FROM DEATH TO LIFE
We pass by a sudden transition, just as in Colossians 1:21-22, from the thought of that which God wrought in Christ Himself to that which He works through Christ in believing men. So God raised, exalted, and glorified His Son Jesus Christ Ephesians 1:19-23 -and you! The finely woven threads of the apostle's thought are frequently severed, and awkward chasms made in the highway of his argument, by our chapter and verse divisions. The words inserted in our Version (did He quicken) are borrowed by anticipation from Ephesians 2:5; but they are more than supplied already in the foregoing context. "The same almighty hand that was laid upon the body of the dead Christ and lifted Him from Joseph's. grave to the highest seat in heaven, is now laid upon your soul. It has raised you from the grave of death and sin to share by faith His celestial life." The apostle, in Ephesians 2:3, pointedly includes amongst the "dead in trespasses and sins" himself and his Jewish fellow-believers as they "once lived," when they obeyed the motions and "volitions of the flesh," and so were "by birth" not children of favour, as Jews presumed, but "children of anger, even as the rest."
This passage gives us a sublime view of the event of our conversion. It associates that change in us with the stupendous miracle which took place in our Redeemer. The one act is a continuation of the other. There is an acting over again in us of Christ's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, when we realise through faith that which was done for mankind in Him. At the same time, the redemption which is in Christ Jesus is no mere legacy, to be received or declined; it is not something done once for all, and left to be appropriated passively by our individual will. It is a "power of God unto salvation," unceasingly operative and effective, that works "of faith and unto faith, " that summons men to faith, challenging human confidence wherever its message travels and awakening the spiritual possibilities dormant in our nature.
It is a supernatural force, then, which is at work upon us in the word of Christ. It is a resurrection power, that turns death into life. And it is a power instinct with love. The love which went out towards the slain and buried Jesus when the Father stooped to raise Him from the dead, bends over us as we lie in the grave of our sins, and exerts itself with a might no less transcendent, that it may raise us from the dust of death to sit with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:4-6).
Let us look at the two sides of the change effected in men by the gospel-at the death they leave, and the life into which they enter. Let us contemplate the task to which this unmatched power has set itself.
I. You that were dead, the apostle says.
Jesus Christ came into a dead world-He the one living man, alive in body, soul, and spirit- alive to God in the world. He was, like none besides, aware of God and of God's love breathing in His Spirit, "living not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeded from His mouth." "This," He said, "is life eternal." If His definition was correct, if it be life to know God, then the world into which Christ entered by His human birth, the world of heathendom and Judaism, was veritably dying or dead-"dead indeed unto God."
Its condition was visible to discerning eyes. It was a world rotting in its corruption, mouldering in its decay, and which to His pure sense had the moral aspect and odour of a charnel-house. We realise very imperfectly the distress, the inward nausea, the conflict of disgust and pity which the fact of being in such a world as this and belonging to it caused in the nature of Jesus Christ, in a soul that was in perfect sympathy with God. Never was there loneliness such as His, the solitude of life in a region peopled with the dead. The joy which Christ had in his little flock, in those whom the Father had given Him out of the world, was proportionately great. In them He found companionship, teachableness, signs of a heart awakening towards God-men to whom life was in some degree what it was to Him. He had come, as the prophet in his vision, into "the valley full of dry bones," and He "prophesied to these slain that they might live." What a comfort to see, at His first words, a shaking in the valley, -to see some who stirred at His voice, who stood upon their feet and gathered round Him-not yet a great army, but a band of living men! In their breasts, inspired from His, was the life of the future. "I am come," He said, "that they might have life." It was the work of Jesus Christ to breathe His vital spirit into the corpse of humanity, to reanimate the world.
When St. Paul speaks of his readers in their heathen condition as "dead," it is not a figure of speech. He does not mean that they were like dead men, that their state resembled death; "nor only that they were in peril of death; but he signifies a real and present death" (Calvin). They were, in the inmost sense and truth of things, dead men. We are twofold creatures, two-lived, - spirits cased in flesh. Our human nature is capable, therefore, of strange duplicities. It is possible for us to be alive and flourishing upon one side of our being, while we are paralysed or lifeless upon the other. As our bodies live in commerce with the light and air, in the environment of house and food and daily exercise of the limbs and senses under the economy of material nature, so our spirits live by the breath of prayer, by faith and love towards God, by reverence and filial submission, by communion with things unseen and eternal. "With Thee," says the Psalmist to his God, "is the fountain of life: in Thy light we see light." We must daily resort to that fountain and drink of its pure stream, we must faithfully walk in that light, or there is no such life for us. The soul that wants a true faith in God, wants the proper spring and principle of its being. It sees not the light, it hears not the voices, it breathes not the air of that higher world where its origin and its destiny lie.
The man who walks the earth a sinner against God becomes by the act and fact of his transgression a dead man. He has imbibed the fatal poison; it runs in his veins. The doom of sin lies on his unforgiven spirit. He carries death and judgment about with him. They lie down with him at night and wake with him in the morning; they take part in his transactions; they sit by his side in the feast of life. His works are "dead works"; his joys and hopes are all shadowed and tainted. Within his living frame he bears a coffined soul. With the machinery of life, with the faculties and possibilities of a spiritual being, the man lies crushed under the activity of the senses, wasted and decaying for want of the breath of the Spirit of God. In its coldness and powerlessness-too often in its visible corruption-his nature shows the symptoms of advancing death. It is dead as the tree is dead, cut off from its root; as the fire is dead when the spark is gone out; dead as a man is dead, when the heart stops.
As it is with the departed saints sleeping in Christ, -"put to death, indeed, in the flesh, but living in the spirit,"-so by a terrible inversion with the wicked in this life. They are put to death, indeed, in the spirit, while they. live in the flesh. They may be and often are powerfully alive and active in their relations to the world of sense, while on the unseen and Godward side utterly paralysed. Ask such a man about his business or family concerns; touch on affairs of politics or trade, -and you deal with a living mind, its powers and susceptibilities awake and alert. But let the conversation pass to other themes; sound him on questions of the inner life; ask him what he thinks of Christ, how he stands towards God, how he fares in the spiritual conflict, -and you strike a note to which there is no response. You have taken him out of his element. He is a practical man, he tells you; he does not live in the clouds, or hunt after shadows; he believes in hard facts, in things that he can grasp and handle. "The natural man perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. They are foolishness to him." They are pictures to the eye of the blind, heavenly music to the stone-deaf.
And yet that hardened man of the world-starve and ignore his own spirit and shut up its mystic chambers as he will-cannot easily destroy himself. He has not extirpated his religious nature, nor crushed out, though he has suppressed, the craving for God in his breast. And when the callous surface of his life is broken through, under some unusual stress, some heavy loss or the shock of a great bereavement, one may catch a glimpse of the deeper world within of which the man himself was so little conscious. And what is to be seen there? Haunting memories of past sin, fears of a conscience fretted already by the undying worm, forms of weird and ghostly dread flitting amid the gloom and dust of death through that closed house of the spirit, -
"The bat and owl inhabit here:
The snake nests on the altar stone:
The sacred vessels moulder near:
The image of the God is gone!"
In this condition of death the word of life comes to men. It is the state not of heathendom alone; but of those also, favoured with the light of revelation, who have not opened to it the eyes of the heart, of all who are "doing the desires of the flesh and the thoughts"-who are governed by their own impulses and ideas and serve no will above the world of sense. Without distinction of birth or formal religious standing, "all" who thus live and walk are dead while they live. Their trespasses and sins have killed them. From first to last Scripture testifies: "Your sins have separated between you and your God." We find a hundred excuses for our irreligion: there is the cause. There is nothing in the universe to separate any one of us from the love and fellowship of his Maker but his own unforsaken sin.
It is true there are other hindrances to faith, intellectual difficulties of great weight and seriousness, that press upon many minds. For such men Christ has all possible sympathy and patience. There is a real, though hidden faith that "lives in honest doubt." Some men have more faith than they suppose, while others certainly have much less. One has a name to live, and yet is dead; another, perchance, has a name to die, and yet is alive to God through Jesus Christ. There are endless complications, self-contradictions, and misunderstandings in human nature. "Many are first" in the ranks of religious profession and notoriety, "which shall be last, and the last first." We make the largest allowance for this element of uncertainty in the line that bounds faith from unfaith; "The Lord knoweth them that are His." No intellectual difficulty, no mere misunderstanding, will ultimately or for long separate between God and the soul that He has made. It is antipathy that separates. "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge": that is Paul's explanation of the ungodliness and vice of the ancient world. And it holds good still in countless instances. "Numbers in this bad world talk loudly against religion in order to encourage each other in sin, because they need encouragement. They know that they ought to be other than they are; but are glad to avail themselves of anything that looks like argument, to overcome their consciences withal" (Newman). The fashionable scepticism of the day too often conceals an inner revolt against the moral demands of the Christian life; it is the pretext of a carnal mind, which is "enmity against God, because it is not subject to His law." Christ's sentence upon unbelief as He knew it was this: "Light is come into the world; and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." So said the keenest and the kindest judge of men. If we are refusing Him our faith let us be very sure that this condemnation does not touch ourselves. Is there no passion that bribes and suborns the intellect? no desire in the soul that dreads his entrance? no evil deeds that shelter themselves from His accusing light? When the apostle says of his Gentile readers that they "once walked in the way of the age, according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air," the former part of his statement is clear enough. The age in which he lived was godless to the last degree; the stream of the world's life ran in turbid course toward moral ruin. But the second clause is obscure. The "prince" (or "ruler") who guides the world along its career of rebellion is manifestly Satan, the spirit of darkness and hate whom St. Paul entitles "the god of this world," 2 Corinthians 4:4 and in whom Jesus recognised, under the name of "the prince of the world," His great antagonist. John 14:30 But what has this spirit of evil to do with "the air"? The Jewish rabbis supposed that the terrestrial atmosphere was Satan's abode, that it was peopled by demons flitting about invisibly in the encompassing element. But this is a notion foreign to Scripture-certainly not contained in Ephesians 6:12 -and, in its bare physical sense, without point or relevance to this passage. There follows an immediate apposition to "the domain of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience." Surely, the air here partakes (if it be only here) of the figurative significance of spirit (i.e., breath). St. Paul refines the Jewish idea of evil spirits dwell in the surrounding atmosphere into an ethical conception of the atmosphere of the world, as that from which the sons of disobedience draw their breath and receive the spirit that inspires them. Here lies, in truth, the dominion of Satan. In other words Satan constituted the Zeitgeist.
As Beck profoundly remarks upon this text: "The Power of the air is a fitting designation for the prevailing spirit of the times, whose influence spreads itself like a miasma through the whole atmosphere of the world. It manifests itself as a contagious nature-power; and a spiritus rector works within it, which takes possession of the world of men, alike in individuals and in society, and assumes the direction of it. The form of expression here employed is based on the conception of evil peculiar to Scripture. In Scripture, evil and the principle of evil are not conceived in a purely spiritual way; nor could this be the case in a world of fleshly constitution, where the spiritual has the sensuous for its basis and its vehicle. Spiritual evil exists as a power immanent in cosmical nature." Concerning great tracts of the earth, and large sections even of Christianised communities, we must still confess with St. John: "The world lieth in the Evil One." The air is impregnated with the infection of sin; its germs float about us constantly, and wherever they find lodgment they set up their deadly fever. Sin is the malarial poison native to our soil; it is an epidemic that runs its course through the entire "age of this world."
Above this feverous, sin-laden atmosphere the apostle sees God's anger brooding in threatening clouds. For our trespasses and sins are, after all, not forced on us by our environment. Those offences by which we provoke God lie in our nature; they are no mere casual acts, they belong to our bias and disposition. Sin is a constitutional malady. There exists a bad element in our human nature, which corresponds but too truly to the course and current of the world around us. This the apostle acknowledges for himself and his law-honouring Jewish kindred: "We were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." So he wrote in the sad confession of Romans 7:14-23: "I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
It is upon this "other law," the contradiction of His own, upon the sinfulness beneath the sin, that God's displeasure rests. Human law notes the overt act: "the Lord looketh upon the heart." There is nothing more bitter and humiliating to a conscientious man than the conviction of this penetrating Divine insight, this detection in himself of this incurable sin and the hollowness of his righteousness before God. How it confounds the proud Pharisee to learn that he is as other men are, -and even as this publican!
"The sons of disobedience" must needs be "children of wrath." All sin, whether in nature or practice, is the object of God's fixed displeasure. It cannot be matter of indifference to our Father in heaven that His human children are disobedient toward Himself. Children of His favour or anger we are each one of us, and at every moment. We "keep His commandments, and abide in His love"; or we do not keep them, and are excluded. It is His smile or frown that makes the sunshine or the gloom of our inner life. How strange that men should argue that God's love forbids His wrath! It is, in truth, the cause of it. I could neither love nor fear a God who did not care enough about me to be angry with me when I sin. If my child does wilful wrong, if by some act of greed or passion he imperils his moral future and destroys the peace and well-being of the house, shall I not be grieved with him, with an anger proportioned to the love I bear him? How much more shall your heavenly Father how much more justly and wisely and mercifully! St. Paul feels no contradiction between the words of verse 3 and those that follow. The same God whose wrath burns against the sons of disobedience while they so continue, is "rich in mercy" and "loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses!" He pities evil men, and to save them spared not His Son from death; but Almighty God, the Father of glory, hates and loathes the evil that is in them, and has determined that if they will not let it go they shall perish with it.
II. Such was the death in which Paul and his readers once had lain. But God in His "great love" has "made them to live along with the Christ."
How wonderful to have witnessed a resurrection: to see the pale cheek of the little maid, Jairus' daughter, flush again with the tints of life, and the still frame begin to stir, and the eyes softly open-and she looks upon the face of Jesus! or to watch Lazarus, four days dead, coming out of his tomb, slowly, and as one dreaming, with hands and feet bound in the grave-clothes. Still more marvellous to have beheld the Prince of Life at the dawn of the third day issue from Joseph's grave, bursting His prison-gates and stepping forth in new-risen glory as one refreshed from slumber.
But there are things no less divine, had we eyes for their marvel, that take place upon this earth day by day. When a human soul awakes from its trespasses and sins, when the love of God is poured into a heart that was cold and empty, when the Spirit of God breathes into a spirit lying powerless and buried in the flesh, there is as true a rising from the dead as when Jesus our Lord came out from His sepulchre. It was of this spiritual resurrection that He said: "The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." Having said that, He added, concerning the bodily resurrection of mankind, "Marvel not at this; for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth!" The second wonder only matches and consummates the first. John 5:24-28
"This is life eternal, to know God the Father,"-the life, as the apostle elsewhere calls it, that is "life indeed." It came to St. Paul by a new creation, when, as he describes it, "God who said, Light shall shine out of darkness, shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ." We are born again-the God-consciousness is born within us: an hour mysterious and decisive as that in which our personal consciousness first emerged and the soul knew itself. Now it knows God. Like Jacob at Peniel it says: "I have seen God face to face; and my life is preserved." God and the soul have met in Christ-and are reconciled. The words the apostle uses-"gave us life"-"raised us up"-"seated us in the heavenly places"- embrace the whole range of salvation. "Those united with Christ are through grace delivered from their state of death, not only in the sense that the resurrection and exaltation of Christ redound to their benefit as Divinely imputed to them; but by the life-giving energy of God they are brought out of their condition of death into a new and actual state of life. The act of grace is an act of the Divine power and might, not a mere judicial declaration" (Beck).
This comprehensive action of the Divine grace upon believing men takes place by a constant and constantly deepening union of the soul with Christ. This is well expressed by A. Monod: "The entire history of the Son of man is reproduced in the man who believes in Him, not by a simple moral analogy; hut by a spiritual communication which is the true secret of our justification as well as of our sanctification, and indeed of our whole salvation."
There is no repetition in the three verbs employed, which are alike extended by the Greek preposition "with" (syn). The first sentence (raised us up "with the Christ") virtually includes everything; it shows us one with Christ who lives evermore to God. The second sentence gathers into its scope all believers-the "you" of verse I and the "we" of Ephesians 2:3: "He raised us up together, and together made us sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Nothing is more characteristic of our epistle than this turn of thought. To the conception of our "union with Christ" in His celestial life, it adds that of our "union with each other in Christ" as sharers in common of that life. Christ "reconciles us in one body unto God" (Ephesians 2:16). We sit not alone, but together in the heavenly places. This is the fulness of life; this completes our salvation.
SAVED FOR AN END
The plan which God has formed for men in Christ is of great dimensions every way, -in its length no less than in its breadth and height. He "raised us up and seated us together (Gentiles with Jews) in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages which are coming on He might show the surpassing riches of His grace." All the races of mankind and all future ages are embraced in the redeeming purpose and are to share in its boundless wealth. Nor are the ages past excluded from its operations. God "afore prepared the good works in which He summons us to walk." The highway of the new life has been in building since time began.
Thus large and limitless is the range of "the purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal". 2 Timothy 1:9 But what strikes us most in this passage is the exuberance of the grace itself. Twice over the apostle exclaims, "By grace you are saved": once in Ephesians 2:5, in an eager, almost jealous parenthesis, where he hastens to assure the readers of their deliverance from the fearful condition just described (Ephesians 2:1-3, Ephesians 2:5). Again, deliberately and with full definition he states the same fact, in Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace you are saved, through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. It does not come of works, to the end that none may boast."
These words place us on familiar ground. We recognise the Paul of Galatians and Romans, the dialect and accent of the apostle of salvation by faith. But scarcely anywhere do we find this wonder-working grace so affluently described. "God being rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith He loved us-the exceeding riches of His grace, shown in kindness toward us-the gift of God." "Mercy, love, kindness, grace, gift": what a constellation is here! These terms present the character of God in the gospel under the most delightful aspects, and in vivid contrast to the picture of our human state outlined in the beginning of the chapter.
"Mercy" denotes the Divine pitifulness towards feeble, suffering men, akin to those "compassions of God" to which the apostle repeatedly appeals. It is a constant attribute of God in the Old Testament, and fills much the same place there that grace does in the New. "Of mercy and judgment" do the Psalmists sing-of mercy most. Out of the thunder and smoke of Sinai He declared His name: "Jehovah, a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth, keeping mercy for thousands." The dread of God's justice, the sense of His dazzling holiness and almightiness threw His mercy into bright relief and gave to it an infinite preciousness. It is the contrast which brings in "mercy" here, in verse 4, by antithesis to "wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). These qualities are complementary. The sternest and strongest natures are the most compassionate. God is "rich in mercy." The wealth of His Being pours itself out in the exquisite tendernesses, the unwearied forbearance and forgiveness of His compassion towards men. The Judge of all the earth, whose hate of evil is the fire of hell, is gentler than the softest hearted mother, -rich in mercy as He is grand and terrible in wrath.
God's mercy regards us as we are weak and miserable: His love regards us as we are, in spite of trespass and offence, His offspring, -objects of "much love" amid much displeasure, "even when we were dead through our trespasses." What does the story of the prodigal son mean but this? and what Christ's great word to Nicodemus?-Grace John 3:16 and kindness are love's executive. Grace is love in administration, love counteracting sin and seeking our salvation. Christ is the embodiment of grace; the cross its supreme expression; the gospel its message to mankind; and Paul himself its trophy and witness. The "overpassing riches" of grace is that affluence of wealth in which through Christ it "superabounded" to the apostolic age and has outdone the magnitude of sin, Romans 5:20 in such measure that St. Paul sees future ages gazing with wonder at its benefactions to himself and his fellow-believers. Shown "in kindness toward us," he says, -in a condescending fatherliness, that forgets its anger and softens its old severity into comfort and endearment. God's kindness is the touch of His hand, the accent of His voice, the cherishing breath of His Spirit. Finally, this generosity of the Divine grace, this infinite goodwill of God toward men, takes expression in the gift-the gift of Christ, the gift of righteousness, Romans 5:15-18 the gift of eternal; Romans 6:23 or-regarded, as it is here, in the light of experience and possession-the gift of salvation.
The opposition of "gift" and "debt," of gratuitous salvation through faith to salvation earned by works of law, belongs to the marrow of St. Paul's divinity. The teaching of the great evangelical epistles is condensed into the brief words of Ephesians 2:8-9. The reason here assigned for God's dealing with men by way of gift and making them absolutely debtors-"lest any one should boast"-was forced upon the apostle's mind by the stubborn pride of legalism; it is stated in terms identical with those of the earlier letters. Men will glory in their virtues before God; they flaunt the rags of their own righteousness, if any such pretext, even the slightest, remains to them. We sinners are a proud race, and our pride is oftentimes the worst of our sins. Therefore God humbles us by His compassion. He makes to us a free gift of. His righteousness, and excludes every contribution from our store of merit; for if we could supply anything, we should inevitably boast as though all were our own. We must be content to receive mercy, love, grace, kindness- everything, with out deserving the least fraction of the immense sum. How it strips our vanity; how it crushes us to the dust-"the weight of pardoning love!"
Concerning the office of faith in salvation we have already spoken in chapter 4. It is on the objective fact rather than the subjective means of salvation that the apostle lays stress in this passage. His readers do not seem to have realised sufficiently what God has given them and the greatness of the salvation already accomplished. They measured inadequately the power which had touched and changed their lives. Ephesians 1:19 St. Paul has shown them the depth to which they were formerly sunk, and the height to which they have been raised (Ephesians 2:16). He can therefore assure them, and he does it with redoubled emphasis: "You are saved; By grace you are saved men!" Not "You will be saved"; nor, "You were saved"; nor, "You are in course of salvation,"- for salvation has many moods and tenses, -but, in the perfect passive tense, he asserts the glorious accomplished fact. With the same reassuring emphasis in Ephesians 1:7 he declared, "We have redemption in His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses."
Here is St. Paul's doctrine, of Assurance. It was laid down by Christ Himself when He said: "He that believeth on the Son of God hath eternal life." This sublime confidence is the ruling note of St. John's great epistle: "We know that we are in Him We know that we have passed out of death into life This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." It was this confidence of present salvation that made the Church irresistible. With its foundation secure, the house of life can be steadily and calmly built up. Under the shelter of the full assurance of faith, in the sunshine of God's love felt in the heart, all spiritual virtues bloom and flourish. But with a faith hesitant, distracted, that is sure of no doctrine in the creed and cannot plant a firm foot anywhere, nothing prospers in the soul or in the Church. Oh, for the clear accent, the ringing, joyous note of apostolic assurance! We want a faith not loud, but deep; a faith not born of sentiment and human sympathy, but that comes from the vision of the living God; a faith whose rock and corner-stone is neither the Church nor the Bible, but Christ Jesus Himself.
Greatly do we need, like the Asian disciples of Paul and John, to "assure our hearts" before God. With death confronting us, with the hideous evil of the world oppressing us; when the air is laden with the contagion of sin; when the faith of the strongest wears the cast of doubt; when the word of promise shines dimly through the haze of an all-encompassing scepticism and a hundred voices say, in mockery or grief, Where is now thy God? when the world proclaims us lost, our faith refuted, our gospel obsolete and useless, -then is the time for the Christian assurance to recover its first energy and to rise again in radiant strength from the heart of the Church, from the depths of its mystic life where it is hid with Christ in God.
"You are saved!" cries the apostle; not forgetting that his readers have their battle to fight, and many hazards yet to run. Ephesians 6:10-13 But they hold the earnest of victory, the foretaste of life eternal. In spirit they sit with Christ in the heavenly places. Pain and death, temptation, persecution, the vicissitudes of earthly history, by these God means to perfect that Which He has begun in His saints-"if you continue in the faith, grounded and firm". Colossians 1:23 That condition is expressed, or implied, in all assurance of final salvation. It is a condition which excites to watchfulness, but can never cause misgiving to a loyal heart. God is for us! He justifies us, and counts us His elect. Christ Jesus who died is risen and seated at the right hand of God, and there intercedes for us. Quis separabit?
This is the epistle of the Church and of humanity. It dwells on the grand, objective aspects of the truth, rather than upon its subjective experiences. It does not invite us to rest in the comforts and delights of grace, but to lift up our eyes and see whither Christ has translated us and what is the kingdom that we possess in Him. God "quickened us together with the Christ": He "raised us up, He made us to sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Henceforth "our citizenship is in heaven". Philippians 3:20
This is the inspiring thought of the third group of St. Paul s epistles; we heard it in the first note of his song of praise. Ephesians 1:3 It supplies the principle from which St. Paul unfolds the beautiful conception of the Christian life contained in the third chapter of the companion letter to the Colossians: "Your life is hid with the Christ in God"; therefore "seek the things that are above, where He is." We live in two worlds at once. Heaven lies about us in this new mystic childhood of our spirit. There our names are written; thither our thoughts and hopes resort. Our treasure is there; our heart we have lodged there, with Christ in God. He is there, the lord of the Spirit, from whom we draw each moment the life that flows into His members. In the greatness of His love conquering sin and death, time and space, He is with us to the world's end. May we not say that we, too, are with Him and shall be with Him always? So we reckon in the logic of our faith and at the height of our high calling, though the soul creeps and drudges upon the lower levels.
With Him we are gone up on high,
Since He is ours and we are His;
With Him we reign above the sky,
We walk upon our subject seas!
In his lofty flights of thought the apostle always has some practical and homely end in view. The earthly and heavenly, the mystical and the matter-of-fact were not distant and repugnant, but interfused in his mind. From the celestial heights of the life hidden with Christ in God (Ephesians 2:6), he brings us down in a moment and without any sense of discrepancy to the prosaic level of "good works" (Ephesians 2:10). The love which viewed us from eternity, the counsels of Him who works all things in all, enter into the humblest daily duties.
Grace, moreover, sets us great tasks. There should be something to show in deed and life for the wealth of kindness spent upon us, some visible and commensurate result of the vast preparations of the gospel plan. Of this result the apostle saw the earnest in the work of faith wrought by his Gentile Churches.
St. Paul was the last man in the world to undervalue human effort, or disparage good work of any sort. It is, in his view, the end aimed at in all that God bestows on His people, in all that He Himself works in them. Only let this end be sought in God's way and order. Man's doings must be the fruit and not the root of his salvation. "Not of works," but "for good works" were believers chosen. "This little word for, " says Monod, "reconciles St. Paul and St. James better than all the commentators." God has not raised us up to sit idly in the heavenly places lost in contemplation, or to be the useless pensioners of grace. He sends us forth to "walk in the works, prepared for us,"-equipped to fight Christ's battles, to fill His fields, to labour in the service of building His Church.
The "workmanship" of our Version suggests an idea foreign to the passage. The apostle is not thinking of the Divine art or skill displayed in man's creation; but of the simple fact that "God made man". Genesis 1:27 "We are His making, created in Christ Jesus." The "preparation" to which he refers in verse to leads us back to that primeval election of God's sons in Christ for which we gave thanks at the outset. Ephesians 1:3 There are not two creations, the second formed upon the ruin and failure of the first; but one grand design throughout. Redemption is creation reaffirmed. The new creation, as we call it, restores and consummates the old. When God raised His Son from the dead, He vindicated His original purpose in raising man from the dust a living soul. He has not forsaken the work of His hands nor forgone His original plan, which took account of all our wilfulness and sin. God in making us meant us to do good work in His world. From the world's foundation down to the present moment He who worketh all in all has been working for this end -most of all in the revelation of His grace in Jesus Christ.
Far backward in the past, amid the secrets of creation, lay the beginnings of God's grace to mankind. Far onward in the future shines its lustre revealed in the first Christian age. The apostle has gained some insight into those "times and seasons" which formerly were veiled from him. In his earliest letters, to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, St. Paul echoes our Lord's warning, never out of season, that we should "watch, for the hour is at hand." Maranatha is his watchword: "Our Lord cometh; the time is short." Nor does that note cease to the end. But when in this epistle he writes of "the ages that are coming on," and of all the generations of the age of the Ephesians 3:21, there is manifestly some considerable period of duration before his eyes. He sees something of the extent of the world's coming history, something of the magnitude of the field that the future will afford for the unfolding of God's designs.
In those approaching aeons he foresees that the apostolic dispensation will play a conspicuous part. Unborn ages will be blessed in the blessing now descending upon Jews and Gentiles through Christ Jesus. So marvellous is the display of God's kindness toward them, that all the future will pay homage to it. The overflowing wealth of blessing poured upon St. Paul and the first Churches had an end in view that reached beyond themselves, an end worthy of the Giver, worthy of the magnitude of His plans and of His measureless love. If all this was theirs-this fulness of God exceeding the utmost they had asked or thought-it is because God means to convey it through them to multitudes besides! There is no limit to the grace that God will impart to men and to Churches who thus reason, who receive His gifts in this generous and communicative spirit. The apostolic Church chants with Mary at the Annunciation: "For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed!"
Never was any prediction better fulfilled. This spot of history shines with a light before which every other shows pale and commonplace. The companions of Jesus, the humble fraternities of the first Christian century, have been the object of reverent interest and intent research on the part of all centuries since. Their history is scrutinised from all sides with a zeal and industry which the most pressing subjects of the day hardly command. For we feel that these men hold the secret of the world's life. The key to the treasures we all long for is in their hands. As time goes on and the stress of life deepens, men will turn with yet fonder hope to the age of Jesus Christ. "And many nations will say: Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. And He will teach us of His ways; and we will walks in His paths."
The stream will remember its fountain; the children of God will gather to their childhood's home. The world will hear the gospel in the recovered accents of its prophets and apostles.
THE FAR AND NEAR
The apostle's "Wherefore" sums up for his readers the record of their salvation rehearsed in the previous verses. "You were buried in your sins, sunk in their corruption, ruined by their guilt, living under God's displeasure and in the power of Satan. All this has passed away. The almighty Hand has raised you with Christ into a heavenly life. God has become your Father; His love is in your heart; by the strength of His grace you are enabled to walk in the way marked out for you from your creation. Where fore remember: think of what you were, and of what you are!"
To such recollections we do well to summon ourselves. The children of grace love to recall, and on fit occasions recount for God's glory and the help of their fellows, the way in which God led them to the knowledge of Himself. In some the great change came suddenly. He "made speed" to save us. It was a veritable resurrection, as signal and unlooked for as the rising of Christ from the dead. By a swift passage we were "translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love." Once living without God in the world, we were arrested by a strange providence - through some overthrow of fortune or shock of bereavement, or by a trivial incident touching unaccountably a hidden spring in the mind-and the whole aspect of life was altered in a moment. We saw revealed, as by a lightning flash at night, the emptiness of our own life, the misery of our nature, the folly of our unbelief, the awful presence of God- God whom we had forgotten and despised! We sought, and found His mercy. From that hour the old things passed away: we lived who had been dead, -made alive to God through Jesus Christ.
This instant conversion, such as Paul experienced, this sharp and abrupt transition from darkness to light, was common in the first generation of Christians, as it is wherever religious awakening takes place in a society that has been largely dead to God. The advent of Christianity in the Gentile world was much after this fashion, like a tropical sunrise, in which day leaps on the earth full-born. This experience gives a stamp of peculiar decision to the convictions and character of its subjects. The change is patent and palpable; no observer can fail to mark it. And it burns itself into the memory with an ineffaceable impression. The violent throes of such a spiritual birth cannot be forgotten.
But if our entrance into the life of God was gradual, like the dawn of our own milder clime, where the light steals by imperceptible advances upon the darkness-if the glory of the Lord has thus risen upon us, our certainty of its presence may be no less complete, and our remembrance of its coming no less grateful and joyous. One leaps into the new life by a single eager bound; another reaches it by measured, thoughtful steps: but both are there, standing side by side on the common ground of salvation in Christ. Both walk in the same light of the Lord, that floods the sky from east to west. The recollections which the latter has to cherish of the leading of God's kindly light-how He touched our childish thought, and checked gently our boyish waywardness, and mingled reproof with the first stirrings of passion and self-will, and wakened the alarms of conscience and the fears of another world, and the sense of the beauty of holiness and the shame of sin, -
"Shaping to truth the forward will Along His narrow way,"
such remembrances are a priceless treasure, that grows richer as we grow wiser. It awakens a joy not so thrilling nor so prompt in utterance as that of the soul snatched like a brand from the burning, but which passes understanding. Blessed are the children of the kingdom, those who have never roamed far from the fold of Christ and the commonwealth of Israel, whom the cross has beckoned onwards from their childhood. But however it was-by whatever means, at whatever time it pleased God to call you from darkness to His marvellous light, remember. But we must return to Paul and his Gentile readers. The old death in life was to them a sombre reality, keenly and painfully remembered. In that condition of moral night out of which Christ had rescued them, Gentile society around them still remained. Let us observe its features as they are delineated in contrast with the privileges long bestowed on Israel. The Gentile world was Christless, hopeless, godless. It had no share in the Divine polity framed for the chosen people; the outward mark of its uncircumcision was a true symbol of its irreligion and debasement. Israel had a God. Besides, there were only "those who are called gods." This was the first and cardinal distinction. Not their race, not their secular calling, their political or intellectual gifts, but their faith, formed the Jews into a nation. They were "the people of God," as no other people has been-of the God, for theirs was "the true and living God"-Jehovah, the I Am, the One, the Alone. The monotheistic belief was, no doubt, wavering and imperfect in the mass of the nation in early times; but it was held by the ruling minds amongst them, by the men who have shaped the destiny of Israel and created its Bible, with increasing clearness and intensity of passion. "All the gods of the nations are idols-vapours, phantoms, nothings!-but Jehovah made the heavens." It was the ancestral faith that glowed in the breast of Paul at Athens, amidst the fairest shrines of Greece, when he "saw the city wholly given to idolatry"-man's highest art and the toil and piety of ages lavished on things that were no gods; and in the midst of the splendour of a hollow and decaying Paganism he read the confession that God was "unknown." Ephesus had her famous goddess, worshipped in the most sumptuous pile of architecture that the ancient world contained. Behold the proud city, "temple-keeper of the great goddess Artemis," filled with wrath! Infuriate Demos flashes fire from his thousand eyes, and his brazen throat roars hoarse vengeance against the insulters of "her magnificence, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth"! Without God-atheists, in fact, the apostle calls this devout Asian population; and Artemis of Ephesus, and Athene, and Cybele of Smyrna, and Zeus and Asclepius of Pergamum, though all the world worship them, are but "creatures of art and man's device."
The Pagans retorted this reproach. "Away with the atheists! "they cried, when Christians were led to execution. Ninety years after this time the martyr Polycarp was brought into the arena before the magistrates of Asia and the populace gathered in Smyrna at the great Ionic festival. The Proconsul, wishing to spare the venerable man, said to him: "Swear by the fortune of Caesar; and say, Away with the Atheists!" But Polycarp, as the story continues, "with a grave look gazing on the crowd of lawless Gentiles in the stadium and shaking his hand against them, then groaning and looking up to heaven, said, Away with the atheists! "Pagan and Christian were each godless in the eyes of the other. If visible temples and images, and the local worship of each tribe or city made a god, then Jews and Christians had none: if God was a Spirit-One, Holy, Almighty, Omnipresent-then polytheists were in truth atheists; their many gods, being many, were no gods; they were idols, -eidola, illusive shows of the Godhead.
The more thoughtful and pious among the heathen felt this already. When the apostle denounced the idols and their pompous worship as "these vanities," his words found an echo in the Gentile conscience. The classical Paganism held the multitude by the force of habit and local pride, and by its sensuous and artistic charms; but such religious power as it once had was gone. In all directions it was undermined by mystic Oriental and Egyptian rites, to which men resorted in search of a religion and sick of the old fables, ever growing more debased, that had pleased their fathers. The majesty of Rome in the person of the Emperor, the one visible supreme power, was seized upon by the popular instinct, even more than it was imposed by state policy, and made to fill the vacuum; and temples to Augustus had already risen in Asia, side by side with those of the ancient gods.
In this despair of their ancestral religions many piously disposed Gentiles turned to Judaism for spiritual help; and the synagogue was surrounded in the Greek cities by a circle of earnest proselytes. From their ranks St. Paul drew a large proportion of his hearers and converts. When he writes "Remember that you were at that time without God, " he is within the recollection of his readers; and they will bear him out in testifying that their heathen creed was dead and empty to the soul. Nor did philosophy construct a creed more satisfying. Its gods were the Epicurean deities who dwell aloof and careless of men; or the supreme Reason and Necessity of the Stoics, the anima mundi, of which human souls are fleeting and fragmentary images. "Deism finds God only in heaven; Pantheism only on earth; Christianity alone finds Him both in heaven and on earth" (Harless). The Word made flesh reveals God in the world.
When the apostle says "without God in the world, " this qualification is both reproachful and sorrowful. To be without God in the world that He has made, where His "eternal power and Godhead" have been visible from creation, argues a darkened and perverted heart. To be without God in the world is to be in the wilderness, without a guide; on a stormy ocean, without harbour or pilot; in sickness of spirit, without medicine or physician; to be hungry without bread, and weary without rest, and dying with no light of life. It is to be an orphaned child, wandering in an empty, ruined house.
In these words we have an echo of Paul's preaching to the Gentiles, and an indication of the line of his appeals to the conscience of the enlightened pagans of his time. The despair of the age was darker than the human mind has known before or since. Matthew Arnold has painted it all in one verse of those lines, entitled "Obermann Once More," in which he so perfectly expresses the better spirit of modern scepticism.
"On that hard Pagan world disgust
And secret loathing fell;
Deep weariness and sated lust
Made human life a hell."
The saying by which St. Paul reproved the Corinthians, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die," is the common sentiment of pagan epitaphs of the time. Here is an extant specimen of the kind: "Let us drink and be merry; for we shall have no more kissing and dancing in the kingdom of Proserpine. Soon shall we fall asleep to wake no more." Such were the thoughts with which men came back from the grave-side. It is needless to say how depraving was the effect of this hopelessness. At Athens, in the more religious times of Socrates, it was even considered a decent and kindly thing to allow a criminal condemned to death to spend his last hours in gross sensual indulgence. There is no reason to suppose that the extinction of the Christian hope of immortality would prove less demoralising. We are "saved by hope," said St. Paul: we are ruined by despair. Pessimism of creed for most men means pessimism of conduct.
Our modern speech and literature and our habits of feeling have been for so many generations steeped in the influence of Christ's teaching, and it has thrown so many tender and hallowed thoughts around the state of our beloved dead, that it is impossible even for those who are personally without hope in Christ to realise what its general decay and disappearance would mean. To have possessed such a treasure, and then to lose it! to have cherished anticipations so exalted and so dear, -and to find them turn out a mockery! The age upon which this calamity fell would be of all ages the most miserable.
The hope of Israel which Paul preached to the Gentiles was a hope for the world and for the nations, as well as for the individual soul. "The commonwealth [or polity] of Israel" and "the covenants of promise" guaranteed the establishment of the Messianic kingdom upon earth. This expectation took amongst the mass of the Jews a materialistic and even a revengeful shape; but in one form or other it belonged, and still belongs, to every man of Israel. Those noble lines of Virgil in his fourth Eclogue-like the words of Caiaphas, an unintended Christian prophecy- which predicted the return of justice and the spread of a golden age through the whole world under the rule of the coming heir of Caesar, had been signally belied by the imperial house in the century that had elapsed. Never were human prospects darker than when the apostle wrote as Nero's prisoner in Rome. It was an age of crime and horror. The political world and the system of pagan society seemed to be in the throes of dissolution. Only in "the commonwealth of Israel" was there a light of hope and a foundation for the future of mankind; and of this in its wisdom the world knew nothing.
The Gentiles were "alienated from the commonwealth of Israel,"-that is to say, treated as aliens and made such by their exclusion. By the very fact of Israel's election, the rest of mankind were shut out of the visible kingdom of God. They became mere Gentiles, or nations, -a herd of men bound together only by natural affinity, with no "covenant of promise," no religious constitution or destiny, no definite relationship to God, Israel being alone the acknowledged and organised "people of Jehovah."
These distinctions were summed up in one word, expressing all the pride of the Jewish nature, when the Israelites styled themselves "the Circumcision." The rest of the world-Philistines or Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, or Barbarians, it mattered not-were "the Uncircumcision." How superficial this distinction was in point of fact, and how false the assumption of moral superiority it implied in the existing condition of Judaism, St. Paul indicates by saying, "those who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in flesh, wrought by human hands." In the second and third Chapter s of his epistle to the Romans he exposed the hollowness of Jewish sanctity, and brought his fellow-countrymen down to the level of those "sinners of the Gentiles" whom they so bitterly despised.
The destitution of the Gentile world is put into a single word, when the apostle says: "You were at that time separate from Christ "- without a Christ, either come or coming. They were deprived of the world's one treasure, -shut out, as it appeared, forever from any part in Him who is to mankind all things and in all-Once far off!
"But now in Christ Jesus ye were made nigh." What is it that has bridged the distance, that has transported these Gentiles from the wilderness of heathenism into the midst of the city of God? It is "the blood of Christ." The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ transformed the relations of God to mankind, and of Israel to the Gentiles. In Him God reconciled not a nation, but "a world" to Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:19 The death of the Son of man could not have reference to the sons of Abraham alone. Ii sin is universal and death is not a Jewish but a human experience, and if one blood flows in the veins of all our race, then the death of Jesus Christ was a universal sacrifice; it appeals to every man's conscience and heart, and puts away for each the guilt which comes between his soul and God.
When the Greeks in Passion week desired to see Him, He exclaimed: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto me." The cross of Jesus was to draw humanity around it, by its infinite love and sorrow, by the perfect apprehension there was in it of the world's guilt and need, and the perfect submission to the sentence of God's law against man's sin. So wherever the gospel was preached by St. Paul, it won Gentile hearts for Christ. Greek and Jew found themselves weeping together at the foot of the cross, sharing one forgiveness and baptised into one Spirit. The union of Caiaphas and Pilate in the condemnation of Jesus and the mingling of the Jewish crowd with the Roman soldiers at His execution were a tragic symbol of the new age that was coming. Israel and the Gentiles were accomplices in the death of the Messiah-the former of the two the more guilty partner in the counsel and deed. If this Jesus whom they slew and hanged on a tree was indeed the Christ, God's chosen, then what availed their Abrahamic sonship, their covenants and law-keeping, their proud religious eminence? They had killed their Christ; they had forfeited their calling. His blood was on them and on their children.
Those who seemed nigh to God, at the cross of Christ were found far off, -that both together, the far and the near, might be reconciled and brought back to God. "He shut up all unto disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all."
THE DOUBLE RECONCILIATION
"PEACE, peace-to the far off, and to the near!" Such was God's promise to His scattered people in the times of the exile. Isaiah 57:19 St. Paul sees that peace of God extending over a yet wider field, and terminating a longer and sadder banishment than the prophet had foreseen. Christ is "our peace"-not for the divided members of Israel alone, but for all the tribes of men. He brings about a universal pacification.
There were two distinct, but kindred enmities to be overcome by Christ, in preaching to the world His good tidings of peace (Ephesians 2:17). There was the hostility of Jew and Gentile, which was removed in its cause and principle when Christ "in His flesh" (by His incarnate life and death) "abolished the law of commandments in decrees"-i.e., the law of Moses as it constituted a body of external precepts determining the way of righteousness and life. This abolition of the law by the evangelical principle "dissolved the middle wall of partition." The occasion of quarrel between Israel and the world was destroyed; the barrier disappeared that had for so long fenced off the privileged ground of the sons of Abraham (Ephesians 2:14-15). But behind this human enmity, underneath the feud and rancour existing between the Jews and the nations, there lay the deeper quarrel of mankind with God. Both enmities centred in the law: both were slain by one stroke, in the reconciliation of the cross (Ephesians 2:16).
The Jewish and Gentile peoples formed two distinct types of humanity. Politically, the Jews were insignificant and had scarcely counted amongst the great powers of the world. Their religion alone gave them influence and importance. Bearing his inspired Scriptures and his Messianic hope, the wandering Israelite confronted the vast masses of heathenism and the splendid and fascinating classical civilisation with the proudest sense of his superiority. To his God he knew well that one day every knee would bow and every tongue confess. The circumstances of the time deepened his isolation and aggravated to internecine hate his spite against his fellowmen, the adversus omnes alios hostile odium stigmatised by the incisive pen of Tacitus. Within three years of the writing of this letter the Jewish war against Rome broke out, when the enmity culminated in the most appalling and fateful overthrow recorded in the pages of history. Now, it is this enmity at its height-the most inveterate and desperate one can conceive-that the apostle proposes to reconcile; nay, that he sees already slain by the sacrifice of the cross, and within the brotherhood of the Christian Church. It was slain in the heart of Saul of Tarsus, the proudest that beat in Jewish breast.
In his earlier writings the apostle has been concerned chiefly to guard the position and rights of the two parties within the Church. He has abundantly maintained, especially in the epistle to the Galatians, the claims of Gentile believers in Christ against Judaic assumptions and impositions. He has defended the just prerogative of the Jew and his hereditary sentiments from the contempt to which they were sometimes exposed on the part of the Gentile majority. But now that this has been ‘done, and that Gentile liberties and Jewish dignity have been vindicated and safeguarded on both sides, St. Paul advances a step further: he seeks to amalgamate the Jewish and Gentile section of the Church, and to "make of the twain one new man, so making peace." This, he declares, was the end of Christ's mission; this a chief purpose of His atoning death. Only by such union, only through the burying of the old enmity slain on the cross, could His Church be built up to its completeness. St. Paul would have Gentile and Jewish believers everywhere forget their differences, efface their party lines, and merge their independence in the oneness of the all-embracing and all-perfecting Church of. Jesus Christ, God's habitation in the Spirit. Instead of saying that a catholic ideal like this belongs to a later and post-apostolic age, we maintain, on the contrary, that a catholic mind like St. Paul's, under the conditions of his time, could riot fail to arrive at this conception.
It was his confidence in the victory of the cross over all strife and sin that sustained St. Paul through these years of captivity. As he looks out from his Roman prison, under the shadow of Nero's palace, the future is invested with a radiance of hope that makes the heart of the chained apostle exult within him. The world is lost, to all outward seeming: he knows it is saved! Jew and Gentile are about to close in mortal conflict: he proclaims peace between them, assured of their reconcilement, and knowing that in their reunion the salvation of human society is assured. The enmity of Jew and Gentile was representative of all that divides mankind. In it were concentrated most of the causes by which society is rent asunder. Along with religion, race, habits, taste and culture, moral tendencies, political aspirations, interests of trade, all helped to widen the breach. The cleavage ran deep into the foundations of life; the enmity was the growth of two thousand years. It was not a case of local friction, nor a quarrel arising from temporary causes. The Jew was ubiquitous, and everywhere was an alien and an irritant to Gentile society. No antipathy was so hard to subdue. The grace that conquers it can and will conquer all enmities. St. Paul's view embraced, in fact, a world-wide reconcilement. He contemplates, as the Hebrew prophets themselves did, the fraternisation of mankind under the rule of the Christ. After this scale he laid down the foundation of the Church, "wise master-builder" that he was. It was destined to bear the weight of an edifice in which all the races of men should dwell together, and every order of human faculty should find its place. His thoughts were not confined within the Judaic antithesis. "There is no Jew and Greek," he says in another place; yes, and "no barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman, male or female. Ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Birth, rank, office in the Church, culture, even sex are minor and subordinate distinctions, merged in the unity of redeemed souls in Christ. That which He "creates in Himself of the twain" is one new man- one incorporate humanity, neither Jew nor Gentile, Englishman nor Hindu, priest nor layman, male nor female; but simply man, and Christian.
At the present time we are better able to enter into these views of the apostle than at any intervening period of history. In his day almost the whole visible world, lying around the Mediterranean shores, was brought under the government and laws of Rome. This fact made the establishment of one religious polity a thing quite conceivable. The Roman empire did not, as it proved, allow Christianity to conquer it soon enough and to leaven it sufficiently to save it. That huge construction, the mightiest fabric of human polity, fell and covered the earth with its ruins. In its fall it reacted disastrously upon the Church, and has bequeathed to it the corrupt and despotic unity of Papal Rome. Now, in these last days, the whole world is opened to the Church, a world stretching far beyond the horizon of the first century. Science and Commerce, those two strong-winged angels and giant ministers of God, are swiftly binding the continents together in material ties. The peoples are beginning to realise their brotherhood, and are feeling their way in many directions towards international union; while in the Churches a new, federal catholicity is taking shape, that must displace the false Catholicism of external uniformity and the disastrous absolutism inherited from Rome. The spread of European empire and the marvellous expansion of our English race are carrying forward the world's unification with enormous strides, -towards some end or other. What end is this to be? Is the kingdom of the world about to become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ? and are the nations preparing to be "reconciled in one body unto God"?
If Christendom were worthy of her Master and her name, this answer would be answered with no doubtful affirmative. The Church is well able, if she were prepared, to go up and possess the whole earth for her Lord. The way is open; the means are in her hand. Nor is she ignorant, nor wholly negligent of her opportunity and of the claims that the times impose upon her. She is putting forth new strength and striving to overtake her work, notwithstanding the weight of ignorance and sloth that burdens her. Soon the reconciling cross will be planted on every shore, and the praises of the Crucified be sung in every human language.
But there are dark as well as bright auguries for the future. The advance of commerce and emigration has been a curse and not a blessing to many heathen peoples. Who can read without shame and horror the story of European conquest in America? And it is a chapter not yet closed. Greed and injustice still mark the dealings of the powerful and civilised with the weaker races. England set a noble example in the abolition of negro slavery; but she has since inflicted, for purposes of gain, the opium curse on China, putting poison to the lips of its vast population. Under our Christian flags firearms are imported, and alcohol, amongst tribes of men less able than children to resist their evils. Is this "preaching peace to those far off"? It is likely that the commercial profits made in the destruction of savage races as yet exceed all that our missionary societies have spent in saving them. One of these days Almighty God may have a stern reckoning with modern Europe about these things. "When He maketh inquisition for blood, He will remember."
And what shall we say of ourselves at home, in our relation to this great principle of the apostle? The old "middle wall of partition," the temple-barrier that sundered Jew and Gentile, is "broken down,"-visibly levelled by the hand of God when Jerusalem fell, as it had been virtually and in its principle destroyed by the work of Christ. But are there no other middle walls, no barriers raised within the fold of Christ? The rich man's purse, and the poor man's penury; aristocratic pride, democratic bitterness and jealousy; knowledge and refinement on the one hand, ignorance and rudeness on the other-how thick the veil of estrangement which these influences weave, how high the party walls which they build in our various Church communions!
It is the duty of the Church, as she values her existence, with gentle but firm hands to pull down and to keep down all such partitions. She cannot abolish the natural distinctions of life. She cannot turn the Jew into a Gentile, nor the Gentile into a Jew. She will never make the poor man rich in this world, nor the rich man altogether poor. Like her Master, she declines to be "judge or divider" of our secular inheritance. But she can see to it that these outward distinctions make no difference in her treatment of the men as men. She can combine in her fellowship all grades and orders, and teach them to understand and respect each other. She can soften the asperities and relieve many of the hardships which social differences create. She can diffuse a healing and purifying influence upon the contentions of society around her.
Let us labour unweariedly for this, and let our meeting at the Lord's table be a symbol of the unreserved communion of men of all classes and conditions in the brotherhood of the redeemed sons of God. "He is our peace"; and if He is in our hearts, we must needs be sons of peace. "Behold the secret of all true union! It is not by others coming to us, nor by our going over to them; but it is by both them and ourselves coming to Christ" that peace is made (Monod). Thus within and without the Church the work of atonement will advance, with Christ ever for its preacher (Ephesians 2:17). He speaks through the words and the lives of His ten thousand messengers, men of every order, in every age and country of the earth. The leaven of Christ's peace will spread till the lump is leavened. God will accomplish His purpose of the ages, whether in our time, or in another worthier of His calling. His Church is destined to be the home of the human family, the universal liberator and instructor and reconciler of the nations. And Christ shall sit enthroned in the loyal worship of the federated peoples of the earth.
But the question remains: What is the foundation, what the warrant of this grand idealism of the apostle Paul? Many a great thinker, many an ardent reformer before and since has dreamed of some such millennium as this. And their enthusiastic plans have ended too often in conflict and destruction. What surer ground of confidence have we in Paul's undertaking than in those of so many gifted visionaries and philosophers? The difference lies here: his expectation rests on the word and character of God; his instrument of reform is the cross of Jesus Christ.
God is the centre of His own universe. Any reconciliation that is to stand must include Him first of all. Christ reconciled Jew and Gentile "both in one body to God." There is the meeting point, the true focus of the orbit of human life, that can alone control its movements and correct its wild aberrations. Under the shadow of His throne of justice, in the arms of His fatherly love, the kindreds of the earth will at last find reconciliation and peace. Humanitarian and secularist systems make the simple mistake of ignoring the supreme Factor in the scheme of things; they leave out the All in all.
"Be ye reconciled to God, " cries the apostle. For Almighty God has had a great quarrel with this world of ours. The hatred of men towards each other is rooted in the "carnal mind which is enmity against God." The "law of commandments contained in ordinances," in whose possession the Jew boasted over the lawless and profane Gentile, in reality branded both as culprits. The secret disquiet and dread lurking in man's conscience, the pangs endured in his body of humiliation, the groaning frame of nature declare the world unhinged and out of course. Things have gone amiss, somehow, between man and his Creator. The face of the earth and the field of human history are scarred with the thunderbolts of His displeasure. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the King of the ages, is not the amiable, almighty Sentimentalist that some pious people would make Him out to be. The men of the Bible felt and realised, if we do not, the grave and tremendous import of the Lord's controversy with all flesh. He is unceasingly at war with the sins of men. "God is love"-oh, yes! but then He is also "a consuming fire"! There is no anger so crushing as the anger of love, for there is none so just; no wrath to be feared like "the wrath of the Lamb." God is not a man, weak and passionate whom a spark of anger might set all on fire, burning out His justice and compassion. "In His wrath He remembers mercy." Within that infinite nature there is room for an absolute loathing and resentment towards sin, in consistence with an immeasurable pity and yearning towards His sinful children. Hence the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Look at it from what side you will (and it has many sides), propound it in what terms you may (and it translates itself anew into the dialect of every age), you must not explain the cross of Christ away nor cause its offence to cease. "The atonement has always been a scandal and a folly to those who did not receive it; it has always contained something which to formal logic is false and to individualistic ethics immoral; yet in that very element which has been branded as immoral and false, has always lain the seal of its power and the secret of its truth." The Holy One of God, the Lamb without spot and blemish, He died by His own consent a sinner's death. That sacrifice, undergone by the Son of God and Son of man dying as man for men, in love to His race and in obedience to the Divine will and law, gave an infinite satisfaction to God in His relation to the world, and there went up to the Divine throne from the anguish of Calvary a "savour of sweet smell." The moral glory of the act of Jesus Christ in dying for His guilty brethren outshone its horror and disgrace; and it redeemed man's lost condition, and clothed human nature with a new character and aspect in the eyes of God Himself. "Now therefore there is no more condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." The mercy of God, if we may so say, is set free to act in forgiveness and restoration, without any compromise of justice and inflexible law. No peace without this: no peace that did not satisfy God, and satisfy that law, deep as the deepest in God, that binds suffering to wrongdoing and death to sin.
Perhaps you say: This is immoral, surely, that the just should suffer for the unjust; that one commits the offence, and another bears the penalty.-Stay a moment: that is only half the truth. We are more than individuals; we are members of a race; and vicarious suffering runs through life. Our sufferings and wrong-doings bind the human family together in an inextricable web. We are communists in sin and death. It is the law and lot of our existence. And Christ, the Lord and centre of the race, has come within its scope. He bound Himself to our sinking fortunes. He became copartner in our lost estate, and has redeemed it to God by His blood. If He was true and perfect man, if He was the creative Head and Mediator of the race, the eternal Firstborn of many brethren, He could do no other. He who alone had the right and the power, -"One died for all." He took upon His Divine heart the sin and curse of the world, He fastened it to His shoulders with the cross; and He bore it away from Caiaphas' hall and Pilate's judgment-seat, away from guilty Jerusalem; He took away the sin of the world, and expiated it once for all. He quenched in His blood the fires of wrath and hate it kindled. He slew the enmity thereby.
Still, we are individuals, as you said, not lost after all in the world's solidarity. Here your personal right and will must come in. What Christ has done for you is yours, so far as you accept it. He has died your death beforehand, trusting that you would not repudiate His act, that you would not let His blood be spilt in vain. But He will never force His mediation upon you. He respects your freedom and your manhood. Do you now endorse what Jesus Christ did on your behalf? Do you renounce the sin, and accept the sacrifice? Then it is yours, from this moment, before the tribunal of God and of conscience. By the witness of His Spirit you are proclaimed a forgiven and reconciled man. Christ crucified is yours-if you will have Him, if you will identify your sinful self with the sinless Mediator, if as you see Him lifted up on the cross you will let your heart cry out, "Oh my God, He dies for me!"
Coming "in one Spirit to the Father," the reconciled children join hands again with each other. Social barriers, caste feelings, family feuds, personal quarrels, national antipathies, alike go down before the virtue of the blood of Jesus.
"Neither passion nor pride
His cross can abide,
But melt in the fountain that streams from His side!"
"Beloved," you will say to the man that hates or has wronged you most, -"Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." In these simple words of the apostle John lies the secret of universal peace, the hope of the fraternisation of mankind. Nations will have to say this one day, as well as men.
GOD'S TEMPLE IN HUMANITY
Now unfrequently it is the last word or phrase of the paragraph that gives us the clue to St. Paul's meaning and discloses the point at which he has aimed all along. So in this instance. "For a habitation of God in the Spirit": behold the goal of God's ways with mankind! For this end the Divine grace has wrought through countless ages and has made its great sacrifice. For this end Jew and Gentile are being gathered into one and compacted into a new humanity.
I. The Church is a house built for an Occupant. Its quality and size, and the mode of its construction are determined by its destination. It is built to suit the great Inhabitant, who says concerning the new Zion as He said of the old in figure: "This is My rest forever! Here will I dwell, for I have desired it." God, who is spirit, cannot be satisfied with the fabric of material nature for His temple, nor does "the Most High dwell in houses made by men's hands." He seeks our spirit for His abode, and
"Doth prefer before all temples the upright heart and pure."
In the collective life and spirit of humanity God claims to reside, that He may fill it with His glory and His love. "Know you not," cries the apostle to the once debased Corinthians, "that you are God's temple, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
Nothing that is bestowed upon man terminates in himself. The deliverance of Jewish and Gentile believers from their personal sins, their reinstatement into the broken unity of mankind and the destruction in them of their old enmities, of the antipathies generated by their common rebellion against God-these great results of Christ's sacrifice were means to a further end. "Hallowed be Thy name" is our first petition to the Father in heaven; "Glory to God in the highest" is the keynote of the angels' song, that runs through all the harmonies of "peace on earth," through every strain of the melody of life. Religion is the mistress, not the handmaid, in human affairs. She will never consent to become a mere ethical discipline, an instrument and subordinate stage in social evolution, a ladder held for men to climb up into their self-sufficiency.
The old temptation of the Garden, "Ye shall be as gods," has come upon our age in a new and fascinating form. "You shall be as gods," it is whispered: "nay, you are God, and there is no other. The supernatural is a dream. The Christian story is a fable. There is none to fear or adore above yourselves!" Man is to worship his collective self, his own humanity. "I am the Lord thy God," the great idol says, "that brought thee up out of animalism and savagery, and me only shalt thou serve!-Love and faithful service to one's kind, a holy passion for the welfare of the race, for ‘the relief of human ignorance and poverty and pain, this is the true religion; and you need no other. Its obligation is instinctive, its benefits immediate and palpable; and it gives a consecration to individual life that dignifies and chastens, while it calls into exercise all our faculties."
Yes, we willingly admit, such human service is "religion pure and undefiled, before our God and Father." If service is rendered to our kind as worship to the Father of men; if we reverence in each man the image of God and the shrine of His Spirit; if we are seeking to cleanse and adorn in men the temple where the Most High shall dwell, the humblest work done for our fellows' good is done for Him. The best human charity is rendered for the love of God. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, soul, and strength." "This," said Jesus, "is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." On these two hangs the welfare of men and nations.
But the first commandment must come first. The second law of Jesus never has been or will be kept to purpose without the first. Humanitarian sentiments, dreams of universal brotherhood, projects of social reform, may seem for the moment to gain by their independence of religion a certain zest and emphasis; but they are without root and vitality. Their energy fails, or spends itself in revolt; their glow declines, their purity is stained. The leaders and first enthusiasts trained in the school of Christ, whose spirit, in vain' repudiated, lives on in them, find themselves betrayed and alone. The coarse selfishness and materialism of the human heart win an easy triumph over a visionary altruism. "Without Me," says Jesus Christ, "ye can do nothing." In the light of God's glory man learns to reverence his nature and understand the vocation of his race. The love of God touches the deep and enduring springs of human action. The kingdom of Christ and of God commands an absolute devotion; its service inspires unfaltering courage and invincible patience. There is a grandeur and a certainty, of which the noblest secular aims fall short, in the hopes of those who are striving together for the faith of the gospel, and who work to build human life into a dwelling-place for God.
II. God's temple in the Church of Jesus Christ, while it is one, is also manifold. "In whom each several building [or every part of the building], while it is compacted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord."
The image is that of an extensive pile of buildings, such as the ancient temples commonly were, in process of construction at different points over a wide area. The builders work in concert, upon a common plan. The several parts of the work are adjusted to each other; and the various operations in process are so harmonised, that the entire construction preserves the unity of the architect's design. Such an edifice was the apostolic Church-one, but of many parts-in its diverse gifts and multiplied activities animated by one Spirit and directed towards one Divine purpose.
Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, -what a various scene of activity these centres of Christian life presented! The Churches founded in these great cities must have differed in many features. Even in the communities of his own province the apostle did not, so far as we can judge, impose a uniform administration. St. Peter and St. Paul carried out their plans independently, only maintaining a general understanding with each other. The apostolic founders, inspired by one and the self-same Spirit, could labour at a distance, upon material and by methods extremely various, with entire confidence in each other and with an assurance of the unity of result which their teaching and administration would exhibit. The many buildings rested on the one foundation of the apostles. "Whether it were I or they," says our apostle, "so we preach, and so you believed." Where there is the same Spirit and the same Lord, men do not need to be scrupulous about visible conformity. Elasticity and individual initiative admit of entire harmony of principle. The hand may do its work without irritating and obstructing the eye; and the foot run on its errands without mistrusting the ear.
Such was the Catholicism of the apostolic age. The true reading of Ephesians 2:21, as it is restored by the Revisers, is an incidental witness to the date of the epistle. A churchman of the second century, writing under Paul's name in the interests of catholic unity as it was then understood, would scarcely have penned such a sentence without attaching to the subject the definite article: he must have written "all the building," as the copyists from whom the received text proceeds very naturally have done. From that time onwards, as the system of the ecclesiastical hierarchy was developed, external unity was more and more strictly imposed. The original "diversity of operations" became a rigid uniformity. The Church swallowed up the Churches. Finally, the spiritual bureaucracy of Rome gathered all ecclesiastical power into one centre, and placed the direction of Western Christendom in the hands of a single priest, whom it declared to be the Vicar of Jesus Christ and endowed with the Divine attribute of infallibility.
Had not Jerusalem been overthrown and its Church destroyed, the hierarchical movement would probably have made that city, rather than Rome, its centre. This was in fact the tendency, if not the express purpose, of the Judaistic party in the Church. St. Paul had vindicated in his earlier epistles the freedom of the Gentile Christian communities, and their right of non-conformity to Jewish usage. In the words "each several building, fitly framed together," there is an echo of this controversy. The Churches of his mission claim a standing side by side with those founded by other apostles. For himself and his Gentile brethren he seems to say, in the presence of the primitive Church and its leaders: "As they are Christ's, so also are we."
The co-operation of the different parts of the body of Christ is essential to their collective growth. Let all Churches beware of crushing dissent. Blows aimed at our Christian neighbours recoil upon ourselves. Undermining their foundation, we shake our own. Next to positive corruption of doctrine and life, nothing hinders so greatly the progress of the kingdom of God as the claim to exclusive legitimacy made on behalf of ancient Church organisations. Their representatives would have every part of God's temple framed upon one pattern. They refuse a place on the apostolic foundation to all Churches, however numerous, however rich in faith and good works, however strong the historical justification for their existence, however clear the marks they bear of the Spirit's seal, which do not conform to the rule they themselves have received. Their rites and ministry, they assert, are those alone approved by Christ and authorised by His apostles, within a given area. They refuse the right hand of fellowship to men who are doing Christ's work by their side; they isolate their flocks, as far as possible, from intercourse with the Christian communities around them.
This policy on the part of any Christian Church, or Church party, is contrary to the mind of Christ and to the example of His apostles. Those who hold aloof from the comity of the Churches and prevent the many buildings of God's temple being fitly framed together, must bear their judgment, whosoever they be. They prefer conquest to peace, but that conquest they will never win; it would be fatal to themselves. Let the elder sister frankly allow the birthright of the younger sisters of Christ's house in these lands, and be our example in justice and in charity. Great will be her honour; great the glory won for our common Lord.
"Every building fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple in the Lord." The subject is distributive; the predicate collective. The parts give place to the whole in the writer's mind. As each several piece of the structure, each cell or chapel in the temple, spreads out to join its companion buildings and adjusts itself to the parts around it, the edifice grows into a richer completeness and becomes more fit for its sacred purpose. The separate buildings, distant in place or historical character, approximate by extension, as they spread over the unoccupied ground between them and as the connecting links are multiplied. At last a point is reached at which they will become continuous. Growing into each other step by step and forming across the diminishing distance a web of mutual attachment constantly thickening, they will insensibly, by a natural and vital growth, become one in visible communion as they are one in their underlying faith.
When each organ of the body in its own degree is perfect and holds its place in keeping with the rest, we think no longer of their individual perfection, of the charm of this feature or of that; they are forgotten in the beauty of the perfect frame. So it will be in the body of Christ, when its several communions, cleansed and filled with His Spirit, each honouring the vocation of the others, shall in freedom and in love by a spontaneous movement be gathered into one. Their strength will then be no longer ‘weakened and their spirit chafed by internal conflict. With united forces and irresistible energy, they will assail the kingdom of darkness and subjugate the world to Christ.
For this consummation our Saviour prayed in the last hours before His death: "that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in me and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that Thou didst send." John 17:21 Did He fear that His little flock of the Twelve would be parted by dissensions? or did He not look onward to the future, and see the "offences that must come," the alienations and fierce conflicts that would arise amongst His people, and the blood that would be shed in His name? Yet beyond these divisions, on the horizon of the end of the age, He foresaw the day when the wounds of His Church would be healed, when the sword that He had brought on the earth would be sheathed, and through the unity of faith and love in His people all mankind would at last come to acknowledge Him and the Father who had sent Him.
III. To appearance, we are many rather than one who bear the name of Christ. But we are one notwithstanding, if below the variety of superstructure our faith rests upon the witness of the apostles, and the several buildings have Christ Jesus Himself for chief corner-stone. The one foundation and the one Spirit constitute the unity of God's temple in the Church.
"The apostles and prophets" are named as a single body, the prophets…being doubtless, in this passage and in Ephesians 3:5 and Ephesians 4:11, the existing prophets of the apostolic Church, whose inspired teaching supplemented that of the apostles and helped to lay down the foundation of revealed truth. That foundation has been, through the providence of God, preserved for later ages in the Scriptures of the New Testament, on which the faith of Christians has rested ever since. Such a prophet Barnabas was in the first days, Acts 13:1 and such was the unknown, but deeply inspired writer of the epistle to the Hebrews; such prophets, again, were SS. Mark and Luke, the Evangelists. Prophecy was not a stated gift of office. Just as there were "teachers" in the early Church whose knowledge and eloquence did not entitle them to bear rule, so prophecy was frequently exercised by private persons and carried with it no such official authority as belonged in the highest degree to the apostles.
It is thought surprising that St. Paul should write thus, in so general and distant a fashion, of the order to which he belonged. comp. Ephesians 3:5 This, it is said, is the language of a later generation, which looks back with reverence to the inspired Founders. But this letter is written, as we observed at the outset, from a peculiarly objective and impersonal standpoint. It differs in this respect from other epistles of St. Paul. He is addressing a number of Churches, with some of which his personal relations were slight and distant. He is contemplating the Church in its most general character. He is not the only founder of Churches; he is one of a band of colleagues, working in different regions. It is natural that he should use the plural here. He sets his successors an example of the recognition due to fellow-labourers whose work bears the seat of Christ's Spirit.
These men have laid the foundation- Peter and Paul, John and James, Barnabas and Silas, and the rest. They are our spiritual progenitors, the fathers of our faith. We see Jesus Christ through their eyes; we read His teaching, and catch His Spirit in their words. Their testimony, in its essential facts, stands secure in the confidence of mankind. Nor was it their word alone, but the men themselves-their character, their life and work - laid for the Church its historical foundation. This "glorious company of the apostles" formed the first course in the new building, on whose firmness and strength the stability of the entire structure depends. Their virtues and their sufferings, as well as the revelations made through them, have guided the thoughts and shaped the life of countless multitudes of men, of the best and wisest men in all ages since. They have fixed the standard of Christian doctrine and the type of Christian character. At our best, we are but imitators of them as they were of Christ.
In regard to the chief part of their teaching, both as to its meaning and authority, the great bulk of Christians in all communions are agreed. The keen disputes which engage us upon certain points testify to the cardinal importance which is felt on all hands to attach to the words of Christ's chosen apostles. Their living witness is in our midst. The self-same Spirit that wrought in them works amongst men and dwells in the communion of saints. He still reveals the things of Christ, and guides into truth the willing and obedient.
So "the firm foundation of God standeth"; though men, shaken themselves, seem to see it tremble. On that basis we may labour confidently and loyally, with those amongst whom the Master has placed us. Some of our fellow-workmen disown and would hinder us: that shall not prevent us from rejoicing in their good work, and admiring the gold and precious stones that they contribute to the fabric. The Lord of the temple will know how to use the labour of His many servants. He will forgive and compose their strife, who are jealous for His name. He will shape their narrow aims to His larger purposes. Out of their discords He will draw a finer harmony. As the great house grows to its dimensions, as the workmen by the extension of their labours come nearer to each other and their sectional plans merge in Christ's great purpose, reproaches will cease and misunderstandings vanish. Over many who followed not with us and whom we counted but as "strangers and sojourners," as men whose place within the wails of Zion was doubtful and unauthorised, we shall hereafter rejoice with a joy not unmixed with self upbraiding, to find them in the fullest right our fellow-citizens amongst the saints and of the household of God.
The Holy Spirit is the supreme Builder of the Church, as He is the supreme witness to Jesus Christ. John 15:26-27 The words in the Spirit, closing the verse with solemn emphasis, denote not the mode of God's habitation-that is self-evident-but the agency engaged in building this new house of God. With one "chief cornerstone" to rest upon and one Spirit to inspire and control them, the apostles and prophets laid their foundation and the Church was "builded together" for a habitation of God. Hence its unity. But for this sovereign influence the primitive founders of Christianity, like later Church leaders, would have fallen into fatal discord. Modern critics, reasoning upon natural grounds and not understanding the grace of the Holy Spirit, assume that they did thus quarrel and contend. Had this been so, no foundation could ever have been laid; the Church would have fallen to pieces at the very beginning.
In the hands of these faithful and wise stewards of God's dispensation, "the stone which the builders rejected was made the head of the corner." Their work has been tried by fire and by flood; and it abides. The rock of Zion stands unworn by time, unshaken by the conflict of ages, - amidst the movements of history and the shifting currents of thought, the one foundation for the peace and true welfare of mankind.