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Ephesians 3:14-19

14. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

14. Hujus rei gratia flecto genua ad Patrem Domini nostri Iesu Christi,

15. Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

15. Ex quo omnis cognatio in coelis et super terram nominatur,

16. That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

16. Ut det vobis secundum divitias gloriae suae, potentia roborari per Spiritum suum in hominem interiorem,

17. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

17. Ut inhabitet Christus per fidem in cordibus vestris, ut sitis in charitate radicati atque fundati,

18. May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

18. Quo valeatis comprehendere cum omnibus sanctis, quae sit latitudo, et longitudo, et profunditas, et altitudo;

19. And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

19. Cognoscere, inquam, dilectionem Christi, quae cognitionem exsuperat, ut completi sitis in omnem plenitudinem Dei.

 

14. For this cause. His prayers for them are mentioned, not only to testify his regard for them, but likewise to excite them to pray in the same manner; for the seed of the word is scattered in vain, unless the Lord render it fruitful by his blessing. Let pastors learn from Paul’s example, not only to admonish and exhort their people, but to entreat the Lord to bless their labors, that they may not be unfruitful. Nothing will be gained by their industry and toil, — all their study and application will be to no purpose, except so far as the Lord bestows his blessing. This ought not to be regarded by them as an encouragement to sloth. It is their duty, on the contrary, to labor earnestly in sowing and watering, provided they, at the same time, ask and expect the increase from the Lord.

We are thus enabled to refute the slanders of the Pelagians and Papists, who argue, that, if the grace of the Holy Spirit performs the whole work of enlightening our minds, and forming our hearts to obedience, all instruction will be superfluous. The only effect of the enlightening and renewing influences of the Holy Spirit is, to give to instruction its proper weight and efficacy, that we may not be blind to the light of heaven, or deaf to the strains of truth. While the Lord alone acts upon us, he acts by his own instruments. It is therefore the duty of pastors diligently to teach, — of the people, earnestly to receive instruction, — and of both, not to weary themselves in unprofitable exertions, but to look up for Divine aid.

I bow my knees. The bodily attitude is here put for the religious exercise itself. Not that prayer, in all cases, requires the bending of the knees, but because this expression of reverence is commonly employed, especially where it is not an incidental petition, but a continued prayer.

15. Of whom the whole family. 135135     “This seems to me plainly to allude, and to be urged in opposition to Diana of Ephesus, who was the common goddess of the Asiatic cities, in whose worship they were united, and by whose common contributions her temple was built, which was the common temple of those incorporated cities, so that all Asia (as we have it, Acts 19:27) ‘worshipped her;’ which was therefore strictly and properly her family, over which she presided as the common mother and patroness; and there are models and ancient inscriptions remaining to this day, that abundantly prove it. Now the apostle tells these Ephesians, that, as Christians, they belonged to a nobler family, which took its denomination from, and was immediately subject to, God as a common Father; of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” — Chandler. The relative, ἐξ οὗ, of whom, may apply equally to the Father and to the Son. Erasmus restricts it entirely to the Father. I do not approve of this; for readers ought to have been allowed a liberty of choice; nay, the other interpretation appears to be far more probable. The apostle alludes to that relationship which the Jews had with each other, through their father Abraham, to whom they trace their lineage. He proposes, on the contrary, to remove the distinction between Jews and Gentiles; and tells them, not only that all men have been brought into one family and one race through Christ, but that they are enabled to claim kindred even with angels.

To apply it to God the Father would not be equally defensible, being liable to this obvious exception, that God formerly passed by the Gentiles, and adopted the Jews as his peculiar people. But when we apply it to Christ, the whole of Paul’s statement agrees with the facts; for all come and blend together, as one family, and, related to one God the Father, are mutually brethren. Let us therefore understand that, through the mediation of Christ, a relationship has been constituted between Jews and Gentiles, because, by reconciling us to the Father, he has made us all one. Jews have no longer any reason to boast that they are the posterity of Abraham, or that they belong to this or that tribe, — to despise others as profane, and claim the exclusive honor of being a holy people. There is but one relationship which ought to be reckoned, both in heaven and on earth, both among angels and among men — a union to the body of Christ. Out of him all will be found scattered. He alone is the bond by which we are united.

16. That he would give to you. Paul wishes that the Ephesians should be strengthened; and yet he had already bestowed on their piety no mean commendation. But believers have never advanced so far as not to need farther growth. The highest perfection of the godly in this life is an earnest desire to make progress. This strengthening, he tells us, is the work of the Spirit; so that it does not proceed from man’s own ability. The increase, as well as the commencement, of everything good in us, comes from the Holy Spirit. That it is the gift of Divine grace, is evident from the expression used, that he would give to you This the Papists utterly deny. They maintain that the second grace is bestowed upon us, according as we have individually deserved it, by making a proper use of the first grace. But let us unite with Paul in acknowledging that it is the “gift” of the grace of God, not only that we have begun to run well, but that we advance; not only that we have been born again, but that we grow from day to day.

According to the riches of his glory. These words are intended to express still more strongly the doctrine of Divine grace. They may be explained in two ways: either, according to his glorious riches, making the genitive, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, supply the place of an adjective, — or, according to his rich and abundant glory. The word glory will thus be put for mercy, in accordance with an expression which he had formerly used, “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:6) I prefer the latter view.

In the inner man. By the inner man, Paul means the soul, and whatever relates to the spiritual life of the soul; as the outward man denotes the body, with everything that belongs to it, — health, honors, riches, vigor, beauty, and everything of that nature. “Though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is renewed day by day;” that is, if in worldly matters we decay, our spiritual life becomes more and more vigorous. (2 Corinthians 4:16) The prayer of Paul, that the saints may be strengthened, does not mean that they may be eminent and flourishing in the world, but that, with respect to the kingdom of God, their minds may be made strong by Divine power.

17. That Christ may dwell. He explains what is meant by “the strength of the inner man.” As

“it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell,” (Colossians 1:19,)

so he who has Christ dwelling in him can want nothing. It is a mistake to imagine that the Spirit can be obtained without obtaining Christ; and it is equally foolish and absurd to dream that we can receive Christ without the Spirit. Both doctrines must be believed. We are partakers of the Holy Spirit, in proportion to the intercourse which we maintain with Christ; for the Spirit will be found nowhere but in Christ, on whom he is said, on that account, to have rested; for he himself says, by the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18.) But neither can Christ be separated from his Spirit; for then he would be said to be dead, and to have lost all his power.

Justly, therefore, does Paul affirm that the persons who are endowed by God with spiritual vigor are those in whom Christ dwells. He points to that part in which Christ peculiarly dwells, in your hearts, — to show that it is not enough if the knowledge of Christ dwell on the tongue or flutter in the brain.

May dwell through faith. The method by which so great a benefit is obtained is also expressed. What a remarkable commendation is here bestowed on faith, that, by means of it, the Son of God becomes our own, and “makes his abode with us!” (John 14:23.) By faith we not only acknowledge that Christ suffered and rose from the dead on our account, but, accepting the offers which he makes of himself, we possess and enjoy him as our Savior. This deserves our careful attention. Most people consider fellowship with Christ, and believing in Christ, to be the same thing; but the fellowship which we have with Christ is the consequence of faith. In a word, faith is not a distant view, but a warm embrace, of Christ, by which he dwells in us, and we are filled with the Divine Spirit.

That ye may be rooted and grounded in love. Among the fruits of Christ’s dwelling in us the apostle enumerates love and gratitude for the Divine grace and kindness exhibited to us in Christ. Hence it follows, that this is true and solid excellence; so that, whenever he treats of the perfection of the saints, he views it as consisting of these two parts. The firmness and constancy which our love ought to possess are pointed out by two metaphors. There are many persons not wholly destitute of love; but it is easily removed or shaken, because its roots are not deep. Paul desires that it should be rooted 136136     “Meaning (by a continuation of the same architectural metaphor) that ‘the love should be deep and sincere;’ and though ἐρ᾿ῥιζωμένοι be properly applicable to trees, yet it was sometimes used of the foundations of massy edifices; in which case, however, it is in the classical writers almost always accompanied with some word which has reference to buildings.”. — Bloomfield. and grounded, — thoroughly fixed in our minds, so as to resemble a well-founded building or deeply-planted tree. The true meaning is, that our roots ought to be so deeply planted, and our foundation so firmly laid in love, that nothing will be able to shake us. It is idle to infer from these words, that love is the foundation and root of our salvation. Paul does not inquire here, as any one may perceive, on what our salvation is founded, but with what firmness and constancy we ought to continue in the exercise of love.

18. May be able to comprehend. The second fruit is, that the Ephesians should perceive the greatness of Christ’s love to men. Such an apprehension or knowledge springs from faith. By desiring that they should comprehend it with all saints, he shows that it is the most excellent blessing which they can obtain in the present life; that it is the highest wisdom, to which all the children of God aspire. What follows is sufficiently clear in itself, but has hitherto been darkened by a variety of interpretations. Augustine is quite delighted with his own acuteness, which throws no light on the subject. Endeavouring to discover some kind of mysterious allusion to the figure of the cross, he makes the breadth to be love, — the height, hope, — the length, patience, and the depth, humility. This is very ingenious and entertaining: but what has it to do with Paul’s meaning? Not more, certainly, than the opinion of Ambrose, that the allusion is to the figure of a sphere. Laying aside the views of others, I shall state what will be universally acknowledged to be the simple and true meaning.

19. And to know the love of Christ. By those dimensions Paul means nothing else than the love of Christ, of which he speaks afterwards. The meaning is, that he who knows it fully and perfectly is in every respect a wise man. As if he had said, “In whatever direction men may look, they will find nothing in the doctrine of salvation that does not bear some relation to this subject.” The love of Christ contains within itself the whole of wisdom, so that the words may run thus: that ye may be able to comprehend the love of Christ, which is the length and breadth, and depth, and height, that is, the complete perfection of all wisdom. The metaphor is borrowed from mathematicians, taking the parts as expressive of the whole. Almost all men are infected with the disease of desiring to obtain useless knowledge. It is of great importance that we should be told what is necessary for us to know, and what the Lord desires us to contemplate, above and below, on the right hand and on the left, before and behind. The love of Christ is held out to us as the subject which ought to occupy our daily and nightly meditations, and in which we ought to be wholly plunged. He who is in possession of this alone has enough. Beyond it there is nothing solid, nothing useful, — nothing, in short, that is proper or sound. Though you survey the heaven and earth and sea, you will never go beyond this without overstepping the lawful boundary of wisdom.

Which surpasseth knowledge. A similar expression occurs in another Epistle:

“the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:7)

No man can approach to God without being raised above himself and above the world. On this ground the sophists refuse to admit that we can know with certainty that we enjoy the grace of God; for they measure faith by the perception of the bodily senses. But Paul justly contends that this wisdom exceeds all knowledge; for, if the faculties of man could reach it, the prayer of Paul that God would bestow it must have been unnecessary. Let us remember, therefore, that the certainty of faith is knowledge, but is acquired by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, not by the acuteness of our own intellect. If the reader desire a more full discussion of this subject, he may consult the “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”

That ye may be filled. Paul now expresses in one word what he meant by the various dimensions. He who has Christ has everything necessary for being made perfect in God; for this is the meaning of the phrase, the fullness of God. Men do certainly imagine that they have entire completeness in themselves, but it is only when their pride is swelled with empty trifles. It is a foolish and wicked dream, that by the fullness of God is meant the full Godhead, as if men were raised to an equality with God.


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