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“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.”—Eph. ii. 7–10.

The plan which God has formed for men in Christ is of great dimensions every way,—in its length no less than in its breadth and height. He “raised us up and seated us together [Gentiles with Jews] in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages which are coming on He might show the surpassing riches of His grace.” All the races of mankind and all future ages are embraced in the redeeming purpose, and are to share in its boundless wealth. Nor are the ages past excluded from its operations. God “afore prepared the good works in which” He summons us to walk. The highway of the new life has been in building since time began.

Thus large and limitless is the range of “the purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal” (2 Tim. i. 9). But what strikes us most in this passage is the exuberance of the grace itself. Twice over the apostle exclaims, “By grace you are saved”: once in verse 5, in an eager, almost jealous 110 parenthesis, where he hastens to assure the readers of their deliverance from the fearful condition just described (vv. 1–3, 5). Again, deliberately and with full definition he states the same fact, in verse 8: “For by grace you are saved, through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. It does not come of works, to the end that none may boast.”

These words place us on familiar ground. We recognize the Paul of Galatians and Romans, the dialect and accent of the apostle of salvation by faith. But scarcely anywhere do we find this wonder-working grace so affluently described. “God being rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith He loved us—the exceeding riches of His grace, shown in kindness toward us—the gift of God.” Mercy, love, kindness, grace, gift: what a constellation is here! These terms present the character of God in the gospel under the most delightful aspects, and in vivid contrast to the picture of our human state outlined in the beginning of the chapter.

Mercy denotes the Divine pitifulness towards feeble, suffering men, akin to those “compassions of God” to which the apostle repeatedly appeals.8080   Rom. xii. 1; 2 Cor. i. 3; Phil. i. 8, ii. 1; comp. Luke i. 78. The οἰκτιρμοὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ, σπλάγχνα καὶ οἰκτιρμοί, rendered in our Version “mercies of God,” denotes something even more affecting,—God’s sense of the woefulness of human life,—“the pitying tenderness Divine.” It is a constant attribute of God in the Old Testament, and fills much the same place there that grace does in the New. “Of mercy and judgement” do the Psalmists sing—of mercy most. Out of the thunder and smoke of Sinai He declared His name: “Jehovah, a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth, keeping mercy for thousands.” The dread of God’s justice, the sense of His dazzling holiness 111 and almightiness threw His mercy into bright relief and gave to it an infinite preciousness. It is the contrast which brings in “mercy” here, in verse 4, by antithesis to “wrath” (ver. 3).8181   Comp. Rom. ix. 22, 23. These qualities are complementary. The sternest and strongest natures are the most compassionate. God is “rich in mercy.” The wealth of His Being pours itself out in the exquisite tendernesses, the unwearied forbearance and forgivingness of His compassion towards men. The Judge of all the earth, whose hate of evil is the fire of hell, is gentler than the softest-hearted mother,—rich in mercy as He is grand and terrible in wrath.

God’s mercy regards us as we are weak and miserable: His love regards us as we are, in spite of trespass and offence, His offspring,—objects of “much love” amid much displeasure, “even when we were dead through our trespasses.” What does the story of the prodigal son mean but this? and what Christ’s great word to Nicodemus (John iii. 16)?—Grace and kindness are love’s executive. Grace is love in administration, love counteracting sin and seeking our salvation. Christ is the embodiment of grace; the cross its supreme expression; the gospel its message to mankind; and Paul himself its trophy and witness.8282   On grace, comp. The Epistle to the Galatians (Expositor’s Bible), Chapter X. The “overpassing riches” of grace is that affluence of wealth in which through Christ it “superabounded” to the apostolic age and has outdone the magnitude of sin (Rom. v. 20), in such measure that St Paul sees future ages gazing with wonder at its benefactions to himself and his fellow-believers. Shown “in kindness toward us,” he says,—in a condescending fatherliness, that 112 forgets its anger and softens its old severity into comfort and endearment. God’s kindness is the touch of His hand, the accent of His voice, the cherishing breath of His Spirit. Finally, this generosity of the Divine grace, this infinite goodwill of God toward men, takes expression in the gift—the gift of Christ, the gift of righteousness (Rom. v. 15–18), the gift of eternal life (Rom. vi. 23); or—regarded, as it is here, in the light of experience and possession—the gift of salvation.

The opposition of gift and debt, of gratuitous salvation through faith to salvation earned by works of law, belongs to the marrow of St Paul’s divinity. The teaching of the great evangelical epistles is condensed into the brief words of verses 8 and 9. The reason here assigned for God’s dealing with men by way of gift and making them absolutely debtors—“lest any one should boast”—was forced upon the apostle’s mind by the stubborn pride of legalism; it is stated in terms identical with those of the earlier letters. Men will glory in their virtues before God; they flaunt the rags of their own righteousness, if any such pretext, even the slightest, remains to them. We sinners are a proud race, and our pride is oftentimes the worst of our sins. Therefore God humbles us by His compassion. He makes to us a free gift of His righteousness, and excludes every contribution from our store of merit; for if we could supply anything, we should inevitably boast as though all were our own. We must be content to receive mercy, love, grace, kindness—everything, without deserving the least fraction of the immense sum. How it strips our vanity; how it crushes us to the dust—“the weight of pardoning love!”

Concerning the office of faith in salvation we have 113 already spoken in Chapter IV.8383   Compare also, on Faith, The Epistle to the Galatians (Expositor’s Bible), Chapters X.–XII. and XV. It is on the objective fact rather than the subjective means of salvation that the apostle lays stress in this passage. His readers do not seem to have realized sufficiently what God has given them and the greatness of the salvation already accomplished. They measured inadequately the power which had touched and changed their lives (i. 19). St Paul has shown them the depth to which they were formerly sunk, and the height to which they have been raised (vv. 1–6). He can therefore assure them, and he does it with redoubled emphasis: “You are saved; By grace you are saved men!”8484    Ἐστὲ σεσωσμένοι: for the peculiar emphasis of this form of the verb, implying a settled fact, an assured state, compare ver. 12, ἢτε ... ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι; Col. ii. 10; Gal. ii. 11, iv. 3; 2 Cor. iv. 3, etc. Not, “You will be saved”; nor, “You were saved”; nor, “You are in course of salvation,”—for salvation has many moods and tenses,—but, in the perfect passive tense, he asserts the glorious accomplished fact. With the same reassuring emphasis in chapter i. 7 he declared, “We have redemption in His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”

Here is St Paul’s doctrine of Assurance. It was laid down by Christ Himself when He said: “He that believeth on the Son of God hath eternal life.” This sublime confidence is the ruling note of St John’s great epistle: “We know that we are in Him.... We know that we have passed out of death into life.... This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” It was this confidence of present salvation that made the Church irresistible. With its foundation secure, the house of life can be steadily and calmly 114 built up. Under the shelter of the full assurance of faith, in the sunshine of God’s love felt in the heart, all spiritual virtues bloom and flourish. But with a faith hesitant, distracted, that is sure of no doctrine in the creed and cannot plant a firm foot anywhere, nothing prospers in the soul or in the Church. Oh for the clear accent, the ringing, joyous note of apostolic assurance! We want a faith not loud, but deep; a faith not born of sentiment and human sympathy, but that comes from the vision of the living God; a faith whose rock and corner-stone is neither the Church nor the Bible, but Christ Jesus Himself.

Greatly do we need, like the Asian disciples of Paul and John, to “assure our hearts” before God. With death confronting us, with the hideous evil of the world oppressing us; when the air is laden with the contagion of sin; when the faith of the strongest wears the cast of doubt; when the word of promise shines dimly through the haze of an all-encompassing scepticism and a hundred voices say, in mockery or grief, Where is now thy God? when the world proclaims us lost, our faith refuted, our gospel obsolete and useless,—then is the time for the Christian assurance to recover its first energy and to rise again in radiant strength from the heart of the Church, from the depths of its mystic life where it is hid with Christ in God.

You are saved! cries the apostle; not forgetting that his readers have their battle to fight, and many hazards yet to run (vi. 10–13). But they hold the earnest of victory, the foretaste of life eternal. In spirit they sit with Christ in the heavenly places. Pain and death, temptation, persecution, the vicissitudes of earthly history, by these God means to perfect that which He has begun in His115 saints—“if you continue in the faith, grounded and firm” (Col. i. 23). That condition is expressed, or implied, in all assurance of final salvation. It is a condition which excites to watchfulness, but can never cause misgiving to a loyal heart. God is for us! He justifies us, and counts us His elect. Christ Jesus who died is risen and seated at the right hand of God, and there intercedes for us. Quis separabit?8585   Rom. viii. 31–39; comp. vv. 9–17; also 1 Thess. v. 23, 24; 2 Thess. iii. 3–5; 1 Cor. i. 4–9; Phil. i. 6, iii. 13, 14; 2 Tim. i. 12, iv. 18, for St Paul’s doctrine of Assurance.

This is the epistle of the Church and of humanity. It dwells on the grand, objective aspects of the truth, rather than upon its subjective experiences. It does not invite us to rest in the comforts and delights of grace, but to lift up our eyes and see whither Christ has translated us and what is the kingdom that we possess in Him. God “quickened us together with the Christ”: He “raised us up, He made us to sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Henceforth “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. iii. 20).

This is the inspiring thought of the third group of St Paul’s epistles; we heard it in the first note of his song of praise (i. 3). It supplies the principle from which St Paul unfolds the beautiful conception of the Christian life contained in the third chapter of the companion letter to the Colossians: “Your life is hid with the Christ in God”; therefore “seek the things that are above, where He is.” We live in two worlds at once. Heaven lies about us in this new mystic childhood of our spirit. There our names are written; thither our thoughts and hopes resort. Our treasure is there; our heart we have lodged there, with Christ in God. He is there, the Lord of the Spirit, from whom 116 we draw each moment the life that flows into His members. In the greatness of His love conquering sin and death, time and space, He is with us to the world’s end. May we not say that we, too, are with Him and shall be with Him always? So we reckon in the logic of our faith and at the height of our high calling, though the soul creeps and drudges upon the lower levels.

“With Him we are gone up on high,

Since He is ours and we are His;

With Him we reign above the sky,

We walk upon our subject seas!”

In his lofty flights of thought the apostle always has some practical and homely end in view. The earthly and heavenly, the mystical and the matter-of-fact were not distant and repugnant, but interfused in his mind. From the celestial heights of the life hidden with Christ in God (ver. 6), he brings us down in a moment and without any sense of discrepancy to the prosaic level of “good works” (ver. 10). The love which viewed us from eternity, the counsels of Him who works all things in all, enter into the humblest daily duties.

Grace, moreover, sets us great tasks. There should be something to show in deed and life for the wealth of kindness spent upon us, some visible and commensurate result of the vast preparations of the gospel plan. Of this result the apostle saw the earnest in the work of faith wrought by his Gentile Churches.

St Paul was the last man in the world to undervalue human effort, or disparage good work of any sort. It is, in his view, the end aimed at in all that God bestows on His people, in all that He Himself works in them. Only let this end be sought in God’s way and order. Man’s doings must be the fruit and not the root of his 117 salvation. “Not of works,” but “for good works” were believers chosen. “This little word for” says Monod, “reconciles St Paul and St James better than all the commentators.” God has not raised us up to sit idly in the heavenly places lost in contemplation, or to be the useless pensioners of grace. He sends us forth to “walk in the works, prepared for us,”—equipped to fight Christ’s battles, to till His fields, to labour in the service of building His Church.

The “workmanship” of our Version suggests an idea foreign to the passage. The apostle is not thinking of the Divine art or skill displayed in man’s creation; but of the simple fact that “God made man” (Gen. i. 27). “We are His making, created in Christ Jesus.” The “preparation” to which he refers in verse 10 leads us back to that primeval election of God’s sons in Christ for which we gave thanks at the outset (i. 3). There are not two creations, the second formed upon the ruin and failure of the first; but one grand design throughout. Redemption is creation re-affirmed. The new creation, as we call it, restores and consummates the old. When God raised His Son from the dead, He vindicated His original purpose in raising man from the dust a living soul. He has not forsaken the work of His hands nor forgone His original plan, which took account of all our wilfulness and sin. God in making us meant us to do good work in His world. From the world’s foundation down to the present moment He who worketh all in all has been working for this end—most of all in the revelation of His grace in Jesus Christ.

Far backward in the past, amid the secrets of creation, lay the beginnings of God’s grace to mankind. Far onward in the future shines its lustre revealed in 118 the first Christian age. The apostle has gained some insight into those “times and seasons” which formerly were veiled from him. In his earliest letters, to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, St Paul echoes our Lord’s warning, never out of season, that we should “watch, for the hour is at hand.” Maran atha is his watchword: “Our Lord cometh; the time is short.” Nor does that note cease to the end. But when in this epistle he writes of “the ages that are coming on,” and of “all the generations of the age of the ages” (iii. 21), there is manifestly some considerable period of duration before his eyes. He sees something of the extent of the world’s coming history, something of the magnitude of the field that the future will afford for the unfolding of God’s designs.

In those approaching æons he foresees that the apostolic dispensation will play a conspicuous part. Unborn ages will be blessed in the blessing now descending upon Jews and Gentiles through Christ Jesus. So marvellous is the display of God’s kindness toward them, that all the future will pay homage to it. The overflowing wealth of blessing poured upon St Paul and the first Churches had an end in view that reached beyond themselves, an end worthy of the Giver, worthy of the magnitude of His plans and of His measureless love. If all this was theirs—this fulness of God exceeding the utmost they had asked or thought—it is because God means to convey it through them to multitudes besides! There is no limit to the grace that God will impart to men and to Churches who thus reason, who receive His gifts in this generous and communicative spirit. The apostolic Church chants with Mary at the Annunciation: 119 “For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed!”

Never was any prediction better fulfilled. This spot of history shines with a light before which every other shows pale and commonplace. The companions of Jesus, the humble fraternities of the first Christian century have been the object of reverent interest and intent research on the part of all centuries since. Their history is scrutinized from all sides with a zeal and industry which the most pressing subjects of the day hardly command. For we feel that these men hold the secret of the world’s life. The key to the treasures we all long for is in their hands. As time goes on and the stress of life deepens, men will turn with yet fonder hope to the age of Jesus Christ. “And many nations will say: Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. And He will teach us of His ways; and we will walk in His paths.”

The stream will remember its fountain; the children of God will gather to their childhood’s home. The world will hear the gospel in the recovered accents of its prophets and apostles.

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