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“To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the purpose of the ages which He formed in the Christ, even Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in Him. Wherefore I ask that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.”—Eph. iii. 10–13.

The mystery hidden since the ages began, in God who created all things: so the last paragraph concluded. The added phrase “through Jesus Christ” is a comment of the pious reader, that has been incorporated in the received text; but it is wanting in the oldest copies, and is out of place. The apostle is not concerned with the prerogatives of Christ, but with the scope of the Christian economy. He is displaying the breadth and grandeur of the dispensation of grace, the infinite range of the Divine plans and operations of which it forms the centre. Its secret was cherished in the Eternal Mind. Its foundations are laid in the very basis of the world. And the disclosure of it now being made brings new light and wisdom to the powers of the celestial realms.

“There is nothing covered,” said Jesus, “which shall 168 not be revealed, and hidden which shall not be known.” The mysteries which God sets before His intelligent creatures, are promises of knowledge; they are drafts, to be honoured in due time, upon the treasures of wisdom hidden in Christ. So this great secret of the destiny of the Gentile world was “from all ages hidden, in order that now through the Church it might be made known,” and by its means God’s wisdom, to these sublime intelligences. This intention was a part of the “plan of the ages” formed in Christ (ver. 11). God designed by our redemption to bless higher races along with our own. The elder sons of God, those “morning stars” of creation, are schooled and instructed by what is transpiring here upon earth.

To some this will appear to be mere extravagance. They see in such expressions the marks of an unrestrained enthusiasm, of theological speculation pushed beyond its limits and unchecked by any just knowledge of the physical universe. This censure would be plausible and it might seem that the apostle had extended the mission of the gospel beyond its province, were it not for what he says in verse 11: This “purpose of the ages” God “made in the Christ, even Jesus our Lord.” Jesus Christ links together angels and men. He draws after Him to earth the eyes of heaven. Christ’s coming to this world and identification with it unite to it enduringly the great worlds above us. The scenes enacted upon this planet and the events of its religious history have sent their shock through the universe. The incarnation of the Son of God gives to human life a boundless interest and significance. It is idle to oppose to this conviction the fact of the littleness of the terrestrial globe. Spiritual and physical magnitudes are incommensurable. You cannot measure a man’s soul by the size of his dwelling-house. Science 169 teaches us that the most powerful forces may exist and operate within the narrowest space. A microscopic cell may contain the potential life of a world. If our earth is but a grain of sand to the astronomer, it has been the home of Godhead. It is the world for which God spared not to give His own Son!

Here, then, lies the centre of the apostle’s thoughts in this paragraph: God’s all-comprehending purpose in Christ. The magnitude and completeness of this plan are indicated by the fact that it embraces in its purview the angelic powers and their enlightenment. So understanding it, our human faith gains confidence and courage (vv. 12, 13).

I. The textual critics restore the definite article which later copyists had dropped before the word Christ in verse 11. We have already remarked the frequency of “the Christ” in this epistle.9393   See note on p. 47; also pp. 83, 189. Once besides this peculiar combination of the names of our Saviour occurs—in Colossians ii. 6, where Lightfoot renders it the Christ, even Jesus the Lord. So it should be rendered in this place. St Paul sets forth the purpose of “God who created all things.” He is looking back through “the ages” during which the Divine plan was kept secret. God was all the time designing His work of mercy, pointing meanwhile the hopes of men by token and promise to the Coming One. The Messiah was the burden of those prophetic ages. That inscrutable Christ of the Old Testament, the veiled mystery of Jewish hope, stands manifested before us and challenges our faith in the glorious person of “Jesus our Lord.” This singular turn of 170 expression identifies the ideal and the real, the promise and fulfilment, the dream of Old Testament prophecy and the fact of New Testament history. For Jesus our Lord is the very Christ to whom the generations before His coming looked forward out of their twilight with wistful expectancy.

Not without meaning is He called “Jesus our Lord.” The “principalities and powers” of the heavenly places are in our view (ver. 10). These potentates some of the Asian Christians were fain to worship. “See ye do it not,” Paul seems to say. “Jesus, the Christ of God, is alone our Lord; not these. He is our Lord and theirs (i. 21, 22). As our Lord He commands their homage, and gives them lessons through His Church in God’s deep counsels.” Everything that the apostle says tends to exalt our Redeemer and to enhance our confidence in Him. His position is central and supreme, in regard alike to the ages of time and the powers of the universe. In His hand is the key to all mysteries. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning, middle, and end of God’s ways. He is the centre of Israel, Israel of the world and the human ages; while the world of men is bound through Him to the higher spheres of being, over which He too presides.

There is a splendid intellectual courage, an incredible boldness and reach of thought in St Paul’s conception of the sovereignty of Christ. Remember that He of whom these things are said, but thirty years before died a felon’s death in the sight of the Jewish people. It is not our Lord Jesus Christ, whose name is hallowed by the lips of millions and glorified by the triumphs of centuries upon centuries past, but the Nazarene with the obscurity of His life and the cruel shame of Calvary 171 fresh in the recollection of all men. With what immense force had the facts of His glorification wrought upon men’s minds—His resurrection and ascension, the witness of His Spirit and the virtue of His gospel—for it to be possible to speak of Him thus, within a generation of His death! While “the foolishness of preaching” such a Christ and the weakness in which He was crucified were patent to all eyes, unrelieved by the influence of time and the glamour of success, how was it that the first believers raised Jesus to this limitless glory and dominion? It was through the conviction, certified by outward fact and inward experience, that “He liveth by the power of God.” Thus Peter on the day of Pentecost: “By the right hand of God exalted, He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” The resurrection from the dead, the demonstration of the Spirit proved Jesus Christ to be that which He had claimed to be, the Saviour of men and the eternal Son of God.

The supremacy here assigned to Christ is a consequence of the exaltation described at the close of the first chapter. There we see the height, here the breadth and length of His dominion. If He is raised from the grave so high that all created powers and names are beneath His feet, we cannot wonder that the past ages were employed in preparing His way, that the basis of His throne lies in the foundation of the world.

II. The universe is one. There is a solidarity of rational and moral interests amongst all intelligences. Granting the existence of such beings as the angels of Scripture, we should expect them to be profoundly concerned in the redeeming work of Christ. They are the “watchers” and “holy ones” spoken of by the 172 later Isaiah and Daniel, whom the Lord has “set upon the walls of Jerusalem” and who survey the affairs of nations. Such was “the angel who talked” with Zechariah in his vision, and whom the prophet overheard pleading for Jerusalem. In the Apocalypse, again, we find the angels acting as God’s unseen executive. We decline to believe that these superhuman creatures are nothing more than apocalyptic machinery, that they are creations of fancy employed to give a livelier aspect to spiritual truth. “Cannot I pray to my Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” So Jesus said, in the most solemn hour of His life. And who can forget His tender words concerning the little children, whose “angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven”?

The apostle Paul, who denounces “worship of the angels” in the fellow epistle to this, earnestly believed in their existence and their interest in human affairs. If he did not write the words of Hebrews i. 14, he certainly held that “they are ministering spirits sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation.” Most clearly is their relationship to the Church affirmed by the words of the revealing angel to the apostle John: “I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them that keep the words of this book.”

Christ’s service is the high school of wisdom for the universe. These princes of heaven win by their ministry to Christ and His Church a great reward. Their intelligence, however lofty its range, is finite. Their keen and burning intuition could not penetrate the mystery of God’s intentions toward this world. The revelations of the latter days—the incarnation, the cross, the publication of the gospel, the outpouring of 173 the Spirit—were full of surprises to the heavenly watchers. They sang at Bethlehem; they hid their faces and shrouded heaven in blackness at the sight of Calvary. They bent down with eager observation and searching thought “desiring to look into” the things made known to men (1 Peter i. 12),—close and sympathetic students of the Church’s history. The apostle felt that there were other eyes bent upon him than those of his fellow-men, and that he was acting in a grander arena than the visible world. “We are a spectacle,” he says, “to angels and to men.” So he enjoins faithfulness on Timothy, and with Timothy on all who bear the charge of the gospel, “before God and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels.” What is public opinion, what the applause or derision of the crowd, to him who lives and acts in the presence of these august spectators?

“Through the Church,” we are told, the angels of God are “now” having His “manifold wisdom made known” to them. It is not from the abstract scheme of salvation, from the theory or theology of the Church that they get this education, but through the living Church herself. The Saviour’s mission to earth created a problem for them, the development of which they follow with the most intense and sympathetic interest. With what solicitude they watch the conflict between good and evil and the varying progress of Christ’s kingdom amongst men! Many things, doubtless, that engage our attention and fill a large space in our Church records, are of little account with them; and much that passes in obscurity, names and deeds unchronicled by fame, are written in heaven and pondered in other spheres. No brave and true blow is struck in Christ’s battle, but it has the admiration of these high spectators. 174 No advance is made in character and habit, in Christian intelligence and efficiency and the application of the gospel to human need, but they notice and approve. When the cause of the Church and the salvation of mankind go forward, when righteousness and peace triumph, the morning stars sing together and the sons of God shout for joy. The joy that there is in the presence of the angels of God over the repenting sinner, is not the joy of sympathy or pity only; it is the delight of growing wisdom, of deepening insight into the ways of God, into the heart of the Father and the love that passes knowledge.

One would suppose from what the apostle hints, that our world presents a problem unique in the kingdom of God, one which raises questions more complicated and crucial than have elsewhere arisen. The heavenly princedoms are learning through the Church “the manifold wisdom of God.” His love, in its pure essence, those happy and godlike beings know. They have lived for ages in its unclouded light. His power and skill they may see displayed in proportions immensely grander than this puny globe of ours presents. God’s justice, it may be, and the thunders of His law have issued forth in other regions clothed with a splendour of which the scenes of Sinai were but a faint emblem. It is in the combination of the manifold principles of the Divine government that the peculiarity of the human problem appears to lie. The delicate and continuous balancing of forces in God’s plan of dealing with this world, the reconciliation of seeming incompatibilities, the issue found from positions of hopeless contradiction, the accord of goodness with severity, of inflexible rectitude and truth with fatherly compassion, afford to the greatest minds of heaven 175 a spectacle and a study altogether wonderful. So amongst ourselves the child of a noble house, reared in cultured ease and shielded from moral peril, in visiting the homes of poverty in the crowded city finds a new world opened to him, that can teach him Divine lessons if he has the heart to learn. His mind is awakened, his sympathies enriched. He hears the world’s true voice, “the still, sad music of humanity.” He measures the heights and depths of man’s nature. A host of questions are thrust upon him, whose urgency he had scarcely guessed; and wide ranges of truth are lighted up for him, which before were distant and unreal. The highest have ever to learn from the lowest in Christ’s school, the seeming-wise from the simple; even the pure and good, from contact with the fallen whom they seek to save.

And “the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places” are, it seems, willing to learn from those below them. As they traced the course of human history in those “eternal times” during which the mystery lay wrapped in silence, the angel watchers were too wise to play the sceptic, too cautious to criticize an unfinished plan and arraign a justice they could not yet understand. With a dignified patience they waited the uplifting of the curtain and the unravelling of the entangled plot. They looked for the coming of the Promised One. So in due time they witnessed and, for their reward, assisted in His manifestation. With the same docility these high sharers of our theological inquiries still wait to see the end of the Lord and to take their part in the dénouement of the time-drama, in the revelation of the sons of God. Let us copy their long patience. God has not made us to mock us. “What thou knowest not now,” said the 176 great Revealer, the Master of all mysteries, to His disciple, “thou shalt know hereafter.”

These wise elder brothers of ours, rich in the lore of eternity, foresee the things to come as we cannot do. They are far above the smoke and dust of the earthly conflict. The doubts that shake the strongest souls amongst us, the cries of the hour which confuse and deceive us, do not trouble them. They behold us in our weakness, our fears and our divisions; but they also look on Him who “sits expecting till His enemies are made His footstool.” They see how calmly He sits, how patiently expectant, while the sound of clashing arms and the rage and tumult of the peoples go up from the earth. They mark the steadiness with which through century after century, in spite of refluent waves, the tide of mercy rises, and still rises on the shores of earth. Thrones, systems, civilizations have gone down; one after another of the powers that strove to crush or to corrupt Christ’s Church has disappeared; and still the name of Jesus lives and spreads. It has traversed every continent and sea; it stands at the head of the living and moving forces of the world. Those who come nearest to the angelic point of view, and judge of the progress of things not by the froth upon the surface but by the trend of the deeper currents, are the most confident for the future of our race. The kingdom of Satan will not fall without a struggle—a last struggle, perhaps more furious than any in the past—but it is doomed, and waning to its end. So far has the kingdom of Christ advanced, so mightily does the word of God grow and prevail in the earth, that faith may well assure itself of the promised triumph. Soon we shall shout: “Alleluia! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!”

177 III. Suddenly, according to his wont, the apostle drops down from the heights of contemplation to the level of ordinary fact. He descends in verse 12 from the thought of the eternal purpose and the education of the angels to the struggling Church. The assurance of its life in the Spirit corresponds to the grandeur of that Divine order to which it belongs. “In whom,” he says—in this Christ, the revealed mystery of ages past, the Teacher of angels and archangels—“we have our freedom and confident access to God through faith in Him.”

If it be “Jesus our Lord” to whom these attributes belong, and He is not ashamed of us, well may we draw near with confidence to the Father, unashamed in the presence of His holy angels. We have no need to be abashed, if we approach the Divine Majesty with a true faith in Christ. His name gives the sinner access to the holiest place. The cherubim sheathe their swords of flame. The heavenly warders at this passport open the golden gates. We “come unto Mount Sion, the city of the living God, and to an innumerable company of angels.” Not one of these mightinesses and ancient peers of heaven, not Gabriel or Michael himself, would wish or dare to bar our entrance.

“We have boldness and access,” says the apostle, as in chapter i. 7: “We have redemption in His blood.” He insists upon the conscious fact. This freedom of approach to God, this sonship of faith, is no hope or dream of what may be; it is a present reality, a filial cry heard in a multitude both of Gentile and Jewish hearts (comp. ii. 18).

This sentence exhibits the richness of synonyms characteristic of the epistle. There is boldness and 178 access, confidence as well as faith. The three former terms Bengel nicely distinguishes: “libertatem oris in orando,” and “admissionem in fiducia in re, et corde”—freedom of speech (in prayer), of status, and of feeling. The second word (as in chapter ii. 18 and Romans v. 2) appears to be active rather than passive in its force, denoting admittance rather than access. So that while the former of the parallel terms (boldness) describes the liberty with which the new-born Church of the redeemed address themselves to God the Father and the unchecked freedom of their petitions, the latter (admittance) takes us back to the act of Christ by which He introduced us to the Father’s presence and gave us the place of sons in the house. Being thus admitted, we may come with confidence of heart, though we be less than the least of saints. Accepted in the Beloved, we are within our right if we say to the Father:—

“Yet in Thy Son divinely great,

We claim Thy providential care.

Boldly we stand before Thy seat;

Our Advocate hath placed us there!”

“Wherefore,” concludes the imprisoned apostle, “I beg you not to lose heart at my afflictions for you.” Assuredly Paul did not pray that he should not lose heart, as some interpret his meaning. But he knew how his friends were fretting and wearying over his long captivity. Hence he writes to the Philippians: “I would have you know that the things which have happened to me have turned out rather to the furtherance of the gospel.” Hence, too, he assures the Colossians earnestly of his joy in suffering for their sake (ch. i. 24).

The Church was fearful for Paul’s life and distressed 179 by his prolonged sufferings. It missed his cheering presence and the inspiration of his voice. But if the Church is so dear to God as the pages of this letter show, and grounded in His eternal purposes, then let all friends of Christ take courage. The ark freighted with such fortunes cannot sink. St Paul is a martyr for Christ, and for Gentile Christendom! Every stroke that falls upon him, every day added to the months of his imprisonment helps to show the worth of the cause he has espoused and gives to it increased lustre: “my afflictions for you, which are your glory.”

Those that love him should boast rather than grieve over his afflictions. “We make our boast in you amongst the Churches of God,” he wrote to the distressed Thessalonians (2 Ep. i. 4), “for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and afflictions”; so he would have the Churches think of him. When good men suffer in a good cause, it is not matter for pity and dread, but rather for a holy pride.

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