Ephesians 3For this cause, that is, for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles in general; and in particular, for asserting, that the privileges of justification and salvation by Christ belonged equally to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, though they were not circumcised; for this cause I was persecuted and imprisoned by the Jews.
Where observe, The apostle styles himself Christ's prisoner; I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ. He was at once Christ's prisoner, the Jews' prisoner, the Romans' prisoner, the Gentiles' prisoner; Christ's prisoner, as suffering for his gospel; the Jews' prisoner, as suffering by their accusation; the Romans' prisoner, as suffering by their sentence; the Gentiles prisoner, as suffering for his labours in order to their salvation.
Lord! what a title of honour is here put upon the apostle! I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ. His imprisonment for Christ was verily a greater honour, and matter of higher glorying, than his rapture into the third heavens.
Observe here, 1. The title given to the gospel, it is styled the grace of God; partly because the glad tidings which the gospel brings are the effect and product of God's grace and favour, and partly because the gospel is the instrument and means of working peace in the souls of persons.
Observe, 2. The title given to St. Paul's apostleship; he styles it the dispensation of the grace of God, because God had commissioned him to declare and dispense the gospel of grace to them; Christ's ministers are the dispensers of his mind to the children of men.
Observe, 3. The title here given to the calling of the Gentiles: he styles it a mystery. The calling of the Gentiles to salvation by faith in Christ, without the works of the law, was a mystery hid from ages.
Observe, 4. The way and manner how St. Paul came by the knowledge of this mystery: it was by divine revelation from heaven, Eph 3:3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery. The mystery of man's redemption in general, and of the calling of the Gentiles in particular to the participation of that grace, was made known by divine revelation to the apostles by God himself. The truth is, the redempton of a lost world, by the incarnation, death, and passion, of the Son of God, is so stupendous and surprising, so wonderful and amazing, that the very thoughts of it had been the highest blasphemy, if God himself had not revealed it.
Our apostle here proceeds in setting forth this great mystery of man's redemption in general, and the calling of the Gentiles in particular: he styles it a mystery.
1. Now a mystery is a purpose and decree of God, unknown to, and unsearchable by, man, unless first by revelation discovered and made known by God himself; such a mystery was the whole gospel in general, and this article concerning the calling of the Gentiles in particular.
2. St. Paul styles it a mystery, in other ages of the church, not made known, that is, not so plainly and clearly, unto the sons of men, Jews or Gentiles; for the calling of the Gentiles was foretold and prophesied of, under the Old Testament, but darkly and obscurely; the time when, the manner how, and the means by which, were not understood, till now the Holy Spirit of God revealed it to the apostles and evangelical prophets under the New Testament.
3. The apostle amplifies and sets forth the glorious excellency of that mystery which here he had made mention of; namely, that the Gentiles should have access into the church without an entrance by the door of circumcision, be joint-heirs of the heavenly inheritance with all believers, and together with the Jews taken into the bond of the covenant; and finally, that they were brought into this happy estate by the preaching of the gospel, and by believing and obeying of it.
Learn hence, That the calling of the neglected and despised Gentiles to the knowledge of Christ, and participation of gospel privileges with the Jews, was a great mystery, awfully to be admired, and a glorious mercy, with all thankfulness to be acknowledged, That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs of the same body, &c.
As if the apostle had said, "Of this gospel it pleased God to make me a successful minister or dispenser, furnishing me with ordinary and extraordinary gifts and graces from his Holy Spirit, for that weighty work and sevice; unto me, even unto me, I say, was this special favour granted, though unworthy, (being less than the least of all saints, because once a great persecutor,) yet unto me was the apostolic office committed, to preach unto the Gentiles the incomparable and incomprehensible riches of God's mercy towards them in Christ, in receiving them fully, freely and finally, in covenant with himself; and to make known unto all men what is the communion or fellowship of this mystery, namely, that the Gentiles with the Jews should have one faith, one Lord, one hope, one heavenly inheritance; which was a mystery hid in the secret intention and decree of God, until discovered by divine revelation.
Observe here, 1. How careful the apostle was to assert his authority and apostolical commission, I was made a minister; and how he refers his calling immediately to the grace of God, Unto me was this grace given. It was the grace of God converted him, it was the grace of God revealed the gospel to him, and that called him to reveal it unto others.
Observe, 2. How the apostle attributes the success of his ministry to the power of God, and not to his own endeavours; By the effectual working of his own power. The grace of God in him, and the power of God accompanying him, was effectual to the conversion of very many sinners, and to the producing of great signs and miracles which were wrought by him.
Observe, 3. The noble subject of St. Paul's sermons, what it was he preached amongst the Gentiles; namely, the unsearchable riches of Christ. Riches imply abundance, and abundance of such things as are of worth and value: in Christ are riches, all riches, eminently and transcendently found; riches of grace, and riches of glory: and these are called unsearchable; not as if it were unlawful to search after them, but because after our utmost search after them we can never fully discover them.
Learn hence, that there are such mazes, such mysteries of love and goodness, in our Lord Jesus Christ, as, though it be our duty to be continually searching after them, yet we can never, by our utmost searching, fully discover them and find them out.
Observe,4. The humble and low opinion which the great apostle had of himself, not barely the least, but less than the least of all saints; he was, in his own esteem, as little as could be, less than the least; a double dimunitive; a comparative made of a superlative.
Thus he debases himself, upon consideration of his former enmity against Christ and his church: lower he could not lie than he lays himself, the greatest and chiefest of sinners; the least, yea, less than the least, of all saints; growth in grace, and increase in humility accompany one another.
Observe here, 1. The title given to the holy angels; they are styled principalities and powers, because God makes us of their powerful ministry in governing the kingdoms and principalities of this world: and they are said to be in heavenly places; not as if they were never here upon earth below, but because the ordinary place of their residence is heaven above.
Observe, 2. That the angels are not omniscient and all knowing. The wisdom of God in the work of redemption was a secret unknown to the glorious angels; they did not know it until God made it known unto them.
Observe, 3. That God did not make the mystery of the gospel, or the glorious work of redemption, known unto the angels immediately, but occasionally, by the revelation of it first to the church, and by the church to them: as if the apostles had said, "Had it not been for the light given to, and spread abroad in, the church, the angels had been in the dark about the mysteries of the gospel to this day. By the church is made known unto the angels the manifold wisdom of God."
Quest. But how could the church communicate this knowledge to angels?
Ans. Either the angels did gather up their knowledge of these mysteries, by the ministry of the apostles preaching them to the world in a way of information; or else they saw, as in a glass, the manifold wisdom of God, and the dispensations of his mercy, grace, and goodness, towards his church, in a way of contemplation.
Observe, 4. The title here given to the work of redemption, it is styled, the maniflod wisdom of God.
O, how full of variety was the wisdom of God in man's recovery! It is of many folds and plaits, manifold in kind, manifold in degree, manifold in its administration. There are manifold secrets in this wisdom: some less perfectly seen, some more perfectly understood, and some that will never perhaps be thoroughly understood. Doubtless, there are some secrets in the wisdom of God, which it belongs only to God to understand and know. Blessed be God that so much of the manifold wisdom of God, in the glorious work of redemption, is made known unto us, as will eternally ravish and delight us.
Our apostle here shows,
1. That whatever the wisdom of God has done in the work of redemption, was from all eternity purposed to be done, and that our Lord Jesus Christ was the Person by whom God would in time execute his eternal purpose: According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus.
Next, he shows the great and gracious privileges which all believers are admitted to the participation of, by and through our Lord Jesus Christ; namely, boldness, access, and confidence: In whom we have boldness, and access, with confidence, through the faith of him.
Access' that is, a liberty of approach to God as a Father:
Boldness; that is, a freedom of speech in delivering our heart, our whole mind and heart, to him, in the duty of prayer and thanksgiving:
Confidence; that is, a well-grounded persuasion that both our persons and performances shall find acceptance with God.
All which privileges are enjoyed by the exercise of faith in Christ: We have boldness, access, and confidence, through the faith of him.
Lastly, He exhorts them not to faint under or be discouraged at, his present sufferings, much less to backslide from christianity upon that account, seeing that his tribulations were both profitable, and also glorious and honourable: I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
Observe here, 1. That new converts to christianity are subject to faintings and drooping discouragements at the news of sufferings.
Observe, 2. That persecution for the gospel of Christ is a trial, not only to those who are under it, but to those that hear of it. St. Paul here was more afraid of the Ephesians fainting under his sufferings, than he was of his own fainting, and therefore he doth carefully guard against it: I desire you not to faint at my tribulations.
Observe, 3. That the persecutions and afflictions, the hardships and severities, which the ministers of Christ do for the most part endure and undergo, are for the sake of their people; they might shift off and shun the cross as well as other men, did not love to the souls of their people engage them to suffer the sharpest persecution for their sake: I desire you faint not at my tribulation for you; that is, for preaching the gospel to you.
Observe, 4. From those words, My tribulation, which is your glory: so honourable it is to suffer for Christ, that not only the ministers of Christ themselves, who suffer, are thereby honoured, but the people of their charge also are greatly honoured thereby; in testifying God's high esteem of such a people in sending his ministers not only to teach and instruct them, but to suffer for them, yea, even to die for them. Which consideration ought not only to prevent our people's fainting at our sufferings, but should make them glory in them, and take encouragement from them: My tribulation, saith St. Paul, is in your glory.
Our apostle having exhorted the Ephesians in the foregoing verse, not to faint at his tribulation for the gospel, here he puts up a most affectionate prayer to God for them on the same account: For this cause, and in order to this end, I bow my knees, &c. Now in this affectionate and most excellent prayer of the apostle, we have several particulars worthy of our notice and remark.
As, 1. The humble gesture which the apostle used in his prayers, I bow my knees; thereby expressing the reverent frame of his heart in prayer.
Learn hence, That the gestures which we use in prayer should be such as may best express our reverence of God, and denote our profound humility before him.
Observe, 2. The person prayed to, God, under the appellation of a Father, and, in particular, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be God, that believers and Christ have one and the same father; he by nature, we by grace; he by eternal generation, we by gracious adoption.
By virtue of this relation we may expect to be heard in prayer as Christ was, and to be helped in our distresses, as Christ was, and in God's good time to be possessed of the inheritance of children, as Christ is.
Observe, 3. The title given to the church: it is styled God's family, his household: all the saints on earth, whether Jews or Gentiles, and all the glorified angels and saints in heaven, do make but one family. There is but one catholic or universal church, comprehending all its members both in heaven and earth: and all within the church are of one kindred and line, descended of one common Father; and his Family is named, that is, united under Christ, he being the head of all.
Observe, 4. The mercy prayed for, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man Eph 3:16.
Where note, 1. The mercy itself: spiritual strength, strength in the inner man, to enable them them to bear afflictions, to endure persecutions, to resist temptations, to grapple with all their spiritual enemies in the progress of their Christian course.
Note, 2. The fountain from whence all spiritual strength flows; and that is, from the Holy Spirit; Strengthened with might by his spirit. It is the Holy spirit of God that constantly renews the believers strength, by upholding and actuating their graces, which otherwise would fade and wither, would languish and die.
So many and so mighty are our spiritual enemies, that we have to wrestle with and strive against, that except we be under propt and strengthened by the almighty power of the Holy Spirit in the inner man, we cannot keep our ground, and much less get ground of our enemy, but shall become an easy prey to every temptation.
Note, 3. The moving, impelling, or impulsive cause, from whence the foregoing mercy is expected to proceed and flow, namely, from the rich and glorious mercy of God: God grant you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened.
In all our approaches to God for any blessings, especially for spiritual blessings, it is our duty to direct the eye of our faith to that inexhaustible fountain of rich mercy and almighty power, in God, whereby he is both able and willing to bestow upon us whatever is agreeable to his holy will: God grant you according to the richness of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.
Our apostle here proceeds with affectionate ardour to pray for further spiritual blessings on the behalf of his beloved Ephesians:
1. He prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts by his most holy faith. The phrase of dwelling in us, imports a very close and intimate union between Christ and believers; he dwells in them subjectively and effectively, by his gracious influences, by his powerful assistances, by his quickening impressions. The Holy Spirit is the bond of union on Christ's part, and faith on our part.
2. He prays that they may be rooted and grounded in love; that is, that they might be so deeply possessed with the sense of God's love, that they might be the very habit of their souls, and rooted nature in them.
3. He prays that the Ephesians may comprehend what is the breadth, length, depth, and height, of the love of God, and the mysteries of the gospel; intimating to us, that we are not to content ourselves with a superficial view of God's free love in Christ, but to make an accurate inspection into all the dimensions of it: to view it in its breadth, and extending to all ages, Jewish and Christian; in its length, as reaching from eternity to eternity; in its depth, as it stoops down to succour and relieve the vilest and the greatest, if penitent sinners; in its height, whereby it reaches up to heaven, and entitles us to the joy and felicity of the saints above.
Verily, the love of God in Christ to a lost world, is so vast and boundless, so rich and matchless, exceeding not only our comprehension, but conceptions also, that not only the natural man cannot understand it, but the renewed man also is unable to fathom it, but must be daily endeavouring to take dimensions of it; for the love of Christ surpassingly transcends the knowledge of the most illuminated believer; it surpasses natural knowledge, apostolical knowledge, yea, angelical knowledge. That ye may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.
4. He prays that they may know the superlative love of Christ to a lost world is a transcendent love; that the knowledge of it may be attained in some measure, that it is our duty to seek after it, and search into it; but, after all, we can never fully comprehend it. What created understanding can know what is unknowable, or comprehend what is incomprehensible?
Learn, There are such dimensions and degrees in the love of Christ to sinners, which, at least in this present and imperfect state, do surpass all comprehension and conception; also that love whereby he took our nature upon him, that love whereby he took our sins upon him, is so stupendous and amazing, that the holy angels awfully admire it, but even their enlarged capacities cannot fully comprehend it.
5. He prays that they might be filled with all the fulness of God; that is, with such measures of grace, knowledge, faith, holiness, and love, which God hath appointed believers unto, and they are capable of, in this life.
Note here, 1. That there is a fulness in God, which we can neither be filled with, nor may we strive to be filled with; God is essentially full, originally full, independently full, inexhaustibly full, of all holiness and grace. Now this fullness of his is undiminishable, and consequently incommunicable.
Note, 2. That there is a fulness of God which we may, and therefore ought, to pray and endeavour to be filled with; namely, to be filled with the knowledge of God, to be filled with the grace and Spirit of God, to be filled with the wisdom of God, that we may know God more, serve him better, glorify him on earth, and be glorified with him in heaven. In a word, we may pray for, and strive to be filled with, such a measure of the fulness of God and his grace, as God shall see fit to give, and as our capacities are or may be prepared to receive; God is not straitened towards us, let us not be straitened in ourselves: Open thy mouth wide, says God, and I will fill it. Blessed be God for a present fulness of sufficiency, and for the hopes of a future fulness to satiety.
Observe here, 1. How our apostle closes his prayer with thanksgiving and praise; intimating to us, that praise should evermore conclude that work which prayer began, and that spiritual blessings principally deserve our praises.
Observe, 2. The title which St. Paul's faith fixed upon, in his approaches to God in prayer and praise; and that is, his omnipotence or almighty power. In all our addresses to God, it is our duty to have such apprehensions, and use such expressions concerning him, as may most strengthen our faith. He is able, saith the apostle,to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.
Note here, The comprehensive fulness of this expression: he is able to do for us, to do abundantly for us, to do exceeding abundantly for us,above what we ask; yea, to do exceeding abundantly for us above what we can think, as well as ask.
O! how narrow, short, and poor are our prayers, compared with the power of God! It is much that the tongue can ask; it is more that the mind can think: but the Lord is able to do for us, not only above what we can ask, but abundantly above what we can think.
Lord, what an everlasting spring of comfort is this! what encouragement doth it administer to thy people! what encouragement to prayer! what encouragement in prayer! They pray to him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that they can ask or think.
Observe, 3. That it is not God's absolute power that St. Paul bottoms his faith in prayer upon, (for God can do many things that he never will do,) but it is his operative, promised, and formerly experienced power.
According to the power that worketh in us; that is, according to that infinite and almighty power which God had exerted and put forth in their first conversion: this power was, and is, a main prop for confidence in prayer.
Learn hence, That the experience we have had of God's gracious power in working in us, by converting and quickening grace, may and ought to confirm our faith, that he will do exceeding abundantly for us above what we can ask or think, when we are upon our knees in prayer before him.
Observe, 4. The concluding doxology To him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Where note, 1. The divine praise given to Almighty God, namely, that of glory: To him be glory.--Glory is the fountain of all excellency in the creatures; they all shine with beams borrowed from God's excellences, as stars shine with the light they receive from the body of the sun. Almighty God is that infinitely glorious being, in whom all the excellences and perfections of the creatures are eminently and transcendently found.
Note, 2. The persons giving this glory unto God: the church, To him be glory in the church. True, it is the duty of all reasonable creatures to set forth God's glory; but only the church (holy and gracious persons alone) can perform it in an active and acceptable manner.
Note, 3. The person through whom this duty becomes acceptable unto God: through Christ Jesus, To him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus.
The duty of praise and thanksgiving is what we owe to God for received favours, and indeed is all we have to pay him; but neither this, nor any other duty, can find acceptance with God, but by and through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Note, 4. The duration and continuance of this duty of thanksgiving: Throughout all ages, world without end. As God shall never want glory from his church, so there shall always be a church to the end of the world to give glory unto God, against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.
Note, lastly, In this divine doxology, after what manner, and with what affection, this praise is given, intimated in the word Amen. World without end, Amen.
This Amen, 1. Is a note of assent, and as such used by the Jews and Christians in all ages at the end of their prayers, to testify that they assented and agreed to what was put up to God in their name, and on their behalf.
Again, 2. It importeth earnest desire.
Hence Jer 28:6 said "Amen" to the prophecy of Hananiah, concerning the return of the captives to their land; to show how earnestly he desired that it might be so.
3. It imports steadfast faith that the thing we pray for shall be granted; and accordingly, in testimony of our desire and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen, so be it; So let it be, O Lord, for ever.
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