1.And you who were dead.This is an ἐπεξεργασία of the former statements, that is, an exposition accompanied by an illustration. To bring home more effectually to the Ephesians the general doctrine of Divine grace, he reminds them of their former condition. This application consists of two parts. “Ye were formerly lost; but now God, by his grace, has rescued you from destruction.” And here we must observe, that, in laboring to give an impressive view of both of these parts, the apostle makes a break in the style by (ὑπερβατὸν) a transposition. There is some perplexity in the language; but, if we attend carefully to what the apostle says about those two parts, the meaning is clear. As to the first, he says that they were dead;and states, at the same time, the cause of the death — trespasses and sins. He does not mean simply that they were in danger of death; but he declares that it was a real and present death under which they labored. As spiritual death is nothing else than the alienation of the soul from God, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men, until we are made partakers of the life of Christ, — agreeably to the words of our Lord, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” (Joh_5:25 )
The Papists, who are eager to seize every opportunity of undervaluing the grace of God, say, that while we are out of Christ, we are half dead. But we are not at liberty to set aside the declarations of our Lord and of the Apostle Paul, that, while we remain in Adam, we are entirely devoid of life; and that regeneration is a new life of the soul, by which it rises from the dead. Some kind of life, I acknowledge, does remain in us, while we are still at a distance from Christ; for unbelief does not altogether destroy the outward senses, or the will, or the other faculties of the soul. But what has this to do with the kingdom of God? What has it to do with a happy life, so long as every sentiment of the mind, and every act of the will, is death? Let this, then, be held as a fixed principle, that the union of our soul with God is the true and only life; and that out of Christ we are altogether dead, because sin, the cause of death, reigns in us.
And you hath he quickened – The words “hath he quickened,” or “made to live,” are supplied, but not improperly, by our translators. The object of the apostle is to show the great power which God had evinced toward the people Eph_1:19; and to show that this was put forth in connection with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and his exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven; see the notes at Rom_6:4-11; compare Col_2:12-13; Col_3:1. The words “hath he quickened” mean, hath he made alive, or made to live; Joh_5:21; Rom_4:17; 1Co_15:36.
Who were dead in trespasses and sins – On the meaning of the word “dead,” see the notes at Rom_5:12; Rom_6:2, note. It is affirmed here of those to whom Paul wrote at Ephesus, that before they were converted, they were “dead in sins.” There is not anywhere a more explicit proof of depravity than this, and no stronger language can be used. They were “dead” in relation to that to which they afterward became alive – i. e., to holiness. Of course, this does not mean that they were in all respects dead. It does not mean that they had no animal life, or that they did not breathe, and walk, and act. Nor can it mean that they had no living intellect or mental powers, which would not have been true. Nor does it settle any question as to their ability or power while in that state. It simply affirms a fact – that in relation to real spiritual life they were, in consequence of sin, like a dead man in regard to the objects which are around him.
A corpse is insensible. It sees not, and hears not, and feels not. The sound of music, and the voice of friendship and of alarm, do not arouse it. The rose and the lily breathe forth their fragrance around it, but the corpse perceives it not. The world is busy and active around it, but it is unconscious of it all. It sees no beauty in the landscape; hears not the voice of a friend; looks not upon the glorious sun and stars; and is unaffected by the running stream and the rolling ocean. So with the sinner in regard to the spiritual and eternal world. He sees no beauty in religion; he hears not the call of God; he is unaffected by the dying love of the Saviour; and he has no interest in eternal realities. In all these he feels no more concern, and sees no more beauty, than a dead man does in the world around him. Such is, in “fact,” the condition of a sinful world. There is, indeed, life, and energy, and motion. There are vast plans and projects, and the world is intensely active. But in regard to religion, all is dead. The sinner sees no beauty there; and no human power can arouse him to act for God, anymore than human power can rouse the sleeping dead, or open the sightless eyeballs on the light of day. The same power is needed in the conversion of a sinner which is needed in raising the dead; and one and the other alike demonstrate the omnipotence of him who can do it.
2.In which for some time ye walked.From the effects or fruits, he draws a proof that sin formerly reigned in them; for, until sin displays itself in outward acts, men are not sufficiently aware of its power. When he adds, according to the course of this world, he intimates that the death which he had mentioned rages in the nature of man, and is a universal disease. He does not mean that course of the world which God has ordained, nor the elements, such as the heaven, and earth, and air, — but the depravity with which we are all infected; so that sin is not peculiar to a few, but pervades the whole world.
According to the prince of the power of the air.He now proceeds farther, and explains the cause of our corruption to be the dominion which the devil exercises over us. A more severe condemnation of mankind could not have been pronounced. What does he leave to us, when he declares us to be the slaves of Satan, and subject to his will, so long as we live out of the kingdom of Christ? Our condition, therefore, though many treat it with ridicule, or, at least, with little disapprobation, may well excite our horror. Where is now the free-will, the guidance of reason, the moral virtue, about which Papists babble to much? What will they find that is pure or holy under the tyranny of the devil? On this subject, indeed, they are extremely cautious, and denounce this doctrine of Paul as a grievous heresy. I maintain, on the contrary, that there is no obscurity in the apostle’s language; and that all men who live according to the world,that is, according to the inclinations of their flesh, are here declared to fight under the reign of Satan.
In accordance with the practice of the inspired writers, the Devil is mentioned in the singular number. As the children of God have one head, so have the wicked; for each of the classes forms a distinct body. By assigning to him the dominion over all wicked beings, ungodliness is represented as an unbroken mass. As to his attributing to the devil power over the air, that will be considered when we come to the sixth chapter. At present, we shall merely advert to the strange absurdity of the Manicheans, in endeavoring to prove from this passage the existence of two principles, as if Satan could do anything without the Divine permission. Paul does not allow him the highest authority, which belongs to the will of God alone, but merely a tyranny which God permits him to exercise. What is Satan but God’s executioner to punish man’s ingratitude? This is implied in Paul’s language, when he represents the success of Satan as confined to unbelievers; for the children of God are thus exempted from his power. If this be true, it follows that Satan does nothing but under the control of a superior: and that he is not (αὐτοκράτωρ) an unlimited monarch.
We may now draw from it also this inference, that ungodly men have no excuse in being driven by Satan to commit all sorts of crimes. Whence comes it that they are subject to his tyranny, but because they are rebels against God? If none are the slaves of Satan, but those who have renounced the service, and refuse to yield to the authority, of God, let them blame themselves, for having so cruel a master.
By the children of disobedience,according to a Hebrew idiom, are meant obstinate persons. Unbelief is always accompanied by disobedience; so that it is the source — the mother of all stubbornness.
Wherein – In which sins, or in the practice of which transgressions.
Ye walked – You lived, life being often compared to a journey or a race. note, Rom_6:4.
According to the course of this world – In conformity with the customs and manners of the world at large. The word rendered here as “world” – αιων aion – means properly “age,” but is often used to denote the present world, with its cares, temptations, and desires; and here denotes particularly the people of this world. The meaning is, that they had lived formerly as other people lived, and the idea is strongly conveyed that the course of the people of this world is to walk in trespasses and sins. The sense is, that there was by nature no difference between them and others, and that all the difference which now existed had been made by grace.
According to the prince of the power of the air – see Eph_6:12; compare the notes at 2Co_4:4. There can be no doubt that Satan is here intended, and that Paul means to say that they were under his control as their leader and prince. The phrase, “the prince of the power,” may mean either “the powerful prince,” or it may mean that this prince had power over the air, and lived and reigned there particularly. The word “prince” – archonta – “Archon,” means one first in authority and power, and is then applied to anyone who has the pre-eminence or rule. It is applied to Satan, or the chief of the fallen angels, as where he is called “the prince – archon – of the devils,” Mat_9:34; Mat_12:24; Mar_3:22; Luk_11:15; “the prince of this world,” Joh_12:31; Joh_14:30; Joh_16:11. But “why” he is here called the prince having power “over the air,” it is not easy to determine.
Robinson (Lexicon) supposes it to be because he is lord of the powers of the air; that is, of the demons who dwell and rule in the atmosphere. So Doddridge supposes that it means that he controls the fallen spirits who are permitted to range the regions of the atmosphere. It is generally admitted that the apostle here refers to the prevailing opinions both among the Jews and pagan, that the air was thickly populated with spirits or demons. That this was a current opinion, may be seen fully proved in Wetstein; compare Bloomfield, Grotius, and particularly Koppe. Why the region of the air was supposed to be the dwelling-place of such spirits, is now unknown. The opinion may have been either that such spirits “dwelt” in the air, or that they had control over it, according to the later Jewish belief. Cocceius and some others explain the word “air” here as meaning the same as “darkness,” as in profane writers. It is evident to my mind that Paul does not speak of this as a mere tradition, opinion, or vagary of the fancy, or as a superstitious belief: but that he refers to it as a thing which he regarded as true. In this opinion I see no absurdity that should make it impossible to believe it. For:
(1) the Scriptures abundantly teach that there are fallen, wicked spirits; and the existence of fallen angels is no more improbable than the existence of fallen people.
(2) the Bible teaches that they have much to do with this world. They tempted man; they inflicted disease in the time of the Saviour; they are represented as alluring and deceiving the race.
(3) they must have “some” locality – some part of the universe where they dwell. That they were not confined down to hell in the time of the Redeemer, is clear from the New Testament; for they are often represented as having afflicted and tortured people.
(4) why is there any improbability in the belief that their residence should have been in the regions of the air? That while they were suffered to be on earth to tempt and afflict people, they should have been permitted especially to occupy these! regions? Who can tell what may be in the invisible world, and what spirits may be permitted to fill up the vast space that now composes the universe? And who can tell what control may have been given to such fallen spirits over the regions of the atmosphere – over clouds, and storms, and pestilential air? People have control over the earth, and pervert and abuse the powers of nature to their own ruin and the ruin of each other. The elements they employ for the purposes of ruin and of temptation. Fruit and grain they convert to poison; minerals, to the destruction caused by war. In itself considered, there is nothing more improbable that spirits of darkness may have had control over the regions of the air, than that fallen man has over the earth; and no more improbability that that power has been abused to ruin people, than that the power of people is abused to destroy each other. No one can “prove” that the sentiment here referred to by Paul is “not” true; and no one can show how the doctrine that fallen spirits may do mischief in any part of the works of God, is anymore improbable than that wicked “men” should do the same thing. The word “power” here – “power of the air” – I regard as synonymous with “dominion or rule;” “a prince having dominion or rule over the air.”
The spirit that now worketh – That still lives, and whose energy for evil is still seen and felt among the wicked. Paul here means undoubtedly to teach that there was such a spirit, and that he was still active in controlling people.
The children of disobedience – The wicked; Col_3:6.
3.Among whom also we all had our conversation.Lest it should be supposed that what he had now said was a slanderous reproach against the former character of the Ephesians, or that Jewish pride had led him to treat the Gentiles as an inferior race, he associates himself and his countrymen along with them in the general accusation. This is not done in hypocrisy, but in a sincere ascription of glory to God. It may excite wonder, indeed, that he should speak of himself as having walked “in the lusts of the flesh,” while, on other occasions, he boasts that his life had been throughout irreproachable. “Touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Phi_3:6.) And again, “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblamably, we behaved ourselves among you that believe.”(1Th_2:10 ) I reply, the statement applies to all who have not been regenerated by the Spirit of Christ. However praiseworthy, in appearance, the life of some may be, because their lusts do not break out in the sight of men, there is nothing pure or holy which does not proceed from the fountain of all purity.
Fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.To fulfill these desires, is to live according to the guidance of our natural disposition and of our mind. The flesh means here the disposition, or, what is called, the inclination of the nature; and the next expression (τῶν διανοιῶν) means what proceeds from the mind. Now, the mind includes reason, such as it exists in men by nature; so that lusts do not refer exclusively to the lower appetites, or what is called the sensual part of man, but extend to the whole.
And were by nature children of wrath.All men without exception, whether Jews or Gentiles, (Gal_2:15,) are here pronounced to be guilty, until they are redeemed by Christ; so that out of Christ there is no righteousness, no salvation, and, in short, no excellence. Children of wrath are those who are lost, and who deserve eternal death. Wrath means the judgment of God; so that the children of wrath are those who are condemned before God. Such, the apostle tells us, had been the Jews, — such had been all the excellent men that were now in the Church; and they were so by nature,that is, from their very commencement, and from their mother’s womb.
This is a remarkable passage, in opposition to the views of the Pelagians, and of all who deny original sin. What dwells naturally in all is certainly original; but Paul declares that we are all naturally liable to condemnation; therefore sin dwells naturally in us, for God does not condemn the innocent. Pelagians were wont to object, that sin spread from Adam to the whole human race, not by descent, but by imitation. But Paul affirms that we are born with sin, as serpents bring their venom from the womb. Others who think that it is not in reality sin, are not less at variance with Paul’s language; for where condemnation is, there must unquestionably be sin. It is not with blameless men, but with sin, that God is offended. Nor is it wonderful that the depravity which we inherit from our parents is reckoned as sin before God; for the seeds of sin, before they have been openly displayed, are perceived and condemned.
But one question here arises. Why does Paul represent the Jews, equally with others, as subject to wrath and curse, while they were the blessed seed? I answer, they have a common nature. Jews differ from Gentiles in nothing but this, that, through the grace of the promise, God delivers them from destruction; but that is a remedy which came after the disease. Another question is, since God is the Author of nature, how comes it that no blame attaches to God, if we are lost by nature? I answer, there is a twofold nature: the one was produced by God, and the other is the corruption of it. This condemnation therefore which Paul mentions does not proceed from God, but from a depraved nature: for we are not born such as Adam was at first created, we are not “wholly a right seed, but are turned into the degenerate”(Jer_2:21 ) offspring of a degenerate and sinful man.
We all had our conversation – see the notes at 2Co_1:12; compare 1Pe_4:3.
In the lusts of our flesh – Living to gratify the flesh, or the propensities of a corrupt nature. It is observable here that the apostle changes the form of the address from “ye” to “we,” thus including himself with others, and saying that this was true of “all” before their conversion. He means undoubtedly to say, that whatever might have been the place of their birth, or the differences of religion under which they had been trained, they were substantially alike by nature. It was a characteristic of all that they lived to fulfil the desires of the flesh and of the mind. The “design” of the apostle in thus grouping himself with them was, to show that he did not claim to be any better by nature than they were, and that all which any of them had of value was to be traced to the grace of God. There is much delicacy here on the part of the apostle. His object was to remind them of the former grossness of their life, and their exposure to the wrath of God. Yet he does not do it harshly. He includes himself in their number. He says that what he affirms of them was substantially true of himself – of all – that they were under condemnation, and exposed to the divine wrath.
Fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind – Margin, as in Greek, “wills.” Complying with the wishes of a depraved nature. The “will of the flesh” is that to which the flesh, or the unrenewed nature of man, prompts; and Paul says that all had been engaged in fulfilling those fleshly propensities. This was clearly true of the pagan, and it was no less true of the unconverted Jew that he lived for himself, and sought to gratify the purposes of a depraved nature, though it might manifest itself in a way different from the pagan. The “will of the mind” referred to here relates to the wicked “thoughts and purposes” of the unrenewed nature – the sins which relate rather to the “intellect” than to the gross passions. Such, for instance, are the sins of pride, envy, ambition, covetousness, etc.; and Paul means to say, that before conversion they lived to gratify these propensities, and to accomplish these desires of the soul.
And were by nature – Φύσει Fusei. By birth, or before we were converted By conversion and adoption they became the children of God; before that, they were all the children of wrath. This is, I think, the fair meaning of this important declaration. It does not affirm “when” they began to be such, or that they were such as soon as they were born, or that they were such before they became moral agents, or that they became such in virtue of their connection with Adam – whatever may be the truth on these points; but it affirms that before they were renewed, they were the children of wrath. So far as This text is concerned, this might have been true at their very birth; but it does not directly and certainly prove that. It proves that at no time before their conversion were they the children of God, but that their whole condition before that was one of exposure to wrath; compare Rom_2:14, Rom_2:27; 1Co_11:14; Gal_2:15. Some people are born Jews, and some pagan; some free, and some slaves; some white, and some black; some are born to poverty, and some to wealth; some are the children of kings, and some of beggars; but, whatever their rank or condition, they are born exposed to wrath, or in a situation which would render them liable to wrath. But why this is, the apostle does not say. Whether for their own sins or for the sins of another; whether by a corrupted soul, or by imputed guilt; whether they act as moral agents as soon as born, or at a certain period of childhood, Paul does not say.
The children of wrath – Exposed to wrath, or liable to wrath. They did not by nature inherit holiness; they inherited that which would subject; them to wrath. The meaning has been well expressed by Doddridge, who refers it “to the original apostasy and corruption, in consequence of which people do, according to the course of nature, fall early into personal guilt, and so become obnoxious to the divine displeasure.” Many modern expositors have supposed that this has no reference to any original tendency of our fallen nature to sin, or to native corruption, but that it refers to the “habit” of sin, or to the fact of their having been the slaves of appetite and passion. I admit that the direct and immediate sense of the passage is that they were, when without the gospel, and before they were renewed, the children of wrath; but still the fair interpretation is, that they were born to that state, and that that condition was the regular result of their native depravity; and I do not know a more strong or positive declaration that can be made to show that people are by nature destitute of holiness, and exposed to perdition.
Even as others – That is, “do not suppose that you stand alone, or that you are the worst of the species. You are indeed, by nature, the children of wrath; but not you alone. All others were the same. You have a common inheritance with them. I do not mean to charge you with being the worst of sinners, or as being alone transgressors. It is the common lot of man – the sad, gloomy inheritance to which we all are born.” The Greek is, hoi loipoi “the remainder, or the others,” – including all; compare the notes at Rom_5:19. This doctrine that people without the gospel are the children of wrath, Paul had fully defended in Rom. 1–3. Perhaps no truth is more frequently stated in the Bible; none is more fearful and awful in its character. What a declaration, that we “are by nature the children of wrath!” Who should not inquire what it means? Who should not make an effort to escape from the wrath to come, and become a child of glory and an heir of life?
4.But God, who is rich in mercy.Now follows the second member of the sentence, the substance of which is, that God had delivered the Ephesians from the destruction to which they were formerly liable; but the words which he employs are different. God, who is rich in mercy, hath quickened you together with Christ.The meaning is, that, there is no other life than that which is breathed into us by Christ: so that we begin to live only when we are ingrafted into him, and enjoy the same life with himself. This enables us to see what the apostle formerly meant by death, for that death and this resurrection are brought into contrast. To be made partakers of the life of the Son of God, — to be quickened by one Spirit, is an inestimable privilege.
On this ground he praises the mercy of God, meaning by its riches,that it had been poured out in a singularly large and abundant manner. The whole of our salvation is here ascribed to the mercy of God. But he presently adds, for his great love wherewith he loved us. This is a still more express declaration, that all was owing to undeserved goodness; for he declares that God was moved by this single consideration. “Herein,” says John, “is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us. — We love him because he first loved us.” (1Jo_4:10.)
But God, who is rich in mercy – On the use of the word “rich” by Paul, see the notes at Eph_1:7. It is a beautiful expression. “God is ‘rich’ in mercy;” overflowing, abundant. Mercy is the riches or the wealth of God. People are often rich in gold, and silver, and diamonds, and they pride themselves in these possessions; but God is “rich in mercy.” In that he abounds and he is so rich in it that he is wilting to impart it to others; so rich that he can make all blessed.
For his great love – That is, his great love was the reason why he had compassion upon us. It is not that we had any claim or deserved his favor; but it is, that God had for man original and eternal love, and that love led to the gift of a Saviour, and to the bestowment of salvation.
5.Even when we were dead in sin.These words have the same emphasis as similar expressions in another Epistle. “For when we were yet without strength,in due time Christ died, for the ungodly. — But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners,Christ died for us.”(Rom_5:6.)
Whether the words, by grace ye are saved,have been inserted by another hand, I know not; but, as they are perfectly agreeable to the context, I am quite willing to receive them as written by Paul. They show us that he always feels as if he had not sufficiently proclaimed the riches of Divine grace, and accordingly expresses, by a variety of terms, the same truth, that everything connected with our salvation ought to be ascribed to God as its author. And certainly he who duly weighs the ingratitude of men will not complain that this parenthesis is superfluous.
Even when we were dead in sins – notes, Eph_2:1; compare Rom_5:8. The construction here is, “God, who is rich in mercy, on account of the great love which he bare unto us, even being dead in sin, hath quickened us,” etc. It does not mean that he quickened us when we were dead in sin, but that he loved us then, and made provision for our salvation. It was love to the children of wrath; love to those who had no love to return to him; love to the alienated and the lost. That is true love – the sincerest and the purest benevolence – love, not like that of people, but such only as God bestows. Man loves his friend, his benefactor, his kindred – God loves his foes, and seeks to do them good.
Hath quickened us – Hath made us alive see Eph_2:1.
Together with Christ – In connection with him; or in virtue of his being raised up from the grave. The meaning is, that there was such a connection between Christ and those whom the Father hath given to him, that his resurrection from the grave involved their resurrection to spiritual life. It was like raising up the head and the members – the whole body together; compare the notes at Rom_6:5. Everywhere in the New Testament, the close connection of the believer with Christ is affirmed. We are crucified with him. We die with him. We rise with him. We live with him. We reign with him. We are joint heirs with him. We share his sufferings on earth 1Pe_4:13, and we share his glory with him on his throne; Rev_3:21.
By grace ye are saved – Margin, “by whose;” see the notes at Rom_3:24. Paul’s mind was full of the subject of salvation by grace, and he throws it in here, even in an argument, as a point which he would never have them lose sight of. The subject before him was one eminently adapted to bring this truth to mind, and though, in the train of his arguments, he had no time now to dwell on it, yet he would not suffer any opportunity to pass without referring to it.
6.And hath raised us up together.The resurrection and sitting in heaven, which are here mentioned, are not yet seen by mortal eyes. Yet, as if those blessings were presently in our possession, he states that we have received them; and illustrates the change which has taken place in our condition, when we were led from Adam to Christ. It is as if we had been brought from the deepest hell to heaven itself. And certainly, although, as respects ourselves, our salvation is still the object of hope, yet in Christ we already possess a blessed immortality and glory; and therefore, he adds, in Christ Jesus. Hitherto it does not appear in the members, but only in the head; yet, in consequence of the secret union, it belongs truly to the members. Some render it, through Christ;but, for the reason which has been mentioned, it is better to retain the usual rendering, in Christ.We are thus furnished with the richest consolation. Of everything which we now want, we have a sure pledge and foretaste in the person of Christ.
And hath raised us up together – That is, we are raised from the death of sin to the life of religion, in connection with the resurrection of Jesus, and in virtue of that. So close is the connection between him and his people, that his resurrection made theirs certain; compare Col_2:12; notes, Rom_6:5.
And made us sit together – Together with him. That is, we share his honors. So close is our connection with him, that we shall partake of his glory, and in some measure do now; compare the Mat_19:28, note, and Rom_8:17, note.
In heavenly places – see the notes at Eph_1:3. The meaning is, that he has gone to the heavenly world as our Head and Representative. His entrance there is a pledge that we shall also enter there. Even here we have the anticipation of glory, and are admitted to exalted honors, as if we sat in heavenly places, in virtue of our connection with him.
In Christ Jesus – It is in connection with him that we are thus exalted, and thus filled with joy and peace. The meaning of the whole is,” We are united to Christ. We die with him, and live with him. We share his sufferings, and we share his joys. We become dead to the world in virtue of his death; we become alive unto God in virtue of his resurrection. On earth we are exalted to honor, peace, and hope, in virtue of his resurrection; in heaven we shall share his, glory and partake of his triumphs.”
7.That in the ages to come.The final and true cause — the glory of God — is again mentioned, that the Ephesians, by making it the subject of earnest study, might be more fully assured of their salvation. He likewise adds, that it was the design of God to hallow, in all ages, the remembrance of so great goodness. This exhibits still more strongly the hateful character of those by whom the free calling of the Gentiles was attacked; for they were endeavoring instantly to crush that scheme which was destined to be remembered through all ages. But we, too, are instructed by it, that the mercy of God, who was pleased to admit our fathers into the number of his own people, deserves to be held in everlasting remembrance. The calling of the Gentiles is an astonishing work of divine goodness, which ought to be handed down by parents to children, and to their children’s children, that it may never be forgotten or unacknowledged by the sons of men.
The riches of his grace in his kindness.The love of God to us in Christ is here proved, or again declared, to have had its origin in mercy. That he might shew,says he, the exceeding riches of his grace. How? In his kindness towards us,as the tree is known by its fruit. Not only, therefore, does he declare, that the love of God was free, but likewise that God displayed in it the riches, — the extraordinary pre-eminent riches of his grace. It deserves notice, also, that the name of Christ is repeated; for no grace, no love, must be expected by us from God, except through his mediation.
That in the ages to come – In all future times. The sense is, that the riches of divine grace, and the divine benignity, would be shown in the conversion of Christians and their salvation, to all future times. Such was his love to those who were lost, that it would be an everlasting monument of his mercy, a perpetual and unchanging proof that he was good. The sense is, we are raised up with Christ, and are made to partake of his honor and glory in order that others may forever be impressed wish a sense of the divine goodness and mercy to us.
The exceeding riches of his grace – The “abounding, overflowing” riches of grace; compare the notes, Eph_1:7. This is Paul’s favorite expression – an expression so beautiful and so full of meaning that it will bear often to be repeated. We may learn from this verse:
(1) That one object of the conversion and salvation of sinners, is to furnish a “proof” of the mercy and goodness of God.
(2) another object is, that their conversion may be an “encouragement” to others. The fact that such sinners as the Ephesians had been, were pardoned and saved, affords encouragement also to others to come and lay hold on life. And so of all other sinners who are saved. Their conversion is a standing encouragement to all others to come in like manner; and now the history of the church for more than eighteen hundred years furnishes all the encouragement which we could desire.
(3) the conversion of “great” sinners is a special proof of the divine benignity. So Paul argues in the case before us; and so he often argued from his own case; compare the notes at 1Ti_1:16.
(4) heaven, the home of the redeemed, will exhibit the most impressive proof of the goodness of God that the universe furnishes. There will be a countless host who were once polluted and lost; who were dead in sins; who were under the power of Satan, and who have been saved by the riches of the divine grace – a host now happy and pure, and free from sin, sorrow, and death – the living and eternal monuments of the grace of God.
8.For by grace are ye saved.This is an inference from the former statements. Having treated of election and of effectual calling, he arrives at this general conclusion, that they had obtained salvation by faith alone. First, he asserts, that the salvation of the Ephesians was entirely the work, the gracious work of God. But then they had obtained this grace by faith. On one side, we must look at God; and, on the other, at man. God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith;and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, and if we bring nothing but faith, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us.
Ought we not then to be silent about free-will, and good intentions, and fancied preparations, and merits, and satisfactions? There is none of these which does not claim a share of praise in the salvation of men; so that the praise of grace would not, as Paul shews, remain undiminished. When, on the part of man, the act of receiving salvation is made to consist in faith alone, all other means, on which men are accustomed to rely, are discarded. Faith, then, brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of Christ. And so he adds, not of yourselves; that claiming nothing for themselves, they may acknowledge God alone as the author of their salvation.
For by grace are ye saved, through faith – As ye are now brought into a state of salvation, your sins being all blotted out, and you made partakers of the Holy Spirit; and, having a hope full of immortality, you must not attribute this to any works or merit of yours; for when this Gospel reached you, you were all found dead in trespasses and dead in sins; therefore it was God’s free mercy to you, manifested through Christ, in whom ye were commanded to believe; and, having believed by the power of the Holy Spirit, ye received, and were sealed by, the Holy Spirit of promise; so that this salvation is in no sense of yourselves, but is the free gift of God; and not of any kind of works; so that no man can boast as having wrought out his own salvation, or even contributed any thing towards it. By grace arc ye saved, through faith in Christ. This is a true doctrine, and continues to be essential to the salvation of man to the end of the world.
But whether are we to understand, faith or salvation as being the gift of God? This question is answered by the Greek text: τη γαρ χαριτι εστε σεσωσμενοι δια της πιστεως· και τουτο ουκ εξ υμων· Θεου το δωρον, ουκ εξ εργων· ινα μη τις καυχησηται· “By this grace ye are saved through faith; and This (τουτο, this salvation) not of you; it is the gift of God, not of works: so that no one can boast.” “The relative τουτο, this, which is in the neuter gender, cannot stand for πιστις, faith, which is the feminine; but it has the whole sentence that goes before for its antecedent.” But it may be asked: Is not faith the gift of God? Yes, as to the grace by which it is produced; but the grace or power to believe, and the act of believing, are two different things. Without the grace or power to believe no man ever did or can believe; but with that power the act of faith is a man’s own. God never believes for any man, no more than he repents for him: the penitent, through this grace enabling him, believes for himself: nor does he believe necessarily, or impulsively when he has that power; the power to believe may be present long before it is exercised, else, why the solemn warnings with which we meet every where in the word of God, and threatenings against those who do not believe? Is not this a proof that such persons have the power but do not use it? They believe not, and therefore are not established. This, therefore, is the true state of the case: God gives the power, man uses the power thus given, and brings glory to God: without the power no man can believe; with it, any man may.
For by grace are ye saved – By mere favor. It is not by your Own merit; it is not because you have any claim. This is a favorite doctrine with Paul, as it is with all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity; compare the notes at Rom_1:7; Rom_3:24, note.
Through faith – Grace bestowed through faith, or in connection with believing; see the notes at Rom_1:17; Rom_4:16, note.
And that not of yourselves – That is, salvation does not proceed from yourselves. The word rendered “that” – τουτο touto – is in the neuter gender, and the word “faith” – πιστις pistis – is in the feminine. The word “that,” therefore, does not refer particularly to faith, as being the gift of God, but to “the salvation by grace” of which he had been speaking. This is the interpretation of the passage which is the most obvious, and which is now generally conceded to be the true one; see Bloomfield. Many critics, however, as Doddridge, Beza, Piscator, and Chrysostom, maintain that the word “that” (τουτο touto) refers to “faith” (πιστις pistis); and Doddridge maintains that such a use is common in the New Testament. As a matter of grammar this opinion is certainly doubtful, if not untenable; but as a matter of theology it is a question of very little importance.
Whether this passage proves it or not, it is certainly true that faith is the gift of God. It exists in the mind only when the Holy Spirit produces it there, and is, in common with every other Christian excellence, to be traced to his agency on the heart. This opinion, however, does not militate at all with the doctrine that man himself “believes.” It is not God that “believes” for him, for that is impossible. It is his own mind that actually believes, or that exercises faith; see the notes at Rom_4:3. In the same manner “repentance” is to be traced to God. It is one of the fruits of the operation of the Holy Spirit on the soul. But the Holy Spirit does not “repent” for us. It is our “own mind” that repents; our own heart that feels; our own eyes that weep – and without this there can he no true repentance. No one can repent for another; and God neither can nor ought to repent; for us. He has done no wrong, and if repentance is ever exercised, therefore, it must be exercised by our own minds. So of faith. God cannot believe for us. “We” must believe, or “we” shall be damned. Still this does not conflict at all with the opinion, that if we exercise faith, the inclination to do it is to be traced to the agency of God on the heart. I would not contend, therefore, about the grammatical construction of this passage, with respect to the point of the theology contained in it; still it accords better with the obvious grammatical construction, and with the design of the passage to understand the word “that” as referring not to “faith” only, but to “salvation by grace.” So Calvin understands it, and so it is understood by Storr, Locke, Clarke, Koppe, Grotius, and others.
It is the gift of God – Salvation by grace is his gift. It is not of merit; it is wholly by favor.
9.Not of works. Instead of what he had said, that their salvation is of grace, he now affirms, that “it is the gift of God.” Instead of what he had said, “Not of yourselves,”he now says, “Not of works.”Hence we see, that the apostle leaves nothing to men in procuring salvation. In these three phrases, — not of yourselves,— it is the gift of God,— not of works,— he embraces the substance of his long argument in the Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians, that righteousness comes to us from the mercy of God alone, — is offered to us in Christ by the gospel, — and is received by faith alone, without the merit of works.
This passage affords an easy refutation of the idle cavil by which Papists attempt to evade the argument, that we are justified without works. Paul, they tell us, is speaking about ceremonies. But the present question is not confined to one class of works. Nothing can be more clear than this. The whole righteousness of man, which consists in works, — nay, the whole man, and everything that he can call his own, is set aside. We must attend to the contrast between God and man, — between grace and works. Why should God be contrasted with man, if the controversy related to nothing more than ceremonies?
Papists themselves are compelled to own that Paul ascribes to the grace of God the whole glory of our salvation, but endeavor to do away with this admission by another contrivance. This mode of expression, they tell us, is employed, because God bestows the first grace. It is really foolish to imagine that they can succeed in this way, since Paul excludes man and his utmost ability, — not only from the commencement, but throughout, — from the whole work of obtaining salvation.
But it is still more absurd to overlook the apostle’s inference,lest any man should boast.Some room must always remain for man’s boasting, so long as, independently of grace, merits are of any avail. Paul’s doctrine is overthrown, unless the whole praise is rendered to God alone and to his mercy. And here we must advert to a very common error in the interpretation of this passage. Many persons restrict the word gift to faith alone. But Paul is only repeating in other words the former sentiment. His meaning is, not that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God, or, that we obtain it by the gift of God.
10.For we are his work.By setting aside the contrary supposition, he proves his statement, that by grace we are saved,— that we have no remaining works by which we can merit salvation; for all the good works which we possess are the fruit of regeneration. Hence it follows, that works themselves are a part of grace.
When he says, that “we are the work of God,” this does not refer to ordinary creation, by which we are made men. We are declared to be new creatures, because, not by our own power, but by the Spirit of Christ, we have been formed to righteousness. This applies to none but believers. As the descendants of Adam, they were wicked and depraved; but by the grace of Christ, they are spiritually renewed, and become new men. Everything in us, therefore, that is good, is the supernatural gift of God. The context explains his meaning. We are his work,because we have been created,— not in Adam, but in Christ Jesus,— not to every kind of life, but to good works.
What remains now for free-will, if all the good works which proceed from us are acknowledged to have been the gifts of the Spirit of God? Let godly readers weigh carefully the apostle’s words. He does not say that we are assisted by God. He does not say that the will is prepared, and is then left to run by its own strength. He does not say that the power of choosing aright is bestowed upon us, and that we are afterwards left to make our own choice. Such is the idle talk in which those persons who do their utmost to undervalue the grace of God are accustomed to indulge. But the apostle affirms that we are God’s work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good. It is not the mere power of choosing aright, or some indescribable kind of preparation, or even assistance, but the right will itself, which is his workmanship; otherwise Paul’s argument would have no force. He means to prove that man does not in any way procure salvation for himself, but obtains it as a free gift from God. The proof is, that man is nothing but by divine grace. Whoever, then, makes the very smallest claim for man, apart from the grace of God, allows him, to that extent, ability to procure salvation.
Created to good works.They err widely from Paul’s intention, who torture this passage for the purpose of injuring the righteousness of faith. Ashamed to affirm in plain terms, and aware that they could gain nothing by affirming, that we are not justified by faith, they shelter themselves under this kind of subterfuge. “We are justified by faith, because faith, by which we receive the grace of God, is the commencement of righteousness; but we are made righteous by regeneration, because, being renewed by the Spirit of God, we walk in good works.” In this manner they make faith the door by which we enter into righteousness, but imagine that we obtain it by our works, or, at least, they define righteousness to be that uprightness by which a man is formed anew to a holy life. I care not how old this error may be; but they err egregiously who endeavor to support it by this passage.
We must look to Paul’s design. He intends to shew that we have brought nothing to God, by which he might be laid under obligations to us; and he shews that even the good works which we perform have come from God. Hence it follows, that we are nothing, except through the pure exercise of his kindness. Those men, on the other hand, infer that the half of our justification arises from works. But what has this to do with Paul’s intention, or with the subject which he handles? It is one thing to inquire in what righteousness consists, and another thing to follow up the doctrine, that it is not from ourselves, by this argument, that we have no right to claim good works as our own, but have been formed by the Spirit of God, through the grace of Christ, to all that is good. When Paul lays down the cause of justification, he dwells chiefly on this point, that our consciences will never enjoy peace till they rely on the propitiation for sins. Nothing of this sort is even alluded to in the present instance. His whole object is to prove, that, “by the grace of God, we are all that we are.”
Which God hath prepared Beware of applying this, as the Pelagians do, to the instruction of the law; as if Paul’s meaning were, that God commands what is just, and lays down a proper rule of life. Instead of this, he follows up the doctrine which he had begun to illustrate, that salvation does not proceed from ourselves. He says, that, before we were born, the good works were prepared by God; meaning, that in our own strength we are not able to lead a holy life, but only so far as we are formed and adapted by the hand of God. Now, if the grace of God came before our performances, all ground of boasting has been taken away. Let us carefully observe the word prepared.On the simple ground of the order of events, Paul rests the proof that, with respect to good works, God owes us nothing. How so? Because they were drawn out of his treasures, in which they had long before been laid up; for whom he called, them he justifies and regenerates.
For we are his workmanship – So far is this salvation from being our own work, or granted for our own works’ sake, that we are ourselves not only the creatures of God, but our new creation was produced by his power; for we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. He has saved us that we may show forth the virtues of Him who called us from darkness into his marvelous light. For though we are not saved for our good works, yet we are saved that we may perform good works, to the glory of God and the benefit of man.
Which God hath before ordained – Οις προητοιμασες· For which God before prepared us, that we might walk in them. For being saved from sin we are made partakers of the Spirit of holiness; and it is natural to that Spirit to lead to the practice of holiness; and he who is not holy in his life is not saved by the grace of Christ. The before ordaining, or rather preparing, must refer to the time when God began the new creation in their hearts; for from the first inspiration of God upon the soul it begins to love holiness; and obedience to the will of God is the very element in which a holy or regenerated soul lives.
For we are his workmanship – We are his “making” – ποιημα poiema. That is, we are “created or formed” by him, not only in the general sense in which all things are made by him, but in that special sense which is denoted by the new creation; see the notes at 2Co_5:17. Whatever of peace, or hope, or purity we have, has been produced by his agency on the soul. There cannot be conceived to be a stronger expression to denote the agency of God in the conversion of people, or the fact that salvation is wholly of grace.
Created in Christ Jesus – On the word “created,” see the notes at 2Co_5:17.
Unto good works – With reference to a holy life; or, the design for which we have been created in Christ is, that we should lead a holy life. The primary object was not to bring us to heaven. It was that we should be “holy.” Paul held perhaps more firmly than any other man, to the position that people are saved by the mere grace of God, and by a divine agency on the soul; but it is certain that no man ever held more firmly that people must lead holy lives, or they could have no evidence that they were the children of God.
Which God hath before ordained – Margin, “prepared.” The word here used means to “prepare beforehand,” then to predestinate, or appoint before. The proper meaning of this passage is, “to which οις hois good works God has predestinated us, or appointed us beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The word used here – προετοιμαζω proetoimazo – occurs in the New Testament nowhere else except in Rom_9:23, where it is rendered “had afore prepared.” It involves the idea of a previous determination, or an arrangement beforehand for securing a certain result. The previous preparation here referred to was, the divine intention; and the meaning is, that God had predetermined that we should lead holy lives. It accords, therefore, with the declaration in Eph_1:4, that he had chosen his people before the foundation of the world that they should be holy: see the notes at that verse.
That we should walk in them – That we should live holy lives. The word “walk” is often used in the Scriptures to denote the course of life; notes on Rom_6:4.