Remarks on Ephesians 2:1-7

Ephesians 2:1‑3  •  28 min. read  •  grade level: 8
We now enter upon a new portion of our epistle, if not so exalted in its tone as that which we have glanced over in chapter 1, equally important in its place and of the utmost moment to us. But then we must carefully bear in mind that what is of interest to us is not an adequate measure in looking at either the word of God or His ways. God never acts for anything short of His own glory. So that although we find many parts of the word of God which in the very closest way touch our condition, wants, blessing, and glory, we invariably fall short of the just scope and standard of the truth of God, if we limit our thoughts by its application to ourselves. Never do we reach the full extent of any truth in its bearing upon us, unless we also take into account its infinitely higher range as the revealed display of God's glory, character, and purposes. Hence it is, that although we find in the Scripture grace already shown to us, and glory that we are soon to participate in, yet how infinite the blessing, when we no longer look at it as that which is directly toward creatures so limited and poor as ourselves! When we realize that it is the grace and the glory of God, how all is changed completely! We then hear and find out this grand truth—He does speak of us and feel for us. He enters into all our little wants as well as all our greatest. But still if it were the least thing He meets in us, the supply of that want flows from One who has no limits; and if it be suited to our capacity for the present moment, it will not be always so. God will never rest in His love till He has not only given us by the Holy Spirit now to taste in measure the sweetness of the display of His own character, but made us in every way worthy of it. He has called us to be His children. The day is coming when not merely His love will not be ashamed so to call us, but when there will be no reason why it should be: when, on the contrary, everything that pertains to the family of God will savor just as much of what He is as, alas! now our poor, pitiful, worldly ways often tell a painful tale of self and not God.
In this chapter then it is, not the unfolding of God's counsels and magnificent purposes as they flow from His own mind—consequently going back to the beginning of time, and before creation had a place at all as a matter of fact, when all was but God Himself in the eternity of His own existence. Even then, as chapter 1 told us, before His hand had been put forth in anything, there was this blessed thought in His heart: He meant to have a people, yea, sons, out of the scene that was yet to be created, gathered by His own sovereign grace out of sin to be the partakers of His love and of His holiness, along with His beloved Son. This was His counsel. Chapter 1 showed us this, not only what was in God's mind from eternity, but the answer to it in the day of glory that is coming. For two great thoughts were brought before us there: first, the calling of God; and next, the inheritance that is yet to be displayed in the bright display of glory when Christ will take everything that God has made, and will be the acknowledged, glorified Head of it (all things, whether in heaven or on earth, being put under Him); and when we who believed in Him shall be called to the place of sharing that inheritance along with Him, our Lord and Bridegroom. Thirdly, we see an added and most weighty point—that the same power of God which raised up Christ from the dead is at work toward believers now. This was only alluded to passingly in the prayer of the apostle at the end of chapter 1. What we have here is, to a certain point, a kind of development of it. Chapter 2 is mainly based on His resurrection-power; nay, not this only, but, if I may so say, ascension-power. The energy which raised up Christ and set Him at the right hand of God, is now put forth on behalf of and working in those that believe in Him. We shall see the consequences of this. But now let us weigh for a moment what the Holy Spirit here brings out. It is the application of the mighty power of God to the believer. It is not, therefore, simply the purpose of grace, nor the execution of that purpose in glory by and by, but it is the exercise of His power after the pattern of Christ risen and glorified, and the application of it to the believer even now.
Hence we have necessarily first brought before us the condition of those in whom the power is put forth, what they were when it began to work in them. Accordingly it is only in chapter 2 that we begin to have any development of the actual condition of those with whom God is so nearly linked. Chapter 1 is mainly occupied with what God has in His mind, and what He will yet accomplish. Now we have the question raised and answered, Who are these people and what was their state when God could so deal with them? And it is most marvelous, that, when we come to hear His word, there is in no other epistle any portion that gives us so deep, searching, humiliating a picture of the desperate, degraded state in which those were whom God destined to be joint-heirs with Christ. The laying bare moral corruptions we have in Romans, fully proving what man is if he takes the ground of anything within him. Whether the favored Jew under the law, or the Gentile with his conscience, all is thoroughly discussed there, and every pretension of man is ground to powder. But in Ephesians the proof of guilt is needless. Man is viewed as so completely dead, that it is but the removal of the cloth from off the corpse. Therefore the apostle says, “You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” It is not simply, How is a sinner to be forgiven, justified? but “You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The words “hath He quickened” are inserted, it is true, in italics, but it is the evident and necessary sense; without it, to an English reader, the sentence would be embarrassed. It is not till verses 4, 5 that we have the completion of the thought. It is plain that the quickening affects those that are called— “you,” as well as those designated “us.” I shall hope to show the meaning of the distinction presently, but I only refer to it now in order to guard against the notion, that there is no sufficient reason for inserting in English the expression “You hath he quickened;” whereas it is implied in the language that the Holy Spirit used, or at least in the sense.
The grand fact remains. It is not merely a question of disease in the moral state of man; but they are “dead.” What a blow to all the thoughts of man— to the notion that he is in a state of probation—that he is in a mere sickly state of soul; and if you only soothe and comfort and educate him, after all he is not so bad! Some people think there is a difference between believers and unbelievers in their unconverted state: this I deny. As to men being born, some of them more worthy of having mercy shown them than others, the idea is contrary to every word of God that treats of the subject. On the contrary, what the Holy Spirit insists upon is the real death and equal ruin of all. In Romans it is said that we were “without strength,” but here we were “dead.” The only way in which death is spoken of in Romans is as a privilege, the happy condition into which faith brought us when baptized unto the death of Christ. We are thus viewed as being dead to sin and alive to God.
In Ephesians, on the contrary, death was our misery.
It was the expression of God's mind about the extreme ruin in which we lay. We have both Jews and Gentiles (neither now first or last)—man as such—morally dead; so that it becomes a question of what God can do. God above, and man here below, are in the presence of each other; and if man is dead, thanks be to God! He raises the dead, and can and does quicken souls. I am not denying the immortality of the soul; but what Scripture calls “life” is not bare existence, but a blessed spiritual nature, given to a man who naturally was without it and merely felt or acted after a nature under sin. Such is the condition of every person until the Spirit of God has wrought this good work upon the soul. Our Lord reproaches Nicodemus for not understanding this. Even as a Jew he ought to have done so; but as a “master in Israel “was it not a shame that he should not know these things? When he heard of the necessity of being “born again,” or on an altogether new principle, he imagined that the Saviour might speak of some repeated natural birth, which, if possible, would have been but the old thing over again. But the word “afresh” (ἂνωϴεν) is exceedingly emphatic; and so is the opening out of the truth. Hearken to this: “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Flesh never can become spirit. There is no such thing as changing the old nature, and making it new and holy. What the unregenerate soul wants is a new nature, or, as the Lord explains it, to be “born of water and of the Spirit.” It is the word of God figuratively presented thus, and applied by the power of the Holy Spirit to the soul, which is the meaning of the passage. Baptism may set forth that which is conveyed by it, but it is only a figure. Our Lord shows that there must be a new life imparted; and as we are told elsewhere, “Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth.” And this is brought out not only by James but by Peter also, where he shows that we are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” We know positively from the Apostle Paul, that the washing of water by the word is God's own explanation of the figure. Again, what could Nicodemus know about Christian baptism? It was not then instituted; and the disciples' baptism was only a sort of modification of John's rite, that is, a confession of a living Messiah, coming or come on earth. But proper Christian baptism is founded upon the death and resurrection of our Lord. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ, were baptized unto His death?” Christian baptism is the confession of the death and resurrection of Christ, and was instituted by our Lord when He rose from the dead. Then, and not before, He told them to go forth, baptizing all nations, or Gentiles, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He laid down the grand, full, Christian revelation of the Godhead, into the power and confession of which the believer is brought by his baptism.
In the Scriptures just alluded to, we find clearly that where unfigurative language is used, the means of giving the new life is said to be the word of God applied by the Holy Spirit; and that when figures are used, water is what is chosen. But the sum and substance of the entire teaching is, that the testimony of God is the divine means of communicating life to the soul when applied by the Holy Spirit—that is, by faith. And if we want still further to know what specially in the truth of God is used to quicken those who are dead in sins, it is always, more or less, the revelation of Christ. My believing that the creature was made by God, will not quicken my soul. I might believe any facts in the Old Testament, and be assured of all the miracles, discourses, and ways of Jesus in the New, and yet my soul might still be unquickened. But believing in Christ Himself is a very different thing from not doubting things about Him. It supposes that I have, more or less, come to an end of myself; that I have bowed to the humiliating sentence of Scripture upon my nature, and that I own myself to be only a poor, lost, dead creature in the sight of God. Some men are proud of the affections we share with the brutes, and some still more deify themselves because of conscience; but even conscience was acquired by sin. Adam, before the fall, could not have told what good and evil was. He did not avoid eating the forbidden fruit, became he knew it was in itself evil; nor was there indeed anything morally wrong in its own nature in eating the fruit of that tree. But the command of God made it a test—a moral test that Adam would have known nothing about unless God had told him, “Thou shalt not eat.” Thus, for the purpose of exercising a child's obedience, it might be said, You are not to go out of this room; it might have been all right before. It was only after eating of the forbidden fruit that Adam obtained the distinctive and intuitive knowledge of good and evil; but he knew evil only by being under its power. Had it been said to Adam before the fall, “Thou shalt not lust or covet,” he might have said, What does it mean? I do not understand. But the moment he listened to the devil, and took the fruit that God forbade, there was another element infused into Adam's nature that had not been there before. Unfallen, he had body, soul, and spirit; and then what Scripture calls “the flesh” after the fall. This is not mere “flesh and blood.” Our Lord had these (else He could not have been truly a man), but not “the flesh,” which is the principle of self-will, or liking our own way, and not God's. This is sin, and what Scripture means by sin: that strong, restless craving to have what we wish, whether God wills it or not. Satan blinds the soul as to what is God's will, God's mind. This love of one's own will was not in the original nature of man. “The flesh” was gained through the fall, and shows itself in love of our own will and independence of God. Paul constantly dwells upon it, and it is what John (1 John 4) really calls “lawlessness” —rather than, as we have it, “transgression of the law.” It is the wish for our way in despite of God's will and way, whether expressed or implied. It is the essence of sin, the sad inheritance of sinners, from which, thank God, the believer is delivered. So that, when a man receives Christ, he has still his old nature, not only body, soul, and spirit, and even “the flesh” —for this, too, he has still, and it may be, alas the occasion of many a slip and sorrow, if he be unwatchful; but besides these, there is a new nature that we had not before.
God has given us a new life, and this is just as distinct in its workings as the old life is. But God has quickened us and given us a new life. Look at a man: what is there? Self-love; a little bit of pride here, and of vanity there; love of one's own will everywhere— the characteristic of the sinner under all circumstances. Search and see, and you will not have to search long before you find that which betrays not Christ, but Adam. Look at the history of man, as given in Genesis, and there see what he is. He might be enticed by his affections. But why allow his affections so to work as to carry him into disobedience against God? Had God told him to listen to his wife? He ought to have acted as the head, and have reminded her of what God told them. And God's order is never forgotten with impunity. So man, having allowed the wife to take the lead, soon reaped the bitter consequences. But in Christ I have the exact contrary. What more remarkable feature morally can be than this?—A person, who, while He was everything, was content to be nothing; who, while He was man here below, never acted upon His own independent title; who always, under every circumstances, great or small, sought and was subject to His Father's will. “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” says He, in Luke 2, when only a child. It was not only when He came publicly forward, but He had the consciousness of it always. And if I want to know what our Lord was as He grew up to mature years, there, too, I find it. And wherever I look at Him, this crowning feature shows itself in all times and circumstances—One that never sought and never did His own will. There, I say, is another sort of man altogether. No wonder the Holy Spirit says about Him, and Him only, “the Second man.” All other men only were just so many reproductions of Adam—so many sons in his own likeness, after his own image. As far as they were men, viewed simply as such, they bore that one common character of Adam. But now comes forth another man; and from and in this dead and risen stock we become new creatures, having His life communicated to us by faith in Him. As by natural birth we have the life of Adam, so we have what would naturally flow from such a frightful beginning—the same self-will, weakness, boastfulness, dread of God, dishonesty and insolence towards Him. Such is man: such, too, is just what I find in my own self; and if I read the Bible aright, God will force me to own it. When quickening a soul, He always obliges it to take up the picture and say, That is myself, black as it is. Then, when a person is broken down under the awful discovery of sin within, and judges it according to God, this is what Scripture calls repentance. It is owning not only what we have done, but what we are also. How is it to be remedied “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The Spirit has given a new life, and in this world, through the knowledge of Christ. Hence it is by the word of God (“faith cometh by hearing”), not by baptism, or any other institution of the Lord, blessed as they are. We must take care that we put things in their proper places. It is the Word brought home by the Holy Spirit that produces faith, and this not by mending the first, but by revealing the last, Adam. God has come down from heaven to accomplish this great purpose—to give me this new life—to deliver me from sin and self: and how is it done? It is the Holy Spirit who effects it by the Word of God. But here the apostle does not enter into the detail of it; he is merely telling out the grand facts: “you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins (the worst of all deaths); wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Does it not show how active in evil was this kind of death? These dead were at the same time walking according to the course of this world; which, indeed, was the proof of their moral death. They had no desire to shape their walk according to God's Word. As Job says (ch. 21:14), “Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” And was not this the condition of our own souls? Can we not remember when it was a painful thing to have to meet God about our sins? I must have to do with God. And here is the solemnity of it. If I do not meet God now about the Saviour, I shall have to meet Him about my sins. And if I despise meeting the Saviour about my sins, meet God I must in my sins—to be lost forevs. You put a sort of honor upon an enemy by paying attention to him; but you cannot more deeply insult a friend than by paying neither heed nor notice. So it is as to indifference about Christ. Perhaps we try to settle accounts with God once or twice a day—what a wrong to God and a wrong to my soul? If I have sins upon me—and in that condition we all are and have been naturally —what is to be done It is easy to say what we have been doing—walking “according to the course of this world.” This is not merely gross things. Supposing that people were all as courteous and kind as possible— that there were no such things as jails and judges, nor convicts punished: supposing that men could be reasoned out of their wickedness, what would still be the condition of men? “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Man, as such, never can see the kingdom of God. The only way by which I can be brought into His kingdom is by being born anew, and having that new nature which is of Christ and not of Adam. Baptism is the sign of it. Paul had already believed on the Lord when Ananias said to him, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins.” There is the figure of washing; but the only effective means or instrument in the sight of God is the blood of Christ. “To Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.”
The thought, then, of quickening leads the Apostle to bring out the condition from which they were delivered. They were walking according to the course of this world; and not only so, but according to the devil. The title, “Prince of the power of the air” was to set forth his all-permeating influence. As the air surrounds and penetrates everything, so does the devil the realm of nature— “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” This was the way they showed that they were under his power by their disobedience. “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past.” Why is it “we?” Why this change from “you” to “we?” When addressing the Ephesians who had been Gentiles, he uses the word “ye;” but he includes now in this moral sentence, “dead in trespasses and sins,” Jews as well as Gentiles. When God was measuring man by Christ, this was their state—not a single one that was not dead. And there can be no degrees of death. If a man is dead, there is an end of him. So that, although, if you look at men morally, you may draw distinctions, and say, There is a man going further and faster on the downward way than others, yet if you look deeper still, these distinctions vanish, and they are all indiscriminately ruined, yea, dead, in the sight of God. So he says, as proving this, “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” No matter who we were, or what, he calls it all “the lusts of our flesh.” But some of them might have been philosophers, and some benevolent and moral, some gross people living in open and atrocious wickedness. But take the best of them, and judge them by this:—was it their life-breath and governing motive to do the will of God? Not at all. They might have been gratifying their own kindly nature; but God was not in their thoughts. Or it was a kind of bribing God to let them off. For in heathenism there was a tradition that a sacrifice was necessary; but it was corrupted and degraded and perverted in all sorts of ways.
Here, then, we have the common condition in which all, Jew or Gentile, were by nature. Yet he distinguishes “the desires (or wills) of the flesh and mind,” by which he means the grosser tendencies, and the more refined, intellectual desires. Supposing a man devoting himself to science, and making it his object, is this to do the will of God? Nay, but rather the indulgence of the desires of the mind, and as thoroughly self as with others who might be given up to the coarser appetites of nature. The grand thing is, that I have no right to myself—I belong to another. Am I doing His will? Then when we enter the relationships of faith, we are not merely the Lord's creatures, responsible to do His bidding as a natural duty, but redeemed by the blood of Christ, and alive in Him from the dead, that we henceforth live, not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us and rose again.
Let it be the choicest men that the world can boast of: this is their state— “by nature the children of wrath even as others.” What a word! Even the Jews, who had the light of God as far as outward light was Concerned, were “by nature” the children of wrath, as much as the degraded, idolatrous stock-and-stone-worshipping Gentiles. So that there can be no more complete annihilation of all man's religious privilege as well as creature-standing, than what we have in this verse. It is not only that people have done wrong, but they were by nature the children of wrath. God did not make man so: it was man who chose the path of disobedience, who gave up God for the devil. He did not, of course, intend this; for Satan comes in as an angel of righteousness; but however he may work, this is the one result to which all are reduced without exception— “by nature children of wrath.” And what does God? For there is the absolute necessity that God should act in order to bring in one ray of light into the midst of this hopeless wreck and ruin. But people will not believe that they are ruined; they will think that it is a good world after all, and a state of things God has given man to cultivate, forgetting that God “drove out the man,” and that all the inventions of man are only expedients to cover his nakedness, and to lead him to overlook that he is an exile from Paradise. Of course these inventions we can use if we do not abuse them. But let us bear in mind that, as Christians, our life, our home, is not here; we belong to another scene, where Christ is. We are not of the world; we are redeemed to do God's will, sanctified to obedience, to the same kind of obedience as our Lord's. Do we weigh and apply this earnestly, assiduously, conscientiously, within the bosom of the family of God, or wherever we may be placed? In our Lord was life, and He was ever happy in the consciousness of His Father's love. The believer, too, has life in Him, and is loved as He was loved. God may use the ten commandments to crush a man in the flesh; but as a believer, he is called to obey as Christ obeyed, to walk as He walked; for He left us an example that we should follow His steps.
Here, then, we have this mighty intervention of God, who, “rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Not only are we quickened—this would have been true, looking at any saint that ever lived on the face of the earth. But could you have said that all were raised up together with Christ? seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus? Is it not a fuller statement of the blessing that belongs to us as Christians now, which could not be predicated of any till the resurrection and ascension of Christ were facts? Our Lord says, “I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly.” Why does He draw the distinction between life, and life “more abundantly?” On what principle is it that Christ quickens at all Because in Him, the Son, is life; and this life becomes the portion of the believer in Him: “For the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live.” He was always the source of life to the soul, no matter when or where, though it was, of course, only in virtue of foreseen redemption that sinful men could receive it. Before His death and resurrection, however, it was simply life. But our Lord adds, “and I will give it more abundantly.” The disciples that surrounded Him then had life because they believed in Him. But when our Lord rose from the dead, the first time He appeared among the disciples, He breathed upon them and said “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” What was this? The Spirit as the power of life more abundantly (not as gift yet). He gave them life while He was here, and when risen He imparted it more abundantly, life in resurrection. What is the difference, people may ask, to us? Immense. But the difference in the mind of God is the main thing and how it bears upon His glory. Therefore, whether understanding it or not, I desire to bow and bless God, perfectly sure that there is a wise and good reason for everything He does and says. We are to be raised by and by from the dead: our bodies are still unchanged. The body of the believer decays and crumbles like the unbeliever's, yet he has the resurrection-life of Christ, this life “more abundantly.” “As my Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” was not a word merely for the twelve. No doubt they had a mission that none of us has. But while this is true, and none now can be put on a level with them as apostles, yet at the same time I maintain that they also had ministerial functions, apart from their special apostolic character, and in those, not in this, they have successors. Our Lord met, on that day when He rose, “the disciples,” which embraces a far wider thought. It was the then Christian company, all that were there, whether men or women, if they were disciples. It was upon these He breathed. They were all to have His more abundant life. The effect is, that all are brought into liberty. Compare Romans 8:1-21There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1‑2).
I do not enter further into the very blessed accompaniments of this new life, but only remark that as to being raised and sitting together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, all is spoken of as being now true of the believer. There is no such mystical notion meant by this as that we are not on earth or in our bodies here. Everything in Scripture is the very reverse of extravagance. Mysticism is the devil's imitation of God's mysteries, and the mere mist of men's fancies. “Mystery” in Scripture means nothing vague, but truth the human intellect would never discover, which, when presented by the Holy Spirit to the new nature, is perfectly intelligible. Some things are of a profounder character than others, and there may be that which is beyond all knowledge, as, for instance, the nature of the Son of God. “No man knoweth the Son but the Father; and it is not said of the Son, “He to whom the Father shall reveal Him.” The Father maintains with holy jealousy the inscrutable glory of the person of His Son. But apart from this, the mysteries of Scripture are truths once locked up but now revealed and intended to be known, and in fact the portion and joy of the believer.