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Such sentiments are found in many parts of the writings of St. Paul; they are, indeed, interwoven with all his statements of Christian doctrine, and privilege, and duty. But there is one passage which we may select, as exhibiting these views with peculiar clearness and power. We refer to that which occurs in the opening of his Epistle to the Ephesians, immediately after his salutation to that church,
-a passage which is in perfect accordance with the precious declaration, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life;" while it places many points of deep interest in a strong and affecting light. It is as follows :-“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved ; in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace ; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; even in him:-in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” (Eph. i. 3-12.)
It is to be feared that this passage, and others of a similar character, in the Pauline epistles, are not sufficiently regarded by many sincere Christians. They have been accustomed to dwell, with deep interest, on the explicit statements which occur in the divine word, of God's universal love to man; and they have rejoiced to find it written, in terms which admit of no dispute, that Jesus Christ “ by the grace of God tasted death for every man,”-that “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world,”—that the Gospel, the glad tidings of salvation through his blood, is to be preached, by his express injunction, “ to every creature,”—and that “God would have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” These declarations are justly dear to them, since they authorize that personal reliance on Christ, that individual coming to him as our Saviour, on which our peace and holiness depend ; and since they afford the most influential and attractive views of the divine character, while they encourage every benevolent effort made to bring others to the knowledge and enjoyment of Christ. It is also a cause of sincere though reverent joy, that these declarations abound in the holy Scriptures, and, we may add, in the writings of that eminent Apostle, whose letters form so interesting and instructive a portion of the New Testament: and many Christians, firmly established in the truths which they set forth, pass over such passages as that which we have adduced from the Epistle to the Ephesians, leaving the mystery which they involve, as one which the human mind cannot, with its present knowledge, unfold, or resting in the general conclusion, that they have a special reference to the calling of the Gentiles to become partakers of Christian privileges.
But is it wise not to ponder such passages ? Should we not seriously endeavour to enter into the sentiments of the inspired Apostle, to follow him in the trains of thought which he pursues, and to cherish those emotions of devout gratitude to God which filled his breast in the contemplation of the truths which he sets forth ? Here is an Epistle, sent by Paul to the church at Ephesus, and copies of which were probably sent to several other churches,-an Epistle which contains important statements of Christian doctrine, and powerful exhortations to the duties of the Christian profession; and in the very commencement of this Epistle, we find an elaborate statement relative to the eternal purposes of God, in regard to the Christian economy, and the glorious privileges of which believers in Christ should be partakers. It is a statement, also, in which the mind of St. Paul seems to put forth all its energy, and to rise to the sublimest conceptions ; while there is a depth of feeling pervading it, which commends it to every one accustomed to sympathize with those high and pure emotions which evangelical truth is calculated to call forth and to sustain. Surely such a statement demands our most careful and earnest attention ; and the truths which it contains must be eminently adapted to nourish piety, and to promote the maturity of the Christian character.
It would be to sink the passage below its true dignity and grandeur, and to overlook, or at least to render subordinate, the grand idea which pervades it, were we to regard it as intended to assure the Ephesian Christians of their individual election to the blessings of the Christian salvation. The excellent Dr. Doddridge has remarked, in his note on the fourth verse:“I think the Apostle here cannot be understood to intimate that every one of the persons who belonged to the church of the Ephesians, (or elsewhere to other Christian societies,) in the bonds of external communion, was by a particular decree of God personally chosen to eternal life, and to persevering holiness as the way to it. For he could have no evidence that this was the case with regard to each, without such a revelation as I think none have pretended, and as would very
relating to the apostasy of some who once made a very forward profession, and with the many exhortations and cautions which everywhere occur in his writings, or with the declarations Christ had made concerning the final ruin that would in fact attend many who called themselves Christians, and some who bore the highest offices in the church, and wrought the most extraordinary works. (Compare Matt. vii. 22, 23, and Luke xiii. 26, 27.) I conclude, therefore, that he speaks of whole societies in general, as consisting of saints and believers, because this was the predominant character, and he had reason, in the judgment of charity, to believe the greater part were such.” Nor can we assent to the opinion, that the Apostle, in using the term “us,” in the fourth and subsequent verses, refers specially to the Gentiles, as distinguished from the Jews. There appear to us to be several reasons of weight against this method of interpretation; and some who adopt it in the former part of the passage, feel compelled to abandon it when they come to the twelfth verse,—“that we should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ,”—followed, as that verse is, by a direct statement relative to the conversion and religious experience of the Ephesian Christians : “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation ; in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” We hold, with Mr. Wesley and Mr. Benson, that the passage is to be understood of all true believers in Christ, whether Jews or Gentiles ; and we conceive that the very words employed by the Apostle, when viewed in the light of his own general phraseology, clearly determine this to be his meaning. *
Regarding the passage, then, as unfolding the privileges of all who are in Christ, let us mark the leading idea which pervades it. That idea is, that it is the eternal purpose of the divine mind to bless and save mankind THROUGH CHRIST,—to raise all who believe in him to a state of the loftiest purity, and of filial confidence and joy,—to unite in Christ, as the head of the mediatorial economy, all the good and holy in heaven and on earth,and to manifest to an admiring universe the riches of his glory, in the consummated happiness and dignity of the saints of the Redeemer. It was on Christ that the mind of the Apostle was fixed, as the medium of every blessing to our fallen world; while he regarded union with him by
* It has long appeared to us, that the language used by St. Paul in Eph. i. 4, is beautifully appropriate and expressive, when regarded as descriptive, not of persons as such, but of certain characters--of those who truly believe in Christ, and who abide in him by faith. In the Pauline epistles no designation of the Christian character is more frequent than that of being in Christ. The idea of union with Christ through faith seems to have been ever present to the mind of this eminent Apostle, as the distinguishing feature of all who are truly His, and who share in the privileges which He offers to mankind. It was an idea suggested probably by our Lord's comparison of himself to the vine, and his people to the branches, and by his own emphatic statement, “ Abide in me, and I in you: as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in
I am the vine, ye are the branches : he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit : for without me ye can do nothing.” (John xv. 4, 5.) Such an idea is implied also in the representation of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Head of his church, while his believing and holy people constitute the members of his mystical body. This conception of the believer's state and charaeter will be found to have moulded the phraseology of St. Paul. Thus, in 1 Cor. i. 30, he writes : “ But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” In 2 Cor. xii. 2, he says : “I knew a man in Christ, about fourteen years ago ;” and in Phil. iii. 8, 9, when unfolding his own cherished sentiments and hopes, he says: “For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and so count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him.” In 2 Cor. v. 17, he writes : “ If any man be in Christ," €X TIS ¿v XplotQ, “he is a new creature.” In Rom. viii. 1, we find the phrase, “ they who are in Christ,” as a designation of all true believers in the Saviour : “ There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus," Tois év Xplotý 'Incoû, “ who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Now let the reader bear in mind how familiar this phraseology was to St. Paul, and to all the readers of his Epistles ; let him mark, that in the original of two of the passages now quoted we have the abbreviated expressions, “if any man in Christ,” “to them in Christ Jesus,” by a familiar ellipsis of the substantive verb or its participle; and then let him read the original of Eph. i. 4, Καθώς εξελέξατο ημάς εν αυτώ, and he will perceive how natural and appropriate is the translation, “According as he hath chosen us who are in him.” There is certainly a perfect correspondence between Tois év Xplotý ’Ingoû, “to them in Christ Jesus,” or “to them which are in Christ Jesus,” in Rom. viii. 1, and ňuâs év aŭtą, us in him," or us who are in him,' in the verse before us. Nor is the consideration without weight, that the arrangement of words which the Apostle has adopted is that which he must have chosen to express this idea ; whereas if he had intended to connect the verb “chosen ” immediately with “ in him," and to point out certain individuals by the term us, this idea would have been most forcibly and unequivocally expressed by a different arrangement: Kafùs nuas égen éČato èv aŭtq. Thus, both the general phraseology of St. Paul, and the peculiar arrangement of words which he has adopted, sanction, if they do not even require, the exposition we have given ; and show us, that in this sublime passage the Apostle is describing the spiritual privileges bestowed through Christ on all who believe in him, and who maintain that faith as the great principle of spiritual life.
faith as introducing us to privileges which shed a sacred tranquillity over the present life, and prepare us for the nobler associations and the richer joys of the heavenly state. We can scarcely read the passage without perceiving the emphatic and earnest manner in which St. Paul keeps before the minds of believers the connexion of all their blessings and of all their hopes with the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ; or without remarking the deep feeling with which he dwells on the great facts of our redemption, and the peculiar character of the Christian economy, as the carrying out of the cherished plan of God,—that plan which most impressively exhibits his wisdom, holiness, and love. There is, in the first place, the general ascription of praise to God, as having “ blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” And when the Apostle proceeds to specify these blessings, he repeats in every instance the truth, that they are bestowed on us through the Mediator, once offered up as the great sacrifice for sin, but now exalted to universal authority and power. The purpose of God, formed before the foundation of the world, is, to raise those who are in him to a state of holiness, through the powerful influence of filial love. Our adoption, which forms the ground of this filial love, and the assurance of which calls it forth in our minds, is also through Christ : Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself.” The remission of sins, which is implied in our adoption, is expressly connected with “the blood” of Christ; and it is in him, “ the beloved,” that we stand “ accepted” before God. The union of the church in heaven and on earth results from a common subjection to him as their one Head and Lord, and the common participation of that Spirit which he sheds forth on his people ; while the angelic hosts cheerfully own themselves his servants, and blend their sympathies and joys with those of his saved people, as they contemplate his glory, and celebrate his praise. It is in him that we have “obtained an inheritance ;” and our loftiest hopes of future happiness and dignity are based upon his mediatorial work, and the declared purpose of God, that all who believe in him, and are sanctified by his Spirit, shall share in his triumphs, and be conformed to his glorious image.
This, then, is the grand idea of the passage, that all our spiritual blessings, from the first communication of grace on earth, to the consummated happiness of the resurrection-state, are bestowed through Christ ; and blended with this idea is another,—that this constitution of the Mediator, with all the gracious arrangements of the Christian economy, is the development of the counsel of the divine will, the unfolding of the mystery which had been present to the mind of God, before the foundation of the world.
And now let us fix our attention on the blessings which St. Paul brings before us, as imparted to believers in Christ-blessings, the abundance and greatness of which called forth in his mind the most ardent gratitude to God. “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” In contemplating them, let us follow the order in which the Apostle himself adverts to them, and endeavour to enter into his train of thought.
1. He dwells, in the first place, on the state of holiness to which it is the design of God to raise all who are in Christ. To his mind, this great result of the plan of redemption was ever present ; and he would have regarded that plan as bereft of its highest glory, if it had not proposed to restore man from the depth of his moral ruin, and to fill his breast with every pure and noble sentiment, with every devout and benevolent affection. By thus fixing upon personal holiness, as that to which the people of Christ are called, the Apostle beautifully illustrates the character which he had just ascribed to the benefits of the Christian covenant,—that they are “spiritual blessings,” blessings which reach the spirit of man, which shed over it a sacred calm, and impart to it inward purity and strength. The human mind too often seeks its happiness chiefly in external good ; it assigns an undue importance to combinations of outward circumstances : and when these circumstances are favourable, and conducive to its present comfort, it calls them blessings. But the greatest blessing which can be imparted to a rational nature is holiness. To be possessed of universal rectitude,-to have the heart filled with those affections, and governed by those principles, which the Most High has enjoined, as pleasing to himself, and essential to the order and welfare of the universe,—to be brought even to sympathize, if we may so speak, with the divine mind, in its love of purity, benevolence, and truth,--and, at the same time, with all the dutifulness and humility which are proper to a creature, to devote the whole of life to the glory of God,—this is to enjoy a deep and abiding happiness, suited to the nature of the human spirit, and adequate to its vast desires. Cut off from communion with God, and from the participation of his holiness, the human mind wanders into darkness ; and the very efforts which it makes to derive from itself, and from the created objects which surround it, true satisfaction and joy, often plunge it more deeply into sorrow, and cause it to feel the bitterness of disappointment. But when it is restored to God, walks in the light of his countenance, and is conformed by his gracious influence to his own moral character, it has within itself the elements of peace and blessedness, the very earnest of eternal life. Now, it is such a state of holiness that the Apostle places before us, as that to which we are called through Christ; a state of living spirituality of mind, of powerful inward affections, manifesting themselves in the whole of our deportment and conduct. It is not easy for us to exceed, in our conceptions of the depth of Christian holiness, or of its uniform practical development, the force of the terms which St. Paul uses in relation to it :“ that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Receiving from above a new inward life, and being sustained and kept by a more than human power, amidst the conflicts and trials of the present state, we may be matured and perfected in love, so as to enjoy at all times the complacency of our Father and our God.
But that point which chiefly claims our attention in this statement of the Apostle is, that we are to be “holy and without blame before him in love." We are thus led to contemplate love as the great principle of all inward purity and all evangelical obedience. It is indeed a distinguishing feature of the teaching of the Christian revelation in respect of morals, that filial love to God, connected, as it ever will be, with active benevolence to mankind, is the grand affection which must pervade the heart, purify and elevate every tendency of our nature, and prompt to universal rectitude. Christianity does not seek to raise us gradually from one virtue to another, but it exhibits the remedial provision of the covenant of grace,-even the gift of the Spirit, to excite within our breasts love to God, and thus to lead us forth to a cheerful and grateful obedience to all his precepts. There are other affections, indeed, which the Christian ever cherishes ; and other motives to the discharge of duty, to which he repeatedly adverts. He reveres the divine majesty ; he trembles at the thought of being placed in