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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to Ephesians
Section 1. The Situation of Ephesus, and the Character of its People
This Epistle purports to have been written to the "Saints in Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus," though, as we shall see, the fact of its having been directed to the church at Ephesus has been called in question. Assuming now that it was sent to Ephesus, it is of importance to have a general view of the situation of that city, of the character of its people, and of the time and manner in which the gospel was introduced there, in order to a correct understanding of the Epistle. Ephesus was a celebrated city of Ionia in Asia Minor, and was about 40 miles south of Smyrna, and near the mouth of the river Cayster. The river, though inferior in beauty to the Meander which flows south of it, waters a fertile valley of the ancient Ionia. Ionia was the most beautiful and fertile part of Asia Minor; was settled almost wholly by Greek colonies; and it embosomed Pergamos, Smyrna, Ephesus, and Miletus; see "Travels" of Anacharsis, i. 91, 208; vi. 192, 97, 98. The climate of Ionia is represented as remarkably mild, and the air as pure and sweet, and this region became early celebrated for everything that constitutes softness and effeminacy in life. Its people were distinguished for amiableness and refinement of manners, and also for luxury, for music and dancing, and for the seductive arts festivals occupied them at home, or attracted them to neighboring cities, where the men appeared in magnificent habits, and the women in all the elegance of female ornament, and with all the desire of pleasure (Anachar).
Ephesus was not, like Smyrna, distinguished for commercial advantages. The consequence has been that, not having such advantage, it has fallen into total ruin, while Smyrna has retained some degree of its ancient importance. It was in a rich region of country, and seems to have risen into importance mainly because it became the favorite resort of foreigners in the worship of Diana, and owed its celebrity to its temple more than to anything else. This city was once, however, the most splendid city in Asia Minor. Stephens, the geographer, gives it the title of "Epiphanestate" (Most Illustrious). Pliny styles it "the Ornament of Asia." In Roman times it was the metropolis of Asia, and unquestionably rose to a degree of splendor that was surpassed by few, if any, oriental cities.
That for which the city was most celebrated was the Temple of Diana. This temple was 425 feet in length, and 220 feet in width. It was encompassed by 127 pillars, each 60 feet in height, which were presented by as many kings. Some of those pillars, it is said, are yet to be seen in the mosque of Sophia at Constantinople, having been removed there when the Church of Sophia was erected. These, however, were the pillars that constituted a part of the temple after it had been burned and was repaired, though it is probable that the same pillars were retained in the second temple which had constituted the glory of the first. All the provinces of Asia Minor contributed to the erection of this splendid temple, and 200 years were consumed in building it. This temple was set on fire by a man named Herostratus, who, when put to the torture, confessed that his only motive was to immortalize his name. The general assembly of the states of Ionia passed a decree to devote his name to oblivion; but the fact of the decree has only served to perpetuate it; Cicero, De Nat. Deor. 2. 27; Plutarch, Life of Alexander; compare Anachar. vi. 189. The whole of the edifice was consumed except the four walls and some of the columns. It was, however, rebuilt with the same magnificence as before, and was regarded as one of the wonders of the world. It is now in utter ruin. After the temple had been repeatedly pillaged by the barbarians, Justinian removed the columns to adorn the Church of Sophia at Constantinople. The place where it stood can now be identified certainly, if at all, only by the marshy spot on which it was erected, and by the prodigious arches raised above as a foundation. The vaults formed by them compose a sort of labyrinth, and the water is knee-deep beneath. There is not an apartment entire; but thick walls, shafts of columns, and fragments of every kind are scattered around in confusion (Encyclopedia Geog. ii. 273, 274).
During the reign of Tiberius, Ephesus was greatly damaged by an earthquake, but it was repaired and embellished by the emperor. In the war between Mithridates and the Romans, Ephesus took part with the former, and massacred the Romans who dwelt in it. Sylla severely punished this cruelty; but Ephesus was afterward treated with leniancy, and enjoyed its own laws, along with other privileges. About the end of the 11th century it was seized by a pirate named Tangripermes, but he was routed by John Ducas (the Greek admiral) in a bloody battle. Theodorus Lascarus, a Greek, made himself master of it in 1206 a.d. The Muslims recovered it in 1283. In the year 1401 Tamerlane employed a whole month in plundering the city and the neighboring country. Shortly afterward, the city was set on fire, and was mostly burnt in a combat between the Turkish governor and the Tartars. In 1405 it was taken by Muhammed I, and has continued since that time in the possession of the Turks (Calmet).
There is now (circa 1880's) a small, ordinary village, named Ayasaluk, near the site of the ancient town, consisting of a few cottages, which is all that now represents this city of ancient splendor. Dr. Chavolla says, "The inhabitants are a few Greek peasants, living in extreme wretchedness, dependence, and insensibility; the representatives of an illustrious people, and inhabiting the wreck of their greatness - some in the substructions of the glorious edifices which they raised - some beneath the vaults of the stadium, once the crowded scene of their diversions - and some by the abrupt precipice in the sepulchres which received their ashes. Its streets are obscured and overgrown. A herd of goats was driven to it for shelter from the sun at noon, and a noisy flight of crows from the quarries seemed to insult its silence. We heard the partridge call in the area of the theater and the stadium. The glorious pomp of its pagan worship is no longer numbered; and Christianity, which was here nursed by apostles, and fostered by general councils, until it increased to fullness of stature, barely lingers on in an existence hardly visible" (Travels, p. 131, Oxford, 1775). A very full and interesting description of Ephesus, as it appeared in 1739, may be seen in Pococke's Travels, vol. ii. part ii. pp. 45-53, ed. Lend. 1745. Several ruins are described by him, but they have mostly now disappeared. The Temple of Diana was on the western side of the plain on which the city was built, and the site is now in the midst of a morass which renders access difficult. The ruins of several theaters and other buildings are described by Pococke.
In the year 1821 Mr. Fisk, the American missionary, visited the city of Ephesus, of which he has given the following account: "We sent back our horses to Aisaluck, and set out on foot to survey the ruins of Ephesus. The ground was covered with high grass or grain, and a very heavy dew rendered the walking rather unpleasant. On the east side of the hill we found nothing worthy of notice; no appearance of having been occupied for buildings. On the north side was the circus or stadium. Its length from east to west is forty rods (one stadium). The north or lower side was supported by arches which still remain. The area where the races used to be performed is now a field of wheat. At the west end was the gate. The walls adjoining it are still standing, and are of considerable height and strength. North of the stadium, and separated only by a street, is a large square, inclined with fallen walls, and filled with the ruins of various edifices. A street running north and south divides this square in the center. West of the stadium is an elevation of ground, level at the top, with an immense pedestal in the center of it. What building stood there it is not easy to say. Between this and the stadium was a street passing from the great plain north of Ephesus, into the midst of the city.
"I found on the plains of Ephesus some Greek peasants, men and women, employed in pulling up tares and weeds from the wheat. I ascertained, however, that they all belonged to villages at a distance, and came there to labor. Tournefort says that, when he was at Ephesus, there were 30 or 40 Greek families there. Chandler found only 10 or 12 individuals. Now no human being lives in Ephesus; and in Aisaluck, which may be considered as Ephesus under another name, though not on precisely the same spot of ground, there are merely a few miserable Turkish huts.
"The plain of Ephesus is now very unhealthy, owing to the fogs and mists which almost continually rest upon it. The land, however, is rich, and the surrounding country is both fertile and healthy. The adjacent hills would furnish many delightful situations for villages if the difficulties were removed, which are thrown in the way by a despotic government, oppressive agas, and wandering banditti" (Missionary Herald for 1821, p. 319).
Section 2. The Introduction of the Gospel at Ephesus
It is admitted by all that the gospel was introduced into Ephesus by the apostle Paul. He first preached there when on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem, about the year 54 a.d. Acts 18:19. On this visit Paul went into the synagogue, as was his usual custom, and preached to his own countrymen, but he does not appear to have preached publicly to the pagan. He was requested to remain longer with them, but he said he must, by all means, be in Jerusalem at the approaching feast - probably the Passover, Acts 18:21. He promised, however, to visit them again if possible, and sailed from Ephesus to Jerusalem. Two persons had gone with Paul from Corinth - Priscilla and Aquila - whom he appears to have left at Ephesus, or who, at any rate, soon returned there, Acts 18:18, Acts 18:26. During the absence of Paul there came to Ephesus a certain Jew, born in Alexandria, named Apollos, an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, who had received the baptism of John, and who taught the doctrine that John had taught, Acts 18:24-25.
What was the precise nature of that doctrine it is now difficult to understand. It seems to have been in substance: (1) that repentance was necessary, (2) that baptism was to be performed, and (3) that the Messiah was about to appear. Apollos, who had embraced this doctrine with zeal, was ready to defend it, and was in just the state of mind to welcome the news that the Messiah had come. Priscilla and Aquila instructed this zealous and talented man more fully in the doctrines of the Christian religion, and communicated to him the views which they had received from Paul, Acts 18:26. Paul, having gone to Jerusalem as he planned, returned again to Asia Minor, and taking in Phrygia and Galatia in his way, he revisited Ephesus, and remained there for about three years (Acts 18:23; Acts 19:1 ff). It was during this time that the church was founded, which afterward became so prominent, and to which this Epistle was written. The principal events in the life of Paul there were:
(1) His baptizing the twelve persons whom he found there, who were disciples of John; see notes at Acts 19:1-7.
(2) Paul went into the synagogue there and engaged in an earnest discussion with the Jews respecting the Messiah for about three months Acts 19:8-10.
(3) when many of the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue and obtained a place to preach in, in the schoolroom of a man by the name of Tyrannus. In this place he continued to preach without molestation for two years and proclaimed the gospel, so that a large portion of the inhabitants had an opportunity to hear it.
(4) the cause of religion was greatly promoted by the miracles which Paul performed Acts 19:11-17.
(5) Paul remained there until his preaching excited great commotion, and he was finally driven away by the tumult which was excited by Demetrius, Acts 19:23-41.
At this time the gospel had secured such a hold on the people that there was danger that the Temple of Diana would be forsaken, and that all who were dependent upon the worship of Diana for a livelihood would be thrown out of employment. It is not probable that Paul visited Ephesus after this, unless it was after his first imprisonment at Rome; see the introduction to 2 Timothy. n his way from Macedonia to Jerusalem he came to Miletus, and sent for the elders of Ephesus and gave them his deeply-affecting, parting address, expecting to see them no more Acts 20:16.
Paul remained longer at Ephesus than he did at any other one place, preaching the gospel. He seems to have set himself deliberately to work to establish a congregation there, which would ultimately overthrow idolatry. Several reasons may have led him to depart so far from his usual plan by laboring so long in one place. One may have been that this was the principal seat of idolatry in the world at that time. The evident aim of Paul in his ministry was to reach the centers of influence and power. Hence, he mainly sought to preach the gospel in large cities, and thus it was that Antioch, and Ephesus, and Corinth, and Athens, and Philippi, and Rome, shared so largely in his labors. Not ashamed of the gospel anywhere, Paul still sought mainly that its power should be felt where wealth, and learning, and genius, and talent were concentrated. The very places, therefore, where the most magnificent temples were erected to the gods, and where the worship of idols was celebrated with the most splendor and pomp, and where that worship was defended most strongly by the civil arm, were those in which the apostle sought first to preach the gospel.
Ephesus, therefore, as the most splendid seat of idolatry at that time in the whole pagan world, particularly attracted the attention of the apostle, and hence it was that he was willing to spend so large a part of his public life in that place. It may have been for this reason that John afterward made it his permanent home, and spent so many years there as the minister of the congregation which had been founded by Paul; see section 3. Another reason why Paul sought Ephesus as a field of labor may have been that it was at that time not only the principal seat of idolatry, but was a place of great importance in the civil affairs of the Roman empire. It was the residence of the Roman proconsul, and the seat of the courts of justice in Asia Minor, and, consequently, was a place to which there would be attracted a great amount of learning and talent (Macknight). The apostle, therefore, seems to have been anxious that the full power of the gospel should be tried there, and that Ephesus should become as important as a center of influence in the Christian world as it had been in paganism and in civil affairs.
Section 3. Notices of the History of the Church at Ephesus
The church at Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia, and the first one mentioned to which John was directed to address an epistle from Patmos Revelation 2:1-7. Little is said of it in the New Testament from the time when Paul left it until the Book of Revelation was written. The tradition is, that Timothy was a minister at Ephesus, and was succeeded by the apostle John; but whether John came there while Timothy was living, or not until his removal or death, even "tradition" does not inform us. In the subscription to the Second Epistle to Timothy, it is said of Timothy that he was "ordained the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians;" but this is of no authority whatever. All that can be learned with certainty about the residence of Timothy at Ephesus is what the apostle Paul says of him in his First Epistle to Timothy 1 Timothy 1:3, "As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine."
From this it would appear that the residence of Timothy at Ephesus was a temporary arrangement, designed to secure a result which Paul wished particularly to secure, and to avoid an evil which he had reason to dread would follow from his own absence. That it was only a temporary arrangement, is apparent from the fact that Paul soon after desired him to come to Rome, 2 Timothy 4:9, 2 Timothy 4:11. The Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy was written but a few years after the first letter. According to Lardner, the first letter was written in the year 56 a.d., and the second letter in the year 62 a.d.; according to Hug, the first letter was written in the year 59 a.d., and the second letter in the year 61 a.d.; according to the editor of the Polyglott Bible, the first letter was written 65 a.d., and the second letter in 66 a.d. According to either calculation, the time of the residence of Timothy in Ephesus was brief. There is not the slightest evidence from the New Testament that he was a permanent Bishop of Ephesus, or indeed that he was a "bishop" at all, in the modern sense of the term. Those who may be disposed to look further into this matter, and to examine the relation which Timothy sustained to the church of Ephesus, and the claim which is sometimes set up for his having sustained the office of "a bishop," may find an examination in the Review of Bishop Onderdonk's Tract on Episcopacy, published in the Quarterly Christian Spectator in March, 1834, and March, 1835, and republished in 1843 under the title of "The Organization and Government of the Apostolic Church," pp. 99-107.
Whatever was the relation which Timothy sustained to the church in Ephesus, it is agreed on all hands that John the apostle spent a considerable portion of his life there. At what time John went to Ephesus, or why he did it, is not known now. The common opinion is, that he remained at or near Jerusalem for some 15 years after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, during which time he had the special charge of Mary, the mother of the Saviour; that he then preached the gospel to the Parthians and the Indians, and that he then returned and went to Ephesus, in or near which he spent his latter days, and in which, at a very advanced age, he died. It was from Ephesus that, under the Emperor Domitian, 95 a.d., he was banished to the island of Patmos, from which he returned in 97 a.d., on the accession of Nerva to the crown, who recalled all who had been banished. At that time, John is supposed to have been about 90 years of age. He is said to have died at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan (in 100 a.d.), at about 94 years of age. For a full and interesting biography of the apostle John, the reader may consult the "Lives of the Apostles," by David Francis Bacon, pp. 307-376.
Of the subsequent history of the church at Ephesus, little is known, and it would not be necessary to dwell upon it in order to an exposition of the Epistle before us. It is sufficient to remark, that the "candlestick is removed out of its place" Revelation 2:5, and that all the splendor of the Temple of Diana, all the pomp of her worship, and all the glory of the Christian church there, have faded away alike.
Section 4. The Time and Place of Writing the Epistle
It has never been denied that the apostle Paul was the author of this Epistle, though it has been made a question whether it were written to the Ephesians or to the Laodiceans; see Section 5. Dr. Paley (Horae Paulinae) has shown that there is conclusive internal proof that this Epistle was written by Paul. This argument is derived from the style, and is carried out by a comparison of this Epistle with the other undoubted writings of the apostle. The historical evidence on this point also is undisputed.
It is generally supposed, and, indeed, the evidence seems to be clear, that this Epistle was written during the imprisonment of the apostle at Rome; but whether it was during his first or his second imprisonment is not certain. Paul was held in custody for approximately two years in Caesarea Acts 24:27, but there is no evidence that during that time he addressed any epistle to the churches which he had planted. That this was written when he was a prisoner is apparent from the Epistle itself. "The two years in which Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea," says Wall, as quoted by Lardner, "seem to have been the most inactive part of Paul's life. There is no account of any proceedings or disputations, or of any epistles written in this space." This may have arisen, Lardner supposes, from the fact that the Jews made such an opposition that the Roman governor would not allow him to have any contact with the people at large, or procure any intelligence from the churches abroad.
But when he was at Rome he had more liberty. He was allowed to dwell in his own hired house Acts 28:30, and had permission to address all who came to him, and to communicate freely with his friends abroad. It was during this period that he wrote at least four of his letters - the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Epistle to the Philippians, the Epistle to the Colossians, and the Epistle to Philemon. Grotius, as quoted by Lardner, says of these Epistles, that though all Paul's Epistles are excellent, yet he most admires those written by him when a prisoner at Rome. Concerning the Epistle to the Ephesians, he says it surpasses all human eloquence - rerum sublimitatem adaequans verbis sublimioribus, quam ulla unquam habuit lingua humana - describing the sublimity of the things by corresponding words more sublime than are found elsewhere in human language. The evidence that it was written when Paul was a prisoner is found in the Epistle itself.
Thus, in Ephesians 3:1, he says, "I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ - ὁ δέσμιος τοῦ Χπριστοῦ ho desmios tou Christou - for you Gentiles." So he alludes to his afflictions in Ephesians 3:13, "I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you." In Ephesians 4:1, he calls himself the "prisoner of the Lord," or in the margin, "in the Lord " - ὁ δέσμιος ἐν Κυρίω ho desmios en Kuriō. And in Ephesians 6:19-20, there is an allusion which seems to settle the inquiry beyond dispute, and to prove that it was written while he was at Rome. He there says that he was an "ambassador in bonds" - ἐν ἅλυσε en haluse - "in chains, manacles," or "shackles;" and yet he desires Ephesians 6:19-20 that they would pray for him, that utterance might be given him to open his mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, that he might speak boldly as he ought to speak.
Now this is a remarkable circumstance. A man in custody, in bonds or chains, and that too for being an "ambassador," and yet asking the aid of their prayers, that in these circumstances he might have grace to be a bold preacher of the gospel. If he was in prison this could not well be. If he was under a strict prohibition it could not well be. The circumstances of the case tally exactly with the statement in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, that Paul was in custody in Rome; that he was permitted to "dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him" Acts 28:16; that he was permitted to call the Jews together and to debate with them freely Acts 28:17-28; and that Paul dwelt in his own hired house for two years, and "received all that came in with him, preaching the kingdom of God," etc. Acts 28:30-31. So exactly do these circumstances correspond that I have no doubt that that was the time when the Epistle was written.
And so unusual is such a train of circumstances - so unlikely would it be to occur to a man to forge such a coincidence, that it furnishes a striking proof that the Epistle was written, as it purports to be, by Paul. An impostor would not have thought of inventing such a coincidence. If it had occurred to him to make any such allusion, the place and time would have been more distinctly mentioned, and not have been left as a mere incidental allusion. The apostle Paul is supposed to have been at Rome as a prisoner twice (compare the introduction to Second Timothy), and to have suffered martyrdom there about 65 or 66 a.d. If the Epistle to the Ephesians was written during his second imprisonment at Rome, as is commonly supposed, then it must have been somewhere between the years 63 and 65 a.d. Lardner and Hug suppose that it was written April, 61 a.d.; Macknight supposes it was in 60 or 61 a.d.; the editor of the Polyglott Bible places it at 64 a.d. The exact time when it was written cannot now be ascertained, and is not material.
Section 5. To Whom Was the Epistle Written?
The Epistle purports to have been written to the Ephesians - "to the saints which are at Ephesus," - Ephesians 1:1. But the opinion that it was written to the Ephesians has been called in question by many expositors. Dr. Pales (Horae Paulinae) supposes that it was written to the Laodiceans. Wetstein also maintained the same opinion. This opinion was expressly stated also by Marcion, a heretic of the second century. Michaelis (Introduction) supposes that it was a "circular epistle," addressed not to any congregation in particular, but that it was intended for the Ephesians, Laodiceans, and some other churches of Asia Minor. He supposes that the apostle had several copies taken; that he made it intentionally of a very general character so as to suit all; that he affixed with his own hand the subscription, Ephesians 6:24, to each copy - "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity;" that at the beginning of the Epistle the name was inserted of the particular church to which it was to be sent - as "to the church in Ephesus" - "in Laodicea," etc.
When the several works composing the New Testament were collected into a volume he supposes that it so happened that the copy of this Epistle which was used was one obtained from Ephesus, containing a direction to the saints there. This is also the opinion of Archbishop Usher and Koppe. It does not comport with the design of these notes to go into an extended examination of this question; and after all that has been written on it, and the different opinions which have been entertained, it certainly does not become any one to be very confident. It is not a question of great importance, since it involves no point of doctrine or duty; but those who wish to see it discussed at length can be satisfied by referring to Paley's "Horae Paulinae;" to Michaelis' "Introduction," vol. iv. chapter xx., and to the "Prolegomena" of Koppe. The arguments which are alleged to prove that it was addressed to the church at Laodicea, or at least not to the church at Ephesus, are summarily the following:
(1) The testimony of Marcion, a heretic of the second century, who affirms that it was sent to the church in Laodicea, and that instead of the reading Ephesians 1:1, "in Ephesus," in the copy which he had it was "in Laodicea" But the opinion of Marcion is now regarded as of little weight. It is admitted that Marcion was in the habit of altering the Greek text to suit his own views.
(2) the principal objection to the opinion that it was written to the church at Ephesus is found in certain internal marks, and particularly with the lack of any allusion to the fact that Paul had ever been there, or to anything that particularly related to the church there. This difficulty comprises several particulars.
(a) Paul spent nearly three years in Ephesus, and was engaged there in deeply interesting transactions and occurrences. He had founded the church, ordained its elders, taught them the doctrines which they held, and had at last been persecuted there and driven away. If the Epistle was written to them it is remarkable that there is in the Epistle no allusion to any one of these facts or circumstances. This is the more remarkable, since it was his usual custom to allude to the events which had occurred in the churches which he had founded (see the Epistles to the Corinthians and Philippians), and, since on two other occasions, he at least makes direct allusion to these transactions at Ephesus; see Acts 20:18-35; 1 Corinthians 15:32.
(b) In the other epistles which Paul wrote, it was his custom to salute a large number of persons by name. However, in this Epistle, there is no salutation of any kind. There is a general invocation of "peace to the brethren" Ephesians 6:23, but no specific mention of an individual by name. There is not even an allusion to the "elders" whom, with so much affection, he had addressed at Miletus Acts 20, and to whom he had given so solemn a charge. This is the more remarkable, as in this place he had spent three years in preaching the gospel, and must have been acquainted with all the leading members in the congregation. To the church at Rome, which he had never visited when he wrote his Epistle to the Romans, he sends a large number of salutations 1 Corinthians 16; to the church at Ephesus, where he had spent a longer time than in any other place, he sends none.
(c) The name of Timothy does not occur in the Epistle. This is remarkable, because Paul had left him there with a special charge 1 Timothy 1:3, and, if he were still there, it is singular that no allusion is made to him, and no salutation sent to him. If he had left Ephesus, and had gone to Rome to meet Paul as he requested 2 Timothy 4:9, it is remarkable that Paul did not join his name with his own in sending the Epistle to the church, or at least allude to the fact that he had arrived. This is the more remarkable, because in the Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians, the name of Timothy is joined with that of Paul at the commencement of the Epistle.
(d) Paul speaks of the persons to whom this Epistle was sent as if he had not been with them, or at least in a manner which is hardly conceivable, on the supposition that he had been the founder of the church. Thus, in Ephesians 1:15-16, he says, "Wherefore also after I heard of your faith in Christ Jesus," etc. But this circumstance is not conclusive. Paul may have been told of the continuance of their faith and of their growing love and zeal, and he may have alluded to that in this passage.
(e) Another circumstance on which some reliance has been placed is the statement in Ephesians 3:1-2, "For this cause, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given to you-ward," etc. It is argued (see Michaelis) that this is not language which would have been employed by one who had founded the church, and with whom they were all acquainted. He would not have spoken in a manner implying any doubt whether they had ever heard of him and his labors in the ministry on account of the Gentiles. Such are the considerations relied upon to show that the Epistle could not have been written to the Ephesians.
On the other hand, there is proof of a very strong character that it was written to them. That proof is the following:
1. The common reading in Ephesians 1:1, "To the saints which are in Ephesus." It is true, as we have seen, that this reading has been called in question. Mill says that it is omitted by Basil (lib. 2, Adversus Eunomium), as he says, "on the testimony of the fathers and of ancient copies." Griesbach marks it with the sign "om.," denoting that it was omitted by some, but that, in his judgment, it is to be retained. It is found in the Vulgate, the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Ethiopic in Walton's Polyglott. Rosenmuller remarks that "most of the ancient codices, and all the ancient versions, retain the word." To my mind this fact is conclusive. The testimony of Marcion is admitted to be of almost no authority; and as to the testimony of Basil, it is only one against the testimony of all the ancients, and is at best negative in its character; see the passage from Basil, quoted in Hug's Introduction.
2. A slight circumstance may be adverted to as throwing light incidentally upon this question. This Epistle was sent by Tychicus Ephesians 6:21. The Epistle to the Colossians was also sent from Rome by the same messenger Colossians 4:7. Now there is a strong improbability in the opinion held by Michaelis, Koppe, and others, that this was a "circular" letter, sent to the churches at large, or that different copies were prepared, and the name "Ephesus" inserted in one, and "Laodicea" in another, etc. The improbability is this, that the apostle would at the same time send such a circular letter to several of the churches, and a special letter to the church at Colossae. What claim had that church to special notice? What pre-eminence had it over the church at Ephesus? And why should he send them a letter bearing so strong a resemblance to that addressed to the other churches, when the same letter would have suited the church at Colossae as well as the one which was actually sent to them; for there is a nearer resemblance between these two epistles, than any other two portions of the Bible. Besides, in 2 Timothy 4:12, Paul says that he had sent "Tychicus to Ephesus;" and what is more natural than that, at that time, he sent this Epistle by him?
3. There is the utter lack of evidence from manuscripts or versions, that this Epistle was sent to Laodicea, or to any other church, except Ephesus. Not a manuscript has been found (circa 1880's) having the name "Laodicea" in Ephesians 1:1; nor any manuscript which omits the words "in Ephesus." If it had been sent to another congregation, or if it had been a circular letter addressed to no particular congregation, it is scarcely credible that this could have occurred.
These considerations make it plain to me that this Epistle was addressed, as it purports to have been, to the church in Ephesus. I confess myself wholly unable, however, to explain the remarkable circumstances that Paul does not refer to his former residence there; that he alludes to none of his troubles or his triumphs; that he makes no mention of the "elders," and greets no one by name; and that, throughout, he addresses them as if they were personally unknown to him. In this respect, it is unlike all the other epistles, which he ever wrote, and all which we should have expected from a man in such circumstances. May it not be accounted for from "this very fact," that an attempt to specify individuals where so many were known, would protract the Epistle to an unreasonable length? There is, indeed, one supposition suggested by Dr. Macknight, which may possibly explain to some extent the remarkable circumstances above referred to. It is, that an instruction may have been given by Paul to Tychicus, by whom he sent the letter, to send a copy of it to the Laodiceans, with an order to them to communicate it to the Colossians. In such a case everything local would be designedly omitted, and the Epistle would be of as general a character as possible. This is, however, mere conjecture, and does not remove the entirety of the difficulty.
Section 6. The Object for which the Epistle Was Written
Very various opinions have been formed in regard to the design for which this Epistle was written. Macknight supposes that it was with reference to the Eleusinian mysteries, and to various religious rites in the Temple of Diana, and that Paul intended particularly to state the "mysteries" of the gospel in contradistinction from them. But there is no clear evidence that the apostle had any such object, and it is not necessary to go into an explanation of those mysteries in order to an understanding of the Epistle. The Epistle is such as might be addressed to any Christians, though there are allusions to customs which then prevailed, and to opinions then held, which it is desirable to understand in order to a just view of it. That there were Jews and Judaizing Christians in Ephesus, may be learned from the Epistle itself. That there were those there who supposed that the Jews were to have a more elevated rank than the Gentiles, may also be learned from the Epistle; and one object was to show that all true Christians, whether of Jewish or pagan origin, were on a level, and were entitled to the same privileges. That there was the prevalence of a false and dangerous philosophy there, may also be learned from the Epistle; and that there were those who attempted to cause divisions, and who had violated the unity of the faith, may also be learned from it.
The Epistle is divided into two parts -
I. The doctrinal part Ephesians 1-3; and
II. The practical part, or the application Ephesians 4-6.
I. The doctrinal part comprises the following topics:
(1) Praise to God for the Revelation of his eternal counsels of recovering mercy, Ephesians 1:3-14.
(2) a prayer of the apostle, expressing his earnest desire that the Ephesians might avail themselves fully of all the advantages of this eternal purpose of mercy, Ephesians 1:15-23.
(3) the doctrine of the native character of man, as being dead in sins, illustrated by the past lives of the Ephesians, Ephesians 2:1-3.
(4) the doctrine of regeneration by the grace of God, and the advantages of it, Ephesians 2:5-7.
(5) the doctrine of salvation by grace alone without respect to our own works, Ephesians 2:8-9,
(6) The privilege of being thus admitted to the fellowship of the saints, Ephesians 2:11-22,
(7) A full statement of the doctrine that God meant to admit the Gentiles to the privileges of his people, and to break down the barriers between the Gentiles and the Jews, Ephesians 3:1-12.
(8) the apostle prays earnestly that they might avail themselves fully of this doctrine, and be able to appreciate fully the advantages which it was intended to confer; and with this prayer he closes the doctrinal part of the Epistle, Ephesians 3:13-21.
II. The practical part of the Epistle embraces the following topics, namely:
(1) Exhortation to unity, drawn from the consideration that there was one God, one faith, etc., Ephesians 4:1-16.
(2) an exhortation to a holy life "in general," from the fact that they differed from other Gentiles, Ephesians 4:17-24.
(3) exhortation to exhibit "particular" virtues - "specifying" what was required by their religion, and what they should avoid - particularly to avoid the vices of anger, lying, licentiousness, and intemperance, Ephesians 4:25-32; Ephesians 5:1-20.
(4) the duties of husbands and wives, Ephesians 5:21-33.
(5) the duties of parents and children, Ephesians 6:1-3.
(6) the duties of masters and servants, Ephesians 6:4-9.
(7) an exhortation to fidelity in the Christian warfare, Ephesians 6:10-20.
(8) Conclusion, Ephesians 6:21-24.
The style of this Epistle is exceedingly animated. The apostle is cheered by the intelligence which he had received of their deportment in the gospel, and is warmed by the grandeur of his principal theme - the eternal purposes of divine mercy. Into the discussion of that subject he throws his whole soul, and there is probably no part of Paul's writings where there is more ardor, elevation, and soul evinced, than in this Epistle. He approaches the great doctrine of predestination as a most important and vital doctrine; he states it freely and fully, and urges it as the basis of the Christian's hope, and the foundation of eternal gratitude and praise. Perhaps nowhere is there a better illustration of the power of that doctrine to elevate the soul and fill it with grand conceptions of the character of God, and to excite grateful emotions, than in this Epistle; and the Christian, therefore, may study it as a portion of the sacred writings eminently suited to excite his gratitude, and to fill him with adoring views of God.
(1) The salutation, Ephesians 1:1-2.
(2) the doctrine of predestination, and its hearing and design, Ephesians 1:3-14.
(a) It is the foundation of praise to God, and is a source of gratitude, Ephesians 1:3.
(b) Christians have been chosen before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4.
(c) The object was that they should be holy and blameless, Ephesians 1:4.
(d) They were predestinated to be the children of God, Ephesians 1:5.
(e) The cause of this was the good pleasure of God, or he did it according to the purpose of his will, Ephesians 1:5.
(f) The object of this was his own glory, Ephesians 1:6.
(3) the benefits of the plan of predestination to those who are thus chosen, Ephesians 1:7-14.
(a) They have redemption and the forgiveness of sins, Ephesians 1:7-8.
(b) They are made acquainted with the mystery of the divine will, Ephesians 1:9-10.
(c) They have obtained an inheritance in Christ, Ephesians 1:11.
(d) The object of this was the praise of the glory of God, Ephesians 1:12.
(e) As the result of this, or in the execution of this purpose, they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, Ephesians 1:13-14.
(4) an earnest prayer that they might have a full understanding of the great and glorious plan of redemption, Ephesians 1:15-23,
(a) Paul says that he had been informed of their faith, Ephesians 1:15.
(b) He always remembered them in his prayers, Ephesians 1:16.
(c) His special desire was that they might see the glory of the Lord Jesus, whom God had exalted to his own right hand in heaven, Ephesians 1:17-23.
1Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Paul, an apostle; - see the notes at Romans 1:1.
By the will of God - see the notes at 1 Corinthians 1:1.
To the saints - A name often given to Christians because they are holy; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 1:2.
In Ephesus - see the introduction, sections 1 and 5.
And to the faithful in Christ Jesus - This evidently refers to others than to those who were in Ephesus, and it is clear that Paul expected that this Epistle would be read by others. He gives it a general character, as if he supposed that it might be transcribed, and become the property of the church at large. It was not uncommon for him thus to give a general character to the epistles which he addressed to particular churches, and so to write that others than those to whom they were particularly directed, might feel that they were addressed to them. Thus, the First Epistle to the Corinthians was addressed to "the church of God in Corinth - with all that in every place call upon the name of Christ Jesus our Lord." The Second Epistle to the Corinthians in like manner was addressed to "the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia." Perhaps, in the Epistle before us, the apostle referred particularly to the churches of Asia Minor which he had not visited, but there is no reason for confining the address to them.
All who are "faithful in Christ Jesus" may regard the Epistle as addressed by the Holy Spirit to them, and may feel that they are as much interested in the doctrines, promises, and duties set forth in this Epistle, as were the ancient Christians of Ephesus. The word "faithful" here is not used in the sense of "trustworthy," or in the sense of "fidelity," as it is often employed, but in the sense of "believing," or "having faith" in the Lord Jesus. The apostle addresses those who were firm in the faith - another name for true Christians. The Epistle contains great doctrines about the divine purposes and decrees in which they, as Christians, were particularly concerned; important "mysteries" Ephesians 1:9, of importance for them to understand, and which the apostle proceeds to communicate to them as such. The fact that the letter was designed to be published, shows that he was not unwilling that those high doctrines should be made known to the world at large; still they pertained particularly to the church, and they are doctrines which should be particularly addressed to the church. They are rather suited to comfort the hearts of "Christians," than to bring "sinners" to repentance. These doctrines may be addressed to the church with more prospect of securing a happy effect than to the world. In the church they will excite gratitude, and produce the hope which results from assured promises and eternal purposes; in the minds of sinners they may arouse envy, and hatred, and opposition to God.
2Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace to you, ... - see the notes, Romans 1:7.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - This commences a sentence which continues to the close of Ephesians 1:12. The length of the periods in the writings of Paul, is one cause of the obscurity of his style, and renders an explanation often difficult. The meaning of this phrase is, that God has laid a foundation for gratitude for what he has done. The ground or reason of the praise here referred to, is that which is stated in the following verses. The leading thing on which the apostle dwells is God's eternal purpose - his everlasting counsel in regard to the salvation of man. Paul breaks out into the exclamation that God is worthy of praise for such a plan, and that his eternal purposes, now manifest to people, give exalted views of the character and glory of God. Most persons suppose the contrary. They feel that the plans of God are dark, and stern, and forbidding, and such as to render his character anything but amiable.
They speak of him, when he is referred to as a sovereign, as if he were tyrannical and unjust, and they never connect the idea of that which is amiable and lovely with the doctrine of eternal purposes. There is no doctrine that is usually so unpopular; none that is so much reproached; none that is so much abused. There is none that people desire so much to disbelieve or avoid; none that they are so unwilling to have preached; and none that they are so reluctant to find in the Scriptures. Even many Christians turn away from it with dread; or if they "tolerate" it, they yet feel that there is something about it that is especially dark and forbidding. Not so felt Paul. He felt that it laid the foundation for eternal praise; that it presented glorious views of God; that it was the ground of confidence and hope; and that it was desirable that Christians should dwell upon it and praise God for it. Let us feel, therefore, as we enter upon the exposition of this chapter, that God is to be praised for all his plans, and that it is "possible" for Christians to have such views of the doctrine of "eternal predestination" as to give them most elevated conceptions of the glory of the divine character. And let us also be "willing" to know the truth. Let us approach word after word, and phrase after phrase, and verse after verse, in this chapter, willing to know all that God teaches; to believe all that he has revealed; and ready to say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for all that he has done."
Who hath blessed us - Who does Paul mean here by "us?" Does he mean all the world? This cannot be, for all the world are not thus blessed with "all" spiritual blessings. Does he mean "nations?" For the same reason this cannot be. Does he mean the Gentiles in contradistinction from the Jews? Why then does he use the word "us," including himself, who was a Jew? Does he mean to say that they were blessed with external privileges, and that this was the only object of the eternal purposes of God? This cannot be, for he speaks of "spiritual blessings;" he speaks of the persons referred to as having "redemption" and "the forgiveness of sins;" as having "obtained an inheritance," and as being sealed with the "Holy Spirit of promise." These appertain not to nations, or to external privileges, or the mere offers of the gospel, but to true Christians; to persons who have been redeemed. The persons referred to by the word "us," are those who are mentioned in Ephesians 1:1, as "saints," - ἅγίοις hagiois - "holy;" and "faithful" - πιστοῖς pistois - "believing," or "believers."
This observation is important, because it shows that the plan or decree of God had reference to individuals, and not merely to nations. Many have supposed (see Whitby, Dr. A. Clarke, Bloomfield, and others) that the apostle here refers to the "Gentiles," and that his object is to show that they were now admitted to the same privileges as the ancient Jews, and that the whole doctrine of predestination here referred to, has relation to that fact. But, I would ask, were there no Jews in the church at Ephesus? See Acts 18:20, Acts 18:24; Acts 19:1-8. The matter of fact seems to have been, that Paul was uncommonly successful there among his own countrymen, and that his chief difficulty there arose, not from the Jews, but from the influence of the heathen; Acts 19:24. Besides what evidence is there that the apostle speaks in this chapter especially of the Gentiles, or that he was writing to that portion of the church at Ephesus which was of Gentile origin? And if he was, why did he name himself among them as one on whom this blessing had been bestowed? The fact is, that this is a mere supposition, resorted to without evidence, and in the face of every fair principle of interpretation, to avoid an unpleasant doctrine. Nothing can be clearer than that Paul meant to write to "Christians as such;" to speak of privileges which they enjoyed as special to themselves; and that he had no particular reference to "nations," and did not design merely to refer to external privileges.
With all spiritual blessings - Pardon, peace, redemption, adoption, the earnest of the Spirit, etc., referred to in the following verses - blessings which "individual Christians" enjoy, and not external privileges conferred on nations.
In heavenly places in Christ - The word "places" is here understood, and is not in the original. It may mean heavenly "places," or heavenly "things." The word "places" does not express the best sense. The idea seems to be, that God has blessed us in Christ in regard to heavenly subjects or matters. In Ephesians 1:20, the word "places" seems to be inserted with more propriety. The same phrase occurs again in Ephesians 2:6; Ephesians 3:10; and it is remarkable that it should occur in the same elliptical form four times in this one epistle, and, I believe, in no other part of the writings of Paul. Our translators have in each instance supplied the word "places," as denoting the rank or station of Christians, of the angels, and of the Saviour, to each of whom it is applied. The phrase probably means, in things pertaining to heaven; suited to prepare us for heaven; and tending toward heaven. It probably refers here to every thing that was heavenly in its nature, or that had relation to heaven, whether gifts or graces. As the apostle is speaking, however, of the mass of Christians on whom these things had been bestowed, I rather suppose that he refers to what are called Christian graces, than to the extraordinary endowments bestowed on the few. The sense is, that in Christ, i. e. through Christ, or by means of him, God had bestowed all spiritual blessings that were suited to prepare for heaven - such as pardon, adoption, the illumination of the Spirit, etc.
4According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
According as - The importance of this verse will render proper a somewhat minute examination of the words and phrases of which it is composed. The general sense of the passage is, that these blessings pertaining to heaven were bestowed upon Christians in accordance with an eternal purpose. They were not conferred by chance or hap-hazard. They were the result of intention and design on the part of God. Their value was greatly enhanced from the fact that God had designed from all eternity to bestow them, and that they come to us as the result of his everlasting plan. It was not a recent plan; it was not an afterthought; it was not by mere chance; it was not by caprice; it was the fruit of an eternal counsel. Those blessings had all the value, and all the assurance of "permanency," which must result from that fact. The phrase "according as" - καθὼς kathōs - implies that these blessings were in conformity with that eternal plan, and have flowed to us as the expression of that plan. They are limited by that purpose, for it marks and measures all. It was as God had chosen that it should be, and had appointed in his eternal purpose.
He hath chosen us - The word "us" here shows that the apostle had reference to individuals, and not to communities. It includes Paul himself as one of the "chosen," and those whom he addressed - the mingled Gentile and Jewish converts in Ephesus. That it must refer to individuals is clear. Of no "community" as such can it be said that it was" chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy." It is not true of the Gentile world as such, nor of anyone of the nations making up the Gentile world. The word rendered here "hath chosen" - ἐξελέξατο exelexato - is from a word meaning "to lay out together," (Passow,) to choose out, to select. It has the idea of making a choice or selection among different objects or things. It is applied to things, as in Luke 10:42, Mary "hath chosen that good part;" - she has made a choice, or selection of it, or has shown a "preference" for it. 1 Corinthians 1:27, "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world;" he has preferred to make use of them among all the conceivable things which might have been employed" to confound the wise;" compare Acts 1:2, Acts 1:24; Acts 6:5; Acts 15:22, Acts 15:25.
It denotes "to choose out," with the accessary idea of kindness or favor. Mark 13:20, "for the elect's sake whom "he hath chosen," he hath shortened the days." John 13:18, "I know whom I have chosen." Acts 13:17, "the God of this people of Israel "chose" our fathers;" that is, selected them from the nations to accomplish important purposes. This is evidently the sense of the word in the passage before us. It means to make a selection or choice with the idea of favor or love, and with a view to impart important benefits on those whom be chose. The idea of making some "distinction" between them and others, is essential to a correct understanding of the passage - since there can be no choice where no such distinction is made. He who chooses one out of many things makes a difference, or evinces a preference - no matter what the ground or reason of his doing it may be. Whether this refers to communities and nations, or to individuals, still it is true that a distinction is made or a preference given of one over another. It may be added, that so far as "justice" is concerned, it makes no difference whether it refers to nations or to individuals. If there is injustice in choosing an "individual" to favor, there cannot be less in choosing a "nation" - for a nation is nothing but a collection of individuals. Every objection which has ever been made to the doctrine of election as it relates to individuals, will apply with equal force to the choice of a nation to unique privileges. If a distinction is made, it may be made with as much propriety in respect to individuals as to nations.
In him - In Christ. The choice was not without reference to any means of saving them; it was not a mere purpose to bring a certain number to heaven; it was with reference to the mediation of the Redeemer, and his work. It was a purpose that they should be saved "by" him, and share the benefits of the atonement. The whole choice and purpose of salvation had reference to him, and "out" of him no one was chosen to life, and no one out of him will be saved.
Before the foundation of the world - This is a very important phrase in determining the time when the choice was made. It was not an "afterthought." It was not commenced in time. The purpose was far back in the ages of eternity. But what is the meaning of the phrase "before the foundation of the world?" Dr. Clarke supposes that it means "from the commencement "of the religious system of the Jews," which," says he, "the phrase sometimes means." Such principles of interpretation are they compelled to resort to who endeavor to show that this refers to a national election to privileges, and who deny that it refers to individuals. On such principles the Bible may be made to signify anything and everything. Dr. Chandler, who also supposes that it refers to nations, admits, however, that the word "foundation" means the beginning of anything; and that the phrase here means, "before the world began" There is scarcely any phrase in the New Testament which is more clear in its signification than this.
The word rendered "foundation" - καταβολή katabolē - means properly a laying down, a founding, a foundation - as where the foundation of a building is laid - and the phrase "before the foundation of the world" clearly means before the world was made, or before the work of creation; see Matthew 13:35; Matthew 25:34; Luke 11:50; Hebrews 9:26; Revelation 13:8, in all which places the phrase "the foundation of the world" means the beginning of human affairs; the beginning of the world; the beginning of history, etc. Thus, in John 17:24, the Lord Jesus says, "thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world," i. e., from eternity, or before the work of creation commenced. Thus, Peter says 1 Peter 1:20 of the Saviour, "who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world." It was the purpose of God before the worlds were made, to send him to save lost men; compare Revelation 17:8. Nothing can be clearer than that the phrase before us must refer to a purpose that was formed before the world was made. it is not a temporary arrangement; it has not grown up under the influence of vacillating purposes; it is not a plan newly formed, or changed with each coming generation, or variable like the plans of people. It has all the importance, dignity, and assurances of stability which necessarily result from a purpose that has been eternal in the mind of God. It may be observed here,
(1) that if the plan was formed "before the foundation of the world," all objections to the doctrine of an "eternal" plan are removed. If the plan was formed "before" the world, no matter whether a moment, an hour, a year, or millions of years, the plan is equally fixed, and the event equally necessary. All the objections which will lie against an "eternal" plan, will lie against a plan formed a day or an hour before the event. The one interferes with our freedom of action as much as the other.
(2) if the plan was formed "before the foundation of the world," it "was eternal." God has no new plan, He forms no new schemes. He is not changing and vacillating. If we can ascertain what is the plan of God at any time, we can ascertain what his eternal plan was with reference to the event. It has always been the same - for "he is of one MinD, and who can turn him?" Job 23:13. In reference to the plans and purposes of the Most High, there is nothing better settled than that what he actually does, he always meant to do - which is the doctrine of eternal decrees - "and the whole of it.
That we should be holy - Paul proceeds to state the "object" for which God had chosen his people. It is not merely that they should enter into heaven. It is not that they may live in sin. It is not that they may flatter themselves that they are safe, and then live as they please. The tendency among people has always been to abuse the doctrine of predestination and election; to lead people to say that if all things are fixed there is no need of effort; that if God has an eternal plan, no matter how people live, they will be saved if he has elected them, and that at all events they cannot change that plan, and they may as well enjoy life by indulgence in sin. The apostle Paul held no such view of the doctrine of predestination. In his apprehension it is a doctrine suited to excite the gratitude of Christians, and the whole tendency and design of the doctrine, according to him, is to make people holy, and without blame before God in love.
And without blame before him in love - The expression "in love," is probably to be taken in connection with the following verse, and should be rendered "In love," having predestinated us unto the adoption of children." It is all to be traced to the love of God.
(1) it was love for us which prompted to it.
(2) it is the highest expression of love to be ordained to eternal life - for what higher love could God show us?
(3) it is love on his part, because we had no claim to it, and had not deserved it. If this be the correct view, then the doctrine of predestination is not inconsistent with the highest moral excellence in the divine character, and should never be represented as the offspring of partiality and injustice. Then too we should give thanks that" God "has, in love," predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will."
5Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
Having predestinated us - On the meaning of the word here used, see the notes at Romans 1:4; Romans 8:29, note. The word used πρωρίζω prōrizō means properly "to set bounds before;" and then to "pre-determine." There is the essential idea of setting bounds or limits, and of doing this beforehand. It is not that God determined to do it when it was actually done, but that he intended to do it beforehand. No language could express this more clearly, and I suppose this interpretation is generally admitted. Even by those who deny the doctrine of particular election, it is not denied that the word here used means to "pre-determine;" and they maintain that the sense is, that God had pre-determined to admit the Gentiles to the privileges of his people. Admitting then that the meaning is to predestinate in the proper sense, the only question is, "who" are predestinated? To whom does the expression apply? Is it to nations or to individuals? In reply to this, in addition to the remarks already made, I would observe,
(1) that there is no specification of "nations" here as such, no mention of the Gentiles in contradistinction from the Jews.
(2) those referred to were those included in the word "us," among whom Paul was one - but Paul was not a heathen.
(3) the same objection will lie against the doctrine of predestinating "nations" which will lie against predestinating "individuals."
(4) nations are made up of individuals, and the pre-determination must have had some reference to individuals.
What is a nation but a collection of individuals? There is no such abstract being or thing as a nation; and if there was any purpose in regard to a nation, it must have had some reference to the individuals composing it. He that would act on the ocean, must act on the drops of water that make up the ocean; for besides the collection of drops of water there is no ocean. He that would remove a mountain, must act on the particles of matter that compose that mountain; for there is no such thing as an abstract mountain. Perhaps there was never a greater illusion than to suppose that all difficulty is removed in regard to the doctrine of election and predestination, by saying that it refers to "nations." What difficulty is lessened? What is gained by it? How does it make God appear more amiable and good?
Does it render him less "partial" to suppose that he has made a difference among nations, than to suppose that he has made a difference among individuals? Does it remove any difficulty about the offer of salvation, to suppose that he has granted the knowledge of his truth to some "nations," and withheld it from others? The truth is, that all the reasoning which has been founded on this supposition, has been merely throwing dust in the eyes. If there is "any" well-founded objection to the doctrine of decrees or predestination, it is to the doctrine "at all," alike in regard to nations and individuals, and there are just the same difficulties in the one case as in the other. But there is no real difficulty in either. Who could worship or honor a God who had no plan, or purpose, or intention in what he did? Who can believe that the universe was formed and is governed without design? Who can doubt that what God "does" he always meant to do?
When, therefore, he converts and saves a soul, it is clear that he always intended to do it. He has no new plan. It is not an afterthought. It is not the work of chance. If I can find out anything that God has "done," I have the most certain conviction that he "always meant" to do it - and this is all that is intended by the doctrine of election or predestination. What God does, he always meant to do. What he permits, he always meant to permit. I may add further, that if it is right to "do" it, it was right to "intend" to do it. If there is no injustice or partiality in the act itself, there is no injustice or partiality in the intention to perform it. If it is right to save a soul, it was also right to intend to save it. If it is right to condemn a sinner to we, it was right to intend to do it. Let us then look "at the thing itself," and if that is not wrong, we should not blame the purpose to do it, however long it has been cherished.
Unto the adoption ... - see John 1:12 note; Romans 8:15 note.
According to the good pleasure of his will - The word rendered "good pleasure" - (εὐδοκία eudokia) - means "a being well pleased;" delight in anything, favor, good-will, Luke 2:14; Philippians 1:15; compare Luke 12:32. Then it denotes purpose, or will, the idea of benevolence being included - Robinson. Rosenmuller renders the phrase, "from his most benignant decree." The evident object of the apostle is to state why God chose the heirs of salvation. It was done as it seemed good to him in the circumstances of the case. It was not that man had any control over him, or that man was consulted in the determination, or that it was based on the good works of man, real or foreseen. But we are not to suppose that there were no good reasons for what he has thus done. Convicts are frequently pardoned by an executive. He does it according to his own will, or as seems good in his sight.
He is to be the judge, and no one has a right to control him in doing it. It may seeM to be entirely arbitrary. The executive may not have communicated the reasons why he did it, either to those who are pardoned, or to the other prisoners, or to anyone else. But we are not to infer that there was no "reason" for doing it. If he is a wise magistrate, and worthy of his station, it is to be presumed that there were reasons which, if known, would be satisfactory to all. But those reasons he is under no obligations to make known. Indeed, it might be improper that they should be known. Of that he is the best judge. Meantime, however, we may see what would be the effect in those who were not forgiven. It would excite, very likely, their hatred, and they would charge him with partiality or with tyranny. But they should remember that whoever might be pardoned, and on whatever ground it might be done, they could not complain.
They would suffer no more than they deserve. But what if, when the act of pardon was made known to one part, it was offered to the others also on certain plain and easy conditions? Suppose it should appear that while the executive meant, for wise but concealed reasons, to forgive a part, he had also determined to offer forgiveness to all. And suppose that they were in fact disposed in the highest degree to neglect it, and that no inducements or arguments could prevail on them to accept of it. Who then could blame the executive? Now this is about the case in regard to God, and the doctrine of election. All people were guilty and condemned. For wise reasons, which God has not communicated to us, he determined to bring a portion at least of the human race to salvation. This he did not intend to leave to chance and hap-hazard. He saw that all would of themselves reject the offer, and that unless some efficient means were used, the blood of the atonement would be shed in vain.
He did not make known to people who they were that he meant to save, nor the reason why they particularly were to be brought to heaven. Meantime he meant to make the offer universal; to make the terms as easy as possible, and thus to take away every ground of complaint. If people will not accept of pardon; if they prefer their sins; if nothing can induce them to come and be saved, why should they complain? If the doors of a prison are open, and the chains of the prisoners are knocked off, and they will not come out, why should they complain that others are in fact willing to come out and be saved? Let it be borne in mind that the purposes of God correspond exactly to facts as they actually occur, and much of the difficulty is taken away. If in the facts there is no just ground of complaint, there can be none, because it was the "intention of God that the facts should be so."
6To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
To the praise of the glory of his grace - This is a Hebraism, and means the same as "to his glorious grace." The object was to excite thanksgiving for his glorious grace manifested in electing love. The real tendency of the doctrine in minds that are properly affected, is not to excite opposition to God, or to lead to the charge of partiality, tyranny, or severity; it is to excite thankfulness and praise. In accordance with this, Paul introduced the statement Ephesians 1:3 by saying that God was to be regarded as "blessed" for forming and executing this plan. The meaning is, that the doctrine of predestination and election lays the foundation of adoring gratitude and praise. This will appear plain by a few considerations.
(1) it is the only foundation of hope for man. If he were left to himself, all the race would reject, the offers of mercy and would perish. History, experience, and the Bible alike demonstrate this.
(2) all the joys which any of the human race have, are to be traced to the purpose of God to bestow them. Man has no power of originating any of them, and if God had not intended to confer them, none of them would have been possessed.
(3) all these favors are conferred on those who had no claim on God. The Christian who is pardoned had no claim on God for pardon; he who is admitted to heaven could urge no claim for such a privilege and honor; he who enjoys comfort and peace in the hour of death, enjoys it only through the glorious grace of God.
(4) "all" that is done by election is suited to excite praise. Election is to life, and pardon, and holiness, and heaven. But why should not a man praise God for these things? God chooses people to be holy, not sinful; to be happy, not miserable; to be pure, not impure; to be saved, not to be lost. For these things he should be praised. He should be praised that he has not left the whole race to wander away and die. Had he chosen but one to eternal life, that one should praise him, and all the holy universe should join in the praise. Should he now see it to be consistent to choose but one of the fallen spirits, and to make him pure, and to readmit him to heaven, that one spirit would have occasion for eternal thanks, and all heaven might join in his praises. How much more is praise due to him, when the number chosen is not one, or a few, but when millions which no man can number, shall be found to be chosen to life; Revelation 7:9.
(5) the doctrine of predestination to life has added no pang of sorrow to anyone of the human race. It has made millions happy who would not otherwise have been, but not one miserable. It is not a choice to sorrow, it is a choice to joy and peace.
(6) no one has a right to complain of it. Those who are chosen assuredly should not complain of the grace which has made them what they are, and which is the foundation of all their hopes. And they who are "not" chosen, have no right to complain; for,
(a) they have no claim to life;
(b) they are "in fact" unwilling to come.
They have no desire to be Christians and to be saved. Nothing can induce them to forsake their sins and come to the Saviour.
Why then should they complain if others are "in fact" willing to be saved? Why should a man complain for being left to take his own course, and to walk in his own way? Mysterious, therefore, as is the doctrine of predestination; and fearful and inscrutable as it is in some of its aspects, yet, in a just view of it, it is suited to excite the highest expressions of thanksgiving, and to exalt God in the apprehension of man. He who has been redeemed and saved by the love of God; who has been pardoned and made pure by mercy; on whom the eye of compassion has been tenderly fixed, and for whom the Son of God has died, has abundant cause for thanksgiving and praise.
Wherein he hath made us accepted - Has regarded us as the objects of favor and complacency.
In the Beloved - In the Lord Jesus Christ, the well-beloved Son of God; notes, Matthew 3:17. He has chosen us in him, and it is through him that these mercies have been conferred on us.
7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
In whom we have redemption - On the meaning of the word here rendered "redemption" - (ἀπολύτρωσις apolutrōsis) - see the notes at Romans 3:24. The word here, as there, denotes that deliverance from sin and from the evil consequences of sin, which has been procured by the atonement made by the Lord Jesus Christ. This verse is one of the passages which prove conclusively that the apostle here does not refer to "nations" and to "national privileges." Of what "nation" could it be said that it had "redemption through the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins?"
Through his blood - By means of the atonement which he has made; see this phrase fully explained in the notes at Romans 3:25.
The forgiveness of sins - We obtain through his blood, or through the atonement which he has made, the forgiveness of sins. We are not to suppose that this is all the benefit which we receive from his death, or that this is all that constitutes redemption. It is the main, and perhaps the most important thing. But we also obtain the hope of heaven, the influences of the Holy Spirit, grace to guide us and to support us in trial, peace in death, and perhaps many more benefits. Still "forgiveness" is so prominent and important, that the apostle has mentioned that as if it were all.
According to the riches of his grace - According to his rich grace; see a similar phrase explained in the notes at Romans 2:4. The word "riches," in the form in which it is used here, occurs also in several other places in this Epistle; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8, Ephesians 3:16. It is what Paley (Horae Paul) calls "a cant phrase," and occurs often in the writings of Paul; see Romans 2:4; Romans 9:23; Romans 11:12, Romans 11:33; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27; Colossians 2:2. It is not found in any of the other writings of the New Testament, except once in a sense somewhat similar, in James Jam 2:5, "Hath not God chosen the poor of this world "rich" in faith," and Dr. Paley from this fact has constructed an argument to prove that this Epistle was written by Paul. It is unique to him, and marks his style in a manner which cannot be mistaken. An impostor, or a forger of the Epistle, would not have thought of introducing it, and yet it is just such a phrase as would naturally be used by Paul.
8Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
Wherein he hath abounded - Which he has liberally manifested to us This grace has not been stinted and confined, but has been liberal and abundant.
In all wisdom - That is, he has evinced great wisdom in the plan of salvation; wisdom in so saving people as to secure the honor of his own law, and in devising a scheme that was eminently adapted to save people; see the notes at 1 Corinthians 1:24.
And prudence - The word used here (φρονήσις phronēsis) means understanding, thinking, prudence. The meaning here is, that, so to speak, God had evinced great "intelligence" in the plan of salvation. There was ample proof of "mind" and of "thought." It was adapted to the end in view. It was far-seeing; skillfully arranged; and carefully formed. The sense of the whole is, that there was a wise design running through the whole plan, and abounding in it in an eminent degree.
9Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
Having made known to us the mystery of his will - The word "mystery" (μυστήριον mustērion) means literally something into which one must be "initiated" before it is fully known (from μυέω mueō, to initiate, to instruct); and then anything which is concealed or hidden. We commonly use the word to denote that which is above our comprehension or unintelligible. But this is never the meaning of the word in the New Testament. It means there some doctrine or fact which has been concealed, or which has not before been fully revealed, or which has been set forth only by figures and symbols. When the doctrine is made known, it may be as clear and plain as any other. Such was the doctrine that God meant to call the Gentiles, which was long concealed, at least in part, and which was not fully made known until the Saviour came, and which had been until that time "a mystery - a concealed truth" - though when it was revealed, there was nothing incomprehensible in it. Thus, in Colossians 1:26, "The mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints." So it was in regard to the doctrine of election. It was a mystery until it was made known by the actual conversion of those whom God had chosen. So in regard to the incarnation of the Redeemer; the atonement; the whole plan of salvation. Over all these great points there was a veil thrown, and people did not understand them until God revealed them. When they were revealed, the mystery was removed, and men were able to see clearly the manifestation of the will of God.
Which he hath purposed in himself - Without foreign aid or counsel. His purposes originated in his own mind, and were concealed until he chose to make them known; see 2 Timothy 1:9.
10That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
That in the dispensation - The word rendered here as "dispensation," οἰκονομία oikonomia, means properly "the management of household affairs." Then it means stewardship or administration; a dispensation or arrangement of things: a scheme or plan. The meaning here is, that this plan was formed in order (εἰς eis) or "unto" this end, that in the full arrangement of times, or in the arrangements completing the filling up of the times, God might gather together in one all things. Tyndale renders it: "to have it declared when the time was full come," etc.
The fulness of times - When the times were fully completed; when all the periods should have passed by which he had prescribed, or judged necessary to the completion of the object. The period referred to here is that when all things shall be gathered together in the Redeemer at the winding up of human affairs, or the consummation of all things. The arrangement was made with reference to that, and embraced all things which conduced to that. The plan stretched from before "the foundation of the world" to the period when all times should be completed; and of course all the events occurring in that intermediate period were embraced in the plan.
He might gather together in one - The word used here - ἀνακεφαλαιόω anakephalaioō - means literally, to sum up, to recapitulate, as an orator does at the close of his discourse. It is from κεφαλή kephalē, the head; or κεφάλαιον kephalaion, the sum, the chief thing, the main point. In the New Testament, the word means to collect under one head, or to comprehend several things under one; Romans 13:9. "It is briefly comprehended," i. e., summed up under this one precept," sc., "love." In the passage before us, it means that God would sum up, or comprehend all things in heaven and earth through the Christian dispensation; he would make one empire, under one head, with common feelings, and under the same laws. The reference is to the unity which will hereafter exist in the kingdom of God, when all his friends on earth and in heaven shall be united, and all shall have a common head. Now there is alienation. The earth has been separated from other worlds by rebellion. It has gone off into apostasy and sin. It refuses to acknowledge the Great Head to which other worlds are subject, and the object is to restore it to its proper place, so that there shall be one great and united kingdom.
All things - τὰ παντά ta panta. It is remarkable that Paul has used here a word which is in the neuter gender. It is not all "persons," all angels, or all human beings, or all the elect, but all "things." Bloomfield and others suppose that "persons" are meant, and that the phrase is used for τοὺς πάντας tous pantas. But it seems to me that Paul did not use this word without design. All "things" are placed under Christ, Ephesians 1:22; Matthew 28:18, and the design of God is to restore harmony in the universe. Sin has produced disorder not not only in "mind," but in "matter." The world is disarranged. The effects of transgression are seen everywhere; and the object of the plan of redemption is to put things on their pristine footing, and restore them as they were at first. Everything is, therefore, put under the Lord Jesus, and all things are to be brought under his control, so as to constitute one vast harmonious empire. The amount of the declaration here is, that there is hereafter to be one kingdom, in which there shall be no jar or alienation; that the now separated kingdoms of heaven and earth shall be united under one head, and that henceforward all shall be harmony and love. The things which are to be united in Christ, are those which are "in heaven and which are on earth." Nothing is said of "hell." Of course this passage cannot teach the doctrine of universal salvation, since there is one world which is not to have a part in this ultimate union.
In Christ - By means of Christ, or under him, as the great head and king. He is to be the great agent in effecting this, and he is to preside over this united kingdom. In accordance with this view the heavenly inhabitants, the angels as well as the redeemed, are uniformly represented as uniting in the same worship, and as acknowledging the Redeemer as their common head and king; Revelation 5:9-12.
Both which are in heaven - Margin, as in Greek, "in the heavens." Many different opinions have been formed of the meaning of this expression. Some suppose it to mean the saints in heaven, who died before the coming of the Saviour; and some that it refers to the Jews, designated as "the heavenly people," in contradistinction from the Gentiles, as having nothing divine and heavenly in them, and as being of the "earth." The more simple and obvious interpretation is, however, without doubt, the correct one, and this is to suppose that it refers to the holy inhabitants of other worlds. The object of the plan of salvation is to produce a harmony between them and the redeemed on earth, or to produce out of all, one great and united kingdom. In doing this, it is not necessary to suppose that any change is to be produced in the inhabitants of heaven. All the change is to occur among those on earth, and the object is to make out of all, one harmonious and glorious empire.
And which are on earth - The redeemed on earth. The object is to bring them into harmony with the inhabitants of heaven. This is the great object proposed by the plan of salvation. It is to found one glorious and eternal kingdom, that shall comprehend all holy beings on earth and all in heaven. There is now discord and disunion. Man is separated from God, and from all holy beings. Between him and every holy being there is by nature discord and alienation. Unrenewed man has no sympathy with the feelings and work of the angels; no love for their employment; no desire to be associated with them. Nothing can be more unlike than the customs, feelings, laws, and habits which prevail on earth, from those which prevail in heaven. But the object of the plan of salvation is to restore harmony to those alienated communities, and produce eternal concord and love. Hence, learn:
(1) The greatness and glory of the plan of salvation. It is no trifling undertaking to "reconcile worlds," and of such discordant materials to found one great and glorious and eternal empire.
(2) the reason of the interest which angels feel in the plan of redemption; 1 Peter 1:12. They are deeply concerned in the redemption of those who, with them, are to constitute that great kingdom which is to be eternal. Without envy at the happiness of others; without any feeling that the accession of others will diminish "their" felicity or glory, they wait to hail the coming of others, and rejoice to receive even one who comes to be united to their number.
(3) this plan was worthy of the efforts of the Son of God. To restore harmony in heaven and earth; to prevent the evils of alienation and discord; to rear one immense and glorious kingdom, was an object worthy the incarnation of the Son of God.
(4) the glory of the Redeemer. He is to be exalted as the Head of this united and ever-glorious kingdom, and all the redeemed on earth and the angelic hosts shall acknowledge him as their common Sovereign and Head.
(5) this is the greatest and most important enterprise on earth. It should engage every heart, and enlist the powers of every soul. It should be the earnest desire of all to swell the numbers of those who shall constitute this united and ever-glorious kingdom, and to bring as many as possible of the human race into union with the holy inhabitants of he other world.
11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance - We who are Christians. Most commentators suppose that by the word "we" the Jews particularly are intended, and that it stands in contradistinction from "ye," as referring to the Gentiles, in Ephesians 1:13. This construction, they suppose is demanded by the nature of the passage. The meaning may then be, that the Jews who were believers had "first" obtained a part in the plan of redemption, as the offer was first made to them, and then that the same favor was conferred also on the Gentiles. Or it may refer to those who had been first converted, without particular reference to the fact that they were Jews; and the reference may be to the apostle and his fellow-laborers. This seems to me to be the correct interpretation. "We the ministers of religion first believed, and have obtained an inheritance in the hopes of Christians, that we should be to the praise of God's glory; and you also, after hearing the word of truth, believed;" Ephesians 1:13. The word which is rendered "obtained our inheritance" - κληρόω klēroō - means literally "to acquire by lot," and then to obtain, to receive. Here it means that they had received the favor of being to the praise of his glory for having first trusted in the Lord Jesus.
Being predestinated - Ephesians 1:5.
According to the purpose - On the meaning of the word "purpose," see the notes, Romans 8:28.
Of him who worketh all things - Of God, the universal agent. The affirmation here is not merely that God accomplishes the designs of salvation according to the counsel of his own will, but that "he does everything." His agency is not confined to one thing, or to one class of objects. Every object and event is under his control, and is in accordance with his eternal plan. The word rendered "worketh" - ἐνεργέω energeō - means to work, to be active, to produce; Ephesians 1:20; Galatians 2:8; Philippians 2:13. A universal agency is ascribed to him. "The same God which "worketh" all in all;" 1 Corinthians 12:6. He has an agency in causing the emotions of our hearts. "God, who worketh in you both to Will and to do of his good pleasure;" Philippians 2:13. He has an agency in distributing to people their various allotments and endowments. "All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will;" 1 Corinthians 12:11.
The agency of God is seen everywhere. Every leaf, flower, rose-bud, spire of grass; every sun-beam, and every flash of lightning; every cataract and every torrent, all declare his agency; and there is not an object that we see that does not bespeak the control of an All-present God. It would be impossible to affirm more explicitly that God's agency is universal, than Paul does in the passage before us. He does not attempt to prove it. It is one of those points on which he does not deem it necessary to pause and reason, but which may be regarded as a conceded point in the discussion of other topics, and which may be employed without hesitation in their illustration. Paul does not state the "mode" in which this is done. He affirms merely the fact. He does not say that he "compels" men, or that he overbears them by mere physical force. His agency he affirms to be universal; but it is undoubtedly in accordance with the nature of the object, and with the laws which he has impressed on them.
His agency in the work of creation was absolute and entire; for there was nothing to act on, and no established laws to be observed. Over the mineral kingdom his control must also be entire, yet in accordance with the laws which he has impressed on matter. The crystal and the snow are formed by his agency; but it is in accordance with the laws which he has been pleased to appoint. So in the vegetable world his agency is everywhere seen; but the lily and the rose blossom in accordance with uniform laws, and not in an arbitrary manner. So in the animal kingdom. God gives sensibility to the nerve, and excitability and power to the muscle. He causes the lungs to heave, and the arteries and veins to bear the blood along the channels of life; but it is not in an arbitrary manner. It is in accordance with the laws which he has ordained and he never disregards in his agency over these kingdoms.
So in his government of mind. He works everywhere. But he does it in accordance with the laws of mind. His agency is not exactly of the same kind on the rose-bud that it is on the diamond nor on the nerve that it is on the rose-bud, nor on the heart and will that it is on the nerve. In all these things he consults the laws which he has impressed on them; and as he chooses that the nerve should be affected in accordance with its laws and properties, so it is with mind. God does not violate its laws. Mind is free. It is influenced by truth and motives. It has a sense of right and wrong. And there is no more reason to suppose that God disregards these laws of mind in controlling the intellect and the heart, than there is that he disregards the laws of crystalization in the formation of the ice, or of gravitation in the movements of the heavenly bodies. The general doctrine is, that God works in all things, and controls all; but that "his agency everywhere is in accordance with the laws and nature of that part of his kingdom where it is exerted." By this simple principle we may secure the two great points which it is desirable to secure on this subject:
(1) the doctrine of the universal agency of God; and,
(2) the doctrine of the freedom and responsibility of man.
After the counsel of his own will - Not by consulting his creatures, or conforming to their views, but by his own views of what is proper and right. We are not to suppose that this is by "mere" will, as if it were arbitrary, or that he determines anything without good reason. The meaning is, that his purpose is determined by what "he" views to be right, and without consulting his creatures or conforming to their views. His dealings often seem to us to be arbitrary. We are incapable of perceiving the reasons of what he does. He makes those his friends who we should have supposed would have been the last to have become Christians. He leaves those who seem to us to be on the borders of the kingdom, and they remain unmoved and unaffected. But we are not thence to suppose that he is arbitrary. In every instance, we are to believe that there is a good reason for what he does, and one which we may be permitted yet to see, and in which we shall wholly acquiesce.
The phrase "counsel of his own will" is remarkable. It is designed to express in the strongest manner the fact that it is not by human counsel or advice. The word "counsel" - βουλή boulē - means "a council" or "senate;" then a determination, purpose, or decree; see Robinson's Lexicon. Here it means that his determination was formed by his own will, and not by human reasoning. Still, his will in the case may not have been arbitrary. When it is said of man that he forms his own purposes, and acts according to his own will, we are not to infer that he acts without reason. He may have the highest and best reasons for what he does, but he does not choose to make them known to others, or to consult others. So it may be of God, and so we should presume it to be. It may be added, that we ought to have such confidence in him as to believe that he will do all things well. The best possible evidence that anything is done in perfect wisdom and goodness, is the fact that God does it. When we have ascertained that, we should be satisfied that all is right.
12That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
That we should be to the praise of his glory - Should be the occasion or the means of celebrating his glory; or that praise should be ascribed to him as the result of our salvation.
Who first trusted in Christ - Margin, "hoped." This is in accordance with the original. The foundation of their "hope" was the Saviour. Some suppose that the apostle here refers to the Jews who were converted before the gospel was preached extensively to the Gentiles. The reason for this opinion is, that in the following verse he contrasts those to whom he here refers with others whom he was addressing. But it may be that by the word "we" in Ephesians 1:11-12, he refers to himself and to his fellow-laborers who had "first" hoped in the Saviour, and had then gone and proclaimed the message to others; see the notes on Ephesians 1:11. They "first" believed, and then preached to others; and they also believed, and became partakers of the same privileges.
13In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
In whom ye also trusted - This stands in contrast with those who had "first" embraced the gospel.
Heard the word of truth - The gospel; called the "word" or message of truth, the word of God, etc. See Romans 10:17. The phrase "the word of truth" means "the true word or message." It was a message unmixed with Jewish traditions or Gentile philosophy.
The gospel of your salvation - The gospel bringing salvation to you.
In whom also - In the Lord Jesus. A little different translation of this verse will convey more clearly its meaning. "In whom also, ye, having heard the word of truth, (the gospel of your salvation,) in whom having also believed, ye were sealed," etc. The sealing was the result of believing, and that was the result of hearing the gospel; compare Romans 10:14-15.
Ye were sealed - On the meaning of the word "seal," see the notes at John 3:33; John 6:27, note. On the phrase "ye were sealed," see the notes on 2 Corinthians 1:22.
With that Holy Spirit of promise - With the Holy Spirit that was promised; see John 16:7-11, John 16:13; John 15:26; John 14:16-17. It is not improbable, I think, that the apostle here refers particularly to the occurrence of which we have a record in Acts 19:1-6. Paul, it is there said, having passed through the upper provinces of Asia Minor, came to Ephesus. He found certain persons who were the disciples of John, and he asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit since they "believed," Ephesians 1:2. They replied that they had not heard whether there was any Holy Spirit, and that they had been baptized unto John's baptism. Paul taught them the true nature of the baptism of John; explained to them the Christian system; and they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and "the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spake with tongues, and prophesied." They were thus sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, "after they had believed" Ephesians 1:13; they had the full evidence of the favor of God in the descent of the promised Holy Spirit, and in his miraculous influences. If this be the true interpretation, it constitutes a striking coincidence between the Epistle and the Acts , of such a nature as constitute the arguments in Paley's "Horae Paulinae" (though he has not referred to this), which shows that the Epistle was not forged. The circumstance is such that it would not have been alluded to in this manner by one who should forge the Epistle; and the mention of it in the Epistle is so slight, that no one, from the account there, would think of forging the account in the Acts . The coincidence is just such as would occur on the supposition that the transaction actually occurred, and that both the Acts and the Epistle are genuine. At the same time, there is a sealing of the Holy Spirit which is common to all Christians; see the notes referred to on 2 Corinthians 1:22.
14Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
Which is the earnest of our inheritance - On the meaning of this, see the notes at 2 Corinthians 1:22.
Until the redemption - see the notes at Romans 8:23. The meaning here is, we have the Holy Spirit as the pledge that that shall be ours, and the Holy Spirit will be imparted to us until we enter on that inheritance.
Of the purchased possession - Heaven, purchased for us by the death of the Redeemer. The word used here - περιποίησις peripoiēsis - occurs in the following places in the New Testament: 1 Thessalonians 5:9, rendered "to obtain salvation;" 2 Thessalonians 2:14, "to the obtaining of the glory of the Lord;" Hebrews 10:39, "to the saving of the soul;" 1 Peter 2:9, "a peculiar people;" literally, a people of "acquirement" to himself; and in the passage before us. It properly means, an acquisition, an obtaining, a laying up. Here it means, the complete deliverance from sin, and the eternal salvation "acquired" for us by Christ. The influence of the Holy Spirit, renewing and sanctifying us, comforting us in trials, and sustaining us in afflictions, is the pledge that the redemption is yet to be wholly ours.
Unto the praise of his glory - see Ephesians 1:6.
15Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,
Wherefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus - This is one of the passages usually relied on by those who suppose that this Epistle was not written to the Ephesians. The argument is, that he writes to them as if they were strangers to him, and that it is not language such as would be used in addressing a people among whom he had spent three years; see the introduction, section 5. But this inference is not conclusive. Paul had been some years absent from Ephesus when this Epistle was written. In the difficult communication in those times between distant places, it is not to be supposed that he would hear often from them. Perhaps he had heard nothing after the time when he bade farewell to the elders of Ephesus at Miletus Acts 20, until the time here referred to. It would be, therefore, a matter of great interest with him to hear from them; and when in some way intelligence was brought to him at Rome of a very gratifying character about their growth in piety, he says that his anxiety was relieved, and that he did not cease to give thanks for what he had heard, and to commend them to God in prayer.
16Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;
Cease not to give thanks for you - In the prosperity of the church at Ephesus he could not but feel the deepest interest, and their welfare he never forgot.
Making mention of you in my prayers - Paul was far distant from them, and expected to see them no more. But he had faith in prayer, and he sought that they might advance in knowledge and in grace. What was the particular subject of his prayers, he mentions in the following verses.
17That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ - The God who has sent the Lord Jesus into the world, and appointed him as the Mediator between himself and man. The particular reason why Paul here speaks of him as "the God of the Lord Jesus" is, that he prays that they might be further acquainted with the Redeemer, and be enlightened in regard to the great work which he came to do.
The Father of glory - The glorious Father, that is, the Father who is worthy to be praised and honored.
May give unto you the Spirit of wisdom - May make you wise to understand the great doctrines of the religion of the Redeemer.
And revelation - That is, revealing to you more and more of the character of the Redeemer, and of the nature and results of his work. It is probable here that by the word "Spirit" the apostle refers to the Holy Spirit as the Author of all wisdom, and the Revealer of all truth. His prayer is, that God would grant to them the Holy Spirit to make them wise, and to reveal his will to them.
In the knowledge of him - Margin, "for the acknowledgment." That is, in order that you may more fully acknowledge him, or know him more intimately and thoroughly. They had already made high attainments Ephesians 1:15, but Paul felt that they might make still higher; and the idea here is, that however far Christians may have advanced in knowledge and in love, there is an unfathomed depth of knowledge which they may still explore, and which they should be exhorted still to attempt to fathom. How far was Paul from supposing that the Ephesians had attained to perfection!
18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened - The construction here in the Greek is, probably, "that he may give you (δώη dōē, Ephesians 1:17) the Spirit of wisdom, etc. - eyes of the understanding enlightened," etc. Or the phrase, "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened," may be in the accusative absolute, which Koppe and Bloomfield prefer. The phrase, "the eyes of the understanding," is a figure that is common in all languages. Thus, Philo says, "What the eye is to the body, that is the mind to the soul;" compare Matthew 6:22. The eye is the instrument by which we see; and in like manner the understanding is that by which we perceive truth. The idea here is, that Paul not only wished their "hearts" to be right, but he wished their "understanding" to be right also. Religion has much to do in enlightening the mind. Indeed, its effect there is not less striking and decisive than it is on the heart. The understanding has been blinded by sin. The views which people entertain of themselves and of God are narrow and wrong. The understanding is enfeebled and perverted by the practice of sin. It is limited in its operations by the necessity of the case, and by the impossibility of fully comprehending the great truths which pertain to the divine administration. One of the first effects of true religion is on the understanding. It enlarges its views of truth; gives it more exalted conceptions of God; corrects its errors; raises it up toward the great Fountain of love. And nowhere is the effect of the true religion more apparent than in shedding light on the intellect of the world, and restoring the weak and perverted mind to a just view of the proportion of things, and to the true knowledge of God.
That ye may know what is the hope of his calling - What is the full import of that hope to which he has called and invited you by his Spirit and his promises. The meaning here is, that it would be an inestimable privilege to be made fully acquainted with the benefits of the Christian hope, and to be permitted to understand fully what Christians have a right to expect in the world of glory. This is the first thing which the apostle desires they should fully understand,
And what the riches of the glory of his inheritance - This is the second thing which Paul wishes them to understand. There is a force in this language which can be found perhaps nowhere else than in the writings of Paul. His mind is full, and language is burdened and borne down under the weight of his thoughts; see the notes at 2 Corinthians 4:17. On the word "riches" used here, see the notes at Ephesians 1:7. The phrase "riches of glory" means "glorious wealth;" or, as we would say, "how rich and glorious!" The meaning is, that there is an abundance - an infinitude of wealth. It is not such a possession as man may be heir to in this world, which is always limited from the necessity of the case, and which cannot be enjoyed long; it is infinite and inexhaustible; compare notes, Romans 2:4. The "inheritance" hero referred to is eternal life. notes, Romans 8:17.
In the saints - Among the saints. note, 1 Corinthians 1:2.
19And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power - On the language used here, compare the notes at 2 Corinthians 4:17. There is much emphasis and energy of expression here, as if the apostle were laboring under the greatness of his theme, and wanted words to express the magnitude of his conception. This is the "third" thing which he was particularly desirous they should know - that they should be fully acquainted with the "power" of God in the salvation of people. He refers not merely to the power which he had evinced in their salvation, but also to what the gospel was "able" to accomplish, and which they might yet experience. The "power" referred to here as exercised toward believers does not refer to one thing merely. It is the whole series of the acts of power toward Christians which results from the work of the Redeemer. There was power exerted in their conversion. There would be power exerted in keeping them. There would be power in raising them up from the dead, and exalting them with Christ to heaven. The religion which they professed was a religion of "power." In all the forms and stages of it the power of God was manifested toward them, and would be until they reached their final inheritance.
To us-ward - Toward us, or in relation to us.
Who believe - Who are Christians.
According to the working of his mighty power - Margin, The might of his power. This should be taken with the clause in the following verse, "which he wrought in Christ;" and the meaning is, that the power which God has exerted in us is in accordance with the power which was shown in raising up the Lord Jesus. It was the proper result of that, and was power of a similar kind. The same power is requisite to convert a sinner which is demanded in raising the dead. Neither will be accomplished but by omnipotence (see the notes, Ephesians 2:5); and the apostle wished that they should be fully apprised of this fact, and of the vast "power" which God had put forth in raising them up from the death of sin. To illustrate this sentiment is one of his designs in the following verses; and, hence, he goes on to show that people before their conversion were "dead in trespasses and sins;" that they had no spiritual life; that they were the "children of wrath;" that they were raised up from their death in sin by the same power which raised the Lord Jesus from the grave, and that they were wholly saved by grace; Ephesians 2:1-10. In order to set this idea of the "power" which God had put forth in their regeneration in the strongest light, he goes into a magnificent description of the resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus, and shows how that was connected with the renewing of Christians. God had set him over all things. He had put all things under his feet, and had made principalities and dominions everywhere subject to him. In this whole passage Ephesians 1:19-23; Ephesians 2:1-10, the main thing to be illustrated is the power which God has shown in renewing and saving his people; and the leading sentiment is, that the same power is evinced in that which was required to raise up the Lord Jesus from the dead, and to exalt him over the universe.
20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
Which he wrought in Christ - Which he exerted in relation to the Lord Jesus when he was dead. The "power" which was then exerted was as great as that of creation. It was imparting life to a cold and "mangled" frame. It was to open again the arteries and veins, and teach the heart to beat and the lungs to heave. It was to diffuse vital warmth through the rigid muscles, and to communicate to the body the active functions of life. It is impossible to conceive of a more direct exertion of "power" than in raising up the dead; and there is no more striking illustration of the nature of conversion than in such a resurrection.
And set him at his own right hand - The idea is, that great power was displayed by this, and that a similar exhibition is made when man is renewed and exalted to the high honor of being made an heir of God. On the fact that Jesus was received to the right hand of God, see the notes at Mark 16:19; compare the notes at Acts 2:33.
In the heavenly places - see the notes at Ephesians 1:3. The phrase here evidently means in heaven itself.
21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
Far above all principality - The general sense in this verse is, that the Lord Jesus was exalted to the highest conceivable dignity and honor; compare Philippians 2:9; Colossians 2:10. In this beautiful and most important passage, the apostle labors for words to convey the greatness of his conceptions, and uses those which denote the highest conceivable dignity and glory. The "main" idea is, that God had manifested great "power" in thus exalting the Lord Jesus, and that similar power was exhibited in raising up the sinner from the death of sin to the life and honor of believing. The work of religion throughout was a work of power; a work of exalting and honoring "the dead," whether dead in sin or in the grave; and Christians ought to know the extent and glory of the power thus put forth in their salvation. The word rendered "far above" - ὑπεράνω huperanō - is a compound word, meaning "high above," or greatly exalted. He was not merely "above" the ranks of the heavenly beings, as the head; he was not one of their own rank, placed by office a little above them, but he was infinitely exalted over them, as of different rank and dignity. How could this be if he were a mere man; or if he were an angel? The word rendered "principality" - ἀρχή archē - means properly, "the beginning;" and then the first, the first place, power, dominion, pre-eminence, rulers. magistrates, etc. It may refer here to any rank and power, whether among people or angels, and the sense is, that Christ is exalted above all.
And power - It is not easy to distinguish between the exact meaning of the words which the apostle here uses. The general idea is, that Christ is elevated above all ranks of creatures, however exalted. and by whatever name they may be known. As in this he refers to the "world that is to come," as well as this world, it is clear that there is a reference here to the ranks of the angels, and probably he means to allude to the prevailing opinion among the Jews, that the angels are of different orders. Some of the Jewish rabbies reckon four, others ten orders of angels, and they presume to give them names according to their different ranks and power. But all this is evidently the result of mere fancy. The Scriptures hint in several places at a difference of rank among the angels, but the sacred writers do not go into detail. It may be added that there is no improbability in such a subordination, but it is rather to be presumed to be true. The creatures of God are not made alike; and difference of degree and rank, as far as our observation extends everywhere prevails. On this verse compare the notes at Romans 8:38.
Dominion - Greek "Lordship."
And every name that is named - Every creature of every rank.
Not only in this world - Not only above all kings, and princes, and rulers of every grade and rank on earth.
But also in that which is to come - This refers undoubtedly to heaven. The meaning is, that he is Supreme over all.
22And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
And hath put all things under his feet - See the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:27.
And gave him to be the head over all things - Appointed him to be the supreme ruler.
To the church - With reference to the church, or for ira benefit and welfare: see the notes or, John 17:2. The universe is under his control and direction for the welfare of his people.
(1) all the elements - the physical works of God - the winds and waves - the seas and rivers - all are under him, and all are to be made tributary to the welfare of the church.
(2) earthly kings and rulers; kingdoms and nations are under his control. Thus far Christ has controlled all the wicked rulers of the earth, and they have not been able to destroy that church which he redeemed with his own blood.
(3) angels in heaven, with all their ranks and orders, are under his control with reference to the church; see the notes at Hebrews 1:14; compare Matthew 26:53.
(4) fallen angels are under his control, and shall not be able to injure or destroy the church. See the notes at Matthew 16:18. The church, therefore, is safe. All the great powers of heaven, earth, and hell, are made subject to its Head and King; and no weapon that is formed against it shall prosper.
23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Which is his body - This comparison of the church with "a person" or body, of which the Lord Jesus is the head, is not uncommon in the New Testament; compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 12:27, note; Ephesians 4:15-16, notes.
The fulness of him - The word rendered here as "fulness" - πλήρωμα plērōma - means properly, that with which anything is filled; the filling up; the contents; notes, Romans 11:12. The exact idea here, however, is not very clear, and interpreters have been by no means united in their opinions of the meaning. It seems probable that the sense is, that the church is the "completion or filling up" of his power and glory. It is that without which his dominion would not be complete. He has control over the angels and over distant worlds, but; his dominion would not be complete without the control over his church, and that is so glorious, that it "fills up" the honor of the universal dominion, and makes his empire complete. According to Rosenmuller, the word "fulness" here means a "great number" or multitude; a multitude, says he, which, not confined to its own territory, spreads afar, and fills various regions.
Koppe also regards it as synonymous with "multitude or many," and supposes it to mean all the dominion of the Redeemer over the body - the church. He proposes to translate the whole verse, "He has made him the Head over his church, that he might rule it as his own body - the whole wide state of his universal kingdom." "This," says Calvin (in loc.), "is the highest honor of the church, that the Son of God regards himself as in a certain sense imperfect unless he is joined to us." The church constitutes the "complete body" of the Redeemer. A body is complete when it has all its members and limbs in proper proportions, and those members might be said to be the "completion," or the filling-up, or the "fulness" - πλήρωμα plērōma - of the body or the person. This language would not, indeed, be such as would usually be adopted to express the idea now; but this is evidently the sense in which Paul uses it here.
The meaning is, that the church sustains the same relation to Christ, which the body does to the head. It helps to form the entire person. There is a close and necessary union. The one is not complete without the other. And one is dependent on the other. When the body has all its members in due proportion, and is in sound and vigorous health, the whole person then is complete and entire. So it is to be in the kingdom of the Redeemer. He is the head; and that redeemed Church is the body, the fulness, the completion, the filling-up of the entire empire over which he presides, and which he rules. On the meaning of the word "fulness" - πλήρωμα plērōma - the reader may consult Storr's Opuscula, vol. i. pp. 144-187, particularly pp. 160-183. Storr understands the word in the sense of full or abundant mercy, and supposes that it refers to the great benignity which "God" has shown to his people, and renders it, "The great benignity of him who filleth all things with good, as he called Jesus from tile dead to life and placed him in heaven, so even you, sprung from the pagan, who were dead in sin on account of your many offences in which you formerly lived, etc. - hath he called to life by Christ." This verse, therefore, he would connect with the following chapter, and he regards it all as designed to illustrate the great power and goodness of God. Mr. Locke renders it, "Which is his body, which is completed by him alone," and supposes it means, that Christ is the head, who perfects the church by supplying all things to all its members which they need.
Chandler gives an interpretation in accordance with that which I have first suggested, as meaning that the church is the full "complement" of the body of Christ; and refers to Aelian and Dionysius Halicarnassus, who use the word "fulness" or πλήρωμα plērōma as referring to the rowers of a ship. Thus also we say that the ship's crew is its "complement," or that a ship or an army has its "complement" of people; that is, the ranks are filled up or complete. In like manner, the church will be the filling-up, or the complement, of the great kingdom of the Redeemer - that which will give "completion" or perfectness to his universal dominion.
Of him - Of the Redeemer.
That filleth all in all - That fills all things, or who pervades all things; see the notes, 1 Corinthians 12:6; 1 Corinthians 15:28, note; compare Colossians 3:11. The idea is, that there is no place where he is not, and which he does not fill; and that he is the source of all the holy and happy influences that are abroad in the works of God. It would not be easy to conceive of an expression more certainly denoting omnipresence and universal agency than this; and if it refers to the Lord Jesus, as seems to be indisputable, the passage teaches not only his supremacy, but demonstrates his universal agency, and his omnipresence - things that pertain only to God. From this passage we may observe:
(1) That just views of the exaltation of the Redeemer are to be obtained only by the influence of the Spirit of God on the heart; Ephesians 1:17-19. Man, by nature, tins no just conceptions of the Saviour, and has no desire to have. It is only as the knowledge of that great doctrine is imparted to the mind by the Spirit of God, that we have any practical and saving acquaintance with such an exaltation. The Christian sees him, by faith, exalted to the right hand of God, and cheerfully commits himself and his all to him, and feels that all his interests are safe in his hands.
(2) it is very desirable to have such views of an exalted Saviour. So Paul felt When he earnestly prayed that God would give such views to the Ephesians, Ephesians 1:17-20. It was desirable in order that they might have a right understanding of their privileges; in order that they might know the extent of the power which had been manifested in their redemption; in order that they might commit their souls with confidence to him. In my conscious weakness and helplessness; when I am borne down by the labors and exposed to the temptations of life; when I contemplate approaching sickness and death, I desire to feel that that Saviour to whom I have committed my all is exalted far above principalities and powers, and every name that is named. When the church is persecuted and opposed; when hosts of enemies rise up against it and threaten its peace and safety, I rejoice to feel assured the Redeemer and Head Of the church is over all, and that he has power to subdue all her foes and his.
(3) the church is safe. Her great Head is on the throne of the universe, and no weapon that is formed against her can prosper. He has defended it hitherto in all times of persecution, and the past is a pledge that he will continue to protect it to the end of the world.
(4) let us commit our souls to this exalted Redeemer. Such a Redeemer we need - one who has all power in heaven and earth. Such a religion we need - that can restore the dead to life. Such hope and confidence we need as he can give - such peace and calmness as shall result from unwavering confidence in him who filleth all in all.