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95

CHAPTER VII.

FROM DEATH TO LIFE.

“And you did He quicken, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein aforetime ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:—but God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, quickened us together with the Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up together and made us to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”—Eph. ii. 1–6.

We pass by a sudden transition, just as in Colossians i. 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 (i. 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 verse 5; but they are more than supplied already in the foregoing context. 96 “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 and death of sin to share by faith His celestial life.”

The apostle, in verse 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.”7474   For the antithesis of “you” and “we,” comp. vv. 11–18, ch. i, 12, 13; also Rom. iii. 19, 23 (For there is no distinction), Gal. ii. 15.


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 realize 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 97 might no less transcendent, that it may raise us from the dust of death to sit with Him in the heavenly places (vv. 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 the charnel-house. We realize 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 98 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 paralyzed 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 99 spring and principle of its being. It sees not the light, it bears 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 judgement 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 paralyzed. 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 100 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 101 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.7575    Ποιοῦντες τὰ θελήματα τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ τῶν διανοιῶν (ver. 3). 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. 102 “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,7676   Perhaps this double rendering may bring out the force of κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου. 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 Cor. iv. 4), and in whom Jesus recognized, under the name of “the prince of the world,” His great antagonist (John xiv. 30).

103 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 chapter vi. 12—and, in its bare physical sense, without point or relevance to this passage. There follows in 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 dwelling 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:7777   In the posthumous Erklärung des Briefes Pauli an die Epheser—a valuable exposition, marked by Beck’s theological acumen and lucidity. “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 104 power immanent in cosmical nature.”7878   The φύσει of verse 3 thus corresponds to the ἐξουσία τοῦ ἀέρος of verse 2. “Sin entered into the world” ( κόσμος), Rom. v. 12, which signifies more than the nature of individual men. Concerning great tracts of the earth, and large sections even of Christianized communities, we must still confess with St John: “The world lieth in the Evil One.” The air is impregnated with the infection of sin;7979   I John iii. 8; comp. John viii. 41–44. its germs float about us constantly, and wherever they find lodgement 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 vii. 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 105 more bitter and humiliating to a conscientious man than the conviction of this penetrating Divine insight, this detection to himself of his 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 106 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 v. 24–28).

107 “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 liferaised us upseated 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, but 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 108 (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 1 and the we of verse 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” (ver. 16). We sit not alone, but together in the heavenly places. This is the fulness of life; this completes our salvation.


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