« Prev Chapter III. The Bestowment of Grace. Next »




“Which grace He bestowed on us, in the Beloved One:

In whom we have the redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,

According to the riches of His grace:

Which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known to us the mystery of His will,

According to His good pleasure:

Which He purposed in Him, for dispensation in the fulness of the times,

Purposing to gather into one body all things in the Christ—

The things belonging to the heavens, and the things upon the earth—yea, in Him,

In whom also we received our heritage, as we had been foreordained,

According to purpose of Him who worketh all things

According to the counsel of His will,—

That we might be to the praise of His glory.”3333   The arrangement above made of the lines of this intricate passage is designed to guide the eye to its elucidation. Our disposition of the verses has not been determined by any preconceived interpretation, but by the parallelism of expression and cadences of phrase. The rhythmical structure of the piece, it seems to us, supplies the key to its explanation, and reduces to order its long-drawn and heaped-up relative and prepositional clauses, which are grammatically so unmanageable.

Eph. i. 6b–12a.

The blessedness of men in Christ is not matter of purpose only, but of reality and experience. With the word grace in the middle of the sixth verse the apostle’s thought begins a new movement. We 35 have seen Grace hidden in the depths of eternity in the form of sovereign and fatherly election, lodging its purpose in the foundation of the world. From those mysterious depths we turn to the living world in our own breast. There, too, Grace dwells and reigns: “which grace He imparted to us, in the Beloved,—in whom we have redemption through His blood.”

The leading word of this clause we can only paraphrase; it has no English equivalent. St Paul perforce turns grace into a verb; this verb occurs in the New Testament but once besides,—in Luke i. 28, the angel’s salutation to Mary: “Hail thou that art highly favoured (made-an-object-of-grace).”3434   Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη. It is impossible to reproduce in English the beautiful assonance—the play of sound and sense—in Gabriel’s greeting, as St Luke renders it. If we could employ our verb to grace in a sense corresponding to that of the noun grace in the apostle’s dialect and nearly the opposite of to disgrace, then graced would signify what he means here, viz., treated with grace, made its recipients.

God “showed us grace in the Beloved”—or, to render the phrase with full emphasis, “in that Beloved One”—even as He “chose us in Him before the world’s foundation” and “in love predestined us for adoption.” The grace is conveyed upon the basis of our relationship to Christ: on that ground it was conceived in the counsels of eternity. The Voice from heaven which said at the baptism of Jesus and again at the transfiguration, “This is my Son, the Beloved,” uttered God’s eternal thought regarding Christ. And that regard of God toward the Son of His love is the fountain of His love and grace to men.

Christ is the Beloved not of the Father alone, but of the created universe. All that know the Lord Jesus 36 must needs love and adore Him—unless their hearts are eaten out by sin. Not to love Him is to be anathema. “If any man love me,” said Jesus, “my Father will love him.” Nothing so much pleases God and brings us into fellowship with God so direct and joyous, as our love to Jesus Christ. About this at least heaven and earth may agree, that He is the altogether lovely and love-worthy. Agreement in this will bring about agreement in everything. The love of Christ will tune the jarring universe into harmony.

1. Of grace bestowed, the first manifestation, in the experience of Paul and his readers, was the forgiveness of their trespasses (comp. ii. 13–18). This is “the redemption” that “we have.” And it comes “through His blood.” The epistles to the Galatians and Romans3535   See Rom. i. 16–18, iii. 19–v. 21, vi. 7, vii. 1–6, viii. 1–4, 31–34, x. 6–9; 1 Cor. xv. 3, 4, 17, 56, 57; 2 Cor. v. 18–21; Gal. ii. 14–iii. 14, vi. 12–14. The latter passages the writer has endeavoured to expound in Chapters X. to XII. and XXVIII. of his Commentary on Galatians in this series. expound at length the apostle’s doctrine touching the remission of sin and the relation of Christ’s death to human transgression. To redemption we shall return in considering verse 14, where the word is used, as again in chapter iv. 30, in its further application.

In Romans iii. 22–26 “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” is declared to be the means by which we are acquitted in the judgement of God from the guilt of past transgressions. And this redemption consists in the “propitiatory sacrifice” which Christ offered in shedding His blood—a sacrifice wherein we participate “through faith.” The language of this verse contains by implication all that is affirmed there. In this connexion, and according to the full intent of the word, 37 redemption is release by ransom. The life-blood of Jesus Christ was the price that He paid in order to secure our lawful release from the penalties entailed by our trespasses.3636   It is an error to suppose, as one sometimes hears it said, that trespasses or transgressions are a light and comparatively trivial form of sin. Both words denote, in the language of Scripture, definite offences against known law, departures from known duty. Adam’s sin was the typical “transgression” and “trespass” (Rom. v. 14, 15, etc.; comp. ii. 23; Gal. iii. 19). This Jesus Christ implied beforehand, when He spoke of “giving His life a ransom for many”; and when He said, in handing to His disciples the cup of the Last Supper: “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Using another synonymous term, St Paul tells us that “Christ bought us out of the curse of the law”; and he bases on this expression a strong practical appeal: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”3737   Gal. iii. 13; 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20. These sayings, and others like them, point unmistakably to the fact that our trespasses as men against God’s inflexible law, apart from Christ’s intervention, must have issued in our eternal ruin. By His death on the cross Christ has made such amends to the law, that the awful sentence is averted, and our complete release from the power of sin is rendered possible.

On rising from the dead our Saviour commissioned the apostles to “proclaim in His name repentance and remission of sins to all nations” (Luke xxiv. 47). It was thus He proposed to save the world. This proclamation is the “good news” of the gospel. The announcement meets the first need of the serious and awakened human spirit. It answers the question which 38 arises in the breast of every man who thinks earnestly about his personal relations to God and to the laws of his being. We cannot wonder that St Paul sets the remission of sins first amongst the bestowments of God’s grace, and makes it the foundation of all the rest.

Does it occupy the like position in modern Christian teaching? Do we realize the criminality of sin, the fearfulness of God’s displeasure, the infinite worth of His forgiveness and the obligations under which it places us, as St Paul and his converts did? or even as our fathers did a few generations ago? “It is my impression,” writes Dr. R. W. Dale,3838   See The Evangelical Revival, and other Sermons, pp. 149–170, on “The Forgiveness of Sins.” “that both religious people and those who do not profess to be religious must be conscious that God’s Forgiveness, if they ever think of it at all, does not create any deep and strong emotion.... The difference between the way in which we think of the Divine Forgiveness and the way in which it was thought of by David and Isaiah, by Christ Himself, by Peter, Paul, and John; by the saints of all Christian Churches in past times, both in the East and in the West; ... by the leaders of the Evangelical Revival in the last century—the difference, I say, between the way in which the Forgiveness of sins was thought of by them, and the way in which we think of it, is very startling. The difference is so great, it affects so seriously the whole system of the religious thought and life, that we may be said to have invented a new religion.... The difference between our religion and the religion of other times is this—that we do not believe that God has any strong resentment against sin or against those who are guilty of sin. And since His resentment has gone, His mercy has gone with it. We 39 have not a God who is more merciful than the God of our fathers, but a God who is less righteous; and a God who is not righteous, a God who does not glow with fiery indignation against sin, is no God at all.”

These are solemn words, to be deeply pondered. They come from one of the most sagacious observers and justly revered teachers of our time. We have made a real advance in breadth and human sympathy; and there has been throughout our Churches a genuine and much needed awakening of philanthropic activity. But if we are departing from the living God, what will this avail us? If “the redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,” is no longer to us the momentous and glorious fact that it was to the apostles, then it is time to ask whether our God is in truth the same as theirs, whether He is still the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—whether we are not, haply, fabricating for ourselves another gospel. Without a piercing sense of the shame and ruin involved in human sin, we shall not put its remission where St Paul does, at the foundation of God’s benefits to men. Without this sentiment, we can only wonder at the passionate gratitude with which he receives the atonement and measures by its completeness the riches of God’s grace.

II. Along with this chief blessing of forgiveness, there came another to the apostolic Church. With the heart the mind, with the conscience the intellect was quickened and endowed: “which [grace] He shed abundantly upon us in all wisdom and intelligence.”

This sequel to verse 7 is somewhat of a surprise. The reader is apt to slur over verse 8, half sensible of some jar and incongruity between it and the context. It scarcely occurs to us to associate wisdom and good sense with the pardon of sin, as kindred bestowments 40 of the gospel. Minds of the evangelical order are often supposed, indeed, to be wanting in intellectual excellencies and indifferent to their value. Is it not true that “not many wise after the flesh were called”? Do we not glory above everything in preaching a “simple gospel”?

But there is another side to all this. “Christ was made of God unto us wisdom.” This attribute the apostle even sets first when he writes to the wisdom-seeking Greeks, mocked by their worn-out and confused philosophies (1 Cor. i. 30). To a close observer of the primitive Christian societies few things must have been more noticeable than the powerful mental stimulus imparted by the new faith. These epistles are a witness to the fact. That such letters could be addressed to communities gathered mainly from the lower ranks of society—consisting of slaves, common artizans, poor women—shows that the moral regeneration effected in St Paul’s converts was accompanied by an extraordinary excitement and activity of thought. In this the apostle recognised the work of the Holy Spirit, a mark of God’s special favour and blessing. “I give thanks always for you,” he writes to the Corinthians, “for the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched by Him, in all word and all knowledge.” The leaders of the apostolic Church were the profoundest thinkers of their day; though at the time the world held them for babblers, because their dialect was not of its schools. They drew from stores of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ, which none of the princes of this world knew.

Of such wisdom our epistle is full, and God “has made it to abound” to the readers in these inspired 41 pages. Paul’s “understanding in the mystery of Christ” was always deepening. In his lonely prison musings the length and breadth of the Divine counsels are disclosed to him as never before. He sees the course of the ages and the universe of being illuminated by the light of the knowledge of Christ. And what he sees, all men are to see through him (iii. 9). Blessed be God who has given to His Church through His apostles, and through the great Christian teachers of every age, His precious gifts of wisdom and prudence, and made His grace richly to overflow from the heart into the mind and understanding of men!

This intellectual gift is twofold: phronēsis as well as sophia,—the bestowment not only of deep spiritual thought, but of moral sagacity, good sense and thoughtfulness. This is a choice charism—a mercy of the Lord. For want of it how sadly is the fruit of other graces spoilt and wasted. How brightly it shines in St Paul himself! What luminous and wholesome views of life, what a fund of practical sense there is in the teaching of this letter.

St Paul rejoices in these gifts of the understanding and claims them for the Church, having in his view the false knowledge, the “philosophy and vain deceit” that was making its appearance in the Asian Churches (Col. ii. 4, 8, etc.). Our safeguard against intellectual perils lies not in ignorance, but in deeper heart-knowledge. When the grace that bestows redemption through Christ’s blood adds its concomitant blessing of enlightenment, when it elevates the mind as it cleanses the heart, and abounds to us in all wisdom and prudence, the winds of doctrine and the waves of speculation blow and beat in vain; they can but bring health to a Church thus established in its faith.

42 Verses 9 and 10 describe the object of this new knowledge. They state the doctrine which gave this powerful mental impulse to the apostolic Church, disclosing to it a vast field of view, and supplying the most fertile and vigorous principles of moral wisdom. This impulse lay in the revelation of God’s purpose to reconstitute the universe in Christ. The declaration of “the mystery of His will” comes in at this point episodically, and by the way; and we reserve it for consideration to the end of the present Chapter.

But let us observe here that our wisdom and prudence lie in the knowledge of God’s will. Truth is not to be found in any system of logical notions, in schemes and syntheses of the laws of nature or of thought. The human mind can never rest for long in abstractions. It will not accept for its basis of thought that which is less real and positive than itself. By its rational instincts it is compelled to seek a Reason and a Conscience at the centre of things,—a living God. It craves to know the mystery of His will.

III. Verse 11 fills up the measure of the bestowment of grace on sinful men. The present anticipates the future; faith and love are lifted to a glorious hope. “In whom also—i.e., in Christ—we received our heritage, predestinated [to it], according to His purpose who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

Following Meyer and other great interpreters, we prefer in this passage the rendering of the English Authorized Version (we obtained an inheritance) to that of the Revised (we were made a heritage).3939   Bishop Ellicott, who advocates the latter rendering, objects to Meyer’s interpretation that it is “doubtful in point of usage.” Pace tanti viri, we must retort this objection upon the new translation. To obtain by lot, to have (a thing) allotted to one, is the meaning regularly given to κληροῦσθαι in the classical dictionaries; and in O.T. usage the lot (κλῆρος) becomes the inheritance (the thing allotted). The verb is repeatedly used by Philo with the meaning to obtain, or receive an inheritance; whereas there seems to be no real parallel to the other rendering. It is true that κληροῦσθαι in the sense of the A.V. requires an object; but that is virtually supplied by ἐν ᾧ: “we had our inheritance allotted in Christ.” Comp. Col. i. 12, “the lot of the saints in the light,” which signifies not the locality, but the nature and content of the saints’ heritage. 43 “Foreordained” carries us back to verse 5—to the phrase “foreordained to sonship.” The believer cannot be predestinated to sonship without being predestinated to an inheritance.4040   See Gal. iii. 22—iv. 7; and Chapters XV.—XVII. in the Expositor’s Bible (Galatians), on Sonship and Inheritance in St Paul. “If children, then heirs” (Rom. viii. 17). But while in the parallel passage we are designated heirs with Christ, we appear in this place, according to the tenor of the context, as heirs in Him. Christ is Himself the believer’s wealth, both in possession and hope: all his desire is to gain Christ (Phil. iii. 8). The apostle gives thanks here in the same strain as in Colossians i. 12–14, “to the Father who qualified us [by making us His sons] to partake of the inheritance of the saints in the light.” In that thanksgiving we observe the same connexion as in this between our forgiveness (ver. 7) and our enfeoffment, or investment with the forfeited rights of sons of God (vv. 5, 11).4141   Compare Acts xxvi. 18, which also speaks to this association of ideas in St Paul’s mind, with vers. 4, 5, 7, and 11 in this chapter.

The heritage of the saints in Christ is theirs already, by actual investiture. The liberty of sons of God, access to the Father, the treasures of Christ’s wisdom and knowledge, the sanctifying Spirit and the moral strength and joy that He imparts, these form a rich estate of which ancient saints had but foretastes and promises. In the all-controlling 44 “counsel of His will,” God wrought throughout the course of history to convey this heritage to us. We are children of “the fulness of the times,” heirs of all the past. For us God has been working from eternity. On us the ends of the world have come. Thus from the summit of our exaltation in Christ the apostle looks backward to the beginning of Divine history.

From the same point his gaze sweeps onward to the end. God’s purpose embraces the ages to come with those that are past. His working will not cease till the whole counsel is fulfilled. What we have of our inheritance, though rich and real, holds in it the promise of infinitely more; and the Holy Spirit is the “earnest of our inheritance” (ver. 14). God intends “that we should be to the praise of His glory.” As things are, His glory is but obscurely visible in His saints. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be,”—and it will not appear until the unveiling of the sons of God (Rom. viii. 18–25). One day God’s glory in us will burst forth in its splendour. All beholders in heaven and earth will then sing to the praise of His glory, when it is seen in His redeemed and godlike sons.

Verses 9 and 10 (which He purposed ... upon the earth) are, as we have said, a parenthesis or episode in the passage just reviewed. Neither in structure nor in sense would the paragraph be defective, had this clause been wanting. With the “in Him” repeated at the end of verse 10, St Paul resumes the main current of his thanksgiving, arrested for a moment while he dwells on “the mystery of God’s will.”

This last expression (ver. 9), notwithstanding what he has said in verses 4 and 5, still needs elucidation. He will pause for an instant to set forth once more the 45 eternal purpose, to the knowledge of which the Church is now admitted. The communication of this mystery is, he says, “according to God’s good pleasure which He purposed in Christ [comp. ver. 4], for a dispensation of the fulness of the times, intending to gather up again all things in the Christ—the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth.”

God formed in Christ the purpose, by the dispensation of His grace, in due time to re-unite the universe under the headship of Christ. This mysterious design, hitherto kept secret, He has “made known unto us.” Its manifestation imparts a wisdom that surpasses all the wisdom of former ages.4242   Vv. 8, 9, ch. iii. 4, 5; comp. Col. ii. 2, 3; 1 Cor. ii. 6–9. Such is the drift of this profound deliverance.

The first clause of verse 10 supplies a datum for its interpretation. The fulness of the times, in St Paul’s dialect, can only be the time of Christ.4343   “The fulness of the time,” Gal. iv. 4; “in due season,” Rom. v. 6; “in its own times,” 1 Tim. ii. 6. These are all synonymous expressions for the Messianic era. Comp. Heb. i. 2, ix. 26; 1 Pet. i. 20. The dispensation which God designed of old is that in which the apostle himself is now engaged;4444   Ch. iii. 8, 9; Col. i. 25; 1 Cor. iv. 1; 1 Tim. i. 4, i. 7; 2 Tim. i. 9–11; and especially Rom. xvi. 25, 26. it is the dispensation, or administration (economy), of the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ, whether God be conceived as Himself the Dispenser, or through the stewards of His mysteries. The Messianic end was to Paul’s Jewish thought the dénouement of antecedent history. How long this age would continue, into what epochs it might unfold itself, he knew not; but for him the fulness of the times had arrived. The Son of God was come; the kingdom of God was amongst men. It was 46 the beginning of the end. It is a mistake to relegate this text to the dim and distant future, to some far-off consummation. We are in the midst of the Christian reconstruction of things, and are taking part in it. The decisive epoch fell when “God sent forth His Son.” All that has followed, and will follow, is the result of this mission. Christ is all things, and in all; and we are already complete in Him.

What, then, signifies this gathering-into-one or summing-up of all things in the Christ? Our recapitulate is the nearest equivalent of the Greek verb, in its etymological sense. In Romans xiii. 8, 9 the same word is used, where the several commands of the second table of the Decalogue are said to be “comprehended in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This summing up is not a generalization or compendious statement of the commands of God; it signifies their reduction to a fundamental principle. They are unified by the discovery of a law that underlies them all. And while thus theoretically explained, they are made practically effective: “For love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Similarly, St Paul finds in Christ the fundamental principle of the creation. For those who think with him, God has by the Christian revelation already brought all things to their unity. This summing up—the Christian inventory and recapitulation of the universe—the apostle has formally stated in Colossians i. 15–20: 47 “Christ is God’s image and creation’s firstborn. In Him, through Him, for Him all things were made. He is before them all; and in Him they have their basis and uniting bond. He is equally the Head of the Church and the new creation, the firstborn out of the dead, that He might hold a universal presidence—charged with all the fulness, so that in Him is the ground of the reconciliation no less than of the creation of all things in heaven and earth.” What can we desire more comprehensive than this? It is the theory and programme of the world revealed to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

The “gathering into one” of this text includes the “reconciliation” of Colossians i. 20, and more. It signifies, beside the removal of the enmities which are the effect of sin (ii. 14–16), the subjection of all powers in heaven and earth to the rule of Christ (vv. 21, 22),4545   Comp. ch. v. 5; 1 Cor. xv. 24–28; Phil. ii. 9–12; Heb. ii. 8; Rev. i. 5, xi. 15, xvii. 14; Dan. vii. 13, 14. the enlightenment of the angelic magnates as to God’s dealings with men (iii. 9, 10),—in fine, the rectification and adjustment of the several parts of the great whole of things, bringing them into full accord with each other and with their Creator’s will. What St Paul looks forward to is, in a word, the organization of the universe upon a Christian basis. This reconstitution of things is provided for and is being effected “in the Christ.” He is the rallying point of the forces of peace and blessing. The organic principle, the organizing Head, the creative nucleus of the new creation is there. The potent germ of life eternal has been introduced into the world’s chaos; and its victory over the elements of disorder and death is assured.

Observe that the apostle says “in the Christ.”4646   One wonders that our Revisers, so attentive to all points of Greek idiom, did not think it worth while to discriminate between Christ and the Christ in such passages as this. In Ephesians this distinction is especially conspicuous and significant. See vv. 12, 20 iii. 17, iv. 20, v. 23; similarly in 1 Cor. xv. 22; Rom. xv. 3. He is not speaking of Christ in the abstract, considered in His own Person or as He dwells in heaven, but in His 48 relations to men and to time. The Christ manifest in Jesus (iv. 20, 21), the Christ of prophets and apostles, the Messiah of the ages, the Husband of the Church (v. 23), is the author and finisher of this grand restoration.

Christ’s work is essentially a work of restoration. We must insist, with Meyer, upon the significance of the Greek preposition in Paul’s compound verb (ana-, equal to re-in restore or resume). The Christ is not simply the climax of the past—the Son of man and the recapitulation of humanity, as man is of the creatures below him, summing up human development and lifting it to a higher stage—though He is all that. Christ rehabilitates man and the world. He re-asserts the original ground of our being, as that exists in God. He carries us and the world forward out of sin and death, by carrying us back to God’s ideal. The new world is the old world repaired, and in its reparation infinitely enhanced—rich in the memories of redemption, in the fruit of penitence and the discipline of suffering, in the lessons of the cross.

All things in heaven and earth it was God’s good pleasure in the Christ to gather again into one. Is this a general assertion concerning the universe as a whole, or may we apply it with distributive exactness to each particular thing? Is there to be, as we fain would hope, no single exception to the “all things”—no wanderer lost, no exile finally shut out from the Holy City and the tree of life? Are all evil men and demons, willing or against their will, to be embraced somehow and at last—at last—in the universal peace of God?

It is impossible that the first readers should have so construed Paul’s words (comp. v. 5). He has not forgotten the “unquenchable fire,” the 49 “eternal punishment”; nor dare we. “If anything is certain about the teaching of Christ and His apostles, it is that they warned men not to reject the Divine mercy and so to incur irrevocable exile from God’s presence and joy. They assumed that some men would be guilty of this supreme crime, and would be doomed to this supreme woe” (Dale). There is nothing in this text to warrant any man in presuming on the mercy or the sovereignty of God, nothing to justify us in supposing that, deliberately refusing to be reconciled to God in Christ, we shall yet be reconciled in the end, despite ourselves.

St Paul assures us that God and the world will be reunited, and that peace will reign through all realms and orders of existence. He does not, and he could not say that none will exclude themselves from the eternal kingdom. Making men free, God has made it possible for them to contradict Him, so long as they have any being. The apostle’s words have their note of warning, along with their boundless promise. There is no place in the future order of things for aught that is out of Christ. There is no standing-ground anywhere for the unclean and the unjust, for the irreconcilable rebel against God. “The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and them that do iniquity.”

« Prev Chapter III. The Bestowment of Grace. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection