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Ephesians 4:7-10

7. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

7. Unicuique autem nostrum data est gratia; secundum mensuram donationis Christi.

8. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

8. Propterea dicit: Postquam ascendit in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem, et dedit dona hominibus. (Psalm 68:19.)

9. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

9. Illud autem Ascendit, quid est, nisi quod etiam descenderat prius in inferiores partes terrae?

10. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

10. Qui descendit, ipse est etiam qui ascendit super omnes coelos, ut impleret omnia.

 

7. But to every one. He now describes the manner in which God establishes and preserves among us a mutual relation. No member of the body of Christ is endowed with such perfection as to be able, without the assistance of others, to supply his own necessities. A certain proportion is allotted to each; and it is only by communicating with each other, that all enjoy what is sufficient for maintaining their respective places in the body. The diversity of gifts is discussed in another Epistle, and very nearly with the same object.

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit”
(1 Corinthians 12:4.)

Such a diversity, we are there taught, is so far from injuring, that it tends to promote and strengthen, the harmony of believers.

The meaning of this verse may be thus summed up. “On no one has God bestowed all things. Each has received a certain measure. Being thus dependent on each other, they find it necessary to throw their individual gifts into the common stock, and thus to render mutual aid.” The words grace and gift remind us that, whatever may be our attainments, we ought not to be proud of them, because they lay us under deeper obligations to God. These blessings are said to be the gift of Christ; for, as the apostle, first of all, mentioned the Father, so his aim, as we shall see, is to represent all that we are, and all that we have, as gathered together in Christ.

8. Therefore he saith. To serve the purpose of his argument, Paul has departed not a little from the true meaning of this quotation. Wicked men charge him with having made an unfair use of Scripture. The Jews go still farther, and, for the sake of giving to their accusations a greater air of plausibility, maliciously pervert the natural meaning of this passage. What is said of God, is applied by them to David or to the people. “David, or the people,” they say, “ascended on high, when, in consequence of many victories, they rose superior to their enemies.” But a careful examination of the Psalm will convince any reader that the words, he ascended up on high, are applied strictly to God alone.

The whole Psalm may be regarded as an ἐπίνικιον, a song of triumph, which David sings to God on account of the victories which he had obtained; but, taking occasion from the narrative of his own exploits, he makes a passing survey of the astonishing deliverances which the Lord had formerly wrought for his people. His object is to shew, that we ought to contemplate in the history of the Church the glorious power and goodness of God; and among other things he says, Thou hast ascended on high. (Psalm 68:18.) The flesh is apt to imagine that God remains idle and asleep, when he does not openly execute his judgments. To the view of men, when the Church is oppressed, God is in some manner humbled; but, when he stretches out his avenging arm for her deliverance, he then appears to rouse himself, and to ascend his throne of judgment.

“Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts; he put them to a perpetual reproach.”
(Psalm 78:65, 66.)

This mode of expression is sufficiently common and familiar; and, in short, the deliverance of the Church is here called the ascension of God.

Perceiving that it is a song of triumph, in which David celebrates all the victories which God had wrought for the salvation of his Church, Paul very properly quoted the account given of God’s ascension, and applied it to the person of Christ. The noblest triumph which God ever gained was when Christ, after subduing sin, conquering death, and putting Satan to flight, rose majestically to heaven, that he might exercise his glorious reign over the Church. Hitherto there is no ground for the objection, that Paul has applied this quotation in a manner inconsistent with the design of the Psalmist. The continued existence of the Church is represented by David to be a manifestation of the Divine glory. But no ascension of God more triumphant or memorable will ever occur, than that which took place when Christ was carried up to the right hand of the Father, that he might rule over all authorities and powers, and might become the everlasting guardian and protector of his people.

He led captivity captive. Captivity is a collective noun for captive enemies; and the plain meaning is, that God reduced his enemies to subjection, which was more fully accomplished in Christ than in any other way. He has not only gained a complete victory over the devil, and sin, and death, and all the power of hell, — but out of rebels he forms every day “a willing people,” (Psalm 110:3,) when he subdues by his word the obstinacy of our flesh. On the other hand, his enemies — to which class all wicked men belong — are held bound by chains of iron, and are restrained by his power from exerting their fury beyond the limits which he shall assign.

And gave gifts to men. There is rather more difficulty in this clause; for the words of the Psalm are, “thou hast received gifts for men,” while the apostle changes this expression into gave gifts, and thus appears to exhibit an opposite meaning. Still there is no absurdity here; for Paul does not always quote the exact words of Scripture, but, after referring to the passage, satisfies himself with conveying the substance of it in his own language. Now, it is clear that the gifts which David mentions were not received by God for himself, but for his people; and accordingly we are told, in an earlier part of the Psalm, that “the spoil” had been “divided” among the families of Israel. (Psalm 68:12.) Since therefore the intention of receiving was to give gifts, Paul can hardly be said to have departed from the substance, whatever alteration there may be in the words.

At the same time, I am inclined to a different opinion, that Paul purposely changed the word, and employed it, not as taken out of the Psalm, but as an expression of his own, adapted to the present occasion. Having quoted from the Psalm a few words descriptive of Christ’s ascension, he adds, in his own language, and gave gifts, — for the purpose of drawing a comparison between the greater and the less. Paul intends to shew, that this ascension of God in the person of Christ was far more illustrious than the ancient triumphs of the Church; because it is a more honorable distinction for a conqueror to dispense his bounty largely to all classes, than to gather spoils from the vanquished.

The interpretation given by some, that Christ received from the Father what he would distribute to us, is forced, and utterly at variance with the apostle’s purpose. No solution of the difficulty, in my opinion, is more natural than this. Having made a brief quotation from the Psalm, Paul took the liberty of adding a statement, which, though not contained in the Psalm, is true in reference to Christ — a statement, too, by which the ascension of Christ is proved to be more illustrious, and more worthy of admiration, than those ancient manifestations of the Divine glory which David enumerates.

9. Now that he ascended. Here again the slanderers exclaim, that Paul’s reasoning is trifling and childish. “Why does he attempt to make those words apply to a real ascension of Christ, which were figuratively spoken about a manifestation of the Divine glory? Who does not know that the word ascend is metaphorical? The conclusion, that he also descended first, has therefore no weight.”

I answer, Paul does not here reason in the manner of a logician, as to what necessarily follows, or may be inferred, from the words of the prophet. He knew that what David spake about God’s ascension was metaphorical. But neither can it be denied, that the expression bears a reference to some kind of humiliation on the part of God which had previously existed. It is this humiliation which Paul justly infers from the declaration that God had ascended. And at what time did God descend lower than when Christ emptied himself? ( ᾿Αλλ ᾿ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, Philippians 2:7.) If ever there was a time when, after appearing to lay aside the brightness of his power, God ascended gloriously, it was when Christ was raised from our lowest condition on earth, and received into heavenly glory.

Besides, it is not necessary to inquire very carefully into the literal exposition of the Psalm, since Paul merely alludes to the prophet’s words, in the same manner as, on another occasion, he accommodates to his own subject a passage taken from the writings of Moses. “The righteousness which is of faith speaketh in this manner, Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above;) or, who shall descend into the deep (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.”) (Romans 10:6,7 Deuteronomy 30:12.) But the appropriateness of the application which Paul makes of the passage to the person of Christ is not the only ground on which it must be defended. Sufficient evidence is afforded by the Psalm itself, that this ascription of praise relates to Christ’s kingdom. Not to mention other reasons which might be urged, it contains a distinct prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles.

Into the lower parts of the earth. 140140     For ‘the lower parts of the earth,’ they may possibly signify no more than the place beneath; as when our Savior said, (John 8:23,) ‘Ye are from beneath, I am from above; ye are of this world, I am not of this world;’ or as God spake by the prophet, ‘I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath.’ Nay, they may well refer to his incarnation, according to that of David, (Psalm 139:15,) or to his burial. (Psalm 63:9.)” — Pearson. These words mean nothing more than the condition of the present life. To torture them so as to make them mean purgatory or hell, is exceedingly foolish. The argument taken from the comparative degree, “the lower parts,” is quite untenable. A comparison is drawn, not between one part of the earth and another, but between the whole earth and heaven; as if he had said, that from that lofty habitation Christ descended into our deep gulf.

10. That ascended up far above all heavens; that is, beyond this created world. When Christ is said to be in heaven, we must not view him as dwelling among the spheres and numbering the stars. Heaven denotes a place higher than all the spheres, which was assigned to the Son of God after his resurrection. 141141     “This was the place of which our Savior spake to his disciples, ‘What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?’ Had he been there before in body, it had been no such wonder that he should have ascended thither again; but that his body should ascend unto that place where the majesty of God was most resplendent; that the flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, should be seated far above all angels and archangels, all principalities and powers, even at the right hand of God; this was that which Christ propounded as worthy of their greatest admiration. Whatsoever heaven there is higher than all the rest that are called heavens; whatsoever sanctuary is holier than all which are called holies; whatsoever place is of greatest dignity in all those courts above, into that place did he ascend, where, in the splendor of his Deity, he was before he took upon him our humanity.” — Pearson. Not that it is literally a place beyond the world, but we cannot speak of the kingdom of God without using our ordinary language. Others, again, considering that the expressions, above all heavens, and ascension into heaven, are of the same import, conclude that Christ is not separated from us by distance of place. But one point they have overlooked. When Christ is placed above the heavens, or in the heavens, all that surrounds the earth — all that lies beneath the sun and stars, beneath the whole frame of the visible world — is excluded.

That he might fill all things. To fill often signifies to Finish, and it might have that meaning here; for, by his ascension into heaven, Christ entered into the possession of the authority given to him by the Father, that he might rule and govern all things. But a more beautiful view, in my opinion, will be obtained by connecting two meanings which, though apparently contradictory, are perfectly consistent. When we hear of the ascension of Christ, it instantly strikes our minds that he is removed to a great distance from us; and so he actually is, with respect to his body and human presence. But Paul reminds us, that, while he is removed from us in bodily presence, he fills all things by the power of his Spirit. Wherever the right hand of God, which embraces heaven and earth, is displayed, Christ is spiritually present by his boundless power; although, as respects his body, the saying of Peter holds true, that

“the heaven must receive him until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:21.)

By alluding to the seeming contradiction, the apostle has added not a little beauty to his language. He ascended; but it was that he, who was formerly bounded by a little space, might fill all things But did he not fill them before? In his divine nature, I own, he did; but the power of his Spirit was not so exerted, nor his presence so manifested, as after he had entered into the possession of his kingdom.

“The Holy Ghost was not yet given,
because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39.)

And again,

“It is expedient for you that I go away; for, if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you.” (John 16:7.)

In a word, when he began to sit at the right hand of the Father, he began also to fill all things. 142142     “The deepest humiliation is followed by the highest exaltation. From the highest heaven, than which nothing can be higher, Christ descended to hell, than which nothing can be lower. And on that account he deserved that he should be again carried up beyond the boundaries of all the heavens, withdrawing from us the presence of his body in such a manner, that from on high he might fill all things with heavenly gifts, and, in a different manner, might now be present with us more effectually than he was present while he dwelt with us on earth.” — Erasmus.


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