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Ephesians 3:1-13 - Homilies By R. Finlayson

Paul's apostleship to the Gentiles: introduction.

The apostle has it in his mind to pray for the Ephesian Christians. There is a twofold ground upon which he proceeds.

1. What has been said about them . "For this cause." He has described them in three ways as incorporated in the Church. His last statement pointed to their being built in . They were, therefore, objects for intercession, such as their heathen ancestors had not been.

2. His relation to them . He did not stand at an outside, but in the closest relation to them, such as brought with it the obligation on his part to pray for them.

I. HIS APOSTLESHIP WAS OF DIVINE ARRANGEMENT . "Of the dispensation." It was not of his own ordering, but was the dispensation of God. It was arranged that he should be a minister to preach unto the Gentiles ( Ephesians 3:7 , Ephesians 3:8 ). This is in accordance with his manner of viewing things in the first chapter. He who has the administration of the eons has also the appointment of all who serve in his house, whether ordinary or extraordinary.

II. FOR HIS APOSTLESHIP HE WAS FAVORED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF A MYSTERY . "Of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward." He had no reason to look fur such a thing, but with a view to his acting as their apostle he was so favored.

1. It was a mystery which was communicated to him by revelation . "How that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery." tie did not receive it at secondhand, nor was it a discovery of his own; but it was immediately and supernaturally communicated to him. That was guarantee for the knowledge being certain and thorough. The fact revealed to him at Ms conversion, that he was to bear Christ's Name before the Gentiles, may only have given rise to perplexities as to the mode . We can think of the revelation referred to here as coming to him, not without preparation of reflection on his part, during his retirement in Arabia. And it must have been a great help to him in his perplexities to know confidently and timeously the principles on which God was to proceed with the Gentiles.

2. It was a mystery of his knowledge of which he had already given them evidence . "As I wrote afore in few words." The reference is evidently to this same Epistle, especially to the first chapter, in which it is part of the "mystery" of summing up all things in Christ, that Gentiles are put on an equality with Jews in being made "heirs" on trusting in Christ. It was the mystery of Christ , viz. as the great Reconciler. He had written in brief; but their interest would make up for his brevity, and he claims that, in what he had said, he had given them the opportunity, when they should "read," of perceiving his understanding of the mystery. And thus, through his communication to them of what he had got immediately from God, they would have the satisfaction of seeing for themselves what the truth was.

3. It was a time when others were favored with revelation of the mystery as well as he . "Which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men , as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit." "Sons of men" has a certain association of incapacity . Being only sons of men, they could not be expected to know the mystery of themselves. And the former generations of them had stood at a disadvantage. They had not been absolutely excluded from the benefit of revelation. But still, in all that they had been favored with, in promises connected with the admission of the Gentiles, it had remained very much of a mystery, until the then Christian period. And the Apostle Paul, with an evident enthusiasm, thinks of himself as in the company of apostles and prophets, upon whom in that ago the inflatus of the Spirit had come, and who were privileged to make communications of blessed import to the Gentiles.

4. What the contents of the mystery were . "To wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fallow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." There is a catching up of a previous thread here, for which we were prepared by his reference to what he had written before. "They were made a heritage." They had the "earnest" of an "inheritance." They were "God's own possession." There was something new ( or matter for revelation) in their thus being fellow-heirs . For this was something beyond the extension of grace to them. It indicated their relation to ancient Israel The Jews (or believers among them) were not the only successors of Israel. But the Gentile believers were served heirs as well. They were in the true theocratic line. The prestige of that people, the great things the Lord had done for them, were theirs. And theirs, too, were even the lessons of their apostasies. Theirs were their Scriptures. "Fellow-members of the body" is also a catching up of a previous thread. For he has before written of the "one body" ( Ephesians 2:16 ). This had not been clear to the former generations. They had not contemplated such a close commingling of Gentile and Jewish elements. Was there to be no partition wall whatever? Was their identity as Jews completely to be lost? Yes , that was the form that mercy to the Gentiles was to take. And there were they in the Ephesian Church, some of them Jews and some of them Gentiles, but all members of the body of Christ. "And fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." "Fellow-partakers of the promise" is properly the parallel phrase. But there is a reason for connecting the remaining words specially, if not exclusively, with this. For the promise (that is, to former generations) refers to the same blessings offered (since the coming of Christ) in the gospel. There is thus a catching up of a previous thread from the second chapter, where it is said that Christ came and preached the gospel (of peace) to Gentiles as well as to Jews. And there was much for apostles and prophets to reveal of the mystery here. For it was by so completely "filling up" the types, and presenting the real all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, that all former restrictions could be done away. Men no longer needed to be circumcised or to go up to Jerusalem, but could freely participate in the blessings of salvation simply as believing on Christ.

III. HIS BEING A MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL TO THE GENTILES FILLED HIM WITH A SENSE OF HIS OWN UNWORTHINESS . "Whereof I was made a minister according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles." Paul fakes the lowly title of "minister" (literally, "one who runs at the call of another," but used generally of a servant). He was a servant in a particular order . Grace was given him to preach unto the Gentiles. That was where he found his work, where he was appointed to follow the Master. Anti the gift of this grace (thus defined) was given him in a particular way—"according to the working of his power." "The mention of the power of God is founded on the circumstance that Paul sees in his change of heart, from a foe to a friend of Christ, an act of omnipotence." It is an exercise of power that calls for our adoration. Grander than the flash of the lightning, the roll of the thunder, was the power which turned Saul into Paul, the persecutor into the preacher. It is power which has been exercised after the same example, notably in the case of Bunyan. It is power to which the Church can constantly look for the raising up of men to do its work. It is power to which the greatest sinners may be pointed for their conversion to God. In magnifying the Divine power, Paul humbles himself. But not thus does his feeling of humility (which none need to cultivate more than ministers) find adequate expression. But in view of the greatness of his calling he humbles himself still further. " Unto me , who am less than the least of all saints ." There is employed, to express his meaning, what is both a comparative and a superlative. There was no exaggeration in this to the apostle who, though he could warmly vindicate his apostolic position when there was occasion, yet had a feeling of his own nothingness ( 2 Corinthians 12:11 ). It belongs to a shallower Christian experience than his was, to make such comparisons. To one who has felt his own utter vileness before God, to think of instituting a comparison in personal worth, in spiritual standing between himself and his fellow-Christians, is utterly abhorrent to him. He repudiates the thought; he is less than the least of all saints . There can be no doubt that those who have (without feigning) the deepest feeling of humility are really the best saints and the best champions of the faith. It is not the case that a career of wandering such as the apostle had (in his case it was wandering in self-righteousness for thirty years) is necessary to the deepest feeling of humility. For we have all enough of evil in our hearts to lead to humiliation. But it may be said that those who have had such wanderings and subsequent struggles are the most likely (in respect of their opportunity) to excel in a knowledge of the corruption of their hearts. The apostle supplies us with a rich expression here, " tell saints ." Who are they that form this order? Certainly none of mankind who have not the blood of Christ sprinkled upon them. Certainly more than those who have been specially " sainted " of men. They include many "hidden ones" on earth.

"But sure from many a hidden dell,

From many a rural nook unthought of, there

Rises for that proud world the saints' prevailing prayer."

They include the "eider saints" in heaven, both angels and men. They have all their circle of influence in the universe of God. We are to look unto "Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith;" but we are also to get strengthening, incitement, catholicity, from "the communion of saints."

IV. THE SUBJECT OF HIS PREACHING TO THE GENTILES WAS THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST . The blessings of the gospel are compared by our Lord to gold: "I counsel thee to buy of me gold." And, in agreement with that, is this description of those blessings as "the unsearchable riches of Christ." There are none higher (as there is nothing higher in metals than gold), and, if we count them as men count gold, they are inestimably precious. What are the blessings of the gospel? There is first of all peace , not the peace of unfallen beings, but the peace of those who Lave been sinners and are now reconciled—the sweet sense of sin forgiven, the blessed feeling that the guilt which was resting on us is removed, and that there is now nothing between us and a holy God. And who can tell the preciousness of this blessing? The man who has this peace can feel richer than Croesus. It is a peace which makes us independent of the world, which the world cannot give and which the world cannot take away. It is a peace which passeth all understanding, which has a mysterious, unspeakable sweetness about it, so that he who has once felt what it is would never like to lose it. Another blessing is spiritual understanding . The man who knows is on a different footing from the man who does not know. Think of one who has all the light of modern science, compared with the Chinaman who is only where his ancestors were two or three thousand years ago. Think of one who has all the light which Christianity has shed on the highest matters, compared with the fetishist whose dim object of reverence is some unconscious stone. How dark the world would have been at this day but for the dayspring from on high which hath visited us! But, along with that outward light which shines widely, there is to all who seek and embrace it an inward light of the Holy Ghost. Blind Bartimaeuses, we believe in Christ, and we receive our sight. And what riches it is to have spiritual insight, to have the veil taken off God and truth, to be under no delusion, to be delivered from every error, and to see things clearly in the light of God! A third blessing, but a very comprehensive one, is holy feeling . What a cage of unclean birds does sin make of our hearts! But the gospel introduces a radical change of feeling. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." And is it not golden to have fine feeling—feeling in which there is no sinful element, but only the fine grain of holiness; to have devoutest reverence and tenderest love towards God; to have due respect and tender love toward our fellow-men? The man who feels aright all round has his wealth in his soul, there a perpetual feast. These blessings we may regard as summed up in Christ. For as Christ is said not only to have the bread of life, but to be himself the Bread of life, so we may say he has not only unsearchable riches to bestow, but he is himself the unsearchable Riches. He is the true Gold, he is precious in every quality of his being as gold, and, in having him as the Portion of our souls, we must needs have unsearchable riches.

V. AN OBJECT AIMED AT BY THE APOSTLE IN HIS PREACHING TO THE GENTILES . "And to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery." He himself understood the mystery, having got it by revelation. And he had given them the means of perceiving his understanding of it, and therefore of understanding it for themselves. But so precious a truth was not to be confined within so narrow an area. He had a certain unbounded ambition in preaching the gospel. It was to make all men see the gracious arrangement which had been newly introduced, and see it so as to be induced to take advantage of it. On another occasion his language was, "That all the Gentiles might hear." In both cases it is the language of enthusiasm. It was the burning desire of his heart, to make all men see, that made him go (not without hardships) from land to land. He was not free to settle down in any one place. When he had established a center of gospel light in Ephesus, he must go elsewhere. The world was a dark place, and he must establish as many centers of light at suitable points in it as God would enable him to establish during his appointed course.


1. More immediately men having demonstrated to them the Divine sovereignty . "Which from all ages hath been hid in God who created all things." It is because he has created all things that he has the disposal of all things. There is nothing whatever which he cannot bend to his will. It was in the exercise of his sovereignty that, at the beginning of the ages, he did not reveal the whole breadth of his purpose. It lay hid in himself. And for ages his ways were dark, in the great majority of men being left to their own natural ignorance and inability. During these ages he rested in his own thoughts regarding men, in his own reasons of procedure, in his own ways of working. But there was mystery . The largeness of his purpose was sovereignly hid under a cloud until, with the coming of Christ and the preaching of the gospel to all men, it clearly burst forth.

2. Angels seeing by the Church the manifold wisdom of God . "To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." The Church is the community of which, as is said in the first chapter, Christ is the Head. The interest in this community is here represented as extending to the angels. They are here designated on the side of their power and rank as the principalities and the powers. In the hundred and third psalm it is said, "He his angels, that excel in strength." In what relation rank or dominion is ascribed to them, we have not the means of knowing, as we have not the survey of the heavenly world which they, it is here implied, have of the earthly world. But we are to understand the apostle, in the loftiness of his thought, seizing upon this as being to the honor of the Church, that it attracts the attention of the inhabitants of "the heavenly places"—those who have never known any other habitation, who, from the first moment of their being, have lived in the presence of God. They have been contemporaries of man during all his history. For when the earth was framed "the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy." We are to think of them as witnessing man's innocence and fall, and as being made acquainted with the introduction of grace in the promise. And the Law was by the " disposition of angels." And angels very signally heralded the Savior's birth. But it was not for our sakes alone that they were thus connected with our history. It would seem that, though in the heavenly places, they had but a limited knowledge of redemption. They had not foreknowledge; they had to wait like us for the evolution of events. What was mystery to us (as to the including of the Gentiles) was mystery to them also, being hidden to both in God. They were at a loss to understand what the development of things under the gospel was to be. But they were taught by the events. Now through the Church was made known the manifold wisdom of God. The Church was not to be instructress, but rather material for instruction by God in the subject of his manifold wisdom. There was material to be found elsewhere, in which the angels delighted to study the manifold wisdom of God. It was when the worlds were brought forth into space that they shouted for joy. What a field was that opened up for their contemplation! "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all." The simple idea of a house is that which has walls, and door, and windows, and roof; but into what manifoldness, what richness of structure, may that be drawn out by the creative mind of the architect! An architect's work is manifold in proportion to the multiplicity of the parts, and to the variety he can introduce into these; and his skill is seen in his combining these parts, in all their multiplicity and variety, into a unity. What multiplicity of parts has God to deal with in the material structure of things! and what variety he introduces, so that no leaf is exactly like another! and how there are not only adaptations which can be made a study of by themselves, but these are comprehended in wider adaptations, and so all-comprehensive is the Divine thought that there is in the result no confusion but the highest simplicity! That is one sphere for the display of manifold wisdom . We may expect greater manifoldness as we rise higher. What a manifoldness in the life of rational beings! "And God," says Leibnitz, "has the qualities of a good Governor as well as of a great Architect." It may be supposed that the angels will first contemplate the manifold wisdom of God in themselves, in their high and varied endowments, in the way in which their eternal well-being has been secured to them without their having to pass through the experience of sin, and in the part assigned to each and to all in the great plan. Is he not called the Lord of hosts, as marshalling the innumerable army of angels? They have a manifoldness far beyond our conception, and yet he can dispose of them as easily as an officer can do with a small section of an army. He calls them, as he calls the stars, by their names; not one is overlooked, not one out of place. The manifold wisdom of God is also to be seen in the way in which the twelve hundred millions of men on the earth are dealt with at one moment. The problem here has been complicated by the entrance of sin. Manifold are the phases of sin, and manifold are the methods by which he seeks to dislodge men out of their sin. But this manifold problem of the world of mankind is mastered by him more easily than the problem of a single household is mastered by us. But it is in the Church that there is to be seen conspicuously the manifold wisdom of God. And, in the first place, it is to he seen in that general point regarding the Church which the apostle has been considering, viz. the including of the Gentiles after they had been so long excluded. It may seem that the exclusion of any from the privileges of the Church was a reflection on the Divine wisdom. Was it not sacrificing their interests that an effort was not made for their salvation along with that of others? But the problem was far more manifold than that. If there had been a comprehension of all nations all along, the result would probably have been the extinction of religion. We are not to think that Christ could have come, and his gospel be promulgated, at any time. If the gospel dispensation had been introduced at the time of the election of Abraham, we may suppose it would have been thrown away. He with whom a thousand years are as one day had to look to, not the greatest good of men then, but to the greatest good of men to all time. And so he ordained a long period of preparation, both negative in bringing out what men could not do, and positive in the way of teaching by type and providential dealing. And he did not bring Christ into the world until he saw how his truth could get a firm hold, and be proclaimed wide to the nations. And though the gospel has yet much to do, it is in such a position that it cannot now be lost. But this was only part of a wider purpose. "According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." We have to bring in the whole purpose of God regarding the Church. This purpose he purposed in eternity. It was a purpose running through the ages. In Christ he saw the Church in the completeness of its idea, in the whole of its development. And, with this clear before his mind, he could patiently wait through the ages for the fuller unfolding of his purpose. As Christ is called the Wisdom of God, so we may expect to see in his Church a wisdom manifold as himself. What an element in the scheme of redemption, that the Redeemer was a Divine Being in human nature! How justice and mercy are reconciled in his cross! How sin is forgiven while God at the same time manifests his detestation of it! How manifold are the ways by which men are brought into the Church! What the final adjustment of things is to be is very much a mystery to us, as it is doubtless to the angels. But we stand in this position that, in what has been exhibited to us already of the manifold wisdom of God, we can look hopefully forward to the final reconciliation.

VII. RETURN TO PRIVILEGE OF CHRISTIAN POSITION . "In whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him." Christ was the Object of their faith. Realizing by faith what he was, the provision made by him, the great love he bore to them, they had the spirit of sons. In Galatians 3:26 it is said, "Ye are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." That is, we have the position of children. Here the thought is, we have the disposition of children.

1. The spirit of boldness. They had a free, joyous mood, as having an interest in Christ. They were delivered from the fear of wrath. They were not of the number of those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

2. In nearness to God (in the God-Man) they had the spirit of confidence. They had that confidence restored to them which Adam lost. They had the confidence to which Paul elsewhere gives lofty expression: "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

VIII. EXHORTATION LOOKING BACK TO FIRST VERSE . "Wherefore I ask that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which are your glory." He supposes that they would be concerned for his tribulations, as endured for them. How was the cause of Christ to be carried forward, when so principal an instrument was lying a prisoner in Rome? But he would have them not to faint, bringing forward the consideration that these tribulations of his were their glory. If he had proved unfaithful to their interests, and withdrawn from persecutions, that would have been a discrediting of him as a discrediting of the Founder of the Church, and they might in that case have been tempted to despair of Christianity. But, as he had stood true to them in the face of persecutions, that brought them honor, and was fitted to have a confirming, elevating effect on them as a Church.—R.F.

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