trust, no hope in him; no sense of his presence, no reverence of his dreadful Majesty; no desire after him or inclination toward him; no trembling at his word, no reliance on his promise; no longing for his grace, no care or concern for his glory. It is to be as a beast before him, intent like a brute on satisfying the cravings of lust, or the movements of mere animal passion, without any thought or concern what shall be the outcome, and to be bent upon carrying out into action every natural purpose, as if we were self-creators, and were our own judge, our own lord; and our own God. O! what a terrible state is it to be thus dead in sin, and not to know it; not to feel it; to be in no way sensible of its present danger and certain end, unless delivered from it by a mighty act of sovereign power. It is this lack of all sense and feeling which makes the death of the soul to be but a representation of, as it is the prelude to, that second death which stretches throughout a boundless eternity.
But the Apostle now changes the figure—"Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world." Clearly, if a man were actually, literally dead, he could not walk; and if the soul of man were dead within him, so as to be deprived of all understanding, feeling, desire, will, or affection, it would be as incapable of any movement within the body, as a directing influence, as a dead body would be incapable of any bodily movement. The death of the soul, therefore, is its death Godwards. It is lively and active enough in the ways of sin, lively and active enough in following and carrying out every inclination and movement towards self-gratification. It knows no death there. Its death is only as regards God. It is lively enough as regards man. And as the whole world is but an aggregate of human beings, all equally dead to God, but all equally alive to self; as the same passions, desires, thoughts, feelings, lusts, and inclinations sway with more or less force every bosom, the whole forms what the Apostle calls "the course of this world." As in a river every drop flows with the rest in one course toward the sea, as in a crowd all rushing to see the same sight, each individual man makes up with the rest a continuous stream of men, all intent upon the same object, so there is "a course of this world," individuals being but drops in the stream, each man being a unit of a sum exceeding calculation; but the whole collective body forming one mass, like a concourse of people rushing forward with common aim, and each pushing on his neighbor with unresisting, irresistible force. Now, combine the two ideas of the Apostle, though we shall presently see that there is another agency to come into force; but combine and compare the two ideas of death in sin, and walking according to the course of this world, what do we gather from this combination? Is it not that to walk according to the course of this world is to be dead in sin?
The course of this world is not always or perhaps often a course of that decided open transgression which is generally stamped by the name of sin. Many a worldly man cannot afford to be an open sinner. He would lose his place in society, he would forfeit character, he would damage his reputation, and with his reputation his hopes of advance in life, if he allowed himself the open, unchecked practice of those breaches of morality against which the world in general and good society in particular has affixed its mark of reprobation. But he may not be the less a wicked man—not only dead, but dead in trespasses and sins. He may be a secret infidel, though he regularly attends his church or chapel; an inward mocker and scorner of all vital godliness, though a decent observer of its form; a thorough hater of God and his people, though too prudent or too decorous to give his enmity open vent; a presumptuous rebel, a proud, covetous, stony-hearted, iron-handed oppressor of the poor, an unkind husband, a despotic father, a rigid, unfeeling master, a scheming, unprincipled money-grubber, a selfish wretch, incapable of a noble thought or generous action; and yet all the time he may keep within the range of the strictest morality, and deal out harsh censure against the least deviation from it.
Thousands of such men, more or less approaching various points of this sketch, though we will not say embodying all its worst features, tread the London pavement every day, sit in easy-chairs in counting-houses, draw cheques on their bankers, serve their customers in shops, and fill every rank and grade of society, from the millionaire rolling home from the City in his carriage, to the sweeper at the street crossing, to whom, in the overflowing liberality of his heart for a successful stroke in business, he throws a penny. Here, too, are to be found, in thickly crowded ranks, scores of men and women who consider themselves and are usually considered very religious, and who would count it a stigma and a reproach not to profess some kind of religion, more or less marked with outward and distinctive form. Unstained by outward sins, moral and consistent in conduct, kind, generous, and liberal, active and energetic in various works of philanthropy and benevolence, really possessed of many amiable and admirable qualities, endowed in large measure with domestic and social qualities worthy of respect and imitation, most useful and honorable members of society, the very stay and support of our favored country; yet they bear the fatal mark stamped upon them, that they walk according to the course of this world. Their religion has never really separated them from, or crucified them unto it. Whatever they may be before men (and we have freely allowed their possession of many admirable qualities), before God, who sees not as man sees, and who looks to the heart, they are dead in sin, as walking according to the course of this world.
In a crowd of men, all moving one way and bent on the pursuit of the same object, there may be great outward differences. Some may be clothed in rags, and others in choice apparel. Some may rush along with oath and noise, others move forward silently and steadily; some may lead and others follow; some may urge on the lagging, and others seem more driven by compulsion than full of eagerness and animation to be first and foremost in the race; but they all follow one course—a course which leads all to the same eventual end. So it is with all who walk according to the course of this world.
Were they searched to the very core, were their hearts laid naked and bare before the eyes of him with whom we have to do, they would be found to have no single eye to his glory, no godly fear or holy reverence of his great name, no sincere aim to please him, or dread to offend him; no earnest longing or breathing forth of earnest desire to know his will and do it; in a word, nothing heavenly, holy, spiritual, or gracious; nothing as the fruit of a new birth, and springing out of the operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul. Their motives, principles, aim, object, and, desire; what they live by, and what they live for; the whole tenor and drift of their words and actions, are worldly, and according to the course of this world; masked, indeed, by a thin veil of a pious profession and a religious phraseology, whereby they deceive themselves and others into the confident persuasion that they are not as other men are, but bid fair for, if they do not stand at present high in the favor of God.
How a ray of divine light, entering as a word from God's mouth with quickening power into their heart, would rend asunder this deceptive veil, and piercing their conscience as a two-edged sword, would lay them and their profession naked and bare before him who, in his glorious Majesty, is a consuming fire.
But there is another mark of "the dead in trespasses and sins" given by the Apostle, another reason assigned by him why such as walk according to the course of this world are at present without hope and without God. They are under a Satanic influence. This is dreadful to think of, and were it fully realized, enough to appall all who are under it with dread and horror! And yet if we accept the word of God as pure infallible truth, it is as undeniable a fact as that of his own existence. The words of the Apostle are, "According to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience." You will observe here that the word "according" is connected with their walking; and that as they are said to walk "according to," that is in union with, in obedience to the moving power, impulse, and influence of this world, so also do they walk "according to," that is, under the impulse and influence of the prince of the power of the air. But this demands a little closer and fuller examination.
By "the prince of the power of the air" Satan is here intended, for he is "the spirit who works in the children of disobedience." Several things are noteworthy here—1, The solemn fact that there is such an infernal being, full of deadly enmity to God and man; 2, That his seat is in the air; 3, That he works in the children of disobedience; 4, That all who walk according to the course of this world are under his influence.
1. The very existence of such a being as Satan is now denied by many. The Scripture doctrine concerning the devil is now often viewed as a Jewish tradition, or as an oriental myth, or as merely a strong and figurative representation of evil, investing it by way of metaphor with a bodily shape, and that all belief in the personal existence of the devil should be considered in our enlightened times as on a par with crediting the existence of witches, ghosts, apparitions, and the effect of charms and magical incantations. But the personal existence of Satan, as an evil spirit, is so strongly laid down in the Scriptures, both Old and New, and so interwoven with the history of the Lord himself in the Gospels and the language of inspiration in the Epistles, that we must either believe it on the force of God's testimony or acknowledge ourselves infidels as regards receiving the whole and undiminished word of God. It is indeed a part of Satan's own peculiar subtlety to persuade men of his non-existence, that he may more successfully entrap them in his snares, as Hart well says:
"The devil can self-denial use,
To deny, then, his existence, is not only to deny the word of God, but clearly shows that he has all the more successfully blinded the eyes of those whom he is leading at his will by hiding from them that he is their guide. On this point, however, we need not further dwell. It is sufficient for us on this as on every other point of revealed truth to say, "Let God be true and every man a liar."
2. But he is called in the words before us "the prince of the power of the air;" from which we gather these three things, that he is a prince, that he possesses great power, and that his seat is in the air. Our gracious Lord calls him "the prince of this world," and the Apostle Paul terms him "the god of this world." (John 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4.) The very words "prince" and "god" imply dominion and authority. What this dominion is, and in what this authority mainly consists, the Scripture does not clearly inform us. But we find again and again in the word of truth, both of the Old and New Testament, a dominion and authority ascribed to Satan whereby he rules and reigns over the children of men. Into this subject, however, we cannot now fully enter. Its most formidable feature is that it is unseen, and yet of amazing strength and power. Bounds indeed are set to it by the overruling providence and absolute dominion of God; and in the case of his dear children this power is broken, and only allowed to come so far near them as may be consistent with the purposes of God and their eventual benefit. Were not the power of Satan under God's overruling authority as regards his own family, this earthly scene would soon become a wild arena of death and destruction, and the witnesses for God's truth be swept out of by the malice of the prince of this world and the furious enmity of his agents and followers.
3. The seat of this prince, his dwelling-place from which he surveys the wide extent of his domain, is the air above and around this earthly ball. This gives him such velocity of flight, such ready access to all spots and places, such ability to transport himself with more than the swiftness of the eagle to his quarry, or of the vulture to the fallen prey. Satan is not ubiquitous, that is, he is not present in every place; for universal presence belongs only to God. But as a spirit, and retaining, though a fallen spirit, the original qualities of an angelic nature, he can transport himself with a readiness and a velocity of which we have no conception to every point of the compass, and to every spot on which his eye is fixed as a scene of infernal action. Now these are not mere speculations, or even sound deductions from the language of inspiration, but are pregnant with warning and admonition.
Are we surrounded by Satan and a whole host of infernal angels, all ready at his beck and call, and all in league with him, little perhaps inferior to him in strength and subtlety, and all equally bent to work us woe if not ruin? How careful, how watchful, how cautious should this make us in all our movements, as feeling that wherever we go or wherever we are we are watched by an infernal adversary, hovering around us in the air, like a bird of prey watching for a favorable moment to swoop down upon us, and if not destroy, to wound and maim us. And how it should lead us to be unceasingly putting ourselves, so to speak, by faith and prayer, under the protection of our Almighty Friend, that he may be our Protector and Preserver from the open assaults and inward temptations of our deadly adversary. In the last chapter of this epistle the Apostle gives us a solemn exhortation to "put on the whole armor of God;" and why? "That we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." And then he adds—"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12.) By referring to the margin we see that "high places" are translated "heavenly places," that is, the lower heavens, corresponding to the airy region in which Satan has his seat.
4. But the main point before us is the solemn fact that Satan "works in the children of disobedience." How wide, how comprehensive are these words. But as this subject demands a more ample consideration than we can now give it, we must reserve our comment upon it for our next paper.