Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica

Table of Contents

1. Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 1
2. Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 2
3. Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 3
4. Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 4
5. Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 5
6. Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 6

Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 1

We must introduce our meditations on this epistle by referring a little to the ways of God from the beginning; because there is a wonderful unity in His counsels, and the whole volume sets its seal to the divine thought, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning." Therefore, when we come to a scripture like this, it is well to pause and look about us, and see its relation to previous scriptures. If I come to a merely moral scripture, such as, "Let him that stole steal no more," I may take it and use it at once, and alone, but when it is doctrinal or prophetic scripture, which opens the divine mind, I have to ask how it is introduced, and what is to come after it, because we are to be fraught with divine intelligence — "We have the mind of Christ."
The Epistle to the Hebrews unfolds the heavens, and speaks of heavenly calling, putting you in company with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but it does not open the mystery of the church. The Epistle to the Ephesians opens the mystery of the church, but does not keep you in company with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are advancing, and we are called to distinguish between the heavenly calling and the calling of the church. So there is a fitness in considering the Epistle to the Hebrews before the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Now, why do I say the Epistle to the Hebrews opens the heavenly calling? Because it associates you with Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc. The earth at the beginning was given to the children of men. What did they do with it? They forfeited it. Then what did God do with them? Well, He opened heaven to them! He gave them the earth to enjoy. They soiled and lost it by sin. Well, said He, I’ll open heaven to you. This is one way in which the grace of God abounds.
What should I say of One who, when I had abused the gift which He put in my hand, put a better gift in my other hand? This is God!
Was not Adam brought back to God, and Enoch taken to heaven? I have no doubt that Abraham had the heavenly calling. They looked for a better country, "that is, an heavenly." Moses was carried up to Pisgah to bear witness of it. Enoch bore witness of it, and Elijah in a later dispensation. From the beginning there has been heavenly calling, but not church calling. So, when the apostle comes to address the Hebrews, who were brought from a Jewish root, he talks of heavenly calling, but does not go beyond it. When he comes to address himself to the Ephesians, once a Gentile people, the worshippers of the goddess Diana (but apart from all Jewish connections), he unfolds the mystery of the church — the richest thing in the counsels of God. Let me say another thing. How did God unfold His purposes in the earth? He knew a family in the loins of Abraham. They flourished into a nation in the Book of Exodus; then under judges and prophets; but they did not ripen to the culminating point of glory till God put them under a king
He goes on from step to step till the elect family flourished, under Solomon, into a kingdom. So it is with His heavenly purposes. It is not till the apostleship of Paul is set up that they unfold in the bright culminating point of the church. God is always consistent in His ways. Let the earth be the scene of His activities, we find them unfolding till they reach the palmy days of Solomon. In His heavenly purposes we follow on till we see the church at the highest point in creation, "The fullness of Him that filleth all in all." So it is impossible not to stand and say, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”
Now, having prefaced thus, we stand before the Epistle to the Ephesians It is desirable to come up to this writing with intelligence. Here we are listeners in heavenly scenes to the same kind of thing as we saw in earthly scenery.
Let me remind you of a passage in Colossians: "the dispensation of God, which is given to me for you, to fulfill the Word of God" — or, "to fill it out" (Col. 1:25-26). To fill out the revelation of God — a magnificent commentary of Paul on his own ministry. Was it not left to Solomon to display the closing purpose of God in the earth by heading it with a throne? It was left to Paul to reveal in his ministry the bright magnificent point of the heavenly mysteries. We are brought up by him to the headship of Christ.
The apostle begins by addressing all the faithful in Christ Jesus. He steps over the Ephesians. So that we are all called to learn these things. "Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." This could not be said of the patriarchs. "In heavenly places" they would have been associated with us; but these are blessings in company with Christ.
Then, having put you in this peculiar place, he unfolds the divine roll of blessings to you. First, chosen in Him before the world was. These high privileges began before the foundation of the world. Could I say that properly of Abraham? Certainly he was chosen before the foundation of the world, but you are chosen "in Him." The divine purposes rested in a peculiar way on a peculiar people.
Then, predestination always follows on election. Election touches the person; predestination the place or condition: "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ... He hath made us accepted in the beloved." Now is not that a peculiar form of adoption? Do I believe that Adam was a son of God? Indeed I do. Do I believe that he was "accepted in the beloved"? No, I do not. Do I believe that angels are sons of God? Indeed I do. Do I believe they are "accepted in the beloved"? No, I do not. So that here again is a peculiarity. It is an adoption of the highest order. We have the joy and liberty of the Beloved’s sonship. He goes on to say, "In whom we have redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of sins." Why, to be sure, that is a thing of course. Who would think of asking a person up in heavenly places, "Are you forgiven?" Did you ever observe in the parable of the prodigal son that the father never says he forgives him? How could he? How could he frame his lips to say, "I forgive you"? You and I ought to walk in the sunshine of our calling in such a way as to assume forgiveness as a thing at the foot of the hill, while we are up at the heights. Let the music and dancing, the ring and the shoes, tell me I am forgiven. So the Father treats the prodigal, and so the Spirit treats us in Eph. 1. Yet the soul is constantly busying itself about forgiveness when it should be viewing the magnificence of its calling in Christ. There is a style in love that love could never rid itself of. The father would have wept to say, "I forgive you." Would not you be ashamed to tell one coming. back in sorrow, confessing his fault, "I forgive you "? Talk of a father, on the neck of his weeping, penitent child, saying, "I forgive you "! How little we know of the ways of love!
Now, to go on. He abounds towards us in all wisdom and knowledge, having opened to us the bosom secret — all things gathered together in Christ. That is a secret never made known before. In the prophet Isaiah we get a beautiful picture of the millennial earth; but do we ever get the millennial heavens with Christ at their head? Was it ever said by Isaiah that all things in heaven and earth should be headed up in the glorified Man? "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance." We are heirs with Him. Was that ever unfolded before? And till the inheritance comes we get the Holy Spirit. We get Him here under two titles — a seal, and an earnest. A seal of present salvation; an earnest of future inheritance. When I look at the place of the Holy Spirit, in the mystery of redemption, it is wonderful to see the official glories that attach to Him here on earth. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we have the official glories of Christ. Here we are called to witness the official glories of the Holy Spirit in this dispensation. What a blessed, glorious thing — to take the secrets of the divine bosom, and make them known to us! To seal us by His presence as possessors of present salvation, and to be the earnest of our inheritance! Ah, it is wonderful. I could not move a step in company with a soul not pregnant with the blessedness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being the One with whom we have to do.
"The purchased possession" here is the whole scene — the whole creation. It is purchased, but not yet redeemed. The blood of Christ has purchased the creation as well as you; but it is not yet redeemed, and while in that condition you have the Holy Spirit as an earnest. When it is redeemed you will be the heir of it. Are you redeemed yet? You are purchased, but you wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of your body, and that you will never get till God puts forth power as well as blood. The Apocalypse is the display of redemption; the gospel is the display of purchase — but the purchased thing is not redeemed till God puts forth power to rescue it from the hands of the destroyer. 
At verse 15 the apostle ceases to be a teacher and becomes an intercessor — and you will find that he never in prayer pulls down what, as a teacher, he had built up. You will sometimes hear people asking God to love them. I could never make such a prayer as that. I am to pray for a deeper sense of His love. Paul does not ask God to give them this, and the other; but he asks Him that they may have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him — that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened. Oh, for a better heart to know these things! But to ask God to love me, to make me a co-heir with Christ, to appoint me to heavenly places in Him! I will make a prayer much more humbling than that, I am so blessed in my calling; so poor in my enjoyment! If God has lit a candle, I will not ask Him to light it, but to take the film from my eyes that I may see what He has done, what this magnificent purpose is, and the power that has brought us there. So he prays that you may have an eye to discern the brightness of the heavenly glory, and the resurrection — power that has conducted you from such ruins to such glories.

Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 2

We have reached Ephesians 2, but we must look back at Ephesians 2 to resume the course of our thoughts. We were observing that we must distinguish between the heavenly calling and the church calling. The church has heavenly calling; but it does not follow that all who have heavenly calling have church calling. Heavenly calling arose from divine disappointment in the earth. The earth was given to Adam. Adam forfeited it, and the Lord then takes His elect to heaven.
The thought introduces you to the idea of relief.
The Lord found another way to bless His elect. If the earth is lost, where will He put His saints? The blessed God of all grace says, I know how I will dispose of them; I will put them in heaven. The Lord never merely repairs a breach; He brings a better thing out of the ruin. So the forfeiture of the earth opened heaven, and the heavenly man finds himself in a better place than if he had never lost the earth.
The two dealings of God with the earth are in government and in calling out — strangership and citizenship alternately. Citizenship when God is dealing with, and settling the earth; strangership when God is calling people out of it. He has now called the church into strangership. That is the way to introduce our thoughts to the present dispensation. We see how God has been put into His present dispensational attitude. The earth is polluted, and God is put upon to take Himself and His people to heaven. It is a dispensation of intense strangership. But the church is something more than that. Moses, Abraham, etc., were taken to heaven as witnesses of heavenly calling. Chapter 1 of this epistle introduces a new thought. We are not only in heaven, but in Christ in heaven. See how full the chapter is with the word "in." We are blessed in heavenly places in Christ — accepted in the Beloved.
God has chosen us in Him. In whom we have obtained an inheritance. We are raised in Christ. Seated in Him in heavenly places; and, when the world has told its story, you will find yourself a co-inheritor in Christ. That is a new thing; that is the body of Christ. That is one peculiarity of the church.
Let me call your thoughts a little aside. We see in the argument of the Galatians Abraham brought into our company; and in the argument of the Hebrews Abraham is brought into our company. Not so in the Ephesians. This is the divine accuracy of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians we do not get the church; we get sonship and heirship. I do not doubt that Abraham was as perfect as I am; but the moment the Spirit unfolds and displays the body of Christ Abraham has no place in the argument, we lose sight of him. I see you and myself, but not Abraham.
Is there not a meaning in these distinctions? Can I put myself in the presence of three such august witnesses to the mind of Christ and not see these things? I have no warrant for saying that Abraham takes a place in the church. Now, let me just ask you, Are you prepared for this? Is there any analogy in the divine dealings? I think there is. By-and-by the Lord will fill the whole face of the earth. All nations will bow to His scepter. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. But is that all I get in the millennial earth? No: I get the twelve tribes in special nearness. I get the land of Israel in special relationship to God. And I get in the midst of the tribes a royal people, and a priestly people. This is further separation; and I get a Jerusalem. No one can read the prophetic letter and not see that Jerusalem will have her special place, seated in her beauty, "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob." With that divine analogy I travel to the heavens. There will be beautiful varieties there — the noble army of martyrs, the goodly fellowship of the prophets. But, as Jerusalem will take the chief place on earth, so the church will take the chief place in heaven. So we may be prepared for what is revealed under the title of "the mystery."
Do you remember when Israel stood between the Red Sea and the hosts of Egypt what is said to them? "Stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah." They had got from under the claims of the destroying angel. They were in the salvation of God; but God had secrets in the cloud not yet unfolded to them. There was a glory there that could scatter the hoof in the Red Sea. It could turn one side, and take the wheels off the Egyptian chariots. It could turn the other, and make crystal walls on either side of the Israelites. So, in standing before the Ephesians, we do not come to see justification by blood, but to let the rich purpose of God unfold itself to our gaze. How blessed are these divine ways! Are we satisfied to know the blood on the lintel has delivered us? All leans on that; but still I say, Stand by, and mark the secrets — go and inquire into the cloudy glory before you. This is just the attitude to take up in Ephesians.
Now mark this: the moment the history of Israel closed in the Babylonish captivity, the glory departed. The glory never went over to the Gentile. The sword went; the glory never. A great deal of your intelligence of scripture depends on your taking up a right attitude in presence of it. If you know what point you are standing on, it gives you a divine advantage. Now, in standing before Ezekiel, we see that the glory has gone up to heaven, and the sword has gone to the Gentile. Has the glory ever come back? It has; not to accompany the sword of Caesar, but shrouded in the humiliation of the Man of Nazareth. The sword had failed to keep the earth in order. We know where the glory dwells. It has not accompanied the sword of Caesar, as it did the sword of David and Solomon. The glory is as much apart from the sword now as when it went up before Ezekiel and the sword went to the Gentile. The powers that be are not ordained of Jesus; they are ordained of God as God. Power belongs to God in His supreme place. Jesus expresses God brought into certain conditions and relationships. All dignities belong to Jesus in title; but we could not look at Him yet and call Him King of kings, and Lord of lords. The epitome of the remnant’s religion is, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." In a theocracy, Caesar and God are together. Now, I must recognize God’s domain and Caesar’s domain. I must take knowledge of the confusion, and not say that the glory is returned to link itself with the sword; or He who said, “Who made me a ruler or a judge? " would have been a very different person in this world.
Do you and I detect the unity and variety of the divine volume? It is a beautiful whole, but infinite in variety.
Thus, having seen our attitude, we are entering on the second chapter. We are let down a little here, but only to take up an important truth; to see out of what we are called. The chapter distinguishes itself into three parts. From verse 1 to 7 we have the subject of death and life; from verse 7 to 10 we have the subject of good works; and from verse 10 to the end, distance and nearness.
What manner of people were we when God took us up to baptize us into the body of Christ? Our condition was death — a profound moral ruin. What is the verdict that lies on us? "Dead in trespasses and sins." But, then, what condition are we brought into by Christ? The contrast is very fine. It is life of the highest order that has been imparted to us. We are linked with Christ Himself. How suitable, having shown us our high calling in the first chapter, to chew us in the second the place out of which we were called! Our death-estate in nature could not be lower; our life-estate in Christ could not be higher.
Another subject is good works, and I am charmed with the beauty of it. "Not of works, lest any man should boast."
As far as good works could have been the ground of boasting, they are shut out by Gad; but you are created of God in such a way that you must be bringing them forth. John’s epistle shows us the same thing; our very new creation secures them.
Then, to the end of the chapter we get the subject of alienation and nearness. This is just like death and life. Two things attach to us: in our own person, either death or life; in relation to God, either alienation or nearness. I look at myself, and see death in me, but as to life, I have been quickened with the highest form of life a creature could enjoy. So by nature nothing could be more distant than my alienation: "No hope, and without God in the world." Essentially cut off from Him, my nearness now in Christ is ineffable. It could not be more perfect. It is right we should have low thoughts of ourselves, but the value of Christ rests upon every stone of the temple. The whole temple is built in the Lord; and then, when built, what other glory is put upon it? The Holy Spirit dwells there.
Thus we have disposed of the first two chapters. The first unfolds our position in Christ; the second draws us aside to look at ourselves. He shows me first, in my own person, dead — then in alienation from God. Then He reverses it, and shows me what manner of life I have got, and what manner of nearness I have got; and there is not a single feeble thought in it. Have you feeble thoughts? They belong to nature. They are not the breathings of the Holy Spirit. They are not the counsels of God touching you. He is not weak when He delineates your condition in nature. He is equally strong when He delineates your condition in Christ Jesus.

Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 3

We will now read from the opening of Ephesians 3:10 to Ephesians 4:16. When we meditate on such a scripture as the Epistle to the Ephesians, we ought to take care that knowledge be not overvalued; that we do not give it a disproportionate place. When Nicodemus came to the Lord to inquire into heavenly secrets, He turned him back from being a mere inquirer as to heavenly objects, to begin with himself. So Paul refused to bring out the mystery to the Corinthians because of their low moral standing. So we ought to approach Ephesian truth rather cautiously, looking at our own moral condition. The Lord’s dealing with Nicodemus was morally of one character with Paul’s dealing with the Corinthians. So there is a moral title to breathe Ephesian atmosphere, or else we might get giddy on such heights. We must tread softly, not timidly as if they were not our own. These deepest secrets of the bosom belong to us; but the vessel is to be fitted morally to receive them.
Now we were distinguishing in the first chapter between the heavenly calling and the calling of the church; and in the second chapter we were looking at our death and life condition, and our alienated and near condition. In entering on the third chapter we resume the mystery. Did you ever see a moral beauty in this chapter being a parenthesis! It has struck me a good deal, the mystery being a parenthesis, that it should be here unfolded in a parenthetic chapter.
Here we get the church more largely opened out to us. Paul was the depositary of this mystery, and he got it by revelation. You will say he got everything by revelation and so he did, as he tells us in Galatians. Where does Paul date his apostleship? From Christ in the flesh? No; from Christ in glory. Where the other apostles? From Christ in the flesh — the Lord walking down here. But Paul never knew Christ in the flesh. So specific was his calling, and so specific the truth committed to him. By revelation, then, the mystery was made known to him.
Now, why does he say, "in few words"? Why, if he had spent chapters on it, it would have been but few words. If all that the Lord had done had been written, the world itself would not contain the books that should be written, John tells us in a note of admiration. Just so; this thing was so magnificent that to spend chapters on it would have been but few words. You and I want to find these notes of admiration in ourselves. They are very suited to us. "He made known unto me the mystery...which in other ages was not made known...that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs," not with the Jews merely, but with Christ. The body will have Jews in it; but still it is characteristically Gentile. So he loses sight of the Jews, and tells the Gentiles that they are fellow-heirs with Christ.
Here we have a new kind of inheritance — to be of the same body, and fellow-heirs with the Son of His love; not Gentiles grafted on a body of Jews. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints." This is characteristic. The Jews were taken up because they were the least of all nations. You were taken up because you were a poor uncircumcised distant Gentile, with no hope or God; and Paul was taken up because he was less than the least of all saints. He takes the beggar from the dung-hill. That is the way of God.
Now, what was the operation of the mystery? "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." This reminds us of Colossians 1:25, Paul’s ministry came "to fulfill [or fill out] the Word of God." You will say, Will you put it above the ministry of Christ? Indeed I do, dispensationally. The ways of God shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. What light we stand in! We are in the light as God is in the light. The multiform, variegated wisdom of God is now told out in all its forms of beauty. That which I now get is high calling into fellow-heirship; one body with the Lord of glory. I have reached the very head itself, and sit down in sight of the coronation of Christ and His elect. So I have completed it; I have reached the manifold wisdom of God. Then he comes down a little, "In Whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him." How He loves to put that foundation under our feet! If we are in the light where God dwells, we are in the citadel of strength which God has erected. It would not do to be in the light if we were not surrounded by the citadel.
The apostle now becomes a suppliant, as he did before in chapter 1. Having again rehearsed the mystery, he becomes in verse 14 a man of prayer for us. In Ephesians 1 he prays to the God of our Lord Jesus; and he prays that you may know the glory that awaits you, and the strength that is conducting you there; and he prays to the God of our Lord Jesus.
Here his prayer is that you may know the love that has destined you there; and he prays to the Father of our Lord Jesus. His heart instinctively turns itself to the Father’s bosom, which is the source of all our eternal blessedness: "Out of thy heart thou didst it," as David says. And does not your heart instinctively dictate this distinction, as you find yourself in prayer with God in glory, the Father in love, and Christ in salvation. When I think of glory and strength I am in company with the God of the Lord Jesus. When I think of love, I am in company with the Father of the Lord Jesus. These are evidences in the book that address themselves to the conscience. Scripture is a great self-evidencing body of light. Then he makes his prayer. One little word we must pause on: "Of whom the whole family," and so forth. Critics say a better translation is, "every family," and I accept it from the whole context.
I believe there are to be households in heaven as well as on earth. I believe when I take an intelligent view of the coming millennial heavens I see various families, as well as on the millennial earth. I see principalities, thrones, dominions; and I see the church as the body of Christ carried and seated above all. There may be, as was quoted before, "the noble army of martyrs," "the goodly fellowship of the prophets." There may be a patriarchal household, and a prophetic household in the world to come; but the church of the living God, in company with her Head, will be there above all.
It is a fine thing to read astronomy and geography after this manner.
There will be a heaven, by-and-by, studded with the sons of God — with morning stars! and there will be no jealousies or envyings among them.
We want largeness of thought; and largeness of thought need not take us out of accuracy of thought.
Having closed this parenthetic chapter, and its parenthetic purpose, we are entering the fourth chapter. He resumes what he was saying in Ephesians 3:1, "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord." That again is characteristic, that the church should have her high calling told out from a prison in Rome. If we walked a natural path and died a natural death, we should go from prisons and stakes to Christ in glory. The saint should be an unresisting witness against the world. The world thinks separation from it an insult; and it will not be insulted without revenge. So Paul unfolds the mystery from the gloomy dungeons of Rome. The church is a martyred thing on the earth.
Now he tells us to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should be cherishing that temper of soul that makes us in honor esteem one another. What a beautiful casket in which to deposit such a treasure! "All lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering." In the moral history of Christendom pride has broken that casket. Then he shows what the unity of the Spirit is, which we cannot destroy. We may break the casket, and expose the treasure, but we cannot break it. Do we come from north, south, east, and west, Jews and Gentiles? When we sit down together, it is in one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
We must pause a little on the verses that follow. Suppose I say, “We must look back to Genesis 3.” You may answer, “These are very distant scriptures, both locally and in the material.” But there is a beautiful connection between them. In Genesis 3 we see the victory of the serpent and the ruin of man. In Ephesians 4 we see the conquest of Christ and the redemption of man. It is the undoing of the mischief of Genesis 3. Satan made man a drudge on the earth and a captive to his lusts. The Lord comes to make the devil and his hosts His captives. There is a magnificent moral opposition in this. And what has He done with the old captive? He puts him in a more wonderful place than that out of which Satan took him. When He comes to make the hosts of hell His captives, He will let those hosts of hell learn what He can do with him that was once hell’s captive. He has made us independent of everything. We are not only made proof against the deceiver, but we grow up by resources in ourselves. The church grows up with energies deposited in herself. He makes captivity captive, on the one hand, and on the other hand shows what He is about to do with that poor thing that the serpent once ruined. The story is reversed since Genesis 3. We get the captivity of man, and the glorification of man. There the doctrinal part ends.
Now, how shall our souls deal with it? Shall we be prepared for such magnificent disclosures of God’s mind? Are they too weighty for us? I have often felt it so. Intercourse with men on the footstool is so pleasant; but that arises from a quantity of the human mixing with that which should be unmixed. So he prays that we might be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man. The human mind is not able to measure these things. If my heart were opened to the sense of what the Lord Jesus is, I should say, "Nearer, my Lord, to Thee; nearer to Thee!”
The footstool may be very pleasant, but, "nearer to Thee!" That Christ may dwell in my heart, and not the scene around me; and that I may know His love, which passeth knowledge.

Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 4

I observed that the doctrinal part of the epistle closes at Ephsians 4:16. We will read to the end of the chapter. Let us just retrace the doctrinal teaching of the epistle. The first grand characteristic we are given about the calling of the church is, that it is a calling in Christ. So we find in Ephesians 1 the word "in" abounds. "Seated in heavenly places in Him," "Accepted in the Beloved," and so forth, and it is not only present possessions in Christ, but our interest in Him was before the world began (vs. 4), and after the world closes (vs. 11). You will tell me all the ransomed rest on sovereignty, and so they do, and the very angels, too, who kept their first estate; but the character of church — election is that it is not mere abstract election, but election "in Him," and you never leave Him.
The church finds herself in closest connection with Christ from before the foundation of the world till the glory after the world has run its course. This is the first thought about the church. These things are not predicated of Israel. It is the peculiar calling of the church to be linked and bound up with Christ. Then this church has been "hid in God." It was, so to speak, God’s bosom secret, the secret that lay nearest to His heart and deepest in His counsels. We do not find the election of the worthies of old spoken of in that way of mysterious beauty and intimacy. It was hid in God from all ages up to the ministry of Paul.
The Epistle to the Ephesians is an instance of accumulation of language. Language grows on the thoughts of the Spirit Himself. Will you tell me, if your soul is bubbling up with some commanding thought, that you will not tell it out again and again, multiply words about it, and even become eloquent? For the heart, not the head, is the parent of eloquence. That is the style of the Spirit in bringing out this secret in this epistle. We get "the praise of His glory," and "the riches of the glory," and "the praise of the glory of His grace," and "the exceeding riches of His grace." So in Ephesians 2 when He comes to show those who are the objects of this calling. When He shows their death-estate, description after description is given of them; and when you are brought to see your nearness, again the Spirit multiplies descriptions of what you are.
The consummation of revelation waited on Paul’s ministry, the Gentile apostle. When he brought out this secret, it was the last in the revelation of God, and it was the crown of all the divine purposes. Let me refer you to a little analogy: how did the work of the old creation proceed? One thing after another was created in its beauty, and man came at the last. He was put in the garden; and what was his condition there? He was at home there; but when the cattle were brought up to be named by him, he was not only at home in his own proper place, but he gets the lordship of everything before him. He was in his dominions. Was that all? There remained a thing behind, and that thing was the chiefest. He had everything before he got the woman. It was the last thing revealed, and the tip-top of his happiness. It opened his lips, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Adam was happy before, but he was not abounding. When the woman was given to him, it was the height of his joy. So we ought to be prepared for the church waiting for the ministry of Paul. I should be prepared for the last ministry bringing out the richest thing in the counsels of God.
I get the same thing in the story of Jerusalem. When Israel went into Canaan, the sword of Joshua reduced the land to their possession. So it went on in the days of the Judges; and in the days of King Saul they still remained in possession; but all that time Jerusalem was a Jebusite city; all through that season this favored spot, this chief spot in the land — this queen, destined to fix the eye of God — was in the clutches of the Gentile; and it was not till the days of David, God’s own king, that it became the chief absorbing center of everything in the land, the sanctuary, the throne, the place where the tribes went up. It was the chiefest of everything, and it came last. Do we not get there an image of Ephesian truth? God delights Himself in analogies. What are parables but divine analogies? And so, in the very end of the book, we see the woman reappearing as the last and chiefest. The victories have been won — the kingdom seated in dignity; the very last thing in the book is the revelation of the church coming down to show herself in her beauty (Rev. 21) So I am prepared to listen to Paul, without charging him with arrogancy, when he says he fills out the word of God.
Again, the revelation of the church is the richest display of God in grace, glory, and wisdom. The calling of Israel was a rich display of Him. Be it so. God cannot put His hand to anything without displaying Himself thus. But when we come to listen to the mystery of the church, the body and bride of Christ, we are instructed to know that grace, in its glory, in its riches — in its exceeding riches — has been manifested, and manifested in the face of creation — in the hearing and seeing of principalities and powers in heavenly places; and there is a simplicity about all this. Does magnificence touch simplicity? It would not be simply divine if it were not unutterably glorious. If it lay deepest in the divine mind, it was most full of grace, glory, and wisdom. Principalities and powers shall hold their breath while listening to the story that the calling of the church is rehearsing.
Now, what are its titles? It is called the body and the bride; and what do they mean? The body is the expression of this — that the church is set in the highest place of dignity. As the bride she is set in the nearest place of affection. As the body of Christ, occupying the chiefest point in dignity, all that is in this world and in that which is to come will be beneath her. He will be seated above all; and the church, which is His body, is the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. As the bride she will be in the nearest place of affection. You cannot be too near to the person you love. As the bride of Christ, the church is set close to His heart. The church is destined to be to the heart of Christ what the woman was to Adam. Chapter 5. is as the utterance of Adam over the woman. "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones," is a re-echoing of the ecstatic utterance of the first man over the first woman.
If we love a person, we love to see them in dignity and glory. There you are set in the tip-top place of dignity, and, as the bride, in the nearest place of affection. You might be surprised to hear me say that the Lord Jesus did not complete the revelation of God. When you read the four gospels, do you read them as the full picture of gospel grace? The Lord’s ministry was a transitional time. Till His death was accomplished He had not the platform for the display of full gospel grace, or the instrument for forming the church. How could you form a thing without the instrument? The Spirit was not given; and the Head was not yet glorified. The opening of the book of God prepares me for the mystery, and the close of the book shuts me up to it, and seals it on my apprehension, as we now see.
But in the Epistle to the Ephesians we get not merely the church but saints individually (Chapers 5 and 6). We do not lose our personality. This is said to be the meaning of Ephesians 4:12. That is an individual thing. The business of gifts is with you individually:
"He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints." There is a deep intimacy and personality between me and Christ that nothing can ever touch. So the first business of gifts was with each individually, "For the perfecting of the saints." Then, let the perfected saints set themselves to the work of the ministry, and to the edifying of the body. Consequently, in Corinthians, when he had the mystery to bring out, he says, "We speak wisdom among them that are perfect." So, when we come to practical details in our chapter, we are addressed individually, "That ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk" (vs. 17), and so on; "Who being past feeling" (vs. 19), that is, a seared and hardened conscience, with no sense of their own lasciviousness. "But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard Him, and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus."
The introduction of the word Jesus here shows personality; and do you not love a personal lesson? Do you not delight to think that you and Christ have a business that none can interfere with? Look at John’s gospel as a beautiful picture of the sinner and Christ together. We do not find the Lord in John as a social man, working with apostles. He works alone with the sinner. It is very sweet to see the Spirit refusing to lose sight of the individual. "And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness." This is a much richer creation than the first. Adam was the only object in the first creation that carried an understanding; but you could not say he was created "after God, in righteousness and true holiness."
We are told to put away lying, as being members one of another. "Be ye angry, and sin not." Anger may be as holy a feeling as any other, but do not retain it so as to let it degenerate into nature. Then we are to "resist the devil," and "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor...that he may have to give to him that needeth." This is very beautiful. He is not merely to cease from stealing, but to become a workman for others. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth...and grieve not the holy Spirit of God." Our works are looked at and our words, and now our tempers.
Are you not thankful that Christianity legislates for every bit of you? But what dignity! Your lips may be employed in communicating grace to the hearers; and your thoughts, either in refreshing or grieving the Holy Spirit of God!
"Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you." This is a change from “The Lord’s Prayer." There you are ‘instructed to know that God will measure Himself by you: "Forgive...as we forgive." Here is quite the reverse; I am to measure myself by God: "forgiving, as God hath forgiven you." This shows, as we were observing before, that the Lord’s ministry was a transitional thing; it had not come out into the full glory of salvation. Now a ministry has gone forth for the perfecting of us individually, and for our edification as the body of Christ.

Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 5

WE have observed that the doctrinal part of the epistle closed at chapter 4:16. Then from that point to chapter 6:9 we get the practical part, and we get conflict in the end.
Read now chapter 5 and chapter 6 to verse 9, where we get the practical details of Christian life. I should like, first, to say a little about precept.
If we consult the Epistles to the Romans and the Colossians, we shall find in them a different construction from the Philippians. There the apostle is eminently a pastor, looking at the souls of the Philippians. But in the Ephesians, Romans, Colossians, he is a teacher; therefore in them we get doctrine followed by precept. Now, why do we get precepts in the epistles? Do you always get your conduct directly from precepts? No; but by putting your mind in connection with Christ Himself, and the grace of God in your calling. So we get in Titus, "The grace of God... hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly"; that is, if I know the moral virtue of the grace in which I stand, I shall be taught without precepts to live soberly, righteously, and godly.
Peter tells us exactly the same thing. "Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be"; and again, "Seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent." There is no precept to be diligent, but the eye of the soul is directed to the glory and to the dissolution of all things present, and it says, What manner of persons ought we to be! So practical power derives itself from the grace of our calling.
We get the same thing in the Book of Genesis; there are no precepts there, but the patriarchs lived holy lives (through the Spirit, surely) by virtue of their calling. One is called out by "the God of glory." It is said, as on the lips of Joseph, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God." It is not that he had precepts, but he looked at God. So in your daily walk you are not commonly looking at precepts but at Christ. But why, then, the precepts? For several reasons: —
First, precepts serve as tests. If a soul is backsliding, you may use them in discipline. It is very well in such a case to have a well-defined precept to guide you.
Secondly, God is dealing with living realities in His Word. If doctrines tell me that God is dealing with me, precepts tell me that it is with me God is dealing. God is not revealing an indefinite light that may sparkle before me. He addresses Himself to me, a corrupt creature, and says, "Let him that stole steal no more."
Thirdly, there is this beauty in precepts: they do greatly honor the doctrine; they are the expression of the hidden moral virtue that lies in the doctrine. For instance, "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God." The doctrine had already taught me that I had received the Spirit as the seal of salvation. The precept tells me that the Spirit I have received is sensitive of the least touch of unholiness. So the doctrine is glorified by the precept.
Fourthly, I will tell you further what precepts do. They show you that your holiness must be dispensational. You will say, Is not holiness holiness? No; I boldly say, it is not. We can only judge of it in the dispensed light of God. Is it unholiness now for the Jew to traffic with the Gentile? No; it is not. Yet under the law they dare not eat with them. So holiness may vary its form.
Now, suppose I were to keep a good conscience just because my conscience resented evil, and were moral because morality is comely, would that be Christian morality?
No holiness is Christian holiness but such as derives itself from the truth. When you come to apply that to yourself, you will find you have something to do! You will have to associate the Lord Jesus with every bit of your life. How did the elders obtain a good report? Was it a precept that worked Abraham’s separation from his kindred and his father’s house, and Moses’ abdication of Egypt? It was God making Himself known to them. Precepts will never make, a Christian man. The soul must come in contact with the revelation of God.
"Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." Now, let me ask you, supposing I was a good neighbor just to keep my conscience a little easy, would that be meeting the demands of this passage? "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us"; that makes kindness Christian kindness. I take the Lord Jesus as my great prototype. Does not this take morals out of the hand of Moses? This puts my morals on a new ground altogether. I am to walk in love, because Christ has loved me, and given Himself for me, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor. The Lord has not only presented you in all the value of His blood, but in the sweet savor of His sacrifice. Is it accepted in the righteous one you are? No; but "accepted in the beloved." The high priest, when he took the blood into the holiest, went in enveloped in a balmy, savory cloud of incense. Was it a grudging acceptance that waited on the sacrifice of Christ? No; it was a delightful acceptance; and you are in all the value of that acceptance. Well, then, could I give the atmosphere in which I am set before God one glance of faith and come back to indulge my enmities?
You know your renewed conscience would never be satisfied by merely doing what is right. You must have the springs of action purified. It is what Christ has done that asks it from you. These uncleannesses, as I read in verse 3, do not become saints. Am I to lay aside uncleanness because it is uncleanness? No; but because it does not become saints. So it goes on: "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord." I refuse participation in uncleanness, because I was in darkness, but now I am transformed. I am a new creature, a child of light.
And I pause here again to ask you, Would you qualify this beautiful intensity? Do you want to leave Christ when you come to the practical details of life? We never leave Christ.
So, when we come to meditate on conflict, we are just as much in His company as in the details of life, or as up in heaven in the early part of the epistle. There is something sublime in this. If a doctrine comes to unfold God to me, a precept comes to show me the moral virtue that lies hid in it. The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, as in the benevolent virtues — righteousness, as in integrity and honesty, and all connected with truth. We find goodness and righteousness in the world, but we shall not find them connected with truth, save in the household of faith. These things are given to make us practically Christ. As an old writer says, "Christ Himself is the ground of all laws to a Christian"; one loathes cultivation of soul by anything short of Christ. Christ would have us sober, truthful, honest.
Now are ye light; and what quality of light? Light "in the Lord." You have not kindled the spark that is in you from Moses, but from the Lord of light. You have borrowed a ray from Him, and you are to walk in it, proving what is acceptable to Jesus. I am sure after this we shall not ask why the precepts of the New Testament, when we see the blessed Lord connected with each bit of the details, the Spirit bringing down my Lord Jesus to be the sanction of my ways.
You will often find here that the Spirit is not satisfied with mere abnegation of evil. He insists on the cultivation of good. "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good." There is the negative in company with the positive. The evil is denied, and the good is brought in. So here, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them"; because you have put off the old man. But are you merely an emptied, stripped thing? No; you have put on the new man. As the old man would have made plunder of what belonged to another, so now you are to work for him whom before you would have plundered. Moses never set me to that work; will Christ measure Himself by Moses? Will He measure Himself by anything but Himself? There is such dignity in this. We should keep morals up in their own elevation. Moses would drag them down; I do not say this when we get Moses passed through the filter of Christ, as in the Sermon on the Mount. Would Moses have required you to lay down your life for another? Christ does, because Christ has done it. "Wherefore it saith" (I would rather have it in verse 14), it is the voice and language of Light. The light that is now shining is the light of Christ. So "Christ shall give thee light"; a peculiar moral light has risen now.
"See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time." Now, how is understanding to exercise itself? In the philosophy of the schools? I am to have an understanding of the will of the Lord. He keeps you, again I say, as a heavenly creature in company with Christ; as a man walking across the face of the earth, He keeps you equally with Christ. When He sends you into the field of battle He arrays you in Christ, He puts Christ upon you. Who but the Spirit could come down into the traffic of such a world and keep Christ in your company through it all! So the old man might get drunk with wine. The new man has the Spirit to fill himself with. If that is to be mortified, this is to be cultivated.
And how will this filling with the Spirit express itself? "In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." There is a vessel filled with the Spirit. It is the very same vessel, only transmuted. It was once filled with wine; now, in a spirit of thanksgiving, it is bubbling up with melody to the Lord. We have been in a fervent, heated atmosphere, heated by the Holy Spirit; and now we are suddenly let down, with a beautiful calmness, into the ordinary virtue of taking a low place.
There is a beauty in the very style of this. How can we be sufficiently charmed with it! We do not know which to admire most, the doctrinal or the practical part.
Having come down to that, He details it, and addresses husbands and wives. There, I need not say, how deeply we are in company with Christ. Do not a wife and husband get their sanctions from Christ? Many a good wife never thinks of the Lord Jesus. Is that a Christian wife?
Here let me turn aside to note a title that occurs three times in this epistle. Christ is called "The Head" in Ephesians 1, 4 and 5; but in each place the Headship has a different aspect.
In Epesians 1 it is as the Head of the body. He is Head over all things to the church, the principal feature of the mystic man.
In Ephesians 4 it is as being Head of influence, dispensing virtue to the members. "From whom the whole body fitly joined together... maketh increase of the body."
Here in Ephesians 5 we see Him in another aspect, as the Head of authority, "The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church." In Ephesians 5:32 it ought to be, "This is the great mystery." Then, having addressed wives by the common duties that belong to them, in Ephesians 6 it is the same thing with children. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." Even in the time of Moses this was an honorable duty. But here it is because it is right in the view of the Lord. This takes it out from the legal promise, and the Lord becomes the new sanction.
So with fathers. A father ought to be his child’s Christian servant. I mean, that he should every hour be watching that the nurture and admonition of the Lord be ministered to his child. He should minister Christ to him.
As to servants — beautiful this is! — they are to be obedient. It matters not the character of their master. They are to be doing service, "as unto the Lord." Did you ever get up to that verse in James (ch. 1: 9), when you see people maintaining station in this life, that you ought positively to rejoice in anticipation of these distinctions passing away? Not touching the thing in passing along, 1 Timothy 6 would tell me that; but it ought to be the hidden joy of the heart that by-and-by station will have passed away with the fashion of this world.
Then as to masters. Do not be guilty of threatening. The lordly ways of masters and mistresses are hateful. How does your Master in heaven treat you?
Here the practical part ends; but I ask,. Does it not dignify you? As George Herbert says, "Who sweeps a room, if for Thy laws, makes that, and the action fine." It is the same thing to Christ if you are up there in His company. It is the same Jesus who is enfolding, embracing, enriching you in every step of the journey, and that for His own eternity.

Brief Notes on Ephesians and the Church at Thessalonica: Ephesians 6

We have observed that this epistle naturally distributes itself into three parts — doctrinal and practical; and here, from Ephesians 6:10 to the end, we get a scene of conflict. Teaching, walk, and conflict.
The teaching, we remember, was the education of the church — the body of Christ; and we were observing that there was heavenly calling before there was church calling. We have constant proof all along the line of Old Testament days of heavenly calling, but we have only distant, shadowy intimations of the body of Christ. As has been said by another, "It would have sounded absurd in the ears of a Jew to talk in divine, mysterious language of giving Messiah a body, completing Him, filling Him out." It is not said of Abraham that he was blessed in heavenly places in Christ, incorporated in Christ. This is the grand teaching of this highest of all the epistles.
Then, leaving the doctrinal part, we enter on the practical, which goes on to verse 9 of this chapter; and I should like to repeat what we were observing. When we come to the practical part of the epistle, we get the doctrinal part gloriously honored. Precepts become, in the hands of the Spirit, the expression of the moral virtue that lies in the doctrine. If I had my heart open to God, I should be guided by the intrinsic virtue of my calling; and, oh, if we have common spiritual taste, we must enjoy that! Is it not beautiful to see the doctrine and precepts thus in company? In the same way Peter stands before the doctrine and wonders that we should not prove the moral virtue of it, and so do I.
Then, in the next place, it gives precepts a dispensational character. God is not dwelling in the same light now as when He was sitting on the throne in Jerusalem. That was an earthly light, a light that shone on earth. The light in which God now dwells is the awful yet most precious mystery, that He has been rejected here in His dear Son, and that that Son is now glorified in heaven. And you must be in the light where God dwells. You must make God’s dispensational truth the rule of your ways. I speak not, of course, of the light in which God dwells, as in His own proper glory — as we read in 1Timothy 6:16.
Now, the difference between Ephesians 5 and 6 is this: in Ephesians 5 we see the saint taking his walk in the midst of the circumstances of human life. Here we see the saint in the field of battle. Do you believe your conflict is as constant as your walk? Are you to be in conflict today and in conflict again tomorrow. There is plenty of work for us to do; our hands will be full enough if we are practical living saints of God.
Now, in opening this third view, he tells us to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might, taking to us the whole armor of God, that we may withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. The Spirit contemplates that it is a war from beginning to end. There may be certain battles; but, having done with the specific fight, you must still stand as in a war! Are you prepared for finding human life a war? That is what this passage is pregnant with. Whether the specific fighting be present or not, your whole soul is to rest in the conclusion that it is incessant war till you have done with this world, this flesh, and the devil. If two nations are at war, they may not be fighting every day, a battle may be a rare thing, but war has been proclaimed. The Lord forbid that you and I should not know that as long as we are in the body we are in a field of battle.
"The evil day" is a specific battle. If we have won the victory, why are we still to stand? Because war has been proclaimed. Have you proclaimed war with the lusts that are in your members, and the spirit of the world around you? Your soul is to recognize that, while you are in the body, you are a fighting man. That being your position, you are to put on the whole armor of God, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Now, how do you understand this? Do you rest in the thought that wicked spirits are in heavenly places? It is abundantly taught us. In 2 Chronicles 18 the Lord says, "Who shall entice Ahab king of Israel?” "I will entice him," says a spirit; "I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets." This is a fruitful lively expression of the thing that is taken up in Ephesians 6
It is beautiful to see the Spirit so at home in His own scriptures. He takes it up as a settled thing that Satan is in heaven. He does not make a difficulty, or a question about it. He assumes it as a thing sealed and accredited, and so takes it up. What does the Lord say? "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." This was not a mere honorary expression. Then in Revelation Satan is cast down from heaven. Satan and the principalities and powers are now in heavenly places.
But what do these wicked spirits do? They come down with all their wiles and lies and deceivings to practice them in your heart and mine; as in Micaiah’s vision, the lying spirit came down with a wile to Ahab; and again, as Satan tempts David to number the people. The Old and New Testaments are pregnant with all this. Paul says, “We are not ignorant of his devices"; and again, "O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil." All these prove that he acts by wiles. He acts by violence, and by persecution also, but that is not contemplated here. If we go over the story of Satan in Scripture, we shall find him an accuser. Was he not an accuser of the brethren in the Book of Job? And is not the very same character attached to him in the Book of the Apocalypse?
Thus we now find ourselves put in the presence of the enemy. I am in the war, and I can never get out of it, though I may get out of the evil day. What then am I to do? I am to take the whole armor of God.
And now I just ask you to inspect each part of this armor. Is there one single piece of that which is declared to be the armor of God fitted to send you out into the field of battle with flesh and blood? Is that the way He armed Joshua and David? They were to meet flesh and blood; and they were carnal weapons which He put into their hands. Now there is not a touch of that here. There are no slings and stones and jaw-bones of asses; and this is declared to be the whole armor of God. If this is not the armor I have on me, I am not fighting for Christ. Saints may take carnal weapons; but if I do — if, for instance, I go into a court of justice to assert my rights — do not let me talk of being in the light of God. That is where dispensational truth is so important. I find here that the Spirit sends me into a field of battle, and I find that my security depends on truth, righteousness, faith, peace, and the sword of the Spirit.
Now, supposing we were to describe a few of these wiles. Infidel heresies, superstitious vanities, evil doctrines, false expectations about the history of the world. We are not here in company with our lusts, but in conflict with direct attempts of the enemy. We must withstand the temptations of our hearts in walking through the world, as in chapter 5. Here we are set face to face with Satan, the deceivableness of unrighteousness, doctrinal heresies; these are the things we are to withstand. And is it not perfectly right that, being delivered by the Seed of the woman, we should make our war with him who was our captor? How could you attach yourself to Jesus, and not turn round in the face of the enemy and let him know that you are at war with him?
Having passed this fervent scene, we find that, having this armor on us, if a quickened condition of soul be not maintained in communion, the armor will be cumbrous, "Praying always... and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds." Did you ever hear of such a thing as the ambassador of one nation being put in bonds by the nation to which he was sent? Why, God has fared worse in this world than any nation in it would; and pray, what message did this ambassador bring? A message of boundless grace. And that is the way He has been treated. The law of nations would not allow it for an instant. Yet that is the way God for eighteen hundred years, in the Person of His servants and witnesses, has consented to be treated.
Then he tells them that he sends Tychicus, "That he might comfort your hearts." Oh, if we could be in that way! — in prison, yet able to comfort others. As dear Saunders, a clergyman in the Bishop of London’s coal-hole, sent to his wife, "Be merry, dear wife, be merry; we’re all merry here. We weep with Him now, but we shall laugh with Him forever." That is equal to Paul, sending from a prison in Rome a cheering word to his brethren at Ephesus. What cannot the Spirit of God work?
The Lord grant that we may be taught by the doctrine, instructed in morals, and put in something of strength for the battle by this closing scene. AMEN.
We easily perceive different measures of attainment, both in knowledge and grace, in the churches of old. The elevation, for instance, of that at Ephesus was much above that at Corinth. At Corinth the apostle had to occupy himself with the corruption of various errors and abuses, and was thus hindered from bringing out to the disciples the strong and rich meat of the Word. He kept from them that "hidden wisdom" which he had in store for the "perfect," because they were "carnal... babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1). But at Ephesus his course was free; he had not to stop in order to correct abuses and errors, but could go on to feed the church with wisdom and knowledge, and reveal to them "the mystery" or "hidden wisdom," which he had to keep back from the saints at Corinth (Eph. 3). At Corinth the Holy Spirit, by the apostle, had to take care of their own things, and show them to them for correction; but at Ephesus He could do His more blessed work of taking of the things of Christ and showing them to them for edification and comfort.
So that, in distinguishing the condition of these two churches, I might say that the priest was trimming the lamp at Corinth, using the golden snuffers there for correction of evil; while at Ephesus he was feeding the lamp, pouring in fresh oil for the filling and brightening of it with increase of light and grace.
The other churches under the care of Paul occupied, as I judge, certain standings between Corinth and Ephesus; that is, they did not call for the same measure of rebuke as Corinth, nor did they stand so much beyond the necessity of all personal notice as Ephesus. But in the epistles to them we discern a mixed action of feeding and trimming the lamps. Indeed, I might class the churches in Galatia with that at Corinth, for there such error had entered that the apostle had little to do but to correct and rebuke it, and thus, as it might be, restore the minds of the disciples. But whether it be at Rome, Philippi, Colosse, or Thessalonica, we see the apostle applying himself both to the evil and the good that was among the saints there; and I would shortly look at each of them.
Thus at Rome he has in view to bind Jewish and Gentile believers together, as among the disciples in that city there appears to have been the retaining of their several prejudices, which were threatening to divide. A great deal of blessed truth is brought out in the epistle, but the present practical end of it all seems to be to secure the union and forbearance of the saints one towards another. But there is not any great amount of evil or mischief recognized by him.
At Philippi the church was beautiful for much grace, and for grace, too, that was peculiar to herself. Yet the apostle, in his epistle to that church, evidently alludes to symptoms of disunion which had appeared among them; but because of the other grace that was there, he alludes to this evil with marked tenderness and reserve, often expressing the comfort wherewith he was comforted in them. And this tender style of the apostle, while noticing the evil among the Philippians, should tell us, when we see much of the grace of Christ in a brother, we should remember that when dealing with evil that may be in him also. It is not that the apostle overlooked the evil at Philippi, but he remembered the grace that was there; and this imparted a chastened and affectionate tone while addressing himself to the evil.
At Colosse the apostle, it is true, feeds the saints with most precious knowledge, with the richest thoughts of Christ and His fullness. But this evidently was because he feared the entrance of Judaizing principles among them, for which fear he gives us clearly to see that he had good reason; and the only divine corrective of that evil is the knowledge of the sufficiency of Christ for all the necessity both of the sinner and of the saint.
At Thessalonica the coming and kingdom of the Lord Jesus had been especially received through the apostle’s ministry; and in the epistles to the church there he still feeds them with further light upon that great doctrine. But while he does that, he has also to correct a certain practical error which was peculiar to them.
Thus we clearly discern different conditions in the grace and knowledge of the different churches. And all these things happened unto them for ensamples, as much as the things that happened to Israel in the wilderness; and they are here in the same way written for our learning (1 Cor. 10). And we may bless God that we have this His own inspired answer to so many anxieties and questions that might arise in our hearts while walking one with another.
In what I have said I may not have altogether rightly discerned the standings of the several churches; but I have no doubt of the fact that they were different. I speak of the churches as known by the epistles addressed to them severally. Into some of these lamps of the sanctuary more oil had been poured than into others.
The fact which I have already noticed so clearly shows us this — that the apostle withheld from the Corinthians the revelation of the mystery which he so fully makes known to the Ephesians. And this at once shows how impotent and unwarranted the requisition is, that the minds of all the disciples should be found exactly according to one measure and standing before the fellowship of the church can be allowed or administered. Nay, so far from this, I am free to believe that if a member of the church at Ephesus had visited Corinth, he have found them so concerned with questions and strifes which had never troubled him or his brethren at home, as might have left him in doubt respecting them. And so one going from Corinth to Ephesus would have found them so occupied with such truth which he had never heard of at home, that he might have suspected, in modern language, that they were all in the clouds at Ephesus. I can thus suppose, from their different measures of light and attainment in Christ, that they might not well have known what to do.
Now, I believe we see among the saints at present what we thus might have seen among the churches of old; we have our Ephesian and Corinthian difficulties still. The truths received by some disciples are treated as mere speculation by others, and the condition of some is low and doubtful. The large and blessed mind of God, which filled the apostle, could of old survey them all, and provide for them all, and feed them at Ephesus and trim them at Corinth. But we are weak and narrow-hearted; and the only result commonly is, to walk in mutual distance and suspicion. Thus we do not understand one another’s speech, and we are scattered. But better is it to be scattered than to be brought together on the terms of any bond short of God’s own bond in the Holy Spirit. Whereto we have already attained, in that let us walk by the same rule, hoping for more. But let us not force beyond that by any fleshly compacts. The fear of God must not be taught by the commandment of men.
And in connection with this, I would notice the state of Job and his three friends; for I believe that it illustrates the same thing which this state of the churches does. Job could not understand the truth which was in their thoughts, nor could they allow that which he had of God’s mind in his; they were but partially in the light, and, through the remainder of darkness that was in them, they mistook the way and jostled each other.
And the correction lay only in God, and in the end He applied it. They were all accepted — God proved Himself the adequate Healer of all their divisions, as He will, by-and-by, join the whole of the heavenly family in one body in the mansions on high, and unite the two sticks of Ephraim and Judah in the earth below.
The largeness of the mind of God contains the remedy, but nothing else does. That mind may express itself forth from the whirlwind, or by the ministry of an apostle; but however that be, it bears the remedy with it. The Lord who can with one hand separate the chaff from the wheat, with the other can gather up all the scattered grains that are now strewing His field in shameful disorder, and find room in His garner for them all.
And this comforts, while it admonishes. It is not that we are to confound the chaff with the wheat. It is as much of the Spirit of God to say, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema," as to say, "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity." It is as much of the testimony of God to say, "He that hath not the Son of God hath not life," as to say, "He that hath the Son hath life" — "If any man preach any other gospel...let him be accursed."
But still let us know there have been different measures of attainments among the saints, and let our personal and individual care be so to walk in light and grace ourselves as not to give occasion either to the enemy to speak reproachfully or to our brethren to speak doubtfully of us. And let us have our hearts and consciences in lively exercise before God with a purpose to follow our light, lead us where it may, in the grace and fear of the Lord. But when these are the springs of the personal movement and course of each of us, we have, though in many things differently minded, the materials of both safe and blessed communion.
Among the several churches of which we read in the New Testament I have lately been led specially to meditate on the character and standing of that at Thessalonica. To understand it rightly we must look first to the nature of St. Paul’s preaching at Thessalonica, and then to the purpose and bearing of his epistles.
He visited the place immediately after his sufferings at Philippi; but it was only to renew his sufferings (Acts 17). However, a people were gathered out, and in this place gathered out not only to the knowledge of God’s salvation, but eminently to the hope of His "Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:10).
On visiting the synagogue at Thessalonica, the apostle sought to prove to the Jews that their promised Messiah was both to die and to rise again; and upon this he asserts, in the first place, that Jesus was the promised Messiah. And having thus claimed for Jesus identity with the Messiah, he asserts, in the second place, that this Jesus, the Messiah, was also King. This we gather from the challenge of his accusers (Acts 17:7). And the scriptures of the prophets had already testified this, as well as the former: "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow."
But these things did not contain the full mystery of Christ. He felt there was something lacking in their faith which he desired to supply (1 Thess. 3:10), for his ministry among them had been interrupted. The enmity of the Jews had forced him suddenly out (Acts 17:10). This, with many other reasons, gave him special concern for them. The grace that was among them was so abundant; they were so excellent for work of faith, for labor of love, and for patience of hope; the tone of their faith was so honest and decisive, also the purpose of heart with which they had come forth to own, as far as they had learned it, the hope of the gospel: all this drew out his pastoral anxiety for them.
And he had spent so much labor and care upon them, and they themselves were so exposed to such trial of faith and to so much that might naturally tempt them to give up Christ, and yet withal they had made so fair a promise of being his joy and crown in the day of our Lord Jesus, that the apostle was specially jealous over them; and under all this anxiety he had already sent Timothy to them, consenting to be left at Athens alone, desiring greatly to see them himself, and attributing the hindrance to Satan.
Now out of all this care for them the epistles flow. All this is not merely the apostle’s but the Spirit’s care. The Spirit, who had wrought among them by the apostle, now yearns over them in the apostle.
In their present state of knowledge their minds were tried and troubled. They had fallen, as I judge, under the power of two distinct apprehensions which were very painful to them, one of which concerned the sleeping saints, and the other the living saints.
They feared that their brethren who had died would come short of the kingdom on the Lord’s return to the earth (1 Thess. 4).
They feared that those who were alive would meet the terror of the day that was to accompany that return and usher in the kingdom (2 Thess. 2).
This, I believe, was their present condition; and to comfort their hearts respecting these two fears and apprehensions appears to me to be the chief purpose of his two epistles to them.
His first epistle was soon after Timothy’s return from Thessalonica. Timothy had brought back (1 Thess. 3) most comfortable intelligence about them; but it is likely that he had also told the apostle of their anxiety touching their sleeping or dead brethren. To remove this he at once writes to them that they might no longer be ignorant of this, that the saints, whether sleeping or alive, should be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air at His coming (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
His second epistle was drawn from him on hearing of their other anxiety touching the living saints. It matters not how that had arisen, whether from the false suggestions of others, or from an imperfect interpretation of his own first epistle; but to remove it he writes to them, as I judge, his second epistle that they might know that "the day of the Lord," in which they feared the living saints would be involved, could not come till "the man of sin" was revealed, and that man of sin, and all departed from the truth with him, would be the due objects to meet the terror of that day, and that therefore they might put away their fear (2 Thess. 2:1-9).
These I judge to be the occasion and the principal purpose of each of these epistles, the apostle by them meeting the apprehensions of the Thessalonian disciples; teaching them that by the power of Him who raised Jesus from the grave, the sleeping saints were as sure of the kingdom as the living ones, and by the gathering together of all to the Lord in the air, the living saints were as free of the terrors of the day that was coming on the earth as the sleeping ones. Neither life nor death, things present nor things to come, could separate them, for that they were to ascend with equal certainty from the grave or from the earth as the Lord should descend from heaven, and thus all of them meet Him before He reaches the earth in the terror and judgment of His day.
This I receive as the divine instruction of these epistles: it is important to the standing and hope of the saints. I say not that I have surely discerned aright; but I have had this long in my thoughts and heard nothing that leads to a questioning of it. But we know nothing but in part, and as the Lord may give to others, so may I, and each of us, beloved, receive either for confirmation or correcting. It is more as suggestion and calling other souls into holy exercise that I would now give forth this. But the Lord meeting His saints without any necessary cause of delay, without their being subject necessarily to wait for any of the troubles that usher in the glory, I do judge has been from the beginning the promise and hope of the dispensation, and to present that is my desire here.
The descent to saints is to be “with a shout," the voice of gladness; the descent to the earth, or world, is to be in "flaming fire," the minister of righteous wrath. (Comp. 1 Thess. 4:16 and 2 Thess. 1:7.) There would thus be two stages in the Lord’s descent, as there had been before in His ascent. For as He went up from the grave to the highest heavens, He stopped on the earth by the way there, to meet His remnant and talk with them of the kingdom (Acts 1:3); so, as He comes down from heaven to the earth, He will stop in the air by the way, there to meet His church, or heavenly household, fashioned like unto His own glorious body, to conduct them to the Father’s house.
But this day, or descent to the earth in flaming fire, shall find out its object. This will be the Spirit of the Lord’s mouth consuming, the brightness of His coming destroying the wicked — the sword out of the mouth of Him whose name is called "The Word of God." The Lord shall then meet the lawless one. The brightness of Him who comes in the glory of God shall meet him that comes according to the lying working of Satan, and set him aside forever. But those in whom the truth dwells shall shine from above in that day. They shall be to the glory and admiration of the Lord in that day (2 Thess. 1:10). They are to be brought with Jesus in that day (1 Thess. 4:14). It is the day of the Lord, the day that brings Him forth to the judgment of darkness. It will be as the surprise of daylight upon night. The place of the Lord will be the day then; the world, the place of night and of darkness; and what communion can they have?
The contact must be in judgment, and not in concord. But the saints, who even now are the spirit of the day, must be then in the place of the day. They are "children of the day” (1 Thess. 5:5), and will be in the sphere out of which the day is to rise, and not in the sphere upon which it is to fall. The full power of the day will not be poured down without their presence.
They belong already to the truth, having believed the testimony (2 Thess. 1:10 and 2:13), and thus will appear in the train of Him who is called "Faithful and True," when He comes forth for the judgment of those who received not the love of the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (Rev. 19).
Thus the separation of the saints from the scene of judgment, or the place which the day of the Lord is to surprise, will be like that of Enoch’s from the flood, and that was different from Noah’s. Noah was carried through it, so that not a hair of his head was wet; but Enoch before it came had been translated to a place which the waters could not reach, or rather out of which the waters came. The Lord, accordingly, when speaking to the Jewish election, takes Noah for his text (Matt. 24); for the remnant, like Noah, are to be carried through the judgment. But our apostle in addressing the church takes his language rather from the translation of Enoch (1 Thess. 4:17; 2 Thess. 2:1). And this was what the anxiety of the Thessalonian saints, touching themselves as the living saints, craved.
The apostle after this proceeds to describe the object of the righteous wrath of the day. He speaks of "the man of sin," "the son of perdition" — titles expressive of the character and the doom of the great enemy of God in the latter day — and I would shortly now consider that object.
This form of evil has been in some sense under the nurture of every age of corrupted Christendom; for from the beginning "the mystery of iniquity," as we here learn, has been at work. But he has not yet been manifested. Wickedness is in the ephah still, with the talent of lead upon it (Zech. 5:8). But ere the day of the Lord shall visit the earth the wicked one shall be revealed in the full form of Satan’s creature (2 Thess. 2:9-10). For Satan’s beauty shall be upon him, his power in him, his seat given to him, and his captives shall serve him. He will thus, in a special and awful sense, be the workmanship of Satan, and he will exalt himself above every god (Dan. 11:36), be like the Most High (Isa. 14:14), set his heart as the heart of God (Ezek. 28:6), and sit in the temple of God, as the apostle describes him, showing himself that he is God. He will say in his heart, "There is no God" (Psa. 14), and being such an one as this, it remains for the spirit of independency of God to bring him forth to perfection. A mere dark and superstitious system could not do this; there must be more than that, for he is to be king of all the children of pride. And there is nothing more signalizes this present day of ours than this spirit in man which affects independency of God. There is abroad at present much that is like the getting ready of a temple wherein man may show himself to be God.
"See what manner of stones and what buildings are here! " is the language of every day, as man is now displaying to his fellow the art and workmanship of this busy age, the report of which now rapidly flies all the world over, promising, as men hope, to form all into one great confederate body.
Indeed, I do believe that Satan has now many and many a hand employed in erecting a suitable temple for the man of sin. I speak, of course, only of the spirit of it, and one knows not how long the building may continue, or how long the infant, who in spirit is now preparing to sit in it, may be in attaining his manhood, or (to which the heart turns from all this in sweet relief) how long the forbearance of God may wait on the repentance of sinners. For both the longsuffering of God is to have its blessed measure, and the tower which the children of men are building must again rise to its due elevation. The long-suffering of God, which is salvation, will lead all known to God to repentance (2 Peter 3), and the iniquity of the wicked be as a breach swelling out in a high wall.
The triumph over the wicked must be displayed in the moment of his fullest pride. The invitation to the banquet was given, not only for the first day, but for the second also, ere Esther made her request, to let Haman’s heart be filled with thoughts of his greatness, so that he should fall before the righteous in the height of it all. But when the building shall be completed, and Satan’s creature seated in it; when Satan, after his own manner, shall have fulfilled his own promise, "Ye shall be as gods" (Gen. 3:5), then, upon his consummation, this full-grown form of evil, this manhood of iniquity, the doom of God will come, and the man of sin shall become the son of perdition. It will be the due and righteous mark for God’s vengeance, the creature that shall draw down the lightning from the throne, and call forth "the brightness of his coming” (2 Thess. 2:8), as the apostle here speaks, raising up the Lord again out of His holy habitation, to see and to confound the tower which the children of men have builded.
But it is not our immediate concern to know how long all this will go on. We have to do immediately with the Lord’s descent from heaven to the air. And Paul frequently presents His appearing as the immediate object before the hope of the saints (Rom. 8:23,30; 13:12; 16:20; 1 Cor. 1:7; 11:26; 15:23,58; Phil. 1:10; 3:20; 4:5; Col. 3:4; 1 Tim. 6:14; Titus 2:13; 1 Thess. 1:10); and in like manner the other apostles. (James 5:7; 1 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 3:12; Jude 21.) And so the apostle speaks of himself and of those to whom he was writing as remaining alive for the coming of the Lord, for we are drawn forth to that hope. We wait every moment, as it were, for redemption, having the earnest of it already (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:14; 4:30). We wait for the coming, as the coming waits for our fullness. But nothing but that fullness, which is God’s salvation (2 Peter 3:15), do the apostles appear to me ever to contemplate as necessarily delaying it.
Thus (1) as to sufferings and persecutions: it is true they were to be, but they always address the saints as ever being more or less in them. (2) As to death: they speak of it as that through which the saints have already, in some sense, passed (Col. 3:3), but never present it as the hope of the saint. (3) As to corruptions within the church: they certainly anticipate them, but still they guard that generation against them, speaking of corruptions even of the last days as having already appeared. (4) As to revival of the church: they never, I believe, promise it, or offer it as the hope of the saints. And (5) as to revolutions and political changes in the world: they never allude to them or instruct us about them. If in any sense Paul makes us acquainted with politics, it is with millennial politics; for, while he says nothing to us about the affairs of the present kingdoms of this world, he does tell us of the affairs of the kingdom of the Son of man, how all things are to be subdued to it, and then how it is itself to be delivered up (1 Cor. 15:24-26). But till that kingdom come, he gives us no place in, or dependence upon, the changes in the nations. He would have us be subject to the powers of them, and to pray for their peace; but our heavenly hopes he does not suspend on any such earthly circumstances. In the exhortations even to patience, there is still the drawing nigh of the Lord (James 5:8; Heb. 10:37). In the old dispensation there was necessarily a delay, because they without us could not be made perfect. But now in our dispensation, that needful perfection is come (Heb. 10:37; 11:40).
I therefore judge that our immediate hope, that of meeting the Lord in the air, does not necessarily wait for anything. His coming to the earth, I surely know, must wait for much. But that is not our first prospect. I do not say when the rapture will be. It may be more distant than our hope would have it, and hope deferred should make the heart sick. But the delay is not for the purpose of sickening the hearts of saints, but for saving the souls of sinners. "The longsuffering of God is salvation." We should remember that every moment of the delay, be it long or short. And our patience should be unmurmuring, as God’s patience is saving and gracious. But I do not judge that the apostles teach us that there is a necessity for some events taking place before that patience ends in the rapture of the saints. There will be strange and awful events, trials and distress of nations such as never have been. And how soon we know not.
The saints, too, may be left here for much of all this (I say not otherwise); but their eye is not to be towards such things as their due object. Revolutions in the earth may go on without further delay, and help to show that the Lord is beginning to think of Israel, to pluck His hand out of His bosom, and to break His long silence towards His ancient people. But I do not judge that the saints necessarily wait on earth for any stage in that great and interesting action. Their rising into the air to meet their descending Lord is independent of it; an event, too, which is not, as I further judge, the subject of signs and tokens. The hour of it rests in the accomplishing of the number of the elect, and that is the Father’s secret, of which no movements among the nations are the sign, or the harbinger. It waits for nothing necessarily, I believe, but the Father’s pleasure touching His heavenly family, not even for the manifestation, much less for the destruction of that last and full form of evil, which is to bring the Lord, as we have already seen, in judgment down to the earth.
Something is to hinder this manifestation (2 Thess. 2:17). It has been an inquiry among the saints what this let or hindrance is, and no doubt it belongs to such a department of the revelation of God as must have us prepared to find a difference of judgment upon it. But such differences never touch, nor can they touch, "the unity of the Spirit." And it should be our desire, in the love of the Spirit, both to bear with one another in full peace, and to help one another’s joy in the further knowledge of these, and all the ways of our blessed Lord.
Were I to speak particularly on this, I should say that it appears to me that we have to judge of the nature of that which hinders by the nature of that which is hindered. It was the presence of "the accursed thing" which in old time let or hindered the manifestation of the power of God, and, till it was removed, that holy power could not display itself. I refer to Achan in the camp of Israel (Josh. 7). So the presence of the traitor hindered the Lord’s expression of His own glory (John 13), but "when he was gone out," that glory was declared.
Now according to this it must be the presence of something good, something that is of God, that is now hindering the manifestation of the full power of Satan, and till that is "taken away" the wicked one cannot be displayed. It is not the way of evil to restrain evil, or of good to restrain good; each rather nourishes its own likeness, while it hinders the full operation of its opposite. It must therefore, I judge, be something good, something that God can own, which is τὸ κατέχον, the letting thing here. But I say no more; for it may be more according to the mind of the Spirit to leave this alone as a secret. The Spirit of God leaves this letting thing, perhaps advisedly, undefined. But even that is enough to show us that the saints are not necessarily delayed here on earth. If that which hinders the revelation of the man of sin is not now to be known by the saints, they may know, even from that, that they do not necessarily wait here for such revelation; and that is all that I am pressing. It may be, I grant, that the letting thing is thus advisedly, in the wisdom of the Spirit, left as a secret.
But this I again say (having slightly noticed it before), that the heavenly people are a people not left like Noah but taken away like Enoch — taken away, too, not by the day of the Lord or by judgment, as the antediluvian generation, but before that day or judgment like that heavenly man who "walked with God." For Enoch was a heavenly man; a man, I mean, of a heavenly destiny. And he was not on the earth when the judgment of the Lord visited it: he knew of it and prophesied of it (Jude 14), but he was not in it. Ere it came he had gone to heaven. And all this, I believe, savors of us and of our calling. We are a people destined to be taken away from the earth at some undefined moment, though instructed in its subsequent judgment. And when that judgment comes, we shall be in the train, and not before the face, of Him who executes it.
Enoch, as one taken away, is surely our pattern, and not the sinners in the days of Noah. For Enoch was taken away to heaven because "he pleased God"; they were taken away by judgment because "all flesh had corrupted his way" before Him.
Simple, happy, and yet serious lessons!
And surely we can have no doubt that the saints are not to wait on the earth for the coming of the Son of man. They wait for the "Son from heaven" (1 Thess. 1), that is, for the Son of God’s descent from heaven to the air, and not for the Son of man’s descent to the earth. All this persuades me more and more of the saints being removed before the day of the Lord visits the earth at all. It is not only that they shall be saved out of it, or taken away during it, but taken away before it surprises all them that are on the earth in the day of the coming of the Son of man, who is then to come as a thief.
Such are the great matters taught, I believe, in these epistles, the fear of the Thessalonian saints, as I have noticed, calling for the special comfort of these truths. And as connected with these truths, they show us also the path of the saints into the kingdom. And in that path there is something that is truly blessed. But it is a wondrous and divine subject, and we should remember, as with unshod feet, on whose paths we are treading. May the Lord ever keep and guide our thoughts!
The first stage in the glorious journey is the ascent of the saints, as we have seen, whether dead or alive, in their bodies of glory, to meet the Lord as He reaches the air in His descent from heaven (1 Thess. 4). This is the coming which the saints now look for, and of which their Lord has said to them, "Behold, I come quickly." It is at this meeting with Him "in the air" that we shall (1 Thess. 2:19) be presented to Himself, His own glorious and ransomed saints. This will be the redemption of the body (Rom. 8). The vile body will be fashioned like unto His own glorious body. (Phil. 3) And this meeting will be in the gladness of a jubilee, for the Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the church shall ascend with a responsive song: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15).
And after thus meeting the Lord, and being thus presented to Himself, the next stage in the blissful way will conduct us to the Father (1 Thess. 3:13). The path of life will then be ours, beloved, as it has already been His, the path that leads to the Father, and thus to fullness of joy and everlasting pleasures. (Psa. 16) And this will be the full owning of the saints as children, as the next scene into which they are to pass, and which we will look at presently, will be the full owning of them as heirs. For the divine order is, "if children, then heirs” (Rom. 8).
But before I pass to the next stage in these paths of glory, I would observe that these stages in the way of Himself and the saints, the Lord in His own teaching had already presented to the faith of His disciples. For He had told them, that though they could not follow Him at that time (and He was then going to the Father), yet that they should follow Him afterward, when He had prepared mansions in the same house of the Father for them. But before they should follow Him into that house, He told them also that He would come again, and receive them unto Himself — as the apostle speaks, meet them alone in the air (John 13:36; 14:3).
So that in these words and promises the Lord in John’s gospel had already opened these paths to the eye of faith: His own path to the Father, His coming back again to meet His saints, and then their all going together into the Father’s house. They were to see Himself before they went into the prepared mansions of the Father’s house, as here our apostle presents them meeting the Lord immediately on their ascent into the air, and then, when thus joined with Him, but not till then, going into the Father’s presence (1 Thess. 3:13). And I know not what language can more clearly express this than our Lord’s own words, in the place I have referred to. Speaking of the Father’s house, He says, "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." He would first receive them to Himself, or meet them alone, and then conduct them into the Father’s house. And these are the ascending paths of the saints. We shall have to trace a descending one presently; but in either direction they are still glorious, and the Lord is with them forever.
And it is now, after the saints are at home with the Lord in the Father’s house, I believe that, according to the language of the Jewish prophet, the Son of man comes to the Ancient of days and gets dominion (Dan. 7); or, according to the vision in the Apocalypse, the Lamb takes the book out of the right hand of Him that sits on the throne, and the church rejoices at the prospect of their speedy reign on the earth (Rev. 5).
Then, in due season, the third stage in the path of glory will be trodden. Jesus, thus in power, will come down with His mighty angels in flaming fire to put away the wicked from the presence of His glory, and to be glorified in His saints. This we have also in our epistles (2 Thess. 1:7-10). This will be His coming in clouds — the clouds of heaven — not alone as when He met the church in the air, not yet with His saints in the character of the children of the Father, when He took them to their mansions, but with them as the "armies of heaven." He now comes with ten thousand of His saints, as the rider on the white horse, the heaven opening to let down the descending hosts of the Lord to execute judgment on the corrupters of the earth, and then to vindicate His title to the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Jude 14; Rev. 1:7; 19:14). And this will be the redemption of the inheritance. For the glory of the Lord shall survive all the scene of judgment, and the lovers of the truth shall have their place in it when the last lie and darkness of Satan and the world shall be set aside (2 Thess. 2:14) forever.
Then shall Jesus be seen as the king in His beauty. Every knee shall bow to Him He shall sit on the throne of His glory, and His saints receive power with Him, according to their service (Matt. 25:31; Luke 19:17). This shall be the promised appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, which He shall show, “who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6). And then shall one enemy after another be subdued to Him, till all close in the delivery up of the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
Thus, beloved, our happy feet will first tread the heavenward way to meet the Lord Himself, and then by His own hand we shall be guided first to the home of love, and then to the throne of glory — the house of the Father, and the kingdom of the Son of man. And like these were the ways of Joseph and his brethren after their reconciliation; for
Joseph first revealed himself to them in the secret of his own presence, commanding every one to go out from him but themselves; then he brought them in and presented them as his brethren to Pharaoh, seated in the seat that was higher than his; and finally he led them forth into the scene of his power and glory, and gave them the richest portion in the inheritance, above the people of the land. (See Gen. 16-47) And let me add that nothing will be lost as we go onward. The joy of the Lord’s own presence and the fullness of the Father’s house will still be ours after we have entered upon the rule of the kingdom, and ours, beloved, forever.
Surely we may say, in a deeper sense than even David, our God has spoken to us of our house for a great while to come, even forever. And again, in a deeper sense than even he, may we not also say: What are we, that we should be brought hitherto? (2 Sam. 7:18-19). For His word’s sake, and according to His own heart, He has done all these things (2 Sam. 7:21). His own love must account for it all; nothing else can. The lowest are exalted the highest. Angela are passed by, and the seed of Abraham taken up (Heb. 2). The separated Jew is passed by, and sinners of the Gentiles taken up; the tattered prodigal gets the best robe, and he that ate swine’s husks, the fatted calf; for grace, the riches and glory of the grace must be displayed, and these are its ways, its blissful ways. It is only for us, beloved, to tread softly here where all is defiled, till our feet travel these paths of joy and glory without fear of thorn or stain forever.
These great things of God’s counsels are thus noticed in these epistles to the Thessalonian saints. They had come forth from an idolatrous world to own the living God in the midst of it, and to wait for His Son from heaven, and the Holy Spirit here feeds their enlarging desires.
But the apostle had to notice also some evil that was among them. He had to admonish as well as comfort, and to pray not only that their hearts might be comforted, but established in every good word and work (2 Thess. 2:17). For some of them had ceased "to labor with their hands." It may be that this had been the fruit of some corrupt view of their great distinguishing doctrine, the coming of the Lord. For it is Satan’s way, if he cannot rob us of truth, to corrupt it while it is still in our hand. The Thessalonians were zealous, they had come to meet the Lord with purpose of heart, but this had become connected with a desertion of their quiet, industrious, private walk. But he does not condemn this zeal, or seek to correct the evil by withdrawing the Lord’s coming from their view. We have seen that it is rather his great subject; but he desires for them that they might be in patient, and not disorderly, waiting for it, and urges this duty upon them by reminding them of his example and his precepts while he was among them. For he had been a laborer for his own support at Thessalonica, this having been so ordered in the provisional wisdom of God, who now by His Spirit uses that fact for the admonition and guidance of the saints there.
Such, I judge, was the standing and character of the church at Thessalonica, with their peculiar doctrines and anxieties, and the apostle’s teaching upon them. Eminent they were for simplicity of faith, brotherly love, and desire for the return of the Lord; but withal, as we have seen, needing further light on the ways of the Lord, and also rebuke and admonition for some of their own ways. But above all that, I would again, in closing, press on the thoughts of my brethren, as it was that which was the chief point of attraction to my own mind, this — that we have here the doctrine of the rapture of the saints, whether "sleeping" or "alive," to meet their Lord "in the air" before He touches the earth.
This rapture into the air may be called resurrection, but it is ascension as well as resurrection, and the church’s history is included between the resurrection or ascension of the Lord, and this her own resurrection or ascension. The one gave her life and sent her on her wilderness journey, a stranger on the earth, the other will close her wilderness journey, and take her to her home in heaven.
But these resurrections of the Lord and the church are peculiar. They are resurrections from the dead. It was Sadducean pravity to deny resurrection of the dead, and that doctrine is numbered among Jewish principles in Hebrews 6. But a resurrection from the dead was something quite beyond a Jewish measure of faith. The disciples questioned what it could mean when the Lord spake of it (Mark 9:10), and an allusion to it quite crossed and passed by all Martha’s thoughts, though she presented a fair standard of the nation’s faith (John 11:24-26). When she spoke of a resurrection at the last day, the Lord told her of a power of resurrection in Himself which would not wait for the last day, but would act in a manner that should gloriously forestall all other resurrections, by a resurrection worthy of Him who is "the resurrection and the life." And this alone is a resurrection in the power of the presence of the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:11). This was the resurrection of the Lord Himself, a resurrection from the dead, and this will be the resurrection of those that are His not "at the last day," as Martha or the Jew might once have spoken, but "at his coming," as the Spirit in the church now speaks (1 Cor. 15:23).
The patriarchs of the Jewish family all put special value on their dead bodies; they were religiously laid up in Machpelah, and this care and zeal of theirs was the confession of their sure and certain hope of resurrection. But they connected resurrection with the land of Canaan. And therefore Jacob and Joseph, who died in Egypt, provided that their bones should be carried over and laid in Canaan, thus telling us that their hope of resurrection was the same as their hope of final possession of the promised land. All this, it is true, was perfect in those who had but earthly resurrection hopes.
But the church has a higher hope. Heaven and ascension into the air are now before her; Canaan and resurrection from the grave of Machpelah were before the patriarchs. She has already in spirit gone on high with Christ, and is looking for the day when she shall ascend after Him to meet Him in a glorified body. And this alone is perfect in her as her former hope was perfect in them; for each is in season with the enlarging mind and grace of God towards us. The patriarchs were to die, and they looked for resurrection and the land under God (Gen. 1:24-25). The church is risen, and looks for ascension and heaven with the glorified Lord (Phil. 3:20-21).
And this resurrection or ascension of the saints is, as I have already observed, that which is to close the dispensation of the church, as the resurrection or ascension of the Lord opened it; like the two passages which opened and closed the wilderness to Israel.
And we stand, beloved, on the banks of Jordan. It is the wilderness still, and the manna and the rock are wanted still. But it is also the skirts of the glory; our salvation is nearer than when we believed. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." The Holy Spirit, sent down already from heaven, is in us (1 Cor. 6:19), the harbinger of approaching daylight. He makes us already "children of light, and the children of the day” (1 Thess. 5:5). "It is high time to awake." Let us only rise and look out, and we may see the streaks of the morning. The spirit of the day is in us, the pledge that it will itself soon break in glory on our heads.
But there was, it is true, a lingering on the banks of the Jordan. The host of God waited till a certain mission into the defiled land of the Amorites was over. Certain spies went into the land of judgment (Josh. 2). The sin of the Amorites was then full, and Joshua’s sword might have entered at once. But there was a moment of respite, and it proved salvation. It was a standing at the very door of the doomed house, and knocking, if haply anyone would even then open the door. And so it was, a poor defiled sinner of the place arose at the bidding, and moved with fear prepared an ark for the saving of her house. She was in the place of death and judgment; but mercy was made to rejoice there, and her house with the scarlet thread hanging from the window became another blood-sprinkled lintel, and the angel of destruction again passed on.
And so do we now wait. The glory has not yet broken, but waits for the appointed mission of grace to go and do its work. The longsuffering of God is salvation, He being not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3) We wait till the body be completed in all its holy and appointed measure, till all have come in the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man. Then the power of death shall give way before the feet of the priests again (Josh. 3). "For if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11). If we thus, as sons and priests of God, carry the ark of the Lord, the waters shall not withstand our passage. We have the hidden life, and that is above the power of death.
These, and richer and better than these, or than heart can conceive, are the ways of Him who hath loved us. They are telling, and will still tell us, that God is love, and that in blessing He is doing His work, and in manifesting grace to the unworthy, showing Himself. We now learn what grace is in all its varied resources, and our feet shall by-and-by tread one path after another, that we may learn what glory is. Since Jesus rose we have found every path in the desert a path of grace; but glory is still before us. Its paths we do not yet tread, as Joshua said to the people on the banks of Jordan, anticipating their speedy passage through it: "Ye have not passed this way heretofore” (Josh. 3:4).
But, surely, we need not fear the dazzling paths. The hand that divided the Red Sea will, with equal ease, divide the Jordan.
He that raised up Christ from the dead, will also quicken our mortal bodies to the same glory. It is as yet an untrod way, it is true; but the hand of the Lord is the same. It is not the glory of Christ that is the great thing. It is the cross of Christ that is the great thing, and that is ours already. If God has given us His suffering Son, it will be found a small and easy thing (to speak after the manner of men) to give us His glorious Son. If we know that Jesus, bowing His head on the tree, is ours, we may well know that Jesus, exalted in highest glory, will be ours; the pledge is sure, and then as there was the pillar of twelve stones, a stone for every tribe, so will there be the abiding praise of all His saints to speak the riches of grace and glory for evermore.
"Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever."
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