The Book of Ephesians - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His will.
It will readily be conceded that in this letter Paul reached the highest level of his teaching concerning the Church, as he reached that concerning the Christ in the Colossian letter. These particular words occur in the opening movement of the letter, in which he was showing how the Church was the outcome of a purpose and plan of God from before the foundation of the world. God had chosen its members to "be holy and without blemish before Him in love"; and in order that this purpose should be realized, He foreordained them to "adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself." The whole conception is stupendous, and as we read it in the light of what we know of our own weakness and waywardness of will, we wonder more and more. It is when that wonder threatens us with hopelessness that these words come to reassure us. Our God is a God Who not only wills, He works; and He works according to His will. Notice how the thought moves backward, until it reaches the will of God. That is the ultimate reach. Next in order is His counsel, and that is more than the will of God as desire. The word counsel stands for deliberate planning and arranging, in which the ways and means of carrying out the will are considered and provided for. Finally, when the counsel is complete, God works. He does in His own might, all that He has planned to do in order that His purpose may be realized. That is the place of our assurance and confidence:-
- He wills that I should holy be;
What can Withstand His will?
The counsel of His grace in me
He surely will fulfil.
But God, being rich in mercy.
The word "But" here puts two matters into contrast. The first contrast is between man and God; the second is between the state of man and the mercy of God, and this is the main thought in the mind of the writer. The picture of man's state is very dark: "dead through your trespasses and sins" - that is, cut off from all the true things of life; therefore, walking under the dominion of "the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience"; therefore living "in the lusts of the flesh"; therefore "children of wrath." Can any conditions more hopeless be imagined? How can it ever be that those living under such conditions shall become "holy and without blemish?" What wisdom can plan such a deliverance? What power can be equal to carrying out such a purpose? The complete and final answer is given in these words: "But God, being rich in mercy!" In the wealth of His mercy there the wisdom that plans, and the might that accomplishes. Mercy is compassion, and in God that is more than passive, it is active; it is pity, working on behalf of those who are helpless; it is love, doing the things that love desires to be done. When that compassion, pity, love, is predicated of God, the vastness of it is postulated, the sufficiency of it is recognized. This is the very heart of the Gospel. Over against all the appalling facts of our weakness and wickedness, we must place the wealth of the mercy of God, which had its unveiling and found its mode of action in Christ. Presently Paul referred to the "exceeding riches of His grace"; and we feel the power of the expression. It exceeds all our need. It is an ocean in which all our emptiness is filled without loss to its superabundance.
The love of Christ ... the fullness of God.
Here are two great phrases. They occur in one of the Apostolic prayers for the saints. In that prayer the ultimate desire is that they should "know the love of Christ," in order that they "may be filled unto all the fullness of God." The idea, then, is that the knowledge of "the love of Christ" brings to the soul the experience of "the fullness of God." To be "filled unto all the fullness of God" is to find the ultimate experience of life. Where this is so, there is no true desire of the soul unsatisfied, no power of the soul undeveloped or idle. The true meaning of life is discovered, and that not as an ideal seen but unrealized, but as an actual experience. It is eternal life; it is perfection; it is satisfaction. How then can it be attained? By the knowledge of the love of Christ, for in that there is the very fullness of God; and so wonderful is it, not only as a vision, but in its power, that to know it is to be transformed by it into the likeness of itself. To the finality of this knowledge and experience we have not yet attained; but if we know anything of the love of Christ, we know something of the filling of this fullness of God. That is the story of the beginning, the process, and the consummation of true Christian experience. The love of Christ captures our hearts, and the life of God produces rest and quietness. The love of Christ is progressively interpreted to us by the Spirit, and the fullness of God brings us more and more into the joy of life. At last we shall come to full apprehension. Then we shall come to a final perfection in the final fullness of God.
Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.
Two ideas are brought prominently before the mind in this injunction, and their interrelationship is very suggestive. The first is that of the character of the Spirit, in that Paul here, with evident intention, employed the full and solemn description, "the Holy Spirit of God," every word of which is full of meaning, while laying the supreme emphasis upon the holiness of the Spirit. The other is that of the deep love-nature of the Spirit, in that Paul speaks of Him as being capable of sorrow, for the simple meaning of the injunction is, "Cause not sorrow to the Holy Spirit of God." The interrelation of the ideas reveals to us the effect which sin produces on the Spirit of God. It causes sorrow. Perhaps no Apostolic injunction, if its force be rightly apprehended, constitutes a more prevailing incentive to a walk which is in holiness and truth. Thus is created that new fear which is of the very essence of safety. The old slavish fear of God, which was fear of His anger, and of suffering which such anger might bring to us, is completely done away by the manifestation of His love in Christ; but now a new fear takes possession of us; and that is a fear lest anything we do or say should cause sorrow to Him. The old fear produces no high spiritual or moral results. This new fear keeps the soul in living touch with the loving Lord, and so ensures its growth in strength and purity and beauty.
Be filled with the Spirit.
Much has been written about this injunction, and everything has been of value. It certainly is a central word to the saints. To men outside the Christian experience it has no meaning. For them, the first necessity is that they should be born of the Spirit, that they should receive Him. To those that have been so born, and who therefore have become temples of the Holy Spirit, the one and inclusive responsibility is that they should obey this word. The filling of the Spirit is not an event which takes place once; it is rather a continuous experience which has to be maintained. The indwelling Spirit is a spring of living water. As He is yielded to, He fills all the life, and persistently to such an extent that the rivers overflow, and running forth bring life to those beyond. This filling is hindered when any part of the life is shut up against the Spirit. Our constant responsibility is that of yielding ourselves to His inspection, to His direction, to His effective operation. As we do so, He fills, and that means He cleanses, energizes, and transforms the life; and so passes out through the life in the influences which heal and help others. It is interesting to read the words immediately following, in which the Apostle gives us two results which always follow the filling of the Spirit. The first is that of the exercise of praise, which glorifies God. The second is that of mutual submission, which ministers to the needs of others. Thus the filling of the Spirit means the end of the self-centred life; and the realization of such life as glorifies God and blesses men.
Take ... the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
The life of the saint, in this world to the end, will be one of conflict; and the conflict will be more keen because it is waged against the dark forces of the underworld, "the spiritual hosts of wickedness." Towards the close of this letter, Paul dealt with this matter, recognizing the inevitability of the conflict, understanding its fierceness, and giving a description of the armour by the use of which the saint is not only to stand, but also to withstand, and having done all, to stand. In this description all the weapons are defensive, save one. The only offensive weapon is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." The weapon itself is the Word of God. Here the familiar phrase stands in its lonely splendour, and for us connotes all that it truly stands for. It is first the will of God as it is made known to men. It is therefore centrally and supremely the Son of God, in Whom that will has been completely and finally spoken to men. It is therefore the body of the writings through which, and through which alone, we know anything about Him. Notice carefully that the Apostle here claims that this is the sword of the Spirit. It is the one weapon by which He attacks and puts to flight the hosts of wickedness which fight against God and against man. Let us put perfect confidence in it; and, moreover, let us learn to use it with skill. It is the weapon by which we may attack and defeat all the evil forces which are massed against us in our spiritual conflict.