THE FULLNESS OF GOD
Eph. 8:14-19, especially v. 19:—"That ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God."
The Epistle to the Ephesians is the poem among the Epistles. Its whole fabric is wrought in a grandeur of language, corresponding to the loftiness of its thought. The main subject of the Epistle is God's infinite and unspeakable mercy to the Gentiles, and the Apostle busies himself with two chief ends. These are (1) to beget in his readers an adequate sense of the immensity of their privilege, in the mercy of God, in that He has chosen them before the foundation of the world, redeemed them in Christ and called them by the Spirit out of their former Gentile darkness and alienation to be sharers in the glorious light of the Gospel, and to be admitted into the very household of God; and (2) to quicken them to a proper apprehension of the duties that grow out of their changed relation and life.
The noble prayer of the Apostle's, which the present passage constitutes, stands at the end of the first section of the letter. In that section he has described in the most lofty and glowing language the privileges which have been so freely granted his readers by God, in Christ. That section had been, it is true, closed at the end of the second chapter; and the Apostle begins the third chapter with a clause meant to make the transition to the* second subject that weighed on his heart, the duties, arising from their very condition, pressing upon his readers. But he has no sooner begun the transition than he interrupts himself to give expression to a thought which struggled within him for utterance, concerning the relation of his own apostleship to the announcement of God's unsearchable riches to the Gentiles. Having unburdened his soul with praise to God for calling him to be the instrument in His hands for working out this glorious broadening of the boundaries of His Church, he resumes the sentence that had been broken off and makes the transition to the declaration of the duties of his readers, once more resumed, by means of a fervent prayer to God for their perfection in the Christian life.
This prayer is one of the most wonderful passages ever penned even by this wonderful Apostle. Look at it in its parts.
First, we observe to whom the prayer is offered. It is to "the Father," name of love and gratitude. But note how the Apostle expresses his sense of what this word "Father" means when applied to the all-merciful and all-glorious God. He calls Him not merely "the Father" but "the Father from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named." His is not a figurative fatherhood;
He is not addressed as Father because we find some things in Him which remind us of the tenderness and love of our parents and so apply to Him, as in a figure, the name we have learned to love in them. On the contrary, His is the normal fatherhood; His is not derived by figure from theirs, but theirs is the poor and broken shadow of His. He is the Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: the gloss, though a gloss, is a correct interpretation, and the closeness and intimacy and love of that relation is the norm from which every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named. What we know of fatherhood—dear as the name has become to us through our earthly relations—is but a faint shadow of what He, the true Father, first of Christ and then of us in Christ, is to His children. After his glowing outline of what God had done for his readers— Gentiles as they were, born in sin and hitherto living in sin—in receiving them into His very household and making them its members, not friends merely but His children, the Apostle's fervour cannot address Him in less full recognition of His glorious fatherhood than this: the Father of fathers, the normal, perfect, ideal father, of which all other fatherhood is but a broken and poor imitation,—"the Father, of whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named."
Next, let us observe the measure of the gifts prayed for: "according to the riches of his glory." No earthly measure, but only according to the richness of that glory of the great God pictured in His majesty, power and love in all the preceding chapters. The gifts of Him who giveth to all men liberally, were according, not to their desert, not to their prospective usefulness, not even according to their needs which are greater than either, but away above all these, according to the riches of God's glory—the glory of the Father from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named.
Next, observe the thing that is prayed for, in this marvellous prayer. And here there is a beginning and a middle and an end. The blessing which the Apostle craves for the Ephesians is nothing less than this: that they may be filled unto all the fullness of God, that is, that all of God's inestimable treasures of spiritual blessings —life, strength, love, holiness,—shall be poured out immeasurably unto them,—that they should be filled with all those spiritual perfections which assimilate them to the fullness of God.
The Apostle craves nothing less than that divine perfection which belongs to children of God, for his readers. But he knows that God does not deal magically with His children: there are means without which the end is not to be had. And this end of Christian perfection of life and heart, the being holy as God the Father is holy, the being perfect as God is perfect, is not to be had save in the path which God has marked out as leading to the goal. And the Apostle prays not for the goal but for the path which leads to the goal. Knowledge is in order to holiness and it is knowledge of the Gospel for which Paul prays for his readers, that they may by it be enabled to be "filled unto all the fullness of God." He prays that they may "apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth," and that they may "know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge." It is this love of Christ that he has been speaking to them about for the whole of the Epistle, the love of Christ that led Him to immolate Himself for them before the foundation of the world, that led Him to come into the world and suffer and die for them in the fullness of time, that led Him now that He has been taken up to the Father's right hand to send forth the Spirit to call them inwardly, and the Apostle to call them outwardly. This love of Christ which the Apostle would have them know, in order that they may become holy, is briefly comprehended in the Gospel. And he prays for them to have an adequate apprehension of the riches of the "Gospel," the glad tidings of Christ's love, in order that they may be filled unto all the fullness of God.
But why pray for such knowledge? Is knowledge to be had by prayer, or by publication? Certainly not without publication, and Paul had published it in his long visits in Ephesus and his journeys through Asia; and he had just republished it in the whole of the former part of this Epistle. But such knowledge as he desires for his readers is not to be had by mere publication. It is not merely that they may hear the Gospel, not merely that they may be, in an intellectual and mechanical way, informed that nothing can account for Christ's work but love, love compelling Him to leave His glory behind Him in heaven and come to earth as a servant to save men, that he wishes for them. He wants them to understand, feel, and realize this; in the language of the present passage, to apprehend it in its height and breadth and length and depth: to have a realizing sense of it. For this, something more than mere informing is needed: even a preparation of the heart. Let the husbandman fling the seed never so widely and strew them never so thickly: if there is no prepared soil, how can he hope to have a harvest? So the knowledge which the Apostle desires for his readers is not merely external mindknowledge, but the real knowledge of full feeling and apprehension; knowledge not of the mere head but of the heart. And for this, something more is needed than the mere proclaiming of the Gospel, which may be grasped in its propositions by the mere mechanical action of the intellect: even a new heart, Spirit-made and Spirit-deter
Accordingly, this is not all that the Apostle prays for. As this is a means to the end sought, that they may be filled unto all the fullness of God, so there is a means even to this means— that the Spirit should prepare their hearts. And this also he prays for: "that ye may be strengthened with power, through His Spirit, in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." This is first. Then, this is to "the end that being rooted and grounded in love, ye may apprehend and know the love of Christ." This is second. Then, this knowledge is in order that we may be "filled unto all the fullness of God." This is the end of all.
We note then first of all, the comprehensiveness of this prayer. Is there any blessing not provided for in it? That our souls may be taken possession of by the Spirit and Christ may dwell in us by faith. That we may have a perfect and realizing knowledge of the Gospel. That we may be filled unto the very fullness of God. Is there any good thing lacking?
Next we note the significant order of the requests. First, the work of the Spirit in the heart; second, the realizing knowledge of the Gospel; third, the Christian life. Men sometimes seek other orders. We hear the cry around us daily of first the life, then the doctrine. Paul's order is, first the doctrine, then the life. We hear the cry around us of first know, then believe. Pauiy order is, first believe, then know. And as this is of theological importance to-day, as well as of practical importance in all days, observe it more closely. We have confined ourselves to broad outlines. Paul, however, writes with such rich fullness that every detail is counted in, in its proper place. What in detail is his order of salvation? Just this: first, the Gospel is proclaimed; secondly, there is the preparation of the heart by the Spirit; thirdly, then faith and Christ's indwelling through faith; fourthly, through this indwelling we grow strong to apprehend the truth of Christ's love; fifthly, by this apprehended knowledge we are enabled to live a Christian life. Search and look: and you will find the same order everywhere in Paul and in the New Testament.
We observe then, finally, that the prayer that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith is the opening prayer to a series. This is not the end but the beginning: and just because it is a Divine beginning it is a beginning that has in itself the promise and pledge of the end. If we have this we will have all.
(1) It itself rests on a preparation of the heart by the Spirit: "That ye may be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inward man." The idea here is a communication of power to the soul. We almost seem to be reading the Westminster Confession, for exactly what "power" here means is "ability." The soul then lacks
"ability" until moved upon by the Holy Ghost. The whole soul is there; the Spirit does not give it more faculties. But it is weak. The action of the Spirit is to strengthen it and the strengthening takes place by an infusion of "ability." Now the soul can exercise faith, and it exercises it. Faith lays hold of Christ. And so the enabled soui through faith obtains the indwelling of Christ. This indwelling of Christ is mediated by faith, and the exercise of faith is rendered possible by the strengthening of the soul by the Holy Ghost, by the infusion of "power," "ability."
(2) It consists in the constant presence of Christ in the soul. Presence is predicated of God wherever He manifests Himself, whether in the Temple by the Shekinah or in Israel or in the Church or in the individual. The indwelling of Christ is then the manifestation of Christ's power. The agent by which Christ manifests Himself to the soul is the Holy Ghost. So that the indwelling of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit is one and the same. But the Spirit does not enter the soul to separate Christ and the believer but to unite them, and hence this indwelling draws Christ and the soul into communion. Christ dwells in us, that is, is present in us, quickening all our activities and making us but members of His body of which He is the directing Head.
(3) It issues hence into all Christian sentiments and activities. First the Apostle mentions love; "being rooted and grounded in love" is the intermediate step to the apprehension of Christ's love. Love apprehends love. Out of this Christ-filled and Christ-led heart, we are able to see His love and to appreciate it. Hence, next, knowledge. And then, out of this knowledge, life.
Now, observe as to Christ's indwelling: (1) Christ may dwell in us; (2) He dwells in us through faith; (3) His dwelling in us is the source of all our knowledge of the Gospel and of all our Christian walk.