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EPHESIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 4
Verse 4. According as. The importance of this verse will render proper a somewhat minute examination of the words and phrases of which it is composed. The general sense of the passage is, that these blessings pertaining to heaven were bestowed upon Christians in accordance with an eternal purpose. They were not conferred by chance or hap-hazard. They were the result of intention and design on the part of God. Their value was greatly enhanced from the fact that God had designed from all eternity to bestow them, and that they come to us as the result of his everlasting plan. It was not a recent plan; it was not an after-thought; it was not by mere chance; it was not by caprice; it was the fruit of an eternal counsel. Those blessings had all the value, and all the assurance of permanency, which must result from that fact. The phrase "according as" kaywv—implies that these blessings were in conformity with that eternal plan, and have flowed to us as the expression of that plan. They are limited by that purpose, for it marks and measures all. It was as God had chosen that it should be, and had appointed in his eternal purpose.
He hath chosen us. The word "us" here shows that the apostle had reference to individuals, and not to communities. It includes Paul himself as one of the "chosen," and those whom he addressed—the mingled Gentile and Jewish converts in Ephesus. That it must refer to individuals is clear. Of no community, as such, can it be said, that it was "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy." It is not true of the Gentile world as such, nor of any one of the nations making up the Gentile world. The word rendered here "hath chosen" - exelexato—is from a word meaning to lay out together, (Passow,) to choose out, to select. It has the idea of making a choice or selection among different objects or things. It is applied to things, as in Lu 10:42. "Mary hath chosen that good part;"—she has made a choice, or selection of it, or has shown a preference for it. 1 Co 1:27: "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world;" he has preferred to make use of them among all the conceivable things which might have been employed "to confound the wise." Comp. Ac 1:2,24; 6:5; 15:22,25.
It denotes to choose out with the accessary idea of kindness or favour. Mr 13:20. "For the elect's sake whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days." Joh 13:18, "I know whom I have chosen." Ac 13:17. "The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers;" that is, selected them from the nations to accomplish important purposes. This is evidently the sense of the word in the passage before us. It means to make a selection or choice, with the idea of favour or love, and with a view to impart important benefits on those whom he chose. The idea of making some distinction between them and others, is essential to a correct understanding of the passage— since there can be no choice where no such distinction is made. He who chooses one out of many things makes a difference, or evinces a preference—no matter what the ground or reason of his doing it may be. Whether this refers to communities and nations, or to individuals, still it is true that a distinction is made, or a preference given of one over another. It may be added, that so far as justice is concerned, it makes no difference whether it refers to nations or to individuals. If there is injustice in choosing an individual to favour, there cannot be less in choosing a nation—for a nation is nothing but a collection of individuals. Every objection which has ever been made to the doctrine of election as it relates to individuals, will apply with equal force to the choice of a nation to peculiar privileges. If a distinction is made, it may be made with as much propriety in respect to individuals as to nations.
In him. In Christ. The choice was not without reference to any means of saving them; it was not a mere purpose to bring a certain number to heaven; it was with reference to the mediation of the Redeemer, and his work. It was a purpose that they should be saved by him, and share the benefits of the atonement. The whole choice and purpose of salvation had reference to him, and out of him no one was chosen to life, and no one out of him will be saved.
Before the foundation of the world. This is a very important phrase in determining the time when the choice was made. It was not an after-thought. It was not commenced in time. The purpose was far back in the ages of eternity. But what is the meaning of the phrase "before the foundation of the world?" Dr. Clarke supposes that it means "from the commencement of the religious system of the Jews, which," says he, "the phrase some- times means." Such principles of interpretation are they compelled to resort to who endeavour to show that this refers to a national election to privileges, and who deny that it refers to individuals. On such principles the Bible may be made to signify any- thing and everything. Dr. Chandler, who also supposes that it refers to nations, admits, however, that the word "foundation" means the beginning of anything; and that the phrase here means, "before the world began." There is scarcely any phrase in the New Testament which is more clear in its signification than this. The word rendered "foundation"—katabolh—means, properly, a laying down, a founding, a foundation—as where the foundation of a building is laid; and the phrase "before the foundation of the world, " clearly means before the world was made, or before the work of creation. See Mt 13:35; 25:34; Lu 11:50; Heb 9:26; Re 13:8, in all which places the phrase "the foundation of the world" means the beginning of human affairs; the beginning of the world; the beginning of history, etc. Thus, in Joh 17:24, the Lord Jesus says, "thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world," i.e. from eternity, or before the work of creation commenced. Thus Peter says (1 Pe 1:20) of the Saviour, "who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world." It was the purpose of God before the worlds were made, to send him to save lost men. Comp. Re 17:8. Nothing can be clearer than that the phrase before us must refer to a purpose that was formed before the world was made. It is not a temporary arrangement; it has not grown up under the influence of vacillating purposes; it is not a plan newly formed, or changed with each coming generation, or variable like the plans of men. It has all the importance, dignity, and assurances of stability which necessarily result from a purpose that has been eternal in the mind of God. It may be observed here,
(1.) that if the plan was formed "before the foundation of the world," all objections to the doctrine of an eternal plan are removed. If the plan was formed before the world, no matter whether a moment, an hour, a year, or millions of years, the plan is equally fixed, and the event equally necessary. All the objections which will lie against an eternal plan, will lie against a plan formed a day or an hour before the event. The one interferes with our freedom of action as much as the other.
(2.) If the plan was formed "before the foundation of the world," it was eternal. God has no new plan. He forms no new schemes. He is not changing and vacillating. If we can ascertain what is the plan of God at any time, we can ascertain what his eternal plan was with reference to the event. It has always been the same— for "he is of ONE MIND, and who can turn him?" Job 23:13. In reference to the plans and purposes of the Most High, there is nothing better settled than that WHAT HE ACTUALLY DOES, HE ALWAYS MEANT TO Do—which is the doctrine of eternal decrees—-and the whole of it.
That we should be holy. Paul proceeds to state the object for which God had chosen his people. It is not merely that they should enter into heaven. It is not that they may live in sin. It is not that they may flatter themselves that they are safe, and then live as they please. The tendency among men has always been to abuse the doctrine of predestination and election; to lead men to say that if all things are fixed there is no need of effort; that if God has an eternal plan, no matter how men live, they will be saved if he has elected them, and that at all events they cannot change that plan, and they may as well enjoy life by indulgence in sin. The apostle Paul held no such view of the doctrine of predestination. In his apprehension it is a doctrine fitted to excite the gratitude of Christians; and the whole tendency and design of the doctrine, according to him, is to make men holy, and without blame before God in love.
And without blame before him in love. The expression "in love," is probably to be taken in connexion with the following verse, and should be tendered, "In love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children." It is all to be traced to the love of God.
(1.) It was love for us which prompted to it.
(2.) It is the highest expression of love to be ordained to eternal life —for what higher love could God show us?
(3.) It is love on his part, because we had no claim to it, and had not deserved it. If this be the correct view, then the doctrine of predestination is not inconsistent with the highest moral excellence in the Divine character, and should never be represented as the offspring of partiality and injustice. Then, too, we should give thanks that "God has, in love, predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will."
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