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God’s Ultimate Purpose


An Exposition of Ephesians 1





D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones





Copyright © 1978 by D. M. Lloyd-Jones

Published by Baker Books

a division of Baker Book House Company

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516–6287

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 0-8010-5794-9





Preface


This volume consists of sermons preached on Sunday mornings in the course of my regular ministry at Westminster Chapel, London, during 1954–1955. Some readers may be curious as to why they did not appear in The Westminster Record and why they have been preceded in book form by my sermons on Ephesians chapter 2, under the title God’s Way of Reconciliation, and on chapter 5:18 to the end of this same Epistle, which have appeared under the titles Life in the Spirit, The Christian Warfare and The Christian Soldier.

The explanation is that I felt that the themes dealt with in those volumes were of more immediate relevance. I yielded also to the pressure that was brought upon me by those who felt that there was an urgent need for guidance from scripture on the general questions of peace among nations, the problem of racism, and the mounting problems in the realm of relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, and also the problems raised by the cults, eastern religions and the new interest in the occult.

I am ready to confess that in adopting this procedure I may well have been guilty of allowing my pastoral heart to govern my theological understanding, and especially my understanding of the Apostle Paul’s invariable method. My only defence is that in those other volumes I have repeatedly stressed that the teaching could only be understood in the light of the great doctrine which the Apostle lays down in this f; irst chapter. And now, I hope to make full amends in this volume, and, ‘God willing,’ in further volumes on Chapters 3, 4 and 5:1–18.

Our world is in a state of utter confusion, and, alas, the same is true of the Christian Church and of many individual Christians. It is idle to call people to listen to us if we are uncertain ourselves as to what we mean by the terms ‘Christian’ and ‘Christian Church.’ In this first chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle deals with those very questions in a most sublime manner, reminding us at the very outset that we have been ‘blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ’. He goes on to tell us that this is true of Jewish and Gentile believers, that the power of the resurrection is working in each of us and in the Church which is His body. The epistle to the Ephesians is the most ‘mystical’ of Paul’s epistles, and nowhere does his inspired mind soar to greater heights. There is no greater privilege in life than to be called to expound what Thomas Carlyle called such ‘infinities and immensities’. I can but pray and trust that God will bless my unworthy efforts and use them to help many to rise to the height of ‘our high calling in Christ Jesus’ and deliver those whose lives have hitherto been ‘bound in shallows and in miseries’.

I have to thank Miss Jane Ritchie who kindly did the original transcribing, and also as ever, Mrs E. Burney, Mr S. M. Houghton and my wife for their customary help and encouragement.

London August 1978 D. M. Lloyd-Jones





Contents


1. Introduction

2. ‘Saints … and the faithful in Christ Jesus’

3. Grace, Peace, Glory

4. The Everlasting Covenant

5. ‘All Spiritual Blessings in Heavenly Places’

6. ‘In Heavenly Places’

7. ‘Chosen in Him’

8. ‘Holy and without Blame before Him in love’

9. Adoption

10. Higher than Adam

11. The Glory of God

12. ‘In the Beloved’

13. Redemption

14. ‘Through His Blood’

15. The Riches of His Grace

16. The Mystery of His Will

17. All Things re-united in Christ

18. ‘We …. Ye also’

19. The Counsel of His own Will

20. ‘Heard, Believed, Trusted’

21. Sealed with the Spirit

22. The Nature of Sealing [1]

23. The Nature of Sealing [2]

24. True and Counterfeit Experiences

25. Problems and Difficulties concerning the Sealing

26. ‘The Earnest of our Inheritance’

27. Tests of Christian Profession

28. ‘The Father of Glory’

29. The Christian’s Knowledge of God

30. Wisdom and Revelation

31. ‘The Hope of his Calling’

32. ‘The Riches of the Glory of His Inheritance in the Saints’

33. ‘The Exceeding Greatness of His Power’

34. ‘Power to us-ward who Believe’

35. His Power from Beginning to End

36. ‘The Church which is His Body’

37. The Final Consummation




GOD’S ULTIMATE PURPOSE





Ephesians 1:1-23




1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:

2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;

9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,

14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,

16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;

17 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:

18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,

19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,

20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,

21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:

22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.





1


Introduction



‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.’



Ephesians 1:1


As we approach this Epistle I confess freely that I do so with considerable temerity. It is very difficult to speak of it in a controlled manner because of its greatness and because of its sublimity. Many have tried to describe it. One writer has described it as ‘the crown and climax of Pauline theology.’ Another has said that it is ‘the distilled essence of the Christian religion, the most authoritative and most consummate compendium of our holy Christian faith.’ What language! And it is by no means exaggerated.

Far be it from me to try to compete with those who have thus described this Epistle, but it seems to me that any general description of it must take special note of certain words which are characteristic of it, and which the Apostle uses more frequently in it, perhaps, than in any other Epistle. The Apostle marvels at the mystery and the glories and the riches of God’s way of redemption in Christ. These are the words, as I shall show, which he uses very frequently—the glory of it all, the mystery and the riches of God’s way of redemption in Christ Jesus!

Another way in which the peculiar characteristic of this great Epistle can be stated is that it is a letter in which the Apostle looks at the Christian salvation from the vantage point of the ‘heavenly places.’ In all his Epistles he expounds and explains the way of salvation; he deals with particular doctrines, and with arguments or controversies that had arisen in the churches. But the peculiar feature and characteristic of the Epistle to the Ephesians is that here the Apostle seems to be, as he puts it himself, in ‘the heavenly places’, and he is looking down at the great panorama of salvation and redemption from that particular aspect. The result is that in this Epistle there is very little controversy; and that is so because his great concern here was to give to the Ephesians, and others to whom the letter is addressed, a panoramic view of this wondrous and glorious work of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Luther says of the Epistle to the Romans that it is ‘the most important document in the New Testament, the gospel in its purest expression’, and in many ways I agree that there is no purer, plainer statement of the gospel than in the Epistle to the Romans. Accepting that as true I would venture to add that if the Epistle to the Romans is the purest expression of the gospel, the Epistle to the Ephesians is the sublimest and the most majestic expression of it. Here the standpoint is a wider one, a larger one. There are statements and passages in this Epistle which really baffle description. The great Apostle piles epithet upon epithet, adjective upon adjective, and still he cannot express himself adequately. There are passages in this first chapter, and others in the third chapter, especially towards its end, where the Apostle is carried out above and beyond himself, and loses and abandons himself in a great outburst of worship and praise and thanksgiving. I repeat, therefore, that there is nothing more sublime in the whole range of Scripture than this Epistle to the Ephesians.

Let us begin by taking a general view of it, for we can only truly grasp and understand the particulars if we have taken a firm grasp of the whole and of the general statement. On the other hand those who imagine that, by giving a rough division of the message of this Epistle according to chapters, they have dealt with it adequately display their ignorance. It is when we come to the details that we discover the wealth; a summary of its message is most helpful as a beginning, but it is when we come to the particular statements and individual words that we find the real glory displayed to our wondering gaze.

The general theme of the Epistle is suggested at once in its first verse. This is characteristic of the Apostle; he could not restrain himself, but immediately proceeds to his theme. ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God’—there it is! The theme of the Epistle, first and foremost, is God—God the Father. ‘Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ The Apostle Paul always begins in this way, and this is how every Christian should begin. This is the theme that controls everything else. There was never any danger that the Apostle Paul might forget it, for he of all men knew that all is of God, and by God, and that to Him the glory must be given for ever and ever.

The Bible is God’s book, it is a revelation of God, and our thinking must always start with God. Much of the trouble in the Church today is due to the fact that we are so subjective, so interested in ourselves, so egocentric. That is the peculiar error of this present century. Having forgotten God, and having become so interested in ourselves, we become miserable and wretched, and spend our time in ‘shallows and in miseries.’ The message of the Bible from beginning to end is designed to bring us back to God, to humble us before God, and to enable us to see our true relationship to Him. And that is the great theme of this Epistle; it holds us face to face with God, and what God is, and what God has done; it emphasizes throughout the glory and the greatness of God—God the Eternal One, God the everlasting, God over all—and the indescribable glory of God. This great theme appears constantly in the various phrases which the Apostle uses. Here are examples—‘Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will’; ‘having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself’; ‘in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.’ God, the eternal and everlasting God, self-sufficient in Himself, from eternity to eternity, needing the aid of no-one, living, dwelling in His own everlasting, absolute and eternal glory, is the great theme of this Epistle. We must not start by examining ourselves and our needs microscopically; we must start with God, and forget ourselves. In this Epistle we are taken as it were by the hand by the Apostle and are told that we are going to be given a view of the glory and the majesty of God. As we approach this study I seem to hear the voice that came of old to Moses from the burning bush saying, ‘Take off thy shoes from off thy feet for the ground whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ We are in the presence of God and His glory; so we must tread carefully and humbly.

But not only so, we are at once face to face with the sovereignty of God. Think of the terms which we find constantly running through the Scriptures, the great words and expressions of true Christian doctrine and theology. How little have we heard of them in this present century with our morbid, pre-occupied subjectivism! how little have we been told about the glory, the greatness, the majesty and the sovereignty of God! Our forefathers delighted in these terms; these were the terms of the Protestant Reformers, the terms of the Puritans and the Covenanters. They delighted to spend time contemplating the attributes of God.

Note how the Apostle comes to this point at once. ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God’—not by his own will! Paul did not call himself, and the Church did not call him; it was God who called him. He is an Apostle by the will of God. He states this very explicitly in the Epistle to the Galatians where he says, ‘When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb.’ There is always emphasis on the sovereignty of God, and as we proceed in our study of this Epistle we shall find it standing out in all its glory everywhere. It is God who has chosen in Christ every one who is a Christian; it is God who has predestinated us. It is a part of God’s purpose that we should be saved. There would never have been any salvation if God had not planned it and put it into execution. It is God who ‘so loved the world’, it is God who ‘sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.’ It is all of God and according to His purpose. It is ‘according to the counsel of his own will’ that all these things have happened.

This Epistle tells us throughout that we should always contemplate our salvation in this way. We must not start with ourselves and then ascend to God; we must start with the sovereignty of God, God over all, and then come down to ourselves. As we work our way through the Epistle we shall find that not only is salvation entirely of God in general; it is of God also in particular. Take, for instance, the great theme which Paul works out in the third chapter. The special task which had been committed to him as an Apostle is ‘to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.’ The mystery is that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs with Jesus. That was a ‘mystery’ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

God controls everything, the time element in particular. As you read through your Old Testament have you ever wondered why it was that all those centuries had to pass before the Son of God actually came? Why was it that for so long only the Israelites, the Jews, had the oracles of God and the understanding that there is only one true and living God? The answer is that it is God who decides the time when everything is to happen, and so He reveals this truth which had hitherto been secret. This is but another illustration of the sovereignty of God. He determines the time for everything to happen. God is over all, controlling all, and timing everything in His infinite wisdom. At such a time as this I know of nothing which is more comforting and reassuring than to know that the Lord still reigns, that He is still the sovereign Lord of the universe, and that though ‘the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing’, yet He has set his Son upon his holy mount of Zion (Psalm 2). A day will come when all His enemies shall lick the dust, and become His footstool and be humbled before Him, and Christ shall be ‘all and in all.’ Thus the sovereignty of God is emphasized in the introduction to this Epistle and repeated throughout because it is one of the cardinal doctrines without which we really do not understand our Christian faith.

Then, having said this, the Apostle proceeds to deal with the mystery of God, His greatness and the majesty of His sovereignty. The word ‘mystery’ is used six times in this Epistle to the Ephesians, thus more frequently than in his other Epistles. So I am justified in saying that this is one of the major themes of this Epistle, the mystery of God’s ways with respect to us, the mystery of His will. We find it in this first chapter—‘Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself.’ I wonder whether we always realize this as we should. Christian people, it is to be feared, sometimes approach these great truths and doctrines as if they could comprehend them with their understanding. We should never do so. If you start imagining that you can understand the mind and will of God you are doomed to failure, for these are mysteries with which no mind of man can ever cope. ‘Great is the mystery of godliness’; no one can understand it. And if you try to understand God’s ways with respect to man and the world I assure you that you will find yourself so overwhelmed that you will become miserable and unhappy. Indeed you may end by almost losing your faith and having a sense of grudge against God. ‘The mystery of his will’! He is infinite and eternal, and we are finite and sinful, and cannot see and understand.

If ever you feel tempted to say that God is not fair, I advise you to put your hand, with Job, on your mouth, and to try to realize of whom you are speaking. Surely to object to the mystery is almost to deny that we are Christian at all. Is there anything more wonderful, more entrancing, more glorious for the Christian than to contemplate the mysteries of God? I trust that as we but approach these great themes you are already filled with a sense of divine expectancy, and long to go further and further into them. One of the most wonderful aspects of the Christian life is that in it you are ever going on. You think that you know it all, and then you turn a corner and suddenly see something you had not known before, and on and on you go. That is why the Apostle writes about ‘the riches of his grace’; it is the glorious mystery which He has been pleased to reveal to us by His Holy Spirit. But God forbid that we should ever imagine that we shall be able to understand it all in the sense of fully comprehending it. My concern is not only to increase our intellectual knowledge of God, but to unfold ‘the mystery’ of His ways, in order that we may look at it, and worship Him, and confess our ignorance and smallness and frailty, and thank Him for the mystery of His holy will.

The next theme is the grace of God; and this word is used thirteen times in this Epistle. The Apostle keeps on repeating it. In the second verse he starts with it: ‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is the theme above everything else that is developed in this Epistle—God’s amazing grace to sinful man in providing for man’s salvation and redemption. ‘The grace of God’; yes, and the abundance of it in particular—‘the riches of his grace.’ That idea is found here more than anywhere else—‘the riches of his grace’! ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.’ In this Epistle we are given a glimpse into the riches, the abundance, the super-abundance of God’s grace towards us; and if we do not look forward to an examination and investigation of this with the keenest possible anticipation, then it is doubtful as to whether we are Christian at all. Most people are interested in wealth and riches; we like to go to museums and other places where precious things are kept and stored; we like to look at gems and pearls; we stand in queues and pay a fee to see such wealth and riches. We boast of this as individuals and nations. I repeat, then, that the supreme object of this Epistle is to lead us in, and give us a view and a glimpse of the riches, the super-abundant riches of the grace of God. It all starts with God, God the Father who is over all.

But having said that, we move on to what invariably comes next in all the Epistles of this Apostle, indeed to what always comes second in the whole of the Bible—the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Have you noticed how frequently the Name occurs, the Name that was so dear and blessed to the Apostle? ‘The Apostle of Jesus Christ’, ‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ’; ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ’, and so it continues. In the first verse Paul tells us at once that he is ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ.’ It sounds almost ridiculous to have to say it, and yet it is essential to emphasize that there is no gospel and no salvation apart from Jesus Christ. It is necessary because there are people who talk about Christianity without Christ. They talk about forgiveness but the Name of Christ is not mentioned, they preach about the love of God but in their view the Lord Jesus Christ is not essential. It is not so with the Apostle Paul; there is no gospel, there is no salvation apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is especially about Him. All God’s gracious purposes are carried out by Christ, in Christ, through Christ, from the beginning to the very end. Everything that God in His sovereign will, and by His infinite grace, and according to the riches of His mercy and the mystery of His will—everything that God has purposed and carried out for our salvation He has done in Christ. In Christ ‘dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily’; in Him God has treasured up all the riches of His grace and wisdom. Everything from the very beginning to the very end is in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no Christian message apart from Him. We are called and chosen ‘in Christ’ before the foundation of the world, we are reconciled to God by ‘the blood of Christ.’ ‘In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.’

We are all interested in forgiveness, but how am I forgiven? Is it because I have repented or lived a good life that God looks upon me and forgives me? I say with reverence that even the Almighty God could not forgive my sin simply on those terms. There is only one way whereby God forgives us; it is because He sent His only begotten Son from heaven to earth, and to the agony and the shame and the death on the Cross: ‘In whom we have redemption through his blood.’ There is no Christianity without ‘the blood of Christ.’ It is central, it is absolutely essential. There is nothing without it. Not only the Person of Christ but in particular, His death, His shed blood, His atoning substitutionary sacrifice! It is in that way, and that way alone, that we are redeemed. In this Epistle Christ is shown to be absolutely essential. We shall find it to be so as we come to the details. He is everywhere, He must be. We are chosen in Him, called by Him, saved by His blood. He is the Head of the Church as this first chapter reminds us. He is ‘far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.’ He is ‘the Head of the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’; and He is at the right hand of God with all authority and power in heaven and on earth. Jesus, our Lord, is supreme; He is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. That is going to be our theme. Are you beginning to look forward to it—to look at Him, to gaze upon Him in His Person, in His offices, in His work, in all that He is and can be to us?

Then in particular, as I have already been anticipating, the theme of God’s great purpose in Christ is the practical theme of this Epistle. We find it in the tenth verse: ‘That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; even in him.’ Here we see God’s purpose. The Apostle goes on to tell us that this purpose has ever been necessary because of sin. In the second chapter we shall find that he tells us about the problems that harass the mind and the heart of man, and how they are due to the fact that ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’, is controlling fallen man. He tells us that God’s plan of redemption is necessary because of the Fall of man, and how that was preceded by the fall of that bright angelic spirit called the Devil, or Satan, who has become ‘the god of this world’, ‘the prince of the power of the air.’ This terrible power is the cause of the enmity and the plight and the havoc that has been characteristic of the life of the human race. The modern world is divided into rival factions, the ancient world was in exactly the same case. There is nothing new about this, it is all the result of sin and the devil’s hatred of God. It is the result of the loss of man’s true relationship to God. Man sets himself up as God and thereby causes all the disruption and confusion in the world. But we are shown how at the very beginning, even in Paradise, God announced His plan and began to put it into practice.

The Old Testament is an account of how God began to work it out. First of all He separated unto Himself a people called the Hebrews, later known as the Jews. In their history we see the beginning of His purpose of redemption. Out of the welter of mankind God formed a people for Himself. He called a man named Abraham and turned him into a nation. There we have the beginning of something new. But then there was great rivalry between the Jews and the Gentiles, so one of the major themes of this Epistle is to show how God has dealt with this matter. The great theme here is that He has revealed Himself not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles; ‘the middle wall of partition’ has gone; God ‘hath made both one.’ There is a new creation; something new has come into being; it is called the Church; and this work of God is to go on increasing, says the Apostle, until when the fulness of the time shall have arrived God will have carried out His entire plan, and all that is opposed to Him shall be destroyed. Everything shall be united together and made one in Christ. That is one of the major themes of this Epistle. At first Jews only, then Jews and Gentiles, then all things. And all is to be done ‘in and through Christ.’

That, in turn, leads to the other major theme, which is the Church. God’s purpose is seen most plainly and clearly in and through the Christian Church, His great purpose of bringing together all nations in Christ. In her are found different people, different nationalities, coming from different parts of the world, with different experiences, different in appearance, different in psychology and in every conceivable respect; yet all are one ‘in Christ Jesus.’ This is what God is doing, until finally there shall be ‘a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness’, and Jesus shall reign ‘from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.’

Nothing is more uplifting and wonderful than to see the Church in that light, and to see, therefore, the importance and the privilege and the responsibility of being a member of that Church. It is because of this that we must live the Christian life; and so in chapter 4 and to the end of the letter Paul emphasizes the ethical behaviour which is expected of Christians because they are what they are, and because that is the plan of God, and they must manifest His grace in their daily life and living.

There, then, we have taken a very brief view of the great themes of this Epistle. Let me summarize them in a simple, practical manner. Why am I calling your attention to all this? It is because I am profoundly convinced that our greatest need is to know these truths. We all need to look again at this glorious revelation, and to be delivered from our morbid pre-occupation with ourselves. If we but saw ourselves as we are depicted in this Epistle; if we but realized, as the Apostle expresses it in his prayer in verses 17–19, that we are to know ‘what is the hope of our calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power’, what a difference it would make! Are you a miserable, unhappy Christian, feeling that the fight is too much for you? and are you on the point of giving up and giving in? What you need is to know the power that is working mightily for you, the same power that brought Christ from the dead. If we but know that we are meant to be ‘filled with all the fulness of God’ we should no longer be weak and ailing and complaining, we should no longer present such a sorry picture of the Christian life to those who live round and about us. What we need, primarily, is not an experience, but to realize what we are, and who we are, what God has done in Christ and the way He has blessed us. We fail to realize our privileges.

Our greatest need is still the need of understanding. Our prayer for ourselves should be the prayer of the Apostle for these people, that ‘the eyes of (our) understanding may be enlightened.’ That is what we need. In this Epistle ‘the exceeding riches’ of God’s grace are displayed before us. Let us look at them, and let us take hold of them and enjoy them. Above all, and especially at a time such as this, how vital it is that we should have some new and fresh understanding of God’s great plan and purpose for the world. With international conferences taking place almost on our doorstep, with the whole world wondering what its future is to be, and what the outcome of our present troubles is going to be, with men at the end of their wits, and at the end of their tether, how privileged we are to be able to stand and look at this revelation, and see God’s plan and purpose behind it all and beyond it all. It is not to be brought to pass through statesmen but through people like ourselves. The world ignores it, and laughs and mocks at it; but we know for certain with the Apostle that ‘all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come’, have been set beneath Christ’s feet. The Lord Jesus Christ was rejected by this world when He came into it; they dismissed Him as ‘this fellow’, ‘this carpenter’; but He was the Son of God and the Saviour of the world, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the One to Whom ‘every knee shall bow, of things in heaven and things on earth, and things under the earth.’ Thanks be to God for the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, and for ‘the riches of this grace’!





2


‘Saints … and the faithful in Christ Jesus’



‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.’



Ephesians 1:1


As we have seen, the Apostle as he begins his letter plunges at once into the midst of great and profound truths. I suppose that all of us in varying degrees must plead guilty to the tendency to regard the introductions of these New Testament Epistles as being more or less formal. We tend to feel that introductions are more or less unnecessary, and that we can skip over them in order that we may hurry on to the great message that follows. In the readings of childhood we wanted to get to the heart of the story, and were often impatient with all the preliminaries; we wanted the excitement and the end of the story. That habit tends to persist, so that when we come even to the New Testament Epistles we feel that the preliminary verses and salutations are unimportant and have nothing to do with truth and doctrine. So we tend to read them very quickly and to rush on to what we regard as the essential teaching. But that is a profound error, not only with respect to Scripture, but also to anything that is worth reading. It is always good to pay attention to what an author at the outset deems to be necessary and important, for obviously he would not have introduced it if he had not had some object in mind. If that is true in general it is particularly true with regard to these New Testament Epistles, because in these preliminary salutations we find aspects of truth which are vital and essential.

Here, in the first verse of this Epistle, we have a notable example of that very thing, for the Apostle cannot even address the Ephesians without at the same time presenting them (and us) with an extraordinary description and definition of what it means to be a Christian. I call attention to this fact because people often misinterpret the teaching of the New Testament Epistles, for they fail to notice to whom the messages were addressed. The teaching of the New Testament Epistles is directed only and solely to Christians, to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is utterly wrong and heretical to take the teaching of any New Testament Epistle and apply it to the world in general. The teaching is addressed to particular people, and here the Apostle leaves us in no doubt at all as to the persons to whom he is writing. He addresses them and immediately he describes them.

We must also be clear about the fact that the Apostle was writing what can be described as a general letter. The Revised Version does not say ‘to the saints which are at Ephesus.’ ‘Ephesus’ is omitted and that reminds us that in some of the ancient manuscripts the words ‘at Ephesus’ are not included. The oldest manuscripts of all do not contain the words ‘at Ephesus’, but they are found in other ancient manuscripts. The authorities however are agreed in saying that what really happened was that the Apostle wrote a kind of circular letter a gap so that the name of any one particular church could be inserted. This Letter to the church at Ephesus went to other churches also in the province of Asia, and it is probable that the traditional description ‘The letter to the Ephesians’ arose from the fact that the original copy did go to the church at Ephesus itself.

Let me emphasize also that this is not a letter addressed to some unusual and exceptional Christian people, it is not a letter addressed to some great scholar or theologian, it is not a letter addressed to teachers, it is not a letter addressed to so-called scholars who study the Scriptures. It is not a letter to specialists but a letter to ordinary church members. That is from every standpoint a most important observation, and for this reason, that everything the Apostle says here about Christians and members of churches must therefore be equally true of us. All the high doctrine which we have in the Epistle is something that you and I are meant to receive. The Epistle to the Ephesians—perhaps the crowning achievement of the Apostle’s life and of this writings—is an Epistle that is addressed to people like ourselves. Ordinary members of the Church, of all churches, are meant to take hold of these doctrines, and understand and rejoice in them. They are not merely for certain special learned people; they are meant for each and every one of us.

Turning, then, to the Apostle’s description of the Christian, of every Christian, we have here what we may call the irreducible minimum of what constitutes a Christian. In the body of this letter the Apostle says that he is anxious that these people should learn more and deeper and higher truths. Hence he prays that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened: ‘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 is the ultimate objective, but before he comes to that he reminds them of what they are already and of what they know already. This description of the Christian is a description of the Ephesian Christians at that time. They would never have been members of the Church at all, they would never have been recipients of this letter, were it not that these things were true of them. We find ourselves confronted here, then, by what the New Testament teaches is the basic irreducible minimum of what constitutes a Christian.

I am emphasizing this because it seems to me that it is the primary need of the Christian Church at the present time to realize exactly what it means to be a Christian. How was it that the early Christians, who were but a handful of people, had such a profound impact on the pagan world in which they lived? It was because they were what they were. It was not their organization, it was the quality of their life, it was the power they possessed because they were truly Christian. That is how Christianity conquered the ancient world, and I am more and more convinced that it is the only way in which Christianity can truly influence the modern world. The lack of influence of the Christian Church in the world at large today is in my opinion due to one thing only, namely, (God forgive us!) that we are so unlike the description of the Christians that we find in the New Testament. If therefore we are concerned about the state of the Church, if we have a burden for men and women who are outside the Church, and who in their misery and wretchedness are hurtling themselves to destruction, the first thing we have to do is to examine ourselves, and to discover how closely we conform to this pattern and description. The Apostle describes the Christian in three main terms. The first term is ‘saints.’ ‘Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints …’—the saints at Ephesus, the saints at Laodicea, the saints in every other local church whether small or large. The first thing to say of the Christian is that he is a saint. I fear that may sound rather strange to some of us. We tend to say, ‘Well, I am a Christian, but I am far from being a saint.’ We are afraid of making such a claim; somehow we are afraid of this particular designation; and yet in the New Testament we are addressed as ‘saints.’ We must discover therefore why the Apostle uses this word, and what is meant by ‘saint’ in its New Testament sense.

The first thing it means is that we are people who are set apart. That is the root meaning of the word the Apostle uses here and as other biblical writers use it. Primarily it means separated, set apart. A good illustration of this meaning is found in the nineteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles where we read that when certain difficulties and oppositions arose the Apostle separated the disciples and then began to meet with them in the school of Tyrannus (verse 9) and then taught and built them up in the faith; he separated them. That is the essential meaning of this word ‘saint’, and the Church is a collection of saints. The Church is not an institution, she is primarily a gathering, a meeting of saints. The perfect illustration is that of the children of Israel under the old dispensation. They were a people set apart by God, they were taken out of the world, they were given a certain uniqueness by God, they were ‘God’s own people.’ They are described as ‘a chosen generation’, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people’—a people for God’s particular possession and interest. Such is the definition of the children of Israel in the Old Testament. In one sense they were a nation among many other nations and yet they were different; they had certain rights which other nations did not have, they had received from God certain revelations of the Word of God which Paul refers to as ‘the oracles of God.’ In other words they were a separate people, in the world but not of the world, set apart on their own by God; that is to say, they were ‘saints.’ So the Christian is a man primarily who is segregated from the world.

The Apostle says exactly the same thing at the beginning of his Letter to Galatians—‘Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.’ We are delivered out of the world, separated from the world. The Christian today, like the children of Israel of old, while he is in the world is not of the world; he is a man like other men, and yet he is very different. This is primary, basic truth. The Christian is not like anybody else, he is separate, he is apart, he is unique. He stands out, he has been called out by God, he has been separated from the world, separated to God. Is this obvious about us Christians today? The separation does not just mean that we attend a place of worship on Sunday morning whereas most people do not. That is a very important part of it; but it is not the vital part, because such attendance may be the result of mere custom and habit or a part of the social round. The question is, are we truly separated as persons, are we essentially different from the world?

This not only means that we are set apart in an outward sense, it means that we are set apart because we are cleansed inwardly. That is the real meaning of the word ‘saint.’ Instinctively we think of a saint as some holy person. That is right, and we must grasp this second element in the meaning of this word. A saint is someone who has been cleansed in many ways. He has been cleansed from the guilt of his sin, cleansed from that which excludes him from the presence of God. If to be a saint means that you are taken out of the world and brought into the presence of God, is it not clear that something must have happened which has made you fit to come into the presence of God? It is sin that separates man from God; hence, before anyone can be separated for God, he or she must he cleansed from the guilt of sin. So that is the first thing that is true of the Christian; he has been cleansed, as the Apostle reminds us, by the blood of Christ, ‘In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.’

But the cleansing does not stop at this point. The saint is one who has been cleansed also from the pollution of sin. It is not merely outward cleansing; it is inward also, because sin affects the whole being. A saint is one who has been cleansed from that which pollutes his mind and heart, his actions, and everything else. He is cleansed outwardly, he is cleansed inwardly; he has become, as the Bible calls him, a ‘holy’ person. Mount Sion is referred to as ‘the holy mount’ and the vessels that were used in the temple were called the ‘holy vessels.’ That means that they were cleansed and set apart and used for nothing else; they were ‘holy unto the Lord.’ That is what is meant by a ‘saint’; a saint is someone who has been cleansed and set apart and is ‘holy unto the Lord.’ Before it was applied to the Christian this term originally applied to the children of Israel. ‘Ye are a holy nation, a peculiar people,’ a people for God’s particular possession.

At this point I make two practical comments. The first is that these remarks apply to every Christian—to the saint at Ephesus, to all saints worldwide, to all the faithful everywhere. We must learn to shed once and for ever the false dichotomy which Roman Catholicism has introduced at this point. It picks out certain people and calls them ‘Saints.’ There is nothing wrong in paying tribute to a man who is outstanding; but that is not what Romanists do. They call these special people ‘Saints’, and only these. But that is wrong and unscriptural. Every Christian is a saint; you cannot be a Christian without being a saint; and you cannot be a saint and Christian without being separated in some radical sense from the world. You do not belong to it any longer, you are in it but you are not of it; there is a separation which has taken place in your mind, in your outlook, in your heart, in your conversation, in your behaviour. You are essentially a different person; the Christian is not a wordly person, he is not governed by the world and its mind and outlook. We must examine ourselves, and discover whether we correspond to this description. Is it not true to say that the masses of men and women living round and about us (many of them are unhappy and disturbed about themselves and their lives) do not come to speak to us and ask us questions, do not fly to us in their trouble, because they do not feel that we are any different from themselves, that there is not that about us which suggests that we are essentially different? We have accepted the false idea that only certain Christians are saints, we have not realized that every Christian is meant to be separate from the world.

It is just here that we should see the whole marvel and miracle of the Christian faith and Christian redemption. Recall the kind of city which Ephesus was. Read the nineteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and you will find that it was a great city, prosperous, but thoroughly pagan. Its inhabitants worshipped a goddess called Diana and they cried ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians.’ They were proud of themselves, and of their goddess. Not only so, there was much practice of sorcery and magic and things of the kind. The Apostle Paul visited the city and all he found was a group of twelve men who were disciples of John the Baptist, but they were very uncertain in their minds as to the truth. Can you imagine anything more hopeless? As the Apostle walked through Ephesus he found it almost completely pagan, filled with arrogance and pride, and abounding in cults and in everything that is opposed to God. What hope was there that Christianity should ever flourish in such a spot? But Paul preached and was used of the Spirit; the church was established, and these saints came into being, and later Ephesus became the seat of the labour of the Apostle John. We need to remind ourselves that the gospel is not human teaching; it is ‘the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth’, and when it enters a city, as it did in the person of the Apostle Paul filled with the Holy Spirit, nothing is impossible.

Are you a Christian who is feeling rather hopeless about a husband or wife or child or some other relative? Do you feel that because of their intellectualism, or their training, or their surroundings, their conversion to Christ is altogether hopeless and cannot be attempted? Remember the saints at Ephesus, yes, and at Corinth and in Galatia. The gospel is the power of the God; it has accomplished mighty things and is still the same. It can take hold of the most hopeless individual and turn him into a saint. That is its primary function, that is the thing for which God has sent it forth.

But let us turn to the Apostle’s second term—‘faithful.’ We must be careful as to the meaning of this term ‘faithful.’ In a sense it is a somewhat unfortunate translation, because we tend to give, not a primary meaning to this term, but, once more, a secondary meaning. Essentially this word ‘faithful’ means ‘exercising faith.’ To illustrate this, consider the case of Thomas the Apostle and how he refused to believe the testimony of his fellow disciples when he came back to them after an absence and when they told him that the Lord had appeared amongst them. Thomas said he would not believe unless he saw the mark of the nails and put his finger into the wounds. Then the Lord suddenly appeared and showed Himself to Thomas and told him to do what he had said. Thomas fell at His feet and said, ‘My Lord and my God.’ But remember how our Lord gently rebuked him and said, ‘Because thou hast seen me thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed’, And then He said, ‘Be not faithless but believing.’ The word translated in John 20:27 as ‘believing’ is the same word as is translated ‘faithful’ in our text. It means ‘to be full of faith’, to exercise faith. The Apostle addresses these Christians at Ephesus as those who are believers, people who exercise faith; they are Christians because they are believers.

Here, again, is something that is fundamental and primary and vital. You cannot be a Christian apart from a certain belief; what makes us Christian is that we believe certain things. Go back again to the nineteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. What we are told (vv. 1–2) is that Paul found certain disciples, but that he was not happy about them, so he put his question to them: ‘Did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?’ And they replied: ‘We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.’ He then said to them, ‘Unto what then were ye baptized?’, and they said, ‘Unto John’s baptism.’ Then said Paul, ‘John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

In this incident we are told quite plainly what it is that makes us Christians. A Christian is not merely a nice man, a good man, a man who likes to be a member of a Christian Church, a man who is vaguely interested in moral uplift and Idealism. Certain men are described today as outstanding Christians who only really believe in what is called ‘reverence for life’; but that is not according to the New Testament teaching. A Christian is one who believes certain specific truths; and the essence of his belief centres on the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian, the saint, is ‘full of faith’. In whom, in what? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! He believes that Jesus of Nazareth was the only begotten Son of God. He is full of faith in the Incarnation, he believes that the Eternal ‘Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’, that the Eternal Son came in human nature into this world; he believes in the Virgin Birth, and that Jesus manifested that He was the Son of God by His miracles.

The saints at Ephesus believed these truths; and Paul was enabled to work special miracles in Ephesus as a proof of them. They did not hold them lightly; they knew what they believed. But above all they believed that Christ Jesus came into this world ‘to taste death for every man’, they believed in the fact that it is by His blood He saves us, that He bore the punishment of our sins, and died our death that that we might be reconciled to God—‘In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.’ They were full of faith in these things. They firmly believed that He had risen from the dead. They did not simply have some vague belief that Jesus still persists, but were fully assured that He rose from the dead and manifested Himself to many disciples, and last of all to this man Paul. They were full of faith also in the Person of the Holy Spirit. They believed that the Holy Spirit had been sent on the day of Pentecost, that ‘the promise of the Father’ had come, and that He could be received, and that believers knew that they had received Him. They were full of faith in these things. Are we ‘faithful’? The vital question is not, are we members of churches, but are we full of faith in these things? Do we know whom we have believed? do we know Christian doctrine? do we understand the way of salvation as it is expounded in the Scriptures? We should be ‘ready at all times to give a reason for the hope that is in us’, says Peter, confirming Paul.

But there is a further meaning to this word ‘faithful’, the one that is generally given. It means that we keep the faith, that we hold to the faith, that we are constant in the faith, and loyal to the faith, and ready with Paul to defend the faith, and to contend earnestly for it. It means that we can be relied on, that we are dependable because we know the faith, and because we believe it and have trusted it. Let us not forget this secondary meaning, that we must be people upon whom others can rely and depend. We must not be people who are ‘carried about by every wind of doctrine’, and whose faith can be shaken by reading an article or a book by some church dignitary which denies the Deity of Christ or the Virgin Birth, and most other essential doctrines. We must be faithful, dependable, and reliable; we know what we believe, and stand with the Apostle and others in solid rank to defend the faith against all adversaries.

Even if terrible persecution should come we must not flinch. Many of these early Christians were told that if they persisted in saying that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and refused to say that ‘Caesar is Lord’, they would be put to death. However, they still said that ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Though you and I may not be tempted in that particular way, there are Christians in other parts of the world today who have to face the possibility of losing work or employment or their professional status, or being separated from their families, cast into prison, spat upon or shot or mutilated in some terrible way, simply because of their loyalty to this faith. They are standing, they are ‘full of faith’; they can be depended upon and relied upon to stand to the last moment, and never to waver or flinch. You and I, at least at the present time, do not have to face open persecution, but we have to face sarcasm and derision, and are often made to feel that we are odd and strange people. You and I have to be faithful, whatever happens, no matter how much laughter and sniggering and jeering we encounter. Whatever the cost may be—financial, professional—we must be faithful, reliable, dependable, standing at all costs, come what may. Such is the Christian; he knows in whom he believes; and rather than deny Him he would sooner die.

Then, lastly, there is this great phrase, ‘in Christ Jesus.’ It is most important that we should understand what it means, and it is connected with ‘saints’ quite as much as with ‘faithful.’ They are saints in Christ Jesus, they are faithful in Christ Jesus. This phrase, as we shall see repeatedly as we go through this Epistle, is one of the great characteristic statements of the New Testament. It means that the Christian is one who not only believes in Christ, he is in a real sense ‘in Christ.’ He belongs to Him, he is united to Him, he is joined to Him. Take the New Testament illustration of the body. ‘Ye are the body of Christ’, says Paul to the Corinthians, ‘and members in particular.’ In the fourth chapter of this Epistle to the Ephesians he uses the same analogy. He says that Christians, who form the Church, are built up like a body. He says: ‘Speaking the truth in love’ we are to ‘grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love’ (chap. 4, 15–16). So to be a Christian means, not only that you are a believer in Christ, outside Him; you are a believer because you are joined to Him, you are ‘in him.’

We find the same idea in the fifth chapter of Romans where Paul works out a great analogy and contrast. He says that we were all originally in Adam. Adam was not only the first man, he was also the representative of the entire human race. Everyone who has been born into this world was in Adam, a part of Adam, joined to Adam, with the result that Adam’s action has brought its consequences upon all. But the Apostle goes on to argue that, as we were all ‘in Adam’, so we are now — those of us who are Christian—‘in Christ.’ As ‘in Adam’, so ‘in Christ.’ The Christian is one who is ‘in Christ.’ All that the Lord Jesus Christ has done becomes true of us.

Again, in the sixth chapter of Romans Paul works it out and says that when Christ was crucified we were crucified with Him; when He died, we died with Him; when He was buried we were buried with Him; when He rose again we rose with Him. He is seated in the heavenly places. Paul says in the second chapter of this Ephesian Epistle, ‘God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ.’ We are seated in the heavenly places with Christ at this moment because we are ‘in Christ.’ What a tremendous, staggering, overwhelming truth—I am a part of Christ, I belong to Him, I am a member of the body of Christ! I am not my own, I have been ‘bought (purchased) with a price.’ I am in Christ. He is the Head, I am one of the members. There is a vital, organic, mystical union between us. All the blessings we enjoy as Christians come to us because we are ‘in Christ.’ It is ‘of his fulness we have received, and grace upon grace.’ ‘I am the true vine’, says our Lord Himself, ‘and ye are the branches.’

All that is for you if you are a Christian. Do not talk about your weakness or helplessness; He is the Life, and you are joined to the Life, you are part of the Life, you are a branch in the Vine, ‘in Christ.’ We shall return to this, but let us take hold of it in principle now. Let us meditate upon it, and let me encourage you to do so by ending with two brief comments. Why do you think that the Apostle, in describing the Christian, puts these three things in the following order—‘saints’, ‘faithful’, ‘in Christ’? The answer is very simple. The first and the most obvious thing about the Christian always should be the fact that he is a ‘saint.’ The Apostle had the City of Ephesus in his mind’s eye; he saw as it were an oasis in the desert of wealth, paganism, sorcery and loose living. Standing out in the desert is this green oasis—it is the Church, the saints. That is a very good way of looking at the Christian. Anyone looking at the world should at once be impressed by this fact that there are certain people in it who stand out and are quite different because they are ‘saints.’ That should be the first impression we make; everyone—neighbours, friends, colleagues and fellow-workers—should know that we are Christians. It should be obvious, it should stand out because we are what we are, because of these things that are true of us. We read of our blessed Lord that ‘he could not be hid’, and that should be true of us in this sense; it should be impossible to conceal the fact. But it does not mean that I preach and force my Christianity upon people, and make myself an awkward person. It is rather a quality of saintliness, something that is full of grace and charm, a faint likeness to the Lord Himself. It should be evident and obvious that we are a separate people, a different people, because we are a holy people.

Then let us note the importance of keeping intact the relationship between a saint and being faithful, the relationship between holiness and being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. These things should never be separated. However much we may delude ourselves, there is no such thing as a theoretical Christian. It is possible to hold the doctrine of the faith in the lecture room, to give an intellectual assent to these things, but that does not make us Christian. Hence Paul put ‘saint’ before ‘faithful.’ Dr William Temple has said, ‘No one is a believer who is not holy, and no one is holy who is not a believer.’ These two things must never be separated, you must never put a gap between justification and sanctification. If you are a Christian you are in Christ, and in Christ what happens is that ‘He is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.’ You cannot, you must not try to divide Christ. It is a false doctrine which says that you can be justified without being sanctified. It is impossible; you are a ‘saint’ before you are ‘faithful.’ You have been separated. That is why you believe. These things are indissolubly linked together. God forbid that we should ever separate or divide them! Holiness is a characteristic of every Christian, and if we are not holy, our profession of Christ is valueless. You cannot be a believer without being holy, and you cannot be holy in this New Testament sense without being a believer. ‘What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.’





3


Grace, Peace, Glory



‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’



Ephesians 1:2


In this second verse, which is still a part of the salutation of the Apostle to the Church at Ephesus and elsewhere, he proceeds to tell us about the benefits we should be enjoying as the result of being Christians. He does so in words which in some one form or another are to be found at the commencement of most New Testament Epistles—‘Grace be to you, and peace.’ It was the custom among ancient peoples to greet one another in this way when they met, and the favourite salutation which one Jew addressed to another was ‘Peace, peace be with you.’ ‘Peace’ was their favourite term. The Apostle, however, does not merely say that, he goes well beyond it. He takes the familiar term and lifts it up into the new Christian realm. So the Christian greeting and salutation is much greater, much wider, much more profound than the more or less formal salutation with which men used to greet one another.

I emphasize this matter because I think it is of great importance. The Apostle does not use words such as this lightly and loosely and thoughtlessly; it is not a mere formula which he uses automatically at the beginning of a letter; the words are charged with profound meaning. As he uses these words and expresses this desire for the Ephesians, he is desiring for them that they may experience fully all the endless riches that are to be found in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, we shall see as we analyse this verse that it contains some of the profoundest truths of our faith, and that its terms are of the most vital importance.

I digress for a moment to point out that when we read our Bibles nothing is more important than that we should look at every word, and question it as to its meaning. How easy it is to do a certain amount of Bible reading every day, followed perhaps by a brief prayer! If your main concern is simply to read a certain amount each day you may well skip over words such as these, these profundities of our faith. Here at the very beginning, in this preliminary salutation, the Apostle plunges at once into the very depths of the profoundest truth and doctrine that is to be found anywhere in the Scriptures. Or, to state it in a different way, this verse is a kind of overture to the entire Epistle. It is the characteristic of great pieces of music, certain types of music in particular, to have an overture. The musician starts by composing the main body of the work, which may have various movements or acts, each having its theme. Then, having finished the work, he goes back to the beginning and writes an overture in which he collects together the main motifs or themes that have emerged in the body of the work. He does so by throwing out a suggestion, perhaps in a few bars, to whet your appetite and in order that you may have some idea of what he is going to develop in the main body of the work.

This second verse, I suggest, is the overture to this entire Epistle; its major themes are all hinted at here. We shall go into them in greater detail later, but let us note them at the very beginning—‘grace’ and ‘peace.’ ‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ No two words are more important in the whole of our faith than ‘grace’ and ‘peace.’ Yet how lightly we tend to drop them off our tongues without stopping to consider what they mean. Grace is the beginning of our faith; peace is the end of our faith. Grace is the fountain, the spring, the source. It is that particular place in the mountain from which the mighty river you see rolling into the sea starts its race; without it there would be nothing. Grace is the origin and source and fount of everything in the Christian life. But what does the Christian life mean, what is it meant to produce? The answer is ‘peace.’ So there we have the source and there the estuary leading to the sea, the beginning and the end, the initiation, and the purpose for which it is all meant and designed. It is essential for us, therefore, to carry these two words in our minds because within the ellipse formed by grace and peace everything is included.

What is grace? It is a term notoriously difficult to define. Grace essentially means ‘unmerited favour’, favour you do not deserve, favour you receive but to which you have no right or title in any shape or form, and of which you are entirely unworthy and undeserving. We may call it condescending love—love coming down, or stopping down. Or we may call it beneficent kindness. All these terms are descriptive of what is meant by this extraordinary term which is constantly put before us in the New Testament, by this amazing and wonderful word ‘grace.’ It is not surprising that Philip Doddridge lived to contemplate it as he tells us in the words —

Grace! ’tis a charming sound,





Harmonious to the ear:…





It is one of the most beautiful words in every language.

With regard to ‘peace’, the danger always present with this word is to give it a connotation, or attach a meaning to it, which falls short of its complete meaning. ‘Peace’ does not merely mean cessation of war, rest and quiet. Certainly it means rest and quiet but it means much more. The ever-present danger with regard to ‘peace’ is to think of it as merely an absence of such things as boisterousness or discord or fighting. It may well be that because the nations of the world think of peace in those terms we have never had a true peace. The peace dealt with in history books is merely a cessation of war; but ‘peace’ in the Bible does not merely mean that you stop fighting; it goes far beyond that. It is interesting to find that the actual root meaning of the Greek word that is translated ‘peace’, is ‘union’, ‘union after separation’, a bringing together, a reconciliation after a contest and quarrel.

The word finds a place in the expression ‘a peace offering’, as presented by a man making a proposal for peace. He is proposing a union, a bringing together, a reconciliation. In other words two persons who have quarrelled and have been fighting put down their weapons, and look at one another and shake hands. They are joined, there is a reconciliation; where there was contest and separation they have been brought together. This idea is brought out in the second chapter of our Epistle, where we read, ‘He hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us’ (v. 14). Two parties have been brought together, the middle wall of partition has gone, and by one Spirit they come together to the one Lord. That is the meaning of ‘peace.’

‘Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ There we have grace at the beginning and peace at the end; but we have not finished. The moment you confront such a statement you are driven to ask a question. Why does the Apostle wish this for these Ephesians? The answer to that question, as I have already been saying, is the whole of Christian doctrine. We must learn how to read the Scriptures; and there is no one thing that is more important when we do so than just this, to ask questions of it.

Why do we need grace and peace? Why does the Apostle wish us to know them? Why does he use these terms rather than some other terms? The answer leads us immediately into fundamental Christian truths. By desiring grace and peace for us he is telling us the truth about ourselves, he is telling us what we need. We need the grace which will lead to peace because man is what he is as the result of the Fall and of sin. What that means in detail is expounded fully by the Apostle in his second chapter. Man in sin is at enmity with God. Man by nature, as he is born into this world, is a hater of God. He is not only separated from God, but he fights God, he is an enemy, and alienated in his mind from God; everything in him by nature is utterly opposed to God. Such is the truth about man, and the result is that man in this condition is fighting God, striving against Him, hating Him. Man in his natural state is ready to believe any claim in a newspaper that someone has proved that there is no God. Man jumps at such statements and delights in them because he is a God-hater. He is in a state of enmity against God.

Furthermore, because man is in this relationship to God he is also in a state of enmity against himself. He is not only engaged in this warfare against a God who is outside of him; but he is also fighting a war within himself. Therein lies the real tragedy of fallen man; he does not believe what I am saying but it is certainly true of him. Man is in a state of internal conflict and he does not know why it is so. He wants to do certain things, but something inside him tells him that it is wrong to do so. He has something in him which we call conscience. Though he thinks he can be perfectly happy whatever he does, and though he may silence other people, he cannot silence this inward monitor. Man is in a state of internal warfare; he does not know the reason for it, yet he knows that it is so.

But in the Scriptures we are told exactly why this is the case. Man was made by God in such a way that he can only be at peace within himself when he is at peace with God. Man was never meant to be a god, but he is for ever trying to deify himself. He sets up his own desires as the rules and laws of his life, yet he is ever characterized by confusion, and worse. Something in himself denies his claims; and so he is always quarrelling and fighting with himself. He knows nothing of real peace; he has no peace with God, he has no peace within himself. And still worse, because of all this, he is in a state of warfare with everyone else. Unfortunately for him everyone else wants to be a god as well. Because of sin we have all become self-centred, ego-centric, turning in upon this self which we put on a pedestal, and which we think is so wonderful and superior to all others. But everyone else is doing the same, and so there is war among the gods. We claim that we are right, and that everyone else is wrong. Inevitably the result is confusion and discord and unhappiness between man and man. Thus we begin to see why the Apostle prays that we may have peace. It is because of man’s sad condition, man’s life as the result of sin, and as the result of his falling away from God. He is in a state of dis-unity within and without, in a state of unhappiness, in a state of wretchedness.

But it does not even stop at that; man has brought all this upon himself by his disobedience to God. He cannot get away from this. He has tried to put forward every other conceivable explanation of his condition, but none is adequate. He has tried the theory of Evolution and on the basis of that outlook and teaching man should by now have been emancipated and there should be peace; but peace has not come. So man tries to explain his lot in other ways; but he cannot do so. Man has brought all this evil upon himself because of his desire to be a god. This is proved by the fact that he dislikes correction, and indeed the whole idea of law. He ridicules it, and regards law as an insult; he does not recognize the need to be kept right by law, and he resents its interference.

But the great message of the Bible is that though man has fallen into sin and has got himself into this wretched state, God has still been concerned about him, and God has both intervened and interfered. He has given laws and directions, but man has invariably rejected them. It is God who has appointed governments and magistrates in order to keep sin within bounds; but man is always fighting against order imposed from without. He dislikes it, and thereby shows his terrible hatred of God and his enmity against God. Man has always rejected what God has provided for him, and so there is only one inevitable conclusion to come to with respect to man. Man richly deserves the fate he has brought upon himself. Indeed we can go further and say that man deserves something much worse; he deserves to be punished. But man is not only a law breaker who deserves to be punished, he is also a fool. He rejects and will not listen to God’s law, and therefore he deserves punishment, he deserves damnation. There is no excuse for man, he deliberately sinned and fell at the beginning, and he deliberately rejects God’s guidance still. There is no plea that can be offered for such a person. Give him the Bible and he laughs at it. Though we find in the Bible that the men who have conformed to it have found happiness and peace, men reject it; though it is clear that if all people in the world were truly Christian most of the problems would disappear, man still rejects Christianity. Such creatures deserve nothing but punishment and hell. Such is man’s condition as a result of his own fall into sin.

But it is just at this point that the marvellous message of the gospel comes in. The whole message of the gospel is introduced by this word ‘grace.’ Grace means that in spite of everything I have been saying about man, God still looks upon him with favour. You will not understand the meaning of this word ‘grace’ unless you accept fully what I have been saying about man in sin. It is failure to do the latter that explains why the modern conception of grace is so superficial and inadequate. It is because man has an inadequate conception of sin that he has an inadequate conception of the grace of God. If you want to measure grace you must measure the depths of sin. Grace is that which tells man that in spite of all that is so true of him God looks upon him with favour. It is utterly unmerited, it is entirely undeserved; but this is the message of ‘Grace be unto you.’ It is an unmerited and undeserved action by God, a condescending love. When man in sin deserved nothing but to be blotted out of existence God looked on him in grace and mercy and dealt with him accordingly. So this one word ‘grace’ at the beginning of the Epistle introduces the entire gospel.

This is the great theme of the Scripture in all its parts. For instance Paul write in Romans 5, ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.’ He says that we were not only sinners but enemies; not only had we fallen from God and disobeyed Him, and found ourselves in this wretchedness, but beyond that there is this enmity, this hatred, this antagonism in the spirit. The gospel asserts that, in spite of our enmity towards God, He has given His Son for us and our salvation. What He has done is to make peace. In the second chapter of this Epistle we read that He has reconciled us unto Himself and has brought us into a state of union with Himself. His looking upon us in grace has resulted in peace, and it is a perfect peace. God’s grace in action undoes completely everything we have described as resulting from sin.

First and foremost it gives a man peace with God: ‘Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God’ (Romans 5:1). We have been reconciled to God; the enmity between us and God has gone because of what God has done in His grace. But the result of grace is not only peace with God, it gives a man peace within. It enables a man for the first time in his life to answer an accusing conscience; it enables a man for the first time in his life to have rest in mind and heart. For the first time a man is able truly to live with himself, and to know that all is well. The conflict has ended in this fundamental sense, and he understands for the first time the cause of all his troubles. He sees a way of overcoming all his difficulties, and glimpses the final victory that is awaiting him in Christ.

That, in turn, leads him to a state of peace with other people. We shall deal with this in detail later, but here it is in a nutshell at the very beginning. The moment a man becomes a Christian nothing remains the same, and nobody else remains the same to him. The person he formerly hated he now sees as a victim of sin and of Satan, and he begins to feel sorry for him. Knowing the grace of God, and experiencing this new peace which has been given to him, his former enemy has become someone for whom he prays. He begins to carry out his Lord’s injunction to ‘love your enemies, and pray for those who despitefully use you.’ The enmity is abolished by the new view. He now desires to be reconciled, and to be at peace.

But to this peace with God, peace within, and peace with others, the Scripture goes on to tell us that something further is added which is called ‘the peace of God.’ This means that whatever may be happening round and about you, you have within you ‘the peace of God which passeth all understanding’ and it ‘keeps your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:7). God has not only given you peace, He has provided for the preservation of peace. You are garrisoned by a power and a Person which will keep you at peace. Many things may happen to you, you will be the victim of temptation to sin and you may not know what to do, but this peace of God which passeth all understanding will garrison your hearts and minds. Those are some of the elements in the peace to which the grace of God leads, but what I am anxious to emphasize above everything else is that all this comes to us as the result of the grace of God. ‘Grace be to you, and peace from God.’ We deserve nothing, we do not even desire it, we cannot achieve it; but God gives it. It is all by grace, it is entirely a free gift of God.

But we must ask a second question: How does all this happen to us? on what basis can all this happen to us? The answer is given immediately in the two words ‘our Father.’ ‘Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father.’ Grace at once changes our whole attitude towards God because it has changed our whole conception of God. To the Christian God is ‘our Father.’ To the Christian God is not just some philosophical X in the distance, whom he talks and argues about cleverly in his philosophical books; God is not some great force, some mighty power away in some distant heaven; He is the Father, my Father, our Father. The whole relationship between man and God has been entirely renewed and changed. God is no longer some terrible far-distant law-giver waiting to punish us; He is still the law-giver, but He is also ‘my Father.’

But we must be careful for there are pitfalls all around us. In what sense is God my Father? ‘God’, says someone, ‘is the Father of all men.’ It is true that there is a sense in which God is the Father of all men. Paul in preaching to the Athenians says God is our Father in this sense, that we are all ‘his offspring’ (Acts 17:28). That refers to God in His relationship to us as Creator. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes similarly when he describes God as ‘the Father of spirits’ (Hebrews 12:9). God is the Father of all spirits as He is their Maker and Creator, and in that sense He is the progenitor of the spirits of all men. But when the Apostle says ‘our Father’ here, he is not speaking in that sense. God is not Father in the general sense only, but ‘our Father.’ Every man, having sinned, has fallen from that initial relationship, and therefore our Lord was able to say to certain Jews, ‘Ye are of your father the devil’ (John 8:44). Clearly, they were not the children of God.

So the Apostle, here, is not simply describing God in general terms of Fatherhood, in terms of creation. There is a new element and that is introduced in the next word, ‘Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is the differentia of Christianity, this is the element that changes everything. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. Lest there be any uncertainty or confusion let us note what Paul says in this very salutation: ‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ The grace and peace come equally from the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father. This is vital doctrine. There is no such thing as Christianity apart from the Lord Jesus Christ; there is no blessing from God to man in a Christian sense except in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything which claims to be Christianity without having Christ at the beginning and the centre and the end is a denial of Christianity, call it what you will. There is no Christianity apart from Him; He is everything.

Who is this Person whom the Apostle links with God the Father? Look at the terms employed. He is the Lord, that is to say, Jehovah. The word here translated by ‘Lord’ was the word used by the Jews in the old dispensation for ‘God.’ It was the greatest name of all, the Name that was so sacred that they did not even dare to use it. ‘Jehovah’ is the Name of God, the Covenant God. The Name Jehovah is used of God the Father; and it is also the Christian’s claim for Jesus Christ. He is the One who is described in the Gospels as Jesus of Nazareth, but Paul does not hesitate to say that He is God. He puts Him by the side of God, He is co-equal with God, He is co-eternal. He can be put there without any irreverence, He can be put there without blasphemy. He can be put there by the side of our true and living God, the Father. He is the Eternal Son of God, one with God from eternity.

But He is also Jesus. That means that He is also truly a man. A babe was born in Bethlehem and the Name given to Him was ‘Jesus.’ He was later a boy in the temple—Jesus of Nazareth. He was a carpenter, the Son of Joseph and Mary, and we read of His brothers. He is the Man who started preaching at the age of thirty, Jesus, the miracle-worker.

But in the next verse we are told still more about Him, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ He is the Lord, He is Jehovah, He is God, but God is also His God, and God is His Father. This is a great mystery. He Himself said just before the end of His earthly life, ‘I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God’ (John 20:17). He had already said, ‘The Father is greater than I’; yet He Himself is the Lord Jehovah. He is also ‘the firstborn among many brethren.’ He is Jehovah, but He is also Jesus—the God-man. The amazing doctrine of the Incarnation is here in the second verse. Christ is the second Person in the blessed Holy Trinity who has come down in condescending love to reconcile us to God. He is the Lord Jehovah become ‘Jesus’, taking upon Himself our nature, taking upon Himself our problems, and even our frailties, and eventually our sins. He went to the darkest depths, even to the extent of feeling deserted by God while He bore our punishment. That is ‘grace’, the condescending love of God. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’

The next word is ‘Christ’—the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Saviour, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the One who is sent to redeem mankind. He has come down from the glory into this world, but He went even lower than that. He was not ashamed to put on ‘the likeness of sinful flesh.’ He bore our punishment on the Cross, His blood was shed for us, and we are reconciled to God and have ‘peace with God.’ But, yet more wonderful, having taken our nature upon Himself He then gives us His nature. For Christ does not merely give us forgiveness, He gives us a new birth, and we become ‘children of God.’ ‘The Son of God became the Son of Man, that the sons of men might become the sons of God’, as John Calvin once said. It means that not only have we this peace with God and with others, but we enjoy the favour of God, because we are the children of God in Christ. God who is His God and His Father has become our God and our Father. So the Apostle could say, including us, who are Christians, with himself, ‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ The highest honour of all, the greatest gift of God’s grace to us is that we become ‘children of God’ and that as such we shall spend our eternity in the presence of our Father. ‘Grace’, all undeserved, leads to peace, sonship, and ultimately to eternal glory.





4


The Everlasting Covenant



‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.’



Ephesians 1:3


Here, once more, we have one of those glorious, staggering statements which are to be found in such profusion in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Nothing, perhaps, is more characteristic of his style as a writer than the frequency with which he seems to state the whole gospel in a phrase or verse. He never tires of doing this; he says the same thing in many different ways. This surely is one of his, even his, most glorious statements.

We must approach it, therefore, carefully and prayerfully. The danger when considering such a statement is to be so charmed and enraptured by the very sound of the words, and the very arrangement of the words, that we are content with some passing general effect, and never take the trouble to analyse it and thereby to discover exactly what it says. We may be content with a purely general aesthetic effect, with the result that we shall miss the tremendous richness of its content. We must be unusually careful, therefore, to analyse it, to question it, and to discover exactly the meaning and the content of every word. And we must do this in the light of the teaching of the Scriptures as a whole.

The first thing we have to do is to observe the context. First of all, in the first verse the Apostle has reminded the Ephesians of who they are, and what they are. Then in the second verse he has offered a prayer for them, and has reminded them of the things they can enjoy, and should enjoy, and should seek to enjoy—‘Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Having done that he is now concerned to remind them of how it is that they have become what they are, and of how it is possible for them to enjoy these priceless blessings of grace and peace. That is the connection; and again we must emphasize the fact that this preliminary salutation is not a mere formality; it is full of the logic that always characterizes Paul the Apostle.

Having reminded them that they are ‘saints’, are ‘faithful’, and ‘in Christ’, and as the result of that should be enjoying grace and peace from the Lord Jesus Christ, he now proceeds to show how all that is possible in this third verse. There is a sense in which we can say truthfully that this third verse is the centre of the entire Epistle. The Apostle is concerned to do this above all else. He desires these Christian people to come to an understanding and realization of who they are and what they are, and of the great blessings to which they are open. In other words the theme is the plan of salvation, and the way of salvation, this tremendous process that puts us where we are, and points us to God and the things that God has prepared for us. He does this because he desires these Ephesian Christians and others to enter into their heritage, that they may enjoy the Christian life as they should, and that they may live their lives to the praise and glory of God. And, of course, the same applies to us. Whether we know it or not our main trouble as Christians today is still a lack of understanding and of knowledge. Not a lack of superficial knowledge of the Scriptures, but a lack of knowledge of the doctrines of the Scriptures. It is our fatal lack at that point that accounts for so many failures in our Christian life. Our chief need, according to this Apostle, is that ‘the eyes of our understanding’ may be wide open, not simply that we may enjoy the Christian life and its experience, but in order that we may understand the privilege and possibilities of our high ‘calling.’ The more we understand the more we shall experience these riches.

A lack of knowledge has ever been the chief trouble with God’s people. That was the message of the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament. He says that God’s people at that time were dying from ‘a lack of knowledge’ (4:6). It was always their trouble. They would not realize who they were, and what they were, and why they were what they were. If they had but known these things they would never have wandered away from God, they would never have turned to idols, they would never have sought to be like the other nations. There was always this fatal lack of knowledge. The New Testament is full of the same teaching.

We must therefore consider this verse very carefully because here the Apostle introduces us to this knowledge, this doctrine which leads into an understanding of what we are. We can look at it in terms of the following principles, and in the order in which they are presented by the Apostle.

The first proposition is that the realization of the truth concerning our redemption always leads to praise. It bursts forth at once in the word ‘Blessed.’ The Apostle seems to be like a man who is conducting a great choir and orchestra. This truth is what Handel seems to have understood so well; it is the characteristic of some of his greatest choruses. Think of the opening note of ‘Worthy is the Lamb.’ The Apostle starts off with this same tremendous burst of praise and acclamation—‘Blessed be God’, ‘Praised be God.’ He always does so. Examine all his epistles and you will find that this is so. The first thing, always, is praise and thanksgiving, and this is so because he understood the doctrine; it was the result of his contemplation of the doctrine that he praises God.

Surely praise and thanksgiving are ever to be the great characteristics of the Christian life. Take, for instance, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. It has been said of that Book that it is the most lyrical book in the world. In spite of all the persecution which those early Christians had to endure, and all the hardship and difficulties, they were distinguished by a spirit of praise and thanksgiving. They were people who were thrilled with a sense of peace and happiness and joy they had never known before. The same note is found, too, throughout the New Testament epistles—‘Rejoice in the Lord’, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.’ Even in the Book of Revelation which portrays trials and tribulations that are certain to face God’s people, this note of triumph and praise is to be found running through it all. This is the ultimate peculiar characteristic of God’s people, of Christians.

Praise is quite inevitable in view of what we have already seen in this Epistle. If we realize truly what ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ mean we cannot help praising. I suggest therefore, before we go any further, that there is no more true test of our Christian profession than to discover how prominent this note of praise and thanksgiving is in our life. Is it to be found welling up out of our hearts and experience as it invariably did with the Apostle Paul? Is it constantly breaking forth in us and manifest in our lives? I am not referring to the glib use of certain words. Certain Christians, when you meet them, keep on using the phrase ‘Praise the Lord’ in order to give the impression of being joyful Christians. But there is nothing glib about the Apostle’s language. It is nothing formal or superficial; it comes out of the depth of the heart; it is heart felt.

All must surely agree that it is impossible to read through the New Testament without seeing that this is to be the supreme thing in the Christian life. It must of necessity be so, because if this gospel is true, that God has sent His own Son into the world to do for us the things we have been considering, then you would expect Christians to be entirely different from, unbelievers; you would expect them to live in a relationship to God that would be evident to all, and that should above everything else produce this quality of joy. Even the Roman Catholics whose doctrine and teaching in general tend to depress and to oppose assurance of salvation, before they will ‘canonize’ anyone, lay down as an absolute essential this quality of joy and of praise. At that point they are absolutely right—praise should be the characteristic of all ‘saints’, of all Christians. Hence we find this constant exhortation in the New Testament to praise God and offer up thanksgiving. This is what differentiates us from the world. The world is very miserable and unhappy; it is full of cursing and complaints. But praise, thanksgiving and contentment mark out the Christian and show that he is no longer ‘of the world.’

Praise distinguishes the Christian particularly in his prayer and in his worship. The Manuals on the devotional life which have been written throughout the centuries, and irrespective of particular Communions, agree that the highest point of all worship and prayer is adoration and praise and thanksgiving. Are we not all guilty at this point? Are we not aware of a serious deficiency and lack as we consider this? When we pray in private or in public what part does adoration play? Do we delight simply to be in the presence of God ‘in worship, in adoration’? Do we know what it is to be moved constantly to cry out, ‘Blessed be our God and Father’, and to ascribe unto God all praise and blessedness and glory? This is the highest point of our growth in grace, the measure of all true Christianity. It is when you and I become ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’ that we really are functioning as God means us to function in Christ.

Praise is really the chief object of all public acts of worship. We all need to examine ourselves at this point. We must remember that the primary purpose of worship is to give praise and thanksgiving to God. Worship should be of the mind and of the heart. It does not merely mean repeating certain phrases mechanically; it means the heart going out in fervent praise to God. We should not come to God’s house simply to seek blessings and to desire various things for ourselves, or even simply to listen to sermons; we should come to worship and adore God. ‘Blessed be the God and Father’ is always to be the starting point, the highest point.

But let us note that the praise and the adoration and the worship are to be ascribed to the blessed Holy Trinity. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings.’ The blessings come through the Holy Spirit. The praise and worship and adoration, indeed all worship, must be offered and ascribed to the Three blessed Persons. The Apostle Paul never fails to do this. He delights in mentioning the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Christian position is always and inevitably Trinitarian. Christian worship must be Trinitarian if it is true worship; there is no question, no choice about this. If we have the correct biblical view of salvation, then the Three Persons of the blessed Holy Trinity must always and invariably be present.

So often people stop at one Person. Some stop at the Person of the Father; they talk about God and about worshipping God and about having forgiveness from God; and in all their talk and conversation even the Lord Jesus Christ is not mentioned. Certain others seem to stop only and entirely with the Lord Jesus Christ. They so concentrate upon Him that you hear little of the Father and little of the Holy Spirit. There are others whose entire conversation seems to be about the work of the Holy Spirit and they are interested in spiritual manifestations only. There is this constant danger of forgetting that as Christians we of necessity worship the Three Persons in the blessed Holy Trinity. Christianity is Trinitarian in its origin and in its continuance.

But not only must we be careful always that the Three Persons are in our minds and our worship, we must be equally careful about the order in which they are introduced to us in the Scriptures—the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. There is what our forefathers called a divine economy or order in the matter of our salvation among the blessed Persons themselves; and so we have always to preserve this order. We are to worship the Father through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. Many evangelical Christians in particular seem to offer all their prayers to the Son, there are other who forget the Son altogether, but the two wrongs do not make one right. So we notice here at the commencement of this Epistle that the Apostle not only praises, but praises the three blessed Persons, and ascribes unto them thanksgiving and glory in this invariable order.

The second principle is that God is to be praised. My first principle was that a true realization of the nature of salvation leads to praise. Now we turn to consider why the blessed Persons of the Holy Trinity should be thus praised. There are many answers to that question, but we must concentrate on the one which the Apostle emphasizes specially in this verse. God is to be praised because He is what He is. The ultimate characteristic or attribute of God is blessedness. It is indescribable, but if there is one quality, one attribute of God that makes God God; (I speak with reverence) if there is one thing that makes God God more than anything else, it is blessedness. And God is to be praised. We are to say ‘Blessed be God’ because of what God is and what He does.

God is also to be praised because He has blessed us: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings.’ Before we come to that, however, we note that the Apostle has gone on to something else. God is to be praised and to be blessed because of the way in which He blesses us. I have already been hinting at that in reminding you of the importance of our relationship to the Three Persons in the blessed Holy Trinity. In other words, the greatness emphasized in this verse is the planning of our salvation; and not only the planning but the way in which it has been planned, the way in which God has brought it about. Once more must we not plead guilty to a tendency to neglect and ignore this? How often have we sat down and tried to contemplate, as the result of reading the Scriptures, the planning of salvation, the way in which God worked out His plan, and how He put it into operation? Our salvation is entirely from God but because of our morbid preoccupation with ourselves and our states and moods and conditions, we tend to talk of salvation only in terms of ourselves and of what is happening to us. Of course that is of vital importance, for true Christianity is experimental. There is no such thing as a Christianity which is not experimental; but it is not only experience. Indeed it is the extent of our understanding that ultimately determines our experience. We spend so much of our time in feeling our spiritual pulses and talking about ourselves and our moods and conditions that we have but little understanding of the planning of what God has done. But the Apostle generally starts with this, as also does the Bible.

I call attention to this matter, not because I am animated by some academic or theoretical interest, but because we rob our selves of so much of the glories and the riches of grace when we fail to take the trouble to understand these things and to face